Bringing comic book heroes (and villains) to the big screen has meant big bucks for movie studios in recent years. With huge budgets and state of the art special effects, it's easier than ever for filmmakers to convincingly create the fantasy worlds that classic comic characters inhabit, both delighting die-hard "geeks," and captivating folks who've never picked up a comic book in their lives.

Comic book films have always been popular, dating back to the movie serials of the 1940s featuring Superman, Batman, and Flash Gordon, just to name a few. Christopher Reeve's "Superman" in 1978 and Michael Keaton's "Batman" in 1989 are both now regarded as classics, but the many sequels they spawned are pretty cheesy.

The beginning of the new millennium brought us "X-Men," which ushered in a new era of comic book movies. No longer were these stories just campy fun - superheroes and arch villains were now being portrayed like any other characters, with real personalities, purposes, and problems. "X-Men" became a successful franchise, as did "Spider-Man," the newer, darker "Batman," and, most recently, "Iron Man," the 2nd installment of which is slated for release next year. And, if all of the hype and anticipation can be used as a gauge, next month's "Watchmen" should be a colossal hit.

Watchmen © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Clearly, the success of these films is a wave that studios will keep riding until theaters get so flooded with the genre that moviegoers lose interest, or until the sea of comic book characters dries up. According to the website Den of the Geek, more than 80 comic book movies are in the works right now, including spin-offs and sequels from already popular franchises.

Some of the more hotly anticipated films (and their scheduled release dates) include:

Luke Cage (2009) - A film about this '70s bulletproof hero-for-hire, also known as Power Man, has been in development for the last five years. In 2004, John Singleton ("Boyz N the Hood") signed on to direct and, although Jamie Foxx was originally considered for the lead, it's been rumored that the role now belongs to model/singer/actor Tyrese Gibson. Terrence Howard was also being considered for the villain, Diamondback, until he was cast as War Machine in "Iron Man." But now that Don Cheadle has replaced him in the "Iron Man" sequel, the part could be Howard's for the taking.

Green Hornet (2010) - In the works even longer than "Luke Cage," a movie adaptation of "Green Hornet" has been kicked around since the '90s, when both George Clooney and Greg Kinnear were in contention for the part of the masked vigilante, and Jason Scott Lee was rumored to have signed on as Kato. In 2004, Kevin Smith was attached to write the screenplay, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Jet Li as possible leads, but two years later Smith announced that he no longer had anything to do with the project.

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have now taken over writing duties, and Rogen himself has been cast as the hero. Rogen is apparently going to play this one straight, as the film is not being written as a comedy. In fact, Stephen Chow ("Kung Fu Hustle") had originally signed on to both direct and star as Kato but decided to step down as director to free up time to work on an original "superhero comedy" with Jack Black. It's unclear whether or not he'll still have time to act in Rogen's film.

Green Lantern (2010) - Warner Brothers is in talks with Martin Campbell ("Goldeneye," "The Mask Of Zorro") to direct this film, based on the DC Comics character - or characters. There have actually been several Green Lanterns, each possessing a power ring that allows the wearer to do just about anything that he can imagine. Who knows if WB will turn Green Lantern into a James Bond-like franchise with a revolving door of actors, but the early buzz on the first installment is that the part may go to Ryan Gosling, who certainly has the acting chops and chiseled features to make the role his own and keep it.

Nick Fury (2010) - Samuel L. Jackson showed up briefly as the Marvel super spy in a post-credits scene from "Iron Man." We seriously doubt this will be out next year, if at all, because Jackson has suggested that he may not be playing the character due to some economic cut-backs at Marvel studios. I'm sure they could afford David Hasselhoff, who played Fury in a horrible made-for-TV movie in 1998. But who, other than Germans, would pay to see that?

David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury

Old Boy (2010) - Based on a Japanese comic series, this is a story of a young man who is kidnapped and imprisoned for unknown reasons. After he is released 10 years later, he hunts down his captors. Already adapted into a 2003 cult classic, director Steven Spielberg and lead actor Will Smith have both said that this film will not be a remake of that movie, but will instead be a fresh take on the original source material.

Thor (2010) - Kenneth Branagh is attached to direct this film about the Marvel superhero/God, but no one has been cast yet to wield the hammer. Daniel Craig turned down the role after being approached, and rumor has it that WWE star Triple H is now at the top of the short list.

The First Avenger: Captain America (2011) - Since the serials of the '40s, Captain America has only been featured in one other movie, a 1990 straight-to-video dud. Hopefully, Paramount and director Joe Johnston ("Jumanji," "The Rocketeer") can do this patriotic hero justice. So far, no casting gossip has surfaced, so we'd like to just state for the record that Jon Hamm would be perfect!

The Avengers (2011) - Executive produced by "Iron Man" director Jon Favreau, the star-studded ensemble cast should make this the blockbuster hit of Summer 2011 (provided that the release date sticks). Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), War Machine (Don Cheadle), and The Incredible Hulk (Ed Norton) will join forces with Captain America and Thor, the latter two most likely being portrayed by the actors who win the roles in their characters' solo films.

Justice League: Mortal (2011) - Originally slated for a 2009 release, this ensemble project was shelved indefinitely in 2008. However, there has been renewed interest in making the film with George Miller ("Mad Max") at the helm. This group of heroes includes Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Superman, The Flash, and Batman. It was confirmed back in 2007 that Adam Brody of "The O.C." would play The Flash, but it's unclear if Christian Bale would don the Dark Knight's cape for this adventure. Casting rumors about some of the other characters have abounded, including rapper Common as Green Lantern, Scott Porter and Hayden Christensen as potential Supermen, and Aussie model Megan Gale as Wonder Woman.

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Wonder Woman (2011) - Speaking of that Amazon princess, her movie has been in the works since 2001. Warner Brothers has repeatedly shifted its focus between the Justice League and solo Wonder Woman films, but now it looks as if both projects are on, and tentatively scheduled for release in the same year.

The Wonder Woman screenplay has gone through many drafts, and geeks rejoiced in 2005 when Joss Whedon was tapped to write and direct. However, when Whedon left the project in 2007, writing duties were given to Matthew Jennison and Brent Strickland.

Now, producer Joel Silver just has to find the right director and perfect actress to play Diana Prince. Over the years, many ladies have been interested in the role, including Sandra Bullock, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lucy Lawless, Joanie (Chyna) Laurer, and Jessica Biel. Recently, Beyonce Knowles has expressed her interest in the part, while the Internet has been buzzing with rumors that Megan Fox might be cast - a choice we think is pretty right on the money.

Even with so many comic books being mined for movie material, there are still some characters that haven't been given their close-ups yet. What about She-Hulk? We think Angelina Jolie is just crazy enough for that role! But if that Angie is too expensive (or too busy having babies), Angie Harmon would work just as well.

Or perhaps, it's time for a Teen Titans movie? Zac Efron would be perfect as squeaky clean hero Robin and Leighton Meester could fill in as Wonder Girl. That just leaves Kid Flash and Aqualad…any ideas?

Let us know what comic book movies you'd like to see made, which ones you're most looking forward to, and who you'd cast in any of the films we mentioned.

Story by Becky Broderick

Starpulse contributing writer