In our previous blog, we talked about superhero movies in the 50´s, 60´s and 70s (Not much to write home about, mom. Sorry!) Until Richard Donner, Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman came around and made those of us who were alive at the time believe "that a man can fly!!!" What a gamechanger. I mean, from Mole Men to campy heroes ridiculed filled with "Pow" and "Crash" to a real superhero movie. "Superman" was so successful that it brought upon three sequels (two of them not too good, but four movies is not bad in a franchise, nonetheless.) My personal favorite as a kid, although, was always "Superman II". Kal-El fighting not one, but three! of his homies with the same powers right after he gave up his powers to be with Lois Lane...that is epic film-making and I guess you had to be there. Even if the movie did have two directors (Richard Donner only filmed 75% of the film; Richard Lester finished it up in a very inventive way because all the Gene Hackman scenes had to be photoshopped into the film. The first tribulations of superhero movies. This was not going to be an easy road... 

What did these two highly successful movies -both with critics and at the box office- bring upon themselves? A series of avoidable sequels ("Superman III" and "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace", as well as an ill-advised spin off ("Supergirl"). They milked the cow whole and killed the superhero movie inititative for at least a few years. Superman III only made $41 million ($80M at box office; $39M at production); Superman IV only $17 million ($34M box office; $17M production). And Supergirl? Barely $21 million ($35M box office; $14M production). It is no wonder Warner (or Columbia-EMI-Warner in the case of Kara´s flick) didn´t pitch in for any super-duper movies anytime soon. Richard Pryor´s inclusion in Superman III was an attempt at humor which clearly did NOT work. Christopher Reeve, on the other hand, stated in his autobiography that filming the fourth film in the saga was a "huge mistake" due to its strict budget and poor writing. Supergirl, on the other hand, filmed in England just like Superman IV, had a star-studded cast (Peter O´Toole, Mia Farrow, Helen Slater, Faye Dunaway, among others). However, this didn´t help impress moviegoers or critics, who gave this film as many Raspberry Awards as a movie can get.

What was Marvel´s response to this Super-success at the box office? After failing in and out over the 70´s with Doctor Strange, Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America (see first blog for more details), Marvel decided to keep up the one TV show that had success ("The Incredible Hulk") and after Stan Lee had moved out to California to pitch ideas for Marvel movies, cartoons and merchandise...the most improbable of movies came out! "Howard the who?"...This was exactly Stan Lee´s answer at an early convention in the 70´s when asked by one of the fans about the cancellation of this magazine. "Stan the Man" had no idea who this duck originally created by Steve Gerber was, and how similar he was to a duck of another publishiing company. Widely recognized as "one of the worst movies of all time", this ill-advised film which was originally to be animated finally was produced in live-action form due to contractual obligations. The year was 1986, the producer was Star Wars famous George Lucas (What were you thinking, Georgie boy?) ,the director was Willard Huyck and moviegoers got to see Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones and Tom Robbins for all of 111 minutes of this $37 million-budget flop. Luckily for Universal Studios, they broke even ($38 million at box office). But it would be a long time before they ventured into another Marvel movie...or superhero movie at that.

I get the feeling those Batman TV shows in the 60´s did NOT help at all viewing comic books as a serious reading media, as they were at the time in some countries in Europe. I think the same concept translates to superhero movies if we take a look at these three 80´s productions: "Hero at Large" (starring "Three´s Company" star John Ritter), "The Toxic Avenger" Parts I, II, III and IV (directed by Lloyd Kaufman) and "Condorman" (Inspired by Robert Scheckley´s "The Game of X" books). Some of these movies -and probably many others- were demolished by the media, destroyed at box office yet remain as cult favorites for many a fan. But great films they are not. Throw in some poor budgets, sloppy screenwriting, unkonwn actors and you have the instant formula for a "brand X superhero movie". It just doesn´t work like that. In other words...Just plain silly!!!

A couple more tries had to come before Hollywood finally gets it out of the ballpark. The first Batman TV shows and movies were a good introduction to superheroes as a visual possibility on the screen; the Superman movies showed us that it was possible to take them seriously on the silver screen (if Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman agreed to be on them, they can´t be half bad.) Both Marvel and DC (the big two in comics...and also in superhero movies) gave us a couple of quite lame pics to finish off the 80´s: "Swamp Thing" (DC) and "The Punisher" (Marvel). Dolph Lundrgen stars as the famous comics vigilante -unfortunately without the skull on his chest- and Wes Craven directed a not-so-terrible vision of comics "Swamp Thing". Strange choices to be put on the silver screen. When other much more well-known characters (Iron Man, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, X-Men, The Flash, among so many others) could have chosen, we have to wonder which decisions took place in order for us to get the hero movies we did get in the 90´s. As a kid back then, I can testify that "any hero movie was a good movie". But as you all know, the standard is not quite the same today.

Budget? Just $35 Million. Box office? A whopping $411 Million! Talk about hitting the ball out of the park...Tim Burton directed this hit film starring Jack Nicholson as The Joker, Kim Bassinger as Vicky Vale and controversially Michael Keaton as Batman (right off "Mr. Mom" and "Beetlejuice", many fans felt he wasn´t the right fit). With a hit soundtrack and catchy hit song provided by Prince, the movie lasted weeks and weeks at the box office. You could see people wearing a bat t-shirt even years after the film. If "Superman" was the movie that made us believe "a man could fly", this was the one that made us believe "comic books can be cool". Basically inspired in the darker version of Batman produced by Frank Miller and others, this film helped us erase years of "Holy Shark Repellent, Batman!" and opened the door for many, many other films we continue waiting ofr every year.


Once an Avenger, always an Avenger

The 3-D Man