It’s the age-old question isn’t it: what superpower would you have, and why? It's a question that's been used to pass the time among friends, to get to know new partners, or even to sift through the talent during a job interview, but rarely do we consider what that question actually means.
Marvel and DC have cornered the market with their expansive franchises spanning movies, games, comics, books, merchandise, events, and attractions – and given the success of Avengers: Endgame at the box office, our superhero obsession shows no sign of slowing down. Their superheroes have spanned a gamut of powers from the mundane to the useful to the jaw-droppingly powerful, and each has decided whether they would use their power for good or for evil. Choosing a power comes with determining what you would use that power for – would it enhance the world, enhance your own life, or cause trouble for your rivals.
So, we decided to ask Canada: what superpower would you have and why?
What is the Most Coveted Superpower?
For the sake of simplicity, it was important to break down the powers available into categories. There have been some obscure and unnecessary powers – Superman can create tiny versions of himself that fly out of his hands, The Flash can speed-learn, Spawn can absorb power from worms, and The Incredible Hulk can see ghosts. But, whenever people answer the question, they usually choose one of the more commonplace superpowers, ones that will add some benefit to their lives or give them a taste of something they would otherwise have missed out on.
Interestingly, 25.6% of respondents opted for an ability that allowed them to control time. This ability could be as egocentric as making sure you are never late for anything or have a few extra hours at work, or it could be as earth-shattering as changing the course of history, so it’s no surprise that most people chose this power.
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What Other Superpowers Would We Want?
The main superpowers we would want roughly break down into the following categories after time manipulation: psychic abilities, invisibility, flight, invincibility, super-strength, and speed.
A close second was psychic abilities, which would include X-Men’s Jean Grey’s telekinesis and anything from being able to control minds to being able to change the TV channel without getting up. As such, this power could be as life-changing for the individual as it could for the wider world. You could use it to stop landslides or to make sure you never hit a red light. Though, if word got out that you had these abilities, you'd never be invited to play for the 5-a-side again!
Invisibility and flight came next. Their lower figures could be explained in that invisibility alone is pointless, while flight is too prone to risk. Imagine wielding the power of invisibility only to use it to hear what your boss says about you when you're not in the room, or the power of flight to collect a frisbee that's stuck on the roof.
When not fighting all manner of monster and madmen, these powers are fairly useless.
Bringing up the pack were invincibility, strength, and speed – which makes sense given that, in a mutant or superhero setting, these would be enviable and useful powers, but in day-to-day life, they may seem redundant too. Indeed, our main source of inspiration for choosing a superpower is through watching or reading about superheroes, whose lives are dominated by the need to protect people, fight, and use their powers. However, when we think of what powers we might actually want, we consider them in the context of our own lives.
Is There a Difference in What Men and Women Want Out of Superpowers?
The male/female split of superpowers seems to stem exclusively from what we have seen in the comics and movies. While there are many that are equal - Superman and Wonder Woman and Black Widow and Captain America - there are some powers we equate to whoever has them in the superhero franchises.
So, to see the difference in what men and women opted for compared to one another gives an insight into how people may feel their powers would benefit their lives. Men were more likely to choose time manipulation and flight, while women opted for psychic abilities and speed (indeed, 100% of the speed respondents were female).
Interestingly, both time manipulation and speed would benefit our lives in that we would be able to do more and get more done. While male respondents may opt to make up time elsewhere, female respondents chose to speed up what they were doing. When it comes to more abstract powers, men were more interested in flight, which could stem from the 'boys and their toys' mentality and adrenaline-junkie persona, while women, who are traditionally more empathetic, opted for psychic abilities.
Superhero or Supervillain?
The most important aspect of any superhero story is what motivates each character. Villains each have a different motivating factor for putting their powers to evil or selfish uses, while our heroes are equally justified in using their abilities for good. Some blur the lines – with vigilantes often being considered by many to be as problematic as the crime they clean up.
So, it’s important to understand what might influence how someone would use their superpowers. 70.1% claimed that they would use their superpowers to help others, while 29.9% admitted to using them to help themselves.
Indeed, even our most righteous heroes have used their powers for some personal gain – whether it be Spider-Man or Professor Xavier. Using powers for good or evil, though, is dependent on what that power may be and how easy it would be to commit each act. For example, it would be much easier to commit acts of villainy using invisibility than it would be to help others with it, while psychic powers could be used for either purpose.
Which Superhero Would We Want to Emulate?
Perhaps when it comes to choosing hypothetical superpowers, some people are influenced by how they are wielded by those onscreen. 19.3% of respondents claimed they would want Spider-Man’s powers. This could be because, out of the most popular superheroes, Spider-Man is best able to juggle his alter-ego of Spider-Man with his day-to-day life of Peter Parker.
