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Superhero movies thrive, whether Hollywood 'gets it' or not

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With summer movie theaters chock-full of comic book titles like "Iron Man," "Batman," "The Incredible Hulk" and "Hellboy," it’s hard to imagine a time when Hollywood shied away from superhero-based films.

When you read that "Batman: The Dark Knight," brought in $158.4 million in its opening weekend, it’s even harder.

But there was a time not too long ago when major studios didn’t think movies based on comic book heroes could attract a crowd, some prominent screenwriters said at a panel at Comic-Con International on Friday.

Zak Penn, who wrote this summer’s "Incredible Hulk," and Mark Fergus, who co-wrote "Iron Man," sat on a panel with comic book legend Stan Lee, who created those two characters -- and others -- decades ago. The three men said that for years, Hollywood didn’t “get it” when it came to comic books and their fans

“What used to be considered a sort of outlaw subculture has become the mainstream,” Penn said, pointing out the large crowd that comes to Comic-Con each year. “(But) one thing that’s weird is, it’s still not totally true in Hollywood.”

Penn said he thinks some of the problem might be generational. Older studio executives might not realize that comic books have come a long way since "Archie," "Ritchie Rich" and even early "Superman." Beginning in the 1960s and evolving ever since, comic books have become more and more complex.

Other times, executives simply aren’t into science fiction, fantasy and super heroes. They think its stupid, and as such, they think any television and movies based on it should be stupid.

Stan Lee said he hated the first "Spider-Man" television show because it didn’t have much depth. The original "Incredible Hulk" show, however, looked to some of the original source material for the comic itself, such as the old novels "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and "Frankenstein," and therefore the show was better.

The recent deluge of comic book movies can be traced back to the success off "X-Men" in 2000 and "Spider-Man" in 2002. Those movies were largely written and directed by younger artists who grew up reading the source material. Lee said he thinks that has made a huge difference.

“People always ask me how long this whole superhero (movie) thing is going to last,” Lee said. “I say as long as there are two men like these men who are intelligent and good writers and treat this as if they’re writing 'Citizen Kane' … then there will be superhero movies.”

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