We can all agree that an occasional superhero movie is worth watching. Recognizable characters, top-of-the-line visual effects, and simple plots that are easy to follow make for a pleasant risk-free movie night experience for everyone. But how many of these movies is too much? Let’s take a look at how we ended up with the superhero movie craze we have today, and what we can expect in the future in our theaters.
The very beginning of the superhero craze can be traced back to Richard Donner’s Superman (1978), the first big-budget movie of its kind. Its commercial success was followed by a series of sequels, including Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983), Supergirl (1984), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). A few others emerged as well, including Flash Gordon (1980) Robocop (1987) to Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). But there were still only 9 movies released within the decade.
The 90s brought about a whole wave of superhero movies. While it might not be the typical Marvel superhero movie we see today, many were widely successful and followed by several sequels. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. (1990), The Rocketeer (1991), Batman Returns (1992), the animated Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), The Shadow (1994), Batman Forever (1995), Tank Girl (1995), Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie (1995), Men in Black (1997) and Blade (1998) were few of the movies released in the decade. All the movies have an undoubtedly 90s feel and have an entirely different production aesthetic in comparison to the superhero blockbusters we see today, but proved comic book adaptations to be generally succesful.
After the success of several comic book adaptation films in the 1990s, the genre was proving to be profitable – and the studios caught on. 20th Century Fox’s X-Men (2000) became a film franchise by its surprise hit, and many subsequent sequels were born throughout the decade. After the success of the film adaptation of Marvel’s Men in Black in 1997, Columbia Pictures also acquired the licensing rights to Spider-Man from Marvel and produced one of the largest blockbusters of all time. With high ticket and DVD sales, several new superhero films were released every year in the 2000s, along with many sequels and spin-offs. Blade II (2002), X2: X-Men United (2003), Daredevil (2003), Hulk (2003), Catwoman (2004), Hellboy (2004), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Blade: Trinity (2004), Batman Begins (2005), Fantastic Four (2005), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), TMNT (2007), Spider-Man 3 (2007), Ghost Rider (2007), Iron Man (2008), The Dark Knight (2008), and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) were some of the many superhero films released in the 2000s.
The 2010s continued the box-office success of superhero films seen in the previous decade, but at an even larger volume. Marvel was previously licensing its IP to various studios, and made relatively little profit from its deals. It wanted to get more money out of its films while maintaining artistic control of the projects and distribution. Unlike Spider-Man and X-men, whose rights were licensed to Sony and Fox, Marvel owned the rights to the core members of the Avengers. After the huge success of Iron Man in theaters, Marvel followed up with Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), Captain America (2011), and The Avengers (2012). It claimed Iron Man as the first of many in its multi-movie series, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and all subsequent movies took place in the shared universe. The Avengers and its spin-offs were huge hits, and raised Marvel from a small subdivision within a publishing house into an international media giant. DC soon followed suite in an attempt to mimic the success of MCU with Batman v Superman (2016), Suicide Squad (2016), and Justice League (2017), none of which have received critical acclaim or success relative to the Marvel films. With Marvel, DC, and other studios hopping on the superhero movie craze, there have been 45 movies in this decade so far.
With ticket sales showing no signs of slowing down, there’s no end in sight for superhero movies. Black Panther was only the first superhero movie of this year, but grossed a whopping 1.2 billion so far in the box office. Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, The Incredibles 2, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Venom are only some of the many Superhero movies set to release this year. With movies scheduled for release up until the next decade, I’m sorry to report that there won’t be an end to superhero movies anytime soon – even if you’re as tired of them as I am.
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