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So, as it happens, I’ve gotten myself involved in developing a superhero project, so my analysis of The Dark Knight wasn’t just for my own edification after all. This is a character has yet to make the jump from the page to the screen in any form, so there is no long cinematic or televisual history hanging over my head.  After I analyze the cinematic Batman movies, I will be doing some studying the forms and stories of our most successful superhero movies to see where they are similar and where they are different, where they succeed and where they fail, where their plots flow and surge and where they curdle and disintegrate. As always, your suggestions of movies to watch are welcome.  Which ones "work" for you, which ones bring the character you love to the screen in a compelling and truthful way, which contain the most interesting and dynamic, fun stories, which tell you something about the character (or yourself) that you hadn’t thought of before?  And so forth.


98 Responses to “Superheroes!”
  1. capthek says:

    Here is my unwanted advice. Dear god I am curious about what you are going to be writing for though! There are all of the standard movies that people love, the original superman movie, spiderman, ironman, the hulk tv show, you know all of these. As for some you might not have viewed?

    “The incredibles” has surprisingly sympathetic characters and you may have missed this one, thinking it a childs movie only. In a similar vein, “the iron Giant” has very similar themes to superhero films.

    You might want to check out a parody film such as “the specials” that is generally well liked.

    You could even watch the tv show “greatest American superhero” for fun and inspiration.

    Do you read much? There is a great series of books called “The Wildcards” that are excellent work on superheroes. If you are willing to read, “The Watchmen” is quick, easy, fun, and good.

    Another movie many haven’t watched is “unbreakable” which is really kind of amazing and probably the most realistic superhero film I have seen.

    You might want to check in on the tv show “heroes” just to see what people are watching and what is on their minds, although the first season was the most popular and the rest have kind suffered in quality.

    For a historical perspective there is a great book called “men of tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book” that is a real world version of the infamous and also very readable “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”.

    The science fiction movie room I help run at our local convergence science fiction festival just had a superhero theme a couple of years back and I sadly can’t remember other movies we showed that were not obvious. Perhaps “Dark City”? We played “The Shadow” just because it is such a hugely iconic part of the genre, but although it was a good piece of early work by Alec Baldwin, it’s not a great movie. Same could be said for “the phantom” with Billy Zane that I hear is being remade. It’s just an ok movie. Another one that is popular with geeks and hardly anyone else is “the rocketeer” so you might want to give that a look, yet most of these are examples of movies that somehow went slightly wrong so I am unsure if they are exactly the kind of thing you are looking for.

    Heck, even Jedi are iconic super heroes in their own way.

  2. yesdrizella says:

    Superman I + II. Easily. I hate hate HATE Superman, but Christopher Reeve was charmingly effective in playing both Superman and Clark Kent.

    On the animated front, I’d also recommend The Incredibles as well as Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (which is also one of the few times Bruce Wayne has sex).

    I could list more, but I’m sure there will be more replies to this post who will give names and reasons why.

    ETA: I also have to add, as I’ve mulled over other movies, I’m disappointed that there haven’t been any good superhero movies with female protagonists, or at least ones that I know of. The only ones I can think of are Supergirl, Catwoman, Elektra, Barb Wire, and Tank Girl, none of which I’d equate with TDK or even the last X-men movie.

    • Todd says:

      Supergirl, Catwoman, Elektra, Barb Wire, and Tank Girl

      You have just listed the five top reasons why it’s impossible to get a female superhero movie made.

      • yesdrizella says:

        Truth. Which is why I have reservations about the inevitable adaptation of Wonder Woman. Maybe in the hands of the right person it would work, as long as he/she stayed away from the bondage/submission themes.

        • swan_tower says:

          I had hope when Joss Whedon was attached to the project. He at least has a proven ability to think of women as people first, sex objects somewhere way further down the list.

          God only knows what will happen now.

        • Todd says:

          FYI, I did my own pass on Wonder Woman many years ago. I think I was the second guy to try it. The fact that Joss Whedon couldn’t make it work either makes me feel a lot better.

          • adam_0oo says:

            Methinks this experience is crying out for a post.

          • Anonymous says:

            Personally, I think MC Brennan would be the perfect writer for Wonder Woman. Her intelligent/strange/hilarious/ironic/pop culture savvy slant would give the female super hero the breath of fresh air it desperately needs.

          • shocka says:

            Argh, no, Mister Alcott. It wasn’t that Joss Whedon “couldn’t make it work”, it was that the buttfuck studio “couldn’t stop hasselling him and giving him notes,” basically being asshats in exactly the way the studio was NOT to the Nolan Bros.

            I’m pretty confident that Joss Whedon could have done something really special had it not been for the interference and eventual boot – you ever seen the Buffy episode “The Body”?

      • misterseth says:

        Supergirl, Catwoman, Elektra, Barb Wire, and Tank Girl

        You have just listed the five top reasons why it’s impossible to get a female superhero movie made.

        Six if you count ‘My Super Ex Girlfriend’

    • capthek says:

      You ever see the Dahlmer directors cut of superman? Kind of interesting to see the differences.

      As for your woman movies, I hear Tank Girl is enjoyable, but the rest : (

      • Tank Girl was much better than I expected it to be, if you are a Lori Petty fan. Cheesy fun all around.

        • robjmiller says:

          Tank Girl was good for the first 40 minutes where you just have Lori Petty, Naomi Watts and Malcolm McDowell messing around in a post-apocalyptic wasteland (aka Australia). Then the kangaroo-supersoldiers show up with their goofy dialogue (“There ain’t gonna be no crumpets and tea!” – Ice-T) and horrifying choreographed dance numbers.

  3. swan_tower says:

    I tend to enjoy good ensembles, so I liked much of the X-Men series, and also Sky High. Lone-hero stories like Spiderman and Superman engage me much less.

    I also enjoy superhero films that explore the boundary between and intersection of both lives, and what it would mean to live as a superhero in the “real” world. Sometimes that’s fun camp (Sky High), but I especially like it handled seriously, with all the psychological and social ramifications it carries. (There’s a good line in Austin Grossman’s otherwise middling book Soon I Will Be Invincible, about living with powers — how they’re always there with you even when everybody else has gone away, how nobody else will ever truly know what they feel like, where they support you and where they hurt you.)

    And I tend to like ’em gritty, which is why I’m all over the style of the Batman reboot, and also the X-Men movies. This is probably because grittiness tends to intersect with point #2; once you start thinking realistically about what that life would do to a person, and how other people would react to it, you either have to go full-on comedy or embrace the sharp edges.

