Marvelous Rise of Superheroes in Cinema

Evolution of the Genre from Sequels to Universes

by Tuna Tetik (Author)
©2022 Monographs 248 Pages


Marvelous Rise of Superheroes in Cinema: Evolution of the Genre from Sequels to Universes addresses the superhero movie genre’s transformation between 1978 and 2019. To emphasize and
illustrate the conceptual and thematic transformation, the main conventions of the genre are
scanned through several periods, focusing on the developmental age of the genre, including the
dominant period of DC Comics-based superhero movies (1978-1997) and the Marvel “boom”
(2000-2007), and the contemporary age. For this purpose, the book traces the fundamentals of
superheroes from the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1 (1938) to the final installment
of the MCU’s Phase 3, Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019). The transformation has two significant
points. First, the genre’s main conventions have been in a change. Second, the genre’s focus
has changed from sequel filmmaking to the universe concept. The study investigates the Marvel
Cinematic Universe’s dominant, leading, and major role in the genre’s evolutionary process.
Besides, the future of the superhero movie genre is questioned through the multiverse concept to
broaden an understanding of the genre’s following directions.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Author Biography
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Being a Superhero: The Concept and the Phenomenon
  • What Defines the Superhero?
  • The Problem of the Definition: Supervillains, Anti-Heroes, and Monstrous Figures
  • The Brief History of Superheroes in Comics, Television Series, and Cinema Before 2008’s “I am Iron Man” Quote
  • Superheroes in Comics
  • Superheroes in Television Series
  • Superheroes in Cinema
  • The Developmental Age [Sequel Era] of the Superhero Movie Genre: The Main Conventions of Superhero Movies Between 1978 and 2007
  • Superhero Movies Between 1978 and the 1990s
  • Superhero Movies Between 2000 and 2007
  • The Contemporary Age [Universe Era] of the Superhero Movie Genre: The Main Conventions of Superhero Movies Between 2008 and 2019
  • Superhero Movie Genre in the Contemporary Age
  • MCU Movies in the Contemporary Age
  • Transmedia Universe of Marvel Studios
  • Marvel Comics-Based Characters on ABC: The First Attempt to Expand the Universe into Multiple Media
  • Marvel Comics-Based Superheroes on Netflix: The Second Attempt to Expand the Universe into Multiple Media
  • Jessica Jones on Netflix
  • Daredevil on Netflix
  • Luke Cage on Netflix
  • Iron Fist on Netflix
  • The Defenders on Netflix
  • The Punisher on Netflix
  • MCU Movies as Modern Blockbusters
  • Avengers Movies as Ensemble Movies
  • The Evolution of the Genre: The Rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
  • The Ways of Marvel Studios in the Creation of a Commercially Successful Cinematic Universe
  • The Changing Genre Status of the MCU in the Contemporary Age of the Superhero Movie Genre
  • The Marvel Studios Formula in the MCU Movies
  • The MCU Fandom: Being Members of Marvel Community
  • The Future of the Superheroes After 2019’s “I am Iron Man” Quote
  • Conclusion
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • References



As Known As


Batman: The Dark Knight Returns


Computer-Generated Imagery


DC Comics


DC Extended Universe


Intellectual Property


Marvel Comics


Marvel Cinematic Universe


Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters


The Dark Knight Trilogy


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


“Welcome to the planet.”

Lois Lane. (2013).

(Man of Steel)

All have begun with Superman! The character has sparked the history of the flying, rising, and flashing caped crusades, even though he was unable to fly in the 1938’s comic book panels. Jerry Siegel as the writer and Joe Shuster as the artist exhibited an extraordinary man with a red cape, Superman in Action Comics #1.1 Nevertheless, they could not imagine today’s condition of the superhero genre. As mentioned in the preface, superheroes are everywhere now. Many caped crusaders with various superpowers have been transferred from comics into several media for many decades. Especially, two major and global comic book publishers, Marvel2 Comics and DC3 Comics, have continued to tell stories of a significant number of superheroes in multiple media in the 2010s. However, the concept of Superman could be seen as unprecedented for 1938’s comics. But Clark Kent as Superman quickly became a global phenomenon after the character’s first appearance in comics.

