Comic book based movies have got to be the most difficult type of films to bring to life- with the usually surreal worlds and fantastical looking heroes & villains that seemingly no actors could depict. But thanks to the extensive special effects that filmmakers now have to create a world or transform an actor, any comic book can be brought to life.
Pretty much every major comic book, particularly comic book superheros, has had a movie made of them. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man? Check! The very first comic based character seen on film was Flash Gordon in 1936. Fast-forward 76 years later, comic characters dominate at the movies. In the All-Time USA Box Office, presently 6 films in the top 20 are comic book movies (#3 The Avengers, #4 The Dark Knight, #6 The Dark Knight Rises, #13 Spider-Man 2002, #14 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, #18 Spider-Man 2). Comic book movies are clearly here to stay.
Currently, Batman is the most rebooted comic book film- 8 movies, 5 Batmen, 4 directors. When it comes to number of actors per character it’s a three way tie so far between Superman, The Hulk, and The Punisher with 3 different actors portraying each hero (3 Hulk films, 3 Punisher movies, & 6 Superman flicks). But which comic book movies are the absolute best? Which actors/directors did a comic book character justice? DZI: The Voice counts down the most super comic book movies of all time!
10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Who hasn’t heard of (and love) the four crime-fighting, colored-eye-mask-wearing, Japanese-rat-trained, NYC-sewer-dwelling turtles named after Renaissance artists who love pizza?! Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael hit the silver screen first in 1990. But in comic form, they appeared in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 in 1984 created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. In the ’90 movie of TMNT, the Turtles’ archenemy and leader of the ninjutsu Foot Clan, armor coated Shredder (aka Oroku Saki) appears as well as their news reporter friend April O’Neil and hockey vigilante Casey Jones. For the limited technology available at the time TMNT was released, the look of the film is pretty terrific and remained fairly true to the TMNT comics (although in the comics the turtles all wear red eye masks).
9. Watchmen (2009)
Zack Snyder directs this 2009 movie based on the limited 1986-1987 comic books created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. The Watchmen is a more mature superhero flick about a retired group of vigilantes called Watchmen- during the Cold War era. Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Silk Spectre II (Malin Ackerman), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino) are unbelievably brought to life and the visuals are quite spectacular- although coming from 300’s director, extravagance is expected.
8. Sin City (2005)
Frank Miller/Robert Rodriguez’s 2005 Sin City visually is the most authentic looking comic book movie and is based on Miller’s graphic novel first released in 1991 in Dark Horse Presents Fifth Anniversary Special until Dark Horse Presents’ #51-62 in 1992. Stylistically Sin City looked like an actual comic- mostly shot in black and white, but splashes of color are strikingly added at other times. Dwight McCarthy (Clive Owens), The Salesman (Josh Hartnett), Detective John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), and Yellow Bastard’s (Nick Stahl) tales are told in the segments “The Customer Is Always Right (Parts 1 & II)”, “That Yellow Bastard (Parts 1 & II)”, “The Hard Goodbye”, and “The Big Fat Kill.” Sin City definitely set the standard for how a comic book based movie should truly look to be convincingly brought to life on the silver screen.
7. Iron Man (2008)
As Christopher Reeve will always be associated with Superman and Lou Ferrigno with The Hulk (t.v. series anyway) Robert Downey Jr. will always be associated with his 2008 Iron Man. Tony Stark, the billionaire-playboy-genius-engineer with the electromagnet in his chest and self-created flying iron bodysuit, was created by Marvel’s marvel Stan Lee along with Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby in Tales of Suspense #39 in 1963. Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) plays Iron Man’s nemesis and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is Stark’s love interest. The huge thing about Iron Man (well, besides Stark’s ego) is definitely the post-credits scene with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) very coolly making his first appearance as he mentions an “Avengers Initiative” to Stark. Whenever Downey Jr. unplugs his iron armor, the Iron Man franchise will have a hard task of finding a Tony Stark/Iron Man as perfect as him.
6. X-Men (2000)
Bryan Singer’s 2000 mutant movie starring maybe the most well-known superhero team, The X-Men, made their appearance first in comic form in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s in The X-Men #1 (1963). Singer’s film has most of the key mutants- The X-Men founder and telepathic Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), adamantium clawed Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), telepathic/telekinesis Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), one eyed optic blaster Cyclops (James Marsden), weather controller Storm (Halle Berry), deadly toucher Rogue (Anna Paquin), icemaker Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), and villainous mutants Magneto (Ian McKellen), Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) along with human turned mutant Senator Robert Kelly (Bruce Davison). The screen versions of Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine, Cyclops and Mystique are uncanny to their comic book characters and seeing all the mutants powers executed in excellence is sensational. This first X-Men movie seems to have spawned the current comic book movie franchise wave that has seemingly been non-stop since.
5. Spider-Man (2003)
Still human but part arachnid superhero Spider-Man was finally brought to the screen in 2003 by Sam Raimi after first appearing in the comic Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962 created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Tobey Maguire has the daunting task to take on the role as normal, but nerdy Peter Parker turned vigilante superhero Spider-Man. The Green Goblin is Spider-Man’s foe (Willem Dafoe) and redheaded Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) his romantic interest. Spider-Man’s origins are told pretty faithful and fruitfully to fans because at the time it was released, Spider-Man had gained the most financial success of any comic book based film. Tobey Maguire may have seemed like a weak choice to play the red tight wearing hero, but two films later Maguire proved he truly had what it took to play the favorite wall crawler and web slinger.
