10. Batman Forever (1995)
Batman (Val Kilmer) fights to stop Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and the Riddler (Jim Carrey) from activating a mind-control device in Gotham, taking orphaned Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) under his wing along the way.
Joel Schumacher certainly had a different take on the Dark Knight than Tim Burton, and different doesn’t always mean inferior. Taking much more of an influence from the Adam West TV series and silver age comics than other cinematic adaptations had up to that point, this is colourful, campy and production designed to within an inch of its life. Gone is the Gotham that’s all imposing spires and flying buttresses, each replaced by something even more comic book-y, like the city from Metropolis was hosting a new exhibition of giant Grecian statues, all lit by vivid neon.
It might be difficult to fault all the practical design work but much of the script is misjudged, not all the performances are as good as they should be and Schumacher could certainly do with dialling down his OTT directorial style every now and then.
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9. The Rocketeer (1991)
In this pulp serial blockbuster set in the late 1930s, test pilot Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) finds an experimental jetpack invented by reclusive genius Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn) and uses it to fight the ringleaders of a Nazi plot on American soil.
The first film released in a surprisingly lucrative superhero trend in the 90s – retro-futurist movies set around the birth of superhero comics and inspired by, if not adapting, the first stories of their kind – The Rocketeer certainly stands out from many similar movies and has plenty of pep in its step even if few of the characters aside from Timothy Dalton’s definitely-not-Erroll-Flynn swashbuckling movie star really stay with you.
Appropriately enough this was a Disney movie as there’s more than a little of Tomorrowland (the Disneyland zone more than the film) about this on an idealised art-deco design level, and the look of the film – like it’s a distinctive looking comic come to life – is certainly the best thing about it.
8. Mystery Men (1999)
A team of incompetent wannabe superheroes including The Shoveler (William H Macey), Mr Furious (Ben Stiller) and The Spleen (Paul Reubens) fight criminal mastermind Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) and his army of costumed criminals when the only real superhero is put out of action.
How many 90s/early 2000s comedies used Smash Mouth’s “All Star” during a montage? Mystery Men was one of several, but it also took a self-aware, wry, cynical look at comic book movie clichés long before Kick-Ass or ‘The Boys’ and got its ridiculously talented ensemble to turn in some of their funniest and most memorable work to date.
Not every gag lands and it probably runs a shade too long at 120 minutes, but this was way ahead of its time and was polished and affectionate enough of its genre to actually end up as a decent example of superhero storytelling by its close.
7. The Phantom (1996)
The latest in a long line of ancestral costumed crime-fighters (Billy Zane) goes up against a power-hungry industrialist in search of a powerful magical artefact.
A far better pulp comic adaptation than the others released this decade, this time based on the first superhero in print to wear a spandex costume and mask, this is a good old-fashioned, earnest adventure tale that you’ve got to get in the right headspace to enjoy.
It’s really handsome-looking as 90s superhero movies go and the straight-faced swashbuckling derring-do portrayed here makes a change from everything more modern that would have turned it into a joke. Billy Zane sadly didn’t get many other shots as a leading man which is a shame because he’s got charm and charisma to spare and plays incredibly well off of Kristy Swanson and Treat Williams. Catherine Zeta-Jones was sadly left with a more thankless role as the chief henchwoman.