Image from The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008)
Ever since their introduction to the world of cinema, superhero movies have largely functioned as big-screen adaptations of the comic book heroes created by DC and Marvel comics. However, as demonstrated by Adam West’s Batman of 1966, most of these early efforts were rather campy and aimless. But with Richard Donner’s mega-hit Superman (1978) functioning as a catalyst for further exploration into the superhero movie, due to its enormous success (grossed $300.22 million) and memorable performances from Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman, interest in superhero movies as a cinematic genre grew exponentially (Smith). This paved the way for additional Superman films, as well as Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), which played an enormous role in establishing the modern superhero film as a means of filmmaking to be taken seriously. Instead of being associated with all things camp and kitsch, with Tim Burton’s film, the superhero movie became a somber, gritty, and psychologically heavy picture.
With the release of Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000, this direction for the superhero film was solidified. By providing a psychological character study of the various disenfranchised souls who comprise the X-Men, Singer not only communicated that superhero movies could function as more than ludicrous fantasy, but also supplied viewers with a metaphor for society’s suspicion of outsiders. This idea of superheroes catering to society’s concerns and perceptions is something that I have found to be very interesting, and was actually a topic that I spent a great deal of time researching in a college course on Communication Theory. Although the details of my findings could stand alone as a separate blog post altogether, in short, I concluded that comic book superheroes could be critiqued as symbolic equipment for disclosing real situations or concerns raised by society, and through careful consideration, these figures could effectively project a “solution” for alleviating various societal ills. Building off of this conjecture, it naturally follows that superheroes should provide more cultural value to society at its lowest points. As an example of this, when The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008) was released, American culture was enraged with governmental entities, and many people sought to embrace an agent of change, which was observable in protests over inequality. However, through the character of the Joker in The Dark Knight, the film provided a “solution” for the time by suggesting that anarchy and the deconstruction of our current government would not be nearly as glamorous as it sounds, considering that some people simply want to “watch the world burn.”
Given The Dark Knight’s significant societal and psychological value, as well as its financially impressive grossing of over $1 billion worldwide, it certainly seems reasonable to describe it as one of the greatest superhero movies ever made (Smith). However, with additional successes from films like Spider-Man (Raimi, 2002), Iron Man (Favreau, 2008), and The Avengers (Whedon, 2012), the superhero movie shows no immediate signs of slowing down, and has shown great promise of the diversity that it has to offer. While the superhero movie certainly suffers from the rapid release of blockbuster franchise films seeking to turn an enormous profit, I personally believe that the superhero movie has gradually developed into a credible cinematic movement and should be viewed as a reputable genre in and of itself, due to its ability to shed light on and offer solutions for relevant societal issues in an entertaining fashion.
Smith, James. "The Art of the Superhero Movie." Daily Lounge. Web. <http://dailylounge.com/the-daily/entry/the-art-of-the-superhero-movie>.