We are pretty lucky; lately each year has produced several action-packed, thrilling superhero movies. Now, both Marvel and DC have made it their mission to tie their movies into cohesive universes. This was not always the case.
Today we are reliving the 1990s and the superhero films the final decade of last century gave us. While the 90s did not offer the sheer number of superhero films we have today, there are a few bright spots, and the occasional cringe-worthy graphics. In many ways, the genre was establishing itself before really taking off in the 2000s, so let’s take a look at some superhero movies of the 1990s worth a revisit, perfect for staying in on a dreary autumn day.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Released in 1990, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film still has a very 80s feel. The popular series based on comic book characters has been rebooted twice recently, once as the animated TMNT in 2007, and then again in 2014. However, the first film still holds up pretty well.
No CGI here; the turtles were puppets, the work of the legendary Jim Henson’s company, in fact. You can’t really ask for much more in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle film, and the movie brings some of the wittiness you’d expect from the series.
Would you believe the film had trouble finding someone to distribute it? Many studios were worried that even though the Turtle toys and action figures sold well, the movie might be a bomb. Thankfully, the movie was a success, and the four turtles live on through merchandise as well. Cowabunga!
Batman Returns (1992)
Before we had the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy, or the current DC Universe series, there was this series, originally fronted by Michael Keaton playing Bruce Wayne. The 1992 sequel is still worth a watch today, if at least for a comparison to see how Batman has been portrayed over the years.
Penguin and Catwoman make for an interesting enough pair of villains. Throughout the 1990s, the Batman series is really the only ongoing film series, long before the days where Marvel and DC were able to create endless sequels carefully intertwined with one another. However, the first Batman series feels uneven when watched back-to-back, and, at the time, was met with some criticism.
Roger Ebert began his review of the film by saying, “The gloomy undertone of the Batman movies is like a tow line, holding the movie back, keeping it from springing free into the wind.” It’s worth watching to see how it differs from Christopher Nolan’s and Zack Snyder’s films. Tim Burton brings something different to the character of Batman.
The first of a trilogy, and the first serious success Marvel had at the theaters, 1998’s Blade is certainly worth another play today. It’s cool to see the portrayal of a character that doesn’t often get much attention. Wesley Snipes played the title character, a half-man, half-vampire.
Blade’s goal was simple enough: Get rid of the evil of vampires. Apparently, Snipes was assigned the character because he was initially working with Marvel on a Black Panther project, which fell through. Black Panther will finally make it to the big screen in 2018. Consider re-watching Blade this fall for the vampire story line, at the very least.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Easily one of the best-animated depictions of any superhero would be1992’s Batman: The Animated Series. The show’s success allowed for two feature-length films to be produced, the first being 1993’s Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
In a gripping plotline, Gotham City’s criminal bosses are found dead in a series of murders, with Batman receiving the blame, but the movie ends with a surprising twist. While not a box office smash, the film has developed a devoted following and continues to be praised, with Rotten Tomatoes declaring, “Stylish and admirably respectful of the source material, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm succeeds where many of the live-action Batman adaptations have failed.”
We’re also big fans of Kevin Conroy’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne and Batman in just about anything. Also noteworthy are the voice talents of Mark Hamill and Dana Delany, who would go on to voice Louis Lane in Superman: The Animated Series. Consider this a reminder to check out, or revisit, Batman: The Animated Series as well.
In case you missed the news, Spawn creator Todd McFarlane says a new movie is happening. Consider this your opportunity to revisit the 1997 one first. Spawn, which focuses on the character’s origin story, hasn’t held up well over the years, particularly with critics. For this reason, it’s worth a watch to see why.
Michael Jai White plays the starring role, the first film depiction of a superhero with a leading African American actor. What makes Spawn appealing is the complexity of his character: a soldier killed who ends up in Hell and makes a deal to lead Hell’s army, with the hope of returning to Earth and his fiancé.
A sequel to the film never materialized, and talks of reboots over the years have never led to anything, either. McFarlane has said that a new movie would take a dark and very rated-R approach to the character. With the recent success of a film like Deadpool, this might work in today’s theaters.
Not Exactly the Golden Age of Superhero Films
Though the 1990s are hardly an oasis of excellent superhero movies, there is some stuff worth re-watching or discovering for the first time. At the very least, it is interesting to see how the genre has evolved over the past quarter century, and how everything, from directing choices to visual effects, has brought superheroes to the big screen.
What is interesting is that some films, like Batman, offer a different approach to a character that we’ve come to know again more recently. The 1990s don’t offer us a well-defined universe of heroes working together, but there are a few things here worth spending some time on the couch for.
This article has been written by Jeremy Pewter.