It all started with comic book movies. From a handful of celebrity-funded vanity projects and low-budget labors of love sprang an geek tidal wave that has swept up everything cinematic in its wake.
The real effect that geek culture will have on cinematic history is yet to reach its full conclusion, but the impact is already more than tangible: take The Avengers, for instance, an ambitious divergence of a plethora of different franchises (including the awesome Iron Man series). The Avengers stands in legendary stead as the third-highest grossing film ever, pulling in $207,438,708 in the opening weekend alone, with the eventual takings reaching over an astronomical billion dollars… and that was in less than three weeks of release.
Given that it went on to break numerous other cinema records and that’s without considering home media sales, this was the ultimate victory for the ultimate geek film – both a solid critical reception and superb audience reaction for a movie featuring scores of well-respected actors playing superheroes, under the supervision of nerd übermensch Joss Whedon. It stands as a testament to the proliferation and market dominance geek culture has had on cinema.
But it’s not mindless action or cool fight scenes that are reeling in a gigantic viewership. It’s that real, respected actors and actresses- Oscar nominees, Golden Globe winners, Bafta winners, are taking on roles that would have seemed risible ten years ago. Grown-up comic book movies aside (V for Vendetta and Sin City to name a couple), any superhero movie aimed at a family audience would rarely attract anyone above the level of, say, Ben Stiller in Mystery Men.
From Stigmatized to High Art
Suddenly, the geek movie has become an art form, the new arthouse Ford Coppola-flick, a legitimate vehicle for an actor to try and extend his or her career. Young talent fresh out of the New York Film Academy and other schools across the country are vying for such coveted roles and the successes that landing one can bring. Indeed, Chloe Grace Moretz launched her career off the back of the breakout Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, and Tom Hiddleston has become a household name after his brilliantly-played role as super villain Loki in Thor. An actor who states that their career started out in a comic book movie adaptation doesn’t have the same stigma they used to… not least because they’re likely able to proclaim it from a tower built from stacks of $100 bills.
The geek stereotype has replaced the jock as the sympathetic protagonist, as the ones we’re supposed to relate to. In the same way the blonde girl eventually became the one kicking the living bejezuz out of slasher-horror villains, the geek has become not just the main character but also the hero.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson served filmgoers a treat in Kick-Ass, playing the epitome of a comic book reading, niche-interest (albeit slightly too attractive) nerd, becoming a gadget-laden superhero bringing down the doom-laden villain. Geek culture hasn’t just started to accommodate the interests of the geeky audience, but actively given them on-screen counterparts.
A Genre Designed for Spectacle
Comic book movies have also created a very specific type of cinematography which has propagated a change in big chunks of actual cinematic spectacle. The key scene in almost every comic book movie is the big, conclusive boss battle; these have become increasingly more histrionic and effects-driven, making the most of the ever-improving 3D technology and the vast budgets. This has sparked a change in even the less action-driven movies to reel in audiences with budget-blowing action sequences.
A distinctly non-geek movie example of this can be seen in 21 Jump Street. It’s big action sequences distinctly resembles several pieces of the cinematography of big comic book movies, particularly The Dark Knight trilogy. This is typical of every big cinema trend; every time a specific type of movie has an explosion in popularity, it goes without saying that it will instantly be emulated, whether consciously or unconsciously, by filmmakers trying to recreate that level of success in their movie.
In short, geek culture has permeated cinema in almost every conceivable way – from the actual way the films are made, to the acceptance of a comic book hero as a legitimate career choice for well-regarded stars. This all acts as proof as to the permeation of geek culture. At heart, the cinema will always respond to how it can make the most money off of the audience, and the geeks have spoken.
In fact, the geeks have spoken in the millions…
… and what else can the film industry do but oblige?