A History Of Live Action Marvel

Marvel comics are known to a lot of people, be it directly or indirectly through other media, most people have heard of such characters as Spider-man or The Incredible Hulk, some of the most famous of their numerous characters licensed out by Marvel Studios to film companies like 20th Century Fox or Universal Studios. In 2004 the decision was made for Marvel Studios to begin making movies of their characters and financing them themselves. Iron Man, the first in the series, went on to be a success, proving that they could not only make a good movie, but a profitable one, and so the decision was made to make more movies featuring their characters. Not only this, but because they were all being made by the same studio, the movies could now feature character from one series appearing in the others, not only that, but that they could all appear together in one ultimate movie. Join us as we take a look at all previous Marvel movie adaptations leading up to this momentous event in the comic book-movie world, The Avengers, due out on April 26th.

Starting in 1977 when, after numerous animated series, the first attempts were made to bring two of the most well known Marvel characters to the screen as real live people. The first – The Amazing Spider-man, the story of a boy named Peter Parker who gained amazing superhero abilities after being bitten by a radioactive spider, aired as a television movie on the CBS network, starring Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

At roughly the same time, another character also affected by radiation was adapted for television. Scientist Bruce Banner (renamed David Buce Banner), had a different effect to that of the boy Peter Parker, instead of gaining super abilities, Banner suffered a startling transformation when his emotions- specificly anger- got the better of him, changing him into a gigantic, green skinned monster fuelled by his rage. The Incredible Hulk started out as a live action tv movie same as The Amazing Spider-man. It starred Bill Bixby as the main character when he was Banner, and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno when he was The Hulk.

While both projects might be considered tacky by today’s standards, they were both hugely successful in ratings and commisioned to full series, though The Amazing Spider-Man was was cancelled after only 15 episodes due to the expensive costs of filming exterior scenes of Spider-Man scaling building walls. Adding to this was the fact that the network had already been producing a Wonder Woman series based on the DC comic book character for a couple of years and wanted to distance itself from a superhero image. The Amazing Spider-man would later be re-edited into tv movies for repeat broadcasts and to sell on to networks overseas. The Incredible Hulk continued for four further seasons as it was still able to be made on a reduced budget, eventually ending it’s run with a total of 82 episodes.

Two years later in 1979, an attempt was made to bring a live action version of another popular character to the big screen, following a man who, considered unfit to join the war effort, undergoes an experimental procedure to turn him into the ultimate super-soldier. Captain America, though deviating heavily from the comic book origins, was made into two television movies, starring Reb Brown as Steve Rogers/Captain America. It’s unknown wether these were intended to spawn a series or not, bu if so it did not happen. As stated, the story and character origins differed greatly from the comics, with Captain America waging a war against regular criminals instead of any super villain characters from the comics. It would turn out to be the last TV movie for the Captain, but not the last outing, as further attempts would be made to bring Cap to the screen over a decade later.

First though, in 1989, the first attempt would be made to bring another Marvel character to life on the screen, starring Dolph Lundgren as Frank Castle, a broken police officer known to many fans as The Punisher, a darker and more mature character than any of those who had been adapted before him. Directed by Mark Goldblatt who had previously edited such action movies as The Terminator, Commando, and the Rambo sequel First Blood: Part II, the story revolved around a now underground Castle, having wiped out most of the mob in the US, having to join forces with the remaining mob bosses to fight off the Japanese Yakuza. It was poorly received due to it’s cast’s performances, and deviations from the character’s source material, such as the Punisher not wearing his trademark skull embossed t-shirt.

The following year, a further attempt was made to make a Captain America movie by film corporation 21st Century (not to be confused with 20th Century Fox), starring Matt Salinger in the title role. It is notable for the first live action on screen introduction of super-villain Red Skull. The movie remained faithful to certain elements of the source material than previous attempts, but still departed from it more than enough to be received poorly by test audiences(The Red Skull was changed from Nazi to Italian and given a childhood trauma to make him sympathetic to the audience). In an effort to make up for this, reshoots were added to improve the movie’s ending, causing  almost two years of delays until the movie was eventually released as a straight to video title without a theatrical release in the United States, and with a limited theatrical run internationally.

