The superhero genre is mostly populated by live action offerings, but 2018 was actually a banner year when it came to theatrically-released animated movies in this realm. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was released this past weekend and has been met with critical acclaim, and it was preceded by Incredibles 2 and Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, both of which also were also met with praise.
It’s not difficult to find direct-to-video animated superhero movies (particularly from DC Comics), but looking at looking at the success of these three movies, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in particular, you’d think that Marvel and DC are considering churning out more animated movies for fans to enjoy the theater. If both companies decide venture down this creative path, these are the characters (and one team) that could thrive in an animated setting.
While not quite at the same level as Batman, Superman has been adapted numerous in animation, including for several direct-to-video movies and the still-iconic Max Fleischer cartoons. However, unlike the Caped Crusader, we still have yet to see the Man of Steel lead his own feature-length, theatrical animated adventure. Just imagine getting to see Superman leads own 90 minute-two hour movie with a top notch budget. Not only would this allow for Superman villains who haven’t appeared on the big screen yet to finally get their due, but similar to The LEGO Batman Movie, this could be an opportunity to pay tribute to Superman’s over 80 year history. Plans to continue Superman’s story in the DCEU appear to have stalled, but that doesn’t mean DC can’t utilize him in an animated setting.
This entry is accompanied by a big ol’ ‘DUH!’ Seriously, while all the entries on this list work solidly leading their own animated movies, Deadpool and someone else we’ll talk about later work best within the slapstick cartoon realm. Wade Wilson’s healing factor means he can survive to all kinds of injuries and mutilations that might be too ridiculous to show even in a live action movie, and his penchant for breaking the fourth wall could come across even funnier as a cartoon, as his inner monologue from the comics could be brought to life via talk/thought bubbles. Since plans to give Deadpool his own animated series on FX fell through, it’d be worth seeing how the Merc with the Mouth fares in an animated movie instead. It might even be funny if Deadpool 3 were entirely animated, and Ryan Reynolds’ Wade only addresses it in passing at the beginning of the movie.
Green Lantern’s theatrical debut in 2011 was a critical and commercial disappointment, and although a Green Lantern Corps reboot is in development for the DCEU, it’s hard to see when that movie will finally arrive. However, although it only lasted a season, Green Lantern: The Animated Series showed that the Emerald Knight’s mythology can look amazing in animation. One would imagine it’s easier bringing to life all the aliens and cosmic craziness that Hal Jordan, John Stewart and the other members of the Green Lantern interact with on a daily basis in a fully animated movie than it would be crafting them as CGI creations in a live action movie, as looking “realistic” is no longer a concern.
Like Miles Morales, Kamala Khan, a.k.a. the new Ms. Marvel, is a Marvel Comics character who’s become extremely popular in a relatively short amount of time. Introduced in 2013, Kamala, Marvel’s first Muslim character to lead a comic book series, is a shapeshifting Inhuman who balances her superhero life with going to high school and staying close to her family. While the previous movies mentioned on this list might be able to get away with being PG-13 (Deadpool definitely), a Ms. Marvel movie would definitely need to follow in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse‘s footsteps and be PG to appeal to that younger demographic that will latch onto Kamala like they did to Miles. We’ve already seen Kamala in animation through the direct-to-video offering Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors, so the next logical step forward is for her to snag the spotlight for herself.
Earlier I mentioned that there was only one other character as equally suited as Deadpool, if not more so, to live in the slapstick cartoon realm. That other individual is Plastic Man, arguably DC’s most well-known stretchy hero (sorry, Elongated Man). Aside from his ability to turn himself into all kinds of shapes and sizes lending itself well to animation, Plastic Man is also just a natural goofball, meaning you can deliver an animated Plastic Man movie that has a Looney Tunes vibe to it. It was recently announced that a live action Plastic Man movie is in development, but it’s hard to imagine that could be more entertaining than a fully animated movie starring Eel O’Brien. Just look to Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Justice League: Action for proof.
It’s no secret that the Fantastic Four (yes, we’re cheating with this one) haven’t fared well on the big screen, with the 2015 reboot turning out to be particularly disastrous. With the Disney/Fox deal nearing finalization, it’s only a matter of time before Marvel’s First Family is incorporated into the MCU, but why stop there? Like with Green Lantern, Fantastic Four is a property that lends itself to animation well because you can go all out with all the cosmic craziness Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Thing and Human Torch run into while traveling in space and the Negative Zone. The Fantastic Four have been adapted for live action three times on film (four if you count the never-released 1994 movie), so isn’t about time to see how they can be used as the stars of an animated movie?
I’ll admit, originally this was going to be a Justice League Dark entry, but that’s already gotten a direct-to-video animated movie, so it’s hard to imagine was a theatrical presentation could do differently, let alone better, unless it was based of Guillermo del Toro’s script. However, one of its key members, Zatanna, could be a worthy lead for a standalone movie. Although she publicly presents herself as a stage magician, her magic is definitely real, so tackling her through animation allows you to go even kookier with the spells she conjures. Unlike Justice League Dark, a Zatanna movie could also be marketed as a more family-friendly movie since there’s not quite as much need to feature horrific monsters.
Although the Hulk has been an integral player in the MCU since the beginning, due to Universal Pictures still holding the distribution rights to the Green Goliath, he hasn’t been able to lead another movie, subsequently resulting in most of his supporting characters and villains not getting any attention. Ideally this could be rectified in an animated movie, whether it was a Marvel/Universal partnership project or Universal found a way to do it themselves. Hulk could finally be the star of the show, we can finally meet/reunite with allies like Betty Ross and Rick Jones, and see him tangle with foes like The Leader and Tyrannus. It’s nice having Hulk around in live action, but it’d be even better if causal moviegoers knew more about his mythology, and cinematic animation would be the best way to go to make that happen right now.
Which of these characters would you like to see lead an animated theatrical movie?
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