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Superhero Film Codes and Conventions

Rob Miller | Thursday March 13, 2014

Categories: GCSE, WJEC GCSE, Analysis, Film Analysis, Genres & Case Studies, Superhero, Hot Entries, Key Concepts, Audience, Film Language, Representation

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WJEC GCSE Film Studies Paper 1 Superhero Film Codes and Conventions

It was not until Superman in 1978 that the superhero film genre took off with the film securing critical and commercial success and for many years creating a genre template. This is why when we talk about historical examples of the genre it is difficult to cite examples before 1978 as in terms of cinema the genre has only featured broadly since the late 1970s. Yes, you could talk about Batman on television in 1943 and with Adam West playing the caped crusader in 1966 but this is television, not film borrowing from literature and appealing to a niche audience.

It is also difficult to think about superhero films without reference to the literary origins of many in the iconic DC Comics and Marvel Comics – Marvel Productions now own Marvel Cinematic Universe whose key focus was to turn their comics into films like Stan Lee’s Spider-Man, Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers. DC Comics’ superhero creations have included Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. This resource will explore the codes and conventions of the superhero genre and illustrate with examples from superhero films.

There is always a hero and a villain, or heroes and villains: Batman and the Joker, Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, Iron Man and Mandarin, Professor X and Magneto, Superman and General Zod in Man of Steel (2013) or even the Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom. These protagonists and antagonists have similar features in that audiences identify with the hero in his or her bid to overcome the villain. The representation of the hero using the historical genre template has often shown the hero to be a morally upright character who supports governments and stands for everything this good and ethically correct, like Spider-Man and Superman.

This representation has often changed over...

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