2014 was a banner year for the comic book. Those flimsy paper books have so thickly embedded themselves in Hollywood that a major piece of Marvel or DC news is dropping every week, to the extent that two full entries of this 14-part list burst onto the scene as recently as last week. Not every comic book movie was a masterpiece (one stunk so spectacularly that it may, along with a fair amount of cybercrime, threaten the very fate of Sony’s superhero output). But plenty of them were, and the general fervor around them has risen to a point where giggly anticipation of Avengers: Age of Ultron is practically as much fun as Age of Ultron undoubtedly will be.
Because of that, this list isn’t just milestones we saw in comic book movies. It’s the 14 greatest moments – movie scenes, movie news, major studio announcements – from this ever-growing sect of comic book movie culture; a culture that will continue (barring any financial disasters or drastic changes in audience taste) to expand outward for the foreseeable future. When a comic book movie wins Best Picture (I’ll ballpark it and say, perhaps 2047 and Great Lakes Avengers 6: The Rebirth), we’ll know superheroes are here to stay.
Next year and Age of Ultron will no doubt render all this obsolete, but for now let’s see what 2014 had to offer.
Everyone on Earth Watched the Avengers: Age of Ultron Trailer
Avengers: Age of Ultron is the sequel to a history-making comic book movie (along with The Dark Knight, The Avengers is most likely to earn a sentence or two in the late chapters of a film history book). Naturally, people want to see what such a sequel looks like.
Well, we saw it, and it looked pretty spectacular. Dark and murky and sure to make all its superheroes very morose, but all its audience members ecstatic (didja see Hulk punching Iron Man?). In the grand history of freaking out over movie trailers, Age of Ultron rates among the very top. 60 million views is nothing to sneeze at, after all- no trailer for the first Avengers ever came close to that number.
Comic-Con Went Through Some Shrinkage
Did you feel a pang of disappointment at this year’s Comic-Con? We were expecting glimpses of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Age of Ultron and Ant-Man… and we ended up with glimpses at Dawn of Justice, Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. Where was that surprise reveal, when a studio blazes into Hall H with footage from the superhero flick we didn’t even know was in production? Somewhere, there’s a Marvel exec with a briefcase full of Squirrel Girl footage, still stranded in the remnants of that Hall H line.
Really, though, it’s for the best. Comic-Con grows more gargantuan every year, and it’s just not feasible for it to keep expanding and for us to keep expecting bigger and more buzz-worthy surprises. In 2014, we had to take some bitter medicine. Comic-Con isn’t everything, and not cramming a year’s worth of craziness into a single weekend means the studios can drop bombshells on their own time. Like that whole Phase Three thing, later in the year.
Guardians of the Galaxy Launched Chris Pratt’s Career
Like it or not, we tend to associate a lot of actors with their big break. Is Harrison Ford all roguish and debonair in real life? Who knows! I’ve never met him. But he was Han Solo and Indiana Jones, so those two characters are now his personality. Forever. Chris Pratt’s big break is likely to be remembered as Guardians of the Galaxy, and if his career spans anywhere near as long as Ford’s has, Pratt’s likely to have some hint of Star-Lord in him for the rest of his days. Worse things have happened- Star-Lord’s a reasonably debonair dude himself.
This isn’t the first time a superhero role sent a star zooming towards the A-list, and it’ll certainly not be the last. But we’ll probably be seeing a lot of Pratt in the ensuing years. And each time we do, a little part of our brains will light up with memories of him lip-syncing karaoke into a horrid little rat creature.
Dwayne Johnson Was Cast as Black Adam
WB/DC’s track record with casting is a little bumpy. They’re more than capable of making the controversial pick- every major hire for Batman v Superman came with a flood of backlash and bickering- but less so when it comes to good, solid, “everyone is more or less in agreement on this” casting (although Jeremy Irons as Alfred makes a lot of sense).
Handing Dwayne Johnson the role of Black Adam, though… that was the best possible move Warner could make. Not just because Johnson is far and away the best candidate for some black and yellow spandex, but because everyone in existence wanted Johnson to play Black Adam. Nearly a decade ago, Johnson was up for the role of Captain Marvel, but after crowds of fans emphatically screamed BLACK ADAM in his direction, Johnson swapped roles. That first Shazam! movie fell apart, but in the ensuing years Johnson has been the one and only option for an ancient Egyptian superheroes with magic lighting powers.