  4. black13 says:

    The aforementioned The Incredibles was, before Iron Man and Dark Knight, my ultimate superhero movie. Spider-Man 2 was almost on par with that. I agree with those who mentioned Unbreakable. And definitely, definitely Rocketeer.

    Some commenters mention camp superhero movies. I perceive camp generally as a failed superhero movie, as a movie that took the concept and didn’t know how to make it work. It can be fun, such as the 1966 Batman, but when you look at Buttman and Rub-in (sorry, Batman & Robin), you’ll probably agree with me that that movie looked more like an attempt at an update to the Batman TV show than an effort to make an actual Batman movie.

    Parodies are a good idea to check out, mostly because they illuminate the genre from a different perspective. In which case I recommend Mystery Men, which I consider the Galaxy Quest of superhero movies.

    Looking back at the last 10 years of superhero movies, those that were accepted by the audiences were the ones that took their source material seriously. X-Men strayed relatively far from the source, in details, but it respected and generally stayed true to the source material and therefore won the fans over. Despite the divergences. Singer’s Superman Returns failed, however, because it didn’t go back to source (the comics), but instead based itself entirely on the two Donner movies. (Kind of like Buttman & Rub-in, which also, as I mentioned, seemed based on the Adam West show rather than the comics or even the previous movies.) In that regard, I expect that he Green Hornet will fail. By all accounts, it seems they will make it a campy comedy. That isn’t well accepted anymore if you deal with established characters. You’d need to create your own characters for spoofing, otherwise the spoof will not be taken by its own merits.

    You might also want to watch the Crow movies (especially the first one), and compare them with the TV show.

    • swan_tower says:

      Looking back at the last 10 years of superhero movies, those that were accepted by the audiences were the ones that took their source material seriously.

      I’d say this is true in a broader sense than just adherence to existing texts. (Since sometimes the existing texts aren’t that great, and regardless, the very large part of the movie-going public that has never read the comics doesn’t much care what was written in them.) You definitely have to take your source seriously, though, even if what you do with it is comedy: Sky High worked for me because it was made by people who obviously had a deep and abiding love for the genre, such that their parody was loving rather than mean-spirited. With that mentality, even if you’re adapting the goofiest concept ever committed to four colors, you have a chance to find the internal logic that makes it work.

      • black13 says:

        “I’d say this is true in a broader sense than just adherence to existing texts.”

        We agree on that, hence my X-Men example.

        “even if what you do with it is comedy: Sky High worked for me”

        I do mention my attitude towards such things. My problem with camp, on the other hand, is that usually the message I get from it is, “Ha, ha, isn’t his a silly concept, we can’t make it work so we make fun of it.” Hence what I said about comedy approaches needing original characters.

    • capthek says:

      Oh, I totally forgot about the Crow, great movie.

  5. black13 says:

    I am just now reminded of one more thing:


    One of the problems of the Fantastic Four movies (especially the second one) was that the writers and the director obviously had no idea how to use Mr. Fantastic’s powers. I like those two movies because the cast and the characters charmed me (although they got DOOM horribly wrong*), but they didn’t understand what the characters could do. Thus, in the showdown of the second movie (Torch vs. Doom*), they felt the need to gather all of the team’s powers into one character for the big finale, instead of making the team fight like a team.

    * Spelling DOOM in all caps when referring to the comic book character, and in a normal way when referring to the movie version is not an accident. It’s the difference between the comic book character and the downscaled and far less bombastic movie character. DOOM is one of the prime examples of what I said before about respecting the source material.

  6. black13 says:


    Specifically, Mask of Zorro (Banderas), the TV shows (both the 1957 and the 1990 versions), Mark of Zorro (Power) and Zorro (Delon).

    Take Mask of Zorro and Legend of Zorro and think about why the latter is a failure.

    • capthek says:

      Yes, if you go back to Zorro you could also go back to tarzan as they were both some of the earliest of this genre.

      • black13 says:

        Or even Doc Savage (the movie with Ron Ely). Completely true to the source material (a straight adaptation of the first novel), but totally campy. Where did they go wrong?

        Anyway, Todd, you should also analyze Daredevil and Ghost Rider.

        • Todd says:

          I haven’t seen Ghost Rider, but I don’t know if I can bring myself to try to watch Daredevil again.

          A friend of mine who became a cartoonist because of Frank Miller’s Daredevil run said that when he tried to watch the movie, he had to pause the movie every ten minutes and walk around the room to dissipate the urge that kept boiling up to throw something at the TV.

          • black13 says:

            Precisely. Daredevil is Made of Fail. The movie takes everything that is heroic about Daredevil and removes it. Which I think is where the movie’s problems begin.

            Ghost Rider knocks the ball out of the park in terms of special effects (especially those buttons on Eva Mendez’ shirt — how does she keep them from being blown off?), but it suffers from a sleepwalking Nic Cage and from having the same director as Daredevil.

  7. Tricky question. A lot of the big successes in the superhero genre weren’t successes because of quality, they were successes because of their nature as blockbuster spectacle and a devoted fanboy base that will ALWAYS turn out and generate positive word-of-mouth. That said, The Incredibles is a genuinely great movie, every element pitch perfect. I think the second entry in the X-Men trilogy is its peak, so it’s the best example of a live-action ensemble hero movie. Iron Man clearly demonstrates the power of a) stressing natural (and witty) dialogue and 2) having a likable actor to hang the movie on. Sin City is probably entirely useless for teaching any lessons, as it’s so… unabashedly itself? But I guess it still says something about the possibilities for getting audiences to buy into fictional realities.

    It’s probably pretty worthwhile to break down why the Spider-Man movies did so well (despite themselves, in my opinion). The movies are rife with very obvious flaws, and just continue to age horribly, but they still manage very powerful moments where you can’t help but get caught up in the things.

    I’d also say Ang Lee’s Hulk would be an interesting study. I think most people agree there’s plenty of choices to applaud in that movie and plenty to hate. I’d think a look would be illuminating.

    • Todd says:

      I’ve written about Hulk earlier here, if you’re interested.

      • black13 says:

        Did you ever figure out what made him mad the first time he hulked out?

        And why they felt it necessary to start with 30 minutes of backstory, which was made redundant because the plot was essentially Bruce discovering what happened during those first 30 minutes of the movie?

  8. greyaenigma says:

    I’ll be interested to hear your take on Watchmen when it comes out. A certain group of individuals in my areas who are not allowed to identify themselves saw an early cut a month or so ago, and are no doubt dying to talk about it.

    The primary mistake people seem to have made for years (decades) with the adaptation of any comics story is “this stuff is for kids”, and therefore not worthy of the effort of producing quality product for any age. I wouldn’t expect you to fall into this trap, but it’s where they almost all went wrong up to the first Chris Reeve Superman. (And, I’m sure, a few after that.)

