An argument is made for: The Top Ten Comic Book Movies Of All Time…
by: Lewis H. Montaug
Let’s get right into it. Without a lengthy introduction or procrastination of any sorts, let us take a look at the films that have proved, without a shadow of a doubt, that it is possible to wrench our beloved heroes from the glossy comic pages and re-create them with reverence and tact. The moment has come for us to take a gander at….
The Top Ten Comic Book Adaptations Of All Time!
I will begin with the Honorable Mentions — a bit of a spoiler, as you will be in the know that none of these snuck their way into the illustrious Top Ten, yet some were very close! Spider Man (#20), The Incredible Hulk (#19), Thor (#18), Man of Steel (#17), Akira (#16), 300 (#15), Spider Man 2 (#14), Batman (#13), Captain America (#12), Superman 2 (#11)1.
And now for the MAIN EVENT……
10. V For Vendetta
November 5th, aka Guy Fawkes day in Britain, is a holiday celebrating the capture of a religious traitor and the resulting triumph of good by the British government. Alan Moore took that idea and flipped it, instead delivering us a story of a corrupt government and one man’s mission to bring it down. And despite the fact that Moore distanced himself from the film after despising the treatment of his first two graphic novel translations, League of Extraordinary Gentleman and From Hell, V for Vendetta‘s cultural significance is so fucking enormous that it has become the public face of two of the most subversive American movements since the 1960’s, Anonymous and the Occupy Movement. None of this would have happened without the translation of Moore’s comic to film. For that reason alone it might be the most important ‘comic to film’ translation that we have seen to date.
“In the absence of light, darkness prevails. There are things that go bump in the night, Agent Myers. Make no mistake about that. And we are the ones who bump back.” – Professor Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm
It is easier to describe what makes a film great (writing, direction, set design, etc, etc.) than what makes a film fun, and Hellboy is nothing if not fun. With a stunning look provided by the one and the only, Guillermo Del Toro, Hellboy whisks us into a world where our fate depends on a wisecracking, cigar-smoking, red-skinned demon with a tail, horns and an over-sized right hand made of stone. What carries the film, and adaption of Mike Mignola’s graphic novels (besides Ron Perlman’s gruff portrayal), is that it finds a way to be touching while taking us on what could neatly be described as a whimsical romp. Hellboy doesn’t only protect us from the things that go bump in the night, he cares. And, it is in this, the ability to see the humanity in a crude as the day is long, shaved-horn demon, that elevates this film to an all-time great.
8. The Avengers
When Joss Whedon announced that he was going to tackle The Avengers2 and bring an ensemble cast of superheroes together under one film it seemed too good to be true. He had already demonstrated with the space-Western Firefly that he could handle a complex storyline revolving around multiple distinct characters. In fact, in Whedon’s mind, Firefly was a story about nine people “looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things.” When you bring together the larger than life ego’s of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, The Hulk, and Black Widow, and then try to tell a story amongst all those moving parts, you begin to realize that Whedon is the best man for the job. His brilliance in casting the talented Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk breathed new life into a character many had already written off3. But it gets better, for we also have Robert Downey Jr. reprising his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man, but in a way not seen in the previous Iron Man films. Gone by the end of the movie is the Tony Stark ego, replaced by a noble attempt at self-sacrifice as he ferries a nuclear-tipped cruise missile into the heart of the Tesseract wormhole. In all, ultimately, this film is about a group of people who don’t belong together, and the journey it takes to find your place in a community. But once it is found, be it Thor as he battles within, choosing the good of humanity over the love of his brother, or Captain America as he tries to shake off his “fish out of water” feeling upon waking up in the modern world, the movie truly begins to shine. The Avengers is a remarkable film simply in its ability to depict our favorite superheroes as individuals capable of personal growth, and it doesn’t help that the spaces in-between are filled with a gobs of eye-candy and acres of good old-fashioned punching.
7. Sin City
It is a credit to the incomparable Frank Miller that when his films become destined for the big screen, those who take on this endeavor make every effort to transport his vision to the screen intact. Anyone who is familiar with Miller’s work know exactly how lofty a task this is, one that could only be accomplished by a director as talented as Robert Rodriguez. What these two created in tandem was the most stylized piece of art to hit the big screen period. It was violent, sexy, smart, and gritty – and featured an ensemble cast that delivered quintessential performances across the board (Mickey Rourke’s portrayal of Marv flat out reinvigorated his career.) A sequel is set to be released in 2014, one that will have a tough time holding a candle to this masterpiece of cinema.
6. Road to Perdition
Can a man who has led a violent and evil life achieve redemption through his child? Road to Perdition, Sam Mendes’s film adaption of the graphic novel by the same name (Written by the highly prolific Max Allan Collins.) seeks to answer this question. The film begins at the end of times, in the last moments before its main character, Michael Sullivan (Played masterfully by Tom Hanks.), finds the repercussions of his violent life catching up to him. Haunted by the consequences of his actions, Sullivan travels towards Perdition, an euphemism for Hell, and a place where he wholly wants to protect his son from traveling. A Depression Era film, the story follows mob enforcer Sullivan, as he takes his son with him to seek vengeance against a mobster who murdered the rest of his family. With stunning cinematography by Conrad Hall that garnered him a posthumous Academy Award, and tight directing by Sam Mendes, we are taken on a visual journey through 1930’s America, rife with deep emotion and poetry. The film’s minimal dialog, penchant for off-screen violence, and heavy reliance on imagery to convey feelings and experiences, combines seamlessly to convey a story in which the pictures alone, like a comic book, advance the story. Only with Road to Perdition, the pictures are filled with rich symbolism and the wordless conveyances of relationships, all enfolding during the last true period of lawlessness in American history.
