Summer 1990: The Top 10 Hits and More

In what has become tradition on this here blog, I use the summertime months to reflect on the cinematic seasons that came 30, 20, and 10 years prior. So while we wait for features to hit theaters in the summer of 2020 (something that is looking less and less certain), let’s take a gander at the hits, misses, and other significant product from the past.

The format is as follows: a rundown of the top ten hits as well as other noteworthy titles and some of the flops. We begin with 1990… a summer where we all got ghosted.

10. Flatliners

Domestic Gross: $61 million

Fresh off her star making role that spring in Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts teamed with then boyfriend Kiefer Sutherland in this psychological thriller from the late director Joel Schumacher. A far less successful 2017 remake would follow.

9. Bird on a Wire

Domestic Gross: $70 million

Despite mostly poor reviews, the drawing power of Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn compelled this action comedy to a #1 debut and solid returns. Mr. Gibson wouldn’t fare as well later that summer when Air America with Robert Downey Jr. grossed less than half of Bird‘s earnings.

8. Another 48 Hrs.

Domestic Gross: $80 million

The re-teaming of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte from their 1982 hit might have earned more than the predecessor, but $80 million was considered a bit of a letdown compared to expectations. The quality left a bit to be desired as well.

7. Days of Thunder

Domestic Gross: $82 million

Another high profile reunification is this racing pic with Tom Cruise and his Top Gun maker Tony Scott back together. While it wasn’t as successful as that blockbuster, it did just fine and it cast a mostly unknown actress named Nicole Kidman alongside her future (and eventually former) husband.

6. Presumed Innocent

Domestic Gross: $86 million

Harrison Ford has had plenty of summer hits, but this adaptation of Scott Turow’s novel was a considerably more adult project that earned mostly rave reviews. The courtroom drama was a sizable earner considering its meager $20 million budget.

5. Back to the Future Part III

Domestic Gross: $87 million

The Western themed threequel arrived just six months after Part II. While it received better critical reaction, its gross of $87 million couldn’t match the $118 million of what preceded it.

4. Dick Tracy

Domestic Gross: $103 million

Warren Beatty’s long in development version of the 1930s comic strip was a visual sight to behold. However, critical reaction was mixed. It managed to just outdo its reported $100 million budget stateside. Tracy provided a showcase for Beatty’s then flame Madonna and earned Al Pacino a Best Supporting Actor nod.

3. Die Hard 2

Domestic Gross: $117 million

The goodwill brought forth by the 1988 original allowed this decent sequel to outgross its predecessor and permit Bruce Willis to return in his signature role three more times. This would be the last Die Hard pic with the Christmas Eve theme as it scorched the summer charts.

2. Total Recall

Domestic Gross: $119 million

One year before he would rule the summer of 1991, Arnold Schwarzenegger had a massive hit with this sci-fi rendering of the Philip K. Dick short story. Recall also provided the first juicy role for Sharon Stone, who would become a sensation two years later in Basic Instinct. 

1. Ghost

Domestic Gross: $217 million

At the start of the new decade, no one would have pegged Ghost to rule the summer frame. Made for $22 million, the supernatural romance ended up making over half a billion worldwide. A pottery themed love scene between stars Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore would become iconic, Whoopi Goldberg would win Best Supporting Actress for her psychic role, and it was nominated for Best Picture.

And now for some noteworthy titles from the season:

Problem Child

Domestic Gross: $53 million

Just outside the top 10 at 11, John Ritter headlined this tale of a rambunctious kid who just needs a family. Budgeted at a measly $10 million, it was a surprise performer that spawned two sequels.

Arachnophobia

Domestic Gross: $53 million

Doubling its budget, this black comedy about deadly black spiders received mostly praise from critics and had a nice showcase role for John Goodman as an exterminator.

Darkman

Domestic Gross: $33 million

Sam Raimi would eventually direct Spider-Man over a decade later and break box office records. Yet this original story (made for only $16 million) was a cult hit that introduced a lot of filmgoers to Liam Neeson. Two direct to video sequels would follow (minus Raimi behind the camera and Neeson in front of it).

Mo’ Better Blues

Domestic Gross: $16 million

This jazz infused dramedy was Spike Lee’s follow-up to his groundbreaking Do the Right Thing one year prior. Blues received solid reviews, but is best remembered as the director’s first collaboration with Denzel Washington.

