All Hail, Comics! Exploring the Continuous Reign of Comic Book Films at the Box Office and in Our Hearts

You may have first seen them as a kid in the books you so excitedly read after school and on summer holidays. You’ve now seen – and loved – several of them in theatres. Some probably have a permanent place on a shelf in your home. You have likely even seen a few on Netflix.

It seems Hollywood and, subsequently, movie-going audiences have become superfans when it comes to the comic-book-turned-movie trend. In fact, the third highest grossing film of all time, worldwide, was Marvel’s The Avengers, released back in 2012 (the coveted first spot on that list belongs to 2009’s Avatar with the second spot held firmly by 1997’s Titanic). That is exceptionally high praise considering the vast majority of audience members sitting down to watch a comic book movie have never read a comic before.

Given Hollywood’s To Be Made list for these films, it’s clear that comics-based entertainment has a huge audience and banks bucks that are, just like the characters themselves, out of this world. But… why?

Everybody Loves a Hero

The most obvious draw of comics-turned-movies is the hero aspect. Heroes either save us or inspire us to save ourselves, and comic book heroes are an intensified version of that. Think of Superman’s humility and courage, or Captain America’s leadership and bravery. Who wouldn’t want to be around someone like that or have more of those qualities in themselves?

Characters that are created within comics and then transferred to the big screen are often developed with similar hopes and fears of the cultures who look up to them, making them more relatable to the general audience. These heroes are also deliberately made to be non-ideological so that the audience can better relate to that character’s struggles as much as their victories. In short, the heroes in comics are the Everyman and Everywoman that we can all see somewhere deep within ourselves.

Fantasy Becomes Reality for 120 Minutes

What comic book films do quite brilliantly is allow you to remove yourself from your own reality. This is a monumental component of the comic book film puzzle that brings audiences – and their money – back to the theatres time and again (how many Batman movies have you seen, right?).

During the 1960s – in the midst of the Silver Age of Comics – those responsible for character development purposefully did not require their characters tackle the burning issues of the age. While some enemies were and are based on real-life examples, most superheroes fight fictional villains (the one exception being Iron Man, who takes on more modern-day terrorists).

Historically, comic book films allowed their audiences to escape very easily into the lives of the main characters because the development of any one character was fairly one-dimensional, something that is still somewhat true today. The movie juggernauts churning out these films understood that it was the big action, big explosions and big name stars – not character complexities – that assisted in bringing the audiences back.

But this lack of character complexity has slowly started to erode in recent years, especially after Iron Man and The Dark Knight were released in 2008. It is the reverberating effects of Tony Stark’s own brush with death via his very own weapons that cause him to create the flight suit and become Iron Man in the first place. And let’s not forget Christian Bale’s Batman, arguably the most complex version of the Caped Crusader ever put on screen (not to mention the psychotic labyrinth that is the mind and character of The Joker, brilliantly portrayed by the late Heath Ledger).

If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail

When considering the reasoning behind the overwhelming success of most comic book films, we must acknowledge the contributions of the two biggest players in the game: Marvel Worldwide Incorporated (a.k.a. Marvel Comics) and DC Comics. Although each publisher has clearly played a distinct role in developing their material into some of the highest-grossing films ever, the success of these films is definitely not left to chance.

Marvel has essentially dominated the comic book film scene since the beginning. Even without Batman, Superman or Spider-Man (who are DC’s main heroes), Marvel has provided lasting characters with captivating storylines in a consistent manner so as to capture and hold the attention of audiences the world over. Throughout each of their films, Marvel wisely provided small clues to the audience about possible sequels, thus building enough anticipation and intrigue to bring the audience back to their next film. In this game, consistency is key: since releasing Iron Man in 2008, Marvel has released nine more films (at least one each year with the exception of 2009).

DC Comics, on the other hand, has so far not been quite as well-organized with their films, creating individualistic characters with more finite storylines than their rival characters from Marvel. After releasing The Dark Knight Rises in 2012 and then Man of Steel in 2013, DC had nothing else slated to be released until 2016’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. DC’s commitment to continuity in their character development will undoubtedly be questioned as the actor portraying Batman has, yet again, been changed (from the critically acclaimed interpretation by Christian Bale to Academy and Golden Globe Award-winning actor/director Ben Affleck).

But the fact of the matter is audiences are invited back into the theatres at least once every year by a comic book film. And as much as we’d like to think timing doesn’t matter, it does, especially where profit and success are concerned. All things considered, the popularity of comic book films doesn’t appear to be waning whatsoever.

Whether audiences return to be saved by a fictional hero, to escape the pressures of everyday life or to simply continue enjoying the characters’ lives on screen, comic book films are sure to continue their reign as blockbuster hits for decades to come.


Written By Jess Campbell