Davis: History of superhero movie making

In 1986, George Lucas' Howard the Duck was a bomb. However, by 1989 Batman came out and things started turning around.

  • Apr. 29, 2015 7:00 a.m.

Chris Evans (Captain America) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) return in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Three years in the making, the highly anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron hits theatres this weekend.

After the first Avengers grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide, writer-director Joss Whedon was immediately signed to do a sequel, bringing with him the original cast of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. There are also numerous appearances of characters from the last movie as well as others that have appeared in other movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe plus new characters such as Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and the villain Ultron (voiced by James Spader).

In the sequel, The Avengers must re-assemble to combat the threat of Ultron, an artificial intelligence Tony Stark and Bruce Banner are working on together to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program. But things go awry when Ultron develops a god complex and decides to pacify the Earth by eradicating humanity.

It goes without saying that Avengers: Age of Ultron will be a huge success and there are many more superhero movies coming out over the next five years, including two more Avengers sequels. But superhero movies were not always a sure thing they seemingly are nowadays and it has taken almost 100 years of moviemaking to get to this point.

Up until the 1970s, most superheroes were featured in 12 to 15 chapter serials that ran weekly in front of movies featuring characters like Zorro, Superman, Batman, Captain America and The Shadow. Even before that, Zorro was the first superhero feature-length movie in the 1920 silent film The Mark of Zorro.

Although there were numerous feature-length Zorro movies after that, the next major superhero movie was Superman and the Mole Men in 1951, which starred George Reeves and became the successful TV series. The next one was Batman, which was based on the Batman TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward.  And although there were attempts to develop some superheroes (Captain America, Spider-Man and Dr. Strange) into TV stars in the 1970s (the most successful of which was The Incredible Hulk), it took the world’s most powerful superhero to become a movie star.

In 1977, Superman: The Movie became the first superhero blockbuster and spawned numerous sequels, but even by the third in 1983 it was suffering. A 1984 spin-off featuring Supergirl barely got a release in theatres.

In 1986, the George Lucas-produced Howard the Duck was a bomb. However, by 1989 Batman came out and things started turning around again. In the 1990s, lesser known comic book characters like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Mask were getting hit movies and movie companies were giving older heroes another shot like The Shadow and Zorro.

There were a few more ups and downs in the 1990s, but starting in the early 2000s with X-Men and Spider-Man, movie companies were taking more chances with superheroes which have ultimately led to reigniting characters like Batman (The Dark Knight) in 2005 and the making of the first Iron Man movie in 2008, jump-starting the Marvel Cinematic Universe which culminates this weekend with Avengers: Age of Ultron.

And as teased at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy, Howard the Duck may even make a comeback.


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