Based off of Jean-Marc Rochette’s French graphic novels Le Transperceneige, the Korean film Snowpiercer (2013) takes place in a post-apocalyptic Ice-Age where the last of humanity lives inside a train traveling annually around the world. The film charts the rebellion of those unfortunate at the back of the train, led by Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), against the few elite who live lavishly within the classist world. Its politically nuanced premise is compelling as the cast of outlandish and original characters break countless taboos. At times the inventive eccentricities of this fantasy/sci-fi behemoth entwine with dystopian tropes to create something that’s rather, well, uncomfortable to watch. Snowpiercer is filthy and gorey in truly satisfying ways and strikes deep into the psyche of humanity and morality. Moreover however, it’s a rollicking gem that entertains in its most resonant moments as well as the more than ample action-packed moments. It’s not so easy to create new dystopian fiction but director Joon-Ho Bong’s innovative and masterpiece certainly feels fresh and relevant amidst the wave of generic films released recently in this genre. Although Snowpiercer was largely overlooked during its limited release, the truly visionary film has already become a cult classic and critical favorite. Also, you must absolutely check out Tilda Swinton’s award-winning transformation into the millionaire conductor’s ridiculous second-in command. (Meg Strickland)
18. Dick Tracy
Dick Tracy, based loosely on the characters created by Chester Gould from his iconic comic strip, is a film that is nowhere near perfect but does a decent enough job at presenting the iconic trench-coat police detective against the criminal underground. Warren Beatty directs and plays the role of Dick Tracy alongside a slew of solid actors from Al Pacino, Seymour Cassel, Dustin Hoffman and many others that find themselves in the role of gangsters throughout their careers. Oh, and Madonna is in it too.
Famed cinematographer Vittorio Storaro captures the heavy shadowed noir style, highlighting the distinct bright colours of the costuming alongside the shady, dimly lit alleys. Danny Elfman creates another memorable bouncy score that really brings out the over-the-top nature of many of the film’s characters and campy nature of the dialogue.
Beatty, alongside a script by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. (screenwriters for Top Gun) embrace the obvious approach that Gould took in the comics of good versus evil. The mob and the various henchmen are physically deformed, for the most part; something that Gould wanted to purposefully capture in the comic to ensure readers knew that a life of crime is an ugly business. Even character names match their grotesque appearances, such as Pruneface, Flattop, and The Brow.
As much as Dick Tracy is campy to the point that lines itself with the similar feel of Batman from the 1960s, it is stylishly shot with some great makeup and costuming, and does feature some memorable performances that evoke a respectable adaptation from comic strip to screen. (Anthony Spataro)
17. Batman (1989)
The Dark Knight is arguably the best the superhero genre has to offer, but I have a fondness for Tim Burton’s Batman. It was the first film I remember watching and it made an impression immediately. (Apologies to my parents who had to watch with me over and over again.) The film was a Jaws-level game-changing blockbuster event in 1989, and is partially responsible for the landscape dominated by franchises today. Batman was a marked difference from the 60s show starring Adam West, but it was both dark and campy in its own right. Burton and Michael Keaton distanced themselves from the television show by delving into the psychology of a man who dresses as a bat to solve crime, but the Clown Prince of Crime (Jack Nicholson) stole the show. Nicholson delivered the definitive Joker on film (at the time anyway), thumbing his nose at authority while having the ability to go full-on menacing simultaneously. Not to be outdone by a villain, Gotham City is more than just a backdrop in the film, it’s a character. Anton Furst won an Oscar for his gothic tribute to Batman’s home and in the 26 years since Batman was released no movie has created such a unique environment as Furst did. Parts of the film are certainly dated, but Batman gave us Michael Keaton, who gave us his infamous line “I’m Batman.” If for no other reason that that, we owe Batman thanks. (Colin Biggs)
16. American Splendor
American Splendor isn’t just a great comic book movie: it’s also one of the great biopics. Too many films in the latter genre leave the viewer wondering why anyone ever cared about their subject in the first place, but the retelling of Harvey Pekar’s life is one of the few which genuinely expresses the spirit of the person it’s depicting. Part of this is due to the unique approach taken by filmmakers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini: they intersperse the standout performances by Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis with interviews of the real-life Pekar and his wife, Joyce Brabner (played by Davis), as well as one of Pekar’s recurring characters,Toby Radloff. Pekar’s ostensible goal for his work was to use the comic book form to tell stories of real people rather than superheroes or talking animals, and Berman and Pulcini honor his vision by populating their film with, well, real people. As good as Giamatti and Davis are, there’s a certain level of authenticity which only documentary footage can achieve, and American Splendor succeeds by combining the performances and the real-life sequences into a touching hybrid.
