BY SYDNEY ALTMAN
From the web-slinging Spiderman to the man of steel Superman to the dark knight Batman, superheroes have taken the entertainment industry by storm. Comic book superheroes have been the inspiration for action figures, Broadway plays, and most prominently – action-packed movies. This is the hottest trend and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Many of the superheroes we have adored for generations began as characters in comic books. The genius minds behind the two major American comic companies, Marvel Comics and Detective Comics, Inc. (DC), created a variety of heroes. These heroes were revered for their strength, looks, and mass appeal. Their ability to defeat any villain perfected the idea that good always defeats evil. With each new comic book addition, the devout readers became more obsessed.
Both comic book companies conquered America and gained wide fan bases. This was the initial superhero explosion, where imagination conquered. In an era where technology lagged, comic provided and unlimited special effects budget.
The companies translated the printed word of comics into television shows. But, in order to reinvent the superhero altogether, a new medium needed to be explored, that being film. Though movies were made that were based off of superheroes, many, such as the first Batman movies, took a comedic approach to the beloved crime-fighters. The heroes and villains stuck out from typical human society like a sore thumb. They were movies purely for entertainment.
However, as technology improved and interest in the genre increased, movies became better and better. The turning point came with the release of the X-Men trilogy in 2000. The X-Men comic series was created for Marvel Comics by legendary team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and depicts the conflict between humans and mutants. X-Men is credited as starting the current resurgence of superhero films.
“Movies work well off of pre-story boarded material,” manager of Tate’s Comics, JoAnn Minieri said. “Comic book movies also have a built in audience that will go see the movie whether they approve of it or not.”
Following the X-Men sensation, a slew of superhero movies were released. Spiderman, starring Toby McGuire and Kirsten Dunst, was released in 2002 and became an instant sensation, appealing to an overwhelming number of Americans, becoming the top grossing superhero series of all time. The first Spiderman grossed $403.7 million in the United States alone; it is listed as the top 10th highest grossing movie of any genre of all time.
Latching on to its popularity, the franchise is being reinvented, from establishing a Broadway play to releasing another movie. The prequel to the original Spiderman is expected to reach theaters in 2012 and has a lineup of all-star actors, including Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield. Many at CCHS have mixed feelings about remaking the franchise already, considering the last movie came out only four years ago.
“The Spiderman movies were good, the first live action ones,” senior Gabe Turner said. “But after that they started going down. I think they [film producers] should just let it be because it’s like our childhood and what you hold onto. When they keep remaking it they water it down every time.”
After Spiderman’s box office success, film producers maintained the momentum that superheroes gained. More movies were released including the Fantastic Four, Superman, Batman, and Iron Man. Though all of these movies were successful, two stood out among the rest, The Dark Knight and Iron Man.
The Dark Knight was the 2008 sequel to Batman Begins. It was directed by Christopher Nolan and starred Christian Bale and Heath Ledger. The movie’s success was mainly due to Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker. This was the last film he starred in prior to his death and his portrayal won him the academy award for Best Supporting Actor, posthumously. It remains the 3rd highest grossing film of all time, earning $533.3 million in the United States.
Meanwhile, Robert Downey Jr.’s riveting performance as Tony Stark in the Iron Man series captured audiences’ attention. The movie is placed in modern society, making this superhero as relatable as an iron man can be. It earned $318.3 million in the United States and spawned a blockbuster sequel with a
third installment in production.
In order for a superhero movie to become popular, a few key elements are needed. First, the superhero needs to be powerful, good-looking, extraordinary, and intelligent. The actors chosen to play these infamous characters must have chiseled bodies, audience appeal and must embody the hero’s persona.
“A superhero has got to be strong, they have to be smart, they have to be good looking; they have to be like me, because I’m the best superhero,” junior Jeremy Rosenstein said.
To ensure that the acting is top-notch, many producers are hiring actors from other countries, mainly from Australia and England. These actors are classically trained and provide a refreshing spin on the American superheroes. This trend began with Christian Bale as Batman and is escalating with the future endeavors, including Andrew Garfield as Spiderman, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Henry Cavill as the iconic Superman. There is much controversy over letting a foreigner play and American superhero. Many believe it is not fair, but others understand that it the iconic roles should go to whoever embodies the hero the best.
“American heroes have become the world’s heroes,” University of Southern California cultural history professor Leo Braudy said in an interview with Yahoo Movie News. “They are international, not just local. We’ve merchandised out the ideas of superheroes to the world, and now they’re taking their turn.”
Secondly, the movie has to be current and somewhat believable. By placing the superheroes in modern society, such as in New York City or Los Angeles, the heroes become more relatable. Technological advances in CGI animation help bring real life to the fictional characters. The innovative designs allow the heroes to appear as if they are fantastical in a bustling city. Technicians are able to bring the comic book special effects to the silver screen for the first time and are taking full advantage of it. No longer are the films corny or comedic; they are now realistic and full of awe.
“I can identify with the superheroes’ motives because they’re out to do good,” Turner said. “I consider myself a good guy,” Turner said.
Though most comic book based movies are very popular, some just don’t have the appeal that big name superheroes have. Due to their relative obscurity among the general population, the comic book based heroes such as Jonah Hex or Scott Pilgrim failed to perform well among audiences. Tate’s Comics, South Florida’s top comic book store, noticed the trend in which high-profile heroes have much more success than their low-profile counterparts.
“Jonah Hex comics were a little more popular before the movie and then after the fans saw the movie, they were unhappy and dropped the book,” Minieri said.
The superhero trend does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Currently, there are 18 new comic book superhero movies in the works. In
addition to revamping Spiderman and Superman, other iconic movies are in the works such as Thor, The Green Lantern, Captain America, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, among others.
To maintain wide appeal, casting directors are selecting very attractive and well-known stars to play the notorious heroes. Not only will the famous stars draw audiences, but the excitement of a fresh batch of crime-fighters will capture the interest of many fans. The story-lines are expected to be intense as numerous advertisements already display. Within the next two years, Americans will consistently have their fix of superhero magic.
“I love superhero movies because it’s nonstop action and it always has me on the edge of my seat,” Rosenstein said. “The best part is definitely the ending when they have the big fight scene and you always see the superhero win. Let’s face it, that’s the way it should be.”