4. Batman (1989)
One of the most popular superheroes of all time is revamped in a dark way by Tim Burton after 23 years passed from Adam West’s campy 1966 Batman: The Movie. Coming out of DC and created by legend Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Batman makes his debut in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. 50 years later Michael Keaton makes his debut as the orphaned billionaire Bruce Wayne out to avenge his parent’s murder and to cease crime in Gotham City as his caped and cowled alter-ego Batman. The murderous clown the Joker (Jack Nicholson) becomes Batman’s #1 opponent. Pre-Two-Face Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams), Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and of course Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Gough) & Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle) are also manifested.
Keaton pulls off all Wayne/Batman’s conflict brilliantly, and Nicholson shines as the Joker. Their performances will always be memorable and Burton brings Batman’s world from the comics and the 60’s t.v. show to life remarkably. Batman currently holds the 68th spot in the All-Time USA Box Office and astoundingly sold around 12 million more movie tickets than Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. The only gripes- the Joker doesn’t really kill Wayne’s parents (‘Batman’ comics say Joe Chill does), it was far-fetched that Batman would let Vale into the Batcave, and Billy Dee Williams cast as Harvey Dent was erroneous, but then in Burton’s Batman world all of this somehow made perfect sense.
3. The Avengers (2012)
The long awaited The Avengers movie finally came to pass this past summer. Being the very first superhero movie to mash up superheroes from different comic book worlds is exactly why it holds the 3rd place at the All-Time USA Box Office right now. The team, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, first appeared in Marvel Comics’ The Avengers #1 in 1963. The movie worked because most of the Avengers already had successful separate films out: Iron Man 1 & 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Plus, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America were cast so flawlessly with Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Evans how could an Avengers movie not happen?
The Hulk aka Dr. Bruce Banner joined the team played freshly and wonderfully by Mark Ruffalo, and Samuel L. Jackson reprised his role as Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Also Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) returns and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) emerges. Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s brother, wrecks havoc on the world, and it’s up to the Avengers to stop him. Seeing Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the Hulk in action together in the same movie together is definitely a comic book movie historical feat. Joss Whedon’s The Avengers set the standard for their DC Comics counterpart The Justice League’s future film, and it’s a very high standard for JL or any other comic book superhero team who wants their day on a movie screen.
2. The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005, 2008, 2012)
Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) is without a doubt the best superhero movie trilogy ever made. Can The Dark Knight and any of his friends and foes ever be brought to life again as intensely and masterfully as Nolan and the actors/actresses who played Bob Kane’s characters did? Nope. Christian Bale will forever be seen as Batman, as the late Christopher Reeve is still seen as Superman. More so than any other Batman actor before him, Bale’s turn as the caped crusader brought the relentlessness and ferociousness that the comic Batman is made of.
The late Heath Ledger as the Joker (TDK) and Tom Hardy as Bane (TDKR) breathed life into their portrayals of the crazed killer clown and merciless terrorist. Both performances are beautifully frightening. Liam Neeson aka Ra’s al Ghul (BB, TDKR), Cillian Murphy aka The Scarecrow (BB, TDK, TDKR), Aaron Eckhart aka Two-Face (TDK), and Anne Hathaway aka Selina Kyle (TDKR) all terrifically played necessary villains of Batman and Gotham City. Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, Michael Caine as Alfred, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, playing three important allies to The Dark Knight/Wayne, couldn’t have aced their respective roles any better.
Nolan couldn’t have ended his tremendous trilogy more flawlessly than he did. His inclusion of elements of the classic Batman comic Knightfall to The Dark Knight Rises is exactly why Nolan was the only director for the job of rebooting Batman over the past 7 years. A never-ending Nolan/Bale Batman team would be comic book movie nirvana for Batman fans, and although Nolan is pretty adamant he is done with Batman, it seems to appear Bale isn’t!
1. Superman (1978)
The #1 super comic book movie spot goes to none other than ‘The Man of Steel’ of course – legendarily portrayed by the late Christopher Reeve in the 1978 Superman. The cultural icon Superman (aka Kal-El aka Clark Kent) who dons a red cape, hates kryptonite, and has the superhuman powers of flying and strength was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and made his debut in Action Comics #1 in 1938. Richard Donner’s Superman film pretty faithfully tells his origin from birth on his home planet Krypton with his father Jor-El (the late Marlon Brando) to Kal-El being sent to earth and being found by the Kents. Clark Kent later becomes a Metropolis newspaper reporter who falls for Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) and makes a mortal enemy in the evil Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman).
For 1978, Donner’s Superman is as outstanding as 2006’s Superman Returns. It is far more treasured than ‘06’s reboot, and probably will outshine the upcoming Man of Steel set to be released in 2013. Reeve as Superman is just pure satisfaction. He embodied all that Superman was: brave, good, and caring. Then there’s the fact Reeve had an astonishing resemblance to the comic book Superman! Who doesn’t know he first wore the ‘S’ on his chest on film? Brandon Routh and Henry Cavill are “Superwho?” compared to the always and forever Superman- Christopher Reeve. Donner’s vision and Reeve’s portrayal of ‘The Man of Steel’ is the Superman movie to be prized. Donner and Reeve’s Superman is the initial start to the contemporary comic book movie trend that is so prevalent today. The man who can fly gracefully paved the way.
As King Leonidas, Gerald Butler leads 300 Spartans in the Battle of Thermoplyae in Zack Snyder’s super stylish film based on Frank Miller’s popular graphic novel.
Lifted from the pages of the Marvel Comics Universe, Wesley Snipes stars as Blade – the half-human/half-vampire protector of mankind from vicious bloodsuckers – in the movie version that sired two sequels.
The Crow (1994)