50 Greatest Comic Book Movie Adaptations

best comic book movies

40. Road to Perdition

One of the more surprising and lesser-known facts about Sam Mendes’ second film, Road to Perdition, is that it’s actually adapted from a graphic novel of the same name by Max Allan Collins. The plot follows Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks), an Irish mob enforcer as he goes on the run with his son Michael Jr. after Jr. witnesses a murder and their family is killed in an effort to cover up any witnesses. There’s many great things in this film that standout, such as Jude Law’s creepy performance as assassin Harlen Maguire, one of Paul Newman’s final and finest performances as mob boss John Rooney, and Hollywood got an early look at the talent of Daniel Craig as the unstable Connor Rooney. However, it’s the climax that remains the most memorable thing in it, featuring some of the most iconic work from its Director of Photography Conrad P. Hall – and also his last work. Sullivan ambushes Rooney and kills all of his men with a machine gun. You don’t see him as he does this, you just see his shots bursting through the darkness as the rain pours down. He approaches Rooney, who just says, “I’m glad it was you.” So much of their dynamic is communicated in just that one line, and the scene is gorgeous to watch. That’s filmmaking right there. (Dylan Griffin)

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39. Batman Returns

Almost pathologically dark, brimming with an overt leather fetish and featuring as little Batman as seemingly possible, Batman: Returns, superficially, fails as adaptation. With 1989’s Batman, director Tim Burton had carved out his own territory for the character, but the film hewed close enough to the recognizable (and made an enough money) to grant him total authorial control for the sequel. As Burton’s blockbuster sensibilities have deteriorated, Batman: Returns remains the purest melding of his idiosyncrasies with the excess of large scale production. Relocate the Gotham City of the first film to a Christmas setting that required maintaining multiple sound stages at freezing temperatures? Put Danny Devito in freak makeup and have him drive around a giant mechanical duck? Center a film merchandised in Happy Meal toys around a plot to kidnap children? Make it all obliquely sexual? It all sounds like the result of a mad lib, but whatever Burton wanted he seemed to get, and the result is a superhero film the likes of which we may never see again: violent, weird and ultimately filled with a very adult sadness. In 2015, studio mandate forced Joss Whedon to fill his follow-up to the most successful superhero film of all time with unwanted setups for future ‘in universe’ films. In 1992, Tim Burton concluded his follow-up to the then most successful superhero film of all time with herds of mind controlled penguins with rockets strapped to their backs. Much celebrating has been made of the ascendancy of the comic book film to the top of the box office ladder. Batman: Returns makes it impossible not to wonder what kind of freedoms the genre has lost in the bargain. (Adam Hofbauer )

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38. Tales from the Crypt

A precursor to George Romero’s Creepshow: Tale From The Crypt was adapted from a paperback edition of five short stories drawn from William Gaines’s famous comic book about five strangers who while lost on a tour of old English catacombs, wander into a meeting with a strange who proceeds to tell each of them their unpleasant fates. Easily one of the best Amicus films, and also one of the greatest horror-anthology films ever made, Tale From The Crypt is especially memorable for giving each story a lurid, comic book feel without ever feeling completely campy or silly. Like all horror anthologies, not all the stories are great but the first and third segments are first-rate stories, and the ending of the fifth is a classic revenge scenario that has been imitated hundreds of times since. Director Freddie Francis is one of the best horror filmmakers to come out of Britain and whose economy of story-telling is prefect for the anthology film. Lively direction, terrific performances (especially from Peter Cushing) and handful of black humour, makes Tales From The Crypt a must see. (Ricky D)

The Crow

37. The Crow

In order to successfully adapt James O’Barr’s bleak punk rock revenge tale, New Line elicited the talents of music video director Alex Proyas. He successfully delivers on what is one of the best adaptations of all time. While it’s a loose adaptation, Proyas and co. take what is most crucial from the original source material and inject them into a vicious and haunting tale of revenge from beyond the grave. Brandon Lee is pitch perfect as tortured soul Eric Draven who is gutted by guilt by not being able to stop his wife from being raped and tortured by a local gang. Rising from the grave years later after being murdered by them he enacts a campaign of bloodshed and justice. Lee’s performance is otherworldly, as he injects within Draven shades of madness and torment with every life he takes that helped in inflicting pain on his wife. Though The Crow brings with it a dark legacy with the tragic death of its star Lee during shooting, the final film is a masterstroke of Gothic horror, romance, and vengeance. (Felix Vasquez)

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36. Azumi

This adaptation of the popular manga series offers long fluid sequences of hand-to-hand combat and exquisite swordplay; but it also offer little in terms of plot – but that’s ok. As a coming of age drama, it falls short, but as lightweight escapism, it’s pure cinematic delight. If, you’re looking for a great action movie, you can’t go wrong with Azmui. Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus), the film is populated with the sort of high-flying hysterics found in early Jet Li films, only this time it’s the wildly popular singer and pop icon Aya Ueto who stars as one of the assassins, admirably doing most of the samurai sword stunts herself, while she carves her way through a body count that rivals any three average samurai flicks. Lovers of Asian cinema should love Azumi – a slick, relentless, violent yet beautiful genre piece with breathtaking stunt choreography and impressive wirework by Yuta Morokaji that makes the fight sequences in Kill Bill (released the same year) seem tame. Simply put, Azumi is a jaw-dropping slice of action cinema. (Ricky D)

