The Amazing Spider-Man. The Dark Knight Rises. The Avengers. These three films dominated the summer box office this year, while Avengers and Dark Knight have become the third and seventh highest grossing films of all time. Some say the superhero genre is a fad, but anyone paying attention to these films’ success must know they aren’t going anywhere.
Superman got the ball rolling on hero films in 1978, and with it the original Batman, Spider-Man and X-Men films brought the genre into popularity. But studio interference doomed all of them to subpar sequels that ruined the heroes’ reputations.
When Batman Begins rebooted the franchise in 2005, other series began following suit. The X-Men got the treatment last year with First Class and will continue into next year with a darker Wolverine. This year’s The Amazing Spider-Man, while said to be too soon after the original trilogy, found its own footing with a solid new take on the material and is already getting a sequel.
Next year the world’s greatest superhero, Superman, will get the reboot treatment with Man of Steel, hoping to re-introduce the iconic hero for a modern audience. All these films restored their heroes’ glory by injecting a healthy dose of dramatic depth and realism.
Of course none of that would be possible without The Dark Knight trilogy, which set itself apart from other hero films of the time by putting its comic book characters in a realistic context. The trilogy may have wrapped up, but its influence won’t fade anytime soon. Not only can the shadow of The Dark Knight be felt in the upcoming Superman reboot and further Spider-Man and X-Men sequels but now, even superhero TV shows are taking cues as well.
This October, the CW will premiere “Arrow,” a reimagining of the DC Comics hero Green Arrow. Like Batman, “Arrow” is about a billionaire playboy looking to clean up his city by becoming a superhero. By adopting the darker, more realistic approach to comic book mythology, “Arrow” looks to carry the spirit of The Dark Knight trilogy into the world of television.
Marvel Studios, however, has a different approach. Having spent the last four years building a cinematic universe, their efforts paid off in a big way with The Avengers. A new slate of films is now scheduled to lead into an Avengers sequel, including Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World for next year and Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy for 2014. Marvel is obviously comfortable with the world building formula they adopted, and intend to keep using this formula with future films.
If the success of this year’s superheroes means anything, it’s that an audience for these characters still exists. While upcoming superhero films may be dark and gritty or fun and light hearted, the genre itself is still thriving, and should keep fans happy for years to come.