Why Are There So Many Superhero Movies?

photo source: 7-themes.com

This article was originally published in The Westerner on March 2, 2017

Steve Rogers of the current Captain America film franchise lives by one mindset: that no matter what, “I can do this all day.” And it seems with the recent influx of superhero movies, Hollywood and the audiences have the same mindset.

There were 71 feature length films made about superheroes in America during the 20th Century. This number includes television and theatrical releases, and excludes animated films. In the early part of the 21st Century, this figure has already been surpassed.

Between 2000 and 2016, there have been 90 feature length films made about superheroes in American cinema, with 18 more planned into 2020, including seven releases this year alone. This incredible, almost super human pace of film is unprecedented and shows no signs of slowing down.

So this begs the question…why are there so many superhero movies right now? There may be a few explanations.

The first is a relatively simple explanation: technology. This century has seen rapid developments in the advancement of computer technology, which has made a huge impact on film.

There’s a good reason why beyond the simplistic 1950’s television series, there wasn’t a major adaption of the Superman comics until the 1978 film starring Christopher Reeve. No convincing Superman would be able to exist without green screen, CGI enhancements or any other kind of visual effects.

“I think a big part of it is because we’re finally at the point where we can actually tell these larger than life stories and have the technology to make them work,” James Wan, director of the upcoming Aquaman film told Cinemablend.

To Wan, the “whizz-bang visuals to go with the story” are a key part of the reason why there are so many superhero movies right now, but even he acknowledges that can’t be the only factor.


Batman and Superman face off in 2016’s Batman v. Superman. photo source: The Playlist.

Another factor is without a doubt, the box office. The Spider-Man film franchise from Director Sam Raimi which began in 2002 proved that superhero films could be profitable, and lead to a string of sequels that can bring the studio money for years to come.

This series, which was the first of now three Spider-Man incarnations this century, set the tone for how all other superhero films would be made; with a realistic, very human approach to the characters. This is a formula that has ensured box office success.

Four of 2016’s top ten grossing films in the domestic market were superhero movies. These were Captain America: Civil War ($408,084,349), Deadpool ($363,070,709), Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice ($330,360,194) and Suicide Squad ($325,100,054).

So clearly the superheroes bring in a lot of money, but this wouldn’t be possible without a steady audience. What exactly is the appeal of these films?

Stephen McFreely, who co-wrote all three films in the Captain America trilogy with Christopher Markus, believes he has the answer.

“You went to the movies in the 50s and 60s you went to a western. So at this point, you’re going to a superhero movie,” McFreely said in an interview with IGN on Cinemablend. He goes on to explain that the superheroes have replaced cowboys in the white-hat, black-hat, good guy, bad guy mythology of American film.

This sentiment is the most important factor to consider why superhero movies are so popular today. In an increasingly complex world full of issues, larger than life superheroes are our answer.

In a time of political tension, even Batman and Superman are at each other’s throats. In a time where terrorist attacks dominate headlines, the Avengers can save the city. The world is full of good and evil, but in about two hours, the superheroes show us nothing can’t be stopped.

There is no end in sight to the superhero influx, because Americans will always need heroes. As long as they keep making money and developing new technology, Hollywood will be very happy to “do this all day.”


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