Kenneth Stratton: The Draw Of Superheroes

Mar 13, 2018

Steve Rogers of the current Captain America film franchise lives by one mindset: that no matter what, “I can do this all day.” And it seems with the recent influx of superhero movies, Hollywood has the same mindset.

There were 71 feature-length films made about superheroes in the United States during the 20th Century, according to Wikipedia. This number includes television and theatrical releases, and excludes animated films. The early part of the 21st Century has already surpassed this mark.

Between 2000 and 2017, there have been 106 superhero feature-length films in American cinema, with 16 more planned through 2019, including six releases this year alone. This incredible, almost super human pace of film is unprecedented and shows no signs of slowing down.

So…why are there so many superhero movies right now? There are a couple potential explanations.

The first is pretty simple. This century has seen rapid developments in the advancement of computer technology, which has made a huge impact on film.

After all, no convincing Superman would be able to exist without green screen and CGI enhancements that allow him to fly, use heat vision and superhuman strength.

Another factor is without a doubt, the box office. Five of 2017’s top ten grossing films in the domestic market were superhero movies. Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Justice League, each brought in somewhere between $2 million and $4 million for their respective studios, according to Box Office Mojo.

Through just it’s first three days, February’s Black Panther from Marvel Studios earned $242,155,680 at the domestic box office.

So, technology makes it possible, and clearly these films bring in a boatload of money. But this wouldn’t be possible without a steady audience. What exactly is the appeal?

I present another explanation: In an increasingly complex world full of issues, larger than life superheroes are our answer.

At times, they are a reflection of our world, reassuring us that we are not alone. In 2016, a year full of political divides, even Batman and Superman were at each other’s throats. The Marvel heroes were in the midst of a Civil War, with factions led by Iron Man and Captain America.

At other times, they are a projection of who we want to be. Last year, Wonder Woman broke ground, showing young women across America, they can be heroes too. Black Panther has already shattered box office records, giving many African Americans an on-screen superhero.

And finally, superhero movies can serve as an alternate reality, presenting a world where the most life-threatening attacks, the most complex of issues, can be solved in about two hours.

With school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and Parkland, Florida, gun control remains a divisive topic across America. In a post-9/11 age, we live with the constant threat of terrorist attacks.

And perhaps the scariest part of all is, there doesn’t seem to be anyone who can stand up and stop it. Leaders in Washington often seem out of touch, even unreliable. It’s hard to know which institutions we can trust, and who will serve us right.  

So, we turn to the Avengers. We put trust in the Justice League. Surely, they can save the day.

We ache to believe in heroes like Captain America, who will do everything in their power to defend truth, justice, and the American way.

There is no end in sight to the superhero influx, because Americans will always need heroes. As long as they keep making money and developing new technology, Hollywood will be very happy to “do this all day.”

But perhaps, if we look deep within ourselves, we can each find our own inner hero.

Kenneth Stratton of Southwick, Massachusetts, is a junior journalism major and political science minor, at Western New England University.

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