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.
Even judged as a “so bad it’s good” movie, this one is hard to watch. (Outside of a young Naomi Watts and Ice T as a kangaroo man, it’s pretty rough going.) In fact, the only watchable part of the movie is the animated sequence that uses artwork from cocreator Jamie Hewlett. The movie failed to capture the anarchic humor of Hewlett and Alan Martin’s comic, and the duo’s script contributions were tossed out. Since Hewlett has had success in animation with Gorillaz, perhaps the best way to depict Tank Girl is with pen and ink. Let Martin and Hewlett script an animated Tank Girl movie with Hewlett directing and doing character designs. And, hey, Gorillaz could do the score and maybe even cameo. Tank Girl’s pretty weird already. Might as well throw in 2D, Murdoc and the rest of the gang.
There are those who are fans of 1997’s Spawn, and then there are those who’ve watched it in the past decade. While not a disaster on a Batman and Robin level, the effects haven’t aged all that well, the plot is a mess and the less said about John Leguizamo in clown makeup the better. (The HBO animated series was a much better adaptation of the comic despite the fact that it had creator Todd McFarlane playing Cryptkeeper in the hokey live-action intros.) There’s been talk of rebooting Spawn with Jamie Foxx in a film that would play up the horror aspects of the long-running comic. (McFarlane compared the new take as “more like The Conjuring and less like Iron Man.”) Sounds good to us. Just this time out, please hire a director with a background in horror instead of special effects.
Director Joe Johnston’s adaptation of Dave Stevens’ graphic novel is pretty much flawless. (Seriously. Go watch it now. We’ll wait. Awesome, right??? And how about Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes?) Rebooting this one is less about making a better film and more about giving us more Rocketeer. Comic book publisher IDW has released some excellent new Rocketeer comics that perfectly capture the zippy pulp of the late Stevens’ brilliant graphic novel. Why not get Johnston to revisit the character on the big screen and adapt some of the recent stories?
The Meteor Man
Writer/director/actor Robert Townsend (Hollywood Shuffle, The Five Heartbeats) had a good run during the late ’80s and early ’90s that promptly ended with this 1993 superhero parody flop. While by no shakes a good film, it’s fun to watch for all the cameos. (If you’ve ever wanted to see James Earl Jones and Another Bad Creation share the screen, have we got a movie for you.) Townsend is due for a resurgence (seriously, watch Hollywood Shuffle) so it would be fun if he updated Meteor Man to parody current superhero movie and hip-hop tropes. (Maybe the folks behind Black Dynamite could collaborate on the script.) And we could certainly use some diversity in the current crop of superhero flicks.
Finally, here’s one ’90s superhero movie that should be left alone:
The Crow is a brilliant movie based on an okay comic (seriously, try reading it now — it hasn’t aged well) with a premise that only works once. It’s a simple revenge story — Eric Draven dies, comes back as The Crow, avenges his girlfriend’s murder, goes back to being dead. The 1994 original film has moody direction from Alex Proyas, a solid script, and one of the greatest performances ever given in a comic book movie. Even 20 years later, it would be difficult to replace the memory of Brandon Lee. Is it a surprise that everything else Crow-related that came after the 1994 original (the sequels, the TV show) has been unwatchable? Still, talk of a reboot bubbles up every so often. Everyone laughed at the idea thrown around a while back of Bradley Cooper donning white makeup and leather. Tom Hiddleston isn’t a bad idea, but certainly he has better things to do then take over a role that was last played by Edward Furlong. Everything about The Crow — the goth aesthetic, the alt rock soundtrack, etc. — is rooted in the ’90s. So why not let it stay there?