Eighty-one years after the debut of Superman as the first superhero in comics, superhero movies became one of the most profitable motion pictures in the industry. In addition to the dramatic increase in the number of superhero movies, Avengers: Endgame (2019) broke all significant box office records, including the highest-grossing movie4 of all time. However, the game of dethroning between Avengers: Endgame (2019) and Avatar (James Cameron, 2009) has still been proceeding. After the latest re-release5 of Avatar (2009) in 2021, Avengers: Endgame became the second highest-grossing movie6 of all time at the global box office records.

The crucial thing that caught my attention for this study and research was the dramatic increase in the number of superhero movies and the number of superheroes in a single movie during the 2010s. I started to study by questioning this influx. That is why I have considered this influx as the inception of my research interest. From Action Comics #1 (Jerry Siegel, 1938) to Avengers: Endgame (2019), histories of the superhero comics and the superhero movie genre have experienced many changes and revisions.

The fundamentals of superheroes are derived from their comic book origins. In the field, superhero comics history is examined in several periods. The massive popularity of superheroes in the 1940s has caused superheroes to be adapted from comics into other media, such as television and cinema. Although several ←19 | 20→film series, including Flash Gordon (Frederick Stephani, 1936), The Phantom (B. Reeves Eason, 1943), and Captain America (Elmer Clifton and John English, 1944), were produced, they were not worldwide theatrically released. In addition to these productions, many characters, such as Flash Gordon and the Phantom, have not been defined as superheroes despite their superpowers. These types of characters are considered as super7 heroes. The space8 between “super” and “hero” means a lot. Many scholars and researchers indicate Action Comics #1 as the inception of the superhero genre. Thus, Adventures of Superman (1952–1958) is considered as the first superhero television series in the genre, while Superman (Richard Donner, 1978) is regarded as the first [modern] superhero movie with a worldwide theatrical release.

Similar to the superhero comics history, the evolution of the superhero movie genre could be examined within several periods. Whereas superhero movies based on DC’s characters have dominated the genre between 1978 and the late-1990s, Marvel-based superhero movies have become the leaders of the genre with respect to the number of movies and the box office records in the early-2000s. The dramatic increase in the number of Marvel-based superhero movies (also defined as the Marvel “boom”) happened in the first decade of the 21st century. With the launch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008), Marvel Studios has begun to change the dynamics of the genre and energize the genre in many ways. The number of MCU superhero movies peaked between 2008 and 2019.

In this study, I grounded my hypothesis on the argument that the superhero movie genre has been experiencing a significant transformation. In this sense, the genre’s main conventions have also been changing. I argue that the MCU has a major, leading, and dominant role in this transformation. In fact, the MCU superhero movies are among the most commercially successful movies in the genre, even in the industry. My purpose is to reveal and discuss the changing conventions of the genre, the commercial status of the genre, and the major/leading role of the MCU in the genre during the transformation. Remarkably, the current condition of the contemporary superhero movie genre and the position of the MCU in the genre will be illustrated in this book. Then, this book, based on my Ph.D. dissertation, will address several ways of Marvel Studios [in other words, the Marvel Studios formula] in the creation of a commercially successful cinematic universe.

Importantly, the theoretical framework of the research is based on genre studies. Therefore, the book will discuss the significant approaches on genre studies, when superhero movies will be categorized as a particular genre. Because the theory of the genre should be clarified to analyze the superhero movie genre concerning main conventions and its evolutionary process. Among scholars who ←20 | 21→work on genre studies, the film genre is often accepted as a continuous process. Rick Altman (1999, p. 38) proposes a perspective to approach the genre that could be mentioned as “the game of the producers.” The producer’s game theory is considered as a way of studying to understand a film genre’s formulaic nature to reveal the factors behind the box office success of the genre. Thus, this book will mainly concentrate on the superhero movie genre from the perspective of Altman’s producer’s game theory. Besides, Altman’s genrification (1999) theory claims that each film genre experiences several stages in its evolution. A film genre’s relation to technology is crucial through the film genre’s age of construction. By the way, each genre is born from the interrelation of new technology and a broad genre. The book will employ Altman’s genrification theory (1999) to reveal the superhero movie genre’s evolution and transformation.

