Comic book movies. They’re everywhere now, and they’re the biggest movies of the year. Post-Avengers, which made one and a half billion dollars worldwide, we’re going to be getting more and more of them, as both Marvel and DC have got plans for their futures. So, it’s time to take stock, and check back on the best of this genre. (Note: this only pertains to live-action films, because if animated films were in this list, you bet your butt Batman: Mask of the Phantasm would be in here. And — for the sake of clarity — we avoided the classier comics/graphic novels like Ghost World, and American Splendor).
10. Sin City
Frank Miller‘s work has always been intriguing in a way, and I’m not just talking about the fact that most of the women he portrays in his comics are prostitutes. He’s not afraid to paint a grotesque picture of life, and that showcased over a layer of 30s/40s noir mystery films was the perfect combination for what came to be the Sin City graphic novel series. The panels are so cinematic that it was inevitable that a couple, if not all of his series would eventually turn into a movie. That’s where Robert Rodriguez came in, giving us the 2005 gritty action film Sin City. He takes the aesthetic feel of the graphic novel and adapts it to his own directing style which works almost flawlessly. Another aspect of Sin City that worked so well was combining three of Frank Miller’s stories into one movie, turning it into an anthology of sorts. We were spoiled with a solid cast, a comeback performance by Mickey Rourke and a cool city landscape of black, white and red that some of us still can’t get out of our heads.
Next to Sin City, Watchmen is one of the most faithful comic book adaptations out there. Zack Snyder and company knew better than to greatly alter the source material. Thanks to the loving care of all those involved, Watchmen still embodied the same strong themes that were found in the pages of the Alan Moore graphic novel. Unlike V for Vendetta, the Watchmen movie proved that with proper care and attention you can still create a solid comic book movie on more serious, topical subjects without completely rearranging the source material. Watchmen also worked well for this reporter due to Zack Snyder’s general filmmaking style which in some ways resembles the kind of loud, vibrant feel that you would get through flipping the pages of a comic book, which in some ways explains why he landed the job for Man of Steel.
8. The Dark Knight
In some ways The Dark Knight is responsible for setting the tone for superhero movies that are being made now. Christopher Nolan continued on with their more serious take with Batman in the sequel as he goes up against one of his biggest nemesis, the Joker. Nolan’s style, the movie’s darker tone and the way they handle villainous characters like the Joker and Two Face really makes The Dark Knight one of the best movies to come out in the past few years. Even though Heath Ledger received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor posthumously, The Dark Knight paved the way for superhero movies to receive more Academy consideration. It’s just a shame that Batman fans got a little too hungry for some more Oscar gold as they demanded that The Dark Knight Rises should have been nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture when we know that it wasn’t that spectacular of a movie to begin with, especially in comparison to The Dark Knight.
Let’s dive into underrated portion of the superhero films, which would include Guillermo del Toro‘s Hellboy. The first movie, released back in 2004, didn’t capture the attention of audiences around the world the way Spider-Man 2 did at the time. However, it did gain a cult following that’s been demanding for more movies ever since. Hellboy is a great film because it not only showcases more of del Toro’s solid fantasy-driven filmmaking but the cool world in the comics created by Mike Mignola and John Bryne. While the Hellboy movies never really caught on in the way that fans hoped for, at least we were able to get two fun movies for us all before general interest waned.
6. The Crow
Comic books within the tail end of the 80s began to take a darker turn as they began to tackle heavier real life subject matter, from drugs, prostitution, you name it. Fans saw a cool wave of new independent writers and artists who really latched onto the topical material and created a new batch of heroes out of it. One of those happened to be The Crow, an amazing and heartbreakingly personal comic created by James O’Barr that gained popularity and was made into a movie in the mid 90s. Tragedy continued to follow the production of the film as its star Brandon Lee was accidentally injured on set and eventually died in a hospital nearby. Even if Brandon Lee was never killed on set, The Crow is a wonderful movie that deals with grief, revenge and acceptance. In some ways it is rather bleak due to its subject matter but is still great, and may be one of the most quotable films on this list.
