Superhero Movies: Pop Culture Mainstay Or Flash In The Pan?

For millions of us, a night at the movies is a great way to relax and have fun. Cinema allows us to be transported to bold and different new worlds, and immerse ourselves in a melodrama that will take us away from our real world concerns for a few hours. Whether it’s the futuristic worlds of Star Wars and BladeRunner or the retro-fantasy worlds like Middle Earth in The Lord Of The Rings, we all rely on the movies to take us somewhere new and exciting.

For many years now, superheroes have dominated the box office. What’s better escapism than watching the exploits of characters who can shred articles of sheet metal fabrication with their bare hands or launch into space with a single leap? But the recent deluge of films based on characters from DC and Marvel comics have caused many to complain of superhero fatigue. Will comic book movies be a pop culture mainstay for decades to come? Or will they (as Steven Spielberg has predicted) go the way of the Western. Let’s find out…

The History of Superhero Movies

Kirk Alyn as Superman
Source: Wikipedia

As far back as the 1940s studios were making low budget serials for kids based on Batman, The Phantom, Captain Marvel and Superman. But it was only with Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman that top drawer talent and resources (not to mention a truckload of money) were dedicated to exploiting these properties on film. The genre exploded in 1989 with Tim Burton’s Batman, but throughout the ‘90s a depreciation in quality caused superhero films to die down, if only for a few years.

1998’s Blade showed that comic book characters could be used to tell a compelling action / horror story and Bryan Singer’s 2000 X-Men showed us that they could be used as a political parable for civil rights. Comic book movies in the early 2000s made ample use of emerging digital technology to bring comic book characters and their powers to life. These ranged from the very successful (like 2002’s Spider-Man) to the misguided (like subsequent flops Daredevil and Ghost Rider).

It wasn’t until visionary director Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy that people realized that a gifted director could tell a Goodfellas quality crime drama using Batman. Over on the other side of the street, Marvel kicked off their cinematic universe with 2008’s Iron Man which exploded with The Avengers in 2012.

Now,as Marvel and DC compete with their different cinematic universes (DC started their own with 2013’s Superman reboot Man of Steel), Hollywood has become saturated with superhero cinema.

How long can studios keep making these films before they get stale?

The key is diversity

The good news is that there is huge variety in the kind of stories that can be told with superheroes. Marvel Studios have shown us that comic book characters can bring us sprawling space operas (Guardians of the Galaxy), just as easily as it can make tense political thrillers (Captain America:The Winter Soldier). Provided that studios can keep providing us with varied and interesting content, it doesn’t look like the superhero craze is going anywhere any time soon!

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