The comic book movie has never been bigger in the age of modern cinema, and as a commodity, it’s still a very valuable asset for many studios who once considered the notion of basing a tent pole movie around a superhero laughable. For a long time comic book movies were C grade Television fodder like “Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD” and “Generation X,” and now they’re raking in humongous profits at the box office, have helped fuel media empires, saved comic book companies like Marvel, and have attracted humongous movie stars to portray iconic characters. As such with comic book movies still being doled out in as fast a pace as studios can dole them out, here are ten of my Top Ten Comic Book Movies of All Time. So far. I expect this list to be different in ten years.
10. Sin City (2005)
Before “Sin City” was released in theaters, I stopped by MidTown Comics in New York and bought the novels the movie was based on. I tore through them within a matter of two days. Going to theaters to see “Sin City” unfold, I was shocked that the film was 95 percent faithful to the original source. Nancy is actually nude in the novels, but Jessica Alba plays it with clothes on, and there’s a scene involving gladiators removed, as well as the added character of Josh Hartnett as a book end for the film, but “Sin City” is n achievement regardless.
A pop noir masterpiece, director Robert Rodriguez completely embraces the noir emotion of the novels as well as the wonky character designs and creates the closest thing to “Pulp Fiction” in his career. Usually Rodriguez’s films are a clusterfuck filled with characters, but “Sin City” never suffers with great performances, an amazing cast of seasoned performers, and some of the most entertaining moments from the novels brought to life without missing a single beat. “Sin City” has style, entertainment value, and wonderful characters, and I never tire of it.
9. The Dark Knight (2008)
Christopher Nolan delivers not just the epitome of the Batman cinematic universe, but transplants one of the most iconic comic book villains of all time in to reality and makes it work. It not only works, but’s an amazing success. The Joker has been a thorn in Batman’s side for decades, and the late Heath Ledger completely tears down his once prominent dashing leading man Tiger Beat persona in favor of delivering the performance of his career as this scarred mastermind named the Joker who simply wants nothing more than to destroy Gotham City and show everyone that deep down humanity is ugly.
Every time the heroes think they’ve caught the Joker, he shows he’s three steps ahead of them, and is able to plan such meticulous traps and obstacles that he eventually leaves Batman at wits end to the point where he corrupts the very moral code he swore to uphold. Batman’s emphasis as a dark avenger capable of turning in to a madman like the Joker who has embraced his duality unlike Harvey Dent is masterful and it’s a near masterpiece of action filmmaking and crime cinema.
8. X2 (2003)
FOX studios rolled the dice and gambled with Bryan Singer’s big screen adaptation of “X-Men,” and once they realized it was a formula for a hit, they cashed in their chips on “X2” and brought their A game. This is the best cinematic representation of X-Men ever made. It’s an action packed, exciting, and funny bit of action science fiction that features the mutants from the Xavier Academy going through the trials against the government’s new right hand man Stryker.
Stryker makes a master plan of luring the best mutants away from the Academy, but never quite counts on the presence of Wolverine. When Wolverine arrives back from his trip of self-discovery, he finds himself responsible for a small group of teenagers who have amazing powers, and he has to try to stop Styker once and for all. “X2” introduces my favorite X-Men Nightcrawler with much acclaim, and makes wonderful use of the bad ass Magneto in many ways imaginable. “X2” is a masterful sequel and one that sadly couldn’t be followed up until 2011 when FOX backtracked and started the continuity all over again. Thank the comic book gods.
7. Barbarella (1968)
Based on Jean-Claude Forest’s French comics, “Barbarella” is the guarantee that if Jane Fonda ever needs a love slave I will surely be available. Barbarella is the sexiest most vivacious science fiction heroine who takes center stage in a wonky and surreal science fiction space opera about screaming dolls, a man named Durand Durand, a character named Dildano, and a torture machine that makes you Orgasm to death. And if Jane Fonda isn’t enough to whet your appetite, there’s the horned raven goddess The Great Tyrant played by Anita Pallenberg.
Fonda is a woman who beds anyone she comes across and has a good time utilizing her sexuality and femininity to win the day, and it’s an unusual for someone like Jane Fonda who, at the time, was starring left and right in very critically acclaimed award winning roles. Graced with excellent direction (including a very iconic opening sequence), and some wonderful music, “Barbarella” is a mind fuck of a genre masterpiece, and one that refuses to be paralleled. Fonda is immortal as the Space Queen.
6. Road to Perdition (2002)
A contemporary take on “Lone Wolf and Cub,” this adaptation of the graphic novel is superb and an absolute crime drama masterpiece that utilizes the talents of an amazing cast. “Road to Perdition” is about reaping what we sew, and how our acts can sometimes come back to strike us down. Tom Hanks is Michael Sullivan, a man who is the top enforcer for the Irish mob and the surrogate son of crime boss John Rooney. When his son Michael Sullivan, Jr. stows away on one of his jobs that goes South when Michael is forced to gun down a business associates men, Michael swears Rooney’s son to secrecy, but Rooney initiates a hit on Michael’s family, and on Michael himself.
