Hello, readers. 2014 is shaping up to be a great year for comic book films, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier now in theaters and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (despite the fervent hate from the fans, it still counts) coming soon. So, in honor of the paneled, word-ballooned form of literature, I’m counting down my picks for the best comic book/graphic novel films ever made. I’m keeping it superhero related though, so other noteworthy graphic novel films such as 300 or Sin City will be excluded.
Now, before we begin, I’m well aware of how hot-buttoned discussing anything comics on the internet can be. Hell may hath seen no fury like a woman scorned, but it also hath seen no threatening rage like a fanboy who ardently disagrees. This list is purely subjective opinion of yours truly. Many are gonna disagree. I know it and that’s not only okay, it’s welcome. But if you still feel compelled to threaten me to “dig a hole and shoot myself” (my personal favorite of all the threats I’ve read on forums), please be so kind and considerate as to do it by way of email.
Anyway, having said all that, let’s move on with the countdown – keeping in mind that some of the film clips on this list will contain spoilers – starting with…
2010 – Without question, the most controversial film – based on one of the most controversial comic books – in this countdown, Kick-Ass is a violent, profane, satirical punch in the gut. Featuring the likes of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Nicolas Cage in an Adam West imitating role that allows him to fully embrace his inner lunacy (Now switch… to kryptonite!!!!), this film is a stylishly bloody story of a regular, superpower-less comic book geek donning a costume and fighting crime with other superpower-less vigilantes, going up against a superpower-less villain. The violence may be over-the-top, but Matthew Vaughn’s direction takes a page from Tarantino and Rodriguez by having the violence invoke laughter more than disgust.
9) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
2010 – Proof that writer/director Edgar Wright doesn’t always need the help of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to make an entertaining film, Scott Pilgrim is a fast-paced, visually eye-popping, highly-inventive, hysterical send-up to not just graphic novels, but video games as well . By now, Michael Cera’s certainly worn out his welcome with his usual quirky shyness schtick, but it works like a charm here. The lovely Mary Elizabeth Winstead is always a welcome presence as the girl of Scott’s dreams, Kieran Culkin (Macauley’s brother) nearly steals every scene he appears in, and the “seven evil exes” feature some great cameos from Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman (who co-starred with Cera in Arrested Development) and Jason Schwartzman. Most impressively, though, is that if films like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End weren’t enough to convince you of Wright’s ability to handle action and not just comedy, this film should help. With Ant-Man on the horizon in 2015, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World ensures the viewer that its in good hands with Wright.
8) X2: X-Men United
2003 – Despite the character crowding that often accompanies the X-Men films, X2: X-Men United is the best of the franchise (X-Men: First Class comes close), proving to be more in-depth, ambitious and plot-layered than its predecessor. As Wolverine, Hugh Jackman’s given more opportunity to shine here in the role that has defined his career, eventually getting to go one on one against Kelly Hu’s Lady Deathstrike in one of the best onscreen comic book fights, and Alan Cummings’s Nightcrawler (featured in an exciting opening) is a shame only in that we haven’t been able to get more of him following this film. Director Brett Ratner may have come along and tried his best to piss in this franchise’s sandbox with the next installment that followed, but that doesn’t diminish what director Bryan Singer has been able to accomplish here.
7) Iron Man
2008 – Kick-starting what is now the box office giant that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man features one of the better comic origin stories thanks mostly to Robert Downey, Jr.’s electrifying and charismatic performance as Tony Stark. It’s rare to get a movie star that can embody a comic character like no other. You can argue the merits of both Michael Keaton and Christian Bale’s Batman (it’s a lot easier if you compare either of them to Val Kilmer or George Clooney); however, I can’t imagine anyone playing Tony Stark as pitch-perfectly as Downey, Jr. does. Jeff Bridges may have been a waste in that somewhat lackluster final fight with Iron Man as Iron Mongor, if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s quite deviously good as Obadiah Stane beforehand, and director Jon Favreau showcases his skill at not just comedy, but also putting together some visually exciting action sequences. It’s now been 6 years since its debut, with many other quality films from Marvel Studios following after it, yet Iron Man still remains at the top of the class.
1989 – The one flaw here may be that this film might as well have been called Joker as this is more an origin story of Batman’s arch-nemesis. That said, it still doesn’t change the fact that Tim Burton’s uniquely dark vision, Anton Furst’s production design and Danny Elfman’s haunting and triumphant score superbly captures the dark setting of Gotham City. Michael Keaton may have caused 50,000 protest signatures to be sent to Warner Bros. at the news of his casting as the Caped Crusader, but I argue he’s the best Batman out of them all (not taking anything away from Bale’s turn, though), bringing a more understated torment to the Dark Knight. Of course, Jack Nicholson’s Joker may have overshadowed what Keaton was able to accomplish, but either way, it’s still a damn good performance. “This town needs an enema!!”
