Over the span of the next five years, approximately 25 comic book movies are set to be released and this is excluding the various comic book television shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Daredevil, Arrow, Flash, Gotham and Supergirl. If these facts suggest one thing, it is this: There is most definitely an over saturation of comic book movies and TV shows now more than ever. Moreover, it does not just end there, as we are then bombarded with advertisements, articles, and various other promotional materials, all revolving around these comic book movies. It may have taken years to reach this phase but comic book film is the epitome of popular culture - a modern day version of disco. Stephen McFeely, one of the scriptwriters for Captain America: Winter Soldier has more or less the same idea as Rubinoff, claiming in the 60s, the masses went to Westerns, these days it’s comic book movies.
There are some comic book movies that are great, some that are trash, and some that shaped the film industry in one way or another. Let’s take a look at the 15 comic book movies that changed the film industry.
15 Superman (1978)
Roger Ebert once said:
“Superman is a pure delight, a wondrous combination of all the old-fashioned things we never really get tired of: adventure and romance, heroes and villains, earthshaking special effects, and -- you know what else? Wit. That surprised me more than anything: That this big-budget epic, which was half a decade making its way to the screen, would turn out to have an intelligent sense of humor about itself.”
And he’s spot on. We often talk about a period in which everyone believed that comic book movies do not have a place in the modern era of film. That was in 1997. However, 19 years before that, Hollywood churned out a comic book movie that’s better than a lot of comic book movies churned out today. Richard Donner’s Superman starring Christopher Reeve as the titular character really put comic book films on the map. Heck, it even made comic books more popular altogether.
Last month, we got to witness the greatness that is Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. This is what Patty Jenkins had to say:
“I looked at the landscape of superhero films right now, many of which I love, and I thought: 'What am I not seeing right now?' And it happened to be exactly what brought me to being passionate about it in the first place, which was 'Superman 1' and its classic superhero storytelling. That was when I thought: 'Wow, it's interesting that nobody was doing the sincere origin story, with emotions and comedy, and putting the time into that character story', so it felt like a great time to do it.”
14 Batman (1989)
Admittedly, I’m not a HUGE fan of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. To be fair, I’m not a fan of Tim Burton’s work in general, besides Beetlejuice. But from an artistic standpoint, this movie was something special. Prior to this (and the previously talked about Superman), comic book movies were all cheesy, campy nonsense. Remember the late Adam West’s Batman? Holy crap, was that an absolute insult to comic book fans or what. Even at that time, there were loads of well written comic books out there, but the film adaptations were all cringeworthy nonsense. As a result, people assumed that that’s what comic books are all about. “Just a bunch of nonsense for kids,” my grandma used to say.
Then came Tim Burton’s Batman, and my God was it unlike anything we’ve seen before. Tim Burton created a world that felt dark, dangerous, very comic book-y and of course, it had to include some Tim Burton weirdness. With an established director like Tim Burton at the helm and the great Michael Keaton in the lead role, suddenly we have a comic book movie that didn’t feel like an attempt at a porn parody. While not one of my top 10 favourite comic book movies of all time, Batman is not just a damn good comic book movie, but a damn good movie. Period.
13 Batman & Robin (1997)
Well, I didn’t say this article was going to be all positive now, did I? In 1997, Joel Schumacher released a film called Batman & Robin. Except, Batman & Robin isn’t really a film. It’s more like a porn parody, minus the only thing we actually look forward to when we illegally download fine art like Star Wars XXX and Joone’s masterpiece, Pirates. BOOBS! What it did have, however, is closeups of George Clooney’s ass, an abundance of ice-puns and the culmination of Uma Thurman’s career disintegration. An effing tragedy, to say the least. Comic book fans went into hiding and everyone else simply believed that there’s no place for comic book movies in the modern world.
While most movies on this list impacted the film industry positively, the same can’t be said for Batman & Robin. This movie was clearly made just to sell toys and nothing more. While ardent comic book fans watched the movie in disgust, knowing that Joel Schumacher made comic books look like a joke, mainstream audiences actually believed that the comic book lore is as farcical as Schumacher portrayed it to be.
However, if it wasn’t for Batman & Robin, Christopher Nolan probably wouldn’t have been allowed to make Batman Begins all those years later (which will be discussed later).
