How To Make A Superhero Comic-Book Movie

Superheroes are everywhere these days.

And with comic-book maestros Marvel and DC both looking to translate their back catalogue into profitable movie money-spinners (let alone web-spinners) for the forseeable future, it looks like they're here to stay.

Want to get in on the action? Here's our step-by-step gude to creating your own superhero franchise. Get it right and see your popularity soar. Get it wrong, and be forever mocked by legions of nasal fanboys...

Think Up A Hero

The Cliché: Sort of an important one. Every superhero movie needs, um, a superhero.

Appears In: Spider-Man, Superman .

How To Make It Real: First let’s get the difficult stuff out of the way. You need to come up with a supercool superhero, one that the world didn’t know it needed until he (or she) pitches up and starts saving the day.

Problem: loads of superheroes already exist, which means coming up with something original is going to be a tricky task. Manimal hybrids have been done to death (Spidey, Antman etc), experiments gone wrong are so passé (Captain America, Hulk), and gadget whores are way over (Batman).

How about a hybrid hybrid? So, a dolphin + fly + man combo? Or… rhino + leopard + woman?

Key: keep it simple. Make sure your hero has a few flaws (Kryptonite, anger management problems), a day job we can all associate with (bin man, pizza delivery bloke) and a handful of ‘real life’ issues (death in the family, overbearing father) to keep him/her grounded.

Next: Come up with a villain [page-break]

Dream Up A Villain

The Cliché: A hero isn’t a hero unless he has somebody/thing to fight.

Appears In: Captain America, X-Men.

How To Make It Real: Alright, you’ve got your hero. Now you need to create him or her an antagonist to do battle with.

To make it interesting, create a villain who’s analogous for the times we’re living in. Captain America’s Red Skull foe was all about Nazism, so how about something related to the recession?

An evil, corporate fat cat (quite possibly literally) could be a fun villain for your hero to go up against.

Next: Write a comic book [page-break]

Write A Comic-Book

The Cliché: Without a comic book, it’s not a comic book movie you’re making.

Appears In: Hulk, Thor, Scott Pilgrim.

How To Make It Real: Time to put pen to paper. Sketch out your hero and villain, give them a setting (big, sinful cities work best), a basic storyline and a few initial clashes.

If you’re rubbish at drawing, you may want to rope in a professional like Bryan Lee O’Malley or John Romita Jr. They’ll probably charge a pretty penny, though, so a classified ad in the local paper requesting a cheap alternative would be a better idea.

If you’re feeling particularly canny, you may want to start writing a movie screenplay at the same time as you’re penning the comic adventures. This would maximise on your marketing campaign (get the comic on shelves just before the movie hits) and reel in double the mulah.

Next: Make an origins movie [page-break]

Make An 'Origins' Movie

The Cliché: Start at the very beginning (it’s a very good place to start).

Appears In: X-Men, The Losers .

How To Make It Real: These days, comic book movies all begin with the origin story. Forget dropping your audience straight in at the deep end, we want to see where your hero came from before he became all super.

This has a number of benefits. First, we get acquainted with said hero on a human level: we get to see his flaws, his strife, what turns him to crime-fighting. Second, when he starts to fight it’s gonna be a struggle, which comes with its own tensions and is always interesting to watch. And third, it means further stories can be fleshed out down the line.

Next: Create massive set pieces [page-break]

Conceive At Least Two Massive Set Pieces

The Cliché: Films are mostly remembered for their big, throat-grabbing action sequences.

Appears In: Spider-Man 2, Superman Returns .

How To Make It Real: Most comic book movies become defined not only by their heroes, but by their daring, boundary-pushing action scenes which stretch the tension until it snaps.

Superman Returns had its plane scene, Spider-Man 2 had its train scene, The Dark Knight had that bit with the lorry.

The bigger the scene and the more people in peril the better. Stage a massive fight sequence at a prestigious gala or an award ceremony or a football match - really test your hero and show what sort of destruction your villain is capable of.

Next: Hire a screamer [page-break]

Make Sure There's A Love Interest Who Can Scream

The Cliché: The hero’s love interest needs to have a great set of lungs.

Appears In: Spider-Man , Batman Begins .

How To Make It Real: Hold auditions for your hero’s love interest that are specifically designed to test the lovely young thing’s ability to scream for her life. If she can’t scream, she’s out of there.

That said, if you’ve found the perfect girl – she looks great on film, has amazing chemistry with your hero – but she just can’t scream for anything, hire yourself a professional screamer. This way, you can lay down an audio track during the editing and get the best of both worlds. Sorted.

Next: Set up a sequel [page-break]

Set Up A Sequel

The Cliché: An origins movie is there to set up a franchise, so keep the ending open.

Appears In: Batman Begins , Iron Man .

How To Make It Real: You've got the origins story out the way. Everybody involved had a great time creating it, and you think you've got something very special on your hands. This is when thinking in the long term comes in handy. In other words: always plan on a franchise.

Your hero may have defeated the villain (for now), but there are plenty more bad guys out there just waiting to take a pop at him. So make sure you end your film on a note of ponderous foreboding: as one door closes, a whole load of windows are flung the hell open.

The choice of cliffhanger, naturally, is up to you. It could end with a telling kiss, or a hint at another baddie on the rise... Either way, do yourself a favour by leaving a few threads dangling. You'll be thankful for them when your superhero movie is a massive success...

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Josh Winning has worn a lot of hats over the years. Contributing Editor at Total Film, writer for SFX, and senior film writer at the Radio Times. Josh has also penned a novel about mysteries and monsters, is the co-host of a movie podcast, and has a library of pretty phenomenal stories from visiting some of the biggest TV and film sets in the world. He would also like you to know that he "lives for cat videos..." Don't we all, Josh. Don't we all.