Superhero movies, at least as we know them today, haven’t actually been around that long. It was at the tail end of the ‘90s that modern superhero movies really became a thing. Hugh Jackman and company kicked off the X-Men (arguably the first major franchise in this genre) in 2000, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe didn’t get started until 2008, when Iron Man hit theaters. Roughly 17 years in, the fact is there have been so many movies that it feels like it’s been longer than it actually has.
As a result some of the earlier films that helped to build the foundation of the genre already feel a bit dated—or, to use a more flattering term, retro. In the interest of remembering some of these projects as fondly as they deserve to be, let’s look at a few that fall under this description.
Hugh Jackman just wrapped up a 17-year career as Wolverine in spectacular fashion. A write-up by GQ called his work in Logan the best superhero performance ever, and at this point that’s saying something. We’ve seen a lot of great actors hop aboard this lucrative genre, but part of what made Jackman’s performance so great was that it marked the culmination of so much work.
That saga began in 2000 the beginnings of the X-Men franchise. It feels kind of dated today, but if you pay close attention that’s a lot of that is because the cast looks so young. It’s ultimately a strong intro that, upon a re-watch, will almost certainly make you want to run through the whole series all over again. There’s still a nostalgia factor to X-Men, all these years later.
Who doesn’t love a crime-fighting half-vampire wielding a sword? Who didn’t love Wesley Snipes in 1998? Blade was a pretty good action movie for its moment in time. Things were darker, to the point that you could almost describe the likes of Blade, The Matrix, and Underworld as gothic action, and we hadn’t gotten used to the lighter and cheesier tones of the MCU. It wasn’t a cinematic masterpiece, but it was exactly the film it wanted to be.
More than most films that can really be described as “retro,” Blade seems to be going strong. In part, that’s through an online game that’s still around today. Casino Source’s library of online gaming selections mentions several slot reels and casino titles based on popular movies from over the years, but it’s still surprising to see a Blade reel hanging around. People can’t get enough of the character and have actually been calling for a reboot, with Snipes himself being interest. Sadly, nothing seems like it will happen any time soon.
We’re gearing up for yet another Spider-Man movie, and that seems to be okay with most superhero fans. Spider-Man: Homecoming looks like a lot of fun, and Tom Holland, the new Peter Parker, may be the best fit for the role we’ve seen yet. Still, there something innocent and lovable about Tobey Maguire’s first go as Spider-Man. More than any other superhero movie, 2002’s Spider-Man looked like a comic book brought to life. It was campy in all the right ways, and though it almost seems cheap after 15 years, it also inspired a generation to love superhero cinema.
It really feels like the beginning of it all, with no disrespect to the first two movies on this list. It sparked a three-film franchise, and also launched its own video game. Without the success of Spider-Man it’s highly unlikely other studios would have taken a chance on Iron Man and everyone else.
We won’t spend as much time on Daredevil because, frankly, it wasn’t that good. Particularly in light of the Marvel/Netflix show that debuted a couple years ago, this 2003 movie almost looks lazy in its execution. That said, it stuck to the comics pretty tightly, and that’s to be commended. We’re starting to see the superhero genre get carried away with itself, using comic storylines as loose inspiration for whatever on-screen spectacle will sell the most tickets. Daredevil, at least, honoured the source material. And if you lower your expectations a little, it’s pretty fun to watch.