Unless you've been asleep since 2000, you probably already know that superhero movies have been getting progressively more popular over the past decade. The start of this craze can trace its roots back to the X-Men and Spiderman movie franchises of the early 2000's. Because of these two, people started paying a lot more attention to, and even became eager for superheroes in their stories. Then, in 2008, both Iron Man and The Dark Knight came out and heroes completely took off.
Marvel and DC have since been aggressively recruiting new fans and exciting the old fans. Marvel has almost certainly been more successful with their movies (at the very least in quantity, though I'd argue quality as well). They've had blockbusters like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy along with numerous individual hero stories. DC, on the other hand, has released a lot fewer movies and have been gradually building up their television base. For example, their new show Gotham has been getting great reviews since its premiere earlier this week. A lot of people aren't really sure why these concepts have been so successful, but I think there are a few reasons.
Nerdy isn't really nerdy anymore.
First and foremost, movies like this hitting the mainstream is kind of a huge deal. Even looking away from heroes, science fiction and fantasy have been getting more and more popular among regular people. And keep in mind this was before studios even remembered comic book heroes. Take as an example Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Harry Potter, and the Star Trek reboots. As "nerd culture" has become more mainstream, no one is embarrassed to talk about movies that wouldn't have been cool twenty or thirty years ago.
These movies are really awesome.
And I mean this in the most adult, sophisticated way possible. Superheroes are really, really cool. Everyone kind of wants to be able to do the things they do and be the kind of people they are. These characters are essentially Human 2.0, the new model. People always want to be more and do more so seeing people fly, or fight, or have amazing gadgets is something we can't help but be jealous of. Additionally, many of these characters are practically morally incorruptible. They are principled people who make the right decision even when it's hard and show us the best of what we can be. Even if we can’t fly, there's no reason we can't try to embody the integrity they represent.
They appeal to everyone.
When your target audience is all four key demographics, (Old Women, Young Women, Old Men, and Young Men) it’s pretty obvious that you’ll do better than movies that exclude audiences from the outset. Superhero stories usually offer a good vs evil struggle that engages all kinds of people. With Marvel especially, (who tends to stay away from gritty violence) these are things that even children can enjoy.
Heroes have always had a place in my heart, so I'm glad that they've become popular enough to warrant big budgets and great quality. Clearly they're not going anywhere for awhile.