When it comes to movies like The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Dark Knight, and upcoming movies like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War, everyone knows that they’re going to be great and hugely successful – but that’s because of their hugely successful predecessors; feature actors and characters at the peak of their popularity; and/or came at a time when comic book movies were the “in thing”.
That hasn’t always been the case for every comic book movie, however. Over the years, for whatever reason, many comic book movies have turned out to be massively successful and high in quality, in spite of the fact that nobody really expected much from them.
In this article, we’re going to look at a list of a few such examples – in no particular order – going back as far as the 1970s in one case! Here are ten great comic book movies that surprised everyone.
Iron Man (2008)
Looking at the success and popularity of Iron Man as a movie brand today, it’s hard to believe that back in 2008, the first offering came out of nowhere and took us all by surprise.
Although the character has been incredibly popular in the Marvel comic books for many years, to mainstream movie-goers he was a mere B-list hero who was about to be played by a washed-up actor with alcohol problems.
But the incredibly talented Robert Downey, Jr. had sorted out his personal demons, and absolutely nailed the role, elevating Iron Man to levels closer to Batman and Superman than anyone ever thought possible. And the rest is history. He’s the flagship star of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; his debut movie was fantastic – one of the best comic book offerings ever made; his most recent solo outing grossed more than $1 billion; and he’s the main star of the Avengers movies.
And now for a movie starring a character who isn’t even from one of the “big two” comic book brands.
The Mask (1994)
Although the Mask is arguably Dark Horse comic books’ most popular character, comparing the main character to his Marvel and DC counterparts is kind of like saying that he’s the most famous shop owner in a small town. So when a movie based on the character was released in 1994, it was something of a surprise.
But it was fantastic. Jim Carrey’s breakout year saw him starring in the movie – as well as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber – and he totally nailed it. He was hilarious and he made the role in his own in a way nobody else truly could.
Subsequently, the movie was both a critical and commercial success, which was a massive surprise, given the relatively obscure source material – it really did come out of nowhere back in the mid-1990s.
Now for a MUCH more popular superhero, whose movie surprised everyone.
It goes without saying that Superman is the most iconic superhero of all time and is, therefore, incredibly popular. Any movie starring the character – even if it’s terrible – will make a profit at the box office, but that wasn’t always guaranteed to be the case.
When 1978’s Superman movie was released, it was a major risk. Superhero movies weren’t “cool”, and the fact that an unknown actor named Christopher Reeve was cast meant that the movie had the potential to flop terribly.
However, it was brilliant. Reeve was charming in the role, and the movie captured the imaginations of comic book fans and mainstream movie fans alike around the world. It’s arguably the reason comic book movies have become as popular as they are today.
Let’s move on to another well known superhero, who also wasn’t guaranteed to be a success in his first blockbuster outing.
Like Superman, Batman is an incredibly popular character and, these days, any movie that features the character him is going to be successful at the box office. However, in 1989, that really wasn’t guaranteed to be the case at all.
Although Superman had smashed it at the box office eleven years earlier, the two most recent movies in the franchise had been terrible, and the comic book movie genre had taken a hit as a result. Moreover, many people saw Michael Keaton as being woefully miscast in the role of the Dark Knight.
However, Keaton smashed it and the movie was great – proving successful with fans and critics alike. Keaton went on to reprise his role in Batman Returns, and kicked off a franchise. Comic book movies have been on the rise pretty much ever since.
And now, on to the first movie starring a certain group of very popular mutants.
Fox released the first X-Men movie in 2000, with a fairly stellar cast that included the likes of Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen and Halle Berry. However, its star was the little-known Australian actor, Hugh Jackman. This, combined with the fact that the X-Men presented a potentially risky concept for a movie, meant that the movie was absolutely not expected to do amazingly well.
But it did. It was a critical and commercial success, and it made Jackman a global megastar. He excelled as Wolverine among the cast of much bigger stars – all of whom played their parts brilliantly, of course. It kicked off a franchise that, remarkably, is still going strong today, sixteen years later.
It’s hard to believe that the X-Men’s initial success wasn’t expected, given its status as a movie franchise now, but it really was a surprise that it did so well.
And now for the second non-Marvel or DC character on this list.
In 2004, the already fifty-four-year-old actor Ron Perlman took on the role of a comic book character who was a complete unknown to most people in mainstream audiences. Hellboy is one of Dark Horse’s most popular characters, but bringing him to the big screen was undoubtedly a big risk for Columbia Pictures to take.
They needn’t have worried, however, as the movie was brilliant, and managed to make a modest profit at the box office. Such was the level of success that a sequel was even released four years later, and some fans are even pushing for a third movie, although Perlman is now 65 years of age.
Perlman is, however, the perfect Hellboy, and it’s undoubtedly his performance that made the movie as great as it was.
And now, we move on to the goriest movie on this list.
In 1998, Wesley Snipes took on the role of a Marvel anti-hero who was hardly as popular as the likes of Spider-Man and Wolverine – and nobody could, therefore, truly say that they expected the end result to be a major success.
That character was Blade – a brutal and skilled vampire hunter – and his movie represented something unlike any comic book movie before it. It was a gory, adult offering that really wasn’t suitable for children, distributed by New Line Cinema – a company more famous for is involvement in movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street.
But it worked. And it’s arguable that it represented the platform on which the current crop of successful modern comic book movies has been built, as it’s pretty much all been uphill for the genre since then.
And now we move on to a Marvel Cinematic Universe offering that took us by surprise.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Even though it was part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, very few people really expected 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier to be particularly great.
The first Captain America movie – 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger – was okay, but not brilliant, and Chris Evans’ character was hardly the flagship character of the franchise. However, this sequel blew everybody away.
It was a brilliant movie by anyone’s standards. Transcending the comic book genre, it was a fantastic conspiracy thriller with a gripping story, fantastic action, and a convincing antagonist (a nice change in an MCU movie). It is genuinely one of the best comic book movies ever made, and that came as a huge surprise.
And now we move on to another MCU offering.
Ant-Man was always going to be a risky concept to bring to the big screen. As popular as the character is in the comic books, trying to make a shrinking man seem formidable in a live action universe that includes characters like Thor and the Hulk was always going to be difficult – but it was fantastic.
In spite of the removal of Edgar Wright from the project, the 2014 movie brought joy to audiences around the world. Paul Rudd and his fellow cast members made the movie hilarious, but the character also came across as worthy of joining the Avengers in the future.
Like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it had the advantage of being a part of a massive franchise in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but people still weren’t convinced it would work. But it turned out to be a great heist movie with lots of laughs.
And now on to the final entry in this list, which was arguably the most surprising comic book movie success.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Like Ant-Man and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy was seen as something of a risk when it was released in 2014, despite being part of the already hugely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It took a relatively obscure group of characters from the comic books – a group that included a talking raccoon and a walking tree – and had that guy from Parks and Recreation lead them, with a former WWE wrestler helping them along. And yet, it worked.
Surprisingly, it’s one of the best movies in the MCU and works brilliantly as an epic space opera. Now, we can’t wait for the sequel in 2017 and, more to the point, we can’t wait to see Chris Pratt and company fighting alongside the Avengers in the Avengers: Infinity War movies.
And that’s that, guys!
What do you think? Did the success of these comic book movies surprise you initially? Which other comic book movies’ successes gave you a shock? Have your say below!