Despite the success of these elements of the film, this is a list for comic book movies, and American Splendor is a masterpiece of the genre. Other than Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, no other film has done an equivalent job of cinematically recreating the feeling of what it’s like to read a comic book. Through having frames which look like comic book panels, introducing places and times in comic book font, and featuring cameos from an animated Pekar, American Splendor functions, in part, as an effective cinematic simulacra of the experience of reading Pekar’s books. Christopher Nolan may have reinvented the comic book movie with his lofty and brooding aims, but I prefer American Splendor’s loving homage to the comic book and the master of the form it depicts. (Max Bledstein)
15. Superman: The Movie
For decades, Superman has reigned as America’s foremost folk hero, yet, of all the modifications and adaptations, the one that stands out the most, is Richard Donner’s Superman The Movie. Along with its 1980 sequel, no live-action film has done a better job in capturing the essence of the character (and yes, that includes Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns and Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel). Making good use of the boastful tag line “You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly”, Richard Donner’s big-budget blockbuster Superman: The Movie, is an immensely entertaining rendering of the origin of the famous comic book character. Superman is the first great superhero movie, skillfully blending humour and gravitas, while balancing special effects with the romance between Superman (Christopher Reeves) and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Superman is directed with a trustworthy sense of authenticity by Richard Donner, and boasts an epigrammatic script by Mario Puzo, as well as a superb score by legendary composer John Williams (Star Wars, Indiana Jones). The film, which handles the source material’s fantastical conceits with straight-faced assurance, became the template for the modern superhero movie, and a defining high point of Hollywood’s turbulent relationship with the comic book industry. And no matter how advanced our special effects have become, Superman has aged incredibly well over the years. This loving, nostalgic tribute is still the greatest, if not one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. (Ricky D)
14. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Based on the storyline by Ed Brubaker and directed by the Russo Brothers, the second Captain America film is probably the most serious movie Marvel has produced and also their best movie to date. Chris Evans shines in the title role in an action-packed, espionage movie that pays homage to political thrillers of the seventies but with a modern setting that is core to the story. The supporting cast is also strong with the likes of Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson adding gravitas to the strong performances given by newcomer Anthony Mackie as Falcon and Scarlett Johansson in her strongest portrayal of Black Widow so far, further adding to the case for a solo movie for Natasha Romanoff. The storyline itself takes elements from the comic book story of the same name and incorporates them into a new tale involving the history of SHIELD, HYDRA and issues of trust and loyalty with an ending that sent the Marvel Universe into a new direction. Responses from critics and fans has been so positive that the Russo Brothers are now directing the next installment in the Captain America series and the next two Avengers movies, which leaves the future of the MCU in good hands. Just when Marvel’s formula for success looked set to go stale, The Winter Soldier proved that superhero movies could exist within different genres and thrive. In this case Captain America, the man out of time, arrived in time to rejuvenate the Marvel brand and show audiences that superheroes can be much more than the standard blockbuster fare. (Brendan Bergmanski)
At first glance, B-movie legend Sam Raimi seemed to be an odd choice to helm the blockbuster big-screen adaptation of Spider-Man. He had the chops, for sure, as his Evil Dead films were beloved by its following but was he really the best choice for a big-budget action film?
Yes, as it turns out, and he brings the knack for camp he showcased in Evil Dead to the first film in the series in a big way. Raimi’s not afraid to treat the story like a live action cartoon, and his goofy energy makes the film a delight. Sure, there are some dour moments, as Peter’s (Tobey MacGuire) decision to use his powers to fight crime gets provoked by the death of his Uncle Ben, but everyone in the film seems to be having too much fun to let the sadness bring them down. Even the villain, the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), is portrayed as a dark force taking ahold of the innocent Norman Osborne due to his scientific mishap rather than an indictment of the man himself.
For a few years, it seemed as if the brooding tone set by Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy had become the default mood for action blockbusters (comic book based and otherwise), but now Raimi’s more comical vision established by appears to be winning out. It’s winning in the Marvel movie world, anyway, where the jokes of Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man are dominating the dark moral ambiguities of Nolan’s films. Superhero movies can be a pure good time, and Spider-Man is as fun as they come. (Max Bledstein)
12. Batman Begins
In Batman Begins, then neo-noir auteur Christopher Nolan turns his attention to a tarnished pop culture icon and takes him back to basics by setting his adventures in a more realistic (Chicago doubling for) Gotham and meditating on what makes him a timeless character. Even if his Batman voice has been parodied to death, Christian Bale embraced the physicality of the Caped Crusader and Liam Neeson subverted his usual mentor roles to play the catalyst of a twisting, turning conspiracy plot.
Batman Begins is a thematically tight film based around its hero overcoming his own personal fear to become an almost mythological symbol and save his city from destruction. Nolan deals in archetypes in this film borrowing bits and bobs from Jung and Joseph Campbell, but he grounds the film in the crime thriller genre with white hot car chases, a police corruption subplot, and by setting the climax in the Gotham slums. He takes the aesthetic of the gangster film and the mystique of the superhero (especially in the early mountain top training sequences) to give audiences a comprehensive look at how Batman went from whimpering orphan to legendary arbiter of justice. (Logan Dalton)
11. Dredd 3D
While most comic book action blockbusters stick to the “bigger is better” approach, 2012’s Dredd 3D goes the opposite route, eschewing big, over the top set pieces in favor of a smaller, tighter, production. With visions of the abominable Stallone film dancing in their minds, director Pete Travis and his crew knew they needed to restore the name of the seminal character first seen in the pages of 2000AD. To do this, they made the wise choice to focus less on the kind of larger than life action set pieces found in other comic book films and focus instead on tense gunfights full of bloody ultra-violence and the film’s slo-mo gimmick.
Despite also going for more of a gritty vibe (no more shiny codpiece), Dredd 3D also manages to retain much of the satirical or subversive element that defined the original comic. Though the action sequences are bloody and cathartic as you’d hope, the use of high framerate slow motion helps to push the action into an uncomfortable place as the bodies of evildoers (or are they?) are given messy new piercings. The gore goes past the usual action movie fun and into a place where we as the audience find ourselves wondering if maybe the Judges are the heroes we first took them for. Is their use of this kind of force justified? Should we even be enjoying this? Though it may look like a mere action flick on the surface, Dredd 3D manages to sneak in just enough of that subversive element to stay true to its roots, while not entirely getting in the way of the fun. (Thomas O’Connor)
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