With the summer movie season at an end, we look back on a huge year for comic-book movies. The films ran the gamut from good (Captain America, X-Men: First Class) to downright terrible (Green Lantern). Not only was it the summer of super heroes, it’s also the birthday of Batman’s Michael Keaton. So to celebrate, let’s take a look at the greatest films based on comic books.
While the first Hellboy left much to be desired, Guillermo del Tor’s follow up brought the great creature design that made Pan’s Labyrinth so great and interesting character dynamics that made the second better than the original in every possibly way.
Terry Zwigoff’s adaptation of Daniel Clowes graphic novel focuses on Enid and Rebecca, played by Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson, respectively, as they navigate post-high school existence in suburbia. When Enid meets Seymour, portrayed by a great Steve Buscemi, she finds a kindred soul in a town she feels out of place in.
In what is quite possibly Marvel’s best film since Iron Man, Captain America took the idea of a superhero and made it a period piece by having Cap fight Nazis in this origin story that sets the stage for the upcoming Avengers movie.
Superman: The Movie is an important pinnacle in that it set the bar for superhero movies that wasn’t passed for years. Christopher Reeve’s portrayal as the title character is still the most infamous character to put on the red and blue and even though the original may seem hokey and over the top at times, it’s still the outline that most great comic book films work from.
Sin City has style in droves, thanks in no small part to co-director and comic-book writer Frank Miller working with Robert Rodriguez. The two create a three-story arch that culminates in a dark noir world where the line between good and bad is thin and always interesting.
Tim Burton’s creepy style worked well for the Batman franchise. His dark sense of humor improved with Jack Nicholson’s take on The Joker, while Michael Keaton’s Batman was believable and the quite possibly the best, even with the Nolan films.
This moving French black-and-white animated docudrama tells the story of the young Marji, as she grows up and figures out herself during the 1970s Iranian Revolution and deals with her Iranian heritage during the revolution. Persepolis is a witty as it is poignant and touching.
In this underrated take on the mobster family dynamic, Sam Mendes does what he does best by focusing on the family and the relationships within when a son accidentally sees the darkness inside of his mobster father. Tom Hanks and Jude Law are great in their rare dark performances, but Paul Newman is exceptional in his final film role.
Director Jon Favreau and actor Robert Downey Jr. created the ultimate cool super hero. Downey’s natural swagger and overall awesomeness made Iron Man soar above and beyond other super heroes and actually gave us an origin story that didn’t sag and held our interest throughout.
While Burton may have taken the steps towards a dark Batman film, Christopher Nolan perfected. By bringing Batman into the real world and making a creative origin story that explains what no other form had even attempted, Nolan went from indie film director to Hollywood powerhouse.
Zack Snyder attempting to direct the supposedly un-filmable Watchmen, and for the most part, Snyder succeeded. By sticking largely to the original’s dialogue, changing what wouldn’t necessarily play on the big screen and creating one of the greatest opening montages of all time, Snyder made a valiant and under-rated effort at filming the impossible.
The comic book genre is always one worth parodying. Kick-Ass did a fine job by showing the real world consequences of putting on tights and fighting crime, while also creating a multitude of interesting new superheroes based in reality.
The original X-Men film made comic book films a viable genre again, but X2 made the genre great again. The melding of beloved character with ideas of racism and segregation, X2 made comic-book films dark and meaningful, while also fun.
Harvey Pekar’s “American Splendor” books are fascinating in that Pekar believed that even the most mundane and seemingly uncomplicated lives were worth documenting. American Splendor does a great job of showcasing that theory by using real footage of Pekar, fictionalized versions and even the comic version to create a cohesive whole that documents a fascinating, albeit ordinary life.
It’s almost shocking that director Edgar Wright hadn’t made a comic-book film before. His show “Spaced” dealt with comic-book culture, while his frenetic directing and editing styles made his films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz visually astounding. But his adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s six-book series is a wonderful culmination of every form of entertainment and a great story of past loves and the ability to let love overcome all obstacles.
While this ultra-violent revenge action-drama may seem pretty cut and dry, Oldboy is a constantly shocking and incredibly touching story. Following a man who is incarcerated for 15 years without knowing why, then given his freedom to seek out his captor, Oldboy is a beautiful look and pain and the choices we make and how they can completely change our lives.
Back when Will Smith still owned the summer, one of his best blockbuster films was Men in Black. The film worked almost like a “X-Files” parody, while mixing comedy and action with the excellent teaming of Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. With a great supporting cast that included Tony Shaloub, David Cross and Vincent D’Onofrio, Men in Black was one of the few summer blockbusters that was successful, while also being unique.
While the original Spider-Man was an excellent origin story, its sequel jumped right into the action, fully fleshing out its characters and creating a troubled and sympathetic villain. Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man made a dual character that was as interesting in the costume as he was out of it.
Screenwriter Josh Olson was daring with his screenplay by keeping the original third of the book intact and almost completely changing the rest of the story. By taking a risk that big, Olson and director David Cronenberg made a fascinating character in Viggo Mortensen’s Tom Stall and the entire Stall family. Cronenberg makes the first half of the film a light, almost idealistic vision of small-town living and by the end creates a dark hell for the Stalls with a brooding character piece that never lets up.
What made The Dark Knight the greatest film based on a comic book is that Nolan’s dark serial-killer drama just so happened to be based on a comic book. Heath Ledger took a character that Nicholas had already made classic and made him legendary. Nolan uses everything at his disposal, from an insanely great cast to a simple, haunting score and incredible directing and editing to create the ultimate comic-book film which, at this point, we can only imagine being topped by Nolan himself.