And now for some pictures that didn’t match expectations either financially or critically or both (including a host of underwhelming sequels):

Robocop 2

Domestic Gross: $45 million

Irvin Kerschner made one of the greatest part two’s ever with The Empire Strikes Back. He wasn’t so lucky here. It made slightly less than its 1987 predecessor and reviews weren’t nearly as positive.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Domestic Gross: $41 million

It’s become a cult favorite since its release, but The New Batch grossed over $100 million less than the 1984 smash success.

The Exorcist III

Domestic Gross: $26 million

Following 17 years after the phenomenon that was the original, part 3 simply didn’t land with audiences or critics. This is another example of a sequel that would pick up more fans in subsequent years.

Ghost Dad

Domestic Gross: $24 million

Sidney Poitier directed this supernatural comedy starring Bill Cosby. At the time, he had a smash TV comedy named after him. Yet audiences didn’t follow him to the multiplex for this critically drubbed effort.

The Freshman

Domestic Gross: $21 million

Marlon Brando seemed to have a fun time parodying his iconic Godfather role here alongside Matthew Broderick. It wasn’t a hit, but its reputation has grown since.

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane

Domestic Gross: $21 million

Andrew Dice Clay was one of the most popular and controversial stand up comics of this era, but his anticipated breakout to the silver screen landed with a thud.

Wild at Heart

Domestic Gross: $14 million

David Lynch’s follow-up to his heralded Blue Velvet starred Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern. It garnered decidedly more mixed reaction from critics.

The Two Jakes

Domestic Gross: $10 million

Jack Nicholson went behind the camera and reprised his acclaimed role as Jake Gittes from 1974’s Chinatown. This was a year following the star’s turn as The Joker in Batman, which dominated that summer. Audiences (and many critics) simply turned a blind eye to this long gestating sequel.

And that’ll do it for now folks! I’ll have the summer of 2000 up shortly.

Joker Movie Review

When Batman ruled the summer three decades ago, Tim Burton’s take on the Caped Crusader was deemed too dark by some. That seems quaint now with the harder edged comic book adaptations that have come our way recently and it especially applies to Joker. This stand-alone origin pic from Todd Phillips wears its influences overtly with Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver being the most obvious. It’s a grim tale focused on mental health in which Joaquin Phoenix dominates every frame of celluloid he’s in and that’s pretty much every moment. Much of the time, we are simply waiting for his character to snap. The tension is palpable as his involuntary cackles providing the soundtrack. Heath Ledger might still be the best Joker, but this film has the most Joker. And Phoenix runs a somewhat close second.

It’s 1981 in a gamy Gotham City and Arthur Fleck is a clown for hire with hopes of becoming a stand-up. He gets a load of meds from the government that don’t seem to stem the tide of a slow boiling rage (with a makeup infused smile, of course). He dreams of killing it (in the humorous sense) on a national talk show hosted by Robert De Niro’s Murray Franklin. Arthur watches the show with his ailing mother (Frances Conroy), whose screws may also not be fully tightened. And there’s a fledgling romance with a single mom (Zazie Beetz) whose apartment inhabits the same floor of a dingy high rise.

Joker is centered on classism almost as much as Arthur’s derangements. Among our central character’s first criminal acts involves a trio of WASPy Wayne Enterprise employees. This is just as billionaire Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) is exploring a Mayoral run and the eventual Bat Dad might have some surprising connections to the eventual Bat nemesis. Some have accused Joker of romanticizing the man. I didn’t see it that way, but there’s certainly a sense of the have nots sticking it to the haves.

We have grown accustomed to high tech and CGI infused violence in this genre. Not here. The bloodshed is sudden, in your face, and occasionally shocking. Just like in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Phoenix undergoes a metamorphosis by losing a ton of weight. Arthur looks as sick as his mind is. Like Ledger in The Dark Knight, it’s hard to take your eyes off him as he dances, laughs in a disturbing elevated pitch, and heads toward the breakdown. This is Joaquin Phoenix’s demented sandbox to play in and I dug the opportunity to witness this darkness without a dawn in its sights.

