Movie Revolt’s Top 30 Comic Book Movies
We are all about to embark on what should be one of the biggest years for comic book movies. The release of The Avengers alone would create excitement, but we also have The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spiderman set for release this year. Clearly it’s a great year to be a geek. So with that in mind I figured I would look back at the comic book films that have already been released to create a list of the Top 30 Comic Book Movies. When creating this list I considered a number of factors. Besides just overall quality I also considered the impact the film had on the genre of Comic Book films. Also I attempted to stay away from catching a case of ‘recentitist’, which is over ranking films that have just been released since they are fresh in my mind. I did not consider direct to DVD films for this. The DC or Marvel animated films that were not released in theatres were not eligible. I figured that would be a whole other list entirely. There is one thing certain when creating lists and that is it is impossible to get it right. I tried my best and attempted to leave my personal bias at the door, but I’m sure it crept in there from time to time. Feel free to let me know how right, wrong, really wrong, or how I absolutely out of my mind in the comment section below.
I am starting off with a recent release with Thor. Thor is a hard character for people to grasp onto, but I found that Kenneth Branagh was really able to humanize the god of thunder. To me the biggest challenge for the Avenger’s film was selling Thor to the general public. You are basically combining the worlds of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings into one movie. That juxtaposition is hard one to swallow for some people. Overall I felt they handled the challenge quite well.
29. V for Vendetta
V for Vendetta’s success begins and ends with the masterful performance by Hugo Weaving. His ability to own the screen without the viewer even seeing his face was extremely remarkable. Where this succeeded and other Alan Moore comic book movies failed…cough*Watchmen*cough…was being able to mend what made the comic successful and mold it into a movie. Sometimes just “filming the comic” works, but with comics like V for Vendetta that are heavily story driven you will need to adjust a few things. They adjusted just enough to make the story work for the film format.
We are deep into the comic book movie era as every other film released seems to be based upon a graphic novel. Some question where this all started, and to me there is no single place but a multitude of steps. One of the biggest steps was the breakout success of Blade. Before this the only true superhero films that had been at all successful were from the Superman and Batman franchises. Blade showed there was a market out there ready to be tapped. The success of Blade did not come from all the legions of fans of the character, because Blade was a relative unknown to the majority of the comic book community. However the success of Blade did show movie studios, who are constantly looking for areas to source ideas from, that the world of comics has an endless amount of resources to take advantage of.
27. The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk is probably the most overlooked of all The Avengers films. I feel that is quite unfortunate because it has a lot of things going for it. For one it does a great job of combing the best elements of the Incredible Hulk television series, comics, and it even took parts from what did work in Ang Lee’s Hulk. It was a solid representation of what the Hulk is, which is not a hero nor a villain but an act of nature born from science. It’s Marvel’s answer to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that also happens to have some kick-ass action.
26. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World
In a lot of ways Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is a visual masterpiece. Edgar Wright’s direction goes beyond just the normal framework of film and brings in a style and flair normally reserved for video games and comic books. A lot of people have attempted to create a ‘real life’ comic book, and this may be the best example of how to accomplish that goal. It is a movie that never tries to appeal to the general audience, because it was never meant to. That fact may have hurt its domestic gross, but it has also made it an instant cult classic.
25. The Crow
The Crow will forever be remembered for the tragedy that occurred with Brandon Lee. That tragedy nearly stopped this film from ever being released. Slowly but surely it eventually made its way to the big screen. In the actual film The Crow defined what it takes to be an antihero. The ability to reflect the darkness of humanity may have never been better represented in a comic book film. Now lets us all hope that we never see the remake starring Bradley Cooper come to light. Instead of trying to do what has already be done let us just go back and rewatch the original tremendous tale of woe.
24. Superman 2
“Kneel before Zod” Perhaps the best command from any comic villain. While it isn’t very dynamic it is simple and straight to the point. Superman 2 took the charm and innocence of the first installment and added in some great action sequences. That’s not to say there’s no characterization in the film as it did take time to allow the Clark Kent and Louis Lane relationship to develop. Superman 2’s epic battles are still able to hold their ground with today’s films. While some of the special effects look dated the overall adventure is still there.
Hellboy has some of the best mashing of story in talent in recent memory. Guillermo del Toro’s visual style and story structure completely fits with the Hellboy franchise. Not to mention Ron Perlman may have been born to play the role of Hellboy. This film shows the benefit of giving a franchise over to a person who has a passion for the subject. While the end product doesn’t always work out you can count on the fact that they will respect the source material. In this case that passion also happened to turn out one quality film.
