March 11th, 2011, 10:31 am

The End is (Not) Nigh : Why Superhero Movies Are Here to Stay (For Now)

I was just listening to an interview with Mark Millar about the saturation point for superheroes. Millar is the creator of comic book hits like "Wanted" and "Kick Ass", and he contends while the best is yet to come for superhero movies, the end is also in sight. Millar predicts the trend will begin its downturn around 2014-2015. Millar raises some very good points, but ultimately I believe even that estimate is far too conservative. Superhero movies could be around for another decade, and here's why:

5. Don't Count DC Out. Millar believes the upcoming "Avengers" flick will be the high point of the comic book wave. He's not wrong about this assertion: after all, how do you top Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and more in the same movie? Not even Marvel has the answer, something Jon Favreau clearly admitted when he was passed up to direct "Iron Man 3."

While next year does see the end of "Batman", DC may be finally getting their foot in the race. We've got a "Wonder Woman" TV show coming out next fall as well as a new "Superman" film by "Sucker Punch" and "300" director Zach Snyder. There's also rumored to be a "Flash" film somewhere in-between. While DC's films aren't wrapped together in the same tight continuity as Marvel's "Avengers", they can still be hits in their own right. Remember: all it takes is one hit to sustain an entire series of films. With untapped resources like "Superman" and "Wonder Woman" in their library, DC could be a game-changer on the big screen.

4. The Industry Has Sequelistis. This brings up another point - every comic book movie that gets released is tailor-made for a trilogy. That Green Lantern movie that only myself and one other person seem to be excited about? They are already in pre-production on the sequel. For better or worst, many actors are contractually obligated to appear of three movies when they take on the role of a comic book character. While its generally a bad idea for creativity, it is good news for the comic book trend. If these movies continue to make money, one trilogy can sustain interest in superheroes for three or four years. Now imagine what two trilogies can do. Or three. Or four? That's how the comic book movie wave got so big in the first place.

3. The Economy Needs Saving. This isn't the first time comic books have experienced a boom in the recession. In fact, comic books were embraced by pop culture to a large degree during the 30's and the 40's, when the Great Depression was in full swing. It makes sense. After all, comic books are a pretty cheap form of entertainment, and everyone, from children to GI's overseas, bought in.

Now, in the midst of the recession, they are prime real estate for movie studios. Comic books have their own tie-in's, their own built-in marketing, and their own fan-bases, all completely furbished without any effort on the studio's part. The recession also means the movies, whether on the big screen or the Netflix, a prime escape from stock losses and job numbers. While this bodes well for the comic book films, it does come with one caveat: though it was due largely to external sources, comic books suffered greatly in times of prosperity, such as the 50's and the 90's. It's hard to say what will happen to comic book movies when the economy turns out.

2. The movies make money. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter whose wearing the cape or even what cape it is. As long as superhero movies make money, Hollywood will keep making them. Millar mentions that, of the nearly 30 superhero movies released in the last decade, only a few of them have been duds. This actually isn't true. Somehow "Catwoman" managed to spend $100 million in its budget way back in 2004 (it certainly wasn't on Halle Berry's non-existent costume). But the movie only made forty percent of that back domestically. Even with a matching international gross, it was a twenty million dollar loss.

What changed? Movies like "Troy", also released around this time, featured lavish budgets will above $100 mill. Suddenly, it wasn't a lot of money any more. What this means is that a few comic book movie failures aren't going to clog the superhero sensation, provided there are still comic book successes somewhere at the cinema. It will take a lot of bombs to pummel the superhero craze into submission, and that will take a lot of time to happen, pushing the deadline well past Millar's 2014 estimate.

1. People need heroes. It sounds hokey, but its true. What is the old Chinese curse? "May you live in interesting times." For better or worse, we do. In addition to the recession, we have an ongoing War on Terror, an polarization in our politics in addition to natural disasters and rotating cast of out-of-control celebrities. For Libya to Charlie Sheen, comic books have a lot to work with.

It's no coincidence that comic books experienced their renaissance during times of turbulence. The Golden Age happened during World War II and the Depression, and the Silver Age during Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement. The Modern Age came during the climax of the Cold War. People look to heroes for reassurance, and in turn comic books reflect the values and fears of each era.

What do the films "Iron Man" and "Dark Knight" have in common? It's not billionaire playboys or gadgets. It's that both heroes effect real-world events. Whether it's Iron Man taking on insurgents in Afghanistan or Batman fighting money-laundering in Hong Kong, both of these heroes collide head-on with the problems raging on our headlines.

This is why we go to the movies to see superheroes, and this is why superheroes are hear to stay, for as long as we live in interesting times.

(That's it for this week. Tune in next week for more blogs and another update on Blue Yonder)

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