In 1991, one of the lesser known Marvel Titles was given a live action adaptaion- Power Pack- following four children who are given superpowers by a dying alien to fight off an invading alien force. Directed by rick bennett, it has rarely been seen in it’s entirety, though some footage of it can be found online.

The footage again seems to differ from the comic book source material, most likely due to the cost that would have been involved to bring the alien races from the comic t0 the screen. It appears to have been produced as a pilot episode for a tv series, and a temp score track using music from movies indicates that it never got past the testing stages. It’s surprising that further attempts haven’t been made to adapt Power Pack to a movie series for kids, especially since Disney’s recent purchase of Marvel Studios, it seems like the kind of project perfect for Disney, and will perhaps happen some time down the line.

In 1994, studio New Horizons gave the green light for a movie of the Fantastic Four, a story about four people who again, affected by cosmic radiation which gave them extraordinary super-abilities – Reed Richards’s body became super stretchy giving him the ability to stretch his body at will, Johnny Storm had the ability to turn the entire surface of his body alight at will and also gained the ability of flight, Sue Storm gained the power of invincibility and was able to project force fields, and Ben Grimm’s body became solid and rock-like, giving him incredible strength but radically altering his appearance. The movie was Directed by Oley Sassone and starred Alex Hyde-White(Reed Richards/Mr Fantastic), Jay Underwood(Johnny Storm/The Human Torch), Rebecca Staab(Susan Storm/The Invisible Woman), Michael Bailey-Smith(Ben Grimm/The Thing), Joseph Culp(Victor Von Doom/Dr Doom). The cast and crew were unaware that the it was being made as a stalling tactic and never intended to be released, as the rights would have lapsed back to Marvel from the studio if it did not begin production of a Fantastic Four movie by a certain date. Again, footage from this has now surfaced online.

A character integral to The Avengers, Nick Fury, was brought to screens in 1990 in a television movie titled Nick Fury: Agent Of Shield. It starred David Hasslehoff as a retired Nick Fury, who is brought out of retirement to stop terrorist organisation Hydra from releasing a virus that will destroy America. Being a television movie, it suffered from budget limitations and the casting of many televison actors that gave clichéd performances, but still managed to find a small audience, most likely loyal to Hasslehoff and who were glad to see a (somewhat) faithful portrayal of Fury brought to the screen.

Also released the same year theatrically was Blade – The movie that I personally consider responsible to be the turning point for serious comic book movies. Also written by David S. Goyer(who had also had a hand in writing Nick Fury: Agent Of Shield and has since gone on to be involved in writing the current Batman movie series),it introduced us to a relatively unknown character, who was a half human-half vampire hybrid. Having all of their strengths but none of their weaknesses save the thirst for blood, and known as The Daywalker (due to his ability to withstand daylight) to the vampires who he hunted in an effort to wipe out. New Line Cinema hired experienced commercial director Stephen Norrington to bring the vampire hunter to the big screen. Among those considered for the lead were Denzel Washington, Laurence Fishburne and LL Cool J, but writer David S. Goyer had always envisioned actor Wesley Snipes in the part. Snipes, who also had experience of martial arts in the title role, was eventually cast with actors Kris Kristofferson and Stephen Dorff supporting.

The movie proved that a comic book source material can be treated seriously and without a tongue in cheek attitude towards anything out of the ordinary, resulting in a dark and highly entertaining piece of comic book cinema. The script was respectful to the source material, but added elements such as Kristofferson’s character Whistler, and elements of Blade’s struggle with what he is, that helped to make the story work in a cinematic context. The movie successfully made almost three times it’s budget of $45 million in the world box office, establishing the character enough to spawn two further movies and a tv-series spin-off.

In 2000 Director Bryan Singer brought to the screen perhaps the first best example of an ensemble comic book to the screen. Set in the near future, it saw a group of people who, because of genetic mutation, were gifted with extraordinary abilities. This group, led by a powerful psychic called Professor Charles Xavier (a.k.a. Professor X), believed in peace between humans and mutants, and faced off against another group called the brotherhood of mutants, led by an old friend of Xavier’s called Erik Lensherr (a.k.a. Magneto), a holocaust survivor with the ability to manipulate magnetic fields who believed a war between humans and mutants was inevitable, with Xavier’s group known as the X-Men, the only ones capable of stopping them from starting it.

