The Life Of A Trend: From Slashers To Superheroes

by Frank Martin

The film industry is certainly no stranger to trends. Everything from detective noir to westerns have had their time to take over cinema. The circumstance is usually the same: a film comes along that sets the stage for others to follow. Inevitably, these knockoffs and riffs change the formula just enough to appear original. And then, every once in a while, one of those copies triggers a new trend that ups the ante even more. Recently, I’ve noticed some similarities between a classic trend from many of our childhoods and the current trend that’s kind of like a childhood dream come true.

The first is the slasher subgenre. Many will argue that Halloween set the standard for the slasher with tropes and clichés that became staples in the industry. Given all the slasher films we’ve seen since then, it’s hard to go back to that time and imagine how unique and groundbreaking it truly was. Because of that, it spawned an equally important knockoff in Friday the 13th. The originators of this long-lasting franchise will straight up tell you they were trying to copy Halloween. They found a formula in the plot that worked and then came up with the their own story to mirror it. One thing Friday the 13th did, though, that Halloween did not was lean heavily into the blood, guts, and gore featured in the kills. These two films, combined with Nightmare on Elm Street for a supernatural angle, led the way for the 1980s and ’90s to be filled with slashers galore.

And one doesn’t have to look hard to see how the superhero genre took a similar road. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, many studios attempted to adapt superheroes to the screen, but the technology to do so convincingly just wasn’t there yet. Slowly but surely, with films such as Blade, X-Men, and Spider-Man, fans were starting to see these larger-than-life characters successfully adapted on screen. Sure enough, studios started pumping out adaptations one after the other in order to mine these characters with pre-sold value: Green Lantern, Hellboy, Fantastic Four and more! Before the years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Films universe, studios thought adapting the heroes they owned the rights to was a sure bet.

But it wasn’t just the known quantities. Traditional comic book superheroes also inspired other original films such as Hancock, Jumper, and Push. These were movies that dealt with heroes and superpowers in a way not possible — or potentially profitable — prior to the superhero boom in the early 2000s. Producers, just like the slasher filmmakers before them, saw a formula and wanted to capitalize on it. Not that their intentions were solely financial. Inspiration often feeds off of itself, giving birth to stories that might seem like people are just chasing trends. Even today, some critics feed the narrative that audiences are going through superhero fatigue. Whether or not that’s true is open for discussion, but the trend of superheroes will eventually cool off. It’s inevitable, and who knows what new formula will take its place?

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