***1/2 (out of four)

Summer 1989: The Top 10 Hits and More

In what has become tradition on this little blog of mine, the summer season brings us a lot of nostalgia on the silver screen. In the present, that means a slew of sequels and remakes and reboots coming on a near weekly basis. For these purposes, it means taking a look back on the movie summers of 30, 20, and 10 years ago.

As has been written in previous years, I’m listing the top ten hits as well as other notable pics and some flops. One thing is for sure about 1989. It will forever be known as the summer of the Batman and that blockbuster influenced what has become the predominant genre of the 21st century.

A recap of 1999 and 2009 will follow soon, but we start with what audiences were watching three decades ago.

10. Uncle Buck

Domestic Gross: $66 million

John Candy had one of his most notable headlining roles in this John Hughes family friendly comedy that also introduced the world to Macaulay Culkin. No sequel followed, but a short-lived TV series did.

9. Turner & Hooch

Domestic Gross: $71 million

Shortly before Tom Hanks started collecting Oscars and doing primarily dramatic work, he was still known for comedy in the late 80s. This one teamed him with a dog in a buddy comedy that followed the similarly themed with K9 with Jim Belushi from three months earlier. This one made a bit more cash.

8. When Harry Met Sally

Domestic Gross: $92 million

Rob Reiner’s romantic comedy (scripted by Nora Ephron) is considered one of the genre’s landmarks. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan headlined with a diner scene that has become quite iconic.

7. Dead Poets Society

Domestic Gross: $95 million

Robin Williams seized the day and an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of an unorthodox English teacher in Peter Weir’s film, which also nabbed a nod for Best Picture.

6. Parenthood

Domestic Gross: $100 million

Ron Howard’s dramedy sported an ensemble cast with Steve Martin and a crowd pleasing vibe. This is a rare pic that spawned two TV shows. The one from 1990 flopped while the 2010 version ran six seasons. Parenthood marks appearance #1 in the top ten for Rick Moranis.

5. Ghostbusters II

Domestic Gross: $112 million

The eagerly awaited sequel to the 1984 phenomenon was a disappointment critically and commercially when considering the original’s $229 million haul. That said, it gives us appearance #2 for Rick Moranis. A direct sequel will follow in 2020.

4. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

Domestic Gross: $130 million

And we reach the trifecta for Rick Moranis as Disney had an unexpected smash hit here. It stood as the studio’s largest grossing live-action feature for five years. Two less successful sequels followed.

3. Lethal Weapon 2

Domestic Gross: $147 million

Of the four action comedy pairings of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, part 2 stands as the franchise’s top earner. This one threw Joe Pesci into the mix with sequels that followed in 1992 and 1998.

2. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Domestic Gross: $197 million

While Harrison Ford’s third appearance as his iconic character didn’t match the grosses of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, it did earn more than 1984 predecessor Temple of Doom. Pairing Indy with his dad played by Sean Connery, the character wouldn’t make it to the screen again until Steven Spielberg and Ford teamed up again 19 years later.

1. Batman

Domestic Gross: $251 million

As mentioned, 1989 was dominated by Tim Burton’s take on the Caped Crusader. While the casting of Michael Keaton in the title role was controversial upon announcement, it turned out quite well (as did Jack Nicholson’s turn as The Joker and a funky Prince soundtrack). Three sequels and multiple reboots followed.

And now for some notable pictures outside of the top ten:

The Abyss

Domestic Gross: $54 million

James Cameron was riding a high after The Terminator and Aliens when he made this sci-fi aquatic adventure. Known just as much for its difficult production as its Oscar winning visuals, it had a mixed reaction that has grown more positive through the years.

Weekend at Bernie’s

Domestic Gross: $30 million

Turns out corpses are hilarious in this low budget comedy that turned into enough of a hit that a sequel followed four summers later.

Road House

Domestic Gross: $30 million

It may not have had critics on its side or been a huge success originally, but Patrick Swayze’s turn as a midwestern bouncer became a serious cult hit subsequently.

Do the Right Thing

Domestic Gross: $27 million

A cultural milestone, Do the Right Thing served as the major breakout for Spike Lee and was named by numerous critics as the greatest film of 1989.

sex, lies, and videotape

Domestic Gross: $24 million

Winning the Cannes Film Festival, Steven Soderbergh’s provocative debut helped usher in a wave of independent films that followed in the 90s.