    The latest Spider-Man series worked for me, the second, probably even better. (With the exception of spidey not inventing his web fluid — Peter Parker is supposed to be brilliant, having his webbing be inherent diminishes that.) The degree to which spidey and others kept revealing their faces for no dramatic reason got really annoying as the series went on.

    The penultimate Hulk movie I had a fair amount of trouble with. There were a few stylistic elements introduced that reminded the audience that they were watching a movie adapted from comics, which, for me, took me right out of the movie experience. And I always boggle how dark the final fight is — I can almost never tell what’s going on.

    The most recent Incredible Hulk had a lot of really nice nods to both the comics and the 70s TV show (the perfect cameo by Bill Bixby was my favorite), including some misdirection as to the identity of “Mr. Blue”.

    I really liked Iron Man, but in a lot of ways the climax was less satisfying than the rest of the film. Which is a big problem in superhero movies — often the hero the toughest thing around in direct fights. Which is why we have Lex Luthor and the Joker, who tend to provide our heroes with dilemmas rather than a direct fight. Come to think of it: Superman (78), Dark Knight, and Spider-Man all forced the hero to make a choice, with very different results.

    I should add that I completely love The Incredibles, probably one of the best superhero movies ever, with a completely natural build-up to the final showdown.

    • Todd says:

      “I always boggle how dark the final fight is — I can almost never tell what’s going on.”

      The final fight in Hulk is indeed inscrutable, but it ain’t the fault of the lighting.

  9. Good luck with your project Todd. If it is comics/superheroes that interests you and you seek technical advice, can I suggest , who is right into it….

  10. marcochacon says:

    Can we talk about super-heroes in other venues? Or does it have to be movies?


    • Todd says:

      Well, the problem set before me is a cinematic one, so that’s my primary focus. Although it’s worth mentioning that the Nolan’s made many of their advancements in The Dark Knight by ignoring the “rules” of the superhero movie, so if there are other superhero stories you think are crucial or innovative, sure, let me know.

  11. sean_tait says:

    I’ve revised my opinion of “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” up to #2 best Bat-film, but it’s so reliant on context and continuity that it’s a useless example for this discussion. (Or is it that opaque? Maybe I’m underestimating it again.)

    “Justice League: The New Frontier” manages to juggle a large cast AND act as an origin story for Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter AND remain exciting and complex in just over an hour’s running time.

    (Why do American audiences love origin stories so much? Why are beginnings so evocative?)

    Otherwise . . . I’d say watch your “Justice League” DVDs again and don’t worry about the decades of disappointing live-action films.

  12. marcochacon says:

    Part 1

    Quick thoughts because, man, I could write a lot of blah-blah about this.

    1. The opening credits of the the most recent Hulk were golden because they “told us the origin” story in the “free” credits (not taking time from the movie). This is because we already “know the story” so we weren’t saddled with it again in the theater. That’s excellent–good use of time and opening credits.

    When doing a first-time-out as you are, you are usually shackled to (1) the origin story and (2) the “iconic story” of the character. This is rough (IMO) because there’s stuff you need to cram in that has to both meet expectations and not be boring. I greatly prefer the “second” movie in these series where the creators can tell a story they want to rather than one they have to.

    To wit, Batman Begin’s re-invention of his origin (“What the hell!? he’s in a Chinese prison!?”) helps a lot because it surprises us. The modernization of Spider-man’s origin (biological web-shooters, bio-mod spider) is good because it, at least, is a *little* surprising.

    The introduction of Wolverine with him looking away (and covered with scars) is one of the best character intros ever. Made all the better for fans because we know who he is and have a huge sense of anticipation that the director lets build (“Don’t hit him in the nose–” and we’re going ooooh!! he got that *right*!!)

    2. The depiction of super-strength is very important if the/a character has it. I call out The Fantastic Four (1st) as a bad one: the fire-truck scene is certainly “strong” (the Thing lifts a truck) but is not visceral. In Disney’s much lighter Sky High when the ultra strong guy hits the floor and there’s a shock wave of damage (but not way over-done) that’s actually better. Hancock’s casual display of strength and invulnerability is the best yet: he simply deforms the world around him without effort and it has substantial … impact (see also the spherical shockwave in the rain in the 3rd Matrix movie).

    We want these characters to be awe inspiring–they need good set pieces to do that. The bullet deforming against Superman’s eye in the most recent Returns is a good way to do this too.

    3. Balance tragedy: super heroes are wish-fulfillment so they need tragedy to be taken at all seriously–but a lot of movies miss the joy of being a super hero (IMO, eh?). The Spider-man movies are technically well done–but the third has a guy with awesome power living in a rat-hole apartment, dotting on his ailing aging aunt, and still needing to ‘GROW UP’!? This is unnecessary: the guy could be robbing banks and living the high-life. He’s a freakin’ saint and his whiny “spend more time with me–don’t go saving-lives” girlfriend gets to be “right” by dint of the script and the narrative conventions of cinematic love-interests.

    (See also: Fantastic Four 2’s Mr.-Fantastic-needs-to-learn-to-appreciate his wife more sub-plot. Never mind that he’s the number-one guy to save lives in a global crisis nonsense)

    (Also Note: I fear they are going to ruin the inherent joy of the first Iron Man when they get into the character’s self-destructive drinking habits in the later shows).

    4. The X-Men’s real, almost unique, triumph is that that they present a coherent world with a lot of other super characters in it other than “the main ones.” Yeah, the FF had four heroes but there weren’t other super types hanging out down town.

    5. Having Iron Man’s Robert Downey Jr. write/ad-lib his own lines for the character gave it something that really worked: a sense that he was Tony Stark. I don’t know how you do that as a writer–but I think that you maybe do it by sort of “roleplaying” that character with other actual humans to get some unexpected but “in character” responses. The idea is to be surprising (Tony Starks “everyone sit down” moment at the press conference–very … human–very connecting–especially key for a guy inside an indestructible shell).

    • Todd says:

      Re: Part 1

      The way you write a character like “Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark” is, you write the character, and brilliant casting director reads the role and says “You know who would be great for this?”

      Either that, or you do what I did for Antz — write the part with a specific actor in mind, and write that actor so well that when that guy reads the script he gets a big smile on his face and says “Oh man, this guy’s me, this would be too much fun to pass up.”

      When you write a part with a specific actor in mind, and you really capture that actor’s voice, you’re also doing a lot of that actor’s work for him, which means he can relax easily into the part — and come up with brilliant improvs on the set that expand and illuminate the part you’ve written.