From a budget of approximately $75 million, X-Men took over $150 million at the U.S. box office and Almost that much again in the rest of the world, successfully establishing a franchise with audiences both long following and new to the comic books as well as introducing relatively unknown Australian actor Hugh Jackman to U.S. audiences. It further reinforced what Blade had proved, that comic book stories, as absurd as they may be with characters that had super-powers, if treated properly could make money at the box office, and not only that, it left people desperate for more.

Director Sam Raimi made a big screen adaptation of Spider-Man in 2002, from a script by screenwriter David Koepp (who had previously written such movies as Jurassic Park, Carlito’s Way and Mission: Impossible), it starred Tobey Maguire as the main character Peter Parker, and served as an origin story chronicling the web-slinger’s first challenge against The Green Goblin/Normal Osborn (Willem Dafoe), and also starred Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Roberson, Rosemary Harris and J.K. Simmons. Made with a budget of $139m – a huge amount for a comic book movie at the time, the gamble by Sony (as Columbia Pictures) paid off as it went on to take over $800 million at the worldwide box office (half of which was from the U.S. Box Office alone), not to mention sales on DVD.

The same year a sequel to Blade was released. Directed by cult horror director Gullermo del Toro from a script again written by David S. Goyer, it starred returning Wesley Snipes (in his first sequel role) as Blade and pitted him against a new type of creature (played by former singer turned actor Luke Goss) that threatened not only humans but vampires, forcing Blade to join forces with his enemies to defeat the bigger threat. While not as successful as the first movie, Blade II managed to take over $150 million worldwide, and would pave the way for a third movie a couple of years later.

2003 saw not just one but three Marvel titles make their transition to the big screen, with the already established X-Men getting a sequel, the Hulk got his first big screen outing, as well as a lesser known character – Daredevil, about a blind superhero with a radar like sense and amazing reflexes, who watched over a particular section of New York known as Hell’s Kitchen. Directed by Mark Steven Johnson and starring Ben Affleck as Matt Murdoch/Daredevil, it pitted ‘the man without fear’ against a hitman called Bullseye (played by Colin Farrell) who could kill a person with almost any item and never missed, as well as The Kingpin/Wilson Fisk, a well known supervillain from the Marvel universe that also appeared in the Spider-man series.

Due to the Spider-man and Daredevil characters being in the same city, but under license to two different studios (Spider-man was under license to Sony/Columbia and Daredevil to 20th Century Fox) it was impossible for characters to appear in both movies, and was decided that Kingpin would not appear in the Spider-man series. Complicating matters further were the constraints of the Kingpin character design as seen in the comics, being a huge character that could easily fight his own battles, the decision was made to audition wrestlers (as had been done for the character Sabretooth in X-Men) in a search for someone who could not only act but also fit the physical requirements of the role. It became clear early on that this would not work as none of the wrestlers tested were deemed good enough actors for the part and as a result actor Michael Clark Duncan was cast, with the decision to change the character from white to black to cast veteran actor Michael Clark Duncan who would not only be able to give a good performance, but standing 6′ 5″ tall, would fit the other requirements of the character. Rounding out the cast was actress Jennifer Garner as Elektra Natchios, a character that originated in the Daredevil comics but eventually went on to have her own spin-off comic series, and who would later also receive her own spin-off movie.

Also note worthy is the inclusion of Jon Favreau as Foggy Nelson, as Favreau would later go on to not only direct but appear in Marvel Studio’s first self-financed movie Iron Man, playing a different character (making him one of only a handful of actors to do so, the others being Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ben Foster, Chris Evans, and technically, Mark Rufallo – see The Avengers).

Hulk, the first big screen outing for the anger fuelled character was directed by Ang Lee and starred actor Eric Bana as Bruce Banner with Jennifer Connelly playing the character of Betty Ross. Instead of casting an actor to play the Hulk as had been done with the televison series, the decision was made to use computer generated imagery to create the character on screen. Made on a budget of $137 million, it was released to mixed reviews and eventually went on to take over $245 million worldwide. While it is not considered a failure, it was considered a dissapointment due to it’s performance at the box office given it’s budget. The character is perhaps not the most suitable and easy Marvel character to be adapted for a movie, but there is the possibility there for a decent story. For me the issue with the movie is that it focuses too much on the intillectual side of the story, and while this may have worked on a smaller scale for the character, half of the movie focuses on this, employing a heavy dose of flashbacks in an effort to try and explain the anger and rage that leads to Banner turning into the Hulk. The action sequences are largely dissapointing (The fight between The Hulk and three hulked out dogs is a particularly uninteresting fight), and there’s a strange attempt to bring a comic book feel to the movie by having it jump between frames as if we were looking at a comic book page, which is a nice idea, but just doesn’t work on screen.

