Superman and the Mole Man (1951)
Basically the pilot of The Adventures of Supeman, this was the first modern superhero movie (there was a tradition of movie serials previous to this, but I've decided against including those in this review), and stars George Reeves (whose fate is chronicled in the excellent Hollywoodland), the father of modern superhero acting.
Originally intended to be a sort of theatrical pilot to the infamous Adam West TV series, but was instead held off until the end of the show's first season, this is probably as good a sample as anything to what that experience was all about.
Thanks to Star Wars, a lot of what we know today as modern cinema was possible, including superhero movies, famously ushered by Christopher Reeve, who made audiences believe a man could fly. Still essential viewing to this day.
Superman II (1980)
Where the first one made Superman a viable movie franchise, the second one made Superman a movie legend, thanks in large part to "Kneel before Zod!" Better than the original, and even better in Richard Donner's later director's cut.
Superman III (1983)
Many fans scoff at this movie today, but there's so many prescient elements to its production, mirroring what Hollywood would do with superhero movies on a ridiculously regular basis. This was only five years into the superhero era, and there had only been three movies, all of them featuring Superman. Someone figured that maybe mixing it with another genre would help retain the viewing public's interest. (Remember this idea.) Anyway, so Superman meets Richard Pryor (this was not such a wild idea; only three years later Eddie Murphy was supposed to meet Captain Kirk in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home). It's essentially two movies in one: the inner struggle of Superman to match his own ideals, and a Richard Pryor movie. Now, I still haven't seen too many Richard Pryor movies, but I liked this one. And I also liked the Superman movie. This one receives a bad rap because it's basically incomprehensible if you can't multitask. I guess it takes a certain perspective for it to make any sense.
Well, what if you make Superman a chick? Basically it's exactly that.
Howard the Duck (1986)
Known today as the infamous George Lucas bomb, it's also based on a Steve Gerber character. At some point Howard will get a shot at redemption. The sad part is that this really isn't different from other movies released at the time. It was that kind of decade. (Please note that for future purposes as well.)
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Honestly, I think people don't like this one even today because people at the time were tired of trying to care about something that hadn't really been relevant in nearly a decade. It's not that bad a movie.
Sweet redemption at last, like the second coming of Superman, a fresh take that seems to transcend the genre (make note of that, too), even though fans feared at the time that every single decision that could be made poorly was indeed made poorly. Tim Burton, Michael Keaton, and Jack Nicholson instead achieve the impossible, turning the Dark Knight very dark indeed, and come up with a movie fans would still be talking about today if someone hadn't come along and done it even better. Anyone who wants to know what Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire may be looking at might start here.
Up next: the absurdly adventurous '90s.