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Lights! Camera! Action! FTN brings you a look at the evolution of the live-action hero

November 13th, 2013 by Jake Tanner Comments

1966…the campy TV classic, Batman, starring Adam West and Burt Ward finally gets its chance on the big screen. To this day that entire series was a huge, yet silly success. It opened the door for an entirely new generation of comic book readers just like movies such as The Avengers has done today. While the outcome hasn’t changed, movies starring our favorite heroes and villains have evolved into something that creators probably never dreamed of. Today, I’d like to take a look back and dive in-depth into how our live-action comic book heroes have changed.

In 1951, a young man by the name of George Reeves was offered what some would consider the role of a lifetime, Superman and the Mole Men. It was a low-budget, B-list movie that also acted as a pilot for the television series, but more importantly, it brought the classic comic book character into the national spotlight. Before this, live-action superhero stuff was only offered in the movie serials! For all the silliness that was Batman in the 60’s, there’s a good chance that without it, we wouldn’t have many of the film franchises that are around today!



A lot of us remember watching Adam West starring as the Caped Crusader in the 1966 classic, Batman. Clad in tights and equipped with numerous silly gadgets, (Bat-Shark Repellent anyone?) our heroes take on four classic villains: The Joker, Catwoman, Riddler, and Penguin. While to this day most people remember the campy, endlessly fun TV show, the big thing to take away from this was the Dynamic Duo’s full-length feature film, comic book heroes on the big screen in their OWN movies, not just serials. For all the silliness that was Batman in the 60’s, there’s a good chance that without it, we wouldn’t have many of the film franchises that are around today! While low budget and obviously lacking a lot of special effects, it began something much bigger: people began to really take live-action superheroes seriously. However it would take another decade for the super hero film to really start coming into it’s own

‘It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!’


The release of 1978’s Superman, starring Christopher Reeve was a SMASHING success. It was entertaining, used great special effects, and above all else, took a major step that influenced the movies and shows we love today. Due to its high budget, it showed us that a studio was willing to take a risk in making a big budget hero film like the ones we see today! Luckily for DC, it paid off, so much so that it spawned numerous sequels and a cult-like following. The movie was so huge that it’s still referenced in pop culture to this very day! And while Superman proved to be light hearted family entertainment, Tim Burton was out to change the way we see heroes forever.

In 1989 Tim Burton & DC set the world on fire with their hugely successful release, Batman. Along with controversial casting (Michael Keaton as The Dark Knight pissed off fanboys almost as much as Batfleck!) a dark, twisted Gotham reminiscent of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and terrific performances by the cast and crew. I still pop it in from time to time and it has to be the closest incarnation to a live-action comic book, setting the bar extremely high for superhero projects that came after. Though, things in Gotham would not stay pleasant for long.

I’m going to briefly mention the abominations that were the two Joel Schumacher Batman films. Not for anything they did well, but for everything they did wrong. With bad casting choices, (Swartzen-Freeze was the worst!) poorly written scripts filled with one-liners, and bad costume designs (Bat-nipples!); these movies showed directors and writers what NOT to do when handling iconic comic book heroes! But even Schumacher’s Bat films have an influence that can be seen in today’s superhero movies. Without these monumental flops, Marvel and DC’s franchises may have never gotten the serious undertone and attention to character development that we see today.

Today, most writers look back to these classic pieces when creating the shows and movies we love. Their influence can still be seen in every facet of the medium. Looking back to what worked and what didn’t is ESSENTIAL in creating modern hits. You can still feel the influence of Burton’s Batman in the Nolan trilogy. It’s dark, gritty, and influenced by countless pages of source material. (Classic comic book stories.) Believe it or not, Burton’s Bat even had an effect on the multi-billion dollar Marvel Universe. Had Tim Burton never taken the chance in casting a comedic actor, Michael Keaton, as Batman we may have never seen someone like Robert Downey Jr. take up the mantle of Ironman. (Some people, myself included, can’t see anyone else playing that role!) Even the occasional missteps from the big two have influenced our current shows and films. We can’t forget 1978’s Superman. Sure, superhero projects came before it, but without DC and Warner Brothers taking a gamble on such an ambitious, high budget film, we wouldn’t have classic scenes like The Battle of New York or Superman’s showdown with Zod in Man of Steel.

Comic book heroes are everywhere. Cartoons, movies, toys, and more have characters like Ironman and Superman literally anywhere you look! A movie like The Avengers is filled with funny dialogue and action-packed special effects does a fantastic job introducing comic books to new blood, while movies like The Dark Knight Trilogy make viewers and critics alike take our favorite characters more seriously.

Some may choose to pick sides in the DC/Marvel debate, but personally, I feel grateful to have grown up in a time to see my favorite heroes not only come to life, but to be done justice in whatever medium I choose to experience them in. It’s hard to ignore the growth of the medium in the last 20 years or so, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what’s to come. From a young kid watching Adam West and his one-liners on Nick @ Nite to being a grown man and seeing The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX while sitting next to and chatting with an extra from the second movie (true story!), I can’t wait to see what adventures the next 20 years hold and what stories I’ll have to share about them!

What are your favorite moments with live-action heroes? Share them in the comments below!

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I'm 25 years old and I'm hugely passionate about comic books and I also LOVE gaming. The birth of my daughter, Abby, rekindled my passion for comic book stories. I grew up on them and I want nothing more than to share that passion with her! I'm a pretty typical guy, I love sports. (NHL-Blackhawks, NBA-Lakers, MLB-Cubs, and NFL-Daaaa Bears!). I've been writing for a pretty big portion of my life, and I've been nominated for multiple awards for some of the poetry I’ve written! Happy reading and follow me on Twitter @xJatmanx.