"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is crushing box office records at the moment, taking in more than $96 million last weekend in its debut. The Captain’s eye-popping haul—the biggest April opening in movie history—proved again that moviegoers’ soaring appetite for superhero flicks hasn’t come down to earth one bit. And it probably won’t anytime soon: The upcoming summer movie season promises more caped-crusader blockbusters, including "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" (May 2) and "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (May 23).
So what’s the deal with our obsession with superheroes? On the surface it seems illogical: Most of them are true oddballs, dashing around in skintight, fluorescent outfits, hiding behind annoying and unconvincing secret identities and often causing as much trouble as they prevent. Think about it: Would you sit down on the M16 bus next to a guy in a Batman suit?
Of course, Batman doesn’t ride the bus (Bruce Wayne owns the damn busses!). And maybe that’s the point. Superhero stories are an escape, a trip to another world that often looks a lot like our own. They’re supposed to be fun—even those pitch-black "Batman" flicks. But even as they transport us from our everyday challenges, they can also help us face them.
Here’s what inspires us about some of the most popular superheroes.
Inspiring quality: Grit
The Captain, a WWII vet scientifically bulked up and perfected for max fighting power, pretty much defines toughness. In fact, it’s his only real superpower—well, that and a magical, star-adorned shield. He’s the rare superhero whose main weapon is a defensive one. The dude just never gives up.
Inspiring quality: Vision
When you think of Supes, you probably think: flying. The guy can fly! Reality check: That’s unquestionably awesome, but any old human can jump in an airplane and join him up there in the ozone. No, it’s Superman’s x-ray vision that truly gives us a lift. He can view things others can’t—he sees things differently—and people who can do that have an advantage in just about every part of life, whether it’s changing the earth’s rotational spin (see: Superman) or planning a new career.
Inspiring quality: Stick-to-it-ness
Other superheroes can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but not Spidey. Nope, he has to climb those Manhattan skyscrapers one sticky step at a time (albeit with the rather frequent web-slinging jaunt to speed things up). It’s a little more work to be Spider-Man, but it pays off—the Spider-Man movies have made more than any other superhero franchise. Plus, he gets to wear the coolest costume.
Inspiring quality: Patience
Who says there’s no glass ceiling for superheroines? There’s no other explanation for the fact that Wonder Woman still doesn’t have a modern film franchise (though one has reportedly been in the works for decades). The character certainly has plenty of popularity—the campy small screen version, starring a coifed Linda Carter, is a touchstone of ‘70s TV. Sure, she has those bulletproof bracelets and the lasso of truth, but her defining trait right now is patience, waiting for the best moment for her turn in the superhero spotlight.
Inspiring quality: Innovation
Batman’s collection of impressive leading-edge gadgets—the Batmobile, the Batplane, the retractable Batskates, the remote-controlled Batarang—pretty much comprise the entirety of his superpowers. This means he must stay one step ahead, technologically, of his archenemies, or he’s toast. Ever panic when you hear a mention of the latest web site or gizmo, and you’ve never heard of it? Welcome to the constant dilemma of the Dark Knight: He’s worried he’ll fall behind.
Inspiring quality: Teamwork
The crime-fighting squad is an all-star collection of often-clashing superheroes (Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow and Thor) that must subjugate their own egos and needs in order for the group to succeed and, you guessed it, save the world. One can’t be bigger than the others—even the Hulk—or the whole thing falls apart. Finding the best in others, whether they be family members, colleagues or teammates, can be heroic in its own right. Maybe even superheroic.