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35. Cemetery Man

Based on the wildly popular Italian comic book Dellamorte, Dellamore from Tiziano Sclavi’s Dylan Dog series, Cemetery Man is compelling, bizarre, and downright entertaining from start to finish. Technically a zombie film, but not really, Soavi’s avant-garde gothic flick weaves in so many unexpected directions, that it is quite unlike any horror film made before or after. This surreal fantasy from the director of Deliria (1987) unfolds like a very weird dream and never stops moving, twisting and turning its way to a beautifully rendered existential climax. You can take it as a horror picture or a black/comedy or a story about friendship, identity and love. Either way it works.

Soavi is a well-known disciple of Italy’s master of horror Dario Argento, and it shows in every frame. The opening scene where Dellamorte disposes off the living dead as he casually chats on the phone is one of the best openings of any horror flick. From the color-drenched scenery and a kiss silhouetted by the full moon, to a camera rotating around a table (Ala Reservoir Dogs), or a steady tracking shot; almost every scene in Cemetery Man is a treat to watch. Even better is the score by Manuel de Sica, a prolific composer who has written over one hundred musical scores for television and film since 1969. His score is a curious blend of synthesizers, and traditional instrumentation accompanied by a catchy theme song that’ll leave you humming long after the credits role. Cemetery Man is the product of an expansive vision, a gorgeously rounded picture that passes through moments of genuine longing and existential crisis – right up to the film’s heart-wrenching mystic finale, in which Francesco will travel to the edge of the world to find some meaning in his cursed existence. Originally titled Dellamorte Dellamore (Of Death and Love), Cemetery Man is one of the most striking Italian genre efforts, and an overlooked, and under-appreciated gem. (Ricky D)

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34. X-Men: First Class

First Class gets the characters right. Even though the X-Men films can offer up thrilling actions setpieces like Nightcrawler infiltrating the White House in X2 or the “Time in a Bottle” sequence from Days of Future Past, the reason people keep coming back to these movies is the characters. The big reason Last Stand is (rightly) derided as the worst X-Men movie is because it treats the characters callously, completely botching one of the most tragic character arcs in the history of comics in the Dark Phoenix Saga. Director Matthew Vaughn crafts a story of two extraordinary men in Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) who develop great respect for each other despite their world views at odds with each other. Magneto lifting a submarine out of the ocean with the help of Professor X is a moment of incredible power and catharsis – and one that is cruelly undercut minutes later as Eric holds Charles, now crippled by Erik’s actions, in his arms. It is at this point, the two men realize that their ideas of progress for mutants will forever be a rift between them. Much of First Class is top-notch, tight and efficient superhero blockbuster filmmaking, but there is hardly a more heartbreaking moment in the entire series than when Erik realizes his drive for independence and personhood has led to the handicapping of his closest friend. (Jj Perkins)

FlashGordon

33. Flash Gordon

Alex Raymond’s famous comic strip came to life on the big screen in the 1980 Dino De Laurentiis action-packed sci-fi adventure Flash Gordon. The history and making of Flash Gordon is almost as interesting as the film itself. Originally George Lucas wanted to buy the rights to remake the 1930s version, but when he discovered those right had already been purchased by Italian schlockmeister Dino De Laurentiis, he went off to write Star Wars instead. Meanwhile De Laurentiis went through eight different directors, including Frederico Fellini and Nicolas Roeg until finally settling with British director Mike Hodges, who at the time was mostly known for British crime flicks like Get Carter. By the time the film went into production, Star Wars was already a phenomenon and the sequel Empire Strikes Back was set to roll out into cinemas. De Laurentiis had hopes that the success of Star Wars would help Flash Gordon become a box office hit. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as well as he hoped. Although the film achieved exactly what it set out to do, audiences weren’t prepared for the strange, campy rock opera with its tongue firmly planted in cheek. Due to poor word of mouth and bad reviews, Flash Gordon made only $27 million in domestic gross, and the sequel they promised before the credits role was never made. Simply put, Flash Gordon was terribly misunderstood when it came out, and it’s a shame since the movie is a blast from start to finish. Newcomer Sam J. Jones and screen legend Topol are severely stilted on screen but that only adds to the enjoyment of watching the film. Meanwhile, the more accomplished Oscar winning actor, Max Von Sydow, makes the most of the villain role, Ming the Merciless. Von Sydow is an absolute joy to watch and the colorful playful visuals replicating the panels of the original source material makes this one gorgeous looking film. Standout scenes include the flight of the Hawkmen, the gathering at Ming’s court and the Emperor’s wedding. Oh and did I mention the out-of-this-world special effects and unforgettable music by Queen! Yes folks, Queen does provide the soundtrack for the entire film. Flash Gordon is an exciting live-action adaptation of one of the most popular comic book characters of all time and one of the best science-fiction movies ever made. If you haven’t yet watched the film, do yourself a favor and seek it out. (Ricky D)

