superhero movies

The Rise of Superhero Films

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“Wonder Woman.” “Iron Man.” “The Avengers.” “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The past decade or so has seen an influx of superhero films based on comic books — major big-studio movies starring the highest-paid actors in the world (think Jennifer Lawrence and Robert Downey, Jr.) and outperforming any other movies released. This week, the world will enjoy a new addition to the superhero film repertoire: “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” featuring the work of NYFA alumnus Francesco Panzieri on special effects!

While 1990s blockbusters like “Jurassic Park,” “Titanic,” and “Braveheart” were standalone epics based on books or historical events, today’s highest-grossing films are primarily superhero movies, based on a combination of factors such as escapism, cutting-edge special effects, and an older, wealthier population of comic-book fans.

The most significant, and grim, factor behind the rise of superhero movies has been the economic crash of 2008. There were popular superhero movies prior to this, such as “Spider-man” and Christopher Nolan’s excellent “Batman” series reboot, but following the economic downturn — in which many people lost their jobs and homes — superhero movies went into orbit.

People suddenly wanted escapism into a different world where the hero always triumphed and where distinctions between good and bad were easy to tell. Blockbuster epics with tragic endings like “Braveheart,” and “Gladiator” fell out of fashion, as no one wanted to compound the grim economic situation with an equally depressing movie. Comic-book superhero movies, in which the hero triumphs over evil, became more appealing to the general public. (While our economic downturn is not as severe as the Great Depression, it’s notable that the popularity of comic books in the 1930s mirrors the popularity of superhero movies today.)

With the rise of computers, special effects have become more realistic and believable — something that previously limited superhero movies. Compare the stiff, lumbering shark of “Jaws” — a movie that had exceptional special effects for its day — to the beautifully computer-generated creatures and atmospheres of today’s superhero movies.

Special effects designers have a wider range of options to work with, as well as better software and technologies, than they did 20 years ago. Need Captain America to soar to the heavens? Stand the actor in front of the green screen and virtually create the sky behind him. Need Ant-Man to fly through Iron Man’s suit and sabotage it? That can be achieved realistically as well.

Whereas “Titanic” required a replica ship, today’s computer generated imaging can produce entirely believable superhero action scenes through the digital manipulation of pixels.

The third factor in the popularity of comic-book superhero movies is the older age of the audience. Today’s superhero movies — even if they’re rated PG-13 — are primarily made for adults who grew up on comic books and now have a disposable income. These adults are mostly Generation X-ers and Millennials who read comic books as children during the 1970s-1990s and now have the money to see films and buy paraphernalia. While kids can beg Mom and Dad to buy movie tickets and Mom might possibly agree, adults can always purchase tickets and attend films — creating a great source of potential viewers who have fond childhood recollections of their comic book superheroes and villains.

What are your favorite superhero films? Let us know in the comments below! And if you’re ready to learn more about creating incredible films, study filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

6 Unlikely Superhero Film Hits

Superman was the first superhero to grace the silver screen back in the 1940s. Since then the Man of Steel has had many incarnations, as have Batman and Spiderman — from camp TV shows to blockbuster movie franchises. But, in recent years,  there are  a few surprise superhero hits that, when first proposed, likely caused more than a little head scratching. To honor National Superhero Day, we celebrate the lesser-known superhero movies that may inspire you to delve deep into comic book obscurity to create a superhero movie of your own!

1. “Hellboy” (Dark Horse Comics, 2004)

Guillermo del Toro passed up a shot at directing the third “Harry Potter” film “because he nurtured a need to bring Mr. Mignola’s colossal, monstrous-looking, Twizzler-colored champion to the screen,” according to a NY Times review by Elvis Mitchell. Mitchell congratulates del Toro for keeping the “drizzly, musty gothic ambience” of the source material while giving it his own quirky spin:

“The writer and director Guillermo del Toro has brought a similar woozy, disconcerting melancholy to his film adaptation, and his obvious affection and affinity for that dankness alone would make “Hellboy” worth seeing. But Mr. del Toro lets loose with an all-American, vaudevillian rambunctiousness that makes the movie daffy, loose and lovable.”

2. “Deadpool” (Marvel, 2016)

He has the power to regenerate — his limbs as well as the X-Men franchise. This R-Rated blockbuster proves comics are not just for kids. Returning to the source material, the movie has the titular character breaking the fourth wall — unusual behavior for a filmic superhero and one that worked; a sequel is in development.

3. “Dr. Strange” (Marvel, 2016)

Perhaps the most unlikely part of the story of this worldwide blockbuster is that, after 30 years, it finally got made. But Dr. Strange has always been a superhero outlier. Wikipedia quotes the historian Bradford Wright as saying, “Never among Marvel’s more popular or accessible characters, Dr. Strange still found a niche among an audience seeking a challenging alternative to more conventional superhero fare.”

4. “Watchmen” (DC Comics, 2009)

As the Telegraph notes in a review, “In the annals of Hollywood development hell, the long-anticipated Watchmen ranks high on the list of movies that almost didn’t get made.”

Besides the development SNAFUs, director Zack Snyder created a difficult not-for-kids superhero film. The Telegraph writes: “As well as extreme violence — arms are sawn off, heads are hatcheted, blood spurts in gushers, necks are twisted and broken, a woman is brutally beaten and raped — ‘Watchmen’ also pushes the envelope with an explicit superhero sex scene between Night Owl (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) that Snyder admits borders on pornography and which he filmed to the accompaniment of Leonard Cohen’s anthem ‘Hallelujah.’”

5. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (Marvel, 2014)

As Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers wrote in his review: “Maybe you never heard of Guardians of the Galaxy, the Marvel comic franchise that wilts in the shadows while Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Avengers get all the love. Maybe you think a big-*ss movie about wanna-be Marvel icons isn’t worth your time.

“Snap out of it. Guardians of the Galaxy does the impossible. Through dazzle and dumb luck, it turns the clichés of comic-book films on their idiot heads and hits you like an exhilarating blast of fun-fun-fun.”

6. “Ant-Man” (Marvel, 2015)

CinemaBlend ranked Ant-Man #24 on its 30 Best Superhero Movies list, and noted that, “Just like they did the previous year with Guardians of the Galaxy, 2015’s Ant-Man took an obscure character from Marvel’s library and turned them into a hit at the box office. The Peyton Reed-directed flick featured Scott Lang as the Tiny Titan working to harness the Pym Particle technology and make up for his criminal past with Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne’s help. By adding plenty of humor and incorporating a heist into the story, Ant-Man turned out to be anything but small when it came to enjoyability …”

What superhero would you like to see hit the big screen? Let us know in the comments below. And learn how to make your own films at New York Film Academy.