Trending: Superheroes on Screen

“The Mask of Zorro'”(1954), Serial and Government Publications Division.

Superheroes continue to captivate audiences nearly a century after their film debut.

America loves its superheroes (and villains). These beloved and delightfully despised characters continue to take center stage at the movies and on television.

“The Mark of Zorro” (United Artists, 1920), a silent film starring Douglas Fairbanks, was among the 10 motion pictures featuring superheroes that were released by American film studios between 1920 and 1940. By comparison, four such films came out in 2014, five in 2015, and a record nine are in production for 2016 release.

“Batman” (No. 1, 1940). Serial and Government Publications Division.

The popularity of “The Mark of Zorro” and its subsequent spin-offs, sequels and adaptations paved the way for a rise of the superhero genre in film and television. Comic-book artist Bob Kane has credited Zorro as part of the inspiration for the creation of his DC Comics superhero Batman, who debuted in print in 1940–the same year a film remake of the original Zorro was released, starring Tyrone Power. The film was directed by Rouben Mamoulian (1898-1987) whose papers are held by the Library of Congress. Housed in the Library, the film is among 650 titles that the Library has named to its National Film Registry since its inception in 1990.

Through the years, scores of films and television shows have featured popular masked and caped avengers, from Captain Marvel to Superman and from Spider-Man to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Most recently, the pantheon of Marvel Comics characters has been brought to life, with films about the X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America and Thor grossing millions.

Television is even getting in on the action, with ABC’s “Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Agent Carter” and Netflix original series, “Daredevil.”

The Library receives motion pictures and television broadcasts through copyright deposit. Included in the Library’s film and video collections are such films as the Superman series starring Christopher Reeve (1978-1987); “Batman” (1989) starring Michael Keaton, who also portrayed a faded film superhero in the Oscar-winning “Birdman” (2014); “The Dark Knight” (2008); “Iron Man” (2008) and several X-Men films, including animated and anime features. Also included in the Library’s collections are television episodes of “Smallville,” “Lois & Clark,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” among others.

(The following article was featured in the May/June 2015 issue of LCM, the Library of Congress Magazine. You can read the issue in its entirety here.)

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