  13. marcochacon says:

    Part 2

    6. Battles in the movies (and in the comics for that matter) tend to follow the “we can’t win->narrative conditions become right->we can’t lose.” This is HARD to do well (see The Fantastic Four 2’s incredibly bad “Johnny Storm gains everyone’s powers to defeat Dr. Doom” bit. Yeah it was ‘arguably’ a team effort because he ‘had all their powers’–but the “character learns a lesson” narrative was supposed to be the Human Torch learns he’s not a one-man show … and at the end? He’s a one-man-show. Damn, what were they thinking?)

    7. They say a hero is only as good as their villains. Iron Man proves this isn’t true (Downey was so fun to watch his lack-luster villains were side-shows). The FF’s Dr. Doom was a horrible villain (stupid–does he really think Sue Storm will fall for him, lacking in presence, lacking in any real sympathy–smarmy). Magneto is far more interesting. For one thing, Magneto is not an “oppressed minority”–he’s a for-real megalomaniac willing to sacrifice his pawns. They don’t wimp out on him.

    Lex Luthor in Super Man is dull–good in Smallville. Give the villain something to do rather than have a plan. The “Hans” super-business-man character from Die Hard was a good villain archetype: smart, resourceful, funny, and still bad to the bone. Bullseye from Daredevil was the best part of it. Give the villain some humor.

    8. The Incredibles is magnificent (says I). One of the best bits is the interviews in the beginning where everything they say they want turns out to not be what they really want. It sets up (beautifully–and without being maudlin: that movie contains the joy of being super like few others) a driving force that we can really believe. It also gets the “world of supers” right.

    Syndrome’s innate humor makes him far, far more memorable than if he’d played it straight.

    9. Dumping narrative conventions is POWERFUL in these stories which tend to be genre intensive. Syndrom’s “You got me monologuing!” line is great. Watchmen’s (okay, so it’s not out YET) “I did it 35 minutes ago” is the greatest line in all of comic-dom (says I … but … you know, give me one better).

    I think that playing against convention is more powerful in super-movies than elsewhere because they are so steeped in genre.

    I’m one envious mo-fo. Please do keep us posted as much as you are able. ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Todd says:

      Re: Part 2

      “They say a hero is only as good as their villains. Iron Man proves this isn’t true.”

      The reason a hero is generally only as good as his villain is because a superhero is generally reactive — another problem the Nolans solved. Tony Stark in Iron Man has plenty to do in his narrative, and the development of the supervillain plot is the weakest part of that otherwise brilliant script.

  14. charlequin says:

    Are you up for reading material? Everyone and their brother is going to tell you to read Watchmen (like, duh) or Astro City (I don’t think this is much use as a reference point for film superheroes) but I want to recommend something else: James Robinson’s run on Starman, which deftly integrates the character’s realistic family life with his existence in the larger-than-life DC Universe in a way no series has before or since. You can pick up the first Omnibus collection (pretty much all you’d need) for like $30 on Amazon, I believe.

    • marcochacon says:

      I’ll add Powers for a look at what a super-world might seem like from “the street.” I think Astro City is better than it seems because it is about superheroes as a concept rather than as personalities (the characters, although quite reasonably 3D exist as archetypes of supers and as such are nicely distilled).


      • charlequin says:

        I love Astro City but I think it’s so inward-looking that one wouldn’t really get much mileage from it as a source of inspiration to write outward-looking superhero films.

        Powers is also great, although I kind of think that its secret is that it’s a procedural detective book that just happens to have superheroes in it.

        • samedietc says:

          You did ask for movies, Todd, and I think it’s important to think about the differences between movies/novels and comic books/tv shows (that difference being “seriality”: comic books and tv series are meant to go on, which is why many tv shows tend to reset things each episode–“we won a million dollars, but then we lost it” being the general form of most episodes. I’m sure this is something you’ve thought of before, but it’s something I would want to mention about a superhero movie vs. a superhero comic book: things have to change by the end of the movie).

          That said, the only recommendation that I would make off the top of my head is a comic book: Invincible by Kirkman and Walker–it’s an Image title, and a skillful blend of straight-forward superheroics and a comic-aware skewering of straight-forward supreheroics.

          • Todd says:

            Well, most movies also demand to have all their narrative threads solved at the end — yet another convention smashed by The Dark Knight.

  15. crypticpress says:

    I think analyzing Daredevil is worth the effort. I always really liked the Daredevil comics, and the movie certainly takes a lot from the source material. But the movie itself is just so incredibly mediocre at its best.

    Prior to the success of Marvel movies starting with Blade, I always thought Daredevil had the most potential to make a good movie. You’ve got a lawyer by day, hero by night going up against a mobster villain. A lot of the ingredients are similar to Dark Knight in a way…

    Jon Favreau was good, though.

    • Todd says:

      Jon Favreau was great — as the director of Iron Man. Maybe he was good in Daredevil too, but I couldn’t make it more than half-way through that particular movie.

      • He’s maybe the one thing they got right in the movie, Favreau as Foggy. His scenes featuring fun back-and-forth bantering with Ben actually made you forget the horrible horrible pain the rest of the movie was inflicting on your brain.

  16. I liked the second X-Men movie and not the other two, but I’m not sure why, and if you could explain why that would be neat. (It may have just been the fact that I saw it with my sister and we were geeking out the whole time – we were really into the comics in our younger days.)

    In general, all other superhero films make me cringe. The Spider-Man films, the recent Hulk, anything else from this decade… although Iron Man was pretty low on the cringe-scale, and Dark Knight didn’t make me cringe even once (a miracle).

    • blake_reitz says:

      Todd and other pros might be able to go into more detail, but a lot of why X2 was so damn good is the freedom they had in making it. The first one was bogged down by time and money constraints, but did well enough so that Singer had free reign on the second (which follows a very Star Trek 2/Empire Strikes Back pattern).

      The third movie…was just FUBR’d. Switching directors, script all up in tatters, it’s the textbook of everything that could could go wrong in the last chapter.

  17. craigjclark says:

    For examples of what not to do: The Phantom and The Shadow

    For an example of how to build a superhero from the ground up: Sam Raimi’s Darkman

  18. ndgmtlcd says:

    I’m usually pretty much insensitive to sounds or things like voices but when they finally brought the adventures of Asterix to life through animation, it was Asterix’s voice which ruined everything for me. Everything about it seemed wrong, the pitch, the volume, the tempo…

    Which was too bad, because his sidekick Obelix was well done, and so was the animation and all the other aspects of that film. I never bothered to go see the live-action films which came out decades later.

