Comic book based motion pictures have become tremendously popular in movie theaters in recent years. The increasing popularity of “The Avengers” series, including the Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America movies to name a few, might seem to demonstrate historical perspective on the current state of America’s viewing interests.
“When people talk about this, the common answers that they give are that there’s something going on in our culture right now that especially responds to superheroes,” Joe Sanders, associate professor of English at K-State, said.
There are a variety of explanations for why American culture seems to respond that way, according to Sanders.
“Superhero stories are often considered to be a metaphor for America’s military dominance in the contemporary world,” Sanders said. “So, when we are thinking about our military dominance these metaphors become more popular.”
This is just one of the most common explanations.
“One other common explanation too is that it’s post 9/11,” Sanders said. “That in the post 9/11 era there are things that we’re worried about that superheroes make us feel better about.”
However, there are plenty of other reasons superhero movies are becoming more popular. Some theories are more convincing than others.
“If you look back to superhero movies, the first modern big-budget Hollywood superhero movie was probably Christopher Reeve’s Superman in 1978,” Sanders said. “There has been a major superhero film, at least one, almost every year since 1978, so these have been a big deal since at least 1978. You definitely can’t talk about them as a post 9/11 phenomenon.”
This also makes it less likely these movies have become popular simply because they play to a cultural anxiety. If they are due to cultural anxiety, than it would be a response to whatever that anxiety was in 1978 that is still relevant today.
According to Sanders, another likely reason for the popularity of this genre is technology.
“The special effects technology that you need to tell these big science fictional stories really well, that not only exists, but is cheap now,” Sanders said. “You can have that technology in 1978, but it was expensive.”
Essentially, these movies were more rare in the 1970s because of the different and more expensive technology needed. Even if the technology today was available then, the movies would not have been as financially feasible.
“America was always ready for these (films) to be popular, it was just that they were too expensive to make in a way that was visually convincing,” Sanders said. “In 1965 it was really hard to make a movie about a guy who can burst into flame and fly around or anything like that.”
However, even more important than the cost of visual effects today versus in the 1970s is the way the total cost to produce the film has dropped since then, Sanders said.
“Right now, there is increased synergy, by which I mean that you have corporations who control film production, as well as film distribution.” Sanders said. “They actually own the intellectual properties that are being used to populate these film scripts.”
Companies now control enough aspects of movie production to make the movies easier to produce. When all of these elements are concentrated in one place, producers do not have to meet with lawyers of companies who own intellectual properties and work on a contract for these individual movies, Sanders said. Instead, this is all done between departments, instead of companies, which removes many of the legal and financial obstacles for production companies.
There are also additional financial incentives.
“Disney realizes now that it can make more money off its Marvel properties if they make movies about their Marvel properties,” Sanders said.
The movies have also impacted the cost of the comic books. Because of the success of the Daredevil series, available on Netflix, which holds a five star rating, the Daredevil comic prices have risen. Daredevil No. 1 has almost doubled in price, according to Evan Johnson, junior in political science and store manager at Boom Comics in Manhattan.
“It’s not that a Daredevil market didn’t exist, but rather it accelerated the demand,” Johnson said. “It’s not so much about the creation of economic spaces for a culture within nerddom, but it’s rather about how those events accelerate the economics within those things.”
‘A place to find their home’
Johnson said he believes the recent popularity of comic book based movies has helped “nerddom” become more socially acceptable.
“I think ‘The Avengers’ has provided an interesting avenue in which to open up a market to make comic book and/or nerddom culture more popular,” Johnson said.
Kurtis Scheller, Manhattan resident and assistant manager at Boom Comics, said he agreed, and that the recent movies have made it easier for people to be fans of comic books.
“It used to be if you went into a comic book shop you were a super nerd, and now you can be cool and go to a comic book shop,” Scheller said. “It used to be considered just so nerdy, and now it’s not, it’s made it absolutely acceptable and you can check out other comics and it can be a cool thing now.”
Johnson said the recent movies have also created a sort of culture for people who did not fit in in typical ways, such as being an athlete or socialite in general, much the same way the “Star Wars” series did.
“Those movies have given those people a place to latch onto and a place to find their home,” Johnson said.