12 Blade (1998)
There are a few movies that should be credited when it comes to the resurgence of comic book movies. The obvious ones are of course The Dark Knight and Iron Man, which came out 11 years after the abomination that is Batman & Robin. Then there is also Bryan Singer’s original X-Men and of course Nolan’s Batman Begins. However, I believe that some credit should also be given to Blade - directed by Stephen Norrington, written by David S. Goyer. Blade is perhaps the first good comic book movie after Batman & Robin. The thing about Blade is, it offered a completely different look at the comic book genre. Most people assume that all comic books are centred around men in tights taking on larger than life bad guys in an explosion extravaganza. But, Blade is something completely different altogether. While it did have action, it also put a lot of emphasis on character, which is what most great comic book movies do these days.
Roger Ebert once wrote: "Wesley Snipes understands the material from the inside out and makes an effective Blade because he knows that the key ingredient in any interesting superhero is not omnipotence, but vulnerability. There is always a kind of sadness underlying the personalities of the great superheroes, who have been given great knowledge and gifts but few consolations in their battle against evil. "
Also, it is important to note that the upcoming Black Panther isn’t the first comic book movie to feature a black superhero in a leading role. Blade did it close to 20 years ago.
11 X-Men (2000)
When people talk about the resuscitation of the comic book movie genre after Batman & Robin infamously murdered it, people often mention names like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and MCU’s first entry, Iron Man. However, what most people seem to forget, is that 5 years before Nolan’s Batman Begins, Bryan Singer released an X-Men in the year 2000. Fresh from his critically acclaimed noir crime-thriller, The Usual Suspects, Singer decided to tip his toe in the comic book verse. Now, X-Men isn’t as critically revered like Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, nor did it launch a large scale cinematic universe. But, in a time where people were confident that comic book characters do not belong on the big screen, Bryan Singer showed us that if handled correctly and SERIOUSLY, comic book movies do have a place in the modern film era. Singer then went on to make X2: X-Men United and that movie is even better than the first. And suddenly, people slowly stopped questioning the need for comic book movies.
10 Spider-Man (2002)
While Sam Raimi’s second Spider-Man film is better than the first, the first offered us something we’ve never seen before up until that point. Raimi’s first Spider-Man film offered a cinematic experience unlike any other. It was perhaps the most FUN I’ve had with a comic book movie up until that point. While films like X-Men and Blade offered a much darker take on the comic book movie genre, Spider-Man took the lighthearted approach. I will always remember watching Spider-Man in his proper costume swinging from building to building. It gave me goosebumps. With Spider-Man, Sam Raimi proved that you can have a crap ton of fun with comic book characters, without it being campy. Heck, audiences around the world clearly LOVED this movie, helping it gross more than 820 Mil USD at the global box office. Mind you, this is a movie that came out in 2002. Till today, it’s the seventh highest-grossing comic book film of all time.
9 Batman Begins (2005)
Batman Begins isn’t as loved as Christopher Nolan’s second instalment to the trilogy, The Dark Knight. Heck, grossing over 374 Mil USD worldwide at the box office, Batman Begins - released in 2005 - made less money than Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. Can you really blame people for not flocking to the cinemas to see this, though? After the blasphemous piece of garbage Batman & Robin, Batman went from being one of the coolest fictional characters ever created to someone lamer than my neighbourhood hobo who dresses up like a clown. However, Batman Begins successfully managed to renew people’s interest in the character. This renewed interest propelled The Dark Knight to be a box office mega-hit, grossing over 1 Bil USD worldwide.
While not popular at its time of release, many years later, Batman Begins is now one of the most beloved comic book movies ever created. Without it, there could be no The Dark Knight. And without The Dark Knight, the comic book industry would never be the way it is today.
8 Iron Man (2008)
While The Dark Knight made people change their perspective on comic book movies from a critical point of view, Iron Man accomplished something else altogether. Unlike The Dark Knight, which is a grounded and gritty psychological thriller centered around comic book characters, Iron Man is, in simple terms, FUN! But what on earth did Iron Man accomplish that was so groundbreaking?
Well, if you look at the landscape of cinema today, every movie is part of some kinda larger universe. Every studio wants to create a multi-film universe. One of them is the DCEU. However, the universe building isn’t just limited to comic book movies. This year’s Kong: Skull Island is a “sequel” to 2014’s Godzilla. And both these movies are set in Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures’ Monster Universe, which will soon feature kaijus like Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah. And in the year 2020, this Monster Universe will treat us to Godzilla VS King Kong. Besides that, Universal Studios also has their own Dark Universe, launched with this year’s The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise. This universe is set to feature classic monsters like Dracula and Bride of Frankenstein.
