Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Comic books and movies after 9/11

CAPTAIN AMERICAI got an interesting email the other day from a former student who's now enrolled in a Master's advanced writing program at Syracuse University. He's working on an article for a magazine that deals with comic book movies--with the focus on Marvel comics superheroes, beginning with 1998's Blade (starring Wesley Snipes). He's examining whether the financial success of these movies (think Spider-Man and X-Men) can be attributed in any way to "America's collective post-9/11 psyche."

This sounds like a fascinating topic/hypothesis, but also a tough nut to crack. I should note that I was a big Marvel Comics fan when I was a kid in the '70s (when they were just starting to distribute Marvel in the UK). And I've seen most of these new movies, including Blade (that's the vampire movie where Snipes famously states that the world is just a "sugar-coated topping"--lovely line!). But that's the limit of my "expertise." Still, it got me thinking.

Why is this such a tough question? First off, it's hard to say exactly what the "post-9/11 psyche" actually is--it seemed clear enough after the WTC/Pentagon attacks, when we were all talking about the "death of irony" and a new seriousness in how we conduct our affairs--but IMHO that all dissipated surprisingly quickly, or metastasized into something else. Bush was too busy getting us back out shopping for the economy and avoiding any mention of sacrifice. Business as usual!

There surely is a link, all the same, but I don't know how direct and causal it is. The rise of comic book-based movies has been a feature of the past few years, but it could also be explained by many factors, such as new technology, i.e., the development of CGI that's good enough to render these fantasy worlds as realistically as possible. But that can also explain the making of Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter, King Kong, and so on. And though the CGI in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man is excellent, the same can't be said of Ang Lee's Hulk.

Another obvious explanation for the popularity in comic book movies is the commercial conservatism of Hollywood, their love of fads, and their aversion to original screenplays (comics are a tried and tested source of ideas and characters). And of course comic book heroes--mostly DC stuff, Superman & Batman--were being turned into movies long before 9/11 (as was Blade, which was made in 1997). We're talking mainly about Marvel here as the primary source for recent superhero movies. Is there a specific link between Marvel's superheroes, who are generally thought to have more depth and character than their DC counterparts?

We also have to recall that there's been a general increase in feature film animation recently, including non superhero stuff, from Wallace & Gromit to American Splendor (and comedy, including just about everything that Pixar's done, including The Incredibles, which pokes fun at the superhero action genre). I also wonder, if 9/11 spawned a new era of high patriotism, why hasn't Marvel's Captain America (pictured above left) not been greenlighted (at least not yet, though there's talk of making that movie). Captain America was the super-patriot superhero from WWII. He should have been first on the list!

So: Maybe I'm missing something (I'm sure I am!) but the direct connection isn't jumping out at me right away. Of course, that just means it requires more digging and thinking. Maybe the "post-9/11 psyche" is rooted in something very different to what I'm thinking about. Anyway, something to ponder.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that after 9/11 the mentality of the country as a whole changed a great deal and this had a tremendous impact on the media. I have to say that I don’t really know a great deal about comic books and haven’t seen several of the movies you mentioned, but I truly believe that the outbreak of new TV shows, such as Commander In Chief with Geena Davis, is due to the new found patriotism in the United States. This show reflects the American Government as being a brave, dramatic and tremendously powerful position. It certainly is a lot of those things, but this show magnifies all of these qualities a great deal. Like you said, it’s very difficult to define exactly what the post 9/11 psyche is exactly, but there is a great rush of patriotism in the United States. Even on ridiculous reality TV shows like American Idol, the people editing and writing the television script are choosing to feature the typical “all American girl” and emphasize the fact that they are living “the American dream”. Being an avid watcher of American Idol since the first season, I don’t remember there being such a rush of patriotism attached to all facets of the show. I do tend to believe that surge of animated movies tends to have more to do with the boom in technology, not really post 9/11 mentalities, but it is certainly an interesting prospect to ponder. The past year or so seems to have brought about a whole new line of cutting edge technology, especially with the I-Pod. I think that the I-Pod is going to continue to grow and change the face of technology in the future.
-Mary Kate Scanlon

