AVENGERS WEEK: The Avengers and Its Place in the Superhero Cinema Cycle

The Avengers is actually a natural progression, if you look at the history of superheroes on the big screen. Every ten to twelve years, a game changer comes along to set the course for the next cycle of superhero related media.

1941. Animated shorts featuring Superman are seen in theaters. Since they were animated in a realistic style, they made a dynamic impression on young imaginations. Here was a brightly colored, fairly realistic looking character, flaying through the sky and bursting through walls. It was the beginning of the big screen hero. (I’m not discounting the effects of the serials during this time – Captain Marvel had a series of serials this year as well, and it is surprisingly well made, but I don’t consider that the game changer.)

1951. After a string of Superman serials, Superman and the Mole Men, staring George Reeves, hits theaters, acting as a pilot or sorts for the Superman TV series. The TV series puts Superman in the general public’s living rooms every week, and makes Superman a household word, and helps drive the popularity of superheroes in general.

1966. A big screen version of the Batman tv show is released – as the tv series is still going – bringing broader attention to the show, and helping cement the campy-ness of superheroes in popular consciousness.

1978. Superman was a superhero game changer, making something that should have been cheesy – a sincere hero in the cynical ‘70’s – into something fun. Something you could believe in, more than the fact that he was flying.

1989. Batman took the superhero genre, which by then was becoming stale, and made it dark and brooding and changed comic books and comic book inspired movies.

2000. X-Men again brought excitement to the ailing superhero genre, this time trying a different tactic: both dark and fun. And it made lots of money, setting off a series of franchises, some hits (Nolan’s Batman and Raimi’s Spider-Man, anyone?) and some misses (Fantastic Four and Green Lantern, looking at you!) but all of them making lots of money.

2012. The Avengers. In our “bigger and louder is better” culture, we have The Avengers. After the success of X-Men, which made a lot of money for a movie company that wasn’t Marvel, and Spider-Man, which made a lot of money for a movie company that wasn’t Marvel, and Batman Begins, which wasn’t Marvel’s to begin with, Marvel starting thinking that one way to help with their money problems might be to invest in making their own movies. And, if they controlled their own characters, they could roll them all into one film. One big, expensive money-maker of a film! And if it succeeds, watch for a Justice League of America to come within three years. And an Avengers 2.

~ Ben

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