The 2008 installment/reboot of the Superman film series, Man of Steel, was a box-office smash, grossing $649.7 million world-wide. Now, Warner Bros. is gearing up for a follow-up film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which is predicted to be one of the most successful theatrical releases of all time.

The question is, why is this character still going so strong? 

After thousands of comics, six shows, and eight films, audiences worldwide keep coming back for more.

In one of Timothy Keller’s most recent books, he examines mankind’s seemingly universal attraction toward fictional works – specifically, fairy tales.

“Tolkien’s famous essay, “On Fairy Stories” argues that there are indelible, deep longings in the human heart that realistic fiction cannot satisfy. Fantasy fiction – fairy tales and science fiction and similar literature – depict characters who

  • get outside of time altogether;
  • escape death;
  • hold communion with nonhuman beings;
  • find a perfect love from which they never part;
  • triumph finally over evil.

[…] The enduring appeal of stories that represent these conditions is unquestionable. But why?”

(Timothy Keller, Preaching, Penguin Random House LLC., pp. 175)

The reality is the themes of popular mythology throughout history all seem to parallel one story in particular.

Enter Superman, the most renowned mythological icon of the 20th century.

Let me list a few characteristics, and you let me know who this sounds like.

  • The only son of a powerful leader who lives outside the human realm.
  • Sent to earth to bring hope to mankind.
  • Raised by a man with a lowly occupation.
  • Begins helping others and doing all-around good things in his thirties.
  • Is feared by governmental authorities.
  • Is locked in a constant battle against a weaker adversary.
  • Is all-powerful, yet walks among mankind as one of their own.

Hmm. Somehow it all seems very familiar. So why on earth would a character like that become so popular?

Man of Steel, Warner Bros. 2013

The theme of Ultimate Good versus Ultimate Evil – where Good inevitably triumphs and restores hope – permeates literature and popular culture. A simple look at a list of best-selling books or blockbuster films reveals this. One can’t help but recognize the longing of mankind for these types of stories. Keller examines the cause of this on the next page of his book.

“Even if we do not intellectually believe that there is a God or life after death, our hearts (in the Christian view) sense somehow that these things characterize life as it was and should be and eventually will be again. We are so deeply interested in these stories because we have intuitions of the creation/fall/redemption/restoration plot line of the Bible. Even if we repress the knowledge of that plot line intellectually, we can’t not know it imaginatively, and our hearts are stirred by stories that evoke it.”

(Timothy Keller, Preaching, Penguin Random House LLC., pp. 176)

The reality is, we feel a connection to stories of heroism and redemption because we were created to. 

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, New Line Cinema 2003


When Paul and Silas arrived at Mars Hill in Acts 17, they noticed that all the artists, intellectuals, and leaders had formed various idols depicting representations of a ‘god.’

As Paul began conversing with some of the philosophers there, some said:

“What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. (Acts 17:18)

And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” (Acts 17:19-20)

Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. (Acts 17:21)

In a truly post-modern fashion, the people in this society spent all their time discussing new philosophies, concepts, and ideas. They never dwelled on one particular topic, but thirsted for the latest and most intriguing belief.

Before he plunges deep into the Gospel, the apostle in his wisdom first points out the obvious desire of these men to worship.

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23)

The men of Athens were full of religion, worship, and love for god-like beings. They wanted to find a source of power greater than themselves. There is no greater visual of man’s innate desire to worship than the altar on Mars Hill, devoted to the “unknown God.”

In the 21st Century, lost man’s desire is no less obvious to the focused observer. For the majority, it’s no longer a matter of stone idols. Thousands of Americans do not flock to worship a carved image in hopes of better crops or health for their family – they consider themselves far too civilized for that.

But no matter how advanced a society may become, the ravenous appetite for a salvific figure can never be fully concealed or eradicated. Now, millions simply find themselves lining up for superhero or fairy tale films – a phenomena that spreads across cultural, ethnic, and class boundaries. Although most will never consciously ponder it, there is a universal attraction to tales of good ultimately triumphing over evil, which is seemingly unexplainable… That is, unless you realize that man was created for a relationship with God – the Good which always triumphs over the Evil.

While, obviously, the masses are not trusting in characters like Superman for physical blessing and prosperity, they do – realizing it or not – heavily rely on the emotional pleasure that comes from his story and others like it to uplift, inspire, and encourage. The sad reality being that no man-made story can contain enough power to lift the human spirit indefinitely. So lines at the box-office will endlessly grow, fairy tale books will be endlessly devoured, and lives will be lived with an endless quest for the emotional high of a savior.

Crowd outside Mann’s Chinese Theater, 1977

Unfortunately, much like the men of Athens who craved worship ultimately rejected the only One worthy of it, so, too, will millions today when faced with the truth.

They will live their lives as all creation aside from Christ, endlessly seeking the emotional joy that can only come from knowing the ultimate Good.


Eric Author Image

Eric is a blogger, videographer, designer, and full-time missionary with Rooftop Missions. While in the US, he works to raise support to help fund pastors and orphanages in closed countries. When he is traveling internationally, he provides leadership training for national pastors, as well as documenting the trips through photography and video. To partner with Eric financially, click here.

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