The third Marvel movie of the year, sequel X-Men 2 (a.k.a. X2, or X-Men United), saw director and writer Bryan Singer and David Hayter return, as well as the cast from the first movie. The main villain of the movie was William Stryker, a man with a connection to Logan/Wolverine’s past who leads a military raid on the Xavier school, believing all mutants to be a threat to be eliminated. Certain characters from the first movie, such as Bobby Drake (a.k.a. Iceman) and John Allerdyce (a.k.a. Pryo) were given larger roles, as well as new characters introduced including Kurt Wagner (a.k.a. Nightcrawler). Early footage was shown at the Comic-con conventions, showing Wolverine in full on berzerker rage during the assault on the school, which the fans went crazy for given the character’s calmed performance in the first movie. Upon it’s release, X-Men 2, from an estimated budget of $110 million, went on to take over $4oo million at the worldwide box office.

A year later and once again, three Marvel characters would appear in movies, two of which would be sequels. Spider-man 2, proved that audiences still weren’t done with comic book movies. Returning director Sam Raimi and cast members Toby Maguire and Kirsten Dunst were joined by Alfred Malina who played arch villain Otto Octavius (a.k.a. Doctor Octopus), albeit in a more sympathetic light than as maniacle as seen in the comics. The movie contained a huge dose of action including an incredible sequence with a chase on an elevated train which stands out as one of the best comic book action sequences ever commited to film.

The movie took elements specifically from one of the comic stories “Spider-man, no more” and focused heavily on character with a large subplot involving Peter Parker/Spider-man struggling with living two lives and trying to decide what he wanted, ultimately deciding to give up his alter ego. Made on a staggering $200 million budget, it was a risk by Sony (as Columbia Pictures), who needed a financial success, and paid off, taking almost $800 million at the worldwide box office.

Blade: Trinity, the third in the Blade franchise was also released that year. David S. Goyer, who had written the previous two movies, this time both wrote and directed the movie, which again starred Wesley Snipes, as well as returning Kris Kristofferson (Whistler). As a potential spin-off plan, the movie introduced new characters played by Ryan Reynolds(Hannibal King) and Jessica Biel(Abigail Whistler) – members of a team called The Nightstalkers, which were new creations on the part of Goyer and not from any comic sources (Ryan Reynolds would later appear in a second Marvel movie as Wade Wilson/Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, while Hannibal King was not a Marvel character previous to the movies, he has since become so). The movie pitted Blade against the vampire Drake, the first known vampire responsible for the legends of Dracula. Blade Trinity was made for approximately $65 million, but was not received by audiences as well as the prior movies, only taking $128 million at the world box office. Although it didn’t lose money, it was considered a dissapointing performance, and plans for a Nightstalkers spin-off movie were scrapped.

In 2004 a new version of The Punisher was brought to the screen by director Jonathan Hensleigh. Staying more faithful to the character than the previous movie, it updated it to a present day setting, changing Frank Castle (Thomas Jane) from a Vietnam war veteran to a Gulf war veteran, and as an origin movie focused on the birth of The Punisher due to the slaughter of his family at the hands of the mob family led by Howard Saint (John Travolta), basing some story and supporting character elements (Joan, played  by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Spackler Dave, played by Ben Foster) from a multi-part story called ‘Welcome Back Frank’. The final movie made by small studio Artisan for a modestly low budget (compared to the other recent Marvel movies) of $33 million, it took just over $54 million at the world box office, and was ultimately released as a Lionsgate films title due to their purchasing Artisan studios. It’s perhaps the darkest of all the Marvel characters and certainly the most moraly ambiguous one, given the character’s motives and the slaughter sequences involving his wife Maria (Samantha Mathis) and son Will, not to mention one of the best on screen fights between Thomas Jane and Kevin Nash (WWE wrestler Diesel as The Russian) during which Thomas Jane was accidentally stabbed.

