Much of the buzz today is about the latest Avengers movie, Infinity War, which scored a big weekend success at the box office. This film is just the latest blockbuster in a line of movie representation of a character and/or story that first appeared in a comic book. So have comic books taken over? Are people more interested in superheroes with super powers than with The Federation of Planets or Middle Earth?
In some ways, as expected, movies follow the reading tastes of the culture. Comic books, with manga leading the way, had a resurgence in the 1990s, so movies made from comic books sees like a natural follow. Consequently in the first years of this new century, the number of superhero films grew:
the first decade of the 21st century brought increased interest in the genre and some of the most profitable superhero franchises, many from Marvel Enterprises. . . . 20th Century Fox’s X-Men (2000 onward) became a film franchise by its surprise hit, . . . Later, one of the largest blockbusters of all time was released with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002). With high ticket and DVD sales, several new superhero films were released every year in the 2000s, including Daredevil (2003), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), Hulk (2003), Catwoman (2004), Hellboy (2004), The Punisher (2004), the semi-animated Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004), Batman Begins (2005), Man-Thing (2005), Fantastic Four (2005), Ghost Rider (2007), Iron Man (2008), The Incredible Hulk (2008), and Watchmen (2009).
Sequels and spin-offs and remakes abound, and we aren’t finished with this decade yet. There’s no sign of the superhero craze slowing.
I’ll be honest here. I’m trying to understand the love for these stories because I have not been caught up in the craze. I didn’t read the comic books and I really don’t care if I see the movies. They all seem to blend together—superhero faces insurmountable odds with the world at risk, uses his superhero power, and saves the day. Sure, some have become more sophisticated and have explored the character in more depth, and I suppose, like anything, putting out more superhero movies means that the producers are getting better at them.
But what about the great movies made from great books? After Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, where do we go? I mean, the effort to capture the seven Narnia stories met with little success and a good deal of criticism. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J. K. Rowling seems to have been largely ignored, though it is a stellar movie.
The non-comic book speculative movies that seem to have found good success are animation or fairy-tale retellings.
Last year the fantasy movies included another Beauty and the Beast, another King Arthur, another Kong, another Pirates of the Caribbean. Have we no new material to draw from? Or have our tastes in movies devolved to the level of shoot-’em-up-blow-’em-up adventure? Are there no more good books or good screenplays out there? Or do audiences simply prefer superhero stories? And if the latter, why?
From where I sit, not having a superhero reading history, only going to some of the movies on a hit-and-miss basis, and forgetting which ones I’ve seen because they simply don’t make a big impression on me, I have to wonder if people like these movies primarily because they do NOT say anything particular about society (and therefore are not in danger of offending anyone), other than that the world needs to be saved and only superpowers can provide the secret to overcome insurmountable problems, usually stemming from someone who is greedy or power hungry or cruel or vengeful—usually a mix of those.
Am I being too simplistic in my summation of superhero movies? Perhaps, but the number of them does have me wondering where speculative fiction is going. I tend to think that movies drive books today as much as reading drives movies. So I expect that some superhero movies will result in an uptick of superhero type books or anime or comic books.
Will Christian speculative fiction follow?
From my limited perspective I run across more supernatural stories than I would think the market could sustain. I mean, how many stories about angels and demons are we open to? Or are angels the Christian version of superheroes (which is a sad and dangerous thought, in my opinion)?
So where do you think speculative fiction will go from here, in print and on the screen? Do you think superhero stories have more substance to them than what I see? Why are they so popular? I’m looking forward to hearing your perspective.