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Is Sam Raimi responsible for the superhero trend in cinema?


The modern-day superhero film is a staple of the current landscape of cinema, dominating the box office every time a new addition to the D.C or Marvel canon is released. Having seemingly dominated cinema screens since Marvel’s inaugural film, Iron Man in 2008, the gun-blasting, street-swinging superheroes have been around for much longer, dating back to Superman’s very first outing from Richard Donner in 1978. 

Inspired by the bombastic vibrancy of the original comic books, 20th-century superhero films were, however, an altogether different beast, with grand inconsequential stories and characters who were inseparable from their tight spandex suits. Whilst Superman from Richard Donner and Batman, the first feature film appearance from the caped crusader helped to popularise and change the superhero genre for a contemporary audience, by the release of the camp disaster Batman & Robin in 1997, superheroes were pushed back to geeky obscurity. 

This would change with the release of Blade in 1998, though more importantly the arrival of X-Men two years later, bringing the first of Marvel’s iconic characters to the big screen. Though, whilst Batman and Superman, two of the most iconic heroes of all time, had already seen their names in lights, Marvel needed a blockbuster name to stake their claim in the contemporary industry. In swings Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man

A superhero designed for the innovations in cinema at the dawn of the new millennium, Spider-Man became the poster child of IMAX and the icon of spectacular cinema, swinging around the skyscrapers of New York with cinematic grace. Fun, fresh and exciting, Sam Raimi’s take on the iconic hero heralded a brand new era for the superhero film in which spectacle was favoured and fallible heroes became commonplace. 

Achieving great commercial success with the release of the first film of the trilogy in 2002, Raimi’s Spider-Man made over $800 million worldwide and remains the 12th highest-grossing superhero film of all time. Spawning two sequels that performed on par with the original film, Raimi’s story over the course of three films exposed the raw, vulnerable underbelly of Spider-Man’s character, doing something that no other superhero film had done prior in making him a fallible hero. 

Through Spider-Man 2 and its sequel particularly, we deal with a character dealing with the personal responsibility of carrying such a weighty burden, as well as an individual who merely wants to be ‘normal’ among his high-school peers. More than the film’s sheer spectacle and size, it was this carefully crafted character arc that may have been the most influential factor in the film’s influence on the future of the superhero genre. 

Assessing the contemporary state of the genre, and indeed it may have passed its pinnacle, with Avengers: Endgame marking a notable final chapter in the fate of multiple superhero favourites. Becoming one of cinema’s most successful franchises in the space of just over a decade, Marvel built a cinematic universe built on cinematic spectacle that was detailed with a scattering of exemplary characters, each as broken and fallible as the last. From Iron Man’s fractured ego to Captain America’s moral quandaries, it all comes back to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.