Compared to other superheroes, such a Thor or Captain America, who are defined by their superpowers, Spider-Man has crafted a neat balance between his two personas. Following behind Spider-Man with 17.9% of the vote was Captain Marvel. Indeed, Brie Larson’s appearance may have come towards the end of Marvel’s three phases of superhero films, but her character certainly proved herself and showed how she could wield her power as one of the strongest Avengers.
A close third was Iron Man, with 17.3% of the vote, though whether this refers to his immensely powerful suits or his equally immense wealth and intellect is hard to say. Scarlett Witch only claimed 8.4% of the vote, perhaps due to the ambiguity of her powers to manipulate chaos magic and how this may not be as handy in everyday life.
The World of Superheroes
Superhero media has dominated pop culture since the first superhero came to life with Mandrake the Magician in 1934, whose power of gesturing hypnotically could make anyone believe anything, though four years later when Superman crashed to Earth was probably when the fascination with the superhero began. We have been gifted superhero comic books, which sold on average 6,885,352 units in 2018 between the top 300 titles – although this trend appears to be heading downward as fewer titles are released. It could be argued instead that we are consuming our superhero fixes from elsewhere.
The PlayStation 4 exclusive, Marvel's Spider-Man, broke Sony’s records when it became the fastest-selling and most popular first-party video game release, while DC Universe showed a new way of connecting us with superheroes in their huge multiplayer game, DC Universe Online.
Fortnite established a link with Marvel characters, while the purchase of Marvel by Disney has extended their reach. Other forms of gaming, such as online slots, have also taken influence from superheroes. By moving our connection to superheroes away from comics and towards gaming, we are able to live out our superhero fantasies as we play.
Marvel vs DC
Like the battle between good and evil itself, the battle between DC and Marvel rages on. While elements of the franchises can be easily compared, both offer something different enough for superhero fans. But, ultimately, the general public must have a favorite.
Indeed, of the respondents who chose a favorite superhero movie franchise, 79.23% chose Marvel, with their counterparts of DC trailing behind at merely 7.12%. This could be due to the spate of Marvel movies that have been released compared to the lack of DC movies since Aquaman and Wonder Woman.
Fans of cinema will no doubt claim that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy with Christian Bale as Batman was one of cinema’s greatest masterpieces, while others claim that the interconnected plan of the entirety of Marvel’s back catalogue was ingenious and showed great forward planning.
Both franchises hold their own and provide a different take on the superhero genre. It would be interesting if another independent production company took the superhero genre in a different direction to see how a superhero story could be told with fewer special effects and more narrative on the inner fight of learning you have superpowers.
The Most Popular Superhero Movies
When it comes to superhero movies, it can be difficult to avoid them. The creative license to hire a different actor to portray each character means that the films can be on a continuous cycle, but it also means that new generations and audiences can discover each superhero in a way that is unique to them.
Of those surveyed, 57.4% had seen some variation of Spider-Man – indeed, Tobey Maguire’s early-2000s portrayal, Andrew Garfield’s early-2010s portrayal, and Tom Holland’s current portrayal each appeal to a different generation of Spider-Man fan.
Superman, who is nearly celebrating his 100th anniversary, has been seen by around 48.8% of people surveyed. This number could be lower due to the absence of Superman films, at least compared to his counterparts.
Batman came in at 48%, while 46.8% of people surveyed had seen The Avengers or one of the standalone films in the canon.
Of those surveyed, 40.3% had seen an X-Men film. The X-Men series spanned almost twenty years, with different stories being told with familiar characters across this period. Redoing this survey in a decade could produce different results, especially as actors change and more obscure superheroes are brought out for films – like with Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man.
Living Vicariously Through Superheroes
Alas, we will never know what it is like to have a superpower – while those with eidetic memories, extremely flexible joints, or incredible sprinting ability may have a taste of what it could be like. But, thankfully, there are ways in which we can understand what it may be like to experience the blessing and the curse of having a superpower. We can watch our superhero fantasies play out on the big screen, on the smaller screen, through the panels of comic books and by playing them out on a variety of consoles and formats of game. The escapism offered by superhero films to a world that resembles our own but has the added extras of superpowers is likely why we enjoy them so much.
Superheroes will no doubt continue to live on, with each generation adding their own twist to the time-honored tale of good overcoming evil. The superhero genre is so effective because it's one that people are inherently familiar with, in which people are able to lose themselves in the fantasy while knowing the probable outcome that good will win. But there is an element of the ‘what if’ when we consume superhero media. What if this happened to me? How would I react to these powers? Would I do good or be evil? So, it may seem like a simple question asking what superpower you would want to have – but the ramifications are actually greater than the simple answer. Asking what superpower you would want is asking how you could change your life for the better and what kind of person would you be if you wielded so much power. You can learn a lot about people based on how they answer that simple question.