Death of Superhero Cinema

If Video killed Radio Star, then 1982 killed Superhero genre.

To be fair superhero genre had pretty much written their death when Flash Gordon turned out to be bad.


However 1982 would be a game changer. Not only Incredible Hulk, one of last superhero TV shows to survive ended but another movie on comic book named Conan The Barbarian was released.


Now you would say why was a comic book movie a killer of “Superhero genre” ? Was it bad ? No. Was it a flop ? No.

So what was it ?

You see Conan the Barbarian was everything against what Wonder Woman(1975-1979), Incredible Hulk(1978-1982) and Superman (1978 & 1980) stood for.

If Superman wore underwear outside pant, Conan only wore underwear.Film Conan the Destroyer 1984

If Hulk had PG-level violence, then Conan had blood and gore.conan-5

If Wonder Woman had strong female lead, Conan had women who wore as much clothes as Conan.


Only thing that remained same was the fact Conan had as much fantasy element as all previous comic book adaptation. It was clear that people wanted fantasy but also more blood and less clothes.


Someone wearing cape could not rip off throats. It would not look good. No wonder Rambo turned into a cartoon by the end of decade. Was it a coincidence that Superman 3 would be panned in 1983 ?


Would DC Empire Strike Back ?


Birth of Superhero Cinema

USA has ended it’s involvement in South Vietnam in 1973. Those who served were back home. Surely they needed something “American” on TV.


Enter 1974.

‘Spidey Short Story’ and ‘Shazam’ are launched on TV.


Success of these shows gave confidence to DC to launch “Wonder Woman” on TV in 1975.


However Hollywood was still reluctant about adaptation of Superhero on big screen. People still demanded realistic movies like ‘Taxi Driver’.


Enter Bicentennial Celebration to celebrate 200 years of Declaration of Independence.  USA just remembered that Uncle Sam sent man on moon only 7 years ago. USA could ‘dream’ again.


Enter 1977. Close Encounter of Third Kind was released.


But more important than that was the fact that Star Wars was released. Star Wars did not only used American’s fascination of space, but also nostalgia for good ole’ days of innocence when movies lacked moral ambiguity unlike ‘The Godfather’ and fantasy like ‘Wizard of Oz’ were a hit.


Enter 1978. A TV series on Hulk is launched. But more important than that, a movie based on Superman was released. Yes, readers, a mainstream superhero movie was finally released! Dreams were fulfilled. Yes !


Icing on top was the fact was that movie was good. It had everything a comic book fan could wish at that time. If Jaws in 1975 proved that summer holidays were best time for blockbuster, Star Wars in 1977 proved fantasy could sell again.


Success of Superman movie lead to movie adaptation of Star Trek TV Show in 1979 and Flash Gordon comic book in 1980. Lest not forget, sequel to Superman was a hit in 1980!


But then 1982 happened.

Flower power, Vietnam and Superhero


With such success in superhero comic book industry and the fact that Baby Boomer were now in large number , you would have thought Hollywood would fulfill demands of everyone who grew up reading superhero comic books, am  I right or am I right ?movie-theater-line

Well before Hollywood mainstream could cash in on superhero genre , Gulf of Tolkin Incident happened. Those who were born in 1946 were now 19 year in 1965.

19 year old had two option – either join the South Vietnam’s war against North Vietnam or don’t join. Those who joined were not gonna be in USA till 1975. They would not be important audience for Hollywood till 1976.


Well, you would ask what about Baby Boomers who did not join ? Would they not be important audience for Hollywood ? Cannot Hollywood make any comic book movies for them  ?

Yes, they would be  important audience. No, Hollywood could not make superhero movies for them despite the fact they grew up reading comic books.

You see those who did not join Vietnam War questioned not only Uncle Sam’s involvement in South-East Asia but USA itself. Civil Rights movement questioned the role of whites and blacks in American society. Feminist movement questioned the role of man and women in American society.Gay rights movement questioned the role of homosexuals in American society. Well you get the point.


Anything that was typically associated with word “American” was challenged.

Even Cowboy movies –  which symbolized USA – stopped being profitable. Superheroes could not have been profitable on mainstream as Superheroes were as “American” as it gets.


TV however again proved to be silver lining with launch of Batman in 1966 and Green Hornet in 1967.