2/08/2006 9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't really think there is a direct correlation between the rise in comic book movies and a post 9/11 psyche. After 9/11, there was a lot of talk in the media about viewers wanting to see comfort programming, especially in television. An example being the rise of Friends in the 2001-2002 season to becoming the #1 rated show of the year. I think the reason there are so many comic books movies is that once Hollywood realized they were profitable, specifically with X-Men in 2000, and for the most part well received by critics and fans alike, it was a easy blockbuster. With ticket sales down 12.6% from 2002, any film that will be a hit and possibly be able to overcompensate for potential flops is a gold mine. Comic book movies are also some of Hollywood's favorite kind of movies: big budget popcorn flick with lots of CGI special effects, easily and mass advertisable, and product lines. That I think is the reason for so many comic book movies in the last ten years.

Kelly Logue

2/09/2006 9:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see a direct relationship with the trend of Marvel Superhero movies in recent years alright -- just not with the post-9/11 psyche of our nation. There is only one reason why there has been a sudden influx of movies based on Marvel characters: MONEY. When Spider-Man came out a few years ago and set records for highest gross in a single weekend (I think, not totally sure), Hollywood studios knew they had something hot that they could squeeze every little last drop from (for another example, see horror movie remakes). There was one hit in Spider-Man, and Hollywood ran with it without looking back. Since Spider-Man, the superhero movies have been generally hit or miss, and with the release of Batman Begins and the now-in-production Superman Returns, this trend is not limited to just Marvel anymore. Sure, the movie business has in the past acted on the changing emotions of the mass audiences due to the political or social climate, but I don't see enough evidence to show that this is the case with superhero movies today. Compare it to the outburst of comics during WWII and the Cold War, when the nation was looking for heroes at every turn. THAT was a movement influenced by the nation's political affairs. The superhero movies of today, in contrast, are simply incomparable to that time.

Andrew Pareti

2/09/2006 11:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with all the previous individual's assessments, but I think the comic book's gone movie has been because Bush and the government was trying to escape the reality of the situation with the terrorists. For example, many times, during the Vietnam War or other wars involving the U.S., many new movies and book series came out for everyday people like me and you, to escape from the actual reality that was going on in the war at the time. After 9/11, Bush's aim was to stop the terrorists, however, on the home front it was completely different, as movies like Spiderman, and X-Men, were releases to ease the tension of people. Obviously, it was a tactic to relive the stress of 9/11 psyche, so I can definitely see the connection from your former student. Personally, I wanted to divert my attention away from the situation of 9/11, and new comic movie boom did attract myself away. Furthermore, the boom just shifted the rest of the focus of the U.S, more of the younger crowd, because it is very difficult for the younger crowd to grasp the aspect of war. Also, if you want to take it even deeper, like the example of years ago of the Vietnam War, was the Kent State riot, where many young people rebelled, and now with the post 9/11, the younger crowd has been distracted by something else: the comic movie series. It seems like every week, there is a new comic book turned movie series, and Hollywood’s doing this in record numbers. As long as the numbers show increases, then the distraction away from 9/11 has worked for the most part.

Kenneth Charles Hicks

2/11/2006 1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’m not sure if there has been a direct link between 9/11 and the amount of animated flicks. In some ways I see this type of movie sequence as a fad that sneaked into our nation and continues to grow. Spider-man was such a huge hit and other companies/media sources so this as an opportunity to gain a lead finically. This movies sparked box tickets sales to increase dramatically. Why not jump on the bandwagon? Also, these animated films are mostly older stories, stories that most of the previous and current generation can relate to, almost a feeling of nostalgia. So maybe these movies aren’t reflecting 9/11 but a more home/fantasy feeling. Growing up reading Harry Potter or comics we imagine and picture what they would look like and these movies bring these characters into real life. Plus, technology is blooming and special effects are just outdoing each other. So I guess in conclusion I believe that 9/11 does not directly effect our crazy reaction to animated films.

