When I was a kid, I collected and read comic books. Everyone did. And by our 16th birthdays most of us put our collection in a drawer or closet and eventually forgot about it. Over the last few decades, however, superhero comics have become commodities, with original Marvel issues sometimes fetching over $100k at auction. Reinforcing this print phenomenon, has been the proliferation of movies from top studios that feature individual superheroes and now, superhero teams.
Since 2012 the recent Avengers franchise began with “The Avengers”, and moved to 2015’s “Avengers Age of Ultron”. The most recent in this Fantasy/Science Fiction outing, which debuted in April, “The Avengers Infinity War” the team is comprised of Thanos, Spider Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Panther, the Hulk, Star Lord, Loki, Dr. Strange, Black Widow, Groot, and Ant-Man, among others. Each represents some facet of good or evil which makes their motives easy to understand and their individual personalities relatable. This article explores the phenomenon and why the trend is both universal and highly profitable.
When ‘Infinity War’ debuted recently, it immediately set the record in Canada and the United States as the highest grossing opening film. Receipts in the US alone topped $1-billion after only three weeks. Box office success usually spells “p*r*o* f*i*t” for numerous other industries as well. Promoters are quick to ink merchandising deals for items as disparate as party favors, costumes, clothing, toys, food items, even business stationery and presentation-themed items. Disney studios, which produces the Avengers franchise, has opened Marvel Super Hero Island at its Orlando resort, just in time for summer tourism. What is it about these characters and films that resonates with people of all ages, cultures, and social levels?
Most likely, a synergistic combination that dovetails real life. The movie provides more than just nostalgia, but likely fulfills a need for us to be entertained. The plots are derivative and forgettable, however the energy and technical effects are truly dazzling. Psychologists believe that the current precarious state of the world economy over the last decade has left many seeking a hero to turn to, only to realize, by the closing credits, that they have to chart their own course and achieve their own destiny.
More than likely, however, with entertainment dollars ever scarce, The Avengers series packs a lot of action, adventure, special effects, speed, and an ensemble cast of a diverse range of superheroes all into one high-voltage ride. There is truly something for everyone. Women can relate to Black Widow, men of every race and mindset with one male character or all of them. Competition and rivalry among the characters coexist with the determination to do what each perceives is right. Just as in life, yes? However, industry competitors such as movies about the DC comic heroes lag way behind Marvels entries at the box office. What is Marvel doing right that DC and others aren’t? Quality and quantity.
To begin with, the studios hired the best directors and producers their money could buy, with a substantial track record of both cinematic and box office success, not necessarily in the fantasy/sci fi genre. Screenwriters were tasked with adapting well-established characters, such as Captain America and Iron Man, who had built huge followings in eponymous movies, and placing them among peers in an ensemble cast. Weaving a plausible storyline was difficult, but even an Oscar-worthy script would have been eclipsed by the film’s special effects that include action scenes enhanced at a breakneck speed.
Speaking of which, a presumed blockbuster would likely include effects to enhance the characters’ deering do. Among them, where the movie is seen also contributes to its impact. For example, venues showing Infinity War must feature Dolby sound, and the film’s sequel, now in production, will be the first Hollywood film shot entirely in IMAX, using a new digital camera that promises ultra-high resolution, even in extreme closeups. Game on!
Worldwide acceptance and success for these fictional characters at the movies makes it a topical subject. The Avengers franchise has transcended the ‘silver screen’ and has been quickly adapted to convey messages across many fields and via many platforms. Money begets money and coat-tailing The Avengers’ enormous success has transcended the entertainment field. For example, casting the corporate sales team or college instructor in the role of superhero is a universal metaphor now being used to pitch prospects and educate students around the world via video conference systems, remote access education, and other means of mass communication. The franchise’s widespread influence means that the characters and series remain top of mind for many, and subliminally promote the next installation of the series, due to premiere in May, 2019.
To industry insiders, the rise of the Avengers franchise should come as no surprise. There is historical precedent. During the Great Depression, the entertainment industry provided welcome respite from economic woes for families around the world. Science fiction heroes, like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon promised a better future, one free of evil overlords and financial strife. Today, while the economy continues its rally, consumers are learning to get by with less, and to get the most value for every dollar they spend. With a stellar ensemble cast, cliffhanger plot line, adrenaline-pumping special effects, and a protracted run-time of 2 hours and 40 minutes, viewers flocking to The Avengers Infinity War are getting a heady dose of ‘bang for their buck’. These features combine to spell “w.o.r.l.d.w.i.d.e s.u.c.c.e.s.s”. What’s not to like about that?