The various universes are pretty much the norm these days. However, it wasn’t the case 10 years ago. Iron Man is the first entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While it functions well as a standalone movie, it is ultimately episode 1 in a large universe. At that time, Kevin Feige and the peeps at Marvel Studios seemed like the crazy guys. “Whaaat? Film in a TV series format? With post-credits scenes?? You guys are trippin!” Said everyone. But hey, history will tell you that people like Albert Einstein and Beethoven were considered crazy too.
7 The Dark Knight (2008)
There’s simply no mentioning comic book movies without mentioning The Dark Knight in some capacity. This is the Citizen Kane of comic book movies. 15 years ago, if you mentioned, “I wonder if a comic book movie would get a best picture Oscar nomination,” you would have been called a moron, get laughed at, and get pushed off a moving bus for being an absolute dumbass, but now it’s a very real possibility, with Deadpool almost getting nominated last year (it got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Comedy/Musical) and realistic talks of Logan getting a nomination next year. This is for better or worse, the doings of Christopher Nolan.
In an article titled The Nolan Effect on The Grantland, film critic Mark Harris claimed that Nolan, quite frankly ruined the Oscars. For over 60 years, the Best Picture list consists of five nominees. However, in 2008/2009, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was hit by a massive backlash when Nolan’s The Dark Knight failed to receive a Best Picture nomination which led to the most sensational amendment in 60 years: For the first time in Oscar history, the Best Picture list was increased to 10 nominees. While The Dark Knight did not win the Best Picture Oscar, this incident serves to highlight Christopher Nolan’s mass appeal and power, in what many are calling, The Nolan Effect. Heck, Heath Ledger actually WON an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Dark Knight, as the Joker, which is something that has never happened before and hasn’t happened since.
6 The Avengers (2012)
As mentioned, Iron Man is the first entry to the MCU - a universe that would go on to forever change the landscape of cinema. However, while the pilot episode of a TV series is important to get people interested, what’s even more important are the subsequent episodes after that. TV series often get greenlit because of its interesting pilot and get cancelled because the subsequent episodes/seasons garnered no interest. The same thing applies here. How great Iron Man is wouldn’t matter if the ultimate team up film, The Avengers, failed. The Avengers couldn’t have just been good. It needed to be great. It needed to blow everyone’s mind. Safe to say, #mindcompletelyblown!
The Avengers is still one of the best cinematic experiences of all time. Seeing all these characters cross over and interact with one another felt surreal. THIS is what comic books are all about. And to see that on the big screen sent shivers down my spine. Grossing over 1.5 Bil USD worldwide, The Avengers is still THE HIGHEST GROSSING COMIC BOOK MOVIE OF ALL TIME! And it is still the 5th highest grossing movie of all time, regardless of genre.
The critical, and more importantly, the financial success of The Avengers made studio executives everywhere go, “Holy sh*t! This is the real deal. Time to make everything a sequel, prequel, or even better yet, part of a giant universe.”
5 Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The first Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the biggest risks taken by the MCU. While the likes of Iron Man and Captain America comic books aren’t nearly as popular as X-Men, Spider-Man, and Fantastic Four comic books, at the very least they were known properties. The Guardians of the Galaxy comic books, on the other hand, were completely obscure. Unless you jerk off to comic books on a daily, chances are you wouldn’t have heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Naturally, fans and critics questioned Marvel Studios’ decision to make a Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Marvel Studios stuck to their guns, though. And Guardians of the Galaxy turned out to be an absolute blast. Grossing over 770 Mil USD worldwide, Guardians of the Galaxy was extremely well received amongst critics, as well. In fact, many still consider Guardians of the Galaxy to be the BEST of the MCU movies, which is really saying something.
Guardians of the Galaxy changed the film industry by proving that you don’t need previously established popular characters to crush it at the box office. What’s more important is making a good movie and marketing it well.
4 Deadpool (2016)
On one hand, I’m surprised Fox Studios took so long to produce this movie. On the other end, I’m surprised Fox Studios managed to grow the balls to produce this movie. “Why?” you ask? Allow me to put things into perspective: If Quentin Tarantino, George Miller, and Edgar Wright had a threesome for eight hours and for whatever reason one of them gets pregnant, has a kid that grows up to be a supermodel and that supermodel masturbates on a rainbow, the mixture of the supermodel’s vaginal juices and the rainbow’s residue would be this Deadpool movie.
