Holy Megabucks, Batman! The Astounding Popularity of Superhero Films | The Socjournal

Sep 22nd, 2011 | By Timothy McGettigan | Category: Lead, Timothy McGettigan

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AMA citation:

McGettigan T. Holy Megabucks, Batman! The Astounding Popularity of Superhero Films. The Socjournal. 2011. Available at: http://www.sociology.org/lead/holy-megabucks-batman-astounding-popularity-superhero-films. Accessed May 4, 2012.

APA citation:

McGettigan, Timothy. (2011). Holy Megabucks, Batman! The Astounding Popularity of Superhero Films. Retrieved May 4, 2012, from The Socjournal Web site, http://www.sociology.org/lead/holy-megabucks-batman-astounding-popularity-superhero-films

Chicago citation:

McGettigan, Timothy, “Holy Megabucks, Batman! The Astounding Popularity of Superhero Films”, The Socjournal, posted September 22, 2011, http://www.sociology.org/lead/holy-megabucks-batman-astounding-popularity-superhero-films (accessed May 4, 2012).

Harvard citation:

McGettigan, T 2011, Holy Megabucks, Batman! The Astounding Popularity of Superhero Films, The Socjournal. Retrieved May 4, 2012, from

MLA citation:

McGettigan, Timothy. “Holy Megabucks, Batman! The Astounding Popularity of Superhero Films.” The Socjournal. 22 Sep. 2011. 4 May. 2012

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Big bucks in buff bods and super-powers. Collectively we have a fantasy, a fetish perhaps, with notions of super power and hidden divinity. From the X-men to Superman to The Hulk, perhaps there is something more than the the mere dust and detritus of human existence. As Bruce Cockburn once sang, “Behind the pain fear, etched on the faces, something is shining like gold, but better…” As Dr. Tim says, let fantasy lead where science fears to tread.

The first person to live to 1,000 is already 60 years old—
Aubrey de Grey, Chief Science Officer of the SENS Foundation

Has anyone noticed a pattern in recent summer film seasons? Maybe it’s just me, but lately it seems like one out of every three Hollywood blockbusters is a superhero movie. Spiderman, Batman, Iron Man, the Hulk, Wolverine, Captain America…need I go on? A review of any one of these films would be very brief: mind-numbing eye candy. If you like big muscles and even bigger explosions, then superhero films are for you. If, on the other hand, you prefer films that are slightly more sophisticated than WWF throw-downs, then you might find the burgeoning popularity of superdude sagas a wee bit puzzling.

Apart from costume changes – for example, the star of Captain America also played the role of the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four – most superhero films are pretty much identical. The stories revolve around a central character, who is often a loser, and who experiences some sort of tragedy. The plot thickens when the luckless everyman gets juiced up with some sort of superpower. The story builds to a climax when the super-charged hero dashes off to vanquish a bad guy who really has it coming. OK, so if that about sums it up, then why do superhero movies set box office records year after year?

Hollywood producers have long known that a film’s success depends on forging a powerful personal connection with its audience. But what connection could there possibly be between real people and comic book fantasies?

Ever since people invented anthropomorphic gods—such as Thor, the star of a recent superhero blockbuster—it’s fair to say that humans have been fascinated with superhumans. The coolest thing about superhumans is that they are sublimely untroubled by the mundane problems that plague mere mortals. Compared to the gods, humans are puny, weak, and insignificant. However, humans are also similar enough to the gods that, if we permit our imaginations to run wild, we can privately entertain fantasies about wielding their superpowers: “There, but for a thunderbolt from heaven, go I.”

This leads us back to Aubrey de Grey. What would inspire a level-headed scientist to claim that humans might be on the verge of achieving immortality? Such an outlandish fantasy falls well outside the pale of serious science; however, it still falls well within the bounds of human aspirations. Keep in mind that Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

In other words, fantasies often lead where science fears to tread. Crazy as it may seem, today’s fantasies are often tomorrow’s realities. If you want a glimpse of what the future might hold, then I recommend that you catch the inevitable sequel to Thor or Captain America. And don’t be surprised if you spot Aubrey de Grey in the front row of the theater.

Tim McGettigan is a professor of sociology at CSU-Pueblo and he is also the author of Good Science: The Pursuit of Truth and the Evolution of Reality.

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