The Modern Era of Comic Book Movies

It’s been 11 years since X-Men forced the hand of Hollywood, compelling it to take a second look at the viability of our favorite comic book heroes on the big screen. Always thought to be too geeky or genre-specific, the release of the original X-Men movie in 2000 proved what most of us already knew: That comic books would make incredible, interesting movie characters.

hey, wait, weren't you older?

hey, wait, weren't you older?

Now we’ve come full circle, with X-Men: First Class, a reboot of the $1.5 billion franchise, starting things all over again for what could be an all new era of comic book movies, which have become the only sure thing in the movie industry that could have collapsed over the last 10 years.

Back in 2000, X-Men, director Bryan Singer and Fox studios, thankfully, set the bar very high. It wasn’t just that X-Men finally gave us life-sized versions of Wolverine, Professor X and Jean Grey, but it made them people. The characters weren’t just being exploited — they were being celebrated. At the same time, the movie was honoring the fans who didn’t just want to see Wolverine’s claws come out and then call it a movie. We wanted to see the characters we grew up treated as well as the people who created them. We were skeptical, at the very least. Actually, we were worried as hell.

When X-Men made nearly $300 million around the world, the feeding frenzy was on like Cerebro. Hollywood studios were buying up the rights to comic book characters left and right, even Miramax got into the game with Bluntman and Chronic. Getting the rights was more of a “just in case” thing, studios weren’t ready just yet to get into the comic book business full force.

Enter Spider-Man.

have my fingers always been this long?

have my fingers always been this long?

When it comes to comic book characters, it goes Superman, Batman and then Spider-Man. That’s the first tier — everyone else is playing for fourth. Superman had his day, Batman had his, and for years, Spider-Man was supposed to have his. But project after project stalled, failed or never got off the ground. James Cameron got close enough to put out a poster for a Spider-Man movie he planned in the mid-90s, but it never worked out.

Because of all of the trouble, Spider-Man was often back-burnered. Sony, which owned the rights, saw the success of X-Men and jumped on the comic book bandwagon. Make no mistake — X-Men made Spider-Man possible.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t still skeptics. If everyone saw the future after X-Men, there would have been a slew of major comic book characters put in to production and scheduled for 2002 releases — but Spider-Man and Blade 2 (a lesser comic character) were it. The doubt, obviously, was still there.

Most importantly, Sony learned from the Superman and X-Men movies — if you’re not faithful to the characters and treat them as seriously as we expect them to be treated, your movie fails. And it sucks.

But when Spider-Man made box office history with a $100 million opening weekend, the race was on. Let’s go ahead and call this the dark day of major comic book movies, the days when the Hollywood mindset took over. Studios thought they could put any comic book character in any movie and fans would show up. In the process, it ruined some of our favorites — Hulk and Daredevil in 2003, Catwoman in 2004, Fantastic Four in 2005. From the time Spider-Man came out to June 2005, there wasn’t a single, major comic book character introduced on the big screen that wasn’t at least mildly disappointing for one reason or another.

crap. my christian bale raspy batan voice impersonation doesn't come out in writing.

crap. my christian bale raspy batan voice impersonation doesn't come out in writing.

June 2005 not only changed that, but it changed the way we could look at comic book characters in movies when Batman Begins came out. As visionary as Fox was by being the studio that took a chance with the first comic book movie of the decade, Warner Brothers was just as visionary by asking, “Why can’t we just start all over again and make a new version of something that’s already been made?” So it took a completely different approach in the world of comic book movies and remade an already popular movie just eight years after Batman and Robin put a nail in the coffin of the original Batman franchise.

If any year showed us what direction comic book movies would be moving in, it was 2008. Iron Man was a test for audience capacity to accept lesser comic book characters — and the audience, resoundingly, said yes. The movie was completely formulaic and stuck straight to the Marvel character script — origin, action, story, action, hero acceptance, big action finish. It’s not rocket science, and the Marvel movies since then have followed the exact same formula, with complete success.

and here ... we ... go

and here ... we ... go

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Dark Knight that July. Director and co-writer Christopher Nolan gave us something we hadn’t seen before in comic book movies — a villain that we weren’t sure could be defeated. We knew Spider-Man would beat Venom, that the Fantastic Four would defeat Galactus, that Superman would vanquish Lex Luthor. But Heath Ledger’s version of Joker? Not so much. He was psychotic, he was brilliant, he was scary and he was totally engrossing. It was the first time a director said a villain could be the most important part of a comic book movie. Now it’s up to everyone coming after him to follow Nolan’s lead.

It’s been pretty quiet on the comic movie front since then — until this summer. Thor ($163 million and counting), Green Lantern (June 17), Captain America (July 22) are all debuting this summer, along with this weekend’s X-Men: First Class.

So we’re back where we started, with the franchise that started the modern era of comic book movies starting what could be a whole new generation of comic book movies. If it’s anything like the first, we’re in for a treat.

This entry was posted in Movies, Pop Culture and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.