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Comic Book Movies: The Great Escape

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Oct 14, 2010 | 3:53am EDT

REDBaseball has long been called “America’s Favorite Pastime” and for good reason. It allows people to leave the troubles of their mundane and often stressful lives at the gate so they can focus their attention on friendly competition for nine fun-filled innings. Baseball is still one of America’s most beloved forms of amusement, but throughout the twentieth century another leisurely activity has arguably become America’s Favorite (and certainly most affordable) Pastime – going to the movies.

Movies entertain the masses. Unlike baseball, however, motion pictures have the unique ability to capture reality with unflinching authenticity, or transport an audience to far off galaxies, turning two hours into an audio-visual escape from the ordinary. Over thirty years ago, Warner Bros. hypothesized that comic books provided the same escapist fantasies that films do and decided to combine the two mediums for moviegoers of all ages. The result was Superman: The Movie, one of the most successful films of its time and the first major motion picture based on a comic book. And so began a sub-genre of action, fantasy and science fiction films that I like to call “Superhero Cinema.”

Today, comic book source material is re-shaping popular culture, fueling the development of feature films, television shows, digital content and more. Superhero cinema is not only mainstream, it’s a lynchpin in the production plans of movie studios and filmmakers. Why? Because in these volatile economic and political times, consumers are more likely to spend their hard-earned cash on amazing fictional fantasies than dreary dramas. Comic book movies are the epitome of cinematic escapism and the fun doesn’t stop with costumed crime-fighters.

Films like 300, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Sin City have proven that you don’t need to have a cape and tights to make a cool comic book adaptation that affords an audience the same release as a Batman or Spider-Man film. Case in point: Summit Entertainment’s Red, based on a DC Comics mini-series by Warren Ellis, which follows a former black-ops agent who reassembles his retired field team when a high-tech assassin threatens his life. Ten years ago, audiences may have seen the trailer for this film (check it out below, if you aren’t privy to its awesomeness) and pegged it as “silly.” And you know what? It is. Especially since the REDmajority of the cast, which includes Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Dreyfuss, qualifies for AARP membership. But because our lives get more and more complicated every day with new natural disasters and congressional scandals, moviegoers have learned to lighten up and accept this romp of an action-comedy for what it is: all out fun.

And that, dear readers, is the whole reason why we go to the movies, isn’t it? To have fun. To retreat from the daily grind. To walk in the shoes of an assassin or superhero so that, just for two hours or so, we can forget about the responsibilities and pressures of real life and just have a good time. I bet that’s the same reason that Oscar winners like Mirren and Freeman sign up for a movie like Red, because as cool as it is to watch Dame Helen play with a sub-machine gun on the silver screen, I’m sure she had a hell of a time doing it for us.

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