One of the biggest film franchises of all time began in 2002 with Spider-Man. It was a huge success and proved that X-Men was no fluke: comic book films were a hot commodity.
A Spider-Man film had been in development since the mid-1980s under multiple different studios. Roger Corman had an option on it at one point, before the rights went to Cannon Films in 1985. A low budget film was planned, but it was never made.
The rights then went to Columbia Pictures. James Cameron began working on a treatment for them in the early 1990s.
Supposedly, Cameron wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger as the villain, Dr. Octopus. Edward Furlong was considered for Spider-Man and Electro and Sandman were also featured villains. The treatment contained lots of profanity and a scene where Peter Parker and Mary Jane have sex.
One of the main features from Cameron’s work that remained in the final product is Peter Parker having organic webshooters. In the comics, these are his own mechanical creations. Peter finally makes his own webshooters in the 2012 reboot.
Cameron moved on and many other directors were considered, such as Roland Emmerich, Chris Columbus, and Tim Burton. David Fincher was also considered, but he didn’t want to do an origin story.
In 2000, Sam Raimi was hired to direct. Raimi had previously directed the Evil Dead trilogy and 2000’s The Gift, but it was the Spider-Man films that made him an almost household name. In a controversial choice that proved successful, Tobey Maguire was chosen as Peter Parker. Kirsten Dunst appeared as his love interest, Mary Jane. Willem Dafoe and James Franco portrayed Norman and Harry Osborn.
The film was a huge success. It had the largest opening weekend ever at the time; previously no film had an opening over $100 million, even adjusting for inflation. Spider-Man made $821 million on only an $140 million budget.
Two comic inspired sequels came out in 2002. One of these was Blade II, again starring Wesley Snipes. David S. Goyer returned to write the script, but Stephen Norrington declined to direct again. This time, the director was Guillermo del Toro, who is a huge comic book fan.
Del Toro was not that well known at the time. His only previous film in English was the 1997 science fiction film Mimic. Blade II was the beginning of his mainstream success. He went to direct such films as Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth (which won three Oscars), and Pacific Rim.
Blade II was a success, making over $150 million.
MEN IN BLACK II
The other sequel to be released that year was Men In Black II. Director Barry Sonnenfeld returned as did stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Linda Fiorentino did not return as Will Smith’s love interest.
This film was a definite step down in quality from the first. Critics gave it much harsher reviews. There are some really lame jokes, like aliens named Balchinians who have testicles on their chins.
Men in Black II was commercially successful though, as it opened number one and made over $440 million worldwide.
ROAD TO PERDITION
Finally, we come to Road to Perdition, based on the graphic novel of the same name by Max Allan Collins. The film was directed by Sam Mendes, who had just come off the massive critical success of American Beauty.
Road to Perdition had a great cast, including Tom Hanks, Jude Law, Paul Newman, and Daniel Craig. The cinematography was done by Conrad Hall, who died shortly after the film was completed. Hall had previously worked on American Beauty, as well as classics such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Cool Hand Luke. He won a posthumous Academy Award for his cinematography in this film.
Mendes’ film was nominated for five other Oscars, but won none of them. Paul Newman was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. The other nominations were for Sound, Sound Editing, Art Direction, and Original Score.
The biggest comic film of 2003 was easily X-Men 2. The success of the first made the sequel highly anticipated. Many consider it better than the first, and it’s often cited as the best of the trilogy, an assessment I can't argue with. This is despite the fact that the film continued to focus on Wolverine at the expense of characters such as Cyclops. It was successful at the box office, making $407 million worldwide on only a $110 million budget. The script underwent many changes and supposedly went through 27 drafts.
Bryan Singer returned to the director’s chair. Most of the characters from the first came back as well. Two mutants were also added: Nightcrawler and Pyro. Nightcrawler was played by Alan Cummings, who had to undergo ten hours of makeup to get into character. The opening scene where he attacks the White House is easily the highlight of the movie.
Angel and Beast were in early drafts, but neither of them made it to the final film. Beast was relegated to a short clip of Hank McCoy appearing on TV. Both of them would appear in full in the third X-Men film.