2005, and the first proper adaptation of The Fantastic Four was released, Directed by Tim Story and starring Ioan Gruffudd(Reed Richards/Mr Fantastic), Jessica Alba(Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman), Chris Evans(in his first Marvel role as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch), Michael Chiklis(Ben Grimm/The Thing), it also saw the first on screen appearance of Marvel villain Dr Doom, played by Julian McMahon. Unfortunately, fans who hoped for a respectful treatment of the characters were let down, with the movie aiming largely at a younger audience, and with tongue squarely in cheek. Mr Fantastic is extremely boring in the movie, The Invisible Woman is played by perhaps the last actress that many would consider for the job, and The Thing looks more like a walking turd than the beast seen in the comics. Say what you will for the unreleased movie, it looked bad, but at least The Thing looks like The Thing. The only one of the character that gets given a decent portrayal in the 2005 movie is Chris Evan’s Human Torch, played as a cocky punk who is the only one to embrace his powers. Even the character that should have been easy to play with on the screen, the villain Dr Doom, falls flat under the performance of McMahon. Only Joel Schumacher could have made a worse movie. Unfortunately, this version of the F4 went on to take over $330 million worldwide, giving way for a sequel to be greenlit.

Elektra, a spin-off adaptation that brought the character back from the dead that appeared in 2003’s Daredevil. Directed by Rob Bowman, who had largely worked in television, it starred the returning Jennifer Garner as Elektra and Terence Stamp, bringing to the screen a character called Stick, from the Daredevil origins that had been left out of the movie adaptation. The movie was panned by comic book fans and critics alike for it’s typically bland performances and action sequences. Made on a budget of $46 million, it was not the financial success that 20th Century Fox hoped it would be, only taking $56 million worldwide (thought this is more than the budget, it was not enough after distribution costs for the movie to be considered a success).

In 2006 X-Men: The Last Stand was released. Unwilling (or perhaps unable due to time contraints on licensing issues) to wait for Bryan Singer, who had been offered the job of directing the next Superman movie at Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox hired Layer Cake director Matthew Vaughn to helm the movie, but due to pressures and time contraints imposed by 20th Century Fox, Vaughn left the project. With only two weeks to go before principal photography with the returning cast (who had been brought back under expensive new contracts) as well as some new characters (including Kelsey Grammer in the first live portrayal of Beast) was to begin, Fox brought in Rush Hour director Brett Ratner as a last minute replacement. Casting issues also arised, when James Marsden (Psyclops) was not available to commit to a full shooting schedule as he had been cast in Singer’s Superman Returns, and the script had to be re-written to write his character out. Departing slightly from the ‘Phoenix Saga’ storyline that had been setup and planned for the movie by Bryan Singer in X2, the movie took it’s story from a six-part X-Men comic series called ‘Gifted’ which centred on a cure which had been found for mutants, while also keeping elements of the Dark Phoenix character to create a  more dangerous threat. Lauded by some die-hard fans because of it’s treatment of the characters, X-Men: The Last Stand was the most expensive movie to be made at that point, having a budget of approx $210 million, but did extremely well with critics and audiences, especially those who were not fans of the original comics, taking just under a staggering $500 million at the worldwide box office. A sequence showing Wolverine’s return to the bar we first met him in was shot for the ending, but unused. It brings the trilogy full circle, but it’s uncertain as to why it was not used.

2006 saw another attempt at bring the vampire hunter character of Blade brought back to the screen, though this time it was the small screen in Blade: The Series. Wesley Snipes was offered the chance to reprise the role, but declined and eventually rapper Kirk ‘Sticky Fingaz’ Jones was cast in the role. Set after Blade: Trinity, it was made by and aired on a small cable channel in the U.S. called Spike TV,  but because of average ratings and production costs, completed it’s first season run of 12 episodes and was not picked up for a second season. The two hour pilot episode has also been released as a DVD movie titled Blade: House of Chthon.

2007 had three large Marvel titles released, two of which were sequels. Daredevil director Mark Steven Johnson brought to the screen stunt daredevil Johnny Blaze (played by Nicolas Cage), who trades his soul to the devil and in return becomes the devil’s bounty hunter, a creature that only comes out at night and in the presence of evil, with only a skull where his head should be, covered in fire, he became The Ghost Rider. The movie received mostly negative reviews and mixed reaction from fans, but did surprisingly well at the box office, taking over $228 million worldwide from a budget of $110 million.

