Talking about The Amazing Spider-Man, and the success of comic book hero movies

John Cairns

Here I am with another box office update in the wake of the release of the latest blockbuster of the summer, The Amazing Spider-Man.

The movie opened July 3 in theatres across North America, following an impressive weekend debut in overseas markets. It grossed $35 million the first day, breaking the record for a Tuesday release. It then hauled in $23.4 million on July 4 for the second-biggest July 4 domestic haul of all time.

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Deadline Hollywood is reporting Sony is revising its estimates for the six-day domestic opening gross upwards to between $120 and $130 million. Not bad for good ol' Spidey.

I want to say a few words about superhero and comic-book movies in general, and why they are so popular. It seems like we are seeing a lot of them these days, and it sure seems like they all make a fortune at the box office.

Actually, this trend is nothing new. We've seen successful comic book adaptations on the big screen for years. The trend really got started in the late 1970s with the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, and then kept on going in the '80s with the Batman movies. Then, of course, Marvel got into the act with the Spider-Man movies that starred Tobey Maguire. Before you knew it, every comic book hero seemed to have a movie made after them, ranging from Iron Man to the Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, the Green Lantern and so on.

This genre has dominated the box office over the past number of years. Several box office records have been set by, in order, the Spider-Man movies, the latest series of Batman movies (in particular The Dark Knight) and, this spring, by Marvel's The Avengers. That movie toppled a bunch of fastest opening records that The Dark Knight had held. The Dark Knight, in turn, had previously toppled records held by Spider-Man 2.

Why have comic-book movies ended up being so dominant at the box office? There are a number of reasons,.

One is that during the summertime, studios are looking for entertainment that appeals to the masses. They look for something that can appeal to the "four-quadrants" - that is, men over 25, men under 25, women over 25 and women under 25.

Usually, superhero movies deliver all four quadrants to theatres easily. The superhero element attracts the kids who like the comic books, while the action and storylines attract the adults.

The characters are all known quantities. Yes, there is a ready-made audience of comic book geeks and "fanboys" who will flock to see these movies. But the truth is everyone's heard of Superman and Batman and probably either read their comic books or at least watched their Saturday morning TV shows as kids.

Here in Canada, reruns of Spider-Man ran for years on end on Saturday mornings in reruns. That, I am sure, has produced a ready made audience of Spidey fans interested in seeing the character time after time in the theatre.

What has been vital to the success of these movies has been the quality product that has been consistently produced. These superhero action movies have, over the years, been typically well made. The initial Superman movies in the '70s, made during the same era of filmmaking that produced such classics as Jaws and the Star Wars movies, set the standard for quality that people have come to expect. The Spider-Man movies were also produced on a high level, and the same can be said for the recent Batman and Iron Man movies and a number of other efforts.

Because these movies have been quality productions, they have attracted quality star power to the casts. Superhero movies over the past several years have attracted stars like George Clooney, Anne Hathaway, Scarlett Johansson and Gwyneth Paltrow.

I think that's attracted a lot of people - women, especially - who might otherwise not be so interested in comic books, but who are interested in the stars and in seeing them on the screen in their latest picture.

We've seen some buzz worthy performances from some of these stars, like Robert Downey Jr. in the Iron Man movies, and Heath Ledger's memorable turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight. This came about two decades after Jack Nicholson did his memorable turn as the Joker in Tim Burton's version of Batman.

You're not going to get cast stars of that calibre if your production is going to be a joke.

Based on all these factors, I think it is fair to say the reputation of superhero movies ranks high among movie fans. Take a look at the Rotten Tomatoes website and you'll see positive reviews for the movies in this genre. Superhero movies have usually had a high batting average in general as far as quality is concerned, and that usually contributes to impressive box office numbers.

These movies are perfect vehicles to throw in all the good CGI and special effects that will allow our heroes to showcase their superpowers. These movies are usually packed with images of superheroes flying through the air or getting into fights, with a blizzard of laser beams and gunfire. These are exactly the kind of elements that a summer popcorn movie needs to have, and this is exactly what audiences want to see. They want to have fun watching the action on the big screen, and superheroes and comic book characters usually deliver on that.

In a nutshell, that's why we keep getting so many superhero movies made and released year after year, and that is why they keep on getting such big box office numbers. Some wonder whether the well is going to run dry one of these days. You have to think the public is going to get bored if there is a saturated market for comic book heroes at the movie theatres.

For now, they cannot get enough of these heroes in what is turning into a Year of the Superheroes at the 2012 box office. We saw record-setting numbers for The Avengers, now the third-highest grossing movie of all time, and now we are seeing big numbers for The Amazing Spider-Man. No doubt the numbers promise to be big when the latest Batman effort, The Dark Knight Rises, rolls out later this month.

Meanwhile, studio heads in Hollywood fully expect to sit back and watch the box office numbers rise, thanks to the constant flow of superheroes in local cineplexes.

© Copyright Battlefords News Optimist

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