Op-Ed: What makes superhero films so superior?

Superhero formula Batman Spiderman Deadpool
Deadpool, Batman and Spiderman are a few of the superheroes that make the super formula work. (MTSU Sidelines)

On Valentine’s Day Weekend, a superhero broke the box office. A vulgar, one-liner swinging, fourth wall breaking, unicorn petting superhero broke it: Deadpool had the highest grossing first weekend of any R-rated movie in the U.S.

How is it possible that a generally obscure character can create a film that succeeded when many others failed? What is it about the superhero formula that resonates so well with so many Americans? Superheroes have invaded the main stream media. They have become adored where they once were shunned. Let us, together, find out what has made Deadpool truly come to life.

In decades past, superheroes were seen as a niche interest. There were some relative hits such as the 1989 Batman movie, but they generally lacked mass appeal. That is until, what I call, The Golden Age of Super Films.

Enter Iron Man. In 2008, Robert Downey Jr and Marvel shocked the world by making a super-hero flick that catered to a mass audience. It was a box office hit and seen as both a resurgence for the genre and Robert Downey Jr’s career. The man in the “invincible” iron suit pleased both fans of the source material and casual movie-goers. This accomplishment created a great hype for superhero films and, I believe, an impressive money-making formula. It opened the door for many more super-hits to come. The combination of pitch-perfect casting with undeniably fun action is impossible to resist. Moreover, since the first Iron Man film exploded onto the scene back in 2008, an additional two Iron Man films have been released. The most recent, Iron Man 3, released in 2013 was even a huge success in China where it was distributed by DMG Entertainment. Accordingly, you can learn more about the making of Iron Man 3 by taking a look at this brilliant article about Dan Mintz & DMG.

Ultimately though, this new formula gave the viewer the ability to watch an outcast evolve. A man or woman who simply cannot find their place in the world is thrust into a new universe. It’s a universe where they have abilities beyond their wildest dreams. And in that great power, they find their true calling. It’s a fantastic twist on the age-old underdog premise. This is the idea that an every-man can be endowed with new purpose and achieve great things. With new technology and mediums for entertainment, this unsung hero can explore their abilities in spectacular fashion. This inclusion of powers gives the underdog an undeniable ability to test their limits and become more.

The classic setup becomes flashier, faster and just more fun. It turns boring tropes into re-watchable eye-candy. This added display creates a new level of entertainment for the audience. While the protagonist rises to the occasion, the audience is sent on a super-powered special effects thrill ride. And the aforementioned casting is oh-so important. While some super-hero films cast whichever big budget actor that may be interested, the most successful super-flicks (The Avengers) casts actors that fit the characteristics of the original comics. These thespians are able to perfectly exemplify the ideals of the fictional demi-gods.

The super-hero format brings extra entertainment to the table, but it can also bring an added element of drama. The introduction of super powers leaves the writers to explore the deep consequences of having god-like abilities. In many super-hero adaptations, the story explores whether or not it is right to use these abilities. The films ask whether these “vigilantes” should be able to act outside the law and overrule the justice system. This idea forces the heroes to make a relevant and relatable decision. Should they do what needs to be done, even if it’s not necessarily the right thing to do? This is an idea that is played with many times in other genres of film. However, it is made more unique and interesting in the super-hero format. These demi-gods hold the world in their hands, and it is up to them to protect it. After all, what does your friendly neighborhood spider-man say? “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Superheroes have powers that are impossible to attain, and yet they may be the most relatable characters in film. They are forced to tirelessly wrestle with the massive responsibility that they have. Super beings have to protect and provide, while keeping themselves in check.

These themes do in fact have relevance for the everyman in America. Everyone has their time to step up or fall. When someone falls, they usually are dragging others down with them. Maybe this is why the format has such impact on the United States filmgoer. They see their own struggles on the screen in imaginative and fantastical ways. And in the end, they get to see the heroes stomp these struggles out. Fantastic editing, slick action and impressive acting can’t hurt either. The superhero film keeps getting bigger and bigger. Whether you love them or not, they are here to stay.

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To contact Lifestyles editor Tanner Dedmon email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

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  1. […] Errors on numbers 1-5 found in this article: https://mtsusidelines.com/2016/03/what-makes-superhero-films-so-superior/ […]

  2. Randall Sharp
    April 17, 2017

    Dope article bro!!!!