If there’s one thing we’ve found to be true in cinema over the last decade, it’s that audiences go absolutely insane for their superheroes. It’s been an odd cultural turnaround; whereas before, comics were the territory of kids getting pushed around on the playground as “nerdy,” now they’re decidedly mainstreamed. It’s officially become “cool” to like comic books, and the rise of adapted movie franchises has played into this in an enormous way.
From Marvel’s expansive cinematic universe to DC’s long history of Batman and Superman movies, we’ve reached a point today where even heroes in the Ant-Man tier of recognizability (aka “not very”) can open to over $50 million. If you’re a studio with a comic book hero and a halfway decent screenplay, odds are you’ll make yourself a boatload of money across multiple movies. Creating a series of lucrative films isn’t difficult with the right source material from DC, Marvel, and the rest, a fact proven with each subsequent release every summer. In many ways, it makes for the consummate movie franchise.
With comic book movies, the story quite literally never ends
Most adapted franchises have a beginning, middle, and end: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, the list goes on. They’re cash cows based on their built-in appeal, but the money rolls in only as long as they have books to pull from. When the books end, so do the adapted movies. Comic book movies though have a nigh infinite treasure trove of tales to pull from. While comics have self-contained storylines that begin and end, the adventures of “Insert Superhero Here” never end.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we’re seeing famous series like Civil War and The Infinity War get boiled down to one or two installments. This is then followed by a seamless transition into the next hero’s origin story. Both major comic distributors have a long way to go too. Marvel still has plans for at least two more Avengers movies, a third installment in the Thor saga, and standalone pictures for Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, and the Inhumans. On the DC side, they still have most of their roster of superheroes to debut, beginning with Wonder Woman, and ramping up with individual movies for every member of the Justice League (followed by two Justice League films).
Complex comic book universes have been sanitized for larger audiences
Anyone with even a passing familiarity with comic book universes knows just how insane it can get. Marvel alone has their Multiverse, which posits multiple separate realities where different heroes make decisions that dramatically alter each respective universe. On the other end, DC has a habit of getting even crazier, with the Flash and his various enemies often wreaking havoc with time travel. All this of course had to work for a profitable movie franchise, so the respective studios did everything they could strip out the more confusing elements.
What we see in theaters is a universe full of individual heroes that interact (and sometimes battle) with each other. Delve into the comics and you can find issue after issue that presents complex and convoluted storylines that work more for the initiated and less for your average movie audience. It’s not so much an indictment of comic book writing though as it is a fact: Both the MCU and DC’s film universe greatly simplify their source material.
People love a good crossover
For reasons largely unknown, there’s little audiences love more than seeing characters from one movie interact with ones from another. It’s why The Avengers and Age of Ultron are some of the highest-grossing movies of all time, and explains the incredible popularity of the expanded DC superhero universe on the CW between Arrow and The Flash. This will only continue on into the near future. This year alone, we saw Superman go toe-to-toe with Batman, followed a month later by Captain America: Civil War, starring almost every hero the MCU has to offer.
Comic book movies will be around for as long as people aren’t completely sick of them. They won’t be stopped by a lack of stories to tell, given the endless supply of material DC and Marvel have to pull from. They certainly won’t sink on the back of unappealing heroes, featuring well-established characters played by Hollywood’s biggest A-list actors. In the end, it’s hard to see an endpoint for a genre of movies always fixated on the next installment. It’s why people sit through 15 minutes of end credits for a 30-second stinger that essentially acts as a “next time on…” for future films. Audiences love their superheroes, and as long as that love remains, studios will continue to churn out movies.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest
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