The Phantom paid tongue-in-cheek homage to old-timey do-gooders but never got its due

They kept trying it. All through the 1990s, movie executives were greenlighting big summer movies based on mostly forgotten ’30s-vintage pulp superheroes. Clearly, people placed high within Hollywood’s largest studios thought that the teenagers of the ’90s, kids who had grown up buying gold-embossed collectors’…

What the hell were any of us thinking making the terrible Batman Forever a huge hit?

You can see how it happened. The executives at Warner Bros. didn’t set out to destroy the Batman mythos or to make unwatchably shitty Batman movies that would put both the character and the superhero movie genre at large into a state of prolonged stasis. They just wanted a hit. Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, from 1992,…

Tragically and fashionably, The Crow turned superhero cinema into a death dance

The Crow is so weighed down with eerie, tragic coincidence that it’s almost hard to look at it as a real movie, rather than some mystic totem. Here we have a movie whose star, Brandon Lee, was killed in a freak on-set accident while filming his own character’s death. Lee’s father was, of course, Bruce Lee, a screen…

’90s kids didn’t give a damn about the peerless movie-serial nostalgia of The Rocketeer

Rocketeers exist. There aren’t many of them, but they’re real. A few years ago, at an action movie festival in North Carolina, I met one. His name is Dan Schlund, and he’s a stunt performer who flies a gleaming silver rocket pack that doesn’t look too different from the one in the 1991 movie The Rocketeer. It doesn’t…

Tim Burton played fast and loose with the caped crusader in his visionary blockbuster Batman

For a little while there, people were shaving the Batman insignia into their hair. That’s the level of cultural dominance that Tim Burton’s Batman had going for it in the summer of 1989. Batman made a ton of money—over $400 million globally, in 1989 dollars—but that’s really only the half of it.

It’s a bird... It’s a plane... It’s Superman, the first big-budget superhero movie

It’s become a common complaint among movie lovers: Superhero movies have taken over, and it’s hard to get anything made if it doesn’t feature people in capes. In its own way, it’s a valid point. The superhero movie has become the dominant form of American popcorn cinema, playing the same function that genres like…