That Warner Bros agreed to follow public opinion and give Shazam! the Black Adam that everyone wanted back in 2007 is a big deal. So far, the DC Live-Action Universe has been founded on things no one ever asked for: a violent, dreary Superman and a messy-looking Justice League prequel. That same decision making is no longer in play- with Black Adam at least (Wonder Woman, too), Warner’s giving people things they’ve actually been asking for. And that is a trend we could always use more of.
Marvel Tried to Buy Back Spider-Man
Whether you loved or were appalled by The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it’s hard to deny Peter Parker wouldn’t be better off working in-house at Marvel (just imagine if Spidey could wisecrack like Star-Lord or Iron Man). But up until last week, the idea of Spider-Man on the same screen as the Avengers was just wishful thinking. In the general horribleness that is this Sony hack, by far the most interesting thing to spill out is that Marvel actually approached Sony about getting the web-head to show up in Captain America: Civil War. But as far as anyone knows, this won’t be happening, and Cap 3 will have to let Black Panther or some other workaround character be torn between siding with Steve Rogers or Tony Stark.
If Sony hangs on to the property, that’s fine. If they loan it to Marvel, feel free to uncork the champagne. Either way, the same thought on the minds of like a billion Marvel fans: man, it’d be cool if Spidey actually showed up in Civil War, is also going through the heads of the people in charge of the MCU. The ridiculous pipe dreams that fans pine over are things Marvel’s willing to go out and fight for. Just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it? Although it’s also in Marvel’s best interest to get their billion-dollar headlining superhero back… but that’s beside the point.
Michelle MacLaren Signed On to Direct Wonder Woman
Countless directors locked their names into countless superhero movies this year- Scott Derrickson and Doctor Strange, David Ayer and Suicide Squad, Peyton Reed and the half-eaten leftovers of Ant-Man– but none fit as snugly as Michelle MacLaren and Wonder Woman. MacLaren is a dynamite TV director looking for a break, and Wonder Woman is a classic hero who’s been disappointingly underserved onscreen. Both could use the boost of a large-scale Hollywood epic. Plus, MacLaren’s talents are uniquely suited to giant women flinging around swords and lassos and such.
The list of comic book movies currently in development is eight kajillion items long, but handing MacLaren the keys to the invisible jet shot Wonder Woman up to the very top of the list.
We All Danced to “Awesome Mix Vol. 1”
As far as milestones go, Guardians of the Galaxy has at least six or seven that could justifiably be included on this list (as such, this is neither the first nor the last Guardians-based entry). But the best moments from Peter Quill and co’s space adventures all have a common denominator: that perfectly curated list of ’70s jams that Mrs. Quill and James Gunn prepared for us.
Would Star Lord’s opening credits dance be such a perfect mood-setter without Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love?” Well, let’s find out. Open up this terribly-captured video of a dancing Quill, mute it, and sync up any other song of your choice (I went with Tom Jones’s “It’s Not Unusual”). It won’t work- what’s on the Guardians soundtrack is just too perfect a match.
The same thing goes for the Quill vs. Ronan dance-off, and little baby Groot too. Superhero movies are not known for their soundtracks (original scores, maybe, but not ’70s rock mixes). Guardians always will be.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Went Inhuman
Maybe the HYDRA reveal (Ward, you bastard) was the bigger of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s two massive shakeups, but that one wasn’t borne on ABC. This one was- the first time the often-far-too-anciliary-for-its-own-good TV series had ever contributed something that will directly affect the movie side of things. Most viewers with decent Marvel know-how assumed the Diviner and the Kree blood and the constant winking about Skye being “special” was an Inhumans tie-in (another point for team HYDRA), but this was massive enough as it is.
Marvel’s got its own race of quasi-mutants now. And between 2015’s Agents and 2018’s Inhumans, we can expect this to have as far a reach as anything with the ol’ HYDRA skull ‘n tentacles on it.
Marvel Unveiled Phase Three
For sheer ohmygodohmygodohmygod value alone, this milestone’s got no equal. One major announcement from Marvel (say, that Robert Downey Jr. would join Cap 3 for the Civil War storyline) is enough to light the Internet on fire. Nine new movies- plus the casting of Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, plus the splitting of Avengers 3 into two films- brought near-incalculable levels of hype.
Announcing a four year crop of movies doesn’t happen that often, and it’ll probably be another three or four years before Marvel’s ready to unveil Phase four. Enjoy any residual ohmygods while you still can.
