June 17, 2014

Why So... Many Superhero Movies? This Video Explains Our Obsession

The JokerThe year 2000 didn't just usher in a brand new millennium, with bursting Dot Com bubbles, trucks like dumps, and fears of Y2K, it also marked the beginning of a wave of superhero films that has only been growing in recent years. But why? Why are we seeing so many of these types of films being made? Is it because Hollywood has just run out of ideas, or is there something else going on? Well, PBS' Idea Channel aims to answer that in this enlightening video that explores the history of comic book heroes; how superheroes have changed from unstoppable rebels to law enforcing authority figures, as well as the historical trends in superhero cinema and how they correlate with society and culture.

After X-Men hit theaters in 2000 and caused this insane influx of superhero film production, it's kind of difficult to imagine our cinematic lives without them. And, for now at least, we may not have to. Indiewire recently wrote a post saying that 23 superhero films are planned to hit theaters over the next 4 years. That's -- a lot.

Why are studios making so many of them? Yeah, because they're profitable (most of the time), but why are they profitable? Why does so much of the filmgoing population go to the theater and slam down a small fortune to see Wolverine seethe and Spiderman swing between NYC skyscrapers? Well, if you're thinking that the answer is as simple as, "Because explosions and muscle-bound dudes fighting are awesome," you might be surprised by what this episode of PBS' Idea Channel has to say about the matter:

Here is the infographic that host Mike Rugnetta mentions in the video, courtesy of Koldcast.tv.

A year ago we wrote about the possible reasons why we're so obsessed with zombies (inspired by another Idea Channel video). These two sub-genres go well together when analyzing their widespread appeal, because the periods in our history when zombie and superhero films became particularly popular were marked with certain specific world events -- for zombie films: technological advances and the Civil Rights Movement; for Superhero films: the onslaught of war.

Superhero films are perfect vehicles for spreading messages of patriotism, which I'm sure Americans were looking to explore and express after 9/11 in 2001. Not only that, but in times of violence, when citizens begin to feel as though the status quo (or even their lives) are threatened, moviegoers flock to films where there are good guys kicking some major villainous ass. So, in the same way that zombie films reveal to us the dangers of too much technology or consumerism run amok, superhero films give us that feeling of safety knowing that there is a semi-altruistic authority figure out there putting bad guys in their place and setting things right again.

It goes without saying that this isn't a conscious thing. When I hear a mysterious noise in the middle of the night, which is most likely a homicidal maniac with a bazooka, I don't just run into my living room to watch The Avengers so I can feel safe enough to fall asleep (that's what The Simpsons are for). Furthermore, superhero films are just cool and fun to watch, but it is important to be aware of the other reasons (some of them unconscious) why people buy the movie tickets that they do -- the Studios certainly spend a pretty penny to dig deep into this stuff, so there's certainly something there.

What do you think are the reasons why audiences see superhero films in such great numbers? Let us know in the comments below.

[via PBS Idea Channel & Filmmaker IQ]

Your Comment

37 Comments

People go to special effect films to see something exciting and new they can't see anywhere else. This is especially true for the the international audience which has become a huge financial driving force in the last few years. Super hero stories demand special effects as do destruction films, alien invasion, and animated film. Add in how financially successful sequels are and it's a no-brainer. Remove those movies and what do you have? Indies and academy award winning historical drama : P It's about spectacle.

June 18, 2014 at 3:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dan

I once used a laser disc of "Howard the Duck" to make fun of Jeffrey Jones ... to Jeffrey Jones ... true story ...

June 18, 2014 at 3:57AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

If someone makes a Zombie super-hero movie...WE ARE ALL DOOMED!

