THE COMIC BOOK MOVIE GENREUNIT 25 FILM AND TELEVISION STUDIESGenre: The Comic Book World of MoviesIt is difficult to remember a time when Hollywood didnt produce a summer blockbuster based on the stories and adventures of a comic book character. It seems like in the past decade there has been an overwhelming array of these types of films, and if you were to look at the chart showing future releases in this genre, it shows no sign of slowing up. But this wasnt always the case

Early History:There was a time when comics where seen as a childs pastime, and to think of basing a movie around any of these characters was laughable, and in business terms very risky. As the popularity of comic books grew, it was soon realised that it wasnt only a child fan base that the books had acquired. The tales of the super heroes in these comics held mythical and in some cases biblical themes within them. It is well known amongst comic book fans just how much the origin story of Superman mirrors that of Moses.

Money to be made?When it was agreed by the moneymen within the film and television industry that there was a dollar or two to be made from developing these stories for the screen, it didnt take long before they were adapted into Saturday morning TV serials, which were mainly aimed at children. The early 1940s saw a slew of adventures based on comic book super heroes like Batman, The Adventures of Captain Marvel, The Phantom, Captain America and Superman. The industry remained stale and continued this trend for the next three decades. The 60s saw a revival of Batman for the small screen starring Adam West, which proved to be hugely popular.

1960s BatmanThe 1960s Batman serial was made tongue in cheek, and was hugely camp and comedic. It worked for the time it was produced, and in many ways mirrored the style of the comics in his era. However it was an image and style, which stayed with comic related productions for the next decade. It wasnt until renowned filmmaker Richard Donner decided to make a serious adaptation of the Superman origin story in 1977 that the landscape of what comic book movies could be changed.

Superman the Movie 1978The Superman movie came on the back of the newly formed summer blockbuster trend, which was previously established by such movies as Jaws and Star Wars. Warner Brothers put a lot of time, money and effort into building Donners Superman production into one of these blockbusters. Almost a year before the movie was released, the public were teased a poster with the slogan Youll believe a man can fly. This strategy was almost unheard of at that time, and built the anticipation to great effect.

Superman the Movie 1978The movie itself was both a critical and financial success. It earned Donner and its unknown lead, Christopher Reeve rave reviews. More importantly, it moved the comic book genre within the film world into a new territory. Producers were now hunting for the next comic book character to adapt for the screen. The success of Superman the movie, showed the filmmakers how the dramatic content within the countless issues and stories could be portrayed in a serious and spectacular way.

TV & SequelsIt perhaps came as a surprise then, that it was almost a decade later before a comic book movie would enjoy success on this level. Of course there had been more adaptations of comic characters in this time frame, but either arrogance or stupidity by the filmmakers to stray from the source material and stories in the comics made many of them come up short. There were a few success stories in this time. The Incredible Hulk was turned into a popular TV series in 1978 starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, and there were several sequels to Superman the movie, which had varying (and gradual degrading) levels of production values and financial success.

Batman 1989Arguably the most famous comic creation of all was Batman. There was a strong push in the 1980s by both Warner Brothers and Batmans creator Bob Kane, to see a serious adaptation of the character on the big screen. Wanting the move away from the comedic and bright style of the 60s serial, producers hired Tim Burton, a young up and coming director with a striking gothic style. It was an inspired choice for the caped crusaders first foray onto the silver screen. Acting legend Jack Nicholson was signed up for a record breaking fee to play Batmans nemesis The Joker, as were Jack Palance and Kim Basinger. However, there was some controversy when it was announced that Michael Keaton would be playing the Bruce Wayne / Batman role. Keaton (who Tim Burton had collaborated with on Beetlejuice) was seen as a comedic actor, and there was a worry amongst the fans that Warner Brothers were not going to deliver a serious adaptation of the character again.

Batman 1989These worries would be unfounded when the movie was released. The movie was a critical and financial success. It earned over $400 million in the box office, and was the fifth highest grossing film in history at the time of its release. More importantly, it proved again the potential of comic book creations in the movie industry when they were produced correctly, and remained faithful to the source material. It won several awards including an Oscar, and spawned the equally successful Batman: the animated series, paving the way for the DC animated universe.

1990s GrowthBatman was released in 1989, and the nineties saw more comic book movies produced on this bigger scale. Some were great adaptations that didnt do well at the box-office, others were poor in terms of remaining faithful to the source material, yet proved successful at the box office. It all depended on how well the studios marketed these movies. Other productions of note during the nineties were Alex Proyas version of The Crow and Sam Raimis Darkman starring Liam Neeson. Batman Returns saw Tim Burton reunite with Michael Keaton again for a follow up to their adaptation of the caped crusader, and Jim Carrey starred in The Mask to further enhance his reputation as Hollywoods most bankable star of this era.

1990s FailuresHowever, the nineties were not exempt from some stunningly ill judged and poor productions within the genre. They generally came in the production of some lazy sequels to the hits that preceded them. In 1995 Warner Brothers decided to change direction with their Batman franchise and hired former costume designer Joel Schumacher to direct the third dark knight instalment Batman Forever. The movie saw Val Kilmer take on the titular role, with Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones proving his foils. Although the movie performed excellently at the box office, many fans saw it as a step backward in the characters screen progression. It used bright colours, costumes and camp humour harking back to the 60s serial starring Adam West. Worse still was the next Batman movie, Batman & Robin, which is rightly regarded as one of the worst movies ever to be made. The less I say about this movie the better. It would take another decade for Batman to recover from these travesties.

Who owns who?Hollywoods main studios had signed the rights to the most successful comic characters at this time. Warner Brothers continued their long collaboration with DCs comic universe, which gave them exclusivity on Batman and Superman to name but a few. Sony Pictures acquired the rights to Spiderman from Marvel, who was still awaiting his first big screen adaptation in the nineties. While 20th Century Fox snapped up Marvels X-Men and The Fantastic Four franchises. From Marvels point of view, it was a move that would prove problematic for them in the future. They had been left with what many fans would consider their lesser characters like Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Hulk. What Marvel did with these lesser characters in later years would be looked on with envy by the rest of the studios.

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