If you go back to the late 1990’s, and someone would have told you that the genre that would cumulatively gross the most at the box office over the next decade would be comic books, then you’d have probably looked at them like they’d just dropped out of the sky. The truth is, since the year 2000, comic book movies have made over $10bn at the international box office. The growth of the genre has also increased massively since the turn of the century, leading to a succession of hits both critically and financially, but also bringing previously marginalised characters into the mainstream. Ask a non comic reader in 1997 to name ten superheroes, and you’d struggle to see them finish the list. Now though, the names of Asgardian Gods, sultry Russian assassins, dead eyed archers, ruthless vigilantes and super cool vampire hunters practically roll off the tongue.
With that in mind we’ve pulled together what we consider to be the top 10 game changing superhero films. They’re not necessarily the best movies of the genre, but they are the ones that changed the way people thought about what they were seeing, and help transcend a character from the printed page to the big screen.
So without further ado, starting at number 10:
10. Spider-Man 2
Image via Sony Pictures Entertainment
Tobey Maguire’s Spider-man may always sadly be remembered for his emo strutting in the ill-fated Spider-Man 3, but before that, he followed up his impressive 2002 debut with a sequel that turned Spider-Man from a half decent movie character into a proper critically acclaimed franchise. It helped that Maguire was cast opposite a Shakespearean alumni in Alfred Molina, and didn’t have to worry about the rigmarole of an origin story either. The success of this movie though was Maguire growing into the role as Spider-Man. He managed to take the wisecracking hero from script to screen in a believable way. He was a more confident Peter Parker, and his relationship with Kirsten Dunst’s Mary-Jane Watson tugged at the heart strings when you know that ultimately, they can never be together.
Molina’s Otto Octavius mirrored the characters from the Bard’s plays that he had portrayed in the past. In the comics and even the 90’s cartoon series, Doc Ock was something of a figure of fun, going from an eminent scientist to a bowl haircut sporting, silly shades wearing, iridescent clothed, ranting madman. Molina actually injected the Doc with a degree of gravitas and tragedy, making him someone so dedicated to his art that he was willing to experiment on himself to take science to new heights. Sam Raimi didn’t always get things right in his Spider-Man trilogy (The Green Goblin and Venom being two good examples), but in number two, things just fell into place.
It is often criticised, but the scene where Spider-Man abandons his fight against Ock to save the runaway subway train, shows the true heroic side of the man behind the mask.
Image via Sony Pictures Entertainment
We didn’t like the way Andrew Garfield removed his mask willy-nilly in the rebooted movies, but in this case, Spider-Man is prepared to sacrifice his identity to save the people who are depending on him. It made Peter Parker a hero, rather than just a cool guy who threw himself across New York on web shooters.
Spider-Man 2 wasn’t the first movie to make people sit up an take notice of the comic book genre (that‘s next in our little countdown), but it did play a huge role in convincing the movie-going public that super hero movies were more than garishly attired buff young men chucking cars around and getting the girl. Credit must go to Tobey Maguire and Alfred Molina for making the two main characters sympathetic and believable, while keeping them close to their comic book roots. Just a shame they trampled all over what they achieved with Lisbeth Salander’s brother bopping down the street a couple of years later.
Coming next time, at number 9…
The vampire movie with no kissing, swooning or werewolves. Oh yeah, and plenty of silver…