After a great deal of handwringing, Hollywood is breathing a sigh of relief.
The 2018 box office showed growth, and the movie business owes its positive performance to an aggregate of superhero films.
After hyper-anxiety over the possibility that streaming entertainment was going to kill the movie theater business, Hollywood ended up raking in a record $11.9 billion in revenue last year.
The 2018 domestic box office was up 7 percent over 2017 as well as being up 4 percent when compared to 2016. The audience has grown, and although the actual number of tickets sold remains below the high mark that was set in 2002, attendance for 2018 was higher than the previous year by 4 percent.
With more than 26 percent of all domestic box-office revenue in 2018, Disney commands an unprecedented portion of the market share. CEO Bob Iger’s strategy of buying franchises and rights to superhero characters paid off enormously, and the company’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets is expected to close in the first half of 2019.
Disney’s share of the market is likely to increase in 2019, with the planned release of another “Star Wars” film and the fourth and supposedly final “Avengers” movie, as well as two animated features and three live-action versions of classic Disney tales.
Based on the 2018 box-office performance, filmgoers can expect movie studios to continue to deliver two predictable types of entertainment product in 2019: 1) additional sequels; and 2) more cinema that features costumed crusaders with super-human powers.
Of the top five box-office films of the year, four were superhero films, and amazingly the ten highest-grossing films of 2018 were either superhero movies, sequels, or both.
The top film of 2018 was the superhero offering “Black Panther,” which earned over $700 million domestically making it the third highest-grossing movie in the history of cinema. Following close behind was another superhero flick, “Avengers: Infinity War.”
The biggest take from last year’s ticket revenue arrived courtesy of the superhero genre, with four out of the top five films bringing in more than $2.3 billion. The “Spider-Man” spin-off “Venom” and “Ant-Man and The Wasp” hauled in another combined $429 million. The newly released “Aquaman” and “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” added an additional combined $300 million to last year’s superhero gross.
The enduring success of comic book characters that come to life begs the question: What is it about these superhero movies that draws people to the multiplex?
Family films pay the bills for Hollywood, and since parents are on an eternal quest for places to take their little ones, superhero films provide a relatively wholesome type of fare that adults and appropriately-aged children are able to enjoy together.
That the superhero phenomenon has become so deeply ingrained into the fabric of our culture suggests something more significant is occurring within the public consciousness. People instinctively long for stories in which moral tensions in plot lines are ultimately resolved in a fundamentally fair manner. Similar to the mythological gods of antiquity, superheroes possess powers and abilities that can rectify unjust situations. Superheroes also travel through storylines in which forces of good and evil have clearly marked boundaries and good generally triumphs over evil. In this fanciful realm, the universe is ordered and stability secured.
The successful releases in the superhero category typically feature characters with extraordinary powers, who, as they go about saving the world, must deal with ordinary relatable problems. When superhero characters possess an aura of authenticity, the stories surrounding them communicate a sense of hope that problems can be solved and obstacles overcome.
A study that took place in Kyoto, Japan, published in January 2017, explored attitudes of very young children toward heroic characters.
Six-month-old infants were presented with animations that depicted a character bumping into another character while a third onlooker watched from a distance. The onlooker intervened in one version and in a second version ran away.
When the infants were given the opportunity to select a real life replica of the intervening character or non-intervening character, the young subjects were more likely to choose the intervening character as opposed to the one who ran away.
The findings of the research indicate that pre-verbal six-month-old infants are able to recognize heroism, suggesting that the ability to identify a hero is an innate one.
This innate human attraction to heroism has been capitalized upon by the motion picture industry and explains, in part, the omnipresence of superhero characters in movies. Hollywood executives will soon debut even more superhero films. Scheduled for release in 2019 are Disney’s “Captain Marvel” and “Avengers: Endgame,” Sony’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” and Fox’s X-Men sequel, “Dark Phoenix.”