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32. Blue is the Warmest Color

Never let it be said that a comic book movie hasn’t been a film festival titan or awards season hit. Blue Is the Warmest Colour, based on Julie Maroh’s 2010 graphic novel of the same name, won the Palme D’or at Cannes in 2013, was a breakout success outside of its native France despite an epic runtime and sexually explicit content, and became a controversial talking point for director Abdellatif Kechiche’s apparent tendency towards “moral harassment” during production. Warner Bros. and DC should clearly hire this man to make Blue Beetle Is the Warmest Colour. (I am so, so sorry.)

In being a years-spanning portrait of an (initially) teenage French girl’s life as it relates to one early romance, many have found comparisons between Blue (or La Vie d’Adèle, as it’s known in France) and Mia Hansen-Løve’s 2011 effort Goodbye First Love, with the big differences between the two being length (Blue is two hours, Goodbye under two) and Hansen-Løve’s film’s focus on a more heteronormative relationship. While Goodbye First Love gets across much of the same themes in a more concise manner, Blue Is the Warmest Colour ‘s length does work in its favour for exploring in greater detail the extensive, messy range of emotions and misguided choices that come about when one is in love.

Goodbye First Love may handle things more elegantly, and Kechiche’s film can often feel as afloat as its own heroine, but there s a raw power to both its moments of ecstatic bliss and scenes of devastating disappointment that’s really quite something. And there’s, of course, the fantastic performances from Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, the former in particular recalling the great Sandrine Bonnaire in the classic À nos amours, another French character study of a young girl navigating her way through love and sex. (Josh Slater-Williams)

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31. Lone Wolf & Cub Series

Sword of Vengeance (Kenji Misumi, 1972), Baby Cart at the River Styx (Kenji Misumi, 1972), Baby Cart to Hades (Kenji Misumi, 1972) , Baby Cart in Peril (Takeichi Saito, 1972), Lone Baby Cart in the Land of Demons (Kenji Misumi, 1973), White Heaven in Hell (Yoshiuki Kuroda, 1974)

Based on the Japanese graphic novel series by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima, this landmark 6 film series starring Tomisaburo Wakayama is the episodic tale of betrayed royal executioner turned assassin-for-hire Itto Ogami and his young son Daigoro.

A unique take on the samurai genre set in Kazuo Koike’s typically strange, occasionally disconcerting but always compelling moral universe, the series is best known for its unforgettable action sequences that usually begin with moments of stillness that explode into deadly conflict punctuated by geysers of arterial spray.

All the films in this series are must-sees but the first three entries directed by Kenji Misumi are the strongest and should ideally be watched consecutively in one sitting.
Action highlights of the series include Ogami’s battle with a cadre of female assassins, his desert showdown with the deadly Hidari brothers and his astonishing one man stands against small armies of enemy warriors.

The series also contains some wonderful lyrical moments such as Daigoro’s life or death choice between a ball and a sword, Daigoro administering water mouth-to-mouth to his severely wounded father and Ogami’s confrontation with a disenfranchised warrior seeking the true meaning of being a samurai.

Actor Shintaro Katsu of the long-running Zatoichi film series initiated the film series as a producer in an effort to transform his talented brother Wakayama into a box-office star.

Wakayama’s intense performances as the stoic and charismatic Lone Wolf Ogami are remarkable and his incredibly fast and powerful swordplay skills are nothing less than amazing. The actor is easily one of the best swordsmen in the history of the chambara genre and the case could easily be made he is the best in a field of more famous peers like Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai and Shintaro Katsu.

The Lone Wolf & Cub series only lasted six films, denying the audience the grim conclusion of the graphic novel series that was included in the unsatisfying, much more sedate and virtually bloodless Akira Inoue 1993 feature film adaptation.

The influential graphic novels also spawned a television series, provided the narrative model for the Max Allan Collins graphic novel The Road to Perdition and its 2002 screen version and inspired years-long talk of an American-produced film adaptation with directors Darren Aronofsky and Justin Lin attached at various times.

If you’ve only seen the Lone Wolf & Cub films in their dubbed and re-scored Shogun Assassin incarnations-the first combining part of Sword of Vengeance and all of Baby Cart at the River Styx and Shogun Assassin 2 being all of Baby Cart to Hades – I implore you to see the original films as they were meant to be seen. It is an entirely different and far more rewarding viewing experience.

Legendary graphic novelist Kazuo Koike’s work has also been the basis for the animated and live action versions of Crying Freeman as well as the two Lady Snowblood films, the Hanzo the Razor trilogy starring Shintaro Katsu and Shinsuke Sato’s Princess Blade. (Terek Puckett)

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