Rumour has it that Ryan Reynolds had to give all the higher ups at Fox Studios BJs every single day for two years straight before they greenlit this movie. I mean, why would they? A comic book movie about an obscure character seems like a completely dumb idea to begin with. An R-RATED comic book movie? Get out of town. But the persistence of Reynolds and gang (with the help of a “leaked” test footage) made this project happen. Making this project happen is one thing. Deadpool HAD to knock it out of the park both critically and more importantly, financially, or it would have most likely have been the (temporary) death of R-rated comic book movies.
But, I guess knocking it out of the park is an understatement. Raking in at around 780Mil USD worldwide, Deadpool is the highest grossing movie in the X-Men franchise of all time and a giant middle finger to old school studio executives.
3 Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
This is probably THE most controversial movie of the past couple of years. It’s been more than a year now and people are still talking about it. Batman V Superman was supposed to be the highest grossing movie of the year. Heck, it should have been one of the highest grossing movies of all time. It was supposed to be the best damn piece of art created since The Dark Knight. It was supposed to be the catalyst that put the DCEU on the map. I mean c’mon, it’s BATMAN VERSUS SUPERMAN. Two of the most popular superheroes ever put to page going toe to toe with each other in the greatest gladiator match we’ve ever seen.
Yeaaaaaaah, no. Batman V Superman only grossed over 800 Mil USD worldwide, and while that is still a crap ton of money, the fact that it had BATMAN and SUPERMAN but failed to join the billion-dollar-gross club says a lot. It also was critically panned (27%). Suddenly, the faith of the DCEU was called into question. Panic everywhere. And it only went downhill from there.
But how did it really affect the film industry? I would argue that Batman V Superman really shed light on the power that film critics have. After all, thousands of DC fanboys signed petitions in favour of shutting down Rotten Tomatoes and even accused film critics of being bought over by Marvel. Look, film criticism has always been a part of my life. I grew up reading the works of the late great Roger Ebert. But for the first time, I actually witnessed movie reviews really stirring up the masses like no other. This has never happened before, not even with the Star Wars prequels.
Batman V Superman birthed (or at least popularized) the term “this is made for fans, not critics.” Which is an absolute nonsensical statement, by the way.
2 Logan (2017)
There are plenty of damn good comic book movies throughout the years, but only a few that transcend the genre itself. When we talk about comic book movies that transcend the genre, a few come to mind. The Dark Knight is a psychological-thriller, Captain America: Winter Soldier is an espionage-thriller and Guardians of the Galaxy is a Sci-Fi-adventure film. Logan too, transcended its genre. In what is definitely one of my favourite comic book movies of all time, Logan is a Western-family-drama. And while it does have its fair share of action sequences, this is first and foremost a performance driven, heavy story about a man, his dad, and his daughter. It is quite honestly the least exciting comic book movie I’ve ever watched in my life (including Batman & Robin). But do not mistake least exciting for least inspired. Logan is great. It’s just not very fun to watch. This is an emotional journey, one that starts of violently and ends brutally, yet perfectly.
If Deadpool got the ball rolling, Logan definitely knocked it out of the park. Arguably, Deadpool had a slightly easier task, because it is a COMEDY. Logan, being an R-rated DEPRESSING film, had a bigger burden on its shoulder. But, just like Deadpool, Logan knocked it out of the park, both critically and financially. Logan is one of the highest rated comic book movies of all time (77% on Metacritic) and grossed over 618Mil USD worldwide making it the fourth highest grossing movie in the X-Men franchise. Logan’s success dispels the age old theory that only a PG 13 comic book movie with large action set pieces can make big bucks at the box office.
1 Wonder Woman (2017)
This is perhaps one of the most effective feminist movies I’ve seen in awhile. Make no mistake, this IS a feminist movie. But what it doesn’t do is hit you in the head with its message over and over again. It also doesn’t scream, “Men suck! Women are awesome.” What it repeatedly emphasize is this: 1) Men are strong and capable; 2) Women are strong and capable; 3) Both women and men should work together in symbiosis. And that is essentially what feminism is about.
Look, I don’t put Wonder Woman in the same league as The Dark Knight, Logan, Captain America: Civil War and to a lesser extent, even X-Men: Days of Future Past, it is still one of the better comic book movies ever made, definitely one of the most important. Wonder Woman is a female led superhero movie, helmed by a female, grossing over 100 Mil USD in the US box office on its opening weekend, and universally loved by critics and fans alike. The success of Wonder Woman proves one thing: Old school Hollywood studio executives desperately need to get their heads out of their asses. In this day and age, people don’t care if a movie’s lead is a woman or if it’s directed by a woman. People just want great f*cking films.