If you look at the most popular movies released so far this year, and certainly the ones with the biggest marketing budgets, you might notice a trend. In fact, this isn’t much of a new development. In the past five years or so, superhero movies seem to have rapidly accelerated in terms of popularity and the rate that they’re being launched. But what’s happening here?
One thing’s for sure: comic book characters are firmly back in fashion, including many that never really cracked the mainstream until recently. The likes of Deadpool and Harley Quinn would have been barely known a couple of years ago for audiences who only know their comic book heroes and villains through big screen adaptations. Now they’re both set to be two of the most popular Halloween costumes of 2016, and their images (at least, those of their newest incarnations played by Ryan Reynolds and Margot Robbie respectively) have quickly risen to iconic status.
Perhaps some of this can be put down to nostalgia for comic books – simpler times, when entertainment was in the form of paper books (remember books?) and couldn’t be streamed over the internet. If you paid for a subscription, you had to wait at least a whole week for someone to literally deliver your next instalment to your door – a foreign concept to anyone raised on the likes of Hulu, Netflix and online piracy. So maybe not so much nostalgia, since most of the audience for these movies never got the memo about these characters the first time round. Then what?It goes without saying that technology has revolutionised cinema countless times, and action movies have been hit the hardest and most frequently. The limits of computer generated imagery in comic book and sci-fi movies are constantly being pushed, with bigger budgets and bigger storylines demanding more impressive effects on screen. Motion capture techniques now allow for incredibly lifelike effects to be overlaid on footage of the actors, blurring the line between reality and fiction.
The standard of the films themselves should probably be considered as a contributing factor to the ever-increasing hype surrounding the newest releases from Marvel and DC as well as other major players and lower-profile film makers. It’s now common for established and respected actors to take cameos or even lead roles in superhero movies, and any dismissal of these types of films as being aimed solely at children would be considered misguided by most critics today. Award show nominations are also to be expected in the genre now, something which might have seemed unrealistic just a few years ago (Captain America, X-Men and other major franchises have earned Oscar nominations in the past few years).
So can we expect superhero movies to remain cool and consistently high quality over the next few years? Perhaps there are various different viewpoints on that, but the creators of these films are showing no signs of slowing down, openly planning up to a decade in advance for franchises like Marvel’s Avengers series. This might seem like a huge financial risk, but with the way things are going we don’t see this trend (or the movie studios behind it) dying out any time soon.