As I've stated before in other articles, the superhero genre is at an all-time high in Hollywood. It doesn't matter what time of the year you happen to be attending the theater; you will see a poster, a banner, a trailer, or even a showing in a few theaters down from your own, superhero movies are constant.
For fanboys like myself, it's been a dream come true every year. I grew up on superhero movies, there wasn't a year that goes by that I missed seeing one at all. When people ask me about what movies are coming out soon (cause I'm the go-to movie guy in the circles I hang out in) I will always start off with a superhero movie; it's not on purpose, it just happens.
It's a great time for superhero movie fans because the quality of the films have been improving more and more with every year. Sure, we have a couple misses, it's bound to happen, but just about every film, especially from Marvel Studios, is just progressing by leaps and bounds. Whereas, previously, films were sort of just being shoe-horned out to make a quick buck.
But what was it that made producers and studios open their eyes to the fact that we, the fans, required more than just an on-screen appearance, a one-and-done, hit-and-run type of superhero film? I have my theories, and one of them is that they began to look over the past evaluate what worked and what didn't work.
To me, there are three movies that have redefined what the superhero movie genre is, revolutionized it in fact. So let's get started.
1. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
2002's Spider-Man, starring Toby Maquire and directed by Sam Raimi was a huge hit for its time. Sure, we had gotten superhero movies in the past, prior to Spider-Man, but something about our favorite Web-Head being put on the big-screen was just thrilling.
But no matter how great, Spider-Man was, the sequel, Spider-Man 2, was twice as awesome. It had the perfect blend of fun action, heart-felt drama, and humor. It was the best performance of all the actors in their respective roles and Alfred Molina was a great cast for Doctor Octopus.
The story was compelling, it became more than just seeing the superhero fight bad guys. It was the kind of story that made you question if you'd be willing to make sacrifices for the good of others or if you could own up to the responsibility of not only your great powers but what had to happen to get them. But the movie was made in a time where most other superhero movies were just being shoehorned out by Marvel and I think Spider-Man 2 kind of got washed away in the over-saturation of it all. I also believe that the sour taste that Spider-Man 3 left in our mouths kind of made us forget how great the previous two movies were, especially Spider-Man 2.
You never heard people who are making movies say: "We looked to Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 for inspiration" and you never will. But I think that this movie was underrated and ahead of its time.
I'd previously had the thought that The Amazing Spider-Man was the best Spider-Man movie, and I still think it was good and stood on its own, but I retract that opinion of mine and have to say, objectively, that Spider-Man 2 is the best Spider-Man movie to-date and should be the standard for all other Spider-Man movies in the future.
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
Christopher Nolan will always be my favorite director, I've not watched one film of his where I thought: "This is boring". The man lays out a story and it captivates me right away (still have yet to see Interstellar though). Nolan has since made movies that may be considered better quality or to have more depth, but he still gave us one of the greatest superhero movies of all time: The Dark Knight!
There is lots of controversy it seems, regarding The Dark Knight trilogy. Many go back-and-forth about which film is better: Batman Begins or Dark Knight (The Dark Knight Rises gets no love from anyone it seems). I personally, think that Batman Begins was almost as groundbreaking as The Dark Knight was, but for the sake of not having two movies from the same franchise, I chose my favorite of the three, which of course is The Dark Knight.
The reason that his film is so spectacular is because it showed everyone that superhero films didn't have to be cheesy, corny, or campy. It showed that superheroes can actually have extreme depth to their characters and supporting characters. It shows that there is a rich history to be explored with superheroes, in this case specifically, Batman.
What we seen in 2005's Batman Begins was incredible. I don't think anyone expected that movie to take off the way it did, but thank God it did and thus gave us this masterpiece of superhero film making.
This movie is also criticized for not being more light-hearted (the whole trilogy is in fact), but what people don't understand is that this was not a comic-book story, it was not made to feel like a comic story. Nolan's intention wasn't to say: "All superhero movies need to try emulate what I've done here". What he did do was tell the story that he wanted to tell using Batman and Co. It's an entity that stands entirely on it's own. I firmly believe that if Nolan had created these characters all his own and there had been no superhero origin or comic book origin, the movie would have still blown people out of the water.
But what makes this movie definite for me, is that it showed the people behind the cameras of future superhero movies, that there is a huge fan base that want to see films that tell a good compelling story, we don't want just the spectacle of visual effects alone, it needs to be accompanied by story depth.
3. The Avengers (2012)
The Avengers has to remain one of Marvel Studios' most ambitious and most risky movie they have ever done (Guardians of the Galaxy would be up there too). Marvel Studios was essentially placing all of their eggs (or properties they own) in one basket with this whole project.
Starting with 2008's Iron Man as a launch pad for "Phase One", Marvel Studios' had been pumping out movies constantly to try and tie things together. What's remarkable is that not all of Marvel's characters have been well received in movies prior to 2008, but each year, they had put out a film (except for 2009) seemingly knowing that everyone was going to jump on board for the meshing of several different franchises: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Hulk.
The end result was amazing! I don't think that The Avengers is the greatest comic book or superhero movie ever made, but I still love the film and think it has left a huge mark on the superhero genre.
The Avengers was so revolutionary for future superhero movies to come that other companies started wanting to follow the similar formula of a shared universe; companies like Warner Bros./DC, FOX, and Sony. Now, in my opinion, there should only be two shared universes for superheroes on screen: Marvel and DC, but alas, I can't make FOX give the rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four back to Marvel Studios or Sony give back Spider-Man.
But that's part of beauty of what The Avengers did! They didn't have well-known superheroes headlining their film or separate franchises. No one from a casual, general audience's perspective knew who Iron Man was, Thor was just Norse-god, Captain America may have been somewhat known only for his imagery, and Hulk was associated with the awful 2003 adaptation. This movie didn't have Spider-Man, whom everyone already knew and loved. Marvel Studios took these somewhat obscure characters, gave them a fresh, on-screen transformation and made millions of people around the world fall in love with them. The effects can still be felt from the success of this movie as Avenger films are being produced every year, sometimes two per year.
This film not only redefined the superhero genre just because of it's collective ambitions, but also because it displayed courage on Marvel's part and showed that taking risks is sometimes the right move for all those involved in putting out films in the future.
It also, in my personal opinion, has influenced not only the films, but the comics as well, check out my article on that subject here: Blurring the Lines Between Marvel's Comics and Movies
The three films I listed are my persona opinion of what I consider to have had the largest effect on superhero movies but I can't end this article without first giving special shout-outs to other great superhero films that have come out and made an impact on the superhero genre in movies.
- Superman: The Movie (1978)
- Batman (1989)
- Spider-Man (2002)
- X2: X-Men United (2003)
- Batman Begins (2005)
- Iron Man (2008)
- X-Men: First Class (2011)
- Man of Steel (2013)
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
- X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
There are many other superhero movies that I love, these six films and the three I've talked about have all generated widely positive responses and displayed innovation in what they what superhero movies are capable of.
This entire article just so happens to be my personal opinion, what movies do you think showed something new to the mainstream, comic-book movie genre? Comment below and let me know!