The ’90s were a weird and occasionally wonderful time for superhero movies. In many ways, the success of films like Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles paved the way for the comic book movie golden age we’re currently enjoying. On the other hand, bombs like The Phantom and Batman and Robin nearly killed the genre.
Still, the ’90s were a time of creative risk for the tights and cape genre. How else to explain movie versions of offbeat comics like Tank Girl and Mystery Men? But it wasn’t just weird indie comics on the big screen. Pulp heroes like The Shadow also got into the action thanks to the success of Dick Tracy. Since we’re in the age of reboot, pretty much every superhero franchise from the ’90s is fair game for a return to the big screen. With the recent release of The Shadow on Blu-ray, we thought we’d look at a few superhero flicks from the ’90s that could use a reboot. For good measure, we also tossed in one that needs to stay in the decade that gave us ravers and Pogs.
Anyone who has read John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke’s Mask comics knows that the character is far more twisted and violent than the goofball featured in the Jim Carrey movie. Instead of turning geeky Stanley Ipkiss into a live-action Tex Avery cartoon, the titular mask transformed him into a murderous sociopath bent on revenge. The comic is far more of a satirical horror tale than a broad mainstream comedy. A proper reboot would go back to the comics and give us a cautionary tale about a man who puts on a mysterious mask and becomes a homicidal supervillain. Give it to a director who can handle twisted horror comedy (maybe You’re Next helmer Adam Wingard) and everyone will forget that Jamie Kennedy and a dog ever put on the mask.
Featuring a lushly retro production design and a stellar cast (you had us at Ian McKellen and Tim Curry), the 1994 movie version of the classic pulp hero is better than you remember. (It’s even better if you imagine it as the secret origin of Jack Donaghy.) Sam Raimi has tried to make a Shadow movie over the years, but he got sidetracked by making emo Peter Parker swing dance. (Though he basically made a Shadow movie with Darkman.) Captain America: The First Avenger proved that audiences can handle a straightforward comic book period piece. The Spirit and Green Hornet left pulp heroes in a bad place. Only The Shadow knows how to dig the genre out of its current hole.
There’s really no reason to reboot the 1999 adaptation of characters from Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot comic. When it comes to ensemble casts, you really can’t do any better than Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, William H. Macy, Hank Azaria, Paul Reubens, Eddie Izzard and Greg Kinnear. (Not to mention Tom Waits, Ricky Jay, Dane Cook…seriously, this cast is insane.) So why not bring everybody back as older, crankier versions of Mr. Furious, The Shoveler, et. al? The time is ripe for an epic parody of big budget superhero flicks. Let Ben Stiller direct now that he’s got his serious movie that nobody saw out of his system.
While X-Men gets most of the credit for launching the Marvel movie era, 1998’s Blade did it first and with more stabbings set to techno music. Since it’s pretty unlikely that Wesley Snipes will play the Daywalker again, the door is open for new (warning, pun ahead!) blood. Thankfully, Marvel scored the big screen rights back from New Line and could use Blade to launch the dark corner of their movie universe. A script is in the works, but so far no casting announcements have been made. Might we suggest Michael Ealy, who will likely have some time on his hands once Almost Human is sent to the cancelled show scrap heap?
You might remember the posters for this one, with Billy Zane in mid-punch promising to “smash evil.” Of course what he failed to smash is box office records. There was talk of Zane reprising the role that didn’t make him an action hero, but it’s been pretty quiet of late on the Phantom front outside of that terrible SyFy TV mini-series where he looked like purple Daredevil. A better way to go would be a live-action adaptation of Phantom 2040, the weirdly awesome ’90s cartoon which featured design work from Aeon Flux creator Peter Chung. Unlike the slow-moving comic strip, it’s a trippy, in-continuity take on the long running character that could translate well to an effects-heavy blockbuster. Plus, nobody wants to see Billy Zane in a puffy purple outfit these days unless it’s in a Zoolander sequel.