In the many years they've been around, superheroes have had many ups and downs. Looking back before they redefined the default summer blockbuster, it's weird to think that there was a time when comic-books weren't seen as profitable material to adapt to the big screen. Doesn't that seem quaint these days, when even Ant-Man makes over half a billion dollars? Over the decades, superhero films have gone through major changes and tried many different directions, so let's take a look at the ones which had the biggest impact on the "genre" of superheroes.
Back in 1978, after dozens of TV serials, Christopher Reeve starred in a feature length movie about what is probably the most famous superhero in pop-culture. Looking back on it today, I can't say I think it holds up, but when it was released it was a massive hit. The impact it had on the industry was incredible, taking the world by storm and raking in a massive (for the time) 300 million dollars. From this film the superhero genre was truly born, breaking into the spotlight for the first time. This is the one that started it all.
While Superman was the first to show the world that Superheroes could translate both faithfully and successfully to the big screen, it was Tim Burton's Batman that would show the world they could be more serious and gritty than Richard Donner's fairly cheesy take on the Man of Steel. Launching onto the scene in 1989, it outdid Superman at the box office and showed general audiences that there was more to the caped crusader than what Adam West had shown them in '66. It would be the launchpad for a darker breed of superhero in the cinema, and paved the way for many films we now hold as classics.
After Batman & Robin drove a stake through the heart of the Batman franchise, it was up to the X-Men (who had been recently acquired by 20th Century Fox) to welcome the superhero movie into the modern day for a more mature audience. Despite it's very grim visual style, it undid most of Batman & Robin's damage and brought superheroes back into the public's good books. The actual quality of the movie is debatable, but it was what people wanted at the time and kept the genre alive.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Bryan Singer's grim X-Men came Sam Raimi's incredibly upbeat and fun Spider-Man film. Essentially ripped straight from Spidey's comics, it was exactly the kind of light-hearted movie that people craved in 2002. In a way, it hearkened back to the old Superman, with its abundance of cheese and camp combined with state-of-the-art technology (that now looks quite dated). It was really this combined with X-Men that kept superheroes going full steam ahead into the 21st century.
5) The Avengers
The Avengers is so influential that it hasn't just set the new standard for superheroes, but it set the standard for all blockbuster films. Everyone wants their own Avengers, with every studio scrambling to put together their own version of the team from whatever property they can dredge up. On top of that, in good part thanks to the success of The Avengers, a blockbuster is now more likely to be based on a comic-book than not. Revolutionary as a film, and brilliant as am adaptation, The Avengers is hailed, quite understandably, as a modern classic.