Why Are There So Many Superhero Movies?

Wednesday, 18 June 2014 - 2:14PM
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Wednesday, 18 June 2014 - 2:14PM
Why Are There So Many Superhero Movies?

Why is there such a deluge of superhero movies in recent years? And seriously, why hasn't there been a female superhero movie? These questions and more are answered (as much as they can be) by the above video by PBS Ideas Channel.

 

"The past 15 years have produced a pantsload of superhero films. It's hard to even remember a time before Batman, Spiderman, and Captain America dominated the summer box office. So are movie studios just lazy and out of ideas? Or is something else going on?" asks PBS Ideas Channel host Mike Rugnetta. 

 

 

In the video, Rugnetta tells us that at the end of 2014, there will have been 66 superhero movies released in the past decade, more than the three decades prior put together. He uses this trend as a jumping off point to discuss the issue of white male privilege ("Whoa! The world of superheroes is full of white dudes"). While there are exceptions, the vast majority of superheroes (and arguably all of the most iconic ones) are white men. The only female superhero who even approaches the 'everyone-with-a-pulse-has-heard-of-them' level of fame of the Batmans and Supermans of the world is Wonder Woman, and she still does not have her own movie. He postulates that this trend reflects theory of the history of the world called the "Great Man Theory" (not a coincidence that the word "man" is used). Proponents of this theory believe that a few "great" men shape the course of history (Napoleon, Alexander the Great, Hitler, etc). Critics of this theory (rightly, in my humble opinion) point out that these "heroes" are shaped by so many different factors, it's tantamount to being in the right place at the right time. If any one person "changes the world," it's because the world was ready, willing, and able to change. 

 

This theory leads him to his next point, the myths of any culture are exemplary of that culture's ideals at any given point in time. Superheroes used to be the champions of the oppressed, devoted to challenging the status quo. But in wartimes and in recent years, they have become more concerned with maintaining the status quo.

 

Rugnetta illustrates this dichotomy using the concepts of positive and negative liberty, but possibly oversimplifies these concepts. Negative liberty is essentially freedom from external constraints, while positive liberty involves freedom from internal constraints, even if that potentially means intervention from an external force. He equates positive liberty with challenging the status quo and negative liberty with maintaining it, even though challenging or maintaining the status quo is not inherent to either of these concepts. But, his point is still well-taken. Superheroes used to exemplify (one interpretation) of positive liberty: individuals helping oppressed groups to gain control over their lives. But now they exemplify (one interpretation) of negative liberty: heroes who fight purely external monsters and do nothing to challenge the status quo.

 

Side note: Rugnetta also mentions the distinction between superheroes who are actually "super," meaning those who have preternatural powers (strong aliens like Superman, genetic mutant like Spiderman or X-Men) and those who are really just costumed weirdos (Batman, The Punisher). We tend to lump all vigilantes in some kind of costume with a logo into the same category, but the latter category has, interestingly enough, spawned much darker, grittier films.

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