How Have Superhero Movies Evolved

Hold onto the cape and suit, Superhero movies have evolved drastically in the last decade. Superman, Iron Man, and Captain America were created simply as comic book characters or live animated television, with limited story lines compared to what we now see in the movies. So much has developed since then, from advanced special effects and larger budgets, to the possibility to tell complex stories, diving deep into the characters personalities and giving them a life of their own.

Superhero movies have become increasingly popular, with more than thirty superhero movies being produced by Hollywood between 2001 to 2021, Marvel Comics alone has released 23 productions. This is an impressive feat and demonstrates the appetite for superhero stories.

The main factor influencing the evolution of these movies is technology and CGI effects that can communicate a story with faster pace. Hollywood has gone from portraying superheroes in a cheap looking rubber costume, to entire worlds created through virtual digital technology. Additionally, the characters have become more polished and amazingly realistic; as with advances in digital technology, animators and directors are able to create a character with more detail and personality.

Moreover, superhero movies have elevated themes of morality and justice. Superhero plotlines often reveal the struggle between good and evil, and between doing what is right and what is easy. In many movies, when a superhero struggles internally with their responsibility to help those in need, it adds an emotional layer to the plot. In some cases, a superhero has the power to do good but chooses the wrong option, ultimately making moral decisions that have consequences and can have a lasting impact.

Moreover, the development of villains has had an impact on the story. It can be argued that some of the best supervillians are a reflection of the hero, exploring a darker side of the same character. In many movies, the supervillain symbolises the emotional struggles a hero must confront, whether it’s the fight between good and evil or the inner turbulence between self-acceptance and society’s judgements. This exploration of a hero’s insecurities has been enhanced through the evolution of superhero movies, showing more emotional complexities than in older versions.

However, with ever increasing complexity and advancing technology, one negative is the cost of making superhero movies. With some of the biggest blockbuster machines running on budgets over $250 million, the movies can be very expensive to produce. It is important to note that it is not only the cost of making the movie, but also the cost of marketing the movie and associated merchandise.

Character Origin Stories

The storylines and characters in superhero movies have become increasingly complex. Most of the superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have grown with their origin stories, with modern audience expectations of seeing more developed characters.

The development of origin stories is part of the evolution of superhero movies. While origin stories still provide the same excitement, a more personal journey is often hidden within them. Superheroes are no longer born fully built, they are made by the difficult choices they have to carry out during their journey. This gives the storyline more depth, reminiscent of the emotional journeys explored in other popular genres such as drama, mystery and horror.

The origin story of a superhero makes early involvement with the superhero more meaningful and explains why the superhero is the way they are. The first three Iron Man films were beautifully crafted and played a crucial role in the MCU, introducing audiences to a flawed Tony Stark whose character journey was realised from the very first scene.

Casting of Superhero Roles

Casting directors have an important role in the evolution of superhero movies. It is no secret that big actors bring in big audiences, helping to make or break a movie. Hollywood has become very strategic in its selective casting decisions, with their choice of actor playing a large part in making a successful movie.

Casting directors often try to find actors who possess the same character traits needed to play a superhero; such as Chris Evans, who portrayed a more geeky and awkward Steve Rogers pre-super serum injection, and Brie Larson as Carol Danvers in the 2019 movie ‘Captain Marvel’, who is a girl-next-door but with a kick-ass personality. One influential tactic they have used is casting actors with their own online fan-base, to promote the movie through social media.

What is important to note is that these big name actors often bring their own set of beliefs or values to the role. Actor Robert Downey Junior brought an edgier and snarky quality to Tony Stark, which made the story and character extremely believable.

Big name stars can help to make a movie but special effects can also help to bring a character to life. Actors can be assisted by CGI effects and motion capture technology, allowing them to perform superhuman feats while also expressing human emotions.

Additionally, superhero movies rely heavily on visual effects and stunt doubles, without either it wouldn’t be possible to pull off some of the exciting and innovative fight scenes viewers want to see.

Development of the Superhero Movie Genre

The development of superhero movies has been heavily impacted by the evolution of the superhero genre itself. With the increasing amount of superhero movies, there is an increased demand for more reboots and sequels, which pushes filmmakers to create something new for viewers to enjoy.

Filmmakers have responded with what some can consider as a ‘cynical’ approach to movie making. It is common to see lazy storylines and character developments, ultimately creating movies which are the same but just different enough to differentiate it from others.

It is possible to argue that some of the modern superhero movies have become too formulaic, relying heavily on the ‘good guy wins, bad guy loses’ narrative. With formulaic movies come formulaic answers, resulting often in predictions being met by the audience and leaving little to be desired.

Filmmakers have begun to acknowledge that modern audiences desire more narratives, as well as emotionally and morally dynamic characters. The development of these characters shows a clear intent to go beyond the conventional superhero narrative, and evolve the genre.

Conclusion for the Superhero Universe

The superhero universe is ever changing and evolving, from the advances in CGI, to the strategic casting decisions, to the varying storylines; there is so much to discover amongst various superhero movie genres. Whether it is deciding if one is ‘Team Cap’ or ‘Team Iron Man’, superhero movies have become an integral part of modern culture and will continue to shape the cinematic universe for years to come.

Vicki Strouth is a life-long film enthusiast, having grown up watching classic cinema in her childhood. She has since gone on to pursue writing about films and movie news, with her work being published on various online platforms. She is passionate about supporting independent filmmakers and highlighting important stories from around the world. She has also written a successful book about classic movies from Hollywood's Golden Age era. Vicki currently lives in Seattle, where she continues to explore films of all genres and eras.

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