It wasn’t all success stories in the summer of 1989 and here’s some that failed to meet expectations:

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Domestic Gross: $52 million

Captain Kirk himself directed this installment after Leonard Nimoy made its two well received predecessors. This one was met with ambivalence and stands at the second lowest earner of this particular Trek franchise.

The Karate Kid Part III

Domestic Gross: $38 million

In 1984, the original made $90 million and the 1986 sequel made $115 million. Three summers later, moviegoers had tired of Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita in their signature roles. Yet TV watchers are currently tuned to a series reboot with Macchio back as Daniel.

Licence to Kill

Domestic Gross: $34 million

Timothy Dalton’s second turn as 007 was a stateside flop and is the lowest grossing Bond flick when adjusted for inflation. Its star would never return in the role and the six year gap that followed when Pierce Brosnan reinvigorated the series with Goldeneye stands as the lengthiest gap in its near 60 years of existence.

Lock Up

Domestic Gross: $22 million

Sylvester Stallone had plenty of hits during the decade, but this one casting him as a tortured convict wasn’t one of them.

Casualties of War

Domestic Gross: $18 million

Brian de Palma was coming off a massive hit with The Untouchables, but this Vietnam War drama with Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn didn’t find an audience.

Pink Cadillac

Domestic Gross: $12 million

Three summers later, Clint Eastwood entered Oscar territory with Unforgiven. This action comedy with Bernadette Peters is one of his forgotten efforts and stalled with critics and crowds.

I hope you enjoyed this look back on the 1989 summer period and I’ll have 1999 up soon!

Oscar Watch: The Lighthouse

Four years ago, Robert Eggers made his directorial debut with The Witch and it was a darling on the indie circuit and with critics. His eagerly awaited follow-up is The Lighthouse and it’s premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Early buzz is solid on the black and white horror flick.

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson (who’s been in the news a lot this week due to his apparent casting as Batman) are two lighthouse keepers in the late 19th century who slowly delve into madness. Reviews suggest it’s quite effective if audiences choose to go along with it. That part remains to be seen.

The likelihood is that The Lighthouse won’t be much of a factor come awards time. However, there could be an exception. Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography has drawn raves and there could be calls from critics for him to be recognized. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Dark Knight Legacy: 10 Years Later

Ten years ago tomorrow, The Dark Knight was unleashed into theaters. Looking back at the summer of 2008, you could argue that the two most important superhero pics in recent memory were released in that short time frame. Two months earlier in May of that year, Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe which now stands at 20 films strong. Yet it was The Dark Knight that set box office records and brought critical appreciation of the genre to new heights. In a genre that has exploded in the 21st century, many consider this to be the crown jewel. I believe it’s certainly up on the Mount Rushmore.

A decade prior to its release, Batman had run into some trouble at multiplexes with the deservedly derided Batman and Robin. It was a disappointment both commercially and with reviewers. Joel Schumacher’s two run experiment with the iconic character had dissolved into campy non-fun. In the new century, Christopher Nolan was brought in to resurrect the franchise after making Memento and Insomnia. 

2005’s Batman Begins would achieve that goal, but that was not apparent immediately. Despite glowing reviews, Begins started with $48 million at the box office and $206 million overall domestically. Those are solid numbers but some context is needed. That’s nearly $50 million less than 1989’s Batman made 16 years earlier. In other words, it wasn’t obvious that the eventual sequel would turn into a phenomenon.

That’s what happened. The Dark Knight had the advantage of pitting Christian Bale’s Caped Crusader against his most known foe, The Joker. Many questioned whether Heath Ledger (coming off an Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain) had the goods to fill Jack Nicholson’s shoes. Early trailers indicated the answer was yes. And he nailed it with an unforgettable performance. As we know, Ledger never got to witness the acclaim. He died six months before the picture’s release and it added a tragic level of publicity leading up to the premiere.

Once Knight was released, expectations were sky-high and it earned $158 million out of the gate. That was an opening weekend record which has since been surpassed by 14 movies including its sequel The Dark Knight Rises and seven other comic book themed experiences.

