Appearing in Fantasy-Action Films
Fictional super-heroes with extraordinary powers, derived from 1930s-1960s comic books and other sources, have been the subjects of numerous fantasy and sci-fi films (both live-action and animated, and serialized and feature-length) with action-oriented heroes and heroines, almost too many to mention fully. Flash Gordon, Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the Hulk, X-Men, and Iron Man have been some of the major examples. As of March 2012, Stan Lee's comics had been adapted into Hollywood movies 15 times - a record for the most movies from the work of a comic book creator.
These superheroes are repeatedly chosen to be the subjects of big-budget blockbuster films, with glossy production values, expensive CGI special effects and sets, make-up and costuming. Usually, a simplistic plot line involves the superhero's struggle against an arch-nemesis or super-villain (usually interested in world domination, the acquisition of riches, or the wreaking of vengeance). They usually end with pyrotechnic showdowns.
The difficulty with listing films related to comic-book heroes is that there are so many varieties: live-action, animated and other original or adapted combinations:
|Flash Gordon - based on the science-fiction adventure comic strip by Alex Raymond, first published as a King Features syndicated Sunday comic strip on January 7, 1934.|
The first iterations of the character were the adventurous, sci-fiction/fantasy Flash Gordon serials of the late 1930s (with Buster Crabbe as Flash and Jean Rogers as blonde Dale Arden). The action-oriented episodes were filled with fantastic spaceships, futuristic scenes and cities, monsters, and other imaginative creations:
Director Mike Hodges' campy and cartoonish Flash Gordon (1980, UK/US) starred Sam Jones as the heroic space warrior (with Melody Anderson as his attractive female companion Dale Arden), fighting Emperor Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow) on the planet Mongo and his plans for world domination - with cliff-hanger action; accompanied by a rock musical score from the band Queen; now a major cult film.
|Superman (The Man of
Steel) - based upon the DC Action Comics' Superman character
created by artist Joe Shuster and writer Jerry Siegel, debuting
Comics # 1 (in June of 1938). Superman was the world's first
comic-book superhero to appear on the big screen.
See Greatest Film Series Franchises - Superman
Superman's first film appearance was in an animated series of seventeen Superman cartoons, beginning with Fleischer Studios' creations from 1941-1942, in an agreement with DC Comics. Dave and Max Fleischer were responsible for the first nine Superman cartoons (the pilot and eight subsequent shorts) through Terror on the Midway (1942), with the remaining eight shorts produced by Paramount's Famous Studios during 1942-43, beginning with Japoteurs (1942).
The first Superman short, Superman (1941) (aka The Mad Scientist), which premiered in late September of 1941, introduced the terms "faster than a speeding bullet" and "Look, up in the sky!" The most famous of the series was the second entry, The Mechanical Monsters (1941) with the super-hero battling giant flying robots - and marking a redesigned Lois Lane and the first time Superman would change into his costume in a phonebooth (and his sole use of X-ray vision in the series). Also notable was the 8-minute short The Bulleteers (1942).
The animated shorts in the early 1940s were followed by two 15 chapter action serials in the late 40s, both starring Kirk Alyn as the Kryptonite hero:
The first Superman theatrical feature film was the hour-long Superman and the Mole Men (1951) - an attempt by the comics publisher to encourage interest in having the Superman character appear on TV. It starred George Reeves as Superman (rather than Kirk Alyn, who reportedly wanted too much money), and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane. The Adventures of Superman, the popular TV series from 1952-1958 (with 104 episodes) also starred George Reeves and Coates, and was a carry-over from the 1951 movie. Over a year after its release, the 1951 film was split up and aired as a "two-parter" to close the first season (1952) of the early 50s TV show.
There were four Superman films (Warner Bros.) about 20 years later, with Christopher Reeve in the lead role from 1978-1987:
Director Bryan Singer's Superman Returns (2006), the fifth film in the series since 1978, starred newcomer Brandon Routh as the Man of Steel, and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, Frank Langella as Perry White and Eva Marie Saint as Martha Kent. The underperforming film failed to really re-energize the franchise.
