Hollywood is a land of money and cowardice. Every big film is basically a $150 million gamble, so they tend to play it safe and stick to a successful formula.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the genre of big-budget superhero franchises, where it's been decided that you must follow most if not all of the eight rules below:
For some unknown reason, tradition states that the first movie must consist largely of something no one in the audience paid to see: The superhero as he lived before he could do any cool superhero stuff.
Other genres don't feel the need to do this; Die Hard didn't spend the first half of the movie with John McClane taking target practice, Rambo didn't spend an hour showing Rambo in basic training. Why can't we just jump in?
Instead we have to watch Peter Parker struggling as a photographer, and Bruce Banner quietly working as a scientist, as if we must first appreciate the tedium of their regular lives before we get to see them jump off an exploding building.
And to double the problem, they usually throw in an origin story for one or more of the villains, too. Behold! Here is the awesome badass supervillain, back when he was just a disgruntled dude in a lab coat!
Often to save time they'll cram those two origin stories together, by having the main villain kill off the hero's parents (regardless of whether or not it happened in the comic book) simultaneously starting their respective careers in superheroism and supervillainy.
A young Joker kills Bruce Wayne's parents, Robin's are trapezed to death, Kingpin kills Daredevil's dad
In Spider-Man 3, the previous origin story is changed so that the current villain (The Sandman, Marko Cain) is now the murderer of Uncle Ben, a plot point based entirely on the premise that none of the fans owned a DVD of the first film.
For the first film, the franchise always whips out the most prominent villain in the hero's rogue gallery. They don't have a choice, millions are at stake and if you go with a lesser villain there may not be any sequels at all. Unfortunately, this means that you're going with a decreasing grade of villain for the rest of the series.
He's made of sand
Thus introduces the Multiple B-List Villain Rule: Since the best villain has been used in the first film, all sequels must use a minimum of two less-popular villains. Quantity to make up for quality. Michael Keaton's Batman fought the Joker first, then found himself simultaneously taking on the combination of the Penguin and Christopher Walken. Superman fights Lex Luthor in the first film, in the second he's going up against Lex and three supervillains.
They do sometimes cheat this rule by trying to bring back the first villain as often as possible, regardless of whether the villain died in the first movie. They'll film flashbacks if necessary. Lex Luthor, Magneto, Dr. Doom and the Green Goblin have all appeared in nearly every single film in their respective franchises--two of them returning from on-screen deaths, proving that nothing is impossible in a world where big box office dollars are at stake.
Interestingly (or bafflingly, depending on your point of view) the villains often turn up in a predictable pattern: the Brain, the Bod and the Bumbler.
Ms. Teschmacher (the Bod) Otis (the Bumbler) Lex (the Brains)
The Brain is the planner and nearly always creates the main conflict the heroes must resolve. However, since the plan is usually very simplistic and takes about two seconds of screen time to explain, the Brain spends most of their screen time heaping verbal or even physical abuse on the Bumbler.
Bod -> Brains -> Bumbler
The Bod is usually there to show cleavage, wear tight leather pants and show partial nudity. Some market research suggests this appeals to comic book fans.
The Bumbler began as just that, a character who shuffles around, usually screwing up the simplest of assignments. However, this role has evolved into a mute or retarded character with great physical strength but little in the way of brains. However, they are still the target of jokes and abuse by other characters. Plus, they often provide many of the film's comic relief which may or may not be gut-wrenchingly awful.
No one knows why this formula has been used so often. Perhaps it is some sort of primal urge in humanity where the three faces represent the three ages of man. Or, perhaps there's some deep psychological comfort in triangles or groups of three. Maybe it's a subconscious representation of the Holy Trinity or a subliminal image of the Masonic Pyramid.
Or, maybe Hollywood executives think we're fucking imbeciles.
You get the idea.
Look, Hollywood, the whole "secret identity" thing is there for a reason. In the comic, a hero's secret identity is the only way they prevent their enemies from sending wave after wave of henchmen after them and their families and friends. Yet, in the transition to film, secret identities are often the first casualty.
Secret identities are usually revealed in the second film in the franchise, to a girlfriend, family member or even the villain. For instance in Superman II, a Superman who is desperate to get into Margot Kidder's pants reveals his secret identity, undergoes possibly permanent genetic damage by using radiation to get rid of his powers, walks from the North Pole to Alaska, and gets a good beating along the way. Hope she was worth it, dude.
Michael Keaton, also in an effort to get into somebody's pants, reveals his secret identity in Batman Returns to his girlfriend and the Penguin, also revealing a previously unknown fact about Batman: his mask is made out of Fruit Roll-Ups.
Though neither of them can even come close to touching Peter Parker in Spider-Man 2, who reveals his identity to:
a) Harry Osbourne
b) Mary Jane Watson
c) Dr. Octopus
d) A subway train full of passengers
It was almost like that last season of Ellen where every episode was about her telling some new group of strangers that she's a lesbian. But remember: THAT WAS THE LAST SEASON OF ELLEN.
There is with this rule the Doomed Franchise Corollary: If the film is not likely to have a sequel (Daredevil) and/or incredibly stupid (Daredevil) then what the hell, go ahead and reveal the secret identity to someone in the first film.
Hollywood hates boy scouts, so nearly all heroes have to turn evil, at least temporarily. Nearly always, this change occurs in the third film of the series. Usually the hero somehow has to fight the evil version of himself, demonstrating with some of the most ham-fisted symbolism possible that the real villain is within ourselves. Get it?!
Most of us are still having nightmares about Spider-Man 3, where Peter Parker, under the control of the alien symbiote, turned into the love child of Alex from A Clockwork Orange and John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever, while looking oddly like a lesbian biker.
The evil symbiote then bonds with Eddie Brock to become Venom, the evil version of Spider-Man, and they fight to the death.
Only slightly less ridiculous was Superman 3. Unable to figure out the "secret ingredient" for kryptonite, Gus Gorman substitutes cigarette tar into the formula, which causes Superman to turn into an alcohol-fueled sex machine. This then causes Superman to split into a Good and Bad Superman, which then, you guessed it, fight each other to the death.
They found another way to handle this in X-Men 2, since they have a group of heroes, they were able to mix it up a little bit by just having some of the heroes turn on each other.
Thus Phoenix must fight a brainwashed Cyclops, a brainwashed Professor X almost kills everybody, a brainwashed Nightcrawler almost kills the President and Wolverine must fight a brainwashed Lady Deathstryke. As an added bonus, Lady Deathstryke is the evil twin of Wolverine, but less hairy and almost as hot.
Another variation occurs in Batman & Robin, where a mind-controlled Batman and Robin, apparently under the hypnotic control of Poison Ivy, argue about who gets to pork her.