22. Blade II
One thing comic book films have done was shed the idea that the sequel is never as good as the original. One of the first films to prove that point was Blade II. Again like with Hellboy Guillermo del Toro’s direction fit perfectly with the character of Blade. Blade II improved upon Blade in almost every way. The story, characters, action, and special effects were all improved. Blade also started another trend with Blade Trinity as well. That of course being: “Sometimes two is enough”.
Not only have comic books films become their own genre they have also created some subgenres. One of the more recent subgenres is the idea of the real life superhero. The genre examines the idea of a person in our reality trying to become a superhero with no superpowers. While other films had the idea before Kick-Ass did more than any other to help popularize that genre. Other films in this subgenre have taken a more serious approach to this idea (See Super or Defendor) Kick-Ass took a more fun and stylistic approach. Plus two great standout performances from Nicholas Cage as Big Daddy and Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl help make Kick-Ass what it is.
20. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
I’m not sure about you but I was completely caught up in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phenomenon as a kid. The cartoon, the toys, and of course that classic arcade game were big parts of my childhood, and well to be truthful my adulthood as well. So seeing the cartoon come to life was a dream come true. The look of the Turtles was done through a combination of some great makeup work and animatronics that are still impressive for today’s standards. Plus I challenge anyone to watch this and not have some good old fashioned great times. How can you beat an opening scene that involves New Yorkers bonding over the consumption of pizza? I don’t think it can be done.
I mentioned with Blade that the “Era of the Comic Book Films” began with a number of steps. Another huge step in the process was the success of X-Men. This was a film that the studio had little to no faith in. While the budget was small the talent was large. A lot of that talent was unknown at the time, but now are household names. Hugh Jackman for example went from nobody to one of the biggest stars today. Jackman can trace his current success to his breakout role as Wolverine in X-Men. Bryan Singer did a lot with a little and made sure to focus on character first. After X-Men hit it large at the box office it began a firestorm as studios bought up the movie rights to all types of superheroes in hopes of creating the next X-Men.
18. Batman (1989)
It is easy to see why Batman is looked at as one of greatest of all the superheroes. Let’s just say he’ll certainly be coming up again. Batman (1989) was also one of the first films to stir up the fanboy crowd with the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman. He proved them all wrong by giving a great performance as Batman and Bruce Wayne. Tim Burton was no slouch as a director as well by creating some great imagery. This still has my favorite of all the movie Batmobiles. Jack Nicholson proved he has a knack for playing the iconic Joker as well. While others have made better Batman films it was this film that opened the door.
17. A History of Violence
Sure when people think of comic book movies the first and only thought that comes to their minds is superheroes. Truth be told however it goes well beyond that. A great example is A History of Violence. The film showed what is great about comics and that is they are far more reaching then they are given credit for. Some of the best stories written today can be found in comics and graphic novels, and A History of Violence is the perfect example.
300 is basically testosterone in movie form. While I have my issues with Zack Snyder’s direction at times I felt he perfectly hit the action in this. His use of speed and slow motion enhanced the power of the action in some awe inspiring sequences. The film was also full of creative imagery. This was an example of how “filming the comic” could actual work. That is because the story itself is solid, but not very complex. What makes it stand out however is the onslaught of original visuals.
15. Men in Black
To be honest many years went by till I realized Men in Black was even based off a comic. I have a feeling the same can be said for a lot of the general public. It came out in a time when films tended to hide their comic book affiliations if they could. That has changed however largely due to many films on this list. Men in Black takes some of the common themes we find buddy cop comedies and added a Science Fiction twist to it. Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith both play off each other as well as any comedy duo. In a genre that has superpowers, time travel, and an infinite amount of interesting ideas Men in Black is still able to stand out as a unique concept.
Another huge step in the progression of comic book films was the huge success of Spider-Man. While other films were successful this was beyond a blockbuster and became an instant franchise. Director Sam Raimi was able to tell an origin story that was well paced and never got bogged down in tediousness. While there were elements of reality it stayed within the framework of comics. Like with many of Raimi’s films it has a silliness that stays believable. The cast fit their roles well, especially the casting of J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson who owned every moment he was on screen. Without a doubt Spider-Man brought the genre to a higher level critically and financially.
13. X-Men: First Class
After the disaster of X-Men 3 and Wolverine: Origins most figured the X-Men movie franchise was dead. When this was first announced it seemed like a failure waiting to happen, but luckily for us that wasn’t the case. Bringing back Brian Singer even just as a producer was a smart move. Another great choice was Matthew Vaughn as director. Together they helped shred the darkness that the series was left in. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy both took the challenge of playing two of the most iconic characters and succeeded in every way. Providing a historical backdrop added importance to the plot, and also got the franchise back to the true routes of the X-Men.
