It’s no surprise to any of us that this is the age of the superheroes! In the history of TV and cinema, there has not been such a massive genre domination, ever.
To begin with, let me be clear, superhero movies didn’t just begin. We have been seeing them being rolled out for decades. Comic books have always been a great part of the popular culture, and we have always loved indulging in superficial fantasy. However, the current level of hype around them is certainly noticeable, and makes one wonder; what is it that has made superhero movies such a dominant force in the TV and cinema world now, and how did we get here? Well, I gave some thought to the same, and I might have somewhat of an answer for you.
We have seen the DC comics’ universe films revolving around Superman and Batman, since the 50’s. The movies had a fair bit of success, even back in those times, and they had quite a few reboots, all of which were pretty successful too. DC had also been making a lot of TV series based on their characters. Marvel joined into the mainstream live action movie scene in the late 80’s, and had a bit of a struggle.
Now, a very interesting thing happened at the turn of the century. DC films slowed down, and Marvel finally managed to break out with the X-Men series, the first of which debuted in 2000, after having gotten a fair amount of success with their 1998 movie Blade. The rights of the X-Men characters in the Marvel universe had been given over to Fox, and they were developing the films. Right after, Sony came out with the Spiderman film in 2002, the rights to which they had acquired back in 1999. These two film franchises, and the success they were getting at the box office marked the beginning of the superhero era that we now live in. Let it be noted that Marvel had been making these films in collaborations with big production homes, instead of producing the movies themselves, independently, through Marvel Studios.
Now, DC, having been making superhero movies since the 50’s, had been failing to catch hold of the fast progressing creation of the superhero genre in films. They had their breakthrough with the 2005 Batman film, Batman Begins, which was helmed by none other than Christopher Nolan. This gave a great jumpstart to their run in the new age superhero scene with Nolan’s cult fan following colliding with the fans of Batman, who is perhaps the most popular comic book character ever.
2008 was a pivotal year in the whole game. Spiderman and X-Men trilogies had ended, and Marvel needed a new project to stay relevant and keep building up on its success. This was the time when the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) began. Marvel Studios’ idea of a series of films which would have crossovers, with a range of superheroes coming together in one shared universe clicked immediately. Starting with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, both released in 2008, Marvel bet big and pulled it off. DC on the other hand, had a huge production house at its back, its parent company, Warner Bros., and could have pursued the cinematic universe theme immediately, but the Nolan trilogy of Batman films was just halfway through, with The Dark Knight having released in 2008, and one more film to go. They couldn’t jump into the idea.
It took DC a while to get a hang of the things, but they finally started with a shared universe, albeit on TV, with Arrow in 2012. Marvel, by this time, had completed an entire phase by now, with the MCU, while Fox had brought X-Men back with a new arc, and Sony had rebooted Spiderman. While these two weren’t a part of the MCU, it had still helped Marvel dominate the space. 2013 saw DC enter the cinematic universe model with Man of Steel, a Superman film, while Marvel entered the TV space extending its universe for the small screen with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. DC, on the other hand, chose to keep its universes separate for TVs and movies, and that slowed them down further.
Fast forward to 2016, DC finally managed to catch up with Marvel, with Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad followed by Wonder Woman in 2017. DC now has a cinematic universe planned, and on track. But, Marvel still has the lead, having gained enough success to be able to experiment, and is currently in the third phase of the universe. They have also managed to crack a deal with Sony, and Spiderman is now a part of the MCU. DC is doing fairly well, but still trying to catch up. In the midst of all of this, fans are getting the best deal; as many as five superhero films in a year. We now live in the age of superheroes!
There are a couple of reasons why superhero films became a genre in itself, and were able to be so successful. While we have always loved fantasies, technologically speaking, there has been no better time than now to portray all those fantasies on a screen. Secondly, the fact that we live in a time in which we could use heroes like these in reality, is a major factor in the popularity of these characters. The fact that these movies often have comic book fan boys at the helm, does help, and so does the fact that they have figured out the way to balance superhero films in such a way that even somebody who has never read a comic book can enjoy them.
The question that remains with us is, will this era end soon? Or will it end up creating a stable and permanent space for more superhero stories to be told? Well, that is something only time can tell!
THE AGE OF SUPERHEROS; HOW IT CAME TO BE