episodic list articles by Corey B. Buckner

The 5 Best: Superhero Movies

by Corey B. Buckner

Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe set the comic book cinema world ablaze with their masterful journey from Iron Man 1 through Avengers Endgame and beyond; comic book movies were an entirely different experience. Superheroes from the same comic book company were scattered about in different universes owned by different movie studios and many of their films were absolutely horrible. Despite that, throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s; some absolute GEMS were produced; and for me… 5 of them stand a foot above the rest. Remember, this is my best 5 list and not an attempt at a definitive “best-of” list and I encourage you to share your personal lists as well in the comment section. I say that because I am fully aware that I have a peculiar taste when it comes to things like superheroes, video games, poop culture, music and the like; so my personal list often deviates greatly from anything resembling a best-of list. With that said, here is my list.

5. The Meteor Man (1993)

Robert Townsend is by far one of the most underrated writers and directors of the 1980s and 1990s. Five years before Wesley Snipes and Blade saved the Marvel movie industry; Robert Townsed wrote, directed and starred in Meteor Man making him the first black superhero to reach movie theaters. While Blade often gets the credit for being the first “black” superhero to grace movie screens; Townsend’s Meteor Man was a legit, real superhero movie and it came first. Meteor Man is no Blank Man (which I also like); it is not a black comedic spoof of superheroes; it is a legitimate superhero tale in every way possible from story to music and the on-screen action.

The movie centers around Jefferson Reed (Townsend), a teacher in a crime-riddled urban area and what happens after he is struck by a meteor and gains special powers. This movie has a cast that would have been impossible to assemble just a few years later. The cast includes Townsend himself, Eddie Griffin, Don Cheadle, Tiny Lister, James Earl Jones, Bill Cosby, Big Daddy Kane, Sinbad, Robert Guillame and far too many more well-known actors to name. Seriously, go look at the cast list and you will be shocked to see how long it is and how many of the names you know and respect. Better yet, go watch the movie and be surprised by all the faces and voices you see in this film.

4. Dick Tracy (1990)

What I love so much about 1990s Dick Tracy starring Warren Beaty is that it actually looks like a comic book come to life. In general superhero movies bring our comic book characters into real life; but Dick Tracy was a legitimate live action portrayal of comic book pages. The bold primary colors, the cartoonish characters and their voices along with the colorful cities blended together masterfully to recreate the look of comic book pages that I love so much. This wasn’t Superman running around New York City; transversely this was Jon Landau pulling us into pages of the Tribune with Dick Tracy.

Warren Beaty is joined in the cast by Al Pacino as the villain Big Boy Caprice, Madonna as Breathless Mahoney, Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles and Dick Van Dyke as D.A. Fletcher. Each one of them plays their role so perfectly that they make it impossible for me to imagine anyone else subbing in for them. This movie was a fun thrillride and was a visual delight on top of it.

3. The Shadow (1994)

I know a lot of people didn’t like this film when it was released, but for me the Shadow was extremely cool with a definite Batman vibe and some awesome visual effects. Alec Baaldwin Was excellent as the film’s hero and Tim Curry who plays Farley Claymore in the film is one of those actors that I love in everything I see him in. It can’t be denied that The Shadow was shot to be another Batman film, but despite the obviousness of the music and the visual style of the movie; I think The Shadow bests the Batman films in recreating iconic comic book shots. Similar to what I love about Dick Tracy; The Shadow looks more like a comic book than it does a comic book hero coming into the real world. Because I like that; The Shadow has remained one of my favorite superhero movies of the era.

2. Superman 1 & 2 (1978, 1980)

While I hate putting more than 5 items on a list of 5; I’m going to go against what I like and put Superman 1 and 2 at number two. The reason I’m doing that is because for a little while I didn’t fully realize that they were two separate movies; so both 1 and 2 lived in my head as just “the Superman movie”. Give me a break, Superman 1 came out in 1978 (the year I was born) and Superman 2 came out in 1980 (the year I turned 2). Until I sit down and watch one or the other; both of these films are just Superman to me.

What can I say about these films that hasn’t been said already? Christopher Reeves is the ONLY Superhero in my opinion. Sorry Dean Cain, you did a good job; but you’re just the TV Superman. Christopher Reeves embodied everything that Superman was in the 70s and 80s and to me remains the most accurate portrayal of a comic book character ever. Even all these years later; I still watch these movies with eyes of wonder and a big ‘ol grin on my face.

1. Batman (1989)

Tim Burton is a genius. He took a comedian and a madman and turned Batman and the Joker into the undeniably coolest comic book characters of a generation. Burton didn’t just write a superhero movie set in New York City; he created Gotham, gave it character, history and a sound, and then unleashed his creation on an unprepared movie-going public. Just think for a minute what superhero movies were before 1989’s Batman. They were kiddie and overtly goody goody. They were bright and the heroes themselves often talked in a phony, deep, pseudo-iconic voice. Batman was the very first cinematic adult, gritty superhero. Somehow, Burton made a movie that was deep and dark and by speckling that with the lore of a purple-clad clown and his funhouse made it also family friendly.

I remember the collect groan we all released when we heard that Tim Burton was casting Michael Keaton as Batman. Anybody claiming that they saw Burton’s vision and didn’t roll their eyes at the idea is lying. What Tim Burton ended up creating with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson was a movie experience that was so perfectly innovative that it immediately made every single superhero movie that came before it (including Superman) obsolete.

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