If you’re anything like us, you’ve been geeking out for a few days now about the long-awaited drop of images from Marvel’s Captain Marvel feature, starring Brie Larson… now just a little over six months away!
There is a huge list of reasons to be excited that Carol Danvers is getting her own feature film, and one of the fun bonus things to anticipate is the setting of Captain Marvel: it’s a period piece, set in the 1990s. (Which of course might hint at why she has been MIA in the films to date.) So on top of the amazing space action, we’ll no doubt get a killer soundtrack and great references… and it got us to thinking, what was the superhero movie landscape like at that time? The bummer truth is that it ran relatively low on female heroes, but there were some definite peaks and glorious sideways tangents in the decade. (The biggest ongoing franchise was definitely the Burton/Schumacher Batman films, but it wasn’t until 2000 when the first X-Men movie really put us on the trajectory toward where we’re at today.)
Here are five selections of some of our favorite super-heroic titles of the Nineties – not all of these heroes wear capes but all, in some way, highlight the tropes that we’ve come to love from the genre.
The Rocketeer (1991)
Dave Stevens’ 1930’s-set comic book about Cliff Secord, a stunt pilot who becomes an Art Deco-fab hero with a kick-ass rocket pack on his back was a fairly obscure title for Disney to gamble on in the early 1990’s. At the time, it didn’t fare particularly well with either audiences or critics, but the tail end of the VHS age made sure that The Rocketeer eventually found the audience it deserves. It’s a rollicking good time with an incredible cast (Bill Campbell should have been a bigger star, and Jennifer Connelly and Timothy Dalton are both perfection); plus, director Joe Johnston really demonstrates a flair for early 20th century visuals and beats that would go on to serve him well at the helm of Captain America: The First Avenger two decades later.
The decade notoriously featured a couple of false starts to getting Marvel on the big screen: 1990’s Captain America which was shelved for two years before going direct to video, and 1994’s Roger Corman-produced Fantastic Four which wasn’t released at all (though illegal copies leaked eventually). The same way that probably no one predicted the first Marvel title to get a Disney theme park ride would be Guardians of the Galaxy, who would have imagined that ruthlessly bad-ass half-vampire slayer Blade would be the first Marvel hero to make a real mark at the box office? Okay, Blade didn’t blow the doors off but it instantly became a cult classic which did eventually spawn two sequels, and Wesley Snipes is poker-faced perfect casting. Gory, often hilarious, and just plain fun. (That New Order remix will be in your head for days, too.)
Mystery Men (1999)
Admittedly, I probably haven’t done as much research into this as I could have, but I’m willing to wager that Mystery Men is among the top of the heap of weirdest 1990’s films with the most impressive cast. Based on a spinoff series of Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot Comics, it follows a team of wannabe superheroes whose talents are suspect at best – played by Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo, Paul Reubens, Kel Mitchell, holy cow! – as they attempt to make a name for themselves cleaning up after Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear), the cool superhero whose attempt to make himself cooler has really backfired. Geoffrey Rush is the villain, the impenetrably weird and impeccably named Casanova Frankenstein. Look, Mystery Men is definitely a mess but it’s one of those messes you just can’t take your eyes off of, with a willful gung-ho charge toward the bizarre and some genuine laughs along the way. (Stiller has a field day with his character, Mr. Furious’s superpower claim to fame: He just gets ragingly angry. That’s it.)
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995)
Full disclosure: I’ve always admired the Power Rangers franchise, but it wasn’t a tentpole for me growing up. Most of that is down to age; I was just a little bit older than the generation who devoured it in the early 1990’s. (Though I definitely had my own obsessions with American TV that was cribbed from existing Japanese shows. Ask me about Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets…) That said, though plenty sniffed and sniggered as the MMPR crew made the leap from the small screen to the big ‘un, when you get right down to it it’s impossible to understate what a big deal this was for the fans. Sure, you’d had the likes of TMNT and Masters of the Universe doing the same in different respects, but it’s not quite the same as your favorite TV superhero team and the actors who play them on TV being catapulted to movie-sized adventures. Go big or go home, right Rangers?
Men In Black (1997)
So to be a member of the MIB, you don’t need any actual superpowers. You mostly need the right kind of attitude and bravado, and a hell of a lot of siiiiiiick intergalactic firepower. But dammit, we’ve got to include this in our top picks of the decade because in sheer cinematic delights and perfectly-calibrated touchpoints in the “saving the world” sub-genre, Men In Black totally qualifies as super-heroics. It’s got a chemistry-laden central duo in Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, a truly ingenious hilarious-scary villain in Vincent D’Onofrio, and so many great set pieces that we’re loathe to remind you of any here; you really should go watch it again, if it’s been a while. It’ll whet your appetite for the upcoming Chris Hemsworth/Tessa Thompson continuation which we’re super pumped about. (Also, we’ll admit to backtracking a little bit on Blade being the first Marvel hero to hit big cinematicallky; Aricel Comics, who originally launched MIB in comic form, were eventually absorbed by Marvel so technically… these guys blazed the trail.)