Birth of Marvel Revolution


If 1930s and 1940s was era of DC with launch of Batman , Superman , Green Arrow, Flash , Wonder Woman then 1960s was going to be era of company of Captain America – Marvel with launch of Hulk , Fantastic Four , Thor.2677624-ff001

If 1950s was about fear of ‘others’ through ‘Hollywood Blacklist’ and ‘McCarthysm’ then 1960s would be about welcoming others through ‘Counterculture’ and ‘Civil Rights Movement’


In 1963 Marvel launched X-Men which was about ‘others’ – I mean ‘mutants’. The villain would be ‘Malcom X’ – I mean  ‘Magneto’ would tell ‘Blacks’ – I mean ‘mutants’ that ‘Whites’ – I mean ‘humans’ are the enemy.The hero would be ‘Martin Luther King Jr.’ – I mean ‘Professor X’ who would dream of ‘color blind society’ – I mean – well you get the point


1963 was also the year when Marvel would make Capitalism look cool after Che Guevara made Communism look cool.


Suits.Check. Well combed hair. Check.Handsome face.Check.Confidence.Check.Gadgets.Check..Womanizer.Check.Alcoholic.Check.


No I am talking about UK super-spy James Bond, but multimillionaire Tony Stark who invents suit of Iron Man and fight Mandarin when China was still a foe of USA.


With this much success, no wonder Captain America would make comeback in 1964.

However we should not forget 1963 was also the year of Spiderman. Here was superhero who not only had moderate income unlike Bruce Wayne, but was also 17 year old like those born in 1946.


Coming to Baby Boomer , what would they do next ?

1950s and Superhero


1950s would not be a good decade for superhero comic books


Moral police would start blaming comic books for bad behavior among kids. Censorship would hit comic book industry and affect creativity.


Popularity of Superheroes genre would start decreasing. Captain America stopped being published in 1950.


Adding fuel to fire would be the fact that baby boomers would still not make important amount of audience.

Those who were kids when Superman comic book was released would now be drafted in Korean War from 1950 to 1953.


Even if there were superhero movies made, they were not mainstream.

Even if their were sci-fi movies, the heroes would be humans and villains would be ‘others’ i.e.; aliens and monsters, who would be metaphor for Communist.

For e.g.; – Invasion of Body Snatchers


Surely it was difficult for a Krytonite to be a hero as he would be “others”.


If there was one silver lining, it would be increase in TV. Kids who could not go out to cinema hall, could watch serials on TV.


“Adventure of Superman” would be launched on 1952 and run till 1958.

Time of Peace

It was 1945. Hitler and Mussolini were wiped off the face of Earth. USA had no new Hitler to fear


Actually USA had a new Hitler to fear. His name was Stalin. However 1945 was no 1938. USA was superior in strength due to nukes.

Hollywood still cannot make a movie on Superman comic books. Those who read Superman were not low in strength. Since 1929, adults were either too poor to feed their children or busy in World War 2.


It was in 1945, when adults could fully be available for kids.It was in 1946, when kids would born in large amount than ever before.

Demand of the audience has also changed. After seeing reality after their service in World War 2. No wonder Hollywood did not make many kid-friendly movies like “Wizard of Oz” or “Robin Hood” but realistic noir. In such atmosphere Superhero movies would be too kiddish for audience.


However 1949 changed something. Stalin got nuclear weopen and Communist won the Civil War in China.

What would happen to Superhero in next decade ?





Birth of Captain America – and cinema

Till 1941, USA was neutral in World War 2. Like America , Batman & Superman were neutral.

However with Axis power winning , US had something to fear after seeing their ally UK alone against Nazi,Fascist & Japanese Empire.

Thus the movie “Sergent York” was released in 1941, based on World War 1 hero Alvin York. Of course ,  Alvin York did not fight Nazi Germany of 1940s but German Empire of 1910s, but message was clear. A hero was needed.


Those kids who use to read Batman and Superman wanted to join army so that they can beat Nazis when USA declares war on Axis power to be real life “superhero” . However some of the kids were skinny. And those were not the days of steroids and Gold Gym.

Steroid Muscles

In order to fulfill wish of skinny comic-book fans, Lord Stan Lee (frequent guest in Marvel movies )created Captain America.


According to the official story , a skinny fine arts student named Stan Lee – I mean Steve Rogers decides to join army to beat Nazis. However skinny comic book fan –  I mean Steve Rogers is not buffed up enough to join military. So he is given steroids – serum.

Thus on March 21 , 1941, Captain America was born.


So why was it that after Pearl harbor attack no Captain America movie was made in 1940s ?

For simple reason – USA wanted to win!

Hollywood could not demoralize volunteers by saying they needed a superhero with funny name and even more funnier costume to win the war. No way ! On-screen everyman like John Wayne was enough!


After USA having advantage of nuclear weapon, USA did not actually need a superhero.


Birth of Batman – and cinema

Superman was a big hit in 1938.

