Comic books have been around since 1842 in America, but the first modern comic book came out in 1933. Since then, the comic book has become a unique form of art that both entertains and inspires readers. Comics capture millions of fans' hearts through action, humor and suspense, and superhero comics enjoy special status as the most common genre of comic book.
Whether they featured Superman flying through the skies of Metropolis or allowed readers to travel through different dimensions with Doctor Strange, superhero comics gained a huge following over the decades since their introduction. After the widespread popularity of superhero comics declined, many directors, producers and screenwriters decided to take the characters out of the pages onto the big screen.
Believe it or not, superhero films weren't too popular before the early 2000s. Sure, there were the classic 1989 Batman and the 1978 Superman, but, for the most part, superhero films weren't as common as they are today.
After I went to see Doctor Strange with a few friends on opening weekend, I remembered the first superhero movie I watched, Batman & Robin, and how much acting, CGI and visual effects have changed since then.
So we're going to take a look at the best classics and modern favorites that every superhero fan needs to see and examine just how close directors came to the original comic book characters:
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight really revamped the Batman series with amazing graphics and plot lines that were inspired by Batman: The Long Halloween (1996) and Batman: The Killing Joke (1988). Heath Ledger as The Joker was arguably the best casting decision for the movie series. Ledger's Joker was the prankster and schemer fans knew from comics and previous films, but Ledger was also able to lend a violent and eerie performance to the ear-to-ear grinning clown. If you've seen it, you'll probably never forget his classic line, "Why so serious?," and his wavering stories behind the cuts on his cheeks.
Alfred and Commissioner Gordon also were cast really well. There are mixed reviews on Christian Bale's style of Batman, and honestly I'd have to agree. We all know Batman is supposed to be the forever-brooding and mysterious vigilante attacking bad guys from the shadows, but the fact that Batman becomes "whispering" or "constantly sick" is annoying. So, points to Christian Bale for getting the brooding part right, but minus 30 points for Bale constantly making me want to offer him a cough drop.
Accuracy meter: 50%
Although the portrayal of characters was pretty spot on, Batman got a few upgrades in this trilogy and relied more on his fists than gadgets to fight. There were some plot changes and characters who didn't exist in the comics.
There was little doubt that The Avengers were going to be a huge hit with audiences. Everyone's favorite superheroes -- Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow and more -- come together to defeat Thor's evil brother Loki, all while trying not to kill each other. (Future fights and disagreements are in store for Iron-Man and Captain America, obviously. Thanks, Captain America: Civil War.) The Avengers was a top box office hit and even earned about $623 billion in theaters. The New Yorker proclaimed, "If you are a Marvel fan, then The Avengers will feel like Christmas. Thanks to the merry doings of the director, Joss Whedon, all your favorite characters are here, as shiny and as tempting as presents under the tree."
It's true. The diverse cast of superheroes brought enough action, humor and fun to the screen, and had fans excited for more when it was over.
Accuracy meter: 65%
For the most part, the characters stay true to who they are. S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to defend the world and make sure nothing blows up in its face. However, in the comics, Captain America wasn't the first Avenger. And he was saved from his icy prison by the other Avengers, not S.H.I.E.L.D.
Okay, Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man will always hold a special place in my heart because he's the reason I fell in love with the superhero genre. You can't help but love the shy, awkward Peter Parker who's in love with the prettiest girl in school, Mary Jane. Then once Peter gets bitten by a genetically engineered spider, we see Maguire's confident, sassy side as he plays the web-swinging superhero. The New York Post called Maguire "a surprisingly charming and even witty match for the best of Hollywood's comic-book adaptations."
However, there were some fans who weren't too happy seeing Mary Jane instead of Gwen Stacy as the Spidey Casanova's first love interest. Then after The Amazing Spider-Man came to theaters in 2014, a debate began about who was the better Spider-Man: Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield? Personally, I love Andrew's sarcastic humor and think he matches Spidey more. No matter what your opinion is, though, Spider-Man gave fans a first glimpse into the Marvel Universe and laid the foundation for more Marvel films.
Accuracy meter: 60%
Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker sure has the nerdiness to boot, and Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin was as terrifying as ever. However, as we learn in The Amazing Spider-Man, Gwen is Peter's first true love, and he needed a little technological help to shoot his webs.
As the first film to be part of The Avengers series, Iron-Man was a huge hit with critics and fans. Robert Downey Jr. gave a hilarious performance as the arrogant millionaire Tony Stark. The amount of humor in Iron Man gets us through the more harsh scenes in which Tony Stark is violently kidnapped and tortured into making devices for a group of terrorists. Not to mention the whole "if anything happens to that blue shiny thing on your chest, you're gonna die" thing.
Anyway, Iron Man ended up being a great beginning for the Marvel Universe, especially The Avengers series, and Downey Jr.'s character continued to gain success through all three films. The New York Times called Iron Man an "unusually good superhero movie," and the franchise is still a fan favorite in the Marvel community.
Accuracy meter: 30% (the real backstory is just too detailed to show audiences everything in under two hours)
Even though we love Robert Downey Jr.'s version of the man in the iron suit, it turns out Iron-Man is actually more solemn and all about firepower than wit. Apparently Pepper doesn't even end up with the sexy millionaire, but instead admires him from afar. Honestly, there are no complaints here on the changes.
Of course I have to pay homage to one of the classics that started it all. Tim Burton's dark style created a Gotham City full of mystery and dangers, and there was only one caped man who could save it: Batman. Jack Nicholson plays a mean, green Joker, and if you still get chills from his "Here comes Johnny" line in The Shining, you'll get that vibe and more with his performancehere.
This version of Batman is no Dark Knight trilogy, but if you want to see one of the first few times the bat came to life onscreen, you have to see this film. Also, if you're just a fan of Tim Burton or Danny Elfman in general, you'll see their signature touches in the setting, the tone and the score.
Accuracy meter: 80%
Batman's backstory? Check. Crazy Joker? Check. Crooked Gotham City in need of saving? Check. Tim Burton's Batman really tries to set the tone of instability and chaos in Gotham City, and it doesn't fail to deliver.
Well, that wraps up our list. The truth is, every superhero movie is great in its own way (yes, even Batman & Robin), because they're fun, thrilling and help us escape reality for a little while. It's exciting to think there's still a long lineup of Marvel and DC films coming within the next year or two. Taking our favorite comic book characters to the big screen not only gives new meaning to comic book fans, but also introduces a whole new world to a larger audience.
If you haven't seen any of these movies yet, seriously, where have you been? But in all honesty, you won't regret it. If Vox does another list of the best superhero films, I would be surprised if we don't see Doctor Strange or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 on there.
So go out and watch a superhero film or two, and learn that with great power comes great responsibility.
Didn't see your favorite superhero movie on the list? Tell us which superhero film you think is extra super in the comments, or tweet at us @VoxMag.