This book’s primary focus is the superhero movie genre in a broader sense. Specifically, this statement will be argued that the contemporary superhero movie genre has shifted its focus from sequels to the creation of the superhero universes since 2008. Concurrently, the main conventions of the genre are also in a transformation. This book claims that the role of the MCU in the transformation of the genre has primary importance in shaping the current condition and the future of the superhero movie genre.

Crucially, Marvelous Rise of Superheroes in Cinema separates the superhero movie genre into two highlighted periods. The first period is the developmental age of the genre between 1978 and 2007, covering the dominant period of DC-based superhero movies (1978–1997) and the Marvel “boom” (2000–2007). The second period is the contemporary age of the genre in the years between 2008 and 2019.

When we investigate the history of the superhero movie genre, the DC-based movies’ leading period could be easily observed. Between the late-1970s and 1980s, four Superman9 movies were theatrically released. The Bat-Franchise10 contained four Batman movies, including (Batman, Tim Burton, 1989), in the 1990s. These superhero movies have contributed to the genre by establishing main conventions. This period could be defined as the inception of the developmental age of the superhero movie genre. Due to the Marvel “boom” in the early-2000s, superhero movies have begun to gain familiarity from the audience. Between 1978 and 2007, the superhero movie genre has thematically included many caped and masked heroes, who prefer to hide their civilian identities, struggle to fight supervillains, and protect the innocents, their loved ones, and cities simultaneously.

Significantly, the sky is very crowded today. From the release of Iron Man (Jon Favreau, 2008) to the end of 2021, fifty-nine11 Marvel- and DC-based superhero ←21 | 22→movies have been released. Many of them include more than two super-powered characters. The great majority of them have been set in a particular superhero universe.

When I was studying this research for my dissertation, the “ensemble” of three different Spider-Men from two different intellectual property owner production companies in one mega movie was one of the biggest dreams of superhero movie fans. On December 17, 2021, this dream came true. In the last days of 2021, the moviegoers have celebrated the ensemble of three Spider-Men, including Tom Holland, Tobey Maguire, and Andrew Garfield in Spider-Man: No Way Home (Jon Watts, 2021). With this respect, this could be argued that the genre has started to present not only many superheroes in one [mega] movie but also many different portrayals of the same superhero in a single movie. As it is seen, especially, MCU movies are interconnected and interrelated to each other. Therefore, illustrating the current scene in the contemporary age of the superhero movie genre and beyond is more complicated than ever.

Even though DC initiated the superhero team concept with Justice League of America in The Brave and the Bold #28, 1960, DC preferred to make debut movies of superheroes, such as Man of Steel (Zack Snyder, 2013) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of the Justice (Zack Snyder, 2016), before the creation and branding of the DC Extended Universe. DC established the DCEU eight years after the launch of the MCU. Whereas thirty-eight Marvel-based superhero movies have been released between 2008 and 2019, the number of DC-based movies was thirteen in that period. Twenty-three of thirty-eight Marvel-based movies are interconnected to the MCU. However, seven of thirteen DC-based superhero movies are set in the DCEU. That is why this idea could also be argued that the DCEU fell behind the MCU in terms of the world-building concept and current conventions of the contemporary genre.

This book will claim that the MCU movies could be considered as catalyzers of the transformation in the contemporary age of the superhero movie genre. The factors behind the MCU’s major role in the genre could be summarized as being the pioneer of the universe concept in cinema, an increased number of the MCU movies as in-house productions (by Marvel Studios), and well-adapting the changing conventions into the MCU movies.

Marvelous Rise of Superheroes in Cinema is the book that covers a particular and broad study to portray the condition of the contemporary age of the superhero movie genre concerning the leading role of the MCU. For that purpose, I grounded my framework on this central research question.←22 | 23→


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (June)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 248 pp., 19 fig. b/w, 34 tables.

Biographical notes

Tuna Tetik (Author)

Tuna Tetik is an assistant professor in the Department of Film and Television at Bahçeşehir University. He received his doctoral degree at Bahçeşehir University, Cinema and Media Research program, and directed short films and a documentary that received international awards. His research interests include superheroes, comics, transmedia, film genres, video-on-demand services, and video games. Tetik, a life-long fan of comics, is currently lecturing several courses on digital editing, film production, and screenwriting


Title: Marvelous Rise of Superheroes in Cinema
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250 pages