The Impact of Superhero Movies on People
By Sergio Salgado
What is it about superheroes that resonates with people? Is it their powers? Their feats of strength? Or is it something else entirely?
Over the last two decades, superhero movies have become heavy hitters at the box office. It is now common and almost expected for most superhero movies released by the two big companies, DC and Marvel, to do extremely well in cinemas. Marvel Studios, in particular, has done exceptionally well with their films, both critically and financially. They have released 27 movies over 10 years and they’ve grossed a total of $25.6 billion.
That’s a ridiculous amount of money that people have shelled out to watch these movies. So what compels them to watch? Some psychologists believe that it’s because audiences are able to resonate with the characters in these kinds of movies.
Robin S. Rosenberg is a clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay area and she believes that audiences resonate with superhero movies because they capture essential truths of human nature. “That’s why, I think, many people like superhero stories. We resonate with the themes in the stories, with the dilemmas and problems that superheroes face, and we aspire to their noble impulses and heroic acts. We identify-or would like to identify-with them (although sometimes we may identify with the villains). Superheroes are models for us, and they are modeled after us,” she wrote in an article for Psychology Today.
Take Spider-Man, for example. He’s able to perform extraordinary feats and he helps those in need, but he’s just a teenage boy. He also faces the problems that an average teenager would face, while simultaneously fighting crime. Everyone in the audience is able to empathize with Spider-Man and most, maybe except young children, are able to relate to him. He often has a lack of money, he gets bullied at school, he has girl problems, and he can often get overwhelmed, all things that most audience members have experienced.
Uriel Mejía, a freshman at Chattahoochee Tech, remembers the impact that Spider-Man had on him as a child. “I had always been fascinated with Spider-Man because he was so courageous and just really cool. But my appreciation for the character grew deeper when I went to go see Spider-Man 3 because of the growth that Peter Parker had. In the first two movies, he had also developed as a character but I feel like it was more impactful in the third one because he became arrogant for a while, but he was able to overcome it. I really admired that and I try to live like Peter Parker because he’s a good role model.”
Another person who relates to the character of Spider-Man is Leora Winter, a junior at Reinhardt. She’s been a fan of Spider-Man ever since she was a little girl. “I grew up watching Spider-Man movies and TV shows with my dad. Other than Wolverine, he was the first superhero I remember liking. He is humorous and relatable. I like that he is just a kid rather than a serious adult,” she said. Winter also relates to Spider-Man’s values, as they align with her own. “I relate to him because he does everything he can for the good of his community. He doesn’t try to do it for fame. He is just the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”
Additionally, Winter’s favorite movies are those that are about Spider-Man. “My favorite superhero movie is any of the Spider-Man movies really. They just make me feel empowered watching them.” Lastly, Winter feels empowered when she watches superhero movies in general. “My favorite superheroes and superhero movies in general make me feel like I can do anything. Especially when I was younger. It gave my dad and I something to bond over, and it made me really happy.”
Others like Kristen Teagarden, a sophomore at Reinhardt, identify with heroes who are courageous and who provide hope that people can change. Teagarden’s favorite superheroes are Scarlet Witch and Captain America, and she provided insight why. “Honestly, I originally liked Scarlet Witch because I thought her powers were cool, and her color was red, so not for very deep reasons… But I liked her character arc. I liked how she started out, not necessarily as a bad guy, but fighting against our heroes, and I liked how she ended up switching sides later on. I enjoyed watching her change and grow. I wouldn’t necessarily think of Captain America as my favorite character, but I think he has a lot of traits a superhero should have, and he’s very respectable. As far as superheroes go, there are a lot who operate in very morally gray areas a lot of the time. Whereas, with Steve, you know what he stands for, and you know what he believes in. I feel like he’s very thoughtful about the situations he’s faced with. I think he has a lot of traits that are good for a superhero, someone who’s defending the people. So, in that way, he’s one of my favorites.”
Additionally, Teagarden can relate to Captain America’s moral compass. “I feel like he tends to be very conscientious about his actions, and he’s always trying to do the right thing. He has a strong moral compass. I tend to think a lot about my decisions, and I think I’m pretty morally driven.” Teagarden’s favorite movie is a Captain America one: Captain America The Winter Soldier because it had a “neat perspective on “the end justifies the means,” and how, in the process of locking the bad things out, we can end up trapping ourselves. “I also think it was cool how Steve, when he recognized Bucky, wanted to save him. He knew who his friend really was, and he didn’t give up on him, just like Bucky never gave up on Steve when they were younger.”
Lastly, Teagarden explained that superhero movies in general have made her feel hopeful. “I love good-versus-evil stories. I think it’s cool how you can have that, and still have morally gray areas in the midst of that — where there are obvious good guys and bad guys, but there are these decisions along the way where there is no right answer, necessarily. I think superhero movies make me very hopeful, because they reinforce the idea that good will triumph over evil. To see the characters going through so much and yet still pick themselves up from rock bottom and keep fighting — it’s just very encouraging and inspiring, and it makes me feel hopeful.”
Mejia, Winter and Teagarden are just a few people who have been positively impacted by superhero movies. Their answers encapsulate what superheroes and superhero movies make people feel.
The heroes on the screen inspire us to strive for greatness. They teach us to be brave in the face of adversity and to keep fighting even if we fail. But perhaps most importantly, superhero movies give us hope that we can be heroic in our own way and change the world for the better.