To a chorus of explosions and dramatic music, a man in spandex swings across the screen to rescue his girlfriend from a hideous villain and to save the world, in that order. Or maybe he’s flying and wearing armor. Or the villain’s not so hideous after all. Sometimes he has a sidekick, sometimes he’s alone. It doesn’t matter. You probably know which movie I’m talking about, and, without a doubt, you’re right. It’s more or less the plot of every superhero movie, with a few minor exceptions.
There have been an awful lot of superhero movies lately, and nearly every single one plays out in almost the same way. Despite this, they keep coming, and people keep going to see them. Last year’s top movie, Iron Man 3, took $1,214,713,994 in box offices worldwide. The year before, The Avengers earned $1,514,357,910. These are only two movies out of dozens, and they alone took over two billion dollars. While most other superhero movies don’t do quite this astonishingly well, they still generate millions of dollars in revenue. Masses of people go to see these films, and some choose to go multiple times. Hype is built up years in advance, with panels, advertisements, billboards; you name it. When this summer’s upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy released a new trailer mid-May, there were three separate teasers leading up to the trailer’s premiere. If there are so many of them, and they’re all so similar, why do we get so excited about superhero movies? Why do we keep going to see them? What makes them so special?
I’ve asked myself these same questions many times. You see, I was properly introduced to them two summers ago with The Avengers, so consider me a relatively new fan. I went into the movie hesitant, unsure what to expect. I’d never been much of an action movie girl; they usually revolved around noisy combat sequences and flat characters, and I typically lost interest before the halfway point. This time was different. This time, I was introduced to an unforgettable cast of characters, from the conceited yet charming Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) to the tough, cunning Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), and a bizarre yet addictive plot. Soon, I found myself watching most every Marvel movie I could get my hands on, and enough of DC’s Dark Knight cycle to form an opinion—I really don’t like Batman. For Halloween, I bought a Captain America shield, and displayed it proudly on my wall. I’d caught the superhero bug.
I’ve spent a long time thinking about why I like superhero movies so much, and why the rest of the world is just as obsessed, and I’ve come to a few conclusions. First, there’s the spectacle. Watching things blow up is incredibly exciting and allows us to imagine worlds of chaos and destruction from the safety of our own homes. It’s invigorating and can be beautiful on a movie screen, with bright colors and flashing lights and heart-pounding soundtracks. Each action sequence leaves you breathless, on the edge of your seat, wondering, watching, waiting. What will happen? Simply put, superhero movies are awe-inspiring. The special effects can simply make the movie into something otherworldly and outrageously fun. I don’t know about you, but my favorite part of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was the visuals.
But beyond the high-flying event, the spandex suits and very attractive leads, I think part of what makes these movies so incredible are the plots at their core. They tell impossible stories, things that could never happen in everyday life. There are aliens, radioactive spiders, and monsters, all so far out of the ordinary. At the same time, the stories at their cores are often so very human. They’re good versus evil, men (and sometimes women) donning suits and saving the day. Sometimes their characters are perfect, designed to be heroes. Sometimes they’re just ordinary people who rise to the occasion. We live in a world where bad things happen around every corner, and injustice is always happening somewhere. The worlds of superhero movies are never too far off from our own, often a bit more technologically advanced or populated by slightly more obvious evils, and the people in them are never too different from us. When the superheroes save them, we imagine a world full of heroes for ourselves. We imagine ourselves saved.
I think that’s why these movies are so popular. They’re big and flashy, but at the heart of each one is a simple story of human triumph. Good will always prevail in the movies, and perhaps it can win in real life, too.
I advise each and every one of you to watch a superhero film this summer. From the recently-opened The Amazing Spider-Man 2, to X-Men Days of Future Past and the slightly more comedic Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s something for everyone. Even if action films aren’t your thing, or you “don’t speak superhero,” you’re bound to find at least one character, at least one plot that really connects with you, something that resonates with you going forward. You never know, it happened to me.