By 1939 , fans started asking what would happen if Superman fought criminals ?

Of course it could not be Superman himself.

An alien would not come to Earth just to fight petty criminals.


So who would it be ?

Of course , we wanted our hero to still wear cape and have underwear outside, since people loved Superman so much!


The symbol of hero could not have ‘S’

Symbol should invoke fear in the hearts of criminal.

But why are criminals scary ?

Because petty thugs come out of dark in night to attack

By the way what other things does that ?

Oh yeah – Bats !!!


Our hero did not just have symbol of Bats, he looked like one

But it could not have been a bat itself.

Oh no!

You see, unlike Superman’s villain , criminals were a problem faced by common man.

Common man did not need any force from outside. He could fight criminal himself. He just needed hope.


In 1939, it was then decided that a comic book character named Bruce Wayne would dress as Bat to scare criminals, give hope to fictional city of Gotham and call himself Batman.


Bruce Wayne, in some way was more relatable than Clark Kent. Not only was he a human being of Earth like comic book reader but also like his reader he felt something Clark Kent did not – fear. Also unlike Clark ; he was not a boy scout!


Some may say that Bruce is not relatable as he is rich. But the truth was that he was made rich to make it logical for  Batman to have so many gadgets. Otherwise , beside his dealing with Alfred, he did not have attitude of a rich guy.


Now you may wonder why 30s being era of “celebrity gangsters” like Al Capone, John Dillinger , did Hollywood did not have any Batman movie in 1940s?


Well,  most of the big criminals like Al Capone , Bonnie & Clyde were finished in early 1930s by real cops, so they did not deserve to be beaten by Batman in 1940s

And for small criminals, Humphery Bogart was enough!600full-humphrey-bogart


Birth of Superman – and Cinema

Superhero is the most popular genre today in movies. A fan always wonders how we got here. For that we need to read history.


Superman – debuted in 1938


USA was formed in 1783

So, why 1938 ?

For simple reason – USA never needed Superman till then

Ever since USA got independence in 1783 , USA need not to fear as a country due to two reason : –

  1. Economy and military might
  2. Neutrality




However in 1938 , USA needed to be afraid – afraid of Nazi Germany or rather afraid of man named Adolf Hitler.

Here was a man that turned Germany from guilt-ridden-from-World-War-2, economically-weak-from-Great-Depression and demilitarized-by-League-of-Nation into a country that was proud of it’s past, booming economy and scary military ever since he took power in 1932.

Here was a man who invaded Austria and was challenging French and British Empire

Here was a man who called himself “Ubermensch”


“Ubermensch” could not be born in USA . After all USA believed in “All men are created equal under law”. It had to be from outside world.

So why was was USA only one to be scared of Hitler ?

Japan, Spain and Italy had taken Hitler ‘s side

USSR ‘s military was as scary as Nazi Germany

UK was too arrogant to sign “Munich Agreement”

France was too arrogant to not prepare itself for 1940 Invasion


However for USA, it was different tale

USA knew they would never take Hitler ‘s side because of it’s large Jewish population

USA had not been in any war since 1918

USA was in Great Depression so it was not arrogant.

Adding fuel to fire was 1937 Japanese invasion of China. If a country as large as China could be invaded by small island nation of Japan , how could USA be safe ?


So why did Jerry Siegal had to turn Superman into comic book?

Maybe because Jerry was a teen who loved to draw ?

Other reason can be that Jerry was to poor to turn it into a movie ?

Or maybe because Hitler was a cartoon character himself.

I mean just look at Hitler.

Chaplin Moustache.

Emo hairstyle

Swastika logo

All those talk of Aryan Supremacyhqdefault

It sounded something out of comic book or Charlie Chan movies

To be fair Hirohito, Mussolini and Stalin were cartoonish . Even Churchil was bit cartoonish.


So why didn’t Superman fight Nazis in first issue ?

USA was neutral till Pearl Harbour attack in 1941

Surely Jerry did not want to create war.

So Superman had to fight fake villains

So why did despite the fact King Kong revolutionist special effects in Hollywood in 1933 was there no Superman movies made in 1930s or 1940s ?


For simple reason

  1. Comic book was considered “low art ” while story book was considered “high art”
  2. Comic book was for children

Plus there was no need for Superman in movie audience

Those who wanted action had Western

Those who wanted special effects and fantasy had “Snow White”,”Wizard of Oz” , “Thief of Baghdad”

Those who wanted men in tights had “Robin Hood”


Those who wanted realism ,

Well why they want Superman ?

Plus due to lack of income and low percentage , those who read Superman were low in number to watch movies.