Despite its battalion of Hollywood actors, the war is the real star of combat epic The Longest Day

Norman Mailer used to tell a story about Darryl F. Zanuck, the cigar-chomping super-producer responsible for The Longest Day, the vast and impersonal war epic that became 1962’s highest-grossing movie. To hear Mailer tell it, Zanuck, at the wrap party for the film, announced that he was one of only three people in the…

Not all of West Side Story has aged gracefully, but its spectacular dancing sure has

There’s a moment in West Side Story, the tragic and melodramatic musical that was 1961’s biggest box-office hit, where whirling bodies drift out of focus. It’s a simple transition between scenes, a way to get from a cluttered Upper West Side tenement apartment to a crowded dancehall. But it also speaks to what really…

Our new column on Hollywood hits launches with Stanley Kubrick’s gladiatorial smash Spartacus

Kirk Douglas wanted to be Judah Ben-Hur. At the time it came out, William Wyler’s Ben-Hur was the most expensive movie ever made. It was a huge, overwhelming production, cast with thousands of extras and filmed on sets bigger than anyone had ever used. And the film turned out to be a phenomenon. It was the…

From its complex villain to its amazing fictional world, Black Panther took the superhero movie higher

The first time we see Wakanda in a Marvel movie—the physical location, not a blip on a map or a word spoken in hushed tones—it’s in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, after the credits have rolled. What we see is a futuristic lab, the kind we’ve come to expect in movies. Everything is cobalt steel and glass. There’s a…

Wonder Woman crashed the boys’ club of superhero cinema, saving the DCEU in the process

There’s a moment in 2017’s Wonder Woman that’s so inspiring, and so largely unprecedented, that it literally brought audiences to tears. It happened so many times that it became its own meme. It became a part of the experience. It’s the scene where Wonder Woman vaults out of a World War I trench and charges straight…

With Guardians Of The Galaxy, Marvel made household names out of interstellar second-stringers

Marvel was feeling itself. That’s the only real explanation. The comic book company had recovered from bankruptcy, blown out the idea of what a movie franchise could be, and been absorbed into the Disney maw. It had gotten the general public involved in dorked-out comic book ideas about extended continuity and…

Years before the Infinity War, the Avengers assembled for Marvel’s first crossover blockbuster blast

In the past decade, Hollywood has attempted to transform the franchise into something else: the cinematic universe. It’s a lofty and slightly absurd goal. Movies, we are now to understand, never exist as stand-alone stories, unless they’re arthouse flicks or Oscar bait (and even then, maybe not). They don’t exist as…

Marvel somehow got Captain America and his adventure-serial origin story just right

“The Marvel Universe has gone nuts; we’re going to have a fricking Captain America movie if we’re not careful.” This was Zack Snyder speaking to Entertainment Weekly in 2008. Every once in a while, that quote finds itself recirculated online, evidence of Snyder’s philistine ideas about superhero movies and what a…

Mandy looms, triumphantly bloody, over a year when action and horror fused

A funny thing happened to action movies in 2018: Horror movies swallowed them whole. This wasn’t an across-the-board thing, but a lot of the year’s best action movies weren’t just action movies. They existed in some lost B-movie nether region, a place where historically disrespected genres come together and commingle…

Scott Pilgrim is more zero than superhero, but his movie is still a zippy comic-to-screen delight

Scott Pilgrim is not a superhero. He is not a hero. He is only barely a functional human being. He is a dipshit. So maybe we should be talking about Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World in a column about dipshit movies, not one about superhero movies. (Side note: I would absolutely read a column about dipshit…

The Watchmen movie proves you can be faithful to a comic and still miss its whole damn point

In a lot of ways, Watchmen, the comic series that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons started publishing in 1986, is a story about the folly of human ambition. It’s about superheroes, and yet there are no actual heroes in the book, super or otherwise. The characters dress up in masks and costumes to serve as forces of good,…

Does the most important year for superhero movies belong to The Dark Knight or Iron Man?

Midway through Christopher Nolan’s 2008 movie The Dark Knight, the Joker gets himself arrested so that he can then break out of his holding cell and continue his grand experiment in human darkness. While he’s locked up, he’s placed in the custody of the Major Crimes Unit, the police force that’s supposedly been…

Christopher Nolan dragged Batman (and superhero cinema) into a more serious “real” world

Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are as revered as any franchise of summer blockbusters can really be in this day and age. But when people make fun of them, they always seem to settle on one thing in particular: the Batman voice. When he’s in his Batman suit, Christian Bale doesn’t have too many long conversations,…

The Incredibles didn't need comic-book source material (or origin stories) to do superheroes right

Nobody starts with the origin stories. At least when I first fell in love with comic books, the lure wasn’t the story arcs of these individual heroes. It was in finding out about this whole world full of outsized characters, many of whom had decades worth of interconnecting storylines. When I’d pick up individual…

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