Starting with Iron Man and building to a crescendo with the enormously popular The Avengers, and continuing on from there, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has successfully created a series which with individual character movies, followed every few years with an Avengers movie pulling all of them together. The movie series is one of the most successful, each one making hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. But before that, several productions tried to bring the characters to the screen. The results were mixed, but it’s interesting to wonder what would have happened if any of these films turned out to be critical and financial successes.
Captain America had a troubled road to its 1992 live action movie. Throughout the late 1980s, a couple different directors and several different writers were attached to Captain America. Production finally started in 1989 with Albert Pryn directing, starred Matt Salinger as Steve Rogers/Captain America and a script by Stephen Tolkin. The movie had many of the same elements as the MCU version of Captain America: Captain America tries to stop Red Skull from sending a missile to the US during World War II. However, in this movie, Captain America is frozen halfway through the movie, wakes up today (that is, 1989 today) and finds out Red Skull is now a crime boss who is trying to kidnap and brainwash the US President. Captain America teams up with the daughter of his World War II girlfriend to stop Red Skull in his new plot. The move was initially set to be released in 1990, but was shelved and then given a straight to video release and aired on cable in 1992. The critics who did see it gave it poor reviews.
In 1998, David Hasselhoff starred as Nick Fury in Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD. The movie focuses on Fury, as head of SHIELD, battling the terrorist organization HYDRA, whose leader Andrea von Strucker wants one billion dollars in exchange for not releasing a deadly virus called Death’s Head throughout Manhattan. Nick Fury is joined by an ex-girlfriend, Val, a psychic named Kate, and young Agent Pierce. The television movie was made for and aired on Fox on May 26, 2008. While not making much of a splash when it first aired, the TV-movie was rereleased in 2008 with the first Iron Man movie…and was subsequently given terrible reviews as a failed campy “so bad it’s good” attempt.
The most big budgeted of the before the MCU era movies, Ang Lee directed Eric Bana as Hulk in the movie Hulk, which was released in 2003, and the screenplay is credited to James Shamus, Michael France and John Truman. The movie had a troubled production starting in 1990 and going through many writers and directors attached until production finally went underway in 2002. In this version of Hulk, Bruce Banner’s father David conducted DNA experiments on himself to create super soldiers. When Bruce was born, his father finds out his son may have inherited the results of his experiments. Now an adult, Bruce Banner is exposed to Gamma radiation and the testing done as a child enables him to transform into a huge green monster if he ever gets angry. David’s experiments on himself turn him into someone who can absorb any energy or materials he touches, thus becoming Absorbing Man. With the military after Bruce as well as his father, the Hulk is on his own. The movie was given a 61% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which meant mixed reviews by critics. The movie was a financial success, though, grossing $245 million worldwide. It is the best known of the non-MCU movies featuring an Avengers character.
While none of the pre MCU Avengers movies are real winners, the Hulk is probably the only one worth watching. Even so, it’s worth wondering how the movie landscape would be different if the movies were successes. Considering the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, we can be glad filmmakers didn’t give up with the other failed productions.