The Dark Knight still stands as the 10th highest grossing movie of all time and fourth biggest superhero effort behind Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and The Avengers. It received eight Oscar nominations – something previously unheard of for something in its genre. That stands as another portion of its legacy. While Ledger would posthumously win Best Supporting Actor for his work, many figured The Dark Knight should and would nab a Best Picture nomination. It didn’t. And that caused the Academy to expand Best Picture from a finite five nominees to anywhere between five and ten (nine has been the major number most years in the decade following).

While no comic book film has managed a Best Picture nomination since then (Black Panther could change that this year), that rule change has perhaps allowed non-traditional awards material like District 9, Nolan’s own Inception, Gravity, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mad Max: Fury Road, Arrival, and Get Out to garner nods.

And The Dark Knight, for many moviegoers, proved what comic book lovers had known all along. This material, done right, could truly be a work of art.

Justice League Movie Review

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a bit of a mess and it earned its reputation as such in many ways. However, I found myself seemingly in the minority of those who sort of dug it. Where it failed – it failed significantly. That includes the casting of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor with his manic and bizarre take on the iconic villain. There were some narrative choices that were questionable. Yet when BvS worked, I felt it worked well and that included Ben Affleck succeeding as Batman.

Justice League is less cluttered. Zack Snyder, directing this DC Universe for the third time, captains a tighter ship with a shorter running time than what’s preceded it… and nearly all recent comic book adaptations for that matter. It is, of course, Warner Bros venture into Avengers territory. There’s a somewhat lighter tone that we first saw in the summer’s Wonder Woman stand-alone feature. The inclusion of The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) contribute to that. So does the fact that the unusually somber Superman (Henry Cavill) who brooded through much of Man of Steel and BvS is absent much of the time.

As you’ll recall, Superman was dead and buried at the BvS conclusion. Justice League opens with the world missing him and crime on the rise. Batman is doing his level best, but he needs a squad. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is still dealing with the loss she experienced in her own movie, but she’s game to help. They recruit the newbies only glimpsed upon in BvS: The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). It is their mission to thwart the Earth dominating plans of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), a motion capture evil alien. The League incorporates their powers to do so, but they know they must resurrect the Big S to complete the task.

The Avengers had the advantage of having introduced several of its core characters in separate entries. That doesn’t hold true here for half of the Justice League. Miller provides some decent comic relief, Momoa has a memorable moment or two and Fisher’s backstory is a bit blah. Their inclusion feels a little rushed and a little watered down.

Curiously the villain issue of BvS, while highly disappointing, was at least fascinating to witness in a rather bad way. Here the character of Steppenwolf isn’t really interesting at all. Many of these comic book adaptations have suffered the most from bland baddies and this is another.

League finds time to bring back Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Lois Lane (Amy Adams), and Clark’s mama (Diane Lane) in limited fashion. J.K. Simmons turns up briefly as the previously MIA Commissioner Gordon. It is Gadot who shines brightest, which is no surprise considering her rock solid solo spotlight just months prior.

In essence, Justice League feels ordinary too often. It’s got the same flaws as others in the genre. It has the same bright spots with certain performances. There’s action sequences that impress and others with dodgier CG. Call me crazy, but I admired BvS often for its occasional audacity and untidiness. With Justice, it joins a league of plenty others like it.

**1/2 (out of four)

The Superman We Never Saw

When you’ve got yourself a documentary about a major Hollywood production that never ended up being made and its director Tim Burton isn’t the most eccentric individual being interviewed, you’re probably in for something fascinating. And so it is with The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?, which tells the tale of why Burton’s proposed reimagining of the Man of Steel never made it to the screen.

The more eccentric character is by far Jon Peters, the mega producer who had successfully worked with Burton to bring Batman to the masses in 1989. The two were deep into pre-production on the late 1990s Superman Lives project before the plug was pulled and some of this doc’s greatest moments involve Peters being interviewed and, even more so, other people talking about him. Peters started out as Barbara Streisand’s hairdresser before becoming a major producing player. We hear tales of Peters’ insistence on having a giant spider featured in the film, his preference on having scripts read to him while he lays on the couch, his proclivity for putting employees in headlocks and trying out his jiu jitsu moves on underlings.

