Comics lived their golden age in the 40s, where superheroes fought crime in a thousand different ways. Most had something in common: extraordinary powers and abilities that make them supermen and, superwomen because there was also room for Wonder Woman. The years when first superhero films with characters such as Superman, Batman or Captain America began to take off in the 70s, 80s and 90s with some of the best films.
The new technologies and special effects of cinema enhanced this type of cinema, making Christopher Reeve fly as Superman. Already at the end of the 80s came the Batman with the adaptation of Tim Burton, 20 years after the television success of Adam West who also had his film. Batman, Superman’s biggest competitor, achieved box office success and both opened the way for other superheroes of greater or lesser relevance. Below we take a trip back in time to determine which are the best old superhero movies of those years.
The best old superhero movies (70s, 80s and 90s)
Superhero cinema is relatively young, but there is life beyond Marvel. In previous decades, DC superheroes had more presence and had a darker tone. Comic book superheroes not only wear capes, but in this list you can find other names such as Blade, The Raven or Dick Tracy. There is no shortage of some curious stories surrounding this film genre, where there are also cult films.
Superman was one of the first superheroes to release his own film in 1948. However, it gained prominence with Richard Donner’s film that became a trilogy. It was a great commercial success and put comics on everyone’s lips. Unforgettable was the interpretation of Christopher Reeve who became the most famous Clark Kent in history. A journalist who hid his true identity to save planet Earth from an extraterrestrial threat.
The Toxic Avenger (1986)
Superhero cinema was still looking for its place and there were weird experiments like this. It is considered a cult film, but it is an extremely violent parody of the Hulk. It has many unrecorded scenes, a trash proposal that at the same time is very appreciated by fans of B movies. So much was its singular success that Marvel published a series of comics, a video game, television shows and a lot of merchandising. The character is named Melvin and is teased at the gym where he works. One day radioactive material falls that turn him into a monstrous mutant with powers.
Batman by Tim Burton (1989)
Batman became a phenomenon with the TV series starring Adam West and gave worldwide popularity to both actor and character. It took more than 20 years for Tim Burton to make his version of the Dark Knight with a roster composed of Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Kim Basinger. Keaton’s choice was highly questioned, but ultimately the film was a resounding success with a memorable performance by Nicholson as Joker. This caused two more films to be made.
The Punisher (1989)
Now it sounds strange to translate The Punisher, but there was a punisher played by Dolph Lundgren. The interesting thing about the comic book character is that he was not a model superhero, but events lead him to become an antihero. It was not the best adaptation of the character, but with this film it was shown that the comics could offer much more than heroes with mask and cape. Frank Castle is a police officer whose family was murdered and has since lived in a sewer waiting for his moment to take revenge for everything that has been taken from him.
Dick Tracy (1990)
Marvel and DC have a big presence on this list, but don’t forget about other characters. Tintin had several films in the 60s, as well as his compatriots Asterix and Obelix, much more recent or the TIA agents Mortadelo and Filemón. The United States had its own researcher who debuted in 1990 on the big screen. Dick Tracy is an iconic Chester Gould character who has had many adaptations. A different hero and whose film featured Madonna as the female character, Warren Beatty, Dick Van, Kathy Bates or Al Pacino.
You may not know the name of this superhero. It was created by Dave Stevens and tells the story of a young aerobatic pilot who discovers a mysterious rocket with which he can fly. The film did not have a good box office, despite having a good casting of actors such as Jennifer Conelly or Timothy Dalton. The film was produced by Disney who wanted to put Johnny Depp as the character, but finally had to settle for Billy Campbell. The action takes place in the 30s when a secret weapon has been stolen by the mafia in Los Angeles.
Captain America (1991)
America’s most patriotic hero (we don’t mean The Patriot) debuted early on with his own adventures in 1944. Even before Chris Evans put on the suit, there was a film that has been forgotten. Even so, it is interesting to know its existence especially if you are a fan of Marvel. This film took some licenses on the original story by Steve Rogers. In 1936 the Italian fascist government kidnapped a child and killed his family in order to subject him to an experiment. A doctor refuses and flees with him to the United States which later devises a formula to create supersoldiers. Rogers becomes Captain America and faces Red Skull.
Batman Returns (1992)
We can not forget the sequel to Batman, following a structure very similar to the first film. Michael Keaton was counted again, but this time the character of Michelle Pfeiffer or Danny DeVito stood out. It was one of the highest-grossing films worldwide and has the personal touch of Tim Burton. It has a very dark and nostalgic atmosphere that was very out of tune at that time, since it presents a really tormented hero. Despite his detractors, many agree that this is one of the best Batman that cinema has enjoyed.
The Fantastic 4 (1994)
Among the most discreet superhero films we can find this version of The Fantastic Four wrapped in controversy. It was a low-budget film that wasn’t even released in theaters. A hidden gem with an intra-story behind, since the production company only wanted to keep the rights of the characters. Sure, this doesn’t make it the best superhero movie, although the story deserves to be told. Marvel had a serious problem with the rights to The Fantastic 4 and Stan Lee himself said that “the film should never be shown to anyone”.
The Raven (1994)
In the ranking of cursed films we find The Raven for very different reasons, the film star Brandon Lee, son of the ill-fated actor and martial arts artist Bruce Lee. During the filming of the movie, Brandon accidentally died with a gun and acquired greater relevance. The Raven got the favor of the popular critics and the public, being the best film on this list. The Raven is an original story by James O’Barr about a vigilante who returns from the grave to avenge the murder of his fiancée.
Batman Forever (1995)
This time it was directed by Joel Schumacher and changed the entire cast of actors. Val Kilmer will not be remembered as the best Batman, although he left us unforgettable scenes. The story focuses on Batman’s confrontation against some of the most well-known villains such as Two-Face and Enigma. Although Tim Burton did not disassociate completely, the tone of the film is completely different. It has many references to Batman: Year One, as well as the comics where Robin and Riddler debuted. It did not reach excellence as neither would the most criticized Batman & Robin.
Men in Black (1997)
If you have to talk about typical heroes, surely you remember the couple formed by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Men in Black is an adaptation of Lowell Cunningham’s comic strip featuring a government agency whose goal is to hide the existence of aliens on Earth. The film has a hilarious tone, whose action takes place in New York City. Agents K and J will find a specimen that will threaten peace on Earth, so there is no lack of action either.
We can’t finish this selection of movies without talking about Blade. At its premiere many viewers were not aware that it is a Marvel character and the truth is that it has a very different style. Wesley Snipes (Blade) is a vampire hunter who inherits vampiric abilities because his mother died after being bitten by one of them. In Detroit, these creatures mix with humans and Deacon Frost is a leader seeking world domination of his race. Blade will face this threat, while feeling an internal conflict.
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These are not all the superhero movies that were released in those years, but the most important ones. We have not forgotten Supergirl or Flash Gordon, who did not suffer the same fate as other cartoon companions. The same happened with ambitious films such as The Masked Man or The Shadow, but they were a failure at the box office. You can still watch all the Marvel movies in order with the correct chronology.
And we always love to hear your favorites in comments.