Ah. The superhero movie. The action. The romance. The spandex pants. The humor. The costumes. The damsels in distress. The villain. All these are elements are of the superhero genre. The genre has changed over the years, but within the last decade, it has been injected with a fiercer energy, action- and creativity-wise. A corny movie like Superman (1978) is obviously going to be different than a movie like X-Men (2000). But even a once-advanced X-Men is going to be really different from movies like The Dark Knight (2008) and Watchmen (2009).
Films made between 1978 and 2009 have had varied levels of critical and monetary success. Superman and Batman (1989) received both types of success, even though their sequels didn’t. Then came the surprise hit X-Men (2000). At the time, X-Men was different than the superhero films of the last 20 years. It wasn’t banal like Superman. It was dark like Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), but with a realistic world. It was also the beginning of a mature look on the superhero characters. Consider Magneto (Ian McKellen) from X-Men, a man who is so traumatized by his Holocaust experience, he commits violent actions based on his own self-righteousness.
Superhero movies became a big business again when Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) became the first film to gross over 100 million dollars in its opening weekend. It had dark themes too, but was incredibly epic, especially visually. X-Men and Spider-Man led the way for more Marvel Comics films, such as Daredevil and Hulk. A DC Comic book character had her own spinoff in Catwoman (2004), but the film was poorly received by critics and audiences.
Then came the next DC Comics film: Batman Begins (2005), a reboot of the Batman series, which resulted in a modern and realistic interpretation of the Batman story. It received significant critical acclaim for a superhero movie. Three years later, the genre released a movie unlike anything attempted before: The Dark Knight. Costing more money to make than Batman Begins, The Dark Knight became the most successful superhero movie in terms of revenue as the second highest grossing film of all time and one of the most acclaimed films of the years, with a now-legendary Oscar-worthy performance by the late Heath Ledger as The Joker.
Now there’s Watchmen, which is based on the graphic novel that was in the form of great fiction. Watchmen is incredibly violent and philosophical. Visual effects improvements over the last 20 years have specifically made this possible. Compare a superhero like Superman to one of the Watchmen protagonists: an uncompromising, cruel vigilante named Rorschach. Even Wolverine of X-Men isn’t as dark of a character as Rorschach. Wolverine is aggressive due to nature, haunted by his past, but not a killer. Rorschach is a brutal, merciless vigilante who doesn’t hesitate in killing his enemies.
The genre has evolved and is gaining true respect for releasing great movies. The Dark Knight is just the beginning of the superhero movie revolution.