This is the last part of the History of Comic Book Movies as we dive right in to the current onslaught of movies. Throughout the 1990’s Marvel had sold the film rights to several of their comic properties, mostly all their bigger, more marketable characters and a lot of the money was used to get Marvel out of bankruptcy. Not much was done with them until 2000 when Bryan Singer’s X-Men came along and really kick-started Hollywood’s love affair with super-hero movies.
X-Men introduced Marvel’s mighty mutants to the big screen. The X-Men had always been one of Marvel’s best selling titles and while translating them to film took some tweaking because budget and story constraints, the over all effect was quite positive. The film starred Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Jannsen and introduced Hugh Jackman to American audiences. Jackman was cast at the last minute as Wolverine after the original actor cast, Dougray Scott, had to drop out after the film had already started shooting. This was also the film that would start the Stan Lee cameo. It wasn’t the biggest movie of 2000 but it showed other studios that there was still life in superhero movies.
2001 would only see a couple smaller independent comics make to theatres, Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World and the terrible adaptation of Alan Moore’s brilliant From Hell. 2002 was another big year though. The success of Blade spawned a sequel with director Guillermo del Toro at the helm, Men in Black managed a sequel, another independent comic, Road to Perdition, was brought to life which was directed Sam Mendes and starred Tom Hanks but the big gun of the year was Sam Raimi’s mega hit Spider-Man.
Sam Raimi had mostly worked as an independent filmmaker but he had been doing more and more bigger budgeted Hollywood films like The Gift and A Simple Plan. He had also previous made an original superhero film called Darkman but with Spider-Man he had jumped into the big leagues. The movie was a fairly faithful adaptation of the comic book character and it made a ton of money for Sony.
It was the first film to surpass a $100 million on opening weekend and it was the highest grossing superhero movie at that time and 42nd highest grossing movie of all time. Of course other films would come along and break all the records but it was pretty impressive for a brief period. The comic industry launched the first Free Comic Book Day to occur when the film opened taking advantage of the film’s success to get people to read more comic books. Since then Free Comic Book Day has always occurred the first Saturday in May, usually with a comic book movie opening in theatres.
The next year would see an onslaught of comic book movies. Daredevil and Hulk would be disappointments but X-Men 2 would become another huge success. Guillermo del Toro would bring Hellboy to life in 2004, The Punisher would finally get a big screen release with Thomas Jane sporting the skull but the big film of the year was Spider-Man 2.
DC would try to jump into the ring but with the terrible Catwoman. Fortunately for DC they would relaunch the Batman franchise in 2005 with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. The next year though they would fail to relaunch Superman with Superman Returns. Fox would try with the dismal Elektra (a Daredevil spin-off), Fantastic Four and X-Men: The Last Stand. Sony would slip up with Spider-Man 3 and Ghost Rider.
But now the genie was out of the bottle and all the studios would and still continue to pump more and more comic book movies. Marvel would get into the game by forming their own independent studio, Marvel Studios. Without most of their more famous characters Marvel started using their Avengers characters that they had not licensed out. In 2008 they launched Iron Man with success. A sequel followed and then a Thor movie, a Captain America movie and with each success they started forming a cinematic universe that connected all their movies together leading to the extremely successful The Avengers in 2012. Marvel’s success had prompted Disney to buy them in 2009.
With their success several other studios have started their own cinematic universes. Sony’s failure at relaunching Spider-Man has forced the company to come to an agreement with Marvel to allow the company to use the character in Marvel’s own films. In the next five years there’s going to be more superhero movies than ever. I sure more than a few will fail but it doesn’t look like the superhero is going away any time soon. And to think this current trend all began 15 years ago with a group of mutants that were feared and hated.