Why are superhero films so popular? It’s a question that has been asked again and again, ever since the first comic book movies hit the big screen decades ago. But it is only recently that the superhero film genre has become a dominant force in cinemas, taking over screens worldwide and nurturing generations of fans.
One factor driving superhero movie popularity is the sheer amount of content available. In the last few years alone, Hollywood has released a slew of films about superheroes, including blockbuster films such as The Avengers, Black Panther, Deadpool, and Wonder Woman. And this trend shows no signs of slowing down in the near future, given that there are already multiple superhero movies in various stages of production.
Another factor is the level of investment put into these films. Big budget productions are often crammed with spectacular special effects and engaging battle scenes, thrilling audiences worldwide and making it difficult to stay away from cinemas. Similarly, the increasing presence of superheroes on the small screen, through series such as The Flash, Daredevil, and Agents of Shield, has further reinforced the appeal of superhero films.
Moreover, current superhero films have begun to explore deeper themes and messages that are particularly relevant to today’s society. Storylines often explore issues of identity, acceptance, prejudice, and oppression, which resonates heavily with viewers of all ages. In addition, the aspirational qualities of superheroes make them particularly appealing to viewers, with characters such as Iron Man and Superman personifying the ultimate success story.
Experts say that there are other reasons that make superhero films so popular, particularly how fans can easily relate to these characters. As Sarah Polsbee, a professor at the University of Southern California and an expert on the superhero genre explains, “The superhero genre allows people from a variety of backgrounds to connect with the characters on a very personal level, as it speaks directly to their hopes and fears.”
At the same time, superhero films often contain human elements that make them immediately relatable. Popular heroes have family issues and personalities that we can all recognize, creating access points for audiences to easily engage with these characters.
In addition, the presence of dynamic and instantly recognizable villains has further enriched these stories. The Flash and Superman regularly battle Lex Luthor, while Thor often clashes with his brother, Loki, deepening and enriching the storylines. As a result, the film genre is considered a “powerhouse”, which continues to draw audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
Reflecting Contemporary Issues
The cultural relevance and authenticity of superhero films has become even more pronounced in recent years. As studios increasingly embrace diversity and tackle contemporary issues, superheroes are increasingly portrayed as more complex characters that often struggle to fulfill their obligations. The success of Black Panther, a landmark film that opened new doors for major franchises, serves as an example of this trend.
A similar approach is also evident in Spider-Man: Far From Home, which sees Peter Parker, the eponymous Spider-Man, struggle to cope with the fallout of Thanos’ snap, which wiped out all life on Earth. This storyline is particularly resonant for young viewers, who face major political and economic issues in their own lives.
In addition, superhero stories allow viewers to grapple with complex emotional issues, such as loneliness and anxiety, which are often overlooked in other entertainment media. This is extensively explored by the X-Men series, which follows mutants who are treated as second class citizens due to their powers.
Similarly, superheroes regularly battle demons within themselves. For example, Doctor Strange is plagued by insecurity and pride, while Iron Man must come to terms with his own mortality, allowing viewers to explore these difficult topics without facing the same amount of personal consequences.
A Lasting Impact
The staying power of superhero films is also something that cannot be overlooked. Many of these characters have existed alongside human beings for generations, and movies have allowed them to rise to new heights. These characters exist in multiple mediums, and have had a lasting impact.
One example is Superman, who despite having been around since 1938, still provides a source of comfort and solace to fans, predominantly due to his unwavering positivity in the face of adversity. In addition, The Avengers’ successful ‘rebuilding’ of the franchise has demonstrated the franchise’s staying power and its lasting impressions on viewers. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has created an intricate, multi-layered universe where each installment is connected in a very meaningful way.
In the end, there are many factors that have been cited as driving the popularity of superhero films, such as the quality of the production, the complexity of characters, and the cultural relevance of storylines. But ultimately, the biggest element at play is the sense of escapism that these films provide, allowing viewers to put aside their own difficulties and escape into fantastical worlds where anything is possible.
The Changing Face of Superhero Movies
As superhero films take over cinemas worldwide, studios have begun to turn their focus onto the genre’s potential spin-offs and diverse offshoots. This is evident in the inclusion of female-led movies, such as Captain Marvel, which stars Brie Larson, and Wonder Woman 1984, the sequel to the 2017 blockbuster. This presents an opportunity for studios to explore previously unrepresented storylines, themes, and action sequences and to offer audiences something new and original.
In addition, the increased focus on diversity has also served to diversify the audience of these movies, reaching new and younger viewers. The success of blockbuster movies such as Aquaman and Black Panther, both of which featured diverse cast and crews, has shown that superhero movies can explore and draw from various cultures, making the genre more accessible.
At the same time, the success of smaller budget superhero movies such as Luke Cage, a Netflix release, has shown that filmmakers need not rely on big budgets to make compelling superhero stories, thus allowing stories of lesser-known characters to thrive.
Furthermore, the increasing presence of tactics such as cross-promotional marketing and collectible merchandise have served to further expand the reach and influence of these movies, as Hollywood continues to exploit these movies as an opportunity to capitalize on their massive fanbases.
The Influence of Comic Books
Finally, one can’t overlook the influence comic books have had on the success of superhero movies. Films such as Avengers: Endgame rely heavily on storylines explored in comics, while characters such as Iron Man and Spider-Man regularly appear in comic book crossovers that endear these characters to a new generation of fans.
Furthermore, many comic books are written to reflect up-to-date social issues, allowing for increased engagement and further reinforcing the cultural relevance of these stories. For example, the Marvel series ‘America’ focused on the aftermath of the 2016 election, exploring themes such as immigration, identity, and belonging.
In short, the staying power of superhero movies rests on their ability to continually reinvent and explore new themes, while keeping up with changing times. As superhero movies increasingly speak to contemporary issues, they will continue to remain as a beloved genre, cultivating a new generation of excited and dedicated fans.