June 18, 2014 at 5:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Johan

June 18, 2014 at 12:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I think the rise in superhero films in recent years has another contributing factor. Comics and superheroes are no longer solely the preserve of children or teenagers but also adults. The audience is bigger now perhaps because this generation of adults do not leave the comic books and fantasies of omnipotent superheroes some important in their powerless childhoods behind but rather remain more openly appreciative of them.
We are a generational audience that remains more childlike well into adulthood hence superhero films can be marketed to a far wider audience.
These same 'peter pan' adults are now also the studio executives, producers and directors.
Perhaps this childlike, particularly male desire to be omnipotent in a world where we are increasingly less able or welcome to be has always existed but it no longer has the immature stigma attached to it that it might have had for adult males in the 50's or 60's.

June 18, 2014 at 6:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Paul

Paul, I think you hit the nail on the head!!

June 18, 2014 at 9:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Terry

That should read,; so important in their childhoods rather than some, curse these hulk thumbs!

June 18, 2014 at 7:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Paul

The question to ask is Why are they so bad.These superhero flicks are horrible to watch. Clearly Hollywood has become so conservative in recent years its really is eating itself..Shame there are so many talented hard working people producing this garbage.

June 18, 2014 at 8:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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anastasis

Ditto!

June 27, 2014 at 11:12AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dan H

My favorite stat from that infographic are the "5 Biggest Bombs", because I'm trying to think exactly who in 2004 thought, "Hey. Punisher seems to be a successful franchise. Let's make another one!"

And all I can think about after that is how long it'll be before there is a new Punisher movie headed to theaters.

June 18, 2014 at 9:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I think international markets have a lot to do with it, too. The Chinese market, for example, only allows a certain number of American films to be played there annually, and a certain percentage of those must be 3D and/or IMAX.

June 18, 2014 at 9:40AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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V, are you talking to women when referring to your obsession here? Because I for one am definately not obsessed with guys in tights. Sorry. Plus, isn't it easier to copy an already made story and make a movie out of it then actually write an original story with a believable cast and a great crew to produce it? That how it seems to me as of late, and I'm 51 years old.

June 18, 2014 at 1:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Wow, in that span of time, you changed the title. How clever! :-)

June 18, 2014 at 1:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Technically I didn't…I mean…technically you all did, but that's a story for another day. (We test multiple titles.)

I don't think people would want to watch a superhero who doesn't wear tights…or at least something that clings to his quivering, rippled muscles. We've yet to see a popular superhero who's just a total schlub.

We like our superheroes male. We like our superheroes hot. And we like superhero FILMS with tons of action. Ergo, we like hot male action.

June 18, 2014 at 5:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

You go girl! :-)

June 19, 2014 at 3:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Didn't watch the video. But having been on the production teams for MOST of the superhero films that have been released in the last 10 years, I feel I may have a little insight on this. And it's quite simple actually. There's already a fan base. That's why studios make them. It's no different than why The Hunger Games was made. There was a fan base prior to the release of the film. It's that simple. There is no other reason. It's guaranteed butts in seats.

June 18, 2014 at 1:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Garrett Cox

How about the fact that there's no competition for the big budget action/CGI flicks for Hollywood anywhere in the world. A drama can be written and shot anywhere (the last Cannes Grand Prize winner was from Turkey, having been "filmed" on F65). Comedy often depends on local references, history, customs, language and tastes. A sport film? The Yanks won't watch any thing about soccer and the rest of the world won't watch anything about the American football or the MLB. But action, larger than life cinematography and special effects have a universal attraction. So, you make a summer flick and it plays well across the globe.
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Look at the last weekend numbers - "How to train your dragon" - a $100M global opening weekend. "Malificent" - $165M US + $272M global. "Edge of Tomorrow" - $60M US + $180M global. "X-Men" - $208M US + $462M global. "Godzilla" - $192M US + $248M global. Spider-Man - $200M US + $500M global.
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Compare this to - "Fault in Our Stars" - $83M US + $42M global, "Neighbors" - $143M US + $90M global, "Blended" - $42M US + $2M global, "Million Dollar Arm" - $33M US + $.5M global.
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So, you can either double or triple your domestic box office with foreign sales or you can get a portion of it overseas. Guess what the executives think?

June 18, 2014 at 2:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

To judge financial success you have to account how much each of these movies cost to be made and market.

