When Bryan Singer’s X-Men was released on July 14, 2000, it was the first big superhero movie of that summer. It was also the first big superhero movie of the year. It was also the first big superhero movie since Mystery Men, a superhero spoof based on a comic book hardly anyone had heard of, flopped a year earlier. The last superhero/comics movie to hit before X-Men was the first Blade movie in 1998. The summer before that, the major superhero movies were Batman & Robin, Spawn, and Steel, starring Shaquille O’Neal.
X-Men‘s unexpected status as the most financially successful superhero movie that did not feature Batman or Superman emboldened movie studios to produce additional superhero movies, no longer mortally afraid that they were making the next Steel. Likewise, the fact that X-Men took the X-Men seriously encouraged audiences to attend superhero movies, no longer mortally afraid that they would wind up seeing a movie starring Shaquille O’Neal or Spawn. Spider-Man followed in 2002, hitting even bigger; Daredevil, Hulk, Fantastic Four, a new Batman series, some more Superman, and two even bigger X-Men movies followed — all before Iron Man re-kickstarted the genre by establishing Marvel Studios in 2008.
I begin by establishing the lineage of Singer’s X-Men because given the deluge that followed, for a lot of people, that’s what it represents: the laying of respectable groundwork for what followed. To be sure, the series as a whole has its fans, and probably some of those fans think back fondly on the first movie. But with its middling special effects, abbreviated running time, lack of massive spectacle, and reputation as a movie exceeded both by its immediate sequel and many superhero adventures that followed, I think it’s safe to say that most fans of comic book movies would place that first movie (and likely most if not all of its sequels) somewhere below The Avengers, the Captain Americas, at least two of the Iron Mans, and one or two Thors, and maybe somewhere above Spider-Man 3, Elektra, or the various attempts to start a Hulk franchise on the Marvel Movie Continuum.
I think it’s also safe to say most fans of comic book movies are incorrect.
The subject of the most ardent fan and even critical approval these days — among movies based on Marvel Comics — are the ones that come directly from Marvel Studios. Here I should note that I like all of those movies, with the possible exception of The Incredible Hulk, which I would have a stronger opinion about if I could remember at all. I would even venture to say that I like Iron Man 2 far more than anyone you know, and that I was on board with Captain America even before Winter Soldier. But when The Avengers, a movie that very nearly made my Ten Best list for 2012, came out, one of my main thoughts about it was: Finally! A Marvel Studios movie that I like nearly as much as the best X-Men and Spider-Man movies!