Superheroes Smash the Box Office

A Cinema History from the Serials to 21st Century Blockbusters


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About the Book

In 1997, the superhero movie was all but dead. The last Superman flick had been released a decade earlier to disastrous reviews and ticket sales. The most recent Batman film was a franchise-killing bomb. And an oft-promised Spider-Man feature was grounded. Yet a mere five years later this once-derided genre would be well on its way to world domination at the box office and even critical respectability. How did this happen? And why, two decades later, does the phenomenon show no sign of abating?
Here, for the first time, is an extensively researched soup-to-nuts history of the superhero movie, from the first bargain-basement black-and-white serials to today’s multiverse blockbusters. Chronicling eight decades of stops and starts, controversies and creators, good guys and bad guys—onscreen and off—this entertaining account explains how and why our entertainment universe came to be overpowered by costumed crimefighters and their nefarious counterparts.

About the Author(s)

Shawn Conner is an arts and entertainment reporter living in Vancouver, British Columbia. His work has appeared in USA Today, Rolling Stone, and the Globe & Mail, among others.

Bibliographic Details

Shawn Conner
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 248
Bibliographic Info: 34 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7666-1
eISBN: 978-1-4766-5011-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Chapter I: It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s … a Serial 3
1941–1958: Adventures of Captain Marvel, Batman, Captain America, Superman, Batman and Robin, Atom Man vs. Superman, Superman and the ­­­Mole-Men
Chapter II: Biff! Bam! and, of Course, Pow! 12
1966–1968: Batman
Chapter III: Hulk Fights a Bear 20
1970s, Pt. 1: Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing ­­­Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Captain America
Chapter IV: This Looks Like a Job for Two European Film Producers 30
1970s, Pt. 2: Superman: The Movie
Chapter V: Marvel Gets Its Wish 36
1981–1987: Superman II, Superman III, Supergirl, Howard the Duck, Superman IV
Chapter VI: How One Batfan’s Dedication Transformed the Movie Industry 46
1989: Batman
Chapter VII: In the Shadow of the Bat 53
1990–1992: TMNT, Dick Tracy, Darkman, The Rocketeer, Batman Returns
Chapter VIII: Marvel’s Woes, and a Dark Horse Enters the Race 60
1990–1995: The Punisher, Captain America, Fantastic Four, The Crow, The Mask, Tank Girl
Chapter IX: Batnipplegate, and Marvel Scores a Hit 69
1995–1999: Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, Spawn, Steel, Blade
Chapter X: Born That Way 79
2000–2002: ­­­X-Men, ­­­Spider-Man
Chapter XI: Hulk Throws a Tank 86
2003–2005: Daredevil, X2: ­­­X-Men United, Hulk, Hellboy, The Punisher, ­­­Spider-Man 2, Catwoman, Elektra
Chapter XII: Batman Begins, Superman Returns and the Silver Surfer Rises 96
2005–2007: Batman Begins, Fantastic Four, Superman Returns, ­­­X-Men: The Last Stand, Ghost Rider, ­­­Spider-Man 3, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Chapter XIII: The Year Marvel Broke 106
2008: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Dark Knight
Chapter XIV: Summer of the Superhero (and a Winter of Discontent) 113
2008: The Dark Knight, The Punisher: War Zone, The Spirit
Chapter XV: Alternate Histories 118
2009–2011: Watchmen, ­­­X-Men Origins: Wolverine, ­­­Kick-Ass, Thor, ­­­X-Men: First Class, The Dark Knight Rises, Captain America: The First Avenger
Chapter XVI: Avengers Assembled 129
2012–2013: The Avengers, The Amazing ­­­Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises, Dredd, Iron Man 3, Superman Returns, The Wolverine, Thor: The Dark World
Chapter XVII: A Raccoon and a Tree Walk into a Bar 137
2014: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing ­­­Spider-Man 2, ­­­X-Men: Days of Future Past, Guardians of the Galaxy
Chapter XVIII: High Hopes 142
2015: Avengers: Age of Ultron, ­­­Ant-Man, Fantastic Four
Chapter XIX: Ask Not for Whom Dawns the Justice 147
2016: Deadpool, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, ­­­X-Men: Apocalypse
Chapter XX: Let the Amazons Have Some 157
2017: Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, ­­­Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League
Chapter XXI: Peak Superhero 167
2018: Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, ­­­Ant-Man and the Wasp, Venom, Aquaman
Chapter XXII: Endgame 174
2019: Glass, Captain Marvel, Shazam!, Hellboy, Fast Color, Avengers: Endgame, Brightburn, ­­­X-Men: Dark Phoenix, ­­­Spider-Man: Far from Home, Joker
Chapter XXIII: After the Snap 180
2020–2021: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), Wonder Woman 1984, Zach Snyder’s Justice League, The Suicide Squad, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, The New Mutants, Black Widow, ­­­Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings, The Eternals, ­­­Spider-Man: No Way Home
Epilogue 189
Chapter Notes 191
Bibliography 207
Index 225