    (I’m talking about the 1968 “Asterix and Cleopatra” since the previous effort at animation was not widely released and it was a lesser work, done for a TV audience without the authorisation of Uderzo and Goscinny)

  19. mitejen says:

    I was going to chime in. . .

    . . .Until I realized that I barely read ANY superhero-based comics. Except Batman.

    Preacher, The Boys, various Batmans, Sin City, The Watchmen, The Sandman, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hellblazer. . .I tend to like more complex antiheroes who border on villains than straight superheroes. And I enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s Elizabethan-era take on the X-men, although I haven’t checked out the Commie Superman yet. I might just be a product of these cynical times, though.

    I usually enjoy the movies, if they’re well-done, but that’s because I enter a theater intending to suspend disbelief more readily than when I’m reading something.

    One of my favorite all-time superhero movies though is definitely The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, for a variety of reasons. I like it because David Banner relies on himself rather than the Hulk to resolve the conflict, and for the litter character touches like Edgar falling in love with Ellie Mendez. And I LOVED the way they did Daredevil; he didn’t have super abilities, and his fighting style–because it was the 80’s and people were a lot less likely to fly around on wires–seemed plausible. Even his defeat at the hands of Fisk was well-done, it acknowledged that yes, he had ‘a handicap,’ but that everyone has a low point where they fall. Falling is part of life, as is getting back up again, supremely shown in Batman Begins.

    I’m definitely curious about what your project is!

  20. voiceofisaac says:

    MYSTERY MEN is actually a pretty fun superhero movie. Yeah, it’s a comedy, but it tackles the genre conventions in an interesting way. The “Legion Tryout” scene, the upgrade-before-the-boss-fight scenes, stuff like that. It also did a good job of presenting its world to the audience — hey, there are superheroes around, been that way for a bit, and there are enough OF them that you can distinguish between the popular heroes and the bottom-rung losers.

    Mystery Men also makes a few shoutouts to THE WARRIORS (“Can You Dig It?”, the colorful criminal factions) that me thinking about considering The Warriors as a superhero movie, or perhaps, a superVILLAN movie. The protagonists are a street gang, who have cool uniforms (like superhero teams do, say, the X-Men), nicknames/codenames, and of course the cool name for the gang itself. They’re on the verge of doing a big team-up with other gangs — replace Cyrus with Dr. Doom or Lex Luthor and this scene has been done in comics often enough to be a known trope. And in the process of escaping authority and their fellow gangs, the characters grow in the process, to the point that the leader states a willingness to leave the criminal life behind. A villain moving towards heroism, perhaps.

    • Anonymous says:

      Mystery Men!

      ‘Mystery Men’ did a great job of distilling Bob Burden’s weirdness and dovetailing it to ‘current comedy stars’ (Burden always said his Mystery Men were ALL like Vic Tayback; good luck pitching that!).

      Oddly, ‘Mystery Men’ was less like a superhero story and more like a ‘struggling band’ story — hanging around ’til all hours in diners, the family man who hangs onto his loony dream and the toll it takes on his home, the Mystery Men’s envy of ‘big corporate sell-out’ Greg Kinnear, and those ‘auditions.’

      You’re developing Flaming Carrot, aren’t you?

      Rockie Bee

  21. curt_holman says:


    Two of my favorite superhero movies, ones that “work” better than most, are The Incredibles and Robocop (if it counts as one), and I think it’s interesting that they both succeed dramatically while being based on original material instead of being adaptations of existing “hero properties.”

    You already know how great “Justice League Unlimited” is, and the success of it and The Incredibles has convinced me that many superhero tales would be better on the big-screen as animation rather than live-action. Think of how much easier the casting would be for an animated, big-screen Wonder Woman.

    Iron Man is one of my favorites, and I think part of the reason it works is because it looks and feels more like an American version of a James Bond film than other comic book movies. I’ve never understood why filmmakers try to make movies that emulate the visual style of comic books (Creepshow, Dick Tracy, The Spirit, parts of Ang Lee’s Hulk; I guess Sin City succeeds better than most) — the gimmick feels mannered and self-conscious very quickly, and gets in the way of the characters and the story.

    Something that occurred to me about Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk is that both films build to rock’em sock’em battles between the hero and a villain who’s pretty much the same as the hero, only physically larger and presumably stronger. In both, Iron Monger and the Abomination show up, menace innocent people, fight the hero and are defeated in relatively short order. I was thinking it would be more compelling to have the hero fight the villain and lose, then rethink, fight again and win the “rematch.”

    Since so many superhero sequels are better than their predecessors — X2: X-Men United, Spider-man 2, Blade 2, The Dark Knight, arguably Superman 2 and The Incredible Hulk — I suggest you skip the “first” film and go straight to the sequel.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Superheroes

      Both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk handle their origin stories with great verve and panache, then mishandle their climactic battles — which is to say, their bad-guy plots weren’t developed properly.

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: Superheroes

        I can agree with you on Iron Man, but while The Incredible Hulk’s ending certainly could have been better, it does hew reasonably close to the film’s central theme of brain vs. muscle vs. heart. (It’d be better in that regard if the climax involved Tim Blake Nelson’s character, instead of saving him for the possible sequel.)

        Sure, it’s two rubbery CGI guys pounding the snot out of each other in Fake Harlem. But one of them, the one the movie has spent a lot of time labeling as a heartless, destructive monster, actually has someone and something to fight for — he’s controlling his demons, and directing them to positive ends. The other has allowed his demons to rule him, and even though his conscious mind seems to be in greater control, he just wants to exult in his own physical power. That more or less works for me.

        — N.A.

    • lupa says:

      Re: Superheroes

      Robocop is also one of my favorite superhero movies, though it stretches the idea of ‘superhero.’

  22. iainjcoleman says:

    In most superhero movie series, the second movie is better than the first. This is because origin stories suck. We’re interested in what this character does as a superhero, not how he or she got that way.

  23. adam_0oo says:

    I know it is easy to bash films, but going over some of the failures would be interesting. Batman and Robin, Daredevil, Spider-man 3 and Superman Returns. They are all full of so much extraneous material and characters and not sticking with how the powers work and lack fun.

    As far as fabulousness, I have to agree with everyone else, Unbreakable, Sky High, The Incredibles and and Justice League Unlimited.

    Oh, the Justice League stuff reminded me, one that didn’t work, the Superman Animated series. They always had trouble dealing with his full set of powers. Superman spent so much time on the show looking directly at and waiting for things to hit him, fists and rubble and so on.

  24. quitwriting says:

    A lot of great suggestions here, but a lot of good things are being missed. Here are few runs you’re going to want to pick up:

    Quiver – Kevin Smith’s run on reintroducing Green Arrow. This is just fantastic. I was never a fan of GA before this run, but now I’ll pick up anything that’s come from this story-line. It’s thoughtful, well-done and explains in a touching way how heroes are still friends, even after amazingly stupid “reboot” plot-lines.

