Why Superhero Movies Need Tragedy

Published 2 years ago by



Justice League vs Avengers Movies Why Superhero Movies Need Tragedy

All that being said, shaping a superhero around their positive response to a personal tragedy doesn’t just make for a solid movie, but helps establish a common measure between differently-powered characters from completely different spheres of fiction.

Superman managed to put the loss of his world behind him and use his powers for good; Batman lost his parents in a random crime, and devoted his life to keeping it from happening to anyone else. Forget costumes, powers, vehicles or villains; these heroes only came into being when a tragedy gave them every reason in the world to give up; only they refused. It’s that kind of strength and heroism that makes the Justice League or Avengers work, not their combat skills.

Both Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne responded heroically to tragedies that would have given them an excuse to go into hiding. As a result, Batman can stand beside Superman in the face of a crisis, and audiences accept that they’ve both overcome more than a normal person could. It’s their responses to a similar tragedy that make them equals, not ‘who needs a ride to the scene of the crime.’

Batman Superman Movie Logo Why Superhero Movies Need Tragedy

To be honest, that’s why we’re somewhat optimistic about Batman appearing in the Man of Steel sequel. First off, Batman doesn’t need to be introduced for audiences to get where he’s coming from. At this point, everyone likely to see the movie knows what tragedy made Bruce Wayne who he is, and why the way he responded to it is both admirable and deeply unhealthy.

Given his origin, we’re far more likely to believe that Batman can force Superman to deal with the events that led him to his current status – even the ones he may have overlooked. And Goyer and Snyder can do a lot more with an antagonist who audiences already understand through and through than they can with a villain audiences simply interpret as downright evil.



We’d be happy to see a Lex Luthor that is actually depicted as relatable, not simply corrupt and greedy – we even have a few actors in mind – but with two of Marvel’s next films turning to friendly faces for at least some of their conflict, and Goyer and Snyder doing the same, the trend of villain selection seems to be changing. For the better, we hope.

DC Villains Forever Evil Why Superhero Movies Need Tragedy

After all, tragedy gave every superhero their mission, but there was an equal chance they could have gone the other direction – leading us to every superhero’s worst nightmare: a supervillain. Although evil bad guys bent on world domination used to suffice, modern audiences demand something more: they’ll only accept a villain who has reasons for what they’re doing.

They don’t have to be good reasons (we’re looking squarely at you, ‘revenge’), but if a writer or director can make a villain’s actions the result of something horrible happening to them, audiences are more likely to suspend disbelief than roll their eyes. Sure, villains do things that we never would, but the best baddies – the ones that keep us up at night – are those who ended up the way they were by succumbing to pressures that we’re not sure we could resist.


While it’s true that tragedy and overcoming conflict is as important to superhero stories as any story focused on a ‘hero’s journey,’ Hollywood has shown a habit of misunderstanding what it is about superheroes that audiences love (“it’s the costumes, right? The car? The gadgets? The quips? The fights right?”). And trying to tell a superhero story without remembering that tragedy is the whole point is as sure a formula for failure as any.

We’d invite you to sound off on our case in the comments, and whether studios have realized that superhero movies need more than good special effects to win over audiences.


Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

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Follow Andrew Dyce on Twitter @andrew_dyce
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  1. I’m a movie fan, a fan of BOTH DC and Marvel equally. But I have to say as of now, Marvel is winning the cinematic battle. With (this doesn’t count Sony or Fox) over 5 billion dollars to show for in the past 5 years, and over 70% AUDIENCE reaction on all of their films (1 over 80 and 2 over 90). DC’s only got around 3.1 billion over the past 9 years. It can thank The Dark Knight trilogy for over 80% AUDIENCE reaction (2 that are 90%). While Man of Steel did fall short to a 76% AUDIENCE reaction and Green Lantern… well… nevermind that.

    • Warner Brothers (DC) and Marvel have different goals. Most don’t realize this.

  2. Dude I hate to bust you out on this one but I have to, Spider-Man was the first REAL massive blockbuster superhero franchise. Iron Man was great and all I love it to death, but comic book movies didn’t start being massive hits in 2008. Need I go through the box office numbers the Spidey films posted up, which we’re more than all the IM films except IM3. Not trying to start nothing up, but if you’re going to say what the first truly massive CBM was, report it right Andrew.

    • I think Spiderman set a benchmark for doing things right.

      • Yup.

    • True that.

  3. You know what I find really funny about this?

    Waaaaaaaaaay back when I was a lad, when it came to comics I always thought Marvel was more gritty and realistic and as a result the more relate-able of the two properties.

    Fast forward to today in the movie-verse, and it’s like Marvel and DC swapped roles.

    • This is true. Stan lee even talks about how he wanted to give all of his characters real problems and relatable things to overcome. DC has always taken the “larger than life” approach to their characters, pulling heavily from Greek and Roman mythology, and thus being less relatable. Marvel has more comic arcs that deal with social commentary. Demon in a Bottle was all about alcoholism. The X-MEN are a direct analogy for the civil rights movement and human rights movements as well. The Punisher was what every Vietnam vet could have been if they had been pushed. Last but not least there’s Marvel Civil War that redefined the comic universe while commenting on the political atmosphere of the world, how we deal with danger (read: terror) and the role of government in our lives. DC has properties that also attempt to address real issues but because their characters are so high above us there tends to be a disconnect. I love both. Batman is my favorite character of all time and I love many of the Marvel stories, but I agree that there was a shift when these characters hit the big screen.

    • Spot on. Though Marvel still do have their heroes deal with personal issues it is DC who come across as more grounded and less comic book.

  4. This article, I like it! ANOTHA!

    • +1 :D

    • lol

  5. THISISAGOODARTICLERAWLARAWLARAWLAnotwearinghockeeyypaaaaadddsss……..

  6. I always thought DC’s heroes are more god-like in the comics aswell in live-action films, animation,etc. While Marvel’s heroes are more grounded in reality in comics, live-action films, and animation because of stories, situations alot of the characters can be relatable in today’s society for years.