Why have superheroes suddenly become so…powerful?

It’s fair to say, the number of superhero campaigns that have landed in the Zero Degrees West studio has risen significantly in the past two years. We’ve had the pleasure of working on titles like Wonder Woman and Justice League, as well as the entire DCTV catalogue; and judging from studios’ 2019 rosters, there is apparently a rise in demand for the genre.

But superhero titles haven’t always been a popular choice for audiences. During the last two decades, the genre made a bad name for itself after a run of poor attempts at bringing our favourite heroes to the big screen. Cast your mind back to this review from the early noughties; words that unfortunately ring true for many superhero movies that have made it to cinema in the past.

“…this is only worth seeing if you can handle shallow characters and dull, plastic action scenes for the sake of unintentional laughs.” – Empire

…Cutting. But leap forward to 2018 and the tables have most certainly turned. Five of the top ten grossing movies last year were superhero titles, all falling into the action category which, in turn, is currently the highest earning genre, holding a 30% share of the box office market.

So, why have they found such great success now? Here are a few reasons we think might help explain things…

1. They look a hell of a lot better

Many people attribute the rise of the genre to the significant developments in special effects technology. Unlike before, studios can now rely on state-of-the-art CGI to satisfy their fans by being able to tell the story in a much more convincing and awe-inspiring way.

Captain America screenwriter, Christopher Markus told IGNIn some ways, [superhero movies have] become a genre that you can do well now given the world of computers.

Add into the mix 3D, IMAX, iSense, RPX, 4DX and all the other premium large format cinemas making their mark on the theatrical market, the genre now has its prime setting to really take audiences’ breath away.

In 2008, The Dark Night became the first mainstream feature to be shot using IMAX 70mm cameras. Director, Christopher Nolan, filmed six sequences (28 minutes worth) of footage in the format. All 94 IMAX venues showing the movie sold out in its opening weekend.

In May 2015, the Russo brothers confirmed that their upcoming superhero title, Avengers: Infinity War, would be filmed entirely using IMAX cameras. The movie broke advanced ticket sales records and, according to Elizabeth Frank, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Programming and Chief Content Officer at AMC, the draw came from premium format screens…

“Movie fans are buying their tickets in advance, they’re buying in premium formats, they’re buying to reserve their seats, and they’re doing so in massive, record-breaking numbers” – Elizabeth Frank

2. It’s all about timing

Take yourself back to September 2001, the shocking events of 9/11 stunned the Western world and a defiant superhero narrative was just what people needed to give welcome escapism during the political War on Terror. It is no surprise then that the biggest grossing movie of the following year (and first superhero movie released after the attack) was Sam Raimi’s Spiderman.

This correlation appears to have re-emerged during times of social strain. Interestingly, the first superheroes saw their debut during the suffering of The Great Depression. And in 2008, Wall Street not only suffered another catastrophic crash but the aforementioned The Dark Knight became the year’s highest grossing movie, earning a cool $204m more than Iron Man, which took 2nd place.

An article recently published by LadBible claims that superhero movies are actually helping fans improve their mental health. After the death of Marvel creator and legend, Stan Lee, in November this year, it was clear to see from fans’ outpouring of love how his superheroes had helped them fight their own battles in life.

3. They are much more than just action comedies

Recent superhero filmmakers have been keen to fight back against textbook narratives and typecasting in an attempt to do more than just entertain. The new generation of superhero movie also brings with it a social-commentary that has never been so prevalent in main-stream action titles.

“In the midst of a regressive cultural and political moment fuelled in part by the white-nativist movement, the very existence of Black Panther feels like resistance” – TIME Magazine

Titles such as Black Panther generated an overwhelming reception, connecting with audiences way outside their target zones because of its cultural significances. The movie’s total domestic earnings currently stands at a monumental $700,059,566 (Nov ’18), making it Marvel’s biggest superhero release of all time and the 3rd highest earning movie in North America ever.

The movie drew in a huge crowd of new superhero fans with 37% of the overall audience being African-American, up from the usual average of 15% according to ComScore and Screen Engine. It also saw a much higher female viewership than previous superhero titles, with almost half the audience being women, resulting in the movie having the most diverse superhero audience in history; a statistic that could potentially change superhero audience demographics forever.

Of course, delving deeper, the rise of the superhero can be attributed to many factors. But what we can see is that the genre has finally reached an age where it can truly shine; an age that enables audiences to feel closer than ever before to their childhood heroes.

So, will factors such as developing technology and increased diversity in the industry mean this genre is set to go on soaring? Some sceptics predict not. In 2016, Spielberg predicted the genre will inevitably go the same way as the Western…

“Right now the superhero movie is alive and thriving. I’m only saying that these cycles have a finite time in popular culture.” – Steven Spielberg

Whatever the future of superhero movies holds, we know how important it is to do these precious stories justice and to bring them to life just as our minds eye has done for generations. After all…

…with great superheroes, comes great responsibility.

If you’re looking to create a campaign with superhuman strength, we can help! Just send us the signal (or an email) to rosie@zerodegreeswest.com (UK) or noelle@zerodegreeswest.com (US).