The follow up to Fantastic Four, subtitled Rise of the Silver Surfer was again directed by Tim Story, with the returning cast from the first movie, it added to the cast contortionist Doug Jones as a fairly popular character from Marvel comics, The Silver Surfer (voiced by Lawrence Fishburne). References to another character, Galactus, a devourer of planets were also made but the character was not really shown on screen, apart from a possible reference in a special effects shot. The movie received more positive reviews than the first movie, but only just marginally more positive, and took $289 million worldwide from a budget of $130 million.

The biggest title of the year was Sam Raimi’s sequel Spider-man 3. With returning cast including Tobey Maguire in the lead, it focused on James Franco’s Harry Osborne becoming The Hob-Goblin, as well as introducing new characters of Flint Marco/The Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church) and Eddie Brock/Venom (Topher Grace). Made for a huge $258 million budget, it was a gamble by Sony (as Columbia Pictures) that paid off as, despite very mixed reviews (as opposed to the raves that the first two received), it went on to take almost $900 million at the worldwide box office. It is considered to be the weakest of the three Sam Raimi Spider-man movies, and is thought to be due in no small part to Raimi’s dislike of the Venom character, as he had publically stated that he had originally wanted to bring in another villain – The Vulture, instead of the symbiotic creature.

2008 saw Marvel studios decision to self-finance their movies with not one but two titles pay off, the first of which brought Iron Man to the screen for the first time. Directed by Jon Favreau (who also had a supporting role in the movie), it starred Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark, a womanising weapons manufacturer. In an updating of the story to present day, elements were taken from the Extremis comic book storyline in which Stark finds himself injured by his own weapons and captured by terrorist group The Ten Rings while on a weapons demonstration in Afganistan. Forced to build weapons from spare parts, he instead hatches a plan to escape and builds the first Iron Man armour, escaping and refining his new found technology to become Iron Man. Also starring were Gweneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Terrence Howard as Lt Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes, Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane and the voice of Paul Bettany as Jarvis, Starks computer system. During production, the decision was made to plant seeds that linked to other characters within the Marvel universe, being that the movie was being produced by Marvel studios, it meant that any further titles they produced (as opposed to other movie studios) allowed for the possibility that chracters from one comic series could appear in the other, and the decision was made to film a small end-tag to the movie, with a special guest character known to many comic book fans, setting up the possibility of an even bigger movie series.

The Incredible Hulk, Marvel’s second self funded title was released only a couple of months later. Directed by Louis Leterrier who had previously directed the two Transporter action movies, it starred Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, and was made with the decision to both not be an origin story yet still be a re-boot of the series rather than be a direct sequel to Ang Lee’s ‘Hulk’ released just years earlier. The movie also starred Liv Tyler as Betty Ross, Tim Roth as Emil Bronsky (who would later become The Abomination), William Hurt as General Ross and Tim Blake Nelson as Samuel Sterns (who would later become Hulk enemy The Master). The movie focused on a Bruce Banner in hiding, searching for a cure to his condition and struggling to stop The Hulk from getting out. and ultimately having to accept that part of himself to fight off The Abomination after Bronsky undergoes an experimental super soldier treatment.

After a poor response at a test screening, flashbacks explaining the creation of The Hulk which had been filmed and inserted throughout the movie, were removed and instead edited into a new opening credit sequence, meaning that the original and darker opening sequence would be left on the cutting room floor:

The movie featured references to other comics in the Marvel universe, the experiment used to turn Steve Rogers into Captain America, Stark Industries weapons are seen as is the acronym title for the organisation S.H.I.E.L.D. As with Iron Man, a small scene was also shot and added to the movie linking in to the idea for an Avengers movie, this time with a different character cameo, which could not have happened had the two movies been made by different studios instead of all under Marvel Studios roof.

The two titles proved to be a success at the box office, with Iron Man being made for approx $140 million, taking over $585 million worldwide, and The Incredible Hulk being made for $150 million and taking over $260 million worldwide. Because of the lesser success of The Incredible Hulk, a decision was made to hold off on a sequel, waiting to see how things developed with the Avengers movie, for which plans were now firmly underway. Iron Man however receieved the greenlight for an immediate sequel.

