Superhero movies are all the rage in the early 21st century, but it’s hardly a new phenomenon. In the earliest days of superhero comics, they were quickly adapted into serialized formats: live action movie serials, radio dramas, and animated shorts. Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel—they all appeared in one or more of those forms in the late 1930s and 1940s.
It wasn’t until 1951 that the first feature-length film was released: Superman and the Mole Men, starring George Reeves, who would go on to star in The Adventures of Superman, the first hit TV series based on a superhero. In 1966, as a tie-in to the hugely successful Batman TV show starring Adam West, a feature film was released, bringing the Dynamic Duo’s colorful criminals to the big screen to face off against.
Then in the 1970s, things got crazy…..
4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch is a new weekly feature here on Tor.com that will take an in-depth look at all the live-action superhero films (both theatrical releases and TV movies) that have been made over the decades.
We’ll start with the aforementioned Superman and the Mole Men and the 1966 Batman next Tuesday, and then each week we’ll be back with another movie or group of movies. Assuming the current Hollywood release schedule holds, there will be 120 films to cover between 1951 and the end of 2018, so we’ve got lots and lots of heroing to look back on—and look forward to.
We’ll examine Marvel’s TV movies of the 1970s featuring Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and Captain America. We’ll look at the Christopher Reeve Superman films and the Keaton/Kilmer/Clooney Batman films. We’ll wade through the B-listers who got their own films in the 1980s and 1990s, including Supergirl, Swamp Thing, Howard the Duck, Steel, Spawn, and Nick Fury. We’ll dig up the unreleased 1990s disasters featuring the Justice League, the Fantastic Four, and Captain America. We’ll look back at Marvel’s first attempt at a cinematic universe in their three Hulk movies of the late 1980s, as well as other movie series featuring the Crow, Blade, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, not to mention the three separate attempts at a film starring the Punisher. We’ll take a gander at the spate of independent comics turned into movies in the 1990s and 2000s starring the Mask, Tank Girl, Barb Wire, Mystery Men, Witchblade, and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, as well as pulp heroes the Shadow, the Rocketeer, the Phantom, and Judge Dredd.
And once we hit the 21st century, we’ll really kick it into high gear: the two sets of Spider-Man films; the tortuous history of the X-Men films; poorly received versions of Daredevil, Elektra, Catwoman, the Hulk, Constantine, Man-Thing, Green Lantern, Ghost Rider, Jonah Hex, and the Fantastic Four; better-received adaptations of V for Vendetta, Kick-Ass, and Hellboy; Christopher Nolan taking on Batman, Zack Snyder taking on Watchmen, Bryan Singer taking on Superman, and Frank Miller taking on the Spirit; return engagements for Judge Dredd and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; plus, of course, the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes that have come to dominate the hero-in-cinema landscape, the former since 2008, the latter since 2013.
It ought to be a fun ride. Looking forward to rewatching these 120 films with you all….
Keith R.A. DeCandido is the author of more than 50 novels, more than 70 short stories, a mess of comic books, and lots more, including two novels and two short stories starring Spider-Man, a Thor trilogy, short stories featuring the Hulk, the X-Men, and the Silver Surfer, and the Super City Cops series of novels, novellas, and short stories about police in a city filled with costumed heroes and villains. You can read his blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, or read the various things he’s written for this site, including rewatches of the original Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Stargate, and Batman ’66, as well as pieces on Doctor Who, Wonder Woman, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist.