by Jason Koenigsberg
We have been inundated with comic book movies for the past decade and they are being released so much more frequently now than ever before. So much so that the concept of a superhero movie that was once novel and something fans would get excited over, is now rote and not special as the studios manufacture these cookie cutter, assembly line blockbuster productions.
That is not to say that all of these movies are bad, even some of the worst ones manage to stand out as being an awesome train wreck of a spectacle (Batman vs. Superman). But what made the original Batman (1989) Spider-Man (2002) and Hulk (2003) movies actual events worth anticipating has lost it’s luster. Partially due to the frequency that these comic book movies are released and also due to the fact that a lot of them are starting to look and feel exactly the same. I stated that this years Captain America: Civil War suffered from Marvel fatigue. Even people that liked and defended Civil War agree that these Marvel blockbusters are all starting to get repetitive.
How did we get to this point? Twenty years ago there were no superhero movies other than Joel Schumacher directing/ruining the Batman franchise and now, third and fourth tier superheroes are outgrossing the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel. Let us take a look back at how the superhero movie has evolved and examine how we went from nothing for comic book geeks to celebrate on the big screen, to having too much that audiences have become numb to the next big thing wearing a cape or mask.
Here are the Top 11 Most Influential Comic Book Movies of all Time:
11. Batman Begins (2005) directed by Christopher Nolan
This is why studios are obsessed with prequels and origin stories. It all really started here when Christopher Nolan completely reinvented Batman in a way that was so groundbreaking, entertaining and packed serious dramatic and emotional punches. Batman Begins not only influenced comic book movies to continuously go back to origin stories (Spider-Man is guilty of this three times) but also other movie franchises jumped on the bandwagon and started to reboot their series’. The most successful being James Bond’s reinvention in Casino Royale (2006), but all the big horror movie franchises of the 80s have attempted to recreate what Nolan was able to do with Batman. It changed comic book cinema and summer blockbuster movies for the next decade.
10. Batman and Robin (1997) directed by Joel Schumacher
As stated in the headline, this is not a list of the best comic book movies, but the most influential. Batman and Robin is a punchline more than it is a movie, however, this film represents the nadir of comic book cinema. Never before and never again has a studio treated a comic book property with such disdain and such a lack of gravity towards the source material. Everything about Batman and Robin is insincere and was put on the screen just to make a profit. When people are making a comic book movie, their goal is to make something that is as far from Batman and Robin as possible. With a clear contempt for the audience and the source material, Batman and Robin has influenced cinema as much as Michael Cimino’s mega bomb Heaven’s Gate (1980). Think back to the hits from the summer of 1997. When is the last time anyone had a meaningful conversation about Men in Black or Air Force One? Batman and Robin‘s notorious infamy has outlived the hits it lost to at the box office. Plus it is a low point for great actors George Clooney, Uma Thurman and especially Arnold Schwarzenegger who looked and sounded like he had never been in a movie before.
9. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) directed by James Gunn
This movie showed the world two important items. 1. That you can make a movie in the 21st century that is both campy and serious if those two elements are done right, with loving admiration towards the source material the results are undeniably fun. 2. Guardians of the Galaxy also showed that you can make a great comic book movie with C or D list superheroes. Few people that bought tickets to see this movie were familiar with this band of misfit superheroes, but by the time it was over, audiences felt like they really knew these characters and could relate to them. The lesson here is clear, having the right people helm the right movie goes a long way and there was TLC in every frame of this picture. Everything worked on this movie and I am sure that we will see it’s formula duplicated for years, as long as this comic book sub-genre continues. This was the Bad News Bears of comic book movies and made for one of the most endearing and fun blockbusters of recent years.
8. Deadpool (2016) directed by Tim Miller
Fun in a completely different way than the number 9 movie on this list. Deadpool showed that an R-rated comic book movie in 2016 could be profitable and embraced by critics and audiences. Look for this tone to be repeated in future superhero flicks, already we have heard rumors that the next Wolverine solo movie will be based on Old Man Logan and will have an R-rating. For the past two decades studios have been trying to shy away from being rated R since it meant a huge portion of the audience would be excluded from buying tickets. Deadpool proved that this does not cut into the profits for Marvel and that it can also be fun escapism for adults (or children who’s irresponsible parents take them). Maybe Deadpool will alleviate the poisonous reputation the R rating has brought about the past decade. If so, we will see more smart, fun and thought provoking big budget entertainment for adults.
7. Spider-Man 2 (2004) directed by Sam Raimi
Until 2008, this was the best and most adult oriented comic book movie. At the time of it’s release, Spider-Man 2 would tackle themes and develop characters to create the most mature and engrossing comic book movie ever made. That would change quickly, but for a brief moment in time, Sam Raimi’s vision of Spidey was one that captured audiences and critics alike and showed the world what comic book movies could achieve if they are done right. Most of what this movie accomplished would be forgotten by the time Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman would come the following year and Spider-Man 3 (2007) left a bad taste in many peoples mouths, however neither should negate the truly monumental accomplishment that was Spider-Man 2 and how this film helped catapult comic book movies into a whole new stratosphere of respectability.