There’s a lot more to the story of how Superman Lives died and director/writer Jon Schnepp explores it in great detail here. This documentary has had its own difficult history in finally being released and it was partly funded through a Kickstarter campaign. The Supes reboot went through three screenwriters during its gestation: Kevin Smith at first, who brought his comic book geek sensibility before being jettisoned by Warner Bros brass, Peters, and Burton; Wesley Strick, who would eventually suffer the same fate; and its final writer Dan Gilroy, who would go onto direct my favorite pic of last year, Nightcrawler. Nicolas Cage was to star in the title role and there’s even fascinating footage of him trying on the iconic Superman costume, which the doc spends a lot of time talking delving into. In the late 1990s, Cage seemed like a fairly logical choice as he was coming off an Oscar for 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas and headlining A list action projects like The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off.  In other words, it was a few years prior to Cage seemingly accepting every single script that came his way. Other casting choices are discussed, including Sandra Bullock as Lois Lane, Chris Rock as Jimmy Olsen, Christopher Walken as Brainiac, and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor (that actor would go onto play him in 2006’s Superman Returns).

What emerges from the documentary is a film about a film never made (it was three weeks away from shooting) that probably would’ve been something to behold. Would it have been good? Hard to say. The two subsequent Superman reboots that would follow years later (the aforementioned Superman Returns and 2013’s Man of Steel) were both rather disappointing in my view and many comic book lovers felt the same way. Burton’s track record over the last quarter century has been hit and miss. While his take on Batman was a rousing success, his “reimagining” of Planet of the Apes in 2001 left much to be desired. What’s clear is that it would have been a much different Superman than we’ve ever seen and would have looked a whole lot different (the long portions about its production design are quite intriguing).

One important through line that runs in the doc is the fact that Superman Lives was by no means guaranteed massive success in the late 1990s. We must remember that it wasn’t until the turn of the century that 2000’s X-Men truly helped usher in the golden age of comic book flicks that we’ve seen steadily over the last 15 years. When this project was gestating, 1997’s Batman and Robin had essentially killed that Caped Crusader franchise until Chris Nolan brought it back to life eight years later. Warner Bros. was nervous about a similar fate for Burton’s new project. Ironically, it was Batman and Robin director Joel Schumacher who killed Burton’s Batman series and helped pump the brakes on Burton’s budding Superman picture.

For comic book lovers, The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? will be a treasure trove of intel on why this project never saw the light of day. Yet for movie fans in general, it provides key insight into how movies are made… and how some aren’t made. And how its possibly crazy main producer was obsessed with spiders and jui jitsu.

The Superhero Movie Onslaught

From the release of Guardians of the Galaxy in August until the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron in May 2015, there will be nine months that pass between superhero/comic book based pictures. Starting next year and especially in 2016 and beyond, that’s going to change.

It’s almost hard to believe, but there are currently 30 – yes, 30 – superhero pics scheduled to debut between 2015 and 2020. Some – though likely not many at all – could fall to the wayside. And certainly more could be added to the calendar over the next six years.

Today, Marvel Studios announced “Phase 3” of their slate of films scheduled to be released until 2019 – culminating with the third and fourth Avengers pictures. Besides the Disney/Marvel releases, Warner Bros. and Fox have their own ambitious slates.

The 21st century has been absolutely dominated by the comic book adaptation in movie world. It started in 2000 with X-Men and has continued with the Dark Knight franchise, The Avengers, Guardians, two Superman reboots, two Spider-Man franchises, and various stand-alone features and their sequels and reboots focused on Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Daredevil, Hellboy, and others. And it’s only accelerating.

This is going to be tough to keep all these Iron Men, Guardians, Caped Crusaders, and newbies like Ant-Man, Wonder Woman, and Doctor Strange straight, so this movie blogger is providing you a handy guide for all of them coming out over the next few years – in order of currently scheduled release.

Here we go:

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Release Date: May 1, 2015

Joss Whedon returns to direct as Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye, and Black Widow all return in the sequel to the #3 highest grossing film of all time. This will almost surely set a new record for all-time opening weekend, therefore defeating its predecessor.

Ant-Man

Release Date: July 17, 2015

Paul Rudd takes on the role of the title character with Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly costarring. Expect Ant-Man to find his way into later Disney/Marvel projects, possibly including later Avengers sequels.