5. Ghost in the Shell
Based on a manga created by Masamune Shirow (who also created Appleseed and Dominion Tank Police), and directed by a master filmmaker and artist, Mamoru Oshii, Ghost in the Shell is an action-packed futuristic jaunt that literally broke the mold in terms of progressive visual effects. It is a story that delves into the nature of sex and gender, and self-identity in a future world where sexual reproduction has been replaced by mechanical reproduction. It explores the philosophical themes of what it means to be human, but it will always be the look of the film, and the way that the cyberpunk Anime made us feel while watching it, that will always stick with its most avid fans. Ghost in the Shell was released in 1995, and to this day is a progressive, visually stunning masterpiece (It used a process, novel at the time, called “digitally generated animation” (DGA), which is a combination of cell animation, computer graphics, and and audio that is entered as digital data.), proving the old adage – they don’t make em’ like they used to – true4.
4. X2 – X Men United
This was the X Men we were promised, the one we were clamoring for. I can think of few comic book adaptations more anticipated than everybody’s favorite mutant superheroes being brought to live-action life. The initial X Men just didn’t live up to the hype, but with Nightcrawler’s brilliantly executed assassination attempt to commence X2, a collective sigh of relief was emitted from all obsessed with the X Men Universe. What progression from the original – what evolution – as the scale was enormous, but the plot-line was focused. Throw in brilliant performances by Brian Cox, Sir Patrick Stewart, Alan Cummings, Ian McKellen, and Hugh Jackman – all stunningly cast – and X2 is the cream of the X Men crop5.
Watchmen was one of the most acclaimed graphic novels ever produced; and in lieu of that, it has some of the most fanatical fans of any comic in print, bonafide cult status. Thus, Zack Snyder had his hands full. And the way he handled this conundrum, this slew of nerds6 watching, judging, and blogging, was to use the original comic panels as his storyboard, creating a unprecedentedly faithful adaptation of Alan Moore’s masterpiece (illustrated by award-winning Dave Gibbons). The result – a grimy, visually arresting, violent, disturbing, and hypnotic tour de force with set design and costumes that are second to none, and a performance for the ages in Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Historically, the most underrated of all comic book films – something we fix right here and now, placing it where it belongs – in the top three!
2. Iron Man
Necessity is the mother of invention. When Tony Stark, a brazen, young, arrogant entrepreneur succumbed to a nightmarish fate, he became broken, a thin shell of his former self. Eventually, through his struggles, he learned to drop his guard and showed us that he did indeed have a heart. And it is within that first hour of Iron Man (directed with precision by everyone’s second favorite swinger, John Favreau) that we are shown what makes the Marvel Universe so special. We came to sympathize with a wounded Tony Stark as he was held captive within that cave and learned to love him despite his flaws, enabling us to relate to a figure far too exotic to sincerely understand. It was there, in Afghanistan, where Tony developed the technology (and motivation) that would turn him from a selfish industrialist into a superhero, a guardian of the people; the same people whom he owed a debt to – as he was the one responsible for making the world a far more dangerous place. Iron Man is the epitome of origin stories, taking us directly into the core of why and how this all came to be. And, when we pull back, and begin to glimpse all that Iron Man can accomplish in the name of selflessness, we can truly see how great this story can be.
1. The Dark Knight Trilogy
I am cheating here, but fuck it. If I was not able to consolidate these three films, they would inhabit 30 percent of the list, and all within the top five. I had to do what I had to do. And, at this point it is hard not to look at these films as a whole, a perfect trilogy that will for the foreseeable future be the high-water mark for comic book adaptations. Batman Begins is the benchmark of origin stories7, an incredibly realistic take on how a tortured man could possibly end up donning a suit inspired by a bat, and wrapping a fully-equipped utility belt around his waist. The Dark Knight dug deep into the psychosis of such a man, one who yearned to exorcise his demons through vigilantism, yet was ultimately burdened by the powers that role demanded. The Dark Knight also introduced us to inarguably the greatest villain of all time, in Heath Ledger’s Joker – a psychopathic, schizophrenic, mass-murdering clown with zero empathy, who stole the show at every turn. And, The Dark Knight Rises expanded the scope of a film of this nature to uncharted heights. With an intricate plot line that explored various political agendas, another merciless and intriguing villain, and an incredibly authentic appearance, The Dark Knight Rises put a bow on not just the best comic book trilogy of all time, but along with the Godfather and the initial Star Wars Trilogy, one of the greatest trilogies period.
- Others worth noting: Batman Returns, Superman, Persepolis, A History of Violence, American Splendor, Oldboy, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Ghost World, The Crow, Blade II, Kick Ass, and Dredd. As we stated earlier – popcorn films today have a lot to live up to! [↩]
- Issue #1 of the Marvel comic debuted in September 1963. With the tagline: Earth Mightiest Heroes, it was written by Stan Lee and penciled by the legendary Jack Kirby. [↩]
- Ruffalo did more than surpass Eric Bana and Ed Norton as The Hulk, he put that shit into orbit! [↩]
- It is easy to argue without Ghost in the Shell, there would never be a Matrix trilogy. [↩]
- With high hopes for X Men: Days of Future Past, after the failure that was X Men: First Class. [↩]
- I use this word as a compliment, not a slight. [↩]
- It is worthy to note that two of the films that completely NAILED the origin story reside at the peak of this list. [↩]