A history of Marvel heroes in film

Vampire slayer Blade (Wesley Snipes) in Blade. (Handout)

Vampire slayer Blade (Wesley Snipes) in Blade. (Handout)

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:05 PM ET

If the summer could be summed up in a word, it would be "Excelsior!" - Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee's upbeat expletive of choice.

The biggest "B-THOOM!" came with the record-setting release of The Avengers - a tentpole movie whose success depended on the public embracing a handful of OTHER movies (two Iron Mans, Hulk, Thor and Captain America).

Then chalk up a sizable aftershock with the reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man, which will end up with $700 mil worldwide. It isn't The Avengers, but it isn't chump change. Add the current filming of Iron Man 3 and the soon-to-start Thor 2, and it's been a good year to be a Marvel superhero.

It wasn't always so. Here's a history of Marvel's existentially angst-ridden heroes on film.

-Howard The Duck (1986). Let's start with an all-time movie bomb, the story of a hard-partying duck trapped in a world he never made. Would you believe George Lucas produced it?

-The Punisher (1989). Dolph Lundren first played Marvel's designated vigilante. Although never huge, The Punisher remains a durable franchise, with a 2003 remake (with Thomas Jane), a 2008 sequel (with Rome's Ray Stevenson) and another reboot planned.

-Captain America (1990). Matt Salinger played Cap in a pretty lame first attempt that ended up going direct-to-video. And speaking of direct-to-video"¦

-The Fantastic Four (1990). A quickie Roger Corman film with a budget of about $100, made mainly to retain the rights to the franchise and drive up the price for Hollywood. I've seen it, and it looks like a $1,000 movie, at least.

-Blade (1998). Wesley Snipes' biggest break, playing a vampire killer who's half-vampire himself. The surprise hit ushered in an era where Marvel movies weren't a joke anymore.

-X-Men (2000). At last, Marvel breaks through with an blockbuster that doesn't embarrass, appeases the fanboys, and reshapes Hugh Jackman into the gritty anti-hero Wolverine he remains today. Two sequels would follow in descending order of quality, followed by the robust X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the reboot X-Men: First Class.

-Spider-Man (2002). Horrormeister Sam Raimi proved he could work with a nine-figure budget, and created a franchise for the decade. Tobey Maguire was a believably wimpy Peter Parker, and, like X-Men, declining storylines didn't seem to affect ticket sales.

-Daredevil (2002). Oops. Ben Affleck: Superhero. Nobody was buying it. Nor did they buy his eventual-wife Jennifer Garner as Elektra in 2004's Elektra.

-Hulk (2003). Oops #2. You want to bring the incarnation of gamma-induced uncontrollable id to the screen. Who ya gonna call? A Taiwanese art film director, of course. Interestingly, for a movie so reviled, Ang Lee's Hulk's grosses were almost identical to the reboot with Edward Norton five years later.

-Fantastic Four (2005). Neither great, nor irredeemably terrible, my favourite Marvel team never really caught on (if $200 million-plus worldwide box offices can be considered not catching on). Every FF fan looked forward to the sequel, which introduced the Silver Surfer, but it was all pretty inert.

-Ghost Rider (2006). Cheesy, yes. But Nicolas Cage had been desperate to play a superhero. And what better match for a guy who loses his sh--for a living than playing a guy surrounded by the fires of hell?

-Iron Man (2007). Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. found the cosmic key to pulling off these elephantine super-hero spectacles - a sense of humour. Never being unaware of the ridiculousness of its premise made Downey's Iron Man all the more fun.

-Thor (2010). You thought a guy in an iron suit was funny? Of all people, Kenneth Branagh, and muscly star Chris Hemsworth, went for laughs with the most stentorian and serious of Marvel franchises.

-Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). On a second screening, I'm willing to admit I underrated this movie, which set up Cap's dramatic transformation into a living anachronism for his Avengers role.

Over the Horizon: Iron Man 3 (rumoured plot involves a villain called the Mandarin - who dispatches enemies by forcing them to gorge on all-you-can-eat Chinese"¦ kidding), Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Ant-Man, Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Avengers 2.


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