X-Men: Days of Future Past Erased the Crappiest X-Men Movies
Any franchise that’s spanned seven titles probably has a stinker or two in there, and X-Men is no different. But in 2014, X-Men offered its audience a relief that few franchise audiences ever get: thanks to the magic of time travel and convenient continuity-clipping, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine have been erased from the series timeline. That X-Men: Days of Future Past was one of the better X-Mens would be gift enough- this goes above and beyond.
Writing those two out existence was Fox’s way of saying “yes, we know how much you hated The Last Stand and Origins: Wolverine. As an apology, allow us to disintegrate them from all future movies via a time paradox.” Not only does that display a fair amount of self-awareness on Fox’s part, but it’s just the decent thing to do.
DC Revealed Its Future Film Slate
Was this as monumental a reveal as the Phase Three atom bomb Marvel dropped just two weeks later? Not at the time, no. But hindsight’s a funny thing, and looking back, this was by far the bigger play. People knew Phase Three was coming, and most of the educated guesses involved Inhumans and Black Panther and Thor dealing with that whole Ragnarok mess. DC announcing the same thing without any of the years of buildup was far ballsier and it means more in the long run.
That ten-picture list, from Batman vs Superman to 2020’s Cyborg and Green Lantern, was proof that there were other studios out there willing to match Marvel’s gusto. At the great superhero movie poker table, this was DC glancing at Marvel’s poorly-concealed four of a kind, back at their own pair of sevens, and announcing “fuck it, why not?” and shoving at least a billion dollars’ worth of future production costs into the middle of the table.
If it pays off, the superhero world will be all the richer for it. And if Warner ends up beheaded by loan sharks… well, you’ve got to admire the moxie, at least.
HYDRA Infiltrated the Marvel Universe
The Avengers demonstrated the power of building up a cinematic universe. But Captain America: The Winter Soldier proved that tearing one down can be pretty fun, too. Once that computerized Arnim Zola started monologuing, the future of Marvel was never the same. S.H.I.E.L.D., the organization that gave us a Marvel Universe in the first place (after all, who were the ones doing the recruiting in all those post-credits stingers?) was a den of modern-day Nazis and had to be burnt to the ground.
We’re glad it did. Marvel Studios setting fire to a chunk of its own universe showed us the point of having cinematic universe in the first place: seeing the events in a Captain America sequel drastically alter all kinds of things that aren’t Captain America sequels.
Batman vs. Superman Got an Official Title
I will go on record and say I am vehemently opposed to the title Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s dumb; “Dawn of Justice” is a clumsy Justice League pun and using “v” and not “vs” makes it sound like Bruce and Clark will spend most of the movie in small claims court. But this is a list of milestones, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a milestone in the truest sense of the word.
Years from now, people will look back to when that Hindenburg of a movie title first debuted, and marvel at what’s easily the worst superhero movie title in existence. I’m not kidding- titling a superhero movie is so straightforward (Step One: what’s the superhero’s name? Step Two: That’s the title) that Dawn of Justice will handily remain the king of terrible titles for years to come. Comics where Batman and Superman fought crime as buds were called “World’s Finest.” That would have been just fine; instead, the monstrosity that is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will live on forever.
Guardians of the Galaxy was a Box Office Success
There’s a lot of flash on this list (flash as in: style, verve, pizazz; less so the man in cherry-red spandex). Flash is good. Flash gives us things like Dwayne Johnson bellowing “SHAZAM!” and two straight years of Avengers 3. Enough to send ripples of fanboy jitter up one’s spine.
But to a greater extent (especially where Marvel’s concerned), none of this would be possible if Guardians of the Galaxy had tanked. This was Marvel’s big gamble; their first time extending into the cosmic side of things and using characters that even comic book fans weren’t fawning over very much. Had Guardians not succeeded, would we still be getting the probably-extremely-cosmic Captain Marvel? The completely-unknown-to-casual-viewers Inhumans? Probably yes on that one, admittedly, given that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. planted the seeds for the Inhumans a lot farther back than anyone realized.
Domestically, at least, Guardians of the Galaxy is the number one film of the year. That proves something: as long as the movie itself is a winner, audiences will show up to anything with the Marvel logo on it. Guardians’ $700M takeaway just gave a green light to every weirdo property in the Marvel pantheon. Blue Streak (aka Can-Rollerskate-Faster-Than-You Man), Squirrel Girl and every other niche Marvel property will one day have perfectly-selected soundtracks of their very own.