Movies & TV / Columns

The Most Influential Superhero Movies Of All-Time

April 11, 2020 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Superman the Movie

Here we go! While news out of Hollywood has slowed down to a trickle, we at 411mania keep the fun rolling along. I hope you’re appreciative. 

This week we look at the most influential superhero movies. We’re talking positive impact so you won’t see Elektra, Howard the Duck, Catwoman, Batman Forever, or a number of other poorly done superhero movies being mentioned.

Before we jump into it, let’s take a moment to say that 1980s Flash Gordon gets a nod for having one of the catchiest theme songs ever. 

For many, 1978’s Superman is what started it all. Richard Donner’s movie wasn’t the first superhero flick but it certainly evolved it to a point to be taken serious by audiences. Donner’s Superman was respectful of the source material and Christopher Reeve is still the bar everyone attempts to rise to. Even with today’s special effects, Superman stands tall with some of the best flying sequences and the movie has true heart.

Superman’s opposite, Batman, was no stranger to audiences but 1989’s Batman got everyone’s attention and wiped away the campy reputation the Dark Knight had, thanks to the 1960’s TV show. Tim Burton’s vision opened the door for future superhero movies and Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker is still considered one of the best villains on the big screen.

Then we have the casting of Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Thanks to social media, any casting is scrutinized within seconds of being announced but back then fans had…not a lot really. Phone calls and letters were about the extent of complaints but even the media had doubts on Keaton, who up to that point was known more for his comedic talents. His performance quickly put those hesitations to rest and stands as a prime example of not judging the cast before seeing the finished product on the big screen.

While overlooked, 1998’s Blade deserves mention. The movie was a darker look at comic book properties and became a commercial success by grossing $70 million at the U.S. box office, and $131.2 million worldwide and offered a glimpse of what was to come. 

Unfortunately, superhero movies were still considered lightweight and it wasn’t until 2000’s X-Men that the potential they held was beginning to get noticed. With a large cast that included Anna Paquin, Ian McKellen, and Patrick Stewart, it launched a franchise that’s still kicking today. For better or for worse. 

2002’s Spider-Man took advantage of the new light being shined and went on to become the first to ever cross the $100 million mark at the box office in a single weekend, setting a record at $114 million. A financial and critical success, it finished with $821.7 million worldwide, and was 2002’s third highest-grossing film and is the 56th-highest-grossing film of all time (seventh at the time of release). The film competed at the 75th Academy Awards ceremony for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound. It put Hollywood on notice that superhero movies could be true blockbusters.

Christopher Nolan’s 2005 Batman Begins built on that and started one of the most hotly debated Batman trilogies. Nolan’s vision opened up the endless possibilities of where you could take superheroes and his trilogy set a highmark for future filmmakers.

Fast forward to 2008’s Iron Man and you have the seeds of the great Marvel powerhouse. It launched a carefully planned, perfectly executed shared universe that connected heroes and culminated into The Avengers which culminated into Endgame. While the movies from this point on may have their issues, what can’t be denied is they’ve locked into what audiences love, critics enjoy, and make money every time. We’ll be discussing these films decades from now. Seriously. 411mania 2050 will have me doing a column on “How Avengers Endgame Changed Cinema For the Worst”. Bookmark it. 

Then we have movies like Deadpool, which flipped the superhero movie on its ear and showed you could make an R-rated entry into the field and still find success. Not only that, it broke the 4th wall and properly mixed humor and action on the screen. It opened the door to new ways to market comic flicks and it’s $783.1 milion box office shows that Deadpool may be onto something.

Before you go off in the comments about The Crow being rated R, I’m talking about true mainstream crossover. 

Guardians of the Galaxy was another movie that balanced humor and action along with cast of little known actors and actresses in the hands of a director that was just waiting to show the world his A game.

Opening the doors even more, Wonder Woman’s influence will be felt more over time. Don’t believe me? Just wait. Same deal with Black Panther.

What superhero movie do you believe has influenced others?