If you look at the highest grossing films of the year since 2008, you’ll notice a reoccurring trend. Movies like “The Dark Knight,” “The Avengers” and “Man Of Steel” keep showing up. I also would not be surprised if one of the four Marvel movies being released in 2014 tops the charts as well. Because of this, it is safe to say that superhero movies are some of the most popular films to see right now.
This is a more recent trend, as before Marvel’s filmic universe began with “Iron Man” in 2008 and before Christopher Nolan directed “Batman Begins,” most superhero movies were not taken seriously and received either lukewarm success at the box office or terrible reviews with the critics. You look at films like the “Fantastic Four” saga, “Daredevil,” “Electkra,” “Catwoman” or any Batman film not helmed by Tim Burton, and you will see that superhero films had become a laughing stock of their former selves.
The superhero film genre gained its status with the creation of Richard Donner’s “Superman” and Tim Burton’s “Batman” in the late 1980s. Both films featured stellar casting, wonderful effects and visuals and were able to please the general audience as well as diehard comic fans. It taught film studios that there was a viable market for superheroes, and were even more pleased when looking at the box office returns.
What probably caused the fallout of superheroes in the late 1990s and early 200s is not that audiences got bored or uninterested in these characters, but that film studios were poorly treating the characters they were creating. A good example of this would be the Joel Schumacher Batman movies, “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin.” Instead of telling the story of the caped crusader that would fight to make sure no seven-year old boy has to go through what he experienced, we get the tales of the campy and over the top Adam West Batman.
So this begs the question of what separates current superhero movies from these terrible ones? Why do we watch movies like “The Dark Knight” but are drawn away from others like “Steel”? Why are we so drawn to the idea of superheroes?
To look at this, we have go back to ancient Greek gods. The tales of Hercules, Zeus and Poseidon. These characters hoisted feats of incredible strength and power, but still honored virtues of humanity. A willingness to help out others and fight for the good of man kind. Some were tragic tales, like Icarus, who was prideful and it cost him is life. While others are dark or disturbing, like Hades, the ruler of the underworld and must oversee the dead.
In a way, super heroes are the modern day equivalent of these classic Greek characters. Many have tragic backstories, like Batman or Spider-Man, who had to overcome the death of their loved ones but use the values they instilled to inspire greatness in others and themselves. Others, like Superman and Wonder Woman, are tales of those who wish to share their strengths with the world and protect it from those who wish to do harm. You even have villains like Lex Luthor or the Joker, meant to antagonize and create chaos in the world, because they believe they are better than others.
It is interesting to see the differences in characters between the two main comic book companies, Marvel and DC, and their philosophies. Marvel will usually focus on characters that an audience can relate to, like many of the X-Men, Iron Man or Captain America. They will give these characters flaws that are all too common in society, which makes us root for them.
DC, on the other hand, focuses on characters that an audience could look up to, like Superman, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Batman. Instead of giving their characters flaws, they make uphold strengths in society that anyone in the world could adhere to. This makes their characters more of role models than anything else.
There are of course instances were both Marvel and DC will reverse this stance, but this is usually the norm. It is this kind of attitude that has kept both of their companies alive for so many years. Not owning iconic characters, but how they write their characters to make the audience either want to understand these heroes or aspire to be like them.
Perhaps this is why superheroes have thrived as of late. Filmmakers have begun to understand why heroes were appealing first and making that the focal point of their movies. Tony Stark might be a sarcastic, ego-inflated douche at times, but he never lets that get in the way of what we feels is right for the world and is willing to fight to protect it.
If superhero movies continue to get made in the same manner as “The Dark Knight” or “The Avengers” then not only will they continue to have success at the box office, but they will please audiences long after their time in the theater.