    The Dark Knight – Frank Miller’s gritty over-haul of the Batman series. I’m not as sold on later runs, but this one was pretty iconic. I find it hard to recommend squat from Miller, considering what he did to Will Eisner’s work, recently, but when the story’s good the story’s good.

    Justice League: The New Frontier – This is animated, yes, and it is done in the Justice League cartoon style but whatever you do DO NOT WATCH THIS WITH YOUR CHILDREN if you’re not comfortable with them seeing adult situations and graphic violence! This is NOT a kid-targeted movie! It has GRAPHIC violence, and many ADULT SITUATIONS. But that warning aside, this is a great story and a well-done script. It shows the formation of the Justice League (we get some out-right shown origin stories here, including The Martian Manhunter, Hal Jordan / Green Lantern, and several that are alluded to: Wonder Woman, Flash, Superman) and their first major league conflict. This story revolves a lot around how Hal Jordan became GL and how J’on J’onzz came to Earth and what all he did here before he was a Super Hero. It has a great plot, excellent pacing and fun dialogue that’s believable in the mouths of the characters. It also shows balance in it’s treatment of using characters such as Superman, who by all rights should be able to beat the living tar out of anything without help, in a group dynamic. Well done. Pick up the DVD. I can’t say anything for the graphic novel, I’ve never read it.

    Anything, and I mean ANYTHING, by Warren Ellis. ANYTHING. Seriously.

    • Todd says:

      Yeah, I got both New Frontier and Doomsday thinking I could watch them with my son and — um, no.

      I very much enjoyed the New Frontier book, the Darwyn Cooke art is terrific.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Non-super hero

    This is gonna sound weird, but I always found the Caption Freedom episodes on HILL STREET BLUES extremely touching … you remember? Dennis Dugan guest starred as a weird guy who believed he was a super hero, put on a mask and a cape and got into trouble and Belker had to bail him out, and they had a rapport … and it ended tragically?

    I always thought that was unique …

    Joshua James

  26. plunkert says:

    In the case of an adaptation from a comic I think the more successful films can point to a handful of stories that inform the tone of the story if not actual scenes or plot.

    I think Nolan’s Batman owes a debt to Miller’s Year One story. The actual plot isn’t lifted from those comics but the corrupt atmosphere of Gotham and the weariness of the characters of Bruce and Gordon sure seem to be. The grounding or downplaying of the superheroic aspects in the grittier reality of crime fiction is also something Year One and Nolan’s Batman share.

    One quibble that I haven’t noticed brought up is the remark made that Batman’s original suit doesn’t let him move his neck. Which is true of the suit as a movie prop worn by an actor but not believable that Batman has been operating without being able to turn his head.

    In the case of Ironman…seeing the film and reading the 1963 origin story its surprisingly faithful. In the places where it differs…the film improves on the origin by rounding out the character of Yinsen and making Stark an accomplice to his own injury.

    The charm and humor of Downey’s Stark highlighted how sullen Maquire’s Parker was in contrast. A marked departure from either character’s depiction in the comics.

    A hurdle to overcome are how much “comic book feel” do you keep and how much do you jettison? Nolan’s Batman, Ironman, and to a more variable degree Spiderman and Xmen show that directors are getting more comfortable striking that balance.

  27. 55seddel says:

    It may behoove you to look at The Punisher with Thomas Jane and the new one, that is a movie that should be my guitar’s picks, and should never see the light of day again.

  28. capthek says:

    Oh, I forgot, last action hero! Arnolds other movies might be worth a thought and even Rambo/Rocky, but now we are talking about huge amounts of time.

  29. robolizard says:

    Aside from all of the obvious movies, the Darkseid arc in Bruce Timm’s Superman series struck me as the best introduction to the Fourth World characters. Darkseid has always been portrayed as something sickly inside us (Grant Morrison takes the concept literally in ‘Final Crisis’), and by beginning the focus with Intergang taking new weapons to the street, and ending it with Superman controlled by Darkseid, Bruce Timm makes this all the more apparent. They also make these characters Gods instead of more super powered characters, something that Kirby did not perfectly achieve either.

    Superman: TAS put a structure on the Fourth World saga, something Jack Kirby did not do to the saga himself.

    Also, the Cadmus arc from JLU.

    Is Darkman any good? When thinking back, superhero movies are either deliriously loathed or deliriously loved, or at least they’re hard to forget, and Darkman strikes me as one of the few which is simply forgotten.

  30. A superhero movie that I almost never hear referred to as such is V for Vendetta, which I think has something to do with the words “super” and “hero”. But V is supernatural, definitely more than human, and he goes around in a costume fighting for what he believes to be the greater good. He is also painted as a hero in the movie, in spite of the fact that he’s a terrorist and an anarchist.

    In a post you wrote a few days ago you made a brief list of things a successful superhero script needed to do. I think Vendetta did all of those things you listed, successfully or otherwise. V is active, constantly engaged in his plot to bring down the government. John Hurt’s Adam Sutler’s motives make sense, because what makes more sense than a lust for power? Natalie Portman’s Evey is a great love interest, echoing Christine from The Phantom of the Opera. Due attention is paid to V’s history as he eliminates any character who could identify him by name in the first half of the film. Alan Moore would disagree, but I feel that the movie is loyal enough to the source material, at least as much as can be expected. V, while being a person who couldn’t exist IRL, responds to his situation, i.e. living in a totalitarian fascist state, in a human and empathetic manner.

    As to whether or not the movie struck home with people, I’d ask these wonderful people if they thought the movie was influential.

    Having access to Stephen Fry doesn’t hurt either.

    ADDENDUM: I love comics, and while I love characters like Superman and Dr. Manhattan, I think it’s nearly impossible to make them empathetic and relatable. If you’re writing a similar character, I’d suggest reading Grant Morrison’s recent All-Star Superman series, where the author succeeded in making Superman feel human.

  31. hey todd-

    i think you should stay away from reading comics – the reason most superhero movies don’t work is that they are bogged down by characters with decades of history heaped on them- the ones that do work side step the pitfalls of comic books and (as i think you mentioned earlier) look for more cinematic solutions to working with source material…

    if you are working with a dark character (batman, wolverine)- start with some German Expressionism – if you are working with a bright character (superman, captain america) go with some Errol Flynn swashbucklers…

    obviously you have to contemporize and get some other things going on in the mix, but i think starting with classics is always a sure bet-
    and have fun damn it! my 2ยข

  32. lupa says:

    I’m having a problem isolating movies in the manner you discuss, for some reason. As you probably could guess, I have rather odd taste in superhero movies. The ones I watch over and over again are Robocop, Buckaroo Banzai, Mystery Men, Dreamscape, and Scanners. The last two are definitely not good movies and, in some ways, not quite superhero movies, but I really love them – movies about struggling with psychic powers always tend to appeal to me. (These two have the benefit of great actors.) In addition, I think there are other movies that have significant superhero-esque aspects to them, like Fight Club, Time Bandits, Highlander, and Edward Scissorhands, that are worth including.

