History of superheroes in films

James King, A&E Correspondent

Hollywood has been making movies about costume superheroes for almost as long as there have been moving pictures. The idea of a costumed bigilante with special abilities who stops crime on screen is not really a new idea.

The beginnings of the genre started in the 1920s with the early Zorro movies, beginning with the “Mark of Zorro”. In the 30s and 40s, America saw the irth of characters like The Shadow and Dick Tracy, pulp detectives with special abilities and gadgets. They were all basically sort of like the proto-superheroes of their day. They were vigiliantes who chased down the crooks that the police couldn’t.

It wouldn’t be until 1941, that the first superhero movie came to the big screen with the serial “The Adventures of Captain Marvel” (know to modern audiences as “Shazam”). Serials, which are typically fictional stories that are divided into parks that continue on each episode, were basically television before television was as widespread as it is today. People would go out to theatres to see a serial before a movie and later they would come again to see the next episode.

This was followed up with a small boom of superhero movies, including “The Batman”, “Captain America” and “Superman”. These serials kept going steadily until the 50s, when chepaer televisions finally started to kill the movie serial. In 1951, “Superman and the Mole Men” became the first feature-length theatrical film based on a comic book superhero.

The genre went quiet after that until the 1960s In 1966, the feature-length pilot of the Adam West “Batman” series came to theatres. It was one of the most popular shows of its time, it even helped save the ten failing ABC network and spawned all sorts of merchandise; just a few short years in 1968 it was cancelled due to low ratings.

In 1989, Tim Burton’s “Batman” would be released and take the world by storm. The dark, gritty take on the character was just what fans wanted to see. Many fans of the original Batman comics were disappointed by the bright and silly 60s version of the character.

This new version would influence many of the big-budget superhero movies of the 90s like “Spawn” and “The Crowd”. After the next Batman sequel bombed, Joel Schumacher picked p the reins of the franchise and his two sequels “Batman and Robin” and “Batman Forever” killed superhero movies until “Blade” attracted interest back into the genre.

The X-men movies and Sam Raimi Spiderman films would help revitalize the genre in a big way from there. The Nolan Batman movies set the golden standard from which all superhero movies are judged and Iron man would start the Marvel Cinematic Universe to show us everything could be connected through comic-like continuity. Continuity other companies like Sony, Warner Brothers and Universal would try to emulate to mixed results.

Superhero movies are breaking records as “Avengers: Endgame” has become the highest-grossing film of all time (not adjusted for inflation), with many other Marvel Studios films taking similar top spots. It’s not a genre that looks to be slowing down in popularity and there are plenty of new superheroes getting their own time to shine, and their future is looking bright.

Photo courtesy of DC Entertainment

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