Comic book movies are like comics for illiterate people. This doesn't stop fans from having extremely strong opinions about them.
In 1978, Warner Bros released Superman, probably one of the first comic book movies in which the writers actually took the subject matter seriously. Before this, the studios were only really interested in adapting comics into campy, condescending pieces of shit like the 1966 Batman movie which became a cult hit for geeks to laugh at while stoned. This was around about the point at which film studios started to realize that comics were a worthwhile source material for making the bucks, and Superman was followed in 1981 by Superman 2, in 1983 by Superman 3, and in 1987 by Superman 4. The films starred Christopher Reeve as the titular superhero, and Gene Hackman as his nemesis Lex Luthor. Though fans of the series tend to cringe at the mention of the third film (while aggressively denying the existence of the fourth), the success of these movies led to the also very successful Batman adaptations of the '90s. Together, DC Comics' two most recognizable franchise heroes took turns beating the everloving shit out of the box office until the box office cowered in a fetal position in the corner nursing its shattered metacarpals.
Pictured, left to right - DC comics; Hollywood
What was comics rival Marvel doing in Hollywood during this period? Sweet fuck all. Well, that's not entirely accurate. In 1986, George Lucas (Yes, that George Lucas) tried his hand at producing the first big-budget Marvel Comics film adaptation. Written and directed by Temple of Doom scribe Willard Huyck and starring screen legend Tim Robbins, it was the first Marvel property to have a wide cinematic release in the United States.
That movie was Howard the Duck, considered by many to be the worst thing ever put to celluloid. Watching Howard is an experience often compared with being tied down and having a family of magical leprechauns shit in your eye sockets for an hour and a half. A few years later, Marvel tried again with a forgettable Dolph Lundgren adaptation of The Punisher, and then just completely gave up for like a decade.
In the meantime, Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns gave fans of the caped crusader a darker, somewhat film-noir edge to the character who had been run into the ground by campy, tongue-in cheek '60s portrayals plagued by song and dance numbers. The success of the Batman films was somewhat serendipitous considering the fact that director Burton always hated the Batman character, and was so disappointed by the first film that only the allure of money was a powerful enough incentive for him to create a sequel. The strength of the films was enough for Warner Bros to greenlight another sequel, for which Burton was replaced by Joel Schumacher as director, and this is the point at which things started to go very, very wrong.
In 1995 and 1997 respectively, the openly gay Joel Schumacher presented to the world the most openly gay Batman ever. To understand exactly the extent to which Schumacher fagged up Batman, you need only type the words "bat nipples" into Google and hit enter. After Batman and Robin made the shortlist of worst crimes against humanity outside of a warzone, Warner Brothers decided they would sooner adapt a bowl of cornflakes into a feature film before they came within shouting distance of a Batman film ever again.
In the meantime, the Superman franchise was suffering under what would later become known as the Superman curse. (on Cracked: The Insane True Stories Behind 6 Cursed Movies). This ultimately culminated in what is probably the worst case of Development Hell known to the western world.
In 2000, 20th Century Fox released X-Men, a Marvel comics movie, starring every actor in Hollywood. It was an immense success, and relaunched the failing comic book movies concept. While DC's people tried desperately to cobble together another Superman movie with gum and twine, Marvel went nuts optioning every single franchise they owned. In five years, they released three Blade movies, two X-Men movies, two Spiderman movies, Hulk, Punisher, Daredevil, Elektra, and Fantastic Four. For a short time, you couldn't walk past a cinema without inadvertantly seeing two movies based on some Marvel character.
Unfortunately, Marvel was selling the rights to a variety of different filmmakers who had a variety of different interpretations for the material. As a result, the guy who directed Sense and Sensibility and The Ice Storm somehow found himself in charge of the Hulk movie. The result was exactly as was to be expected. So although Marvel was making an obscene amount of money throwing their franchises into the wind, the resulting films seemed to care very little for their source material and were often, at best, forgettable.
Marvel, handing out its properties.
In 2005, DC made a spectacular comeback to the movie world when Christopher Nolan invented the reboot. After seeing Batman Begins 40 times each, comics fans instantly declared that every other comic movie ever made looked like something Uwe Boll dug out of the crease between his man-boobs. Its sequel, The Dark Knight went on to make Batman Begins look distressingly lacklustre.
Thus began the great Reboot Wars of the decade 2000, in which both Marvel and DC competed to treat every one of their properties to a Gritty Reboot(tm). Superman got done over, to mixed reviews. They even started rebooting "franchises" that only consisted of one film no more than a couple of years old, like Hulk and Punisher.
Because of a severe lack of understanding about what made Nolan's Batman films great, filmmakers decided that its "grittiness" probably accounted for one hundred percent of its success, as there is shown to be a direct linear relationship between "grit" and "profit" in all artistic situations across the board. This has paved the way for studios massively increasing the grit ratio even in properties for which it doesn't make any sense. The next Spider-Man movie is promised to be a Gritty Reboot(tm) in which Peter Parker does less wisecracking and more battling teenage issues in a more contemporary setting. How exactly they plan on making the film more contemporary than the present day setting of the previous three remains to be seen.