How did the superhero genre evolve on the big screen?
Credit: Marjan Blan – Unsplash (https://unsplash.com/photos/8I-ht65iRww)
Nothing lasts forever. That’s a rule Hollywood has been putting to the test for decades. Mid-20th-century cinema was the golden era of Westerns. But the trend eventually died out, despite successful albeit scarce attempts at reviving it. So, will superhero movies go down the same route?
The genre came a long way from its humble beginnings of the 70s. For the past decades, superhero adventures have been breaking box-office records left and right. Lately, Spiderman: No Way Home even became the eighth top-grossing movie of all time. But then, what comes next? Here we take a look at the ever-evolving superhero genre and what the future might hold for our favorite heroes.
Finding the right formula
In 1978, Super Man: The Movie kicked off the beginnings of the superhero genre on the big screen. According to author Liam Burke, this first formative stage allowed the industry to experiment with the superhero formula.
But it wasn’t until the early 2000s that Hollywood found the key ingredients to a recipe for success. Along with Blade (1998) and Spiderman (2002), X-Men formed the basis for the classical phase. Filmmakers established the tropes that would give momentum to comic-book-based movies until the genre eventually entered a new phase.
2008: a pivotal year for superhero movies
Despite growing success, the superhero formula needed some shaking up to revitalize it. And in 2008, two motion pictures came subverting the public’s expectations, launching the so-called revisionist phase.
Iron Man first disrupted the industry. Previously a B-list comic book character, Tony Stark’s origin story smashed the box office. The same year, The Dark Knight cracked the billion-dollar mark internationally. More telling perhaps, ten superhero movies hit the theatres in 2008.
And superheroes became a benchmark of pop culture like never before. From TV shows to video games, heroic faces were suddenly everywhere. Even the iGaming industry jumped on the bandwagon, developing many superhero-themed online slots. The online game selection is so varied now that superhero enthusiasts can seek casino reviews on popular games and software providers. Reviews also help gamblers assess the safety of an online casino. Besides, players can easily compare bonuses and promotions. And from Thor to Iron Man, superheroes are in no short supply, whether online or in cinemas.
A superhero bubble that doesn’t pop
In 2019, eleven years into the golden age that Iron Man propelled, eleven superhero films appeared on the big screen. To many fans, Avengers: Endgame was the peak of the genre. From gorgeous CGI to epic fan service, Endgame checked all the boxes of why we love superhero movies so much.
But a grittier, more grounded movie also set a fresh trend for on-screen comic-book adaptations. The Joker kept CGI to a bare minimum to focus on a deep character’s study. A carrier-defining role for Joaquin Phoenix, Joker was also the first superhero movie to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. But whether Joker is a superhero movie at all is up to debate. Still, the film based its story on the DC universe. And it confirmed that superhero movies could grow past a single formula.
In 2014 already, Captain America: The Winter Soldier had explored the spy thriller genre. Likewise, Logan (2017) was a Neo-Western, while Deadpool (2016) was a raunchy comedy. And in exploring new venues, all these films expanded the very definition of a superhero movie.
What’s the next stage?
2022, like all previous years, will be chock-full of superhero stories. Doctor Strange will compete with The Batman in cinemas, while Iron Heart or Secret Invasion should air on the Disney + streaming platform.
Yet, challenges are looming on the horizon. Indeed, the industry needs fresh angles to keep audiences engaged. However, new heroes can struggle in an overly saturated market. For instance, 2021’s The Eternals scored poorly by Marvel’s standards. But even well-loved faces are facing backlash. The Hawkeye TV show, for instance, reported disappointing ratings. Once more, the superhero genre needs to rejuvenate its formula.
So, is superhero fatigue kicking in? Chances are the industry will keep the hype going, if only because the genre is so profitable. Still, relatively obscure properties such as Amazon’s The Boys and Invincible are laying the foundations for new superhero storytelling. And as long as heroic stories keep us entertained, they will be here to stay.
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