The Superhero Sensation: From Comics to Film
January 26, 2018
By Steve Brown • Project Manager

Chances are if you're going to see a movie this year, it will either be a movie based on a comic book, or you will, at the very least, see a poster or trailer for a movie based on a comic book. A total of nine superhero blockbusters will be released this year, and while that number may seem high, it's certainly not a new trend. 2016 supplied seven movies based on comic books, while 2017 handed out eight; superhero movies are on the rise.

Hollywood has been mining comics for film adaptations for almost as long as comic books have been around. The first comic book movies were primarily serials done in the 1940s. Captain Marvel, Batman, Superman and Captain America were some of the first comic book characters to make the leap to film.

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The first full-length theatrical adaptation of a comic book character was Batman in 1966. Batman is perhaps the easiest major comic book character to adapt to film. There aren't any superpowers to replicate requiring special effects, and while Gotham City is a fictional location, New York or Chicago can be suitable stand-ins.

However, it wasn't until 1978 that a movie studio would make a major motion picture based on arguably the most popular superhero of all time. Superman hit theaters and set the bar for comic book movies for years to come. The film was both a commercial and a critical success, even spawning three sequels. It was the first time that a movie based on a comic book was not only taken seriously by the people making it, but it showed that these characters had an audience beyond comic book fans. While the sequels never achieved the success of the original, they did manage to set a precedent for superhero movies.

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It would be over a decade before superheroes would return to movie screens with an impact that could rival that of the Christopher Reeves Superman movie franchise. But in 1989, Batman returned to movie theaters in Batman and was a massive success. Like Superman before him, this iteration of Batman was taken much more seriously than its 1966 counterpart. Also, like Superman before it, the movie spawned three sequels, each one, getting further and further away from what made the first one successful.

At this point, Hollywood was able to create limited special effects that could make you believe a man could fly, but with the new millennium came new technologies, and more effects-heavy characters like the X-Men, Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the Fantastic Four, who would soon all get their chance on the silver screen.

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In the early 2000s, there was a slew of superhero movies coming out, each generating multiple sequels. Comic book franchises had established a firm foothold in the marketplace. But as sequels continued to be a staple of the superhero genre, another trend started to develop when audiences became accustomed to seeing superhero movies every year: the reboot.



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Continuity is a firm concept in comic books. The movies, for the most part, mirrored this concept. Superman 2 (1980) follows the events of Superman (1978). Batman Returns (1992) is a follow up to Batman (1989). But in 2005, Warner Brothers rebooted the Batman franchise with Batman Begins. While Batman Forever (1995) and Batman and Robin (1997) exist in the same continuity as Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), Batman Begins represented a new start for the character. Spider-Man and the Hulk would follow this trend as would Superman, with entirely new casts, and rehashed origin stories. But the arrival of Iron Man to the big screen would usher in a new trend: the shared universe.

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In 2008, Marvel Studios introduced the shared universe concept. In comics, this basically means that Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four both exist in the same world and occasionally will meet each other. Marvel Studios introduced this concept with Iron Man (2008) and The Incredible Hulk (2008). Both of these movies would lay the groundwork for Marvel to introduce several characters, including Thor and Captain America, in their own movies that would then see them team up in 2012 for the blockbuster hit, The Avengers. As of this writing, The Avengers (2012) is the fifth highest grossing movie of all time (according to box office mojo), and its sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) currently holds the #7 spot.


This May, The Avengers will return with their third installment in the franchise and the 19th movie in the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe. Warner Brothers has announced plans to continue their shared universe and Marvel Studios has announced a plan for 20 more movies in various stages of development. Lesser known comic book companies like Valiant have also announced their intent to get in on the action. With no end in sight, it looks like the superhero movie is here to stay.


The following movies are due in theaters this year:

Black Panther, February 16, 2018 (Marvel Studios)

Avengers: Infinity War, May 4, 2018 (Marvel Studios)

Deadpool 2, May 18, 2018 (FOX)

The Incredibles 2, June 2, 2018 (Pixar)

Ant-Man and the Wasp, July 6, 2018 (Marvel Studios)

Venom, October 5, 2018 (Sony)

X-Men: Dark Phoenix, November 2, 2018 (FOX)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, December 14, 2018 (Sony Animation)

Aquaman, December 21, 2018 (Warner Brothers)

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Steve has been a fan of superheroes for as long as he can remember. Saturday morning cartoons (Batman, Spider-Man, and the X-Men) cemented his love for these characters at an early age. He has been frequenting comic book stores his whole life, and at the age of 16, he began working at his local comic book shop. In 2011, he opened up his own comic book store in La Grange, IL, called Chimera's Comics. When he is not working at the store, his opinions on a variety of topics (but mostly comics) can be heard on "Caffeinated Comics," a podcast he co-hosts on the Radio Misfits Podcast Network. This year will also see the release of his creator-owned graphic novel, "Magnificent" for which Steve did the pencils.


Note: Movie poster photos are courtesy of IMDB.