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The impact of superhero movies on the European box office


- European cinema group UNIC reported that Spider-Man: No Way Home earned around €93 million in UK and Ireland and €48.5 million in France

The impact of superhero movies on the European box office
Spider-Man: No Way Home by Jon Watts

Much like many origin stories, the path to box office success for superhero movies wasn't smooth. An article on the rise of superhero movies on Budapest Reporter (read here) points out that despite superhero movies being produced for over half a century now, they failed to achieve any kind of lasting success until the 2000s. Comic book movies were largely seen as cash-ins and embarrassing projects even for seasoned actors, because of the negative perception on the genre.

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On top of that, European filmgoers were not initially attracted to the large amount of superhero film releases produced from America due to the highly localised storylines, marketing, and even film names. The settings and the experiences in the films are largely rooted in American culture, making it difficult for European viewers to relate with these stories. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) is a particularly prominent example.

Despite earlier struggles, however, it's increasingly clear that the impact of the superhero film in Europe has transformed the media landscape.

From zero to hero

Superhero films in European cinema have been around for many decades now, with one of the earliest European superhero movies dating from the 1960s. Case in point: Italian film Kriminal (1966) was a superhero film about a thief and murderer that has escaped from prison. Though a sequel was rapidly released the next year, critics described the film as “moderately successful”. While many superhero films during this period received criticisms like Kriminal, one outlier was Danger: Diabolik (1968) as it became popular decades after its release. Despite initially receiving criticisms, it gained a cult following when director Mario Bava’s filmography was revisited by critics and historians in the early 2000s.

The 2000s was an important period for superhero films in Europe, as American superhero films like Spider-Man 3 (2007) and The Dark Knight (2008) were doing well internationally. Both films opened to huge numbers in France, Germany, and Italy, with The Dark Knight earning €24 million in France. Yet, compared to today’s films, the numbers are small.

European cinema group UNIC reports that Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) earned around €93 million in UK and Ireland and €48.5 million in France. They predict that more viewers will flock to the cinemas, considering superhero films like The Batman and Black Panther: Wakanda will be released this year. These superhero movies have become instant blockbuster hits in the international market because of a few key elements. For one, production companies like Marvel have created a shared universe concept that keeps fans excited about possible character crossovers and continuity. For another, comic books have risen to mainstream popularity thanks to the box office success of earlier films, which in turn is able to influence the outcomes of other film adaptations.

Increased presence in European media

The success of superhero films in Europe is also due to the increasing amount of media dedicated to these heroes. The gaming industry in particular has helped bring in new fans across Europe. In 2018, Marvel's Spider-Man was at the top of the French gaming chart for the PS4 (read here). Even non-traditional online gaming platforms have used the popularity of superheroes to attract audiences. Gala Bingo hosts the likes of Power of Thor and Thunderstruck II, which both lean heavily on the Marvel version of the character to appeal to fans of the cinematic superhero. And by reaching wider European audiences through different mediums, the domination of superhero films at the European box office is a trend that will continue.

The future of the European superhero

The success of the superhero story has extended far beyond the silver screen. The good reception of the Italian Netflix original series Zero [+see also:
series review
series profile
 emphasises that superhero films are also much-awaited across online streaming platforms. The nine-part Italian series can be viewed across 190 countries, proving that a global audience is interested in European takes on the genre.

Though early superhero films struggled to make an impact the European box office, new elements and the appeal of a shared universe have turned the genre into a hit across various media platforms. Given its success, one can expect that European superheroes are likely to take the spotlight in films, shows, games, and comic releases in the future.

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