The Fantastic Four

Released Date: August 7, 2015

After two successful but critically panned Fantastic Four pics earlier this century, director Josh Trank (Chronicle) takes over the reins of a budding new franchise for 20th Century Fox. The cast includes Miles Teller as Mr. Fantastic, Kate Mara as the Invisible Woman, Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch, and Jamie Bell as The Thing.

Deadpool

Release Date: February 12, 2016

A spinoff of the X-Men series, Ryan Reynolds is likely to play the character (he played him in the poorly received original 2009 Wolverine stand-alone flick).

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Released Date: March 25, 2016

Man of Steel director Zack Snyder returns with Henry Cavill’s Superman battling Ben Affleck’s Batman. Gal Gadot will make her debut as Wonder Woman before a later stand-alone pic and Jesse Eisenberg joins the mix as Lex Luthor.

Captain America: Civil War

Release Date: May 6, 2016

The third America flick will feature a prominent role for Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man with The Winter Soldier‘s Anthony and Joe Russo returning to direct.

X-Men: Apocalypse

Release Date: May 27, 2016

Days of Future Past director Bryan Singer is back (he also directed the first two installments of the original trilogy) as is the cast from 2011’s First Class, including James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence.

Suicide Squad

Release Date: August 5, 2016

This team of DC villains will be incorporated in the Warner Bros. movie universe that will eventually lead to the Justice League pics. Jesse Eisenberg is rumored to appear in this as well in his Lex Luthor role. David Ayer, director of Fury, is behind the camera.

Doctor Strange

Release Date: November 4, 2016

Sinister director Scott Derickson helms the adaptation of the Marvel comic with Benedict Cumberbatch just having signed to play the title character after negotiations with Joaquin Phoenix stalled.

Sinister Six

Release Date: November 11, 2016

A spin-off of the current Spider-Man franchise, this will focus on supervillains in the Spidey universe, reportedly including Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, and Rhino. Cabin in the Woods director Drew Goddard is on board.

Venom

Release Date: 2017

A stand-alone pic for the Spidey villain, it’s uncertain at this point whether Sony Pictures ends up going forward with this one.

Untitled Wolverine Picture

Release Date: March 3, 2017

The third stand-alone Wolverine flick will have Hugh Jackman clawing his way on screen and James Mangold, who directed 2013’s The Wolverine, returning.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Release Date: May 5, 2017

Star Lord and company are back with James Gunn back in the director’s chair. The original from this summer grossed an astonishing $752 million worldwide (at press time).

Wonder Woman

Release Date: June 23, 2017

It’s about time a woman headlined one of these things! Gal Gadot will star after appearing as the title character in Batman v. Superman. No director attached at press time.

The Fantastic Four 2

Release Date: July 14, 2017

Fox is confident as they’ve scheduled this to follow-up summer 2015’s release.

Thor: Ragnorak

Release Date: July 28, 2017

The third entry in the franchise, Chris Hemsworth will reprise his role in between Avengers filming duties. No director attached yet.

Black Panther

Release Date: November 3, 2017

Disney/Marvel gives their first headlining feature to an African-American superhero. 42 and Get On Up star Chadwick Boseman was cast as the Panther today. The character will reportedly first appear in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.

Justice League Part One

Release Date: November 17, 2017

Essentially Warner Bros. version of Avengers, expect to see Cavill’s Superman, Affleck’s Batman, Gadot’s Wonder Woman, and likely Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg in the mix. Zack Snyder will direct.

The Amazing Spider-Man 3

Release Date: 2018

No specific release date yet, other than sometime in 2018 and you have to wonder. Each Spidey flick has grossed less than its predecessor and this summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a commercial and critical letdown. It’s not known for sure yet, but Andrew Garfield is likely to return as the title character.

The Flash

Release Date: March 23, 2018

After a probable debut in Justice League, The Flash gets his own stand-alone pic with Ezra Miller in the title role.

Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1

Release Date: May 4, 2018

This is where the Marvel universe is likely to go bananas – with rumors of your typical Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk) possibly mixing it up with Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, and the Guardians of the Galaxy, among others. This is gonna be huge.

Captain Marvel

Release Date: July 6, 2018

Details are scarce, but this will be Disney/Marvel Studios first stand-alone featuring a title character who is a female. Expect an A list actress to join at some point.

