COMIC BOOK MOVIES

​​I'm not an expert in anything. However, I can talk for days about comic book movies. So, for the uninitiated, we’re going to do a deep dive into the main purveyors of this genre that really isn’t a genre - DC & Marvel with some slight deviations. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive list of movies based on other comic book properties, see Appendix A. Also, I won’t be getting into the multiple cartoons and spinoffs, because that shit is hard to keep track of and it is all varying degrees of quality. I’ll start off with a little bit of history - because it’s better to understand where everything came from and how and why it got to where it is.

Before we dive in, there will be mild spoilers but nothing I feel might ruin the experience of the movies. It’s best to view this on a tablet or computer. There are a TON of GIFs and large images. If you’re feeling ambitious, go ahead and download the doc. I’ll be continually updating this as time passes, so be sure to drop by once in awhile. I’ll keep a timeline down below for posterity’s sake.

Mark I:  Oct. 12, 2016 "Mjölnir"

Mark II: Feb. 10, 2018 "Veronica" *added new movies from Doctor Strange-Justice League
 

The History of Modern American Comic Book Movies

​​I’m not going to get into what happened before the mid-80s - the time before Hollywood found out that comic book nerds could be milked for a profit. There’s a great ongoing write-up over at Film Buff for those interested in getting down and dirty with those oldies. Otherwise, we’re starting with possibly the only superhero that America will never tire of hearing about how he’s an orphan: ​​
BATMAN (1989), BATMAN RETURNS (1992), BATMAN FOREVER (1995), BATMAN & ROBIN (1997)
All it took was a famous comedic actor and an out-there, but successful, director to make studios realize they could make some GD MONEY off a comic book. The 1989 Batman movie was considered a landmark and at the time was one of the highest grossing movies. The iconic villain Joker was played brilliantly by Jack Nicholson and quickly became the definitive, mainstream edition of the character. And damn if Michael Keaton didn’t play Bruce Wayne like the cocky bastard he is. Who knew he had it in him?
​ Can we finally just admit we all love Keaton? And gosh darnit, he deserves an OSCAR. Forget a bullshit lifetime achievement Oscar when he’s 80, but a bonafides statue earned in a film. Burton and Keaton returned for the sequel, wherein Danny Devito got bloated due to consumption of raw fish and Michelle Pfeiffer turned a generation of boys into men with her sexy turn as Catwoman. It was a worthy follow up and actually is my favorite out of the old franchise. It’s just weird enough.
​​But after that things got a little uncomfortably bizarre and...dumb. Warner Bros. just had to milk this franchise to the point where nothing was sacred anymore and no one understood that comic book movies could be anything but campy.
From batsuit nipples to Batman recasting (Val Kilmer! Clooney!) to more and more ridiculously absurd villains - the franchise started to resemble the campy 60s TV show. Which, you know, if you thought that was a good thing, then you’re probably showing your age. And with that in mind, the films found diminishing returns after the first. So maybe this was a fluke - Batman was a beloved character and the Joker was the only good villain he had. In fact, a lot of the success with comic book movies hinges on how good the villain is, rather than the actual superhero - which is a whole other article I could get into...but won’t.

It seemed like comic book movies couldn’t land a successful franchise. Sure, there were some great movie adaptations in the 90s - but nothing came as close to the franchise potential that Batman flirted with. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came the closest but fizzled out after two installments. And a lot of off-beat comics were adapted at this time with some successes - The Crow (94), The Mask (94), Men in Black (97), Spawn (97), Blade (98). Sometimes they were super dark and serious (The Crow, Blade) and sometimes just straight up comedies (The Mask, Men in Black). They worked, but would rarely get the sequel treatment and if they did, it was not worthy of the original or it was relegated to the straight-to-video section at the local video store.

1996 Marvel Bankruptcy

​ Marvel filed for Chapter 11 in 1996 during one of the worst slumps in comic book industry. To stop the bleeding, Marvel licensed out its most popular characters to movie studios in a desperate attempt to stay afloat.
​ This is probably the most important event in the history of comic book movies - without this bankruptcy, Marvel would still have all the film rights to all of its characters. However - Spider-Man and Ghost Rider went to Sony, X-Men and the Fantastic Four went to 20th Century Fox. Any other characters they licensed out have reverted back to Marvel because of a binding rule. The studios with the rights to characters have to make a movie and if they don’t, those rights will revert back to Marvel after so many years. (Punisher was one of those that expired.) That’s why Sony re-booted Spider-Man after only 8 years, because they couldn’t afford to lose one of the most recognizable superheroes in their film docket. Speaking of Spider-Man…