5. Cemetery Man
One doesn’t always have to be incredibly faithful to the source material in order to produce a wonderful movie based off a comic book. If you haven’t seen Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore), based off the Dylan Dog comics, then you’re missing what is one of the best foreign comedy horror films to come out in the 90s. Rupert Everett stars as our lovelorn Francesco who works at a strange cemetery where people are said to rise from the dead. It gets all the more complicated as the undead begin to multiply and try to take control of the cemetery, and possibly the entire town. Cemetery Man is hilarious and gruesome at the same time. It’s often overlooked when it pertains to superhero/comic book movies but shouldn’t be so. Go ahead and blind buy it, because it’s worth it.
4. The Rocketeer
“The Rocka-who?” You don’t always have to possess a superpower in order to be a superhero of sorts, which is best demonstrated by characters such as The Rocketeer. The comic book was created in the 80s and paid homage to fantastical heroes of this sort that would be seen in comics or heard on the radio back in the 30s and 40s. Director Joe Johnston and company grouped together to create what easily is one of the better superhero movies of the 90s, which is The Rocketeer. We follow along Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) as he goes through great lengths to keep a jet pack away from the hands of Nazis and tries to save the love of his life Jenny (Jennifer Connelly) at the same time. The movie is filled with action, romance, mystery and a fantastically villainous performance out of Timothy Dalton. The Rocketeer is a classic, one of those superhero movies you can watch multiple times and never get sick of. Now I want to re-watch it.
3. Spider-Man 2
In the years 2003 to 2004, superhero genre fans were completely spoiled by top quality sequels on a couple of their favorite characters. In the summer of 2004 we were blessed with Spider-Man 2, the sequel to the hit Sam Raimi film that brought our favorite web-slinger up against one of his most powerful foes as he struggles with maintaining his life as Peter Parker and his superhero persona. Spider-Man 2 is an epic movie of itself between the action and the overall romance that goes on between Peter Parker and Mary Jane. And there is no way I can talk about Spider-Man 2 without mentioning the cool performance by Alfred Molina (sadly no relation) as Doc Ock.
2. X-2: X-Men United
All right, this is the part where I finally correct a number of you about this simple fact. There’s a number of you who believe that Spider-Man was released before X-Men and therefore paved the way for the new wave of superhero films in the early 2000s. You are so incredibly wrong it’s not even funny. X-Men beat Spider-Man to the punch and did so again with X-2: X-Men United. Bryan Singer and company successfully integrated a couple of the more popular story lines in the X-Men comics universe, brought in some amazing actors and delivered on some really cool special effects for a few of our favorite mutants. Sadly the sequel that followed up X-2: X-Men United was not worthy to be in the X-Men movie universe but us X-Men fans are just happy to have this sequel to begin with. There is just one tiny problem I’ve always had with X-2, and that’s Colossus. He could’ve fought with Wolverine! I understand that Wolverine was the star of the picture but I wanted to see them rip apart some bad guys together.
1. Superman/Superman II
One of the staples of earlier superhero movies is definitely the first two Christopher Reeves Superman films. Now there isn’t too much room on this list to fit every great superhero film in, so I decided to sandwich these two together. Both of the movies are brilliant in their own way in portraying the powerful superhero in a time where campiness normally overran quality films of this genre. Christopher Reeves has become the live action equivalent of Superman in every generation’s eyes from that point forward with his performance as the superhero, particularly in these two films. If there’s two movies that you could use to introduce anybody at any age into liking superheroes, this would be it.
Best Comic-Book Movie Not Based on a Comic: Sky High
Sure it’s a family film, but it contains the kind of spectacular kind of poppy feel of the early day comics that so many of us adore. Sky High is cute and is witty with the way it makes fun of the stereotypical superhero journeys mixed together with the already difficult life of teenagers. It feels as if some of the popularity over Sky High has faded off over the years but it’s still a fun film.
What are your favorite comic book movies?