Untitled Fox Marvel Movie

Release Date: July 13, 2018

Once again – details are very scarce. However, there are rumors that this could be Fox’s “Avengers” type pic, incorporating the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and Deadpool.

Aquaman

Release Date: July 27, 2018

After an expected debut in Justice League, “Games of Thrones” star Jason Momoa will portray the title character.

Inhumans

Release Date: November 2, 2018

Marvel/Disney will attempt and almost assuredly succeed with this development of a new Guardians/Avengers type franchise. Director/actor announcements will come later.

Shazam

Release Date: April 5, 2019

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will play the title character in this DC Comic adaptation.

Avengers: Infinity Wars, Part 2

Release Date: May 3, 2019

The continuation of the previous summer’s Marvel blowout – don’t be surprised if this marks the final appearances of Downey Jr’s Iron Man, Chris Evans’s Captain America, and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. This will be the end of Phase 3 for Disney/Marvel and we’ll have to wait and see what Phase 4 brings.

Justice League, Part 2

Release Date: June 13, 2019

The Batman/Superman/Green Lantern/Flash/Wonder Woman/Aquaman saga rolls on…

Cyborg

Release Date: April 3, 2020

Originating from DC, Warner Bros. will adapt this character with Ray Fisher in the title role. It’s rumored he’ll begin his appearances beginning with 2016’s Batman v. Superman and later Justice League flicks.

Green Lantern

Release Date: June 19, 2020

There was a badly received version starring Ryan Reynolds in 2011. Expect Warner Bros. to ignore that flick while reintroducing the character in Justice League prior to this stand-alone.

And there you have it – that’s a whole lotta superhero action scheduled to come your way over the rest of this decade.

The Superhero Sequel: A History

Currently at the multiplex, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is reigning supreme with its record-setting April debut of $95 million. This Marvel production is the just the latest example of an interesting and rare phenomenon – sequels that are considered superior to their predecessors.

However, if you take a close look at the superhero genre – it really isn’t a rare thing. In fact, one could argue it’s the only film genre in which sequels are very often considered improvements on the original. This doesn’t hold true for comedies or horror pics or action flicks. The explosion of comic book related titles (especially in the 21st century) has produced multiple examples of this.

Before we get there, let’s take a look back. In the late 70s, Superman was a massive hit and its 1980 sequel was generally considered a worthy follow-up that wasn’t quite its equal. The same holds true for the big comic book film character of the late 80s with Batman and its 1992 sequel Batman Returns. With both of those franchises – their third and fourth entries were considered highly disappointing.

This dynamic would shift in the 21st century. When X-Men jumpstarted the genre once again in 2000, it was well-received by critics and audiences and yet its follow-up X2: X-Men United earned even greater acclaim.

We would see this happen yet again when Spider-Man 2 improved upon Spider-Man.

And yet again when The Dark Knight became a beloved global hit with most believing it reached greater heights than Batman Begins.

Marvel Studios has seen this happen with both the current Captain America sequel and Thor: The Dark World from last year. And we’ll see if their trend continues with next year’s Avengers follow-up.

As you can see, it’s usually more the rule than exception that superhero sequels are thought of as bettering film #1. You could put Blade II and Hellboy: The Golden Army in there as well, according to many moviegoers.

Having said that, it doesn’t always hold true. You would be hard pressed to find many people who believe Iron Man 2 was a better experience than the 2008 original. And while second pictures have had lots of luck, third installments in the 21st century are a different story. Spider-Man 3, X-Men: The Last Stand, and (to a lesser degree) The Dark Knight Rises were all considered letdowns. The exception is Iron Man 3, considered an upgrade over #2.

Of course, there are sequels in film history outside of the superhero genre that this applies to with The Empire Strikes Back being an obvious example. Others that come up in the conversation: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (though I would disagree), The Road Warrior, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

As far this blog post’s focus, we’ll be seeing more examples of superhero sequels within weeks with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the buzz of which already indicates it’s more solid than the original. And there’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which will try to top X-Men: First Class. We will see if the usual third entry letdown occurs with Captain America and Thor follow-ups in the next couple of years.

One thing is clear – when it comes to comic book pics – the first issue isn’t always the most memorable.