Why Are Comic Book Movies So Hot Right Now?
By Brandon Thompson.
Hollywood’s latest winning formula for making money is the comic book movie. According to boxofficemojo.com, the top five comic book-based films released since 2008 have together grossed nearly $2.5 billion—in order of receipts, those movies are “The Avengers,” “The Dark Knight,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Spider-Man” (2002), and “Iron Man 3.”
Why Are These Films So Hot?
Why all this interest in costumed do-gooders? This question is being asked not just by fans and movie producers but also by psychologists, sociologists and lots of other academic types. Plenty of theories have been advanced, ranging from the public’s desire to escape the realities of the struggling economy to the extreme devotion of fanboys to their heroes.
None of these holds water under close examination, however. For one thing, the world inside many of these films is even grimmer than the one portrayed on CNN. “The Dark Knight Rises,” for example, shows a bleak existence in which criminals and terrorists drive a major city to near destruction. Nothing from that vision of Gotham City would make it to funny picture galleries. And, while the fanboy theory has some merit, studies of moviegoers show that many of those who watch these films have never bought a comic book in their lives. So, what’s the explanation for the public’s embrace of these onscreen adventures?
Superheros Have Always Been With Us
In one sense, there’s no need to explain anything. Stories of characters with special powers have been around since human civilization began. The ancient Greeks told tales of demigods like Hercules, who possessed massive physical strength and battled the forces of evil both on earth and in supernatural realms. The Scandinavians celebrated the deeds of Beowulf, a mighty warrior who rid the earth of horrific monsters.
Some try to attribute these legends to the mindsets of people living in superstitious times. But the phenomena has shown no sign of abating since the dawn of the scientific age. Nineteenth-century loggers swapped stories about Paul Bunyan, a giant who used his size and physical prowess to cut down whole forests. Even real-life characters like Wyatt Earp have had their life stories blown completely out of proportion to their actual accomplishments. There’s something in the human psyche that’s drawn to the idea of larger-than-life figures who battle evil with special abilities only they possess.
CGI on the Scene
This is all well and good, but none of this explains why superhero films in particular have proven so popular in recent years. One answer is quite simple: The reason they’re around now is that these movies could not have been made in earlier times. For example, most of them depend quite heavily on computer-generated images (CGI) to portray world-shaking battles and other action scenes. But CGI only became useful on a large scale since the 2000s began.
There were attempts to make superhero-oriented movies in earlier years, of course. But they tended to be awful, as anyone who remembers “The Incredible Hulk” TV series can attest to. Covering a bodybuilder in green paint falls far short of portraying the character from Marvel Comics, who could toss tanks around like they were toys.
Why Do They Do It? Because They Can
So the answer to the question of why people are flocking to see these films is simple. For the first time in history, moviegoers can actually see the events shown in the comic books come to life in a realistic-looking way. The magic of modern special effects has merged with our ancient yearning for superheroes. This has produced a spectacular new genre in which our fantasies finally come true, to the delight of all. That in itself is a tale worth telling on the big screen.