The next feature film - Man of Steel (2013), was a reboot of the series on the 75th anniversary of the character. It was directed by Zach Snyder and starred Henry Cavill as The Man of Steel, Russell Crowe as Superman's father Jor-El, Michael Shannon as General Zod on Krypton, the Kent parents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), and Amy Adams as Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Lois Lane.
|Batman (the Dark Knight
or the Caped Crusader) - based on DC Comics' Batman character
created by Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. Batman first appeared
Detective Comics # 27 (in May of 1939). Batman had his own
comic book, beginning with Batman # 1 (in the spring of
See Greatest Film Series Franchises - Batman
Batman was the first DC Comics character to have his own serial. The earliest Batman on film was in a 15-episode serial from Columbia Pictures, titled Batman (1943). It starred Lewis Wilson as smug playboy Bruce Wayne (alias superhero Batman), "America's No. 1 crime fighter," and Douglas Croft as his "young two-fisted assistant" Robin/Richard "Dick" Grayson - the crime fighting duo against Japanese agent Dr. Tito Daka/Prince Daka (J. Carrol Naish) of Emperor Hirohito.
A second version of the Batman/Robin superhero saga, a 15-part weekly serial from Columbia Pictures, titled Batman and Robin (1949), starred Robert Lowery as Batman/Bruce Wayne ("a wealthy playboy"), who lived in the Wayne residence (with the Batcave below) located in the suburbs of Gotham City, and John Duncan as his sidekick Robin/Dick Grayson - the duo were "famed crusaders for law and order." The villain in this second series was the hooded Wizard (Leonard Penn).
The comics character of Batman has starred in eight full-length live-action movies from 1966 to 2012. It was a record for the most movie adaptations of a comic character.
The first Batman theatrical feature film was 20th Century Fox's campy Batman (1966) (aka Batman: The Movie). It was based on the mid-1960s Batman TV series, and starred members of the TV cast, including Adam West as Gotham City's caped crusader Bruce Wayne and Burt Ward as the Boy Wonder Robin. It was noted as being a parody, with camp features and tongue-in-cheek dialogue.
There were seven Batman films (Warner Bros.) with four different actors in the title role, from 1989-2012:
|Spider-Man - based
upon Marvel Comics'
Spider-Man (Spidey) created by artist/writer Stan Lee and Steve Ditko,
and first appearing in the comic book Amazing Fantasy #
15 (in August of 1962), and debuting in its own comic book The
Amazing Spider-Man # 1 (in March of 1963).
See Greatest Film Series Franchises - Spider-Man
There were three Spider-Man films with Toby Maguire in the lead role as bookworm teen Peter Parker who turned into the muscle-bound web-slinging superhero. These first three films from 2002-2007 were directed by Sam Raimi:
The rebooted The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) was made with a new director (Marc Webb) and new cast members, including a new main actor (Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man); also with Emma Stone as classmate/love interest Gwen Stacy and Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard - a villainous humanoid reptile.
Marc Webb's sequel film, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) was due next, with Emma Stone reprising her role as Gwen Stacy - in addition to Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Jamie Foxx as the villain Max Dillon/Electro, and Dane DeHaan as wealthy scion Harry Osborn (Peter Parker's boyhood friend) - the Green Goblin.
|X-Men - a Marvel
Comics series created by artist Jack Kirby and Stan Lee was
about six peace-keeping mutant characters (Marvel
Girl, Angel, Professor Xavier, Beast, Cyclops, and Iceman). The
superhero X-Men team first appeared in the comic book The
X-Men # 1 (in September of 1963). Wolverine first appeared
in a cameo in the last panel of the comic book
The Incredible Hulk # 180 (in October of 1974). His
first full appearance was in the next issue The Incredible
Hulk # 181 (in
November of 1974). Wolverine was created by writer Len Wein and
Marvel art director John Romita, and was later enhanced by writer
Chris Claremont and co-writer/artist John Byrne.
See Greatest Film Series Franchises - X-Men
There were originally three X-Men films (from 2000 to 2006) from 20th Century Fox:
Director Matthew Vaughn's mutant origin story X-Men: First Class (2011), a prequel to the first three films, was set in 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It showcased the early friendship of Professor Charles Xavier or "X" (James McAvoy) and his future rival-nemesis Magneto (Michael Fassbender) of the Brotherhood of Mutants, and how Professor X became a peaceful revolutionary leading the mutants. 20th Century Fox envisioned this film as the first film in a new trilogy. It was the second-lowest-grossing X-Men movie to date.
The next film in the series was: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) - again directed by Bryan Singer, with a $200+ million budget, making it the priciest and most complicated X-Men film to date. The story involved time-travel in two time periods - the X-Men had to alter the past to save the future. A distant-future Wolverine was sent back to the 1970s to prevent war. The superhero film combined the casts of both the original X-Men Trilogy and the prequel X-Men: First Class (2011).
