Comic book movies have graced the big screen since 1966, when Adam West and Burt Ward starred in “Batman: the Movie.” For years, directors struggled on how to adapt the graphic novels into a palpable product, and we have seen a number of different takes. For instance, the earliest “Batman” movies used comical sound effects and a humorous edge to draw the line between make-believe and reality.
By contrast, “Superman” is a much more serious story, full of action but devoid of the humorous overtones. More modern adaptations have played with special effects and character development. “Sin City” is a more serious film noir that’s narrated very true to the comics, using black-and-white cinematography and very little splashes of color to give accent. “X-Men” presents very in-depth character portrayals that delve into the past, present and future psyches of all its complex anti-heroes.
The comic books DC put out seemed to enjoy more big screen success throughout the 1980s and 1990s, with “Superman II, III, and IV,” “Swamp Thing,” “Batman,” “Batman Returns,” “Batman Forever,” and “Batman and Robin.” Warner Brothers released all these films relentlessly, with a new debut each year it seemed. The 1989 Batman movie, directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, was the second-highest grossing comic book movie until “The Dark Knight” (2008) knocked it down a notch.
The sequel “Batman Returns,” the third-highest grossing film of 1992, again starred Keaton as Batman and featured directing by Tim Burton but added Danny Devito as the Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. Writer/Director Kevin Smith called 1992 “the summer of the bat,” when Batman merchandise filled every store and sold with amazing efficiency.
While DC Comics dominated the 1990s with their “Batman” series, “Spider-Man” vied for top superhero status in the new millennium. Until Christopher Nolan’s “Batman: The Dark Knight” (earning $522,106,180 at the box office) reclaimed the winning spot for the caped crusader, Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman” trilogy was considered #1 (with $403,706,375, $373,585,825 and $336,530,303, respectively), as far as comic book movies were concerned.
All three Spiderman films set opening day records in the US, were the top 3 Marvel Comic movies ever made and were the most successful films ever produced by Sony/Columbia. Stan Lee was actively involved in the scripting and filming of the movies to ensure success. Marvel’s “Iron Man,” starring Robert Downey Jr. was the fifth most successful comic book box office hit, bringing in $318,223,785.
“You could tell having seen Iron Man and having seen Batman, that the writers and producers and directors now know how to treat these movies,” Marvel Comic creator Stan Lee said. He added that comic book movies will continue to get better and better with new technology and adaptations. Coming up in 2009 is Marvel’s highly anticipated “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” prequel, starring Hugh Jackman, in addition to another “Punisher” movie. “Iron Man 2,” “Thor,” “The Avengers,” “Spider-Man 4” and another “Captain America” are also reportedly in development for subsequent years.
As for DC, “The Spirit” and “The Watchmen” are set for release in 2008 and 2009, the latter of which has many comic book fans talking. Several more movies have been in development for the past few years, including: “Superman (reboot),” “The Green Lantern,” “The Justice League of America,” “Wonder Woman” and “Batman 3.”