To mention some of your examples, neighbors costed 18M + marketing and has made so far 232M worldwide, huge success, while Edge of Tomorrow costed 178M + marketing and has made 242M worldwide which puts it in red.

VFX aren't the only reason a movie becomes internationally appealing. Nowadays for each successful summer flick 3 or 4 others flop.

June 18, 2014 at 3:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Marcus

I'm not completely sure what you're saying here. Maybe you're trying to argue with me?

I familiar with the direction of executives as I had worked with them on a nearly daily basis and spoken with the directors and producers. Obviously larger than life cinematography and visual effects is an industry pioneered in the west for westernized cinema. (What's funny now is that it's all being labored in east, but that's another discussion) The point is, really, yes! the budgets for action hero films are huge, yes! they have the best production teams. It's entirely my point. The pre-existing fan base IS the reason you have Joss Whedon on Avengers with the best actors with the best writers and the best visual effects units. Because they know they can make money. Because they know they can fill seats. Because they know there's an audience already there.

I just had this discussion last night. It's really too bad super hero flicks are all the rage. With all the film technology available today we could be witnessing amazing films otherwise. All of our A list actors, directors and writers are too busy discussing what big green men should be grunting next and how many mech soldiers should fly through office buildings. But I digress.

Bottom line. Major studios don't make large budget films that they fear they won't make a return. Black Swan had a production budget of what 15 million? Shawshank Redemption had a 20 million dollar budget. These movies are risks and thusly why they only get minimal budgets for completion. In my opinion both films are far superior than any super hero flick I've seen over the same period of time. But for every Shawshank Redemption how many "I Am Sam"s are there?

June 18, 2014 at 3:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Garrett Cox

They are stupid, simplistic piles of shite pushing bullying capitalist values. Fuck them!

June 18, 2014 at 3:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Yes, because big blockbuster CGI Sci-Fi films, like Elysium, where they're attacking rich people for not giving "everyone else" free healthcare, is really promoting Capitalistic values. I'd like you to just name one pro-capitalistic blockbuster in the last 10 years. There aren't any. The west-majority is pro-collectivist now (and thus the reason for all our problems these days) Grow up.

June 19, 2014 at 1:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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bwhitz

What does this video "explain" in the revealing or clarifying sense of the word?
If we are obsessed with superheroes, why are we also obsessed with the same mind-numbingly simple ABC's of hollywood's superhero world order? The video does not explain why we are obsessed with superheroes any more than a weigh scale explains why an obese person is obsessed with eating superhero burgers. If we are indeed "creating our myths" today in the form of Batman and the Hulk, how robust are they? Are we in the age of disposable mythology, one size fits all, each wrapped up in the same container, prepared for the next logo to take over? Or are we just kidding ourselves and trying to make intellectual excuses for our poor diet when we know all along that everyday reality easily beats out hollywood's drivel. Whether it's a man armed with a couple of grocery bags facing down a row of bone crushing tanks in Tiananmen square, or Voyager II hurtling through space carrying a message from Kurt Waldheim, a former member of a division of the Nazi party, for any extra terrestrial life able to listen to it. Surely Gilgamesh stands apart from the caped crusader in this regard.

June 18, 2014 at 3:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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William

This has become such a diluted product but these films still do amazing box office. Perhaps super hero flicks are the new sequel.

June 18, 2014 at 4:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Marc B

Super hero movies will never die out in my opinion. They are way too popular. Also I have loved Marvel and DC since I was a kid. The popular ones such as Spider Man, Batman, and Superman are pretty much the legends of all this. Many more great ones obviously, but these are the big boys many say. I never want to see them go away.

June 18, 2014 at 8:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Hopefully! I love to see the same heroes recycled every few years because I am a damn moron. Superman, Spider Man, batman, hulk. I pray that the avengers get a remake very soon!!!

June 19, 2014 at 2:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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mariano

You know, I never once seen a comment from you where you had anything constructive or uninsulting to say.