    Of the recent American crop:

    1) I adore Batman Begins – it touches a surprising number of emotional chords and I feel their construction of Batman as a character on his own works remarkably well. We might disagree on that, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is my favorite Batman movie.

    2) I thought Iron Man was superb, and Tony Stark’s struggles with himself are so delicately handled.

    3) The Incredibles is extraordinarily well-constructed – so much so that I watch it not only for the action but for the family drama.

    4) Spiderman 1 was really good, but I don’t think I’ll watch it again; it simply doesn’t pull me in the way the other three do. However, in the movie theater I was utterly delighted.

    Tangent which is fairly irrelevant to your question: Part of my problem is that I grew up in the 70s with all of its stunning comics and TV adaptations, so it’s tough for me to roll with movies the same way I did with the TV shows. I read *and* watched Wonder Woman (and subsequently got into Batman through the JLA), watched the Incredible Hulk and read the Defenders, watched Oh Mighty Isis, read Spidey and watched the skits on the Electric Company… even The Greatest American Hero was a ton of fun! Comics were also expanding their character lists, so my superhero love could wend to the more obscure: Rose and the Thorn, Valkyrie, Black Goliath, MoonDragon. When Vertigo came onto the scene, it wasn’t Sandman or Hellblazer that I attached to like so many of my friends – it was Peter Milligan’s take on Shade the Changing Man. If it weren’t for intellectual property, I’d write scripts on Rose and the Thorn or Shade the Changing Man in a silver second.

    • Todd says:

      Don’t get me wrong — Batman Begins is a superb entertainment and the best Batman movie ever made — up until The Dark Knight.

  33. ogier30 says:

    Four comic book films that are flawed, but fun, I think…

    I enjoy The Phantom, mostly for its exuberance. Billy Zane does a really good job as a legacy hero who enjoys his work.

    The Shadow also entertains me, though it is flawed. Still, I think Alec Baldwin does a good job in the role.

    Flash Gordon is objectively a terrible film, but there is an energy in the supporting performances that make it fun.

    Buckaroo Banzai is another film that also hits the right notes, too.

  34. shocka says:

    Two things must be nailed to make a superhero movie work: one, the subtext, and two, the drama. You have to *know* what a property is all about before you can make a movie out of it that isn’t pure shit. Here’s a breakdown:

    Fantastic Four
    is about family. In the Marvel universe, the F4 are the superhero family, but moreso than just being blood kin, they’re a family because their togetherness goes beyond blood, they live and fight and love and die alongside each other, and always fight for that bond, and to help others.

    Fantastic Four The Movie is, however, about nothing – it’s an illogical, poorly paced, CG shitfest that realises none of the characters, has no convincing drama, and has action sequences made of ASS.

    The real Fantastic Four The Movie is The Incredibles, which has a fully realised family unit who does everything and stands for everything the Marvel universe characters do. Further, it’s perfectly acted, genuinely thrilling and at its heart it talks about the dumbing down of the world (specifically America) and how the decision to force dissonant equality on society means that those with genuine talent are surpressed. It’s a fucking masterpiece that realises both of those things – the subtext and the drama.

    • Anonymous says:

      I really liked the Silver Surfer in FF2 — sad, spooky, perfectly realized by Doug Jones’ physical performance — but otherwise hated that movie so much that I cheered when Jessica Alba bit the dust, and booed Shiny Metal Jesus for resurrecting her.

      I keep thinking that if the *real* Doctor Doom saw himself being portrayed onscreen as a whiny, petulant dick, whose response to “You’re going to destroy the world” is essentially a Dubya-esque “So what? Nyah!”, vast swaths of Hollywood would be a smoldering crater by nightfall.

      — N.A.

  35. noskilz says:

    Too bad we don’t know what sort of superhero character, in terms of general type, is afoot. The Punisher and Superman are both superheros, but that’s about all they have in common.

    I don’t have much to add, but it occurs to me that many Hong Kong martial arts movies are basically superhero films – although how much good that does anyone in this context is doubtful(but if something like The Five Deadly Venoms, Master of the Flying Guillotine,Shaolin Kung-Fu Mystagogues and their ilk help, hooray(I tend to lean more to the Taoist wizard/hopping vampire end of things myself.))However, The Heroic Trio is definitely a superhero movie, if a little insane(which is probably why I’m fond of it.) One of the features of Hong Kong action cinema I like is there seems to have been a notion that when in doubt, cram more stuff in there – not a sure thing, but if it doesn’t work out, the approach seems to at least provide an enthusiastic sort of failure.

    It’s not a movie, but I’ve always thought Ray Winninger’s Underground had a great superhero setting, although I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who actually ran a game(it would be a tricky setting to do well and Mayfair’s rule system sort of sucked.) Unfortunately, unless you happened to know someone who has it, that doesn’t help much. But if you do know someone who has the main book and supplements, it has a very different take on superheroes and how they come about.

    If the movie breakdowns on your site are any guide, it shouldn’t be a concern, but the superhero movies I’ve liked feature heroes that if they’re flawed, are also appealing and interesting characters.For example: Tony Stark, kind of a mess, but an engaging mess(when I heard there was an Iron Man movie, which Stark would show up was a major consideration, as some versions of the character are annoying, dysfunctional jerks.) I suppose it’s mostly just that if it’s a major character, the audience is going to be spending a lot of time with him, and that can seem far,far longer if, just as an example, the guy doesn’t just make poor choices but also spends a lot of time whining about them (I’m not picking on Spiderman – I really liked the second movie.)

  36. I hope to god somebodies mentioned Darkman, wonderful film and though its not based on any real comic book it remains my favourite superhero/comic film

  37. crypticpress says:

    It’s worthwhile to analyze films that aren’t superhero films, but with the slightest nudge could be.

    I’m thinking of films like Raiders, Die Hard, and Matrix.

    One could argue that Matrix actually is a superhero film, since he does have super powers, but it wasn’t billed or marketed as a superhero film the way something like Hancock was.

  38. musicpsych says:

    My favorite superhero movie is probably Batman Returns, mostly because of the Catwoman character.

