It's been 10 years since the film version of The X-Men hit theaters, kicking off a decade in movies that was heavily influenced by comic books and the geeks who love them.
And as Hollywood begins a new decade, the growing relationship between comics and movies shows no signs of slowing. Unlike the disaster films of the '70s or the high school films of the '80s, comic book movies appear to be more popular now than ever before, despite dominating the Hollywood landscape for over a decade.
"Comic book movies are here to stay," said Jeff Katz, the movie producer and comic book publisher who worked on films like X-Men Origins: Wolverine. "I would say, even though they technically fall into a lot of different genres, they’re actually like a genre unto themselves. And it's one of the most desirable genres in Hollywood."
This year alone, film studios have already scheduled the release of 10 comic book movies, from April's real world superhero film Kick-Ass, to this summer's quirky Michael Cera movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, to next fall's star-packed spy thriller Red. All are based on stories that were originally told through comic books.
A Serious Experience
"I think what's happened over the last 10 years since X-Men, or even since Blade right before that, which I think was an important pre-cursor, is that comic book movies are taking the material even more seriously," said Michael Green, who not only writes comics, but is writing the script for Marvel's Fantastic Four and co-wrote next year's Green Lantern film. "That's why they began making an impact, and why they've had such staying power. And as long as that continues, there's no reason they should stop being successful."
Green pointed out that one of the biggest reasons behind the success of comic book movies from 2000-2010 was the trend toward setting them in "a place of emotional reality." The campy approach of movies like 1997's Batman & Robin was abandoned for a more serious, emotional type of comic book film, evolving into respectful treatments like The Dark Knight and V for Vendetta.
"It's much the same as when the Spider-Man and X-Men comics came out," Green said. "Stan Lee introduced the world to characters that had real problems. Movies are doing the same thing now, where they're asking people to join the hero's dilemma, but the dilemmas are reality-based. They're not just fantastic. They're not just cosmic, goofy, or Silver-Age fun, but rather, something that people should be able to relate to and feel is emotionally plausible."
Marc Guggenheim, a comic book and TV writer who also co-wrote the Green Lantern movie, said another huge impact on the popularity of comic book movies – one that will continue to drive their future – is the evolution of movie-making technology.
"Having Spider-Man swing over the city was impossible to do properly without some form of digital effect," Guggenheim said. "So many of the scenes that fans take for granted on the comic book page really needed a technological leap forward to see on the Silver Screen."
"And that's still true 10 years after Spider-Man," he said. "When we were writing Green Lantern, Greg Berlanti and I were constantly saying to each other how none of this would be possible 10 years ago."
The Marvel Revolution
Stephen Christy, who promotes comics to Hollywood as director of develpment for Archaia, said another reason comic books have become more and more successful over the years is the power of Marvel Studios.
"It's what I call the Marvel movie revolution," said Stephen Christy, "It was really Avi Arad [who] kind of came in and pushed these studios to buy these properties and make these movies. He was really the one responsible for spreading the Marvel properties around. It all got such a huge surge when movies like X-Men and Spider-Man hit 10 years ago, and now it's just continuing to grow."
That "revolution" took a different turn in the mid-2000s, when Marvel began making their own movies instead of promoting their properties to other studios. And with the success of their self-made films Iron Man and Incredible Hulk, the company intends to build upon that success with an aggressive slate of films over the next three years.
The success hasn't gone unnoticed, as Disney was so impressed that they bought Marvel late last year. Soon after, Warner Bros. took tighter control of its DC Comics division by reorganizing the publishing group to work in closer synergy with Hollywood.
"I think what will be interesting is if smaller publishers start making their own movies from comic books, because they see the success that the bigger companies are having," Christy said.
That's something Image Comics founder Todd McFarlane is already planning. As he told Newsarama in November, he intends to write, produce and direct a film based on his successful Spawn comic book – but to do it on his own terms.
"The big guys are bugging me too," McFarlane said. "They want to do some big, CG extravaganza with Spawn. And I'll go and listen to all the offers. It might happen that way. But for years, I've been leaning toward keeping it small and tight. And to do something with a reasonable budget where, oh by the way, they'll let you be involved."
Just the Beginning
Whatever the future of comic book movies, the one thing most people can agree upon is that the "CBM" trend isn't anywhere close to ending.
"Look, comic book movies may have started really appealing to Hollywood a whole decade ago, but it's even more appealing to them now," Katz said. "The movie business right now is in a very, very tough place. It’s in the biggest transition period it’s probably been in in the last 50 years. We’ve got a lot of unique transitions in the movie business, because you've got changes in distribution, you’ve got technology, you’ve got piracy, and all these things are on the table.
"Being desired for what's called proven material, reaching this established audience within this space – that's not going to go anywhere," he said. "Studios are going to feel even more comfortable making comic book movies. If anything, I think you may see Hollywood come and sort of overly rely on them, which could have its positive and negative repercussions. But whatever happens, it's not ending anytime soon."
Check back tomorrow when we look at 10 of the films slated for release in 2010, and next week, as we look closer at what Hollywood's attention has meant to the comic book industry.