Thursday, November 5, 2015


Superheroes are currently the most popular heroes to watch in the cinema, whether you're a man of steel, an incredible green giant, or a talking raccoon, there's no denying superheroes are all over the place, but it wasn't always like that. Prior to the 2000's, superheroes were not the most popular figures in film, sure there were the classics, but years would go by without a superhero on the big screen; even if there was one, there was no guarantee that it would be a respectable movie. I feel it's appropriate that we actually examined how we got to where we're at, after all, if the theaters are gonna continue hyping these movies, we owe it to the heroes to know the road it took for them to get here.
And the world did believe

Before we look at all the movies, I want to discuss what I believe is a key difference between the two biggest comic book companies, specifically on their films. DC and Marvel are the biggest names in comics, yet if you were to go by the movies, Marvel, easily wins in almost every regard. Why has Marvel claim the throne for movies? Well honestly if you look at the first movie choices for both the answer becomes clear. I'm not including serials just to be clear here, sure they are technically films, but lets be honest, when we say films, we usually mean feature-length; In any case, the first films for both are very different, not only in quality, but in so many ways so I'll try my best to sum this up as best I can. Over in Marvel's side, Howard The Duck (1986) was their first official shot on the big screen, a fairly obscure character that was pretty popular for comic readers at the time. While Marvel had an incredibly weird choice for their first go on the movie scene, DC's was a bit more obvious with 1978's Superman (Though some will argue 1966's Batman:The Movie or 1951's Superman and the Mole Men should count) a fairly iconic movie, based on the most iconic superhero. Right off the bat we can see that one comic publisher open the gates with their best, while the other opened with a duck, this normally would make DC seem like the superior company, yet in this modern film scene I can safely say that those choices were in a way a premonition for DC's failure and Marvel's success. So, we now know Marvel has pretty much become the risk-takers;  I mean they recently released a movie with a man who has the strength of a human, which by all means should have been a failure, yet it succeeded. Meanwhile DC seems to be following trends, with their upcoming Batman v. Superman, DC seems to be banking on heroes meeting for the first time (The Avengers), as well as banking on their grim, dark tone that made Nolan's take on Batman a moneymaker; DC could end up succeeding, both financially and critically, but there's no denying that they're being a bit more safe in their endeavors. While both companies obviously didn't know where they would be today, it is interesting to see the guys who had the obvious choice for their first film (despite how much of a risk it was back then) not being able to put out something more odd and out there, versus the guys whose first foot forward was about a space duck. DC might have succeeded first, but their reliance on continuing their success by following what succeeds in the box-office has not helped them at all in recent years, giving them a reputation that makes it hard to believe that they'll be more successful than their competitors any time soon. On the other hand, Marvel has continued to be successful, going from their early 2000's to their current MCU features, Marvel has at this point put out a large part of their roster on screen, it's to a point where they're even using characters that most people would never have expected to see on screen. Not all Marvel features are huge success stories, in fact Howard The Duck was not only their first film, but their first bomb as well, yet with a weird choice like that, it showed how open they were about letting any character go on screen, instead of just the big names; their willingness to put out any and possibly every character is what drives them to succeed today, the choice may be odd, while the tone may be even more so, but so long as they keep trying, they'll find more success, even if a few stumbles happen along the way. DC hasn't found success as much, due to being the "safe" one, sticking to what succeeds, while avoiding most chances that may fail, that is the key difference Marvel has taken risks while DC hasn't, at least as often.
But not more quality

Before the 2000's, Marvel only released two films theatrically, Howard The Duck, and 1998's Blade (1989's The Punisher and 1990's Captain America were limited releases internationally, so I don't count them), not an impressive list, yet also not as bad as it could've been. Before the superhero boom of the 2000's, the movies themselves weren't being given the care they deserve, as evidenced by what I consider to be the unofficial Marvel films (The Punisher, Captain America, and the unreleased 1994 Fantastic Four), which were all pretty awful. The road to where superheroes would be today was long, but it was worth it to get it to a place where we could see enough examples of how not to do them, while a little cheese never hurt anyone, the films that weren't so widely available from Marvel were extremely cheesy, as well as the kind of films made by people who only saw these characters for a smaller audience (or just as jokes). In terms of the "actual" films, Blade (1997) is not a movie I'm a big fan of, yet I understand why others like it, it was an honest attempt to make a good adaptation of the comic. Meanwhile, I haven't found much reason to hate Howard The Duck, it wasn't a good movie, which is why I'm not surprised that the second attempt for a Marvel film didn't happen well over a decade later, but it wasn't the horrid abomination many critics promised me. In the end, Marvel honestly got off easy in this era of films, unlike their competitor.

