The Avengers has made almost $1.4 billion dollars since it was released in early May. That is a lot of comic books, even with today’s $2.99-plus cover price. Marvel Comics has been on a roll as of late with its movie adaptations even with the occassional Ghost Rider or Punisher dreck included. The strange this is that it did not used to be this way.
Twenty years ago Marvel could not figure out how to break into the movie arena. Marvel’s arch-rival, DC Comics, had a pretty successful run of their own from the late-1970’s to mid-1990’s, but once fans tired of Superman and Batman the DC movie machine fizzled, and (minus the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy) has never regained its footing. After the release of Batman Begins in 2005 DC looked to be back in the game, but releases like Superman Returns, Watchmen, Jonah Hex and Green Lantern were disappointing at the box office, and left some fans scratching their heads.
Marvel understands this disappointment. Before the release of Blade in 1998, the comic book giant did not have a single successful movie on its resume. Outside of The Incredible Hulk television series, and animated shows like X-Men, the company had little success at all in Hollywood. How sad was Marvel movie making before Wesley Snipes started killing vampires? Let’s take a look:
Howard the Duck (1986)
Marvel had produced several made for TV movies before 1986, but Howard the Duck was their return to the big screen. In a word this movie is weird. If I had one more word I would add…terrible. For some reason George Lucas felt the need to produce this movie, and to make it slightly PG-13. Howard the Duck was a cigar-smoking, wise-cracking fixture of the Marvel Universe throughout the 1970’s, but he had at-best a cult following, making the need for a Howard the Duck movie all that stranger.
The film was universally panned and was a box-office bomb. Over the course of time it has become a cult film, and was released on DVD in 2009. Somehow the movie actually made back the $37 million budget during its initial release, but only by $1 million.
The Punisher (1989)
This Punisher adaptation might be the best one of the three produced, but that does not mean it is any good. The Punisher would be a great character if he actually cared about anything other than revenge, shooting people, and blowing shit up. This is also the problem with the Punisher movies there is nothing to care about. Some people like that, a lot of people do not. In all fairness, I really liked dumb action movies when I was a kid.
Somehow the producers roped Louis Gossett Jr. into appearing in this movie, but Gossett was in the middle of his 1980’s action film era so that does make sense. Dolph Lundgren is actually believable as Frank Castle, but mostly because Castle rarely speaks, and Lundgren is better when he does not speak. The biggest reason to not like this adaptation is for the lack of a skull on Punisher’s shirt.
Captain America (1990)
This one actually got a lot of things right, but it was also horrible. Almost unwatchable. It tested so poorly in advance screenings that the producers, 21st Century Film Corporation, shelved it, and it was released on video in 1992. It is nice that they tried to stay true to the original Cap costume, and even the Red Skull looks OK.
Fun fact about this movie, Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon are both in the cast. If I need to tell you who they are you must not watch movies on Christmas.
The Fantastic Four (1994)
When I was 16 or 17 this movie appeared on the shelf behind the counter of the comic shop I frequented. They wanted $20 for it, and after weeks of going back and forth on it I decided to buy it. It was AWFUL. I have no idea where that VHS is now, and I am totally fine with that.
Oh, also this movie was produced by Roger Corman. ‘Nuff said.
Marvel Comics released two made-for-TV movies in the mid-1990’s both of which appeared on FOX. Generation X released in 1996 was an adapation of Marvel’s newest teen mutant team, and in 1998 an adaptation of Nick Fury starring every German’s favorite lifeguard:
Hopefully you all made it through this recap in one piece, and possibly a bit of nostalgia crept in as well. It was not all that long ago when filmmakers had to find someone like Lou Ferrigno to be the Hulk instead of just making the Hulk look like Mark Ruffalo with a computer.