Superhero movies have always been around, but 2002's Spider Man seems to be the movie that kicked off superhero movies into blockbuster status. That movie became the first to gross $100 million in one weekend and held the opening record for 4 years. Since then, the opening weekend record has been broken 5 times; 3 times by superhero movies. In the top 15 openings; 6 are superhero movies. Batman has also broken the opening record 4 times and Spider Man has done it twice. The Avengers is sitting at #3 highest grossing movie of all time, and The Dark Knight is reclining at #4. The Dark Knight Rises is currently #1 around the world and will finish in the domestic top 10. Superhero movies have also became increasingly popular overseas in the last few years. Throw in 3D, which is a lot more popular overseas, and it's a two and a half hour thrill ride.
Superhero movies have been successes lately, but why? Well since superheroes aren't real, the movie cant be practical, and since the majority of superheroes come from comic books, the films are more elaborate. Elaborate equals more special effects, bigger action scenes, better storylines (most of the time), more characters, heighten fantasy elements, are more epic scale set pieces and scope. A movie about people falling in love is practical because that happens to everyone, but a movie about alien humanoids with gravity shifting capabilities coming to destroy New York and only being able to be stopped by a flying man with magnetic powers is something no one will ever see in real life, so seeing it on the big screen is a novelty. Superhero movies also tell broader stories and have been marketed more fiercely in the recent years.
Superhero movies can be serious, like The Dark Knight or comical, like Hancock, or even both, such as The Avengers. Hollywood has noticed that audiences are taking a liking for them so the studios are supplying these movies with bigger budgets. The average cost for a superhero movie is now spilling into over $200 million, not including marketing costs. If you ever see a road trip comedy or period drama cost that much, then well, the studio is just waving a big "SOL" sign over there heads. In order for these movies to be elaborate and have the special effects and epic scope that they have, they have to have a bigger budget. This $200 million usually covers the special effects- which seems to be the most expensive aspect, salaries, regular production costs, filming costs, and 3D and IMAX costs. Marketing usually isn't covered, but a way studios help alleviate marketing costs is through product tie-ins, tv rights, and merchandise. Studios have a lot of faith in superhero and comic book movies because they sell toys, games, clothing, books, supplies, collection items, posters, food, cartoon series', etc., something a regular movie cant do as well. These guaranteed sales that go beyond just ticket receipts are why studios beef these movies up.
Even though Hollywood has done some really stupid things the past years, one thing they usually don't do is let the quality of these movies slip up. The last three Batman movies have all scored over 85% on RT, the two Iron Man's have scored 94% and 74% respectively, Spider Man 1 hit 89%, while Spidey 2 hit 93% and the other two have stayed fresh, Thor scored 77% and Cap Am scored 79%, The Avengers rolled in with 93% approval percentage, and The Incredibles landed on 97% in '04, X-Men has also done consistently well. There are some stinkers, such as the Ghost Rider movies, Batman and Robin, Superman 4, and Elektra. The pressure is always on for these movies to be great; since the bar seems to be raised after every release. Thor and Captain America weren't guaranteed to be successes, but Marvel made sure those movies were done right, and they did pretty well as an end result. If a superhero movie is bad, it may still open big, but it'll most likely drop off the earth, such as Origins Wolverine, which is the highest opening movie not to make $200 million, or Hulk from 2003.
The demand for superhero and comic book movies is only getting bigger. You can almost expect one every first weekend of May, Memorial weekend, Independence weekend, mid-June, mid-July, or holiday season. If your favorite character doesn't have a movie in production yet, you don't have to write Paramount or Warner Bros. an angry letter, you'll see them on the screen in no time. Marvel and DC Comics are becoming the play-makers in Hollywood.