A few years ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Uslan, the executive producer for every Batman movie from Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman to the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises. One of the things I asked him about was the popularity of comic books and by extension comic book movies. He said that the reason that comic books are popular because they are our modern folklore and mythology. They are ancient stories and archetypes dressed up in modern costumes. He said that comics are something that can cross borders, cultures and generations.
While it comes to no surprise to Mr. Uslan that comic book movies are popular, I must admit that I was surprised initially when the first few films started to become popular with more mainstream audiences. However with The Dark Knight winning an Academy Award and the recent mega-success of The Avengers both domestically and abroad, it is clear that comic book films are no longer the domain of hard core comic fans. But why are they so popular, and what does it mean for not only the comic book industry, but popular culture as well?
I would say that the popularity of comic book films is tied to the rise in popularity of “nerd-culture.” It is a chicken and the egg situation, did they create the popularity or did the popularity create them? Batman and Superman have had live action adaptations for decades, and the Nineties were filled with fantastic, and not so fantastic, animated series. I would have to say that their prevalence is partially due to what Mr. Uslan said, they’re just popular stories. Everyone likes to see larger than life heroes saving the day and awesome action sequences. Superman is today’s Heracles. Their popularity also came at the right time in popular culture.
The revival of previously “nerdy” franchises such Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and the popularity of fantasy books with young people like Harry Potter paved the way for comics to enter mainstream cultural popularity once again. In return they have greatly influenced popular culture. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins showed that superheroes did not have to be a camp fest like some films, *cough* Batman and Robin *cough*, portrayed them. In return this darker grittier and more realistic approach to film making can be seen in the reboots of Star Trek, and James Bond.
Comic book films are here to stay. While we will most likely have many more comic book adaptations not only in films but in television as well, I feel that they will cease to be considered as separate genre. One of the most interesting things that Mr. Uslan told me is that he does not consider “comic book” to be a film genre and that there is no such thing as a “comic book” film, there are only films. I agree with Mr. Uslan. I have a feeling that in a few years a comic book adaptation will be viewed in the same light as an adaptation of a novel and that they will be given the same respect. Hopefully this means somewhere down the line we will finally get a decent Green Lantern film.