2009 – You’d think a film written by one of the co-writers of The Scorpion King would be found nowhere even close to this list (to be fair, David Hayter also co-wrote the first two X-Men films), but director Zack Snyder’s gift for visual flare and a talented cast, featuring Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Patrick Wilson, and Jackie Earle Haley, took a graphic novel many found to be unfilmable for the longest time and brought it to life. Watchmen, which focuses on the dark and disturbing side of the superhero, may test some viewers’ patience with its extended running time. However, the characters (particularly Haley’s scene-stealing turn as Rorschach), the story’s murder mystery and Snyder’s vision, which lifts some of the novel’s images directly from the page to the screen, keeps me engaged from beginning to end.
4) The Crow
1994 – Easily the most underrated film to be listed here, and one of the most underappreciated films of the ’90s, The Crow’s greatness has, of course, been overshadowed by its star Brandon Lee’s (son of the late, legendary martial artist Bruce Lee) accidental on set death in 1993. The story, centering on murdered rock star Eric Draven rising from the dead to seek revenge for the death of his fiancee, is pretty straightforward. Yet, the mood, style and Gothic vision from director Alex Proyas that accompanies the story is what makes this film a worthwhile experience. What could’ve been just another average revenge thriller is given a boost from Proyas and a haunting lead performance from Lee, whose tragic death gives it an added poignancy. While the ’90s for comic book films were cluttered with those rather unfortunate Schumacher Batman sequels, The Crow – despite the number of pointless sequels that followed – stands out as the best from that era.
3) Spider-man 2
2004 – Not only the best of the Spider-Man series, Spider-Man 2 also showcases the best villain out of them all. Darker, deeper and more emotional than its 2002 predecessor, Spider-Man 2 upped the ante for comic book films in the 21st century. The relationships and action sequences are given much more emotional weight here and Alfred Molina owns every single scene that he appears in as the villain Doctor Octopus. How a director as talented as Sam Raimi could drop the ball so hard with Spider-Man 3 is beyond me, but this film remains at the top of all the famed web-slinger’s films and is one of Raimi’s best.
2) The Dark Knight
2008 – Let me clarify by saying Michael Keaton may have played the best Batman, but Christian Bale played the best Bruce Wayne. No comic book character has been captured with as much realism – depicting Gotham like a corrupt Chicago political machine – as director Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy has done. The second entry in the series proves to not just be a great comic book film, but a great crime thriller comparable to a film like Michael Mann’s Heat. While both Ledger and Nicholson each gave great depictions of the Joker in their own unique way, the late Heath Ledger’s turn as the most iconic comic book villain ever is pure maddening, anarchistic terror. Where Ledger exceeds Nicholson’s performance is that while he clearly steals the show, his performance never overshadows the rest of the film, which allows the rest of the all-star cast (including Aaron Eckhart’s turn as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, which erases the great Tommy Lee Jones’s God awful take on the villain in Batman Forever) to have their individual moments. Dark and brooding, with an unnerving score from Hans Zimmer, The Dark Knight is the best and most fleshed out adaptation of Batman to ever hit the screen.
Here we are, the #1 spot. And the winner is… Elektra. Whoops, my bad. My fingers accidentally slipped across the keyboard and somehow managed to type that. Okay, let’s try this one more time.
1978 – You should’ve seen it coming if you read yesterday’s review. Nostalgia aside, no film has visualized the spirit, essence and atmosphere of the traditional comic more than Richard Donner’s Superman. No one has embodied not just any comic character, but the most iconic comic character next to Batman, quite like Christopher Reeve. Technology has obviously advanced since 1978, but the effects used for that time were simply amazing. What more needs to be said? The cast, the face-off between the Man of Steel and his nemesis Lex Luthor, the heart, the humor, that phenomenal score – Superman set standards that subsequent comic films would follow, even to this day. Despite Superman III and the dreaded Superman IV, which would derail the franchise for years, 1978’s Superman is “Up, up and away!” the best of them all.
Well, there you have it. Once again, if you feel I got it horribly wrong, feel free to send any hate mail or death threats to the email provided in the contact section. Also, feel free to let me know your favorites in the comments section below.