12. Batman Begins
Similar to how the X-enM franchise was left for dead after X-Men 3 the Batman film franchise was thought extinct after the absolute horror that was Batman and Robin. Interesting enough it took five Batman films until we got one that completely focused on Batman’s origin. Leave it to Christopher Nolan to not only redefine this film franchise, but the genre as a whole. The combination of a darker storyline and a world that existed in a strong reality was completely unique for a superhero film. Some have tried to copy Nolan’s success with less then stellar results. Of course while it was often imitated it was never quite duplicated…until…you know…another film by Nolan came out.
11. American Splendor
While this list is full of cape crusaders, superpowers, and plenty of tights American Splendor is lacking in all those areas. Harvey Pekar is a simple man with a unique life story. The film covers that life and the underground comic that made him a legend in a variety of different ways within the same film. It is quite off the wall at times in a way that is in sync with its natural origin. Paul Giamatti plays Pekar perfectly as only he could. The film also mixes in plenty of reality through the use of archival footage and interviews with the real life people. It gave it that mock documentary feel before that style become so prominent in television and film. Even when looking at movies as a whole there is nothing quite like American Splendor.
10. Sin City
Not only is the style of Sin City a perfect representation of its comic art it also brings back the panache and tone of classic noir films. It has the classic use of the gritty voice over that gives it the ultimate essence of cool. While the visuals are stunning the story itself is no slouch. The short story format keeps the pace moving and establishes a multitude of quality characters. The violence is brutal, but with the film style it was easy to digest. The cast is strong and all are willing to lend their lives to this absurd reality created by a multitude of directors and writers. Typically with so many hands in one film you would get a mess of a movie, but with Sin City you a left with a sense of controlled chaos.
9. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
I’m assuming if you are a Batman fan and/or human you were a fan of the 90’s Batman Animated Series. Bringing a television series to the big screen, even one based on a cartoon, rarely ends in success. This is a rare breed for a number of reasons. For one it took what the cartoon did well and amped it up to a new level without diminishing the source material. Changing the format gave it the freedom to go even darker then the cartoon, and perhaps even today is the best representation of Batman in movie form. Also it had one fantastic voice cast, which is a surprise to no one.
X2 took the characterization of the first X-Men and added some amazing action sequences. Brian Singer showed what he can do when you give him an actual budget. Often it is said the sequel is never better, but that is rarely the case with comic book films. X2 showed that after you establish the origins you are given plenty of ground to take advantage of. There is a huge amount of characters that shuffle, but almost everyone got a moment to shine. Plus it does what a great sequel should and really propels the story forward to set it up perfectly for a third installment. Too bad the third installment was such a letdown.
7. Captain America: The First Avenger
When Captain America was first announced people thought they were going to get Marvel’s version of Saving Private Ryan, but instead they got Marvel’s version of Raiders of the Lost Ark. That choice was by far the better one. The tone and style of Raiders better represents the character and personality of Captain America. The stylishness character design, the over the top action, and the underlying fun made for the perfect recipe. Chris Evans as Steve Rogers was perfect. He understood that the core of Steve Rogers is a great person. He is not a person driven by politics, honor, or even patriotism. Instead Roger is simply a good man that only attempts to do what is right. For a film that was all about setting up a future franchise it did a remarkable job of reminding us of what made the past so great.
There are few things in the world that I know less about then Manga comics. I have nothing against them personally I simply never found myself eager to read them. That fact only made the impact Oldboy had even more extraordinary. Though Oldboy is the second installment of Chan-wook Park’s Vengeance trilogy it is still able to hold its own without seeing the other installments. It has a raw emotion that will easily tear you up inside. That emotion comes to life through masterful direction, writing, and acting. Its brutal nature examines the humanity in man and what can occur when that is removed. Some will say Oldboy depends too greatly on shock value. While there is no doubt shock involved there is a legitimate value to awe that it causes.
5. Iron Man
Throughout this list I have been talking about films that were stepping stones for the genre. When Iron Man was released superhero films were already well establish. The only question remaining was can non A-list heroes have the same appeal as characters like Batman and Spider-Man. Iron Man proved that they could and its success is a big reason why we are having an Avengers movie coming out this summer. A lot of that success was due to the charismatic performance of Robert Downey Jr. He may be one of the few superheroes that is as interesting outside the uniform as he is in it. Often origins can get bogged down and tedious with a storyline that follows a similar plot we have seen countless times before. That wasn’t the case with Iron Man however. Largely due to the fact the origin of the character is unlike others we have seen. This was not the story of a nobody suddenly becoming a somebody. This was a new take on the classic heroes journey, which made for some tremendous character development. It also had a fantastic sense of humor that added a strong personality to the overall film. Plus how can we all not forget the final end of credits scene that set the stage for the moment we all thought would never happen.