The character of the Punisher, still under title to Lionsgate Studios, was to be given a third makeover the same year in Punisher: War Zone. Directed by Lexi Alexander, and starring Ray Stevenson as Frank Castle/The Punisher, who took over from director Jonathan Hensleigh and actor Thomas Jane resepectively after the two had left the project due to production delays. Created under a new ‘Marvel Knights’ production title (which would be used for any Marvel character intended for mature audiences) the sequel was re-tooled and instead made to be a stand alone movie, following The Punisher as he battled the mob. The movie was lauded by critics upon it’s release but has attained a cult following on DVD. As of 2010, the rights to The Punisher character have reverted back to Marvel Studios, whose head Kevin Feige has said that they are interested in making a movie or TV series, but no firm announcements have been made as yet.

2009 saw 20th Centry Fox return to the X-Men universe, with the first of a proposed series of origin movies, following specific characters. The decision was made to make the first of these following the most popular character in the franchise. X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Directed by Gavin Hood, brought back Hugh Jackman as the super-healing mutant, but explored the chracters past instead of his future. Following him during his time with Team X and leading up to the procedure to encase his bones in the metal adamantium as Weapon X, it revealed the story to those already unaware, of him and his half brother Victor Creed a.k.a. Sabretooth (played by wrestler Tyler Mane in the first X-Men Movie), here played by actor Liev Schreiber, with actor Danny Huston playing a younger William Stryker (played by Brian Cox in X2). It also allowed us to see certain characters from the X-Men universe on screen for the first time, among them Fred Dukes/The Blob (played by Kevin Durand), fan favourite Remy Labeau/Gambit (played by Taylor Kitsch), and Wade Wilson/Deadpool (played by Ryan Reynolds, in his second casting as a Marvel character).

Upon it’s release the movie received generally negative reviews, in particular from the fans who were dissapointed at how average the movie was. Despite this, X-Men Origins: Wolverine went on to financial success at the box office, taking over $370 million from a budget of $150 million. Two different end credit ‘tags’ were filmed, and shown randomly depending on where the movie was seen, each setting up potential sequels/spin-offs. The first that shows the character of Deadpool, believed killed in the movie, to still be alive, sparked rumours of a Deadpool movie. The second, showing Wolverine in a bar in Japan, setting up the sequel which, despite several set backs during production, is now expected to be released in 2013. The movie’s success also greenlit work to begin on another Origins movie, this time focusing on the mis-understood villain of the X-Men movies, Magneto, which would later be adapted instead to become a new X-Men series.

John Favreau’s sequel Iron Man 2 was released in 2010, starring returning cast members Robert Downey Jr and Gweneth Paltrow. Although it was never clearly explained, issues arising from the filming of the first movie led to the character of Jim Rhodes being re-cast with Don Cheadle taking over for Terrence Howard, much to the dissapointment of Howard. The storyline centred on the issue of the government pushing a now publically identified Stark for the Iron Man technology to be handed over to them for use as a weapon, meanwhile Russian ex-convict and physicyst Ivan Vanko (Michey Rourke), linked to Stark’s past, uses his knowledge and technical drawings left to him by his father, develops his own technology similar to the one that powers the Iron Man armour, creating his own brand of weapons to challenge Stark, ultimately teaming up with Stark’s business rival, weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). As well as this, the additional characters of The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), returning Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) being brought in, tying in the movie more with The Avengers. With a larger production budget of $200 million, Iron Man 2 took over $620 million at the worldwide box office. A small end scene showed Agent Coulson arriving in New Mexico at the impact crater of something important.

Marvel’s final two characters which had to be established in the lead up to The Avengers, were brought to the screen in 2011, firstly with the Asgardian god Thor. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, it starred newcomer Chris Hemsworth as Thor, with a strong supporting cast including Natalie Portman(Jane Foster), Tom Hiddleston(Loki), Anthony Hopkins(Odin) and Stellan Skarsgård(Erik Selvig). Perhaps the most difficult of the Avengers ensemble cast to bring to the screen in his own movie, Thor had been the interest of another comic book director, Spider-man’s Sam Raimi, who had been interested in bringing the character to the screen since as early as 2001. The movie featured the realm of Asgard, where the gods of legend are shown to be real beings living in another realm. Branagh, perhaps the oddest choice for director of a comic book movie, turned out to be a fantastic choice, bringing a shakespearian quality to the movie and focusing on the emotional struggle between brothers Thor and Loki as well as their father Odin. When Thor goes against the word of his father, he is banished to earth to learn humility, meanwhile a dark secret is learned that will deeply affect Odin’s other son, Loki. On it’s released, the movie received mixed to positive reviews, and took almost $450 million at the worldwide box office from a budget of $150 million. As with the previous movies, small scenes were added in before release tying in the movie with The Avengers, the first of which was a scene introducing Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, as well as a scene added to the end credits.