In X-Men 2 there were small cameos of mutants Jubilee and Kitty Pryde. Brian Cox also joined the cast as the villain William Stryker.
Marvel had two other films that year, but neither of them did nearly as well as X-Men 2. One of these was Daredevil, directed by Mark Steven Johnson. Johnson went on to direct another Marvel film, Ghost Rider. Chris Columbus, director of the first two Harry Potter films, was originally going to direct.
The film starred Ben Affleck as the title character and Jennifer Garner as Elektra. Michael Clarke Duncan and Colin Farrell appeared as villains.
Reviews of the film were mixed and it’s generally seen as disappointing among fans. It made almost $180 million at the box office, which was not bad, but not great either. The film was somewhat pedestrian and doesn’t really stand out in any way.
An R-rated director’s cut was eventually released, which is often considered to be a marked improvement over the theatrical edition.
Daredevil was going to be rebooted by Fox, but this fell through. This led to the rights reverting back to Marvel Studios and they made a TV series exclusive to Netflix that ended up being highly regarded by critics as well as among fans.
The other Marvel film of 2003 was Ang Lee’s Hulk. Lee had previously directed Sense and Sensibility and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He would eventually win the Best Director Oscar for Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi.
Eric Bana starred as Bruce Banner AKA The Hulk. Jennifer Connelly played his love interest Betty Ross.
The Hulk film had been in development since 1990. In 1997, Joe Johnston was attached to direct. He dropped out to direct October Sky and producer Jonathan Hensleigh stepped into what would have been his directorial debut. Hensleigh went on to direct the 2004 Marvel film, The Punisher.
Hulk made $245 million worldwide. This was a decent take, but was still below expectations. The reviews weren’t that positive either. Many complained that the story was too serious and dark.
After Hulk, the rights for the character went back to Marvel Studios. He was rebooted in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, the second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Hulk also appeared in 2012’s The Avengers.
THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN
Another comic film released that year was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It was directed by Stephen Norrington, who had recently directed the Marvel film Blade.
The film was based on a graphic novel by famed writer Alan Moore. This film solidified his hatred of adaptations of his work that began with From Hell. He chose not to be credited in either V for Vendetta or Watchmen.
The movie was greatly different than the source material. In the comics, all the characters are British. The studios felt that an American was needed, so Tom Sawyer was added.
The film did not do well with critics. It also turned in an average performance at the box office, making about $179 million worldwide.
Bulletproof Monk also came out in 2003, based on a comic by Michael Avon Oeming. It was the only feature directed by Paul Hunter. Bulletproof Monk starred Chow-Yun Fat and Seann William Scott and the film bombed with audiences and critics.
Another comic film of this year was American Splendor. Unlike the films of t his year discussed so far, this one has no action, superhero, or science fiction elements. Instead, it’s based on the autobiographical comics of Harvey Pekar, played by Paul Giamatti. The film was a critical success and was nominated at the Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay. It was directed by the duo of Shari Springer Bergman and Robert Pulcini.
The comic series ran from 1976 to 2008, always written by Harvey Pekar. Pekar and his friend Robert Crumb were very influential in the underground comic scene. Pekar died in 2010.
Finally, we come to, in my opinion, the best comic adaptation of the year in Oldboy. The manga was written by Garon Tsuchiya and illustrated by Nobuaki Minegishi. It was published from 1996 to 1998.
The film version was directed by Park Chan-wook. The film is the second in a loose “Vengeance” trilogy by Chan-wook. The first was the 2002 film Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and the final film was Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, released in 2005. The films don’t have any of the same characters but were referred to as a trilogy in the media due to having similar themes. Chan-wook went on to direct the creepy vampire movie, Thirst, and his English-language debut starring Nicole Kidman, Stoker.
Oldboy was a critical success, winning Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. It deserved all the praise it got; I’d definitely rank it among the best films of the decade.
An American remake is going to be released this November 27th. It was directed by Spike Lee and stars Josh Brolin.