Other spin-off variations also appeared, involving one of the X-Men characters, Wolverine/aka James Howlett or Logan (Hugh Jackman), with accelerated healing, enhanced senses, bone claws, and an adamantium skeleton:
|Blade - a third-string Marvel Comics' character created by writer Marv Wolfman and illustrator Gene Colan. Blade originated in the comic book The Tomb of Dracula # 10 (in July of 1973).|
|The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was a
major franchise of superhero films (derived from Marvel Comics
characters) independently produced by Marvel Studios, beginning
with Iron-Man, then the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers.
The order of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are numbered below (there were 10 films through the year 2014):
|Iron-Man - Marvel Comics' first in-house, self-financed production (by Marvel Studios) was about an armored metal man of iron or cyborg. The superhero was created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby, and first appeared as billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (loosely based on Howard Hughes) in the comic book Tales of Suspense # 39 (in March of 1963).|
(1) Director Jon Favreau's and Paramount's Iron Man (2008) starred Robert Downey, Jr. in a comeback role as billionaire playboy, philanthropist, and weapons mogul Tony Stark, suited up as a flying, rocket-firing superhero. It co-starred Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark's secretary Virginia "Pepper" Potts, Terrence Howard as Lt. Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes, and Jeff Bridges as bad guy Obadiah Stane.
|The Hulk - aka the green Hulk, another Marvel Comics figure created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, was a character named Dr. Bruce Banner who was accidentally irradiated by gamma radiation from a test bombing, and transformed into the Incredible Hulk when angry or excited. The Hulk character first appeared in The Incredible Hulk # 1 (in May of 1962).|
The Incredible Hulk (1977), the popular TV series (from 1977-1982), introduced the Hulk character, first personified by Bill Bixby (as David Banner) and Lou Ferrigno (as the raging superego). The first season of The Hulk included ten episodes (and two TV movies).
Later, there were the following variations - two stand-alone feature-length films:
|Thor - the character of Thor based upon the thunder god of the same name in Norse mythology. The fictional superhero character, the Mighty Thor, first appeared in Marvel Comics' Journey into Mystery # 83 (in August of 1962). The super-strong Thor was created by Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Jack Kirby.|
(4) Director Kenneth Branagh's and Paramount's Thor (2011), another Marvel Comics production from Marvel Studios, starred Chris Hemsworth as the mythic title character, an Asgardian god (golden, hammer-wielding Norse god of Thunder) and crown prince, who battled against his villainous adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who wished to become king of Asgard. It also starred Natalie Portman as astro-physicist Jane Foster.
|Captain America - the character of Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby as a Marvel comic-book character in 1941, debuting in Captain America Comics # 1 (cover-dated March of 1941).|
The 15-episode Captain America (1944) by directors John English and Elmer Clifton, the last Republic Pictures serial ever made about superheroes, starred Dick Purcell as the comic-book hero Captain America/aka DA Grant Gardner.
Director Albert Pyun's Captain America (1990) starred Matt Salinger as Steve Rogers/Captain America - a superhuman warrior wearing red/white/blue. This film about the Marvel Comics character was never given a widespread US theatrical release, but went straight to DVD/cable TV in 1992 after some delays.
|The Avengers - the original band of Marvel super hero characters debuted in the comic book The Avengers # 1 (in September of 1963), created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They included the Hulk, Ant-Man, Wasp, Thor, and Iron Man.|
(6) Writer/director Joss Whedon's and Disney's superhero ensemble film Marvel's The Avengers (2012), from Marvel Studios, featured a slew of iconic Marvel Comics superheroes - a group led by one-eyed, eye-patch-wearing spymaster Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the leader of a government high-tech law enforcement agency named S.H.I.E.L.D.. He brought together a team of good-guy Avengers to combat a galactic threat to destroy Earth, led by Thor's villainous, megalomaniac, adoptive and exiled brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston):
(11) Writer/director Joss Whedon's sequel was The Avengers 2 (2015) - with all the major characters reprising their roles, and additional characters including a twin brother-sister team: fast-moving Quicksilver and sorceress Scarlet Witch.
|Guardians of the Galaxy - based upon the cult-favorite comic book's superhero team, first appearing in Marvel Super-Heroes # 18 (in January of 1969). It was written by Arnold Drake and penciled by Gene Colan.|
(10) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) - directed by James Gunn; the main character was Peter Quill/Star-Lord (portrayed by Chris Pratt), who was abducted from Earth (the state of Missouri) at the age of 8, and raised by a group of thieves and smugglers known as Ravagers. He became the self-proclaimed half-alien leader of the Guardians (a law-and-order team), including other oddball intergalactic members: a genetically-engineered gunslinging varmint named Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), a giant fighting tree creature named Groot (Vin Diesel), a knife-wielding gray-green skinned warrior-muscleman named Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), and green-skinned humanoid assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) - the last survivor of an extinct alien race.