6. Iron Man (2008) directed by Jon Favreau
For the record, I hated this movie. Did not like it when it first came out and still think it treats its viewers like they are idiots. That being out of the way, there is no denying Iron Man‘s success launched a change in cinema and is one of the most influential big budget blockbusters of recent years. It did a lot for the comic book genre. For one thing, it showed the world that a C-list superhero can be a huge box office hit with A-list talent. It showed that a great actor can give a very good performance in an action movie while wearing a mask and a silly costume. Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges are all well respected award winning actors and elevated a juvenile concept into something that everyone seemed to love. Also, and most important, Iron Man set the tone that all Marvel movies would follow. The light hearted, tongue in cheek, humorous approach has been taken by all Marvel movies since this was released. In a way, everything in the MCU is following the blueprint that Iron Man set. Due to the heavy influence of Iron Man, The Avengers movies feel just like sequels to this film. This is the movie that gave all Marvel movies afterwards their identity and none have deviated far from it. It also further enhanced Hollywood’s love of origin stories where so many comic book movies that are the first in a planned franchise feel more like a long pilot episode to a TV series than they do their own complete film.
5. Blade (1998) directed by Stephen Norrington
Not the first Marvel movie, that would be the 1986 flop Howard the Duck, but the first success at the box office for Marvel. The Marvel brand has changed so much since Wesley Snipes played the famous vampire killer, Blade has become sort of the forgotten Marvel movie. It is a relic from a former era of 90s blockbusters that were not at all interested in placating to comic book fans. It’s tone and look could not be any more different than the Marvel movies of today. Blade is much more in line with the Batman series or The Crow (1994). That being said, this film has become overlooked not only for being a Marvel movie before all the other hits in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also for it’s influence on The Matrix (1999) which would come out eight months later and completely change the landscape of action pictures for the next several years.
4. X-Men (2000) directed by Bryan Singer
Yes, X2: X-Men United (2003) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) are both superior movies from the same director of one of the most consistent and important comic book franchises. However, the original X-Men is where many people point to being the birth of the comic book movie era that we are in today. In the past sixteen years we have seen three different Spider-Man origin stories, three different actors play Hulk and two new Superman‘s. Yet, the X-Men franchise has remained constant, despite continuity errors, time travel bloopers and the hiring of Brett Ratner. By today’s standards, X-Men is a rather modest film. Special effects that seem low budget compared to most other films of its ilk, and a huge emphasis on characters with themes that deal with isolation, tolerance and diversity, the original X-Men and its success influenced how subsequent comic book properties would be handled. If this movie was not a success, the studios would have been much more reluctant to greenlight more superhero movies.
3. Batman (1989) directed by Tim Burton
The influence of Tim Burton’s Batman is extensive and kind of self explanatory. Prior to this film, the only Batman that the mainstream public had been exposed to was Adam West from the 1960s TV series and movie. A Batman with “oof” and “blam” words that popped every time he punched someone, tilted camera angles and the “Batusi” dance. Batman was camp and for kids. Then came Tim Burton’s vision. This changed what Batman was to pop culture. Without this movie, no Batman movies as we know them, not Christopher Nolan’s, Zack Snyder’s or even Joel Schumacher’s. No Batman: The Animated Series, no career for Bruce Timm and his wonderfully talented team of animators. No DC Universe movies, no Blade, no Matrix, no Birdman. Without this movie, Michael Keaton’s career would have taken a completely different path and he would not have been nominated for Birdman and Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu would only have one Best Director Oscar instead of two. This changed what superhero movies can be.
2. Superman (1978) directed by Richard Donner
“You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly” was the tagline for the first big budget superhero movie ever made, and it was true. The first Superman film is a glorious one, filled with imagination, excitement and wonder. It was loyal to the comic and created a wholesome entertainment that everyone can enjoy. An all star cast (which many claim were miscast) of award winning veterans (Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman) and talented newcomers (Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder) delivered signature performances that have entertained and influenced generations of filmmakers and audiences. This is the one that started it all and ushered in a new era of blockbuster filmmaking by using comic books as a legitimate source for inspiration. Even though some may argue that Superman II (1989) is better and the franchise dropped significantly in quality after that film, there is no denying the importance of the first Superman, a landmark in comic book movie history.
1. The Dark Knight (2008) directed by Christopher Nolan
This is the one that changed the game for comic book movies. Superman started it and will go down forever in history as the first, Batman took it to another level and added depth and darkness into a genre that had never been taken seriously as legitimate entertainment and art for adults, The Dark Knight showed that a film based on a comic book, could be every bit as powerful as an Oscar winning epic. The fact this movie did not earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture still conjures up feelings of outrage and injustice. So much so that the following year, the Academy changed their rules from the usual 5 Best Picture nominees to 10 for the first time in six decades. The Dark Knight feels more like an action-packed crime drama than it does a superhero movie, even with larger than life characters. It’s influence can be felt on every serious comic book movie that tries to emulate what Nolan was able to capture on film, but none have been able to duplicate. It feels like a masterpiece directed by a master director more than it does any of the other films on this list. Christopher Nolan achieved something with a superhero movie that is on par with the greatest works of Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann and William Friedkin. One of the best films of the 21st century and because of that, it’s influence has been felt already and will continue to inspire filmmakers and audiences for decades to come.