Fifteen years of blockbuster superheroes: what it tells us about our socio-political climate
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This is the age of superheroes. It’s fair to say that no cinematic genre has been so popular for so long since Western films in the fifties and sixties. As Marvel and DC continue with their historic rivalry, film studios have also been getting in on the action. Last month saw the ever-successful releases of Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League, with eight more films having been confirmed by these same studios for release next year. The superhero mania isn’t just restricted to the big screen, either. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has expanded into Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Agent Carter, and the Defenders series alongside Netflix; DC gave us Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow and Gotham. These TV series have, too, earned widespread viewership, as these comic book adaptations’ appeal bleed out from their expected demographics to include vaster sections of society. Whilst superheroes have, for a long time, been an essential part of popular culture, they have moved from the fringes to front and centre stage in the mainstream. Since the release of X-Men in 2000 and Spider-Man in 2002, audiences for this genre have grown exponentially, and studios have avidly and rapidly been providing content for consumption. But what is it about superhero films and shows that is so appealing, that demand is still at an all-time high, fifteen years later? Now, it’s undeniable that the sophistication of technology and CGI has played a large part in why superhero films have become popular today in ways they never were in the eighties and nineties. Likewise, the number of films being produced by MCU and DC can be explained away by sheer greed: superhero films bring in money, and keep the lights on. Yet it feels lazy to explain away the genre’s continued success in the diminutive terms of another adventure of late capitalism. Instead, it may be more valuable to look at the demand for superheroes as a product of the current socio-political climate of the Western world.
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