Superheroes: The fight between television and film

Courtesy of DC Comics
Courtesy of DC Comics

The superhero genre has become a staple in today’s film and television industry. It’s become the driving force of contemporary blockbusters, with many of them becoming the highest-grossing movies every summer. Marvel and DC comics have headlined movie theaters across the world with characters like Iron Man, Superman, Batman and Captain America, as they have come to life from the small comic book pages they once dominated to the silver screen, reaching a broader audience than ever before.

For example, when Marvel Studios first released “Iron Man” into theaters in 2008, the studio aimed to start a cinematic universe in which all the properties they owned would share the same universe. This culminated in 2012’s “The Avengers,” in which Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and The Hulk finally teamed up and shared the big screen together. It went on to gross over one billion dollars at the box office, making it one of the highest-grossing movies of all time.

But after a decade of superhero films overflowing theaters, superheroes are finding a new medium, by which to translate that impact to audiences — television.

Superheroes by the likes of Green Arrow, The Flash and Daredevil have begun their foray into our homes so we can follow their story as they partake in kick-ass crime fighting. Beginning with “Arrow” in 2012, DC Comics began crafting their own television universe on the CW in which other superheroes from their respective shows, “The Flash,” “Legends of Tomorrow” and just recently, “Supergirl” coexist in the same universe as “Arrow” and have the ability to cross over with one another. Likewise, Marvel has been expanding in their current world domination by partnering with Netflix and releasing “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and just recently, “Luke Cage” on their streaming service.

These superhero shows have been received with much acclaim from dans and critics alike. “The Flash” in particular has been critically acclaimed averaging a 94 percent out of 100 on the review aggregator website, Rotten Tomatoes. On the flipside, Marvel’s “Daredevil” has averaged an even higher rating with 98 percent out of 100.

However, despite the individual success of superheroes in television and film, there has been a disparity between the overall reaction to these mediums. Recent films like “Suicide Squad,” have received less than stellar reception and with Marvel still going at it with their films, there’s a risk that they’re maybe fatiguing their audiences with oversaturation of these superheroes. But with high praise invading the recent surge of Marvel superhero shows on Netflix and DC shows on television, are audiences preferring to watch their beloved superheroes on television instead of in theaters.

In the superhero renaissance of today, yes. Audiences have become more attached to the heroes of TV, and the answer is simply in the medium itself. As opposed to film, the average person gets much more time with their beloved superheroes on television. Television shows have the privilege of telling their story through several episodes, each usually consisting of 45 minutes or more. And with seasons sometimes lasting up to 20 episodes (or 13 for Netflix series), there’s way more room for storytelling. Films are simply more limited. With only two hours or so to set up the characters and story, the storytelling has to be short but effective, and sometimes, it doesn’t live up to the “effective” part. And while films sometimes get the job done, it’s still only two hours you’re wasting on these heroes. And if you want to continue the story, you would have to wait about two years until its sequel is out.

The fact that television has the opportunity to release new installments of its shows every week lends itself to how comic books were originally consumed. Fans would have to wait to get their hands on the next issue of the continuing adventures of their favorite superhero. And with television, they get just that. Or in the case of Netflix, all at once, which is a perfect adaptation for a newer generation of fans accustomed to instant gratification.

And because of the binge-watching format, Marvel has had great success with its properties on the streaming service. It’s the perfect way for audiences to get attached quickly and easily, even more so than regular television. Plus, considering how accessible it is to stream from your phone, tablet, gaming console or computer, more so than television, it’s a given that audiences will become more enamored with superheroes right at their fingertips.

So with superhero TV shows garnering so much praise from both fans and critics alike then the films must be doing good as well, right? Well, not really. The most recent superhero movie, “Suicide Squad,” was critically panned. And not long before that, “Batman V. Superman” got an overwhelming mixed to negative response. Even Marvel’s latest film “Captain America: Civil War” did not appease critics and fans. But Marvel’s problem is that of oversaturation: “Civil War” was host to many superheroes in one film fighting against each other. With superheroes ranging from Ant-Man to Black Panther to even Spider-Man, the film felt more like an “Avengers” movie than a “Captain America” movie. It’s perhaps getting a bit too convoluted for the average moviegoer to follow.


With television, this problem seems to just go away. Sure, we have multiple superhero TV shows now, but the great thing about them is that there is so much time dedicated to building up the titular hero of the show that these films just don’t have. We can have about two hours with Captain America in his films before we see him team up with “The Avengers.” But we get about 10 or more hours with The Flash on his show before we even see him team up with other heroes.

With so much more time dedicated to storytelling on television, it’s really feeling like television is the best place for superheroes to be. Given the fact that television is serialized just as comic books were, the continuous installments have become more effective for its audience than that of film. And with less than stellar reception to recent blockbuster films and oversaturation of them in recent times, television is starting to become a gold mine with live-action superheroes. With Marvel on Netflix and DC on The CW, their potential for the future is exciting.

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