Although the first comic book film adaptations can be traced back to as early as the 1940’s, it was Richard Donner’s cult fantasy films Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) famously starring Christopher Reeve, followed by Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), that arguably paved the way for over three decades of big budget superhero comic book movies.
Thanks to their box office success since the 2000’s, comic book films have become the leading film genre, as Hollywood builds on the large fan base of characters like Batman, Superman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman and Captain America, to name a few, that have been popular since the 1930’s.
Progress in computer-generated imagery has enabled filmmakers to recreate the retro-futuristic aesthetic and recurring themes of the comic book with ever more realistic views and spectacular effects.
Superhero comic book narratives typically involve an ordinary male protagonist with a dark background, who undergoes a mysterious transformation and is left with supernatural powers that enable him to gain a deeper understanding of the hostile and dangerous metropolis he lives in. In this escapist fantasy, not only does the hero manage to overcome all his previous setbacks, but he also uses his gift to defend higher causes and bring justice to the world on his own terms. As a male take on the Cinderella story, the previously nerdy, lonely character suddenly leads an exciting double life and uses his alternative personality as a disguise.
Initially destined to a teenage male audience, stories with male superheroes convey an idealized version of masculinity: an impressive muscular physique, a sense of duty and honour, bravery, loyalty, kind-heartedness and impeccable morals –all qualities with a universal appeal.
Eleven upcoming films in this genre will be released in 2016 alone: Deadpool (February in the US and the UK), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (in March), Captain America: Civil War (April-May), X-Men: Apocalypse (May), Teenage Mutant: Ninja Turtles 2 (June), Suicide Squad (August), Gambit (October), Doctor Strange (November), including three animated ones, Batman: Bad Blood, Justice League Vs. Titans and The Killing Joke.
This super movie frenzy will continue at least up to 2020, not only with planned sequels for franchises like Spider-Man, Wolverine and Avengers, among others, but also with novelties such as: Wonder Woman (2017), with Gal Gadot as the first superheroine in a leading role, and Black Panther (2018), starring Chadwick Boseman as the first black superhero.