10 Most Important Comic Book Movies Ever

3. X-Men (2000)

Back when studios were still reluctant to fund comic book film adaptations, filmmakers needed more than simple escapist fantasy painted with expensive CGI to get their films made. X-Men was, on the page and on a much more intrinsic level, a deep analogy for modern societal issues and changes in social perspectives, and therefore held a deeper purpose than much of the comic book cinema that had come before. This purpose gifted the film a thematic structure that could be applied to any number of major real-world movements, from civil rights to LGBTQIA+ rights.

The filmmakers behind X-Men were stepping into relatively unknown territory when it came to the action on the screen. The ‘X-Men’ cartoon had been a success, and Blade had proven that there was a desire from audiences to see more comic book adaptations heading into the new century, but a big team-up superhero offering had yet to be successful at the box office, and this brought challenges to not only the production elements of the filmmaking such as the CGI teams who’d have to animate the characters’ myriad of powers, but also to those looking to promote what would (by its very nature as a team-up) be an atypical action movie.

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart were brought in as the experienced heads of what remains one of the most Shakespearian superhero tales of warring factions ever made, their appropriately Shakespearian backgrounds lending gravitas to what (at the time) could easily have been dismissed as men simply waving their hands around a lot. The rapidly advancing CGI made most 90s efforts look pedestrian and went a long way to helping a strong screenplay bring reality to this film’s fantastical concept, X-Men ultimately striking a chord with audiences as it earned four times its budget at the box office and in doing so confirmed that which Blade had dared to suggest: that people of all ages could care about comic book characters if those characters were to be presented in the correct way.

Recommended for you: Every X-Men Movie Ranked

4. Spider-Man (2002)

Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was the birth of the modern Marvel superhero, the beginning of a new era for post-9/11 blockbuster cinema. This 2002 release was born at the precise moment in history when CGI could finally anchor a cinematic experience, when it irrefutably became as central to big budget filmmaking as editing or cinematography.

Fantasy escapism with relatable but hardly difficult to understand (or controversial) themes, Spider-Man was a release that captured the family friendly expectation of thoughtful but straightforward excitement around every turn. In this sense, it was the first truly family-focused big budget studio superhero movie of the genre’s contemporary era, a preview of what was to come in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Sony trusted iconic cult filmmaker turned studio hand Sam Raimi with a lot of the creative in what was a relatively untested field, and the results paid dividends in a number of iconic moments that would influence the many filmmakers to direct superhero offerings across the next twenty years. Yet, for all of the ways Raimi imprinted his vision on the first Hollywood iteration of Spider-Man, it was the more easy to duplicate elements of the project that became its most influential: the handsome guy next door hero as the poster boy, the aspirational narrative of turning from nothing into something, the sacrifices of self and general morality ultimately being worth the pursuit of the greater good, the comical juxtaposition between quippy dialogue and intense action. Everything we would grow used to from the Marvel Cinematic Universe post-2008 was already evident in this Sam Raimi film… Spider-Man was the blueprint.

Recommended for you: Spider-Man Movies Ranked

5. Iron Man (2008)

From Tony Stark was born Iron Man, and from Iron Man was born the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has been painted as the biggest risk ever taken by a multi-billion dollar entertainment corporation, an all or nothing bet from the Marvel Comics higher-ups to diversify their output and welcome a new phase for the company. Under the guidance of director Jon Favreau and producer Kevin Feige, Marvel’s bet paid off.

If Spider-Man (2002) was the blueprint for the Marvel Cinematic Universe then Iron Man became the constitution. What Favreau and Feige did with this $140million gamble was establish a very straightforward set of rules that would come to govern every Marvel Studios release from this point on: the Spider-Man elements of comedy and action side-by-side, the easy to understand hero’s journey, and the untrustworthy mentor figure. Each rule was moulded for a new generation the studio would look to nurture throughout the entirety of its adolescence.

It’s a gamble that would pay off, Marvel earning $586million at the box office alone and thus firing itself directly into a universe of would-be heroes each set to have introductory story arcs played out in standalone movies. Simply put, the world was ready for fantasy escapism in the aftermath of the conspiracy-driven, uber-serious, adult-skewing, post 9/11 2000s, and the likes of Spider-Man 3 (released only one year prior, 2007), Daredevil and The Fantastic Four simply weren’t satisfying that itch, whilst Watchmen and 300 would skew a little too old for families to enjoy.

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