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Commentary: Superheroes taking over the (cinematic) world

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

What makes a superhero?

Some superhero traits — including a spandex oufit, comic book orgins and the word “man” in their name — are stereotypes of the past. Now there are female, animal and even alien superheroes. Over the last 80 years, the world has seen hundreds of different crime-fighters, world-savers and ultra-villains.

In the last 11 years, the world has seen more than 10 of these highly popular superheroes translated and humanized on the silver screen.

Marvel Studios just released Kenneth Branagh’s version of the epic comic book character, “Thor.” This is not Marvel’s first stab at superhero cinema. The studio has also released films based on their characters from “The Fantastic Four,” “The X-Men,” “Daredevil,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “Iron Man.” These productions began as comic books in the 1960s.

In addition to these films, “Catwoman,” “The Dark Knight,” “Hellboy,” “Blade” and “The Green Hornet” are a few other major superhero movies released since 2000. Leave it to the millennium to extract their literary value and cast big name actors to portray their characters.

To be fair, the animated superhero genre should not and cannot be ignored. Pixar grossed a whopping $631 million off their team of evil-combating warriors, “The Incredibles.”

“Megamind,” an animated film with a supervillain played by the voice of Will Ferrell, had a budget of $130 million. With a budget like that for a cartoon film, Paramount probably hopes that “Megamind” will be an animated hero remembered forever.

Superman, Batman and Spider-man are household names. How did they get to be this way? Is it due to their television shows and billion-dollar Hollywood film budgets? If so, how do we decide which of the more recent superheroes on screen will be names we remember 20, 30 years from now? Will DVDs, or whatever technology the future holds for film, of the god of thunder Thor or the crime-fighting Green Hornet still be produced?

Right now it is hard to tell. Only time will decipher the lasting power of these characters and films. However, it is safe to say that superheroes have been an American phenomenon for more than 70 years, and their popularity does not seem to be slowing down any time soon.

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