    It’s funny, the earlier comment about female superhero movies, when there have been successful movies/TV shows with female action-oriented heroes, such as Alias, Buffy, Kill Bill, the Terminator series, the Alien series, and probably more.

    • Todd says:

      Every time I walk into a pitch meeting — and I mean every time — the studio executive always tells me that people won’t go see an action movie with a female protagonist. And then I point out all the successful action movies with female protagonists, including the entirety of James Cameron’s filmography, and they just give me a weak smile and shrug, as though the question is out of their hands.

      The fact is, Hollywood is, by nature, a hugely conservative industry — financially conservative, that is — and when you go in to pitch, the Guy Who Can Say Yes is looking for any reason to say No. You say “What about The Terminator?” and they say “Tank Girl, Elektra, Catwoman…” as though the fact that none of those movies are very good had anything to do with their lack of success.

      Hollywood won’t throw good money after female-centered projects, therefore top talent won’t be attracted to those projects, therefore those movies won’t end up very good, therefore Hollywood has proven that there is no audience for them. QED.

      • musicpsych says:

        That’s interesting. It’s got me wondering how I’d make an independent action movie with a female protagonist without a big budget for special effects. Hmm…

        I was thinking about superhero movies today while driving home from work, and I had one observation I wanted to share. In a lot of superhero movies I’ve seen, the villains steal the show because they have a lot of fun trying to carry out their mission and achieve their goals. Meanwhile, the superhero is not having fun, but is dull in comparison, and ends up being some sort of wannabe knight, too focused on honor and responsibility to be human. I don’t know if this is right for your project, but I’d like to see a movie where the hero isn’t so fixated on honor and being responsible, but actually has fun and gets as much pleasure out of fighting crime as a villain does executing his master plan.

  39. stormwyvern says:

    I’m fairly certain that every superhero film I would recommend has already been mentioned. I agree that Ang Lee’s Hulk would be a good example of what not to do when constructing a superhero film. There were some interesting ideas and I don’t doubt that the intentions were good, bu in the end, the film was a mess that tried to do way too many things and never quite delivered on any of them.

    Something I think is worth bringing up in light of many of the major superhero films of late is that many filmmakers seem to be having success by tossing aside some of the conventions of superheroes, not just to shake things up, but because it ends up working for the story and character. Peter Parker doesn’t get the girl at the end of the first Spider-Man. Tony Stark discloses his own secret identity at the end of Iron Man. The Batman of Begins and Dark Knight largely only succeeds at averting bigger disasters than what ends up happening than outright saving the day.

    I was watching the commentary on WALL-E a few weeks ago. Director Andrew Stanton makes an analogy between making a film and unearthing and assembling a fossilized dinosaur skeleton and that often, a film’s success or failure rests on whether, when you discover that the skeleton you have been assembling is not the T-Rex you thought it was and is in fact a stegosaurus, you are willing to tear down the work you’ve done and start reassembling the pieces into a stegosaurus or you keep stubbornly plugging away trying to configure your stegosaurus bones into a T-Rex. Some comics may look like straight up superhero stories at first blush, but on closer inspection, may reveal themselves to be closer to some other genre than the capes and tights crew.

  40. de_course says:

    Some more offbeat suggestions…

    Don’t forget the foreign films. My suggestions:

    Danger: Diabolik
    Ultraman (it’s been rebooted several times)
    Mercury Man

    Also, you might want to re-watch the short-lived TV series “Now And Again”.

  41. blagh says:

    Ends and means.

    I loved the first season of Heroes, while the characters still had lives outside of their superpowers. Back then, they all seemed to belong to the real world, somehow. The senator-hopeful can secretly fly, but he’s not defined by it. The struggling mom is defined more by her emerging schizophrenia and devotion to her family than her super-strength. The only character who really embraces his power is a comic book geek, but he’s the only one allowed to think in terms of destiny and derring-do. Also, there were still at least a few minor characters without superpowers, but still some influence and bearing on what went on. Nowadays, they’re not even too good explaining to the audience what a character’s specific power is, or how it works, and it makes me sad.

  42. dougo says:

    Is it Aquaman? Please let it be Aquaman. James Cameron’s Aquaman. Biggest box office splash in history!

  43. Anonymous says:

    My favorite superhero movies have all stayed faithful to the spirit of the characters they adapt, but have otherwise allowed the stories and characters to work in service of good acting, writing, and directing.

    – Spider-Man 2: The villain is funny, badass, and legitimately tragic; the relationship between Peter and MJ feels warm and authentic; and the film gives its director a chance to add his own personal stamp to the material (in the gloriously nutty RaimiCam set piece where Doc Ock’s tentacles wake up in the operating room) without overwhelming it.

    – X-Men and X-Men 2: Bryan Singer finds the core conceit that made the X-Men come alive in readers’ imaginations for decades on end and polishes it until it shines, and isn’t afraid to jettison all the crap that barnacled up around it in the interim.

    – Iron Man: The loose, improvisational style makes a great counterpoint to the hero’s cold, clunky metallic armor. The way Tony and Pepper in particular are allowed to be flawed, imperfect, and funny is wonderfully unexpected, and really makes the film shine. (I also love Jeff Bridges’ delightfully laid-back Stane; however evil he gets, he always seems just on the verge of remarking how that rug really tied the room together.)

    – Unbreakable: Shyamalan takes the structural tricks of comic book storytelling — particularly closure, the brain’s ability to fill in what it isn’t explicitly shown — and brings them deftly to the screen.

    – Batman Begins and TDK: The Nolans first decided what the theme of each movie would be, then carefully selected the characters and story beats from the whole of Batman’s history that would best expand, reflect, and explore that theme.

    – The Incredibles: All the superhero stuff is just one big, brilliantly realized metaphor for ordinary family life — but even so, the movie revels in its giant robots and secret island headquarters and cool, exciting superpower action.

    — N.A.

  44. robjmiller says:

    Neil Gaiman’s Law of Superhero Movies

    Gaiman’s Law of Superhero Movies: the closer the film is to the look and feel of what people like about the comic, the more successful it is.

    This is very important, even if people haven’t actually read the comics. The Batman comics of the last 20-25 years have been gritty things that show the darkness of the world and it’s heroes, which is perfectly encapsulated in the Nolan films. In contrast, Batman and Robin is a campy, goofy vehicle for bad jokes and McDonald’s toys. I remember a hammy scene where soon-to-be-Poison Ivy threatens a room full of people and receives the response “We’re not worried, Batman and Robin protect this city” and the whole room laughs.

    Neil Gaiman has a fair amount of commentary on this in his blog (a great read for a number of other reasons as well):