Ashley Coon

2/13/2006 7:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im not sure about the corralation of the Comic book movies to the post 9/11 pysche. Spiderman was a huge success, but it was a long running project that took a long time to complete. The movie actually started in the early 1990s but production was stopped with a loss of funds. So I don’t see the direct correlation there. The movie was edited at the time of its realease to edit out shocking images as well as adding patriotic ones as well, such as the ending scene with Spiderman perched on the American flag. I think overall it’s just a trend, as one comic book movie propels another whether the product is a good one or just a high budget bust.

2/13/2006 8:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that your former student's project is an interesting one. It never crossed my mind that the financial success of movies like Spider-Man and X-Men could be attributed in any way to "America's collective post-9/11 psyche". Not to say that this hypothesis is wrong, but people see movies for all sorts of reasons. I don't think that the "post-9/11 psyche" is the main reason. I think that these classic tales were just sitting in the pot waiting to be stirred. I am willing to bet that the producers of these films had the idea in mind before even before 9/11. Personally, I think 9/11 or not these movies would have still been a success... I am going on a tangent but I couldn't help but notice the movies that you listed about fantasy worlds. You listed Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter, and King Kong. These are among the longest movies I have ever seen. Movies like Narnia and Harry Potter are targeted for audiences with short attention spans... so I ask why?? Fantasy movies are especially long, but it seems as though every single movie now-a-days is at least two hours long. I don't get it, what's wrong with a movie that's an hour and a half??

Kim Veley

2/16/2006 8:13 PM  
Blogger Rachel Ippolito said...

I see no direct correlation between an increase in Marvel comic books reformed into movies and the events of 9/11. If I may propose a theory, perhaps there is just a lack of material for producers to work with. Hollywood has been remaking movies for decades without criticism. Almost every movie has been produced because of a book. How come when Harry Potter was created people didn't fabricate stories about the uprising of witch craft and wizzardry? There is no link between Marvel comics and 9/11...this is just one more example of the lack of material that the media has to work with.

3/06/2006 10:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel like you are asking us two very different questions here - how the American psyche has changed since 9/11 and whether or not this change has effected entertainment. September 11th shocked our nation and ratteled every aspect of our culture, that cannot be denied; however, there does not seem to be a direct connection between the terrorist attacks and the movie industry. I feel like every time a trend begins, people automatically assume it's an effect of whatever preceded it. When MTV's "Jackass" was popular, there was an outbreak of little kids hurting themselves in situations similair to those shown on the program. Upset parents and community members tried blaming the shows influence on their kids carelessness, but I tend to disagree. 9/11 devestated and strengthened our country simultaneously, but we would incorrect to assume that it effected everyone and everything in the same way. I watched "Jackass" and did I ever try one of their stunts? Nope.

Lindsay Parker

3/22/2006 7:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe there is a positive correlation of Marvel Comics superhero movies, particularly Spider-Man, post-September 11. Spider-Man, unlike X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, and Blade, is a more popular and better-known superhero in the Marvel world, and a more recognizable superhero, among the ranks of the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel. As a result of September 11, the people of the United States were left devastated. The release of Spider-Man in 2002 could not have come at a better time. The public needed a hero during these troubled times. Although fictional, Spider-Man proved to be that hero. The movie acted as a form of escapism from the harsh realities of September 11. The public looked to the webslinger to provide this escapism, and the figures do not lie. According to, Spider-Man is sixth on the all-time box office list, with a domestic gross of $403,706,375. It can be suggested that the movie’s success can be attributed to the United States’ people need for a hero following the attacks of September 11.

-Laura Salvalzo

4/17/2006 11:53 PM  

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