The relationship between comics and film has been explored further by filmmakers inspired not by newspaper strips but by comic books. Since the end of World War II, American comic books have been dominated by the superhero genre, and the last decades of the twentieth century saw an explosion of superhero-related movies as major summer releases, beginning in 1978 with the version of Superman by Richard Donner (b. 1930), starring Christoper Reeve, and its assorted sequels. The superhero blockbuster was elevated to another level in 1989 with the version of Batman by Tim Burton and its three sequels in the 1990s and a fourth in 2005. Both film series were financed by Warner Bros., a division of TimeWarner, and based on characters published by DC Comics, another division of TimeWarner. These synergistic films set the standards for future superhero movies and were followed by a host of imitators, many of which were inspired by lesser-known characters published by smaller comic book companies. These included The Crow (1994), Tank Girl (1995), Judge Dredd (1995), Barb Wire (1996), Men in Black (1997), Spawn (1997), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), and Hellboy (2004).
During the superhero film explosion of the 1990s, the rights to many popular characters published by Marvel Comics were tied up with small, independent film companies that were unable to bring the characters to the screen. By the end of the decade, however, Marvel had regained these rights and began to license its characters in a wide array of films. The most popular of these were X-Men (Bryan Singer, 2000 and 2003) and Spider-Man (Sam Raimi, 2002 and 2004). Less successful were Daredevil (2003), The Punisher (2004), and the adaptation of Hulk (2003) directed by Ang Lee (b. 1954).
Despite the centrality of the superhero in postwar American comic book production, a number of other genres have been fruitfully explored, and many nonsuperhero comic books have been adapted to film. Children's comics, for example, have been the basis of several works, often nostalgically reviving classic comic book characters long after they had ceased to be published. Harvey Comics published the long-running Richie Rich , which was the source for a 1994 film by the same name, and in 2001 Archie Comics's Josie and the Pussycats was adapted to the screen.
In a very different tradition, the underground comics revolution of the 1960s resulted in a spate of adult-themed films rooted in their subversive style. Among the best-known of these works is Fritz the Cat (1972) and its sequel, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1974), by Ralph Bakshi (b. 1938). These were based on the character created by the cartoonist Robert Crumb (b. 1943), who was so appalled by Bakshi's films that he killed off the comic book form of the character in an attempt to distance himself from Bakshi's version. Post-underground comics were also the source material for films, including Altman's O. C. and Stiggs (1987), based on the National Lampoon –published comic strip, and American Splendor (2003), based on Harvey Pekar's autobiographical comic