Gary Collinson selects his Essential Movie Superheroes…
Although the comic-book superhero was generally overlooked by the movie industry until Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978) made you believe a man could fly, Hollywood failed to capitalise on this success over the next couple of decades and a stigma soon became attached to the genre. Save for a handful of notable exceptions (Warner Bros.’ Batman franchise was successful, but we all know how that turned out once Joel Schumacher got involved), it wasn’t until the release of the X-Men and Spider-Man movies that Hollywood really started to stand up and pay attention.
These days it seems you can’t breathe for superheroes – 2010 has seen the release of Iron Man II, Kick-Ass and Jonah Hex, while the next few years will see a host of superhero movies grace the screen including Thor and X-Men: First Class in 2011 along with the likes of Captain America, The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and reboots to Spider-Man and Superman: Man of Steel scheduled for the following year. It’s becoming so difficult to keep track of all the costumed adventurers that a Superhero Registration Act could be the only way to go.
Of course, the majority of screen superheroes fail to live up to their comic-book counterparts (hence the ridiculous number of reboots), so here we present a selection of the very best with our ten essential movie superheroes…
Christian Bale as Batman
First donning the cape and cowl for Christopher Nolan’s franchise reboot Batman Begins in 2005, Christian Bale went on to earn the distinction of headlining the highest grossing – and arguably best – superhero movie with The Dark Knight (2008). However, while it would be hard to argue that he delivers the definitive screen interpretation of the Batman (that, in my opinion, is yet to come), he is certainly a big improvement on his predecessors. Bale will continue his crusade against the criminal element of Gotham City in 2012 with The Dark Knight Rises, the highly anticipated third movie in Nolan’s series.
Wesley Snipes as Blade
Wesley Snipes ushered in the new age of movie superheroes back in 1998 with his turn as Marvel Comics’ vampire slayer in Stephen Norrington’s Blade. Snipes returned to the role for two sequels in Blade II (2002) and Blade: Trinity (2004) but a lawsuit against New Line Cinema and Blade: Trinity director David S. Goyer – not to mention Snipes’ subsequent conviction for tax evasion and spell in the slammer – seem to have laid to rest rumours of a fourth outing for the time being.
Ron Perlman as Ted Danson as Hellboy
More accustomed to the villainous side of the superhero genre (see his extensive voice work in animated TV shows and an appearance in Blade II), Ron Perlman brings the horned demon of Dark Horse Comics to life in director Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008). Standing out as the only entrant on the list not to originate from the DC and Marvel universes, Perlman will be hoping to reprise the role for a third instalment once del Toro finishes up his adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man
Jon Favreau’s crowd-pleasing box office smash Iron Man (2008) benefits immensely from the charismatic performance of Robert Downey Jr. as billionaire industrialist and ‘likeable asshole’ Tony Stark in a near-perfect casting decision which firmly established the actor as a bona fide member of the Hollywood elite. After returning for the 2010 sequel Iron Man II (along with a cameo in Marvel Studios’ The Incredible Hulk), Ol’ Shellhead will next be seen as a main-player in The Avengers, while a third Iron Man film is surely on the cards in the not-too-distant future.
Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury
Okay, so his combined screen time in Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man II (2010) might clock in at around five minutes but this is Samuel L. Jackson we’re talking about here, and playing a character based off his own likeness no less (the redesigned Nick Fury from Marvel’s Ultimates line). With a nine-picture deal in place, look for the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. to play a big part when The Avengers assemble in 2012 (not to mention a supporting role in Captain America: The First Avenger).
Patrick Stewart as Professor X
During the development of the X-Men movie series only one name was under consideration to portray Professor Charles Xavier, leader of the X-Men and founder of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters – Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself, Patrick Stewart. An obvious yet inspired choice, Stewart was an integral part of the first three X-Men movies and his cameo in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) means he is one of only three people to play the same hero in four consecutive movies. Stewart is soon to be replaced by James McAvoy for Matthew Vaughn’s franchise reboot X-Men: First Class (2011).
Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach
Former child star turned movie psychopath Jackie Earle Haley delivers a fine performance as the ruthless, sadistic and downright insane masked vigilante Rorschach in Zack Snyder’s ambitious adaptation of the classic graphic novel Watchmen by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons. Bagging the gig courtesy of a self-produced audition tape, Haley’s Rorschach is perhaps the most faithful interpretation of any character on this list and without a shadow of a doubt, the one you’d least like to bump into in a dark alley after robbing a convenience store.
Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man
The third film may have been a disappointment but Tobey Maguire’s turn as Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man in Sam Raimi’s blockbuster trilogy Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007) really demonstrated the blockbuster potential of the comic-book adaptation. With a combined world-wide gross of almost $2.5b Maguire’s webslinger helped launch one of the most successful film franchises of all-time, although it’s probably a wise decision to start afresh with the younger Andrew Garfield slipping into the spandex for the as yet untitled 2012 reboot from Marc Webb.
Christopher Reeve as Superman
With his turn as Kal-El in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978), Christopher Reeve set the bar for movie superheroes and his performance remains one of the highlights of the genre. Appearing in three sequels – Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) – Reeve became the first person to play the same hero four times whilst simultaneously establishing the tradition that no superhero series could produce more than two decent instalments without having to reboot. Replaced by Brandon Routh for Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006), a vacancy currently exists for the Last Son of Krypton in the upcoming Superman: The Man of Steel (2012) from director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan.
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine
As the most popular character in the X-Men mythos, the casting of Wolverine was crucial to the success of the movie franchise. Step forward Hugh Jackman (a last-minute replacement for original choice Dougray Scott), who delivers a near flawless interpretation of the adamantium-clawed mutant in X-Men (2000), X2: X-Men United (2003) and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), in addition to his own 2009 spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Jackman’s appearance in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wolverine will see him become the first actor to portray the same superhero on five separate occasions (and if rumours are to be believed he could make this six with a cameo in First Class).
And the epic fails…
Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl (Batman & Robin, 1997)
George Clooney as Batman (Batman & Robin, 1997)
Halle Berry as Catwoman (Catwoman, 2004)
Shaquille O’Neal as Steel (Steel, 1997)
Chris O’Donnell as Robin (Batman Forever, 1995 – Batman & Robin, 1997)
Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your comments on the list…
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