Henry Cavill

Annnd finally, Henry Cavill will be the latest to star as Superman in the much anticipated release of "Man of Steel." (collider.com / June 10, 2013)

With the latest Superman movie set to open on Friday, ReligionLink looks at the spirituality behind super heroes making the transition from comic books to big screen:

Superman turns 75 this year, and in the latest cinematic retelling of his story, Man of Steel, Clark Kent is looking as youthful as ever. In fact, the coming Superman movie is one of a number of new superhero and sci-fi epics that demonstrate again our appetite for action flicks – and religious themes.

Whether they are messianic figures or flawed humans seeking redemption or meaning through sacrifice, action heroes reflect – some more overtly than others – traditional religious archetypes and values in nontraditional settings.

They are teaching moral lessons as well as providing great entertainment, say scholars of religion and pop culture. And the popularity of these heroic figures endures, no matter what media they inhabit.

As the summer blockbuster season approaches this year, the lineup includes Iron Man 3, which came out on May 3; Man of Steel, set for June 14; Lone Ranger on July 3; and Wolverine on July 26.

There is also a dark side to the superhero movies, however: The gunman who opened fire in July 2012 at a Colorado cinema premiering a new Batman movie told police he was inspired by the Joker, a Batman villain; and reviews of the latest Iron Man movie have pointed out the juxtaposition of so much screen violence with the real violence that took place at the Boston marathon bombing.

Anyone tracking the religious currents streaming through American life cannot limit that search to institutional faith. Experts largely agree that many Americans — especially young people — who shun traditional expressions of faith are attracted to religious messages and symbols, most often in popular culture. Those symbols and messages are perhaps most overt in the superhero figures who are migrating from comic books to movies and television. Some experts see in many of the explicitly American superheroes a mixture of the patriotic and religious symbols that reveal the persistence of a “civil religion” in the United States.

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