Oh the comic book movie, an easy pick for any super hero loving patron of the theater. However, for most that visit the theater the super hero movie is a coin toss see and nothing more. While we the loyal and avid fans of fantasy and justice (or injustice, if you’re into that) could surely throw our wallet whole at the box office to see our favorite heroes, the fate of their future on the big screen is dependent on several key factors.
It wasn’t until the year of 1929 that we saw the first dedicated print of what is considered a proto-comic today. DELL PUBLISHING put the first issue of “the funnies” on stands on January 16, 1929 , starting a chain of events that eventually led to the rise of DC and MARVEL as well as other publishing companies. Throughout the growth of their ever-increasing roster of super powered and diverse characters, comic book companies often published books with characters dealing with issues relevant to what was going on in the world we live in. they would often touch on racism, elections, wars, and many other societal and well as economic issues that affected the country. Comic books often had rough periods of low sales and even resistance from communities and parents, briefly introducing a censorship board to approve the books.
With the growth of national television and film came the batman television shows, animated morning cartoons, and new super hero films on a big screen for the whole world to see. This brought in new fans, which sold more comics and led to even more movies based on the characters that were selling. Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Captain America and many more. Even with some bumps along the journey, comic book movies have become an obsession that we can’t or even don’t WANT to shake. But why is it this way? Why have our box offices become ever filled, or some would say crowded, with comic book movies? Is this too often? Are comic book movies really that popular, or are studios cashing in on the flood of popularity and milking it dry? How long will people want to go see these movies?
The average movie goer today is often going to see a movie that might have piqued their interest with a good trailer and hooking them with some plot details. This might be all, even for super hero movies, to the average movie goer. Trailer looked good, set the tone, and convinced them it was worth watching. Perhaps, even some movies goers saw a trailer, and then looked up a review to decide whether to go see a movie like “THOR: RAGNAROK” or “JUSTICE LEAGUE”. For those who may consider themselves a little more than the average fan of comic book movies, none of that may even matter. Disregarding trailer and review many avid fans flock to theaters for the chance to see their favorite comic book characters interpreted and shown in real life, on film, for them to witness. For audience members for whom this may apply, it may be like reliving childhood moments and creating before them a dream they could have never imagined. But this leads to a problem when looking long-term at the future of this film genre and cultural phenomenon, how do they keep box office numbers consistent in the future with these characters and films? Will they be sidelined eventually?
Viewer age has an increasingly important role to play as studios move into the latter phases of their production of their film universes. It is important to note that while staying close to source material and character identity are surely top bullet points on the list for comic book readers, creative freedom, and an ability to have these characters grab interest from new and perhaps older audiences to keep box office numbers will above the break-even line are top points also. This causes conflict for comic book readers as they often want to see adaptations of events and characters that may not be of interest to the average viewer, and may not even be easy to follow for someone who is new to these characters. Let’s be clear, the future of comic book movies depends not on a single demographic. It doesn’t depend on a hard “R” rating for your favorite sword wielding badass anti-hero. It depends on a consistent sale of the character(s) in question. While I’m sure you, the reader will still probably go see the next “avengers” or “justice league” movie coming out for the next 500 years ( I would too) eventually those actors will leave the role, pass it on, or general interest in seeing the 15th “insert super hero name here” movie will peak and die off. The same faces will always be popular if there is fresh and engaging material for it to come from. That material is none other than comic book sales. You heard me, comic book sales.
I talked to Mike Churchill, owner of Pulp Nouveau Comix in Canandaigua, NY.
Mike told us that comic book sales aren’t necessarily affected by success at the box office, but that as new characters are put into the spotlight, or any character for that matter a slight increase into sales for those characters and titles will go up, but die off as the average movie goer isn’t really interested statistically in a continued read of a comic book hero.
However, this introduction of heroes into the public can drive interest in a movie. Cyborg being included on the justice league roster led to his inclusion in film also, which in turn led to more sales of cyborg comics. The DC rebirth line drives more sales for their characters too and has pushed interest for their films being in production. Deadpool’s success in both comic and even a video game (it wasn’t bad) led to his own solo film, which to the joy of die-hard fans was rated “R”.
Comic book sales to both die-hard fans and to the public are huge attributes to the film industries success with these characters. Having good stories to pull from, while keeping the film easy to follow for the average movie goer is important to keeping the viewer hooked and willing to return for a sequel.
But there can be no sequel if the characters aren’t true to the source material, say the diehards. Which spells doom for the future of film for the comic book crusaders.
For comic movies to continue, we as viewers need to accept that things will change, this includes the nationality, race, origin, and even overall look of some of our favorite characters. Nostalgia and a fear of things different can and will prevent the success of comic book movie in the coming decades. Our once favorite and popular heroes even amongst the average viewer may become stagnant, and uninteresting. Passing the mantle to younger heroes in the comics, to fill the shoes and capes of their predecessors may be the future, keeping a younger audience intrigued, while adding a nod to the past and keeping comic books vibrant, fresh, and relevant to the reader. New versions and adaptations won’t work forever though, at some point. The Batman himself may not even be the big seller, or may be the only seller. Who’s to say?
The future of comic book movies is not set in stone, and as long as writers keep us reading, and studios keep the right things in mind the movies could be around for decades to come, maybe not as consistently, but as long as comic books sell and kids grow up with super heroes, and we adults keep passing them on to our offspring and to the youth that are interested, I’m sure they will remain to captivate audiences and ignite passions and loves for the stories that to this day have kept a smile on all our faces.
What about you? Do you suspect the comic book movie genre will end? Do you think they will be around forever, and if they are around will you support the production behind them?