Release Date: June 7th, 1996
Directed by: Simon Wincer
Written by: Jeffrey Boam
Based on: The Phantom by Lee Falk
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Billy Zane, Treat Williams, Kristy Swanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Remar, Patrick McGoohan, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Casey Siemaszko, John Capodice
Boam Productions, The Ladd Company, Paramount Pictures, 100 Minutes
“When darkness rules the earth, America’s in financial ruin. Europe and Asia are on a brink of self-annihilation. Chaos reigns. Like I’ve always said, there is opportunity in chaos. And so, my brothers, I give you… [raises out the first skull] The skull of Touganda. This skull is one of three. When all three skulls are united, they will produce a force more than any army on Earth.” – Xander Drax
A lot of people, myself included, slept on this movie when it came out because even for 1996, it looked hokey and cheap. Granted, it was actually made by a larger studio and it was a more expensive picture than one might think.
I feel like the tone was off for what was becoming the popular trends at the time and that this would’ve fared much better, half a decade earlier. But even really solid comic book movies like The Rocketeer and The Shadow struggled to find an audience before this flick was even greenlit.
While I’ve seen this a few times over the years, I think there are things within it that one can appreciate that would’ve most likely been overlooked in 1996.
To start, this is just a fun adventure movie, a popcorn picture at its core that features good actors, cool characters and period piece sets that show you where most of the budget went.
There is a very pulpy vibe to this and it almost calls back to the tone of old school swashbuckling epics without having any real swashbuckling in it.
It mostly taps into the film serial genre that helped make The Phantom character more of a household name in the ’30s through ’50s. For modern audiences, it will play like a superhero picture with elements of an Indiana Jones or Pirates of the Caribbean vibe to it.
While it’s not particularly well-acted, the core cast still give good performances that really show that they’re committed to this film’s pulpy goodness. Treat Williams’ over-the-top antics as the villain are superb and I liked him immensely in this. I also thought that Billy Zane made a really solid Phantom and Kristy Swanson was a good choice for her role. I can’t say that this is Catherine Zeta-Jones’ best work but she did look like she was having a blast hamming it up in this goofy but stylish movie.
The Phantom is far from being a classic in the superhero genre but its much better than a lot of the other offerings in the pre-Dark Knight and MCU era. Frankly, I wish it would’ve done well enough to have had a few sequels but since this felt somewhat dated for 1996, I can’t imagine any sequels connecting with the audience of that era.
Pairs well with: other comic book adaptations of the era like The Shadow, Dick Tracy, The Rocketeer and the early, cheap Marvel attempts at live-action.
From the Midnight’s Edge YouTube description: On June 7th 1996, the Phantom was released in theaters.
Today, twenty years later, probably most write it off as just another nineties comic book movie misfire. Is this a fair assessment, or is it true what some claim, that the movie was far ahead of it time?
That is what @AndreEinherjar will look into in this retrospective, which also includes possible reasons why the movie flopped upon release, publishing history, comic book comparisons and a fan edit recommendation…
From Toy Galaxy’s YouTube description: Among the deluge of pop culture properties in 1986 was the barely remembered Defenders of the Earth, bringing together Mandrake the Magician, The Phantom and Flash Gordon to battle Ming the Merciless.
Published: January, 1987 – July, 1987
Written by: Stan Lee, Michael Higgins
Art by: Alex Saviuk
Based on: Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond, The Phantom & Mandrake the Magician by Lee Falk
Star Comics, Marvel Comics, 110 Pages
I don’t know how many people remember Defenders of the Earth. It was kind of big in the ’80s, as it spawned this comic series, an animated television show, a toyline and other product tie-ins.
For those that don’t know, it was a team that was formed of three old school pulp heroes that were originally published in comic strips by King Features Syndicate. They would go on to be really popular and even had serials produced back in the days when serials were still a thing.
The team consists of Flash Gordon, The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician, as well as their kids and some other allies. The Defenders are unified in their battle against famous Flash Gordon foe, Ming the Merciless.
This comic series was published by Star Comics, which was a short-lived imprint of the much larger Marvel Comics. With that, they were able to get the great Stan Lee to write the first issue of the comic. Michael Higgins would take over for issues two through four with Alex Saviuk providing the art for all four issues.
The story sees Ming do something horrible to Flash Gordon’s wife, which inspires these heroes to come together in an effort to defeat Ming and his desire to conquer Earth.
Defenders of the Earth was an entertaining read, especially that Stan Lee issue. It had a lot of energy and it got you excited for what could have come but sadly, the series ended at issue four, even though it promised a fifth. It doesn’t quite end on a cliffhanger but it ends unfinished, which kind of sucks.
I didn’t remember much about this series but the comic has made me nostalgic for the television show, which I haven’t seen since about 1987. I may go back and give it a watch in the very near future.
Pairs well with: other ’80s comic book tie-ins to toylines and animated series.
Release Date: December 24th, 1943 (first chapter)
Directed by: B. Reeves Eason
Written by: Morgan Cox, Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, Sherman L. Lowe
Based on: The Phantom created by Lee Falk, Ray Moore
Cast: Tom Tyler, Jeanne Bates, Kenneth MacDonald, Ace the Wonder Dog
Columbia Pictures, 299 Minutes total (15 episodes)
People from my generation may remember the character of the Phantom because of the self-titled film that came out in 1996 with Billy Zane, Treat Williams, Kristy Swanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones and James Remar. While that one didn’t pan out well for the old school comic strip hero, his first foray into live-action, this 1943 serial, is a different story.
In fact, despite that 1996 film being mostly awful and, for a long time, my only live-action experience of the Phantom, I have always thought the character was pretty damn cool.
While I did like the original Batman serial, many critics did not. Being that this followed that one and it was also from Columbia Pictures, many of those critics thought that this was a saving grace for the studio, as it surpassed The Batman in every way possible. Granted, looking back now, I enjoyed The Batman for its tone and visual style. The Phantom is a continuation of that and it is also a step above.
Tom Tyler was a great casting decision when it came to the role of the Phantom and he really made the character his. Jeanne Bates was also a good addition to the cast. Ace the Wonder Dog is cool but it would have been even cooler to have a wolf, like the comics, as opposed to a German Shepherd. But they probably didn’t want a wolf mauling baddies on the set.
The plot introduces us to a professor who plans an expedition to find the mystical Lost City of Zoloz. A villain also wants to find Zoloz and use it for an airbase. The villain kills the original Phantom, only for his son to inherit the identity. The rest of the story focuses on locating all of the seven ivory pieces that tell where to find the Lost City. Also, the Phantom wrestles a friggin’ gorilla!
Critics loved Tyler as the Phantom even if some considered his performance to be wooden. It has since become as beloved as his performance as Captain Marvel a few years earlier.
In 1955, Columbia filmed a sequel with John Hart as the Phantom, as Tom Tyler died in 1954. Due to legal issues with the rights to the character, The Return of the Phantom had to be re-branded as The Adventures of Captain Africa before its release.
Ultimately, the Phantom is the epitome of cool, especially for his time. It’s kind of sad that we’ve never gotten a decent followup or reboot in the decades since its release.