When Superman burst onto the scene he created the archetype all superheroes would follow for generations. So it would make sense that the character that defined heroism would also come to define the comic book movie. People often shun the character of Superman as over powered and boring, but there’s actually a lot there to tap into if the material is put in the right hands. That was certainly the case here. You have the magnificent Christopher Reeve who did a lot to redefined the character. People argue who the best live-action Batman was, but no one argues who the best Superman was. The reasons are easy to see. Reeve brought this subtle nuance to both Superman and the Clark Kent characters. The idea that a secret identity can be gained through the simple use of glasses seems rather ludicrous, but Reeve made it work. He switched between each character flawlessly keeping the secret identity as believable as possible. Reeve wasn’t the only standout as you have the astounding Gene Hackman playing Lex Luthor. Having an actor the caliber of Hackman in such a role brought a lot of credibility to the film. Last but not least the classic John Williams score. Perhaps even today the best for the entire genre.
3. Spider-Man 2
For a long time Spider-Man 2 was the crowning achievement for superhero films. Though it seems the overall sentiment towards this film has swayed in recent years. Perhaps it is just the natural order of things, or perhaps it’s due to the bad taste left in our mouths after Spider-Man 3. Whatever the case I still firmly believe Spider-Man 2 should be looked at as a crowning achievement. With the origin solidly in place Spider-Man 2 was able to enlarge the overall scope of the story and characters to new heights. It dealt with darker tones but still made sure to intersperse enough lighter moments to not damper the overall mood. Director Sam Raimi also utilized a lot of his classic horror techniques with the character of Dr. Octopus. Personally I never thought that character would work on the big screen, but I was surely proven wrong. Though what really made this a stand out was the amped up action. The runaway subway train set piece ranks up there as one of the best action sequences of the decade. Not only in superhero films, but action films period. Simply put Spider-Man 2 had everything you could ever what from a summer blockbuster.
2. Road to Perdition
Of all the choices on my list I’m sure the one I’ll get the most grief with is the placement of this film. I do have many reasons why I believe this deserves the number two spot. For example I’ve been talking about how the success of the comic book genre has been done in chunks. While other films showed the financial impact a comic book film could have Road to Perdition showed the artistic impact that is possible. If you look at the talent that was involved with this film it reads like an Oscar Hall of Fame. You have Sam Mendes directing who won an Oscar for his work in American Beauty. In addition to that the film stars the two time Oscar winner Tom Hanks and the absolute legend himself Paul Newman. The cast also includes the likes of Jude Law, Daniel Craig, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The film even won an Oscar for the fantastic cinematography by Conrad L. Hall, who is also a legend in the business. To have talent is one thing, for that talent to succeed is a whole other obstacle. Luckily the final product was equal to if not ever greater than the sum of its parts. What Road to Perdition did was shed the stigma that was laced to the statement of, “Based on a Graphic Novel”. It showed that a graphic novel is just as capable of inspiring great work as any other novel or play. Its proof I still use today that no one should simply look down upon a film based on where it comes from. Unfortunately it took the Academy Awards a little too long to catch onto that. That brings me to my number one choice:
1. The Dark Knight
Well is this really a surprise? I’m guessing not. I thought long and hard about placing something else in the number one slot, but in the end I simply couldn’t do it. I know this is the obvious choice, but sometimes the obvious choice is the right choice to make. I mentioned Road to Perdition shed the negative stigma associated with comic book films, and The Dark Knight took that and ran with it. In fact The Dark Knight will go down in history as the film that changed the Oscars. For over sixty years the Academy Awards would only nominate five films, but after the outcry after the snubbing of The Dark Knight that all changed. This film had the fanaticism of Star Wars with the critical acclaim of The Godfather. That may seem like hyperbole, but when you consider the genre it is in, the current status of film, and how widely acclaimed it is I feel it’s legitimate. Christopher Nolan had amazing set piece after amazing set piece. It was as if he was trying to continuously top himself. When you mention this film you can’t do so without talking about Heath Ledger. It is the role that will forever define his career. After seeing him give his all it will forever leave us wanting more. Very few films had the pressure and hype surrounding them like The Dark Knight. Even fewer have been able to rise beyond the already high expectations to become an absolute masterpiece.