Captain America: The First Avenger was to be the last piece of the Avengers puzzle. Directed by Joe Johnston and set in the 1940’s during war time, it starred Chris Evans (in his second Marvel role after The Human Torch) as Steve Rogers, a man who was considered unsuitable for service in the military. Showing that he has the heart for it even though his body doesn’t, he’s given a chance by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) in the form of an experiment which successfully turns him into a super soldier.Eventually able to join the war effort, he comes up against one of Erskine’s earlier attempts, the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), who plans to attack the United States with advanced weapons he has developed from a mysterious cube of energy, known as the Cosmic Cube. The movie had a lot resting on it’s shoulders, being the last character to be setup, Captain America needed to be as good if not better than Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, and Thor that came before it, otherwise it could derail the build up to The Avengers. Thankfully, it was recieved well by both critics and fans, doing well both in the U.S. and overseas where there had been some concerns over the movie’s title (In some territories it was released as just ‘The First Avenger’), and from a budget of $140 million took over $365 million worldwide.

Also released in 2011 by 20th Century fox was X-Men: First Class. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, it starred James McAvoy as a young Charles Xavier/Professor X and Michael Fassbender as a young Erik Lensherr/Magneto, and was set around the time of the Cuban missile crisis, with events being manipulated by mutant Sebastian Shaw(Kevin Bacon), the two friends team up to prevent nuclear war, ultimately saving humanity but going their separate ways. Jennifer Lawrence starred as a younger Mystique, and we were introduced to other characters from the X-Men universe, including a look at a younger Hank McCoy before he became Beast. Starting out production as another spin-off movie in the Origins series following Magneto, it was later rewritten by director Vaughn to be the first of a new potential trilogy following the early days of the X-Men as they are formed. While not strictly following the comic origins, the movie recieved strong positive reviews from critics and fans alike, sentiment which was echoed in it’s box office performance as it took over $350 million worldwide from a budget of $160 million. A sequel has already been greenlit and is due to start filming early in 2013 as the second of an intended three movies.

This year we’ve already had another Marvel movie, in the form of Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance. Directed by Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor (directors of crazy action movie Crank) Starred Nicolas Cage returning as Johnny Baze/The Ghost Rider, and also starred Idris Elba and Ciarán Hinds, and in a similar vein to the Incredible Hulk movie is a sequel that distances itself from the first movie. Johnny Blaze must come to accept the Ghost Rider within him in order to save a young boy from being possessed to stop the devil from taking over the world. The movie has been released to hugely negative reviews, but because ot was shot on a smaller budget of $57 million, has done well financially taking over $130 million.

And so we come to The Avengers (or the horrible title it’s being called in some territories, Avengers Assemble). Legendary comic book writer Josh Whedon was brought in by Marvel to direct, and the majority of the lead cast returning with the exception of Edward Norton, who it was revealed at the 2010 comic-con converntion would be replaced by actor Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo will also be the first actor in the history of the Hulk to play both David Banner and via motion capture also portray the Hulk. The characters of Erik Selvig and Pepper Potts have also been shown to be returning in trailers and released images, but this is expected to be in small cameo appearances.

So what’s to come after The Avengers? Well as well as The Avengers this year, there’s also Sony/Columbia’s reboot of the Spider-Man franchise directed by Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield as the new Peter parker/Spider-man. In the movie will also appear Dr. Curt Connors (played by Rhys Ifans) whose alter-ego The Lizard will be the main villain of the movie.

In the coming years Marvel Studios will be following up their titles with sequels to Captain America, Iron Man and Thor, all due in 2013, as are 20th Century Fox with the much delayed sequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Marvel Studios also has plans for a 2014 release of a stand alone Nick Fury movie.

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Posted on April 25, 2012, in Features and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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