Friday, August 29, 2014

Why comic book movies are dominating the Hollywood Box Office

For those of you who know me, you are probably not at all surprised by the fact that I chose to write my first post on this blog about comic book movies. If you do not know me yet, hello my name is Lindsay Koenig and I am a huge nerd. But according to the Hollywood summer box office, I'm not alone.

This summer Marvel Studios, owned by Disney, released a film based on a little known comic book called Guardians of the Galaxy. This was considered a pretty big risk for the studio because unlike previous films they'd released such as Captain America or Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy was not a popular comic book series. Not only this, but Guardians was by far the most "comic book like" of all their previous films; featuring a colorful cast of alien characters such as a talking tree and raccoon. The studio had no way of knowing if this quirky film would make any money at the box office.

But Marvel Studios needn't have worried. The film opened with a whooping 95 million dollars in it's opening weekend. Not only that but it has since made over 251 million dollars and has secured it's place as the top grossing film of the summer and is on track to be the highest grossing film of the year.

Guardians of the Galaxy wasn't the only comic book film to roll in the dough this year, however.
In fact, 4 of the top 10 grossing films of 2014 are comic book movies. Here's a look at some of the other big money makers.

Amazing Spiderman 2
Released May 2, 2014
$202 Million 

X-Men: Days of Future Past
Released May 22
$232 Million

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Released April 4th
$259 Million 

So what is it about comic book films that makes them so successful? And why are some studio's comic book movies more successful than others?

To figure this out I'm going to start with the most successful studio out of the many currently producing comic book movies: the Disney owned Marvel Studios.

Back in 2008, Marvel Studios released it's first film. Iron Man became the first in what would become one of the most successful film series of all time. Iron Man was a huge hit not only with audiences, but also with critics. Before 2008 (which also featured the success of Warner Brothers comic book flick The Dark Knight) comic book films were looked at as a bit of a joke, or one notes without much depth to them other than actors in spandex fighting bad guys. 

What made Iron Man so unique, and I believe ultimately so successful, is that there is much more to the film than it's action and explosions.

Firstly, the main character of the film is flawed. Tony Stark feels like a real person, not the typical "do-gooder, responsible hero" type character one might except from a children's cartoon series. Because Tony Stark feels like a real person it is easy for the audience to relate to him and become invested in his story. I would argue that Marvel does an excellent job of making all their heroes seem like real people with real flaws, problems, and emotions. It would be easy for a larger than life character like Iron Man or Captain America to slip into something like a caricature, but these films do a great job of grounding their heroes and making them accessible to the audiences.  

Secondly, something that I found hugely important to the success of a film such as Iron Man, is the respect for the source material. While many might find the subject matter to be a bit of a joke, or something silly or goofy (see the Batman films outside of the Dark Knight Trilogy); Marvel Studios has been extremely respectful to it's source material. There is an element of seriousness to Iron Man and the other Marvel films, even when events on screen would seem far fetched in real life. The stakes are real for these characters, which makes it real for the audience. If you don't understand what I'm getting at think about it this way, Iron Man doesn't make "boom" "pow" nosies when he is fighting bad guys, does he?

Thirdly, and what I would argue most importantly, is that Iron Man deals with issues that are relevant to our world and society today. Within the first few minutes of the film our main character is captured by terrorists. Not only this, but Tony Stark's character arc involves him dealing with the fact that his company not only sold weapons to the American Military but also to terrorist groups, and Stark realizing his responsibility for what his company has done. These plot lines hit pretty close to home, especially in a world where terrorism is such a prevalent issue. By tackling such topics, Iron Man becomes more than just a movie about a superhero.

Since Iron Man, many other comic book flicks have tackled important societal and emotional issues. Iron Man 3 dealt with anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder, while Captain America: The Winter Solider had a heavy political subplot about government and power. Even Guardians of the Galaxy, for all it's crazy space shenanigans, contained undertones about loss and dealing with grief. 

Marvel Studios isn't the only studios whose comic book films deal with issues outside of what might be excepted for the average Hollywood action flick. 20th Century Fox's X-Men franchise deals largely with the way society treats minorities, while Warners Brother's Dark Knight films focus on issues such as terrorism and corruption.

These are just a few of the many reasons I believe comic book movies have been so successful in recent years, and why they continue to dominate the box office. I can only open that other genres start to pick up on what makes these films so successful. If every popcorn flick was as good as the average comic book film, Hollywood would be in good shape.

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