June 19, 2014 at 4:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Coty

*I have never once

June 19, 2014 at 5:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Coty

Even though I'm not a huge fan of superhero movies (except TMNT, of course), I don't want to see them go away either…and I don't think anybody wants them to, even those that say they do. People just want to get them off of the conveyor belt and back into the hands of visionaries and great storytellers who are free to do it their way.

Everyone loves a good story regardless of who or what it's about.

June 19, 2014 at 5:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

It is not so much about a huge demand, it is about the easy supply with lots of merchandise benefits to boot. CGI has made expensive blockbuster type movies cheap to produce. Aside from paying Robert Downey Jr. a bunch, the actors are cheap and have been locked into big multi-film contracts.

June 19, 2014 at 8:18AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jake

"Why are WE seeing so many Superhero Movies". "This Video explains OUR obsession"
Don't ya just Love those WE people? WE think this. WE do that. Really ?
Maybe YOU oughta' speak for YOUR Self.

June 19, 2014 at 8:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dheep'

This video is so wrong. This video tries to be smart by over complicating the reasoning behind why these movies are popular and being served up like hot cakes now days. But it doesn't even come close to touching the truth.

The real reason? Business. Its all about money. Action movies have been blockbuster hits for decades, its just that most action movies now days are of the Superhero genre. Why? For a few reasons, for one 20 years ago the technology to sell superheroes in movies didn't exist, we now live in an era where CG is so good it can sell anything, but the more important reason is that comic book films, or should I say the material its based on is road tested. It already has a fan base and has already shown it has a formula for success so its a safer gamble as far as the Movie studios are concerned.

And thats what its all about, the business of the movie studios. It has nothing to do with Hollywood running out of ideas, it has everything to do with maximizing profits for a movie. Its not just about getting people's asses into the seats in the theaters, its about selling DVDs and Broadcasting rights, and more importantly 3rd party licensing. And what sells better then movies based on popular superheroes? Toys, backpacks, clothes, bedsheets, you name it. A lot of money is to be made there and it all comes back to the studios. Notice that there hasn't been a lot of merchandizing for X-Men Days of Future past based items? Its because Disney has beef with Fox and is trying to starve them from profits. They hold say over 3rd party items and they stone walled Fox, Fox is losing a lot of money because of it.

But my point is Studios are more about playing it safe now days, they aren't interested so much in new ideas unless its had success it other mediums (Twilight, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Game of Thrones,etc.) Comic Books based films and Remakes of old successful action films are a safer gamble for them. Its also because the movie industry has changes. Back in around the 30-40, over 80% of the US population went to the movies. Today? Less the 5%. Hollywood is focussed on making films that will but the maximum about of people in seats.

Its important if you really want to make films, that you really study the business side of it, and I mean the real business side. Most people don't have a clue how crazy it is, where the money goes and how its made.

June 20, 2014 at 12:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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These movies are popular because they tap into why most people go to see movies - entertainment. As filmmakers we tend to over-analyze the meanings behind every scene or nuance of a film or what gear was used. Average viewers just want a fun story. When I go to the theater, I want an adventure, much like an amusement park or traveling. When I don't have the money or time to do either, a movie is a great substitute. Each remake of a familiar story is like discovering a new town, most things are the same and familiar but I may discover a new restaurant or shop that is memorable. Superhero movies have the familiarity and newness in the same package.

June 20, 2014 at 1:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dandy

Well I think by such kinds of movies people will remember the characters that were once used in comic books. Also not everyone loves to read books but they prefer to watch in the form of movies or clips ( I am in such category of people). Then the craze will be more and then they will step forward to have their movie props of the characters they love the most.

June 27, 2014 at 3:35AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Too bad they have such shockingly bad scripts for the most part.

June 27, 2014 at 11:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dan H

gaming laptops under 600

July 11, 2014 at 9:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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It's all because the generation that grew up on comic books are adults now, so the audience is simply larger now - as superheros and comic books are appealing to the younger audience, as well.

@ http://helprace.com

March 2, 2015 at 12:21PM

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MScott
Director of Photography
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"Our" obsession ?

August 14, 2016 at 9:52AM

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