The 2000's Superhero Phenomenon

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Comic book characters, to say the least, were weird to translate into film. 

By film editor, Ajay Ascano

From the bright-colored spandex to their sometimes weird or visually-stunning powers, putting someone in a costume can sometimes look awkward on-screen. For example, the infamous Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern from Green Lantern (2011), or the George Clooney iteration of Batman from Batman & Robin (1997).

However, the refining of the superhero movie genre ended up becoming a huge deal in shifting the focal point of the movie industry. The majority of blockbuster hits from the near-20 years of this millennium is made up of them. This list is just from the last 9 years. 9 out of the 20 movies listed are Marvel and DC superhero films, save for Incredibles 2.

TOP FILMS OF the 2010s
(unadjusted domestic gross totals)
(tentative only)

1. Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015)

2. Black Panther (2018)

3. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

4. Jurassic World (2015)

5. Marvel's The Avengers (2012)

6. Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017)

7. Incredibles 2 (2018)

8. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

9. Beauty and the Beast (2017)

10. Finding Dory (2016)

11. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

12. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

13. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

14. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

15. Toy Story 3 (2010)

16. Wonder Woman (2017)

17. Iron Man 3 (2013)

18. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

19. The Hunger Games (2012)

20. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Origin Story

So, what kicked off this “superhero phenomenon”?

I would say the first X-Men film (2000), which chose to ditch a lot of the usual character designs for the X-men. Hugh Jackman, who played Wolverine, is more recognized for his signature haircut, leather jacket, and jeans appearance. While other films did the “deviation from costume” thing, it was more prominent here that you could keep an iconic look while not having the hero’s complete costume.

The X-Men series was also the first to sort of have a giant cast of superhero characters working in tandem, which comes into play later.


Then came other superhero series that really became popular as internet culture grew: the Raimi Spider-Man series and The Dark Knight trilogy. You may remember the Raimi Spider-Man as dorky Tobey Maguire, who was known for his over-the-top crying and soft-spoken lines. Spider-Man 2 is also, for some reason, renowned as one of the best superhero movie sequels of all time.

The Dark Knight trilogy is also known by many film fanatics as one of the greatest film trilogies. The late Heath Ledger, who played the Joker in the first installment of the series had a fresh take on the Joker, previously played by Jack Nicholson

Of course, there were rough patches here and there-- i.e.: the 2003 Hulk, Ghost Rider (2007), and The Fantastic Four (2005).

The 2008 Hulk, however, ignited one of the most popular franchises to date. After the end credits, it was revealed that Tony Stark (Iron Man) wanted to assemble a team of heroes, and, over the next few movies, hero assembly or crossover events would be teased big time.

The Reboot

Passing into the 2010s, and Iron Man sequel, the first Thor film, and a Captain America film came out. In 2012, 4 years after the kickstart of the Marvel’s Avengers franchise, the Avengers movie was released and is still near the top of the highest grossing films list. Marvel hit its heyday after its partnership with Disney, rolling out hit after hit of superhero movies. Black Panther, which released just last year, surpassed its predecessor of The Avengers by a few million dollars more. 

DC Comics, even, tried to jump onto this team-based bandwagon by putting out Wonder Woman, Man of Steel, and a few Justice League-type films but hasn’t gotten the same amount of success as their opponents. This was mostly due to bad film plots and awkward directing by Zack Snyder. This was such a sad reboot in comparison their previously great reboot.

A third sequel in the Avengers series is due for this year, entitled Avengers: Endgame. As the title tells, could this be the end of this era of the Avengers? Well, if the format’s been working for over 10 years, I would say it’s just getting started. Only time will tell where Marvel’s taking these characters, but we’ll just have to see what happens in a few months.

-- Ajay Ascano,

We’re in the Endgame now.

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