DC cranked out more films in this era than Marvel did, and perhaps even more then they have in recent years, yet the track record was also worse for it. When you think of DC, you think of Superman and Batman, coincidentally both characters had four major films in this era (a few more if you count the ones based on the shows, but I really don't for this topic) and both didn't stay good all the way through. Superman started off great with his first film, while Superman II (1980) was a good, but not great follow-up, then Superman III (1983) was a mess, whose awfulness is pretty much forgotten due to how much of a joke Superman IV:The Quest For Peace (1987) was; this was a track record that was pretty much repeated by his dark, brooding counterpart. While not all people love Tim Burton's Batman (1989) I consider it to be a really good adaptation, despite not being great, Batman Returns (1992) was a good, but flawed sequel, while Batman Forever (1995) was a mess whose awfulness was forgotten due to how much of a joke Batman & Robin (1997) was; A similar progression as mentioned before, though the outcome was much worse for Batman, to this day, Batman & Robin is known as the superhero movie to kill the genre for a while, a time period that didn't last long in all honesty.

What most people often forget about DC's film line-up  is that they DID release a few films not focused on the big two, for example between the second and third Superman films, Swamp Thing (1982) was released, which I'll admit I've never seen despite some positive words on it from those who have. A Superman spin-off was made in the form of Supergirl which was released in 1984, it was REALLY bad, but at least the star ended up getting a role in the new show, a cute nod for my taste, I approve. 1989 saw Swamp Thing in a more comical yet, more hated appearance in The Return of Swamp Thing, which I also haven't seen (I should really get to that), but by the sound of things I'm not missing much. What might be surprising for some comic geeks, is that the supposed death of the genre ended a mere two months after Batman & Robin, with Steel (1997), which starred Shaq, so I hope I don't need to discuss how bad that was; even more surprising though, is that the comicbook movie didn't die there for long as well, Blade came out a year after, it was the first major Marvel film in over a decade and their first success which was the lead-in to a new era for superhero films.
Superhero movies weren't worthy of your attention.Yet.

Without a doubt, between 1978 to 1998, the superhero films were at their weakest, with the exception of Superman, none of the films are great, or the definitive versions of the comics they're based on. If you asked me whether or not this era is worth looking at though, I'd say yes, for the most part, while the movies are nowhere near what they could've been, it's still a good history lesson for any medium that hasn't found their footing in movies (video games) as well as a nice look at what Hollywood thought we wanted from comics. If you just want to see some good movies and don't care about a history lesson, I say skip these movies, with a few exceptions, you won't miss anything important, these are mostly "how not to do" examples of the genre.

I hope you enjoyed this look back at a time where comic book movies were largely cheesy, childish, and badly designed, as it will be continued in another piece coming at a later date. For now I just want to say thank you and I hope you stay tuned for more.

Additional Notes
*I'm well aware of Spawn, I just decided to focus on the movies of DC and Marvel since they are what most people think about when it comes to superhero adaptations.
*Spawn sucked anyways and fits with my overall opinion of the time period.
*Yes I'm also aware of the other comic book adaptations, but Men In Black for example, counts even less as a Marvel film then the three I mentioned before; at least in regards to what this post is about.
*My next part to this won't be next week, but expect it somewhere down the line.
*I am also well aware that the comic publishers didn't have too much power in terms of what was getting made, but for the sake of not stopping to point that out all the time I'm posting it here, there now you can't complain about that in the comments.
* Support me by sharing this and/or my Patreon.

Written By Octaviano Macias

No comments:

Post a Comment