Catching on, Michael takes his son and flees for a better life where his son can ultimately live a life without staining his soul with the blood of others. “Road to Perdition” is an immense and incredible tale about redemption and saving an innocent from damnation, and it delivers on every front from small moments like Michael Jr. weeping at the sight of a gun in his favorite comic, to Michael Sr. gunning down Rooney’s men in the rain soaked finale as Rooney awaits his fate..
5. A History of Violence (2005)
The film that turned me on to David Cronenberg, “A History of Violence” is a brilliant and masterful tale about the demons coming back to haunt a man. And how one family has to re-assert their familial roles when they discover they really don’t know each other as well as they thought. One day Edie Stalls wakes up beside George Bailey, and she suddenly discovers she’s actually married to Tony Montana, as Tom Stall is confronted with a couple of vicious mobsters one day in his diner.
The two men insist they know him, in spite of Tom’s denial, and attempt to attack him, upon which Tom defends his bar killing the men and saving his friends. When Tom garners attention, a mysterious group of gangsters arrive in Tom’s home town insisting that Tom is not actually a humble small town man, but was once a vicious and violent gangster who fled the mob and restarted his life. As Tom’s dominant wife Edie discovers what is truth and what isn’t, “A History of Violence” shows what happens when a submissive man suddenly shows himself to be a predator, and how violent tendencies can be passed on to others. It’s a remarkable play on inter-marital politics as well as an excellent crime thriller.
4. Oldboy (2003)
Director Chan-wook Park’s part in the “Vengeance” trilogy is a masterpiece of revenge cinema teeming with plot twists, shocking violence, and an incredible fight scene that continues to astonish film buffs. “Oldboy” is a well paced and slyly calculated tale of a man named Dae-Su who is kidnapped one night and locked up in a room alone. Forced to remain prisoner by a mysterious entity for many years, he endures being drugged every night and awakens every morning to try and comprehend what has happened to him, and strengthen his body.
When he’s released finally, he goes on a mission to learn why he was locked up for so long and by whom, and uncovers a sick and insane web of lies, secrets, and conspiracy that leads him to his own amazing discoveries that are the ruin of him and his enemies. “Oldboy” sports some incredible performances as well as marvelous direction from Park, and is a consistent favorite in my movie rotation.
3. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (1980; 2006)
I’m still not sure why Superman’s sanctum of safety has a machine that could take away his powers, and I’m not sure why Jor El would install a machine to take away Superman’s powers considering he had no knowledge of Kal El having powers in his new home, but that silliness aside, “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut” is my favorite of the Superman films and one that’s been highly controversial since its initial release.
The Richard Donner Cut is so much better than the Richard Lester version as it’s darker, much more adult, features a greater emphasis on the dangers of the Phantom Zone fugitives, and completely cuts the horrible moment where Superman tosses his Celophane S at a villain to restrain him for a brief ineffectual second. In spite of the deus ex machina ending tacked on since Donner had no footage for an ending, “The Richard Donner Cut” of the best entry in the original Superman movie series is fantastic.
2. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
Many people I come across still write off “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” as pandering hipster nonsense, but in reality director Edgar Wright’s American cinematic debut is one of the most cynical and derisive films ever made. It’s a complete indictment on today’s culture and lack thereof as he depicts a world void of originality and substance awash in a legion of young individuals with no purpose in life beyond playing video games and chasing after girls.
Most of the characters depicted in Edgar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” are terrible and annoying people with their own baggage and irritating personality quirks, while the title character is so tough to be around not even his own sister is willing to spend more than one minute around him. The lack of parental units is also an interesting idea to the film. In spite of it, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” is still an excellent and brutally entertaining film with unique special effects, hilarious performances, and a script you can quote until the cows come home. I love it.
1. The Crow (1994)
Surprising enough, my favorite comic book movie of all time is a film that isn’t very loyal to the original source material at all. The graphic novel from James O’Barr is drastically different from the movie in terms of characterization, enemies, and overall motivations behind the likes of Eric Draven and Officer Albrecht. Not to mention while the movie had an undertone of hope from the brink of evil, the graphic novel is infinitely bleaker and doesn’t spark any real hope in the journey of Eric Draven’s restless vengeful soul.
In either case, “The Crow” is a remarkable supernatural action thriller and one that relies on amazing direction from Eric Proyas who directs a cast of noted character actors to bring this story to life. The late Brandon Lee gives the performance of his career as the ill fasted rock star Eric Draven who is killed and watches his wife raped and murdered before his eyes before being mercilessly dropped from his apartment window. Years later, Eric is brought back from the dead thanks to a mystical Crow and is set on avenging the souls of he and his wife Shelly, as well as wreaking bloody unholy vengeance on the gangsters who ended their lives. I’ve written volumes on my adoration for “The Crow,” and it’s still one of my favorite movies of all time as well as the best comic book movie I’ve ever seen.