Comic book movies are a major trend—look at the box office returns of a stunner like “The Avengers,” and you’ll see record-breaking numbers. Coming up you’ll find an “Amazing Spider-Man” sequel, a planned reboot of “Batman,” and this summer’s “Man of Steel” kicked off its worldwide release to sky-high hype. There are plenty of other superhero flicks with plenty of studio money behind them, as well as “A Dame to Kill For,” the long-awaited sequel to Robert Rodriguez’s “Sin City,” based upon Frank Miller’s crime comics of the same name.

Will this trend continue? For how long? And what is it that people see in these movies, anyway?

Narrative in Comics

The most obvious reason why a producer might be attracted to a superhero franchise is clearly name brand recognition. A character like Batman has the same star power as, well, a real movie star. While fans may favor Tobey Magquire’s Spider-Man over Andrew Garfield’s, they’ll come to see the movie. They are invested in both the character and in the worlds surrounding those characters. From a filmmaker’s perspective, superheroes and their accompanying comics are essentially movie stars and celebrity gossip for those of us who can’t be bothered with Hollywood scandal.

So what about a movie like “30 Days of Night?” Or “Sin City?” These comic book movies have no name-brand heroes in the lead roles. Well, here’s one of the reasons studios love comic books: You can pop a graphic novel open and have an idea of what the movie’s going to look like. In fact, “30 Days of Night” was a screenplay first. The writer was having trouble getting it produced, and chose to turn it into a graphic novel, so studio executives could flip through it and get an understanding of what he was pitching. Much easier than pitching with a screenplay, which scarcely gets read in the first place.

The Future of Comic Book Movies

Will comic book movies remain profitable, or is it a bubble that’s about to burst?

Well, the latter has happened before. From the Christopher Reeve “Superman” film leading up to the George Clooney “Batman and Robin” era, studios saw increasingly expensive, increasingly toy-oriented films leading them into a slump. The success of “X-Men” offered a glimpse of a possible future for comic book movies, and then Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” almost single-handedly brought the genre back from the dead.

The focus this time was less on toys (which are easy enough to produce in any flick) and more on quality. Efforts were made to recruit good, unique directors and give them more artistic freedom. This led to a few misfires, as in Ang Lee’s meandering “Hulk,”, but ultimately it’s led to higher returns for two reasons: The movies are good enough to interest non-fans, and good enough not to alienate true fans. Many of the jokes in Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” made me literally LOL.

As long as somebody is making movies that treat the source material with respect, the fanboy market isn’t going away any time soon. There’s no reason why superheroes need to be regarded as a passing fancy and not a real genre that’s here to stay.

Eric Williams

A comic book collector and comicon fanatic, Eric most enjoys writing about cosplay.