Superhero movies have been around since the 1930s, when people turned to comics during World War II and The Great Depression. They needed something to inspire them to keep fighting, something that showed that the good guys could win in the end. So, why are superheroes and their movies still so popular today?
It’s argued superheroes are still as relevant as they once were as they represent a large part of a society’s traits and values; both in the comics and movies, they symbolise humanity. They are human, just like the audience. These characters feel various emotions, have both good and bad experiences but showcase the possibility of overcoming their struggles whilst inspiring viewers to do the same. Everyone can relate to at least one character, as heroes are designed to show the best parts of society, and the villains represent the worst. Seeing yourself reflected in the characters is what makes them so likeable. This relatability is what connects audiences to superhero movies, and why so many people return to the genre whenever a new film is released.
Some experts consider superhero movies to be a form of escapism. The genre’s original intention was to blend education and entertainment, however movies produced by Marvel and DC have lent heavily towards the latter element. Their movies tend to be action-packed with stunts and impressive sequences to help immerse the audience into a colourful and expansive world. Thanks to advances in technology, pictures inside of a comic book are now able to come to life, allowing film makers to create scenes that were never possible to achieve with practical effects alone. Improvements in CGI have also helped to immerse audiences in the story, as what they’re watching looks realistic, which wouldn’t be as effective with cheaper CGI equipment.
Since their creation, some movies have been better received by audiences than others, keeping their high acclaim rooted in pop culture. Rotten Tomatoes’ rating system considers their users’ personal ratings of a movie to create an overall percentage out of 100% based on verified user ratings. The highest audience-rated superhero films of the decades post 1960 include:
1970: Superman. Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman was so highly received it went on to get four other films after its release. The film received both Oscar nominations and an 86% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, becoming more unanimously successful than Captain America, Hercules in New York and Exo-man which were all released in the same decade.
1980: Batman. Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) fights crime in Gotham City disguised as Batman. The film currently sits at 84% on Rotten Tomatoes with more than 250,000 verified reviews. In comparison, similar films released the same decade, such as Blade, has a 78% score.
1990: Batman Returns. The sequel to the 1980 movie sees Michael Keaton return as Batman. Receiving a 73% audience score, Keaton’s Batman went on to get a higher audience score than Batman Forever, The Mask and Spawn.
2010s: The Dark Knight. This portrayal sees Batman (Christian Bale) return in not only one of the highest-rated superhero films, but one of the highest-rated films ever. The film is more acclaimed with audiences on Rotten Tomatoes than Avengers Endgame, Iron Man, Into the Spiderverse and Thor Ragnarok with its 94% audience score.
2020s: Across the Spiderverse. The only Marvel movie on the list holds its own also with a score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is Marvel’s sequel to their first animated feature film, once again utilising the comic book aesthetic. The film is both more critically acclaimed and well-received by audiences than Spiderman: No Way Home, Black Widow, The Flash and Eternals.
As is evident from the list above, Batman is still one of the most well-received characters for audiences, reflected with the acclaim The Batman (2022) received. Because his struggles are more human, it’s suggested Batman is the more relatable hero to most audiences. Instead of being a superhero to admire, Batman is a superhero that inspires; he teaches audiences that it doesn’t take a perfect person to do good things. Mix these lessons with his colourful villain catalogue, a large amount of material is available to make films out of without becoming repetitive. These factors have ultimately made his films resonate stronger with audiences, making the character incredibly successful. DC know if they keep making Batman films, they’ll keep getting money.
Surprisingly, despite the high audience praise of these DC movies, word of mouth is better for Marvel leading to wider audiences spending money on watching Marvel films over DC. Marvel also dominates over DC when it comes to box office numbers, grossing $29.1 billion overall compared to the DCEU’s $6.5 billion. Marvel being more successful than the latter, despite being created later, is down to several reasons. The main reason, however, is that Marvel have marketed their characters better, making them more successful and well-known. Marvel takes a risk by introducing lesser-known characters, and working on their character development, whereas DC appear to be stuck re-branding Batman and Superman, instead of introducing new characters. The MCU has more multiversal aspects, better writers, better team-ups and having a much better track record than DC. You hear more people saying, “Have you seen the new Marvel movie?” than “Have you seen the new DC movie?” which is a trend that is unlikely to change.
Editor’s note: Ava is a sixth former at Branston Community Academy and spent a week with us at Tucann on a work experience placement. She has worked with our Feature Writer, Alana, on articles including this one and Electric Cars: What You Should Know, displaying considerable ability and an excellent attitude towards work. Ava’s efforts have been a great example of what the Work Experience programme can achieve in providing students the chance to participate in the production of real, established publications.