50 Greatest Comic Book Movie Adaptations


10. Watchmen

How do you go about adapting a supposedly unadapatable text? While faithful translations tend not to artistically successful, a faithful adaptation with fetishistic attention to detail can create something unique. While Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller had it comparatively easy when adapting Miller’s Sin City to screen as they more or less would just be recreating paintings but with moving parts, Zack Snyder’s Watchmen adaptation painstakingly recreated much of Alan Moore’s tome by hand, capturing much of Moore’s world in camera. Snyder creates a lived-in and breathing universe, a key part to selling the idea to the audience of this time-hopping opus about the natural decline of superheroism. Watchmen is often accused of being too literal, speaking in the language of comics instead of cinema, but it is precisely this literal approach that makes Watchmen a stellar page-to-screen success. By being a “literal” film, it becomes personal, as the audience becomes a quiet observer in Snyder’s head as he reads the comic to himself. We see what parts intrigue him, what his imagination creates when given only little slivers of information. In making Watchmen, Zack Snyder somehow managed to turn a sprawling treatise on the ethics of superheroes into an intimate portrait of fandom. (Jj Perkins)


9. Avengers

Despite launching a series of successful superhero vehicles, combining them in to one team film was a risky proposition, even for Marvel’s loyal fan base. It’s because of Joss Whedon’s generally brisk direction and storytelling that he’s able to take what could have been a huge misfire and turned it into one of the greatest superhero films of all time. When demigod Loki appears on Earth attempting to claim the powerful tesseract, he unwittingly causes Earth’s mightiest heroes to team up and combat the forces of evil. Garnering sharp writing, engrossing action, and a humongous cast of Hollywood A-Listers, The Avengers successfully brings Marvel’s mightiest heroes to the big screen. Whedon is able to bring some of the most iconic superheroes to the live action arena with breakneck action, great pacing and portrayals of characters like Captain America and The Hulk that embraces their source material unabashedly, rather than side-stepping it. (Felix Vasquez)


8. Blade
Opening with the low strings of Mark Isham’s score and the muffled voices of doctor’s helping a trauma patient with a neck wound, Stephen Norrington’s Blade cuts through origin story histrionics like a…blade, for lack of a better word. We don’t zoom in on a logo or jump in media res to the action. No, Norrington builds his warped vision of L.A. (which could stand in for any decaying big city) through time lapse shots and whip pans before diving us into the vampire underground. Blade has the luxury of existing as a comic book film long before our shared universes and franchise mentality turned every caped hero into a property. Here, he’s just another vehicle for off the wall ‘90s action cinema. A little Hong Kong martial arts and a dash of turn of the century rave culture allow a visual pastiche that’s moody without being brooding and atmospheric without being generic. Gruff and droll, Wesley Snipes’ leather clad vigilante seems custom made for the ’90s action star, who brings more than physicality to the role; he brings a sense of wounded obligation. “I’m something else,” he says. His hero has already made his declarations and resigned himself to his duties before the film begins. The only question as a half human/half vampire: to thirst or not to thirst. It’s the backstory of a reformed addict or a man with a family history of addiction. The difference between him and every other costumed freak: blood and lots of it. When the bounds of franchise populism are broken and niche comic storytelling is embraced, the blood flows freely–the blood of hacked up vampires and the life blood of actual cinema. (Shane Ramirez)


7. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm 

With the help of the relatively recent and exponential influx of comic book adaptations in popular media, Batman is bound to go down as one of the most scrutinized fictional characters of all time. As a superhero without traditional superpowers, he is the audience’s true protagonist. His strict ethics make him inspiring, and the grizzled realism of the stories that usually accompany him make him more believable than mythical. As DC goes all-in on its live-action universe that it’s building, comparisons will be made between the various actors and creative teams that have had the opportunity to be at the helm of the Dark Knight and all that entails. No other team, however, has had a more impressive tenure than creators Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski and Paul Dini. Their Batman: The Animated Series is the high water mark for comic book adaptations and is the only animated series other thanAvatar: The Last Airbender to legitimately belong in the discussion of best TV series of all time. That quality is flawlessly condensed into Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.

Phantasm features the characteristically superb writing of the animated series, but in the form of a one-off, self-contained feature film. Its villain is one of Batman’s most memorable and nightmarish, and its love story is the only one that has ever felt justified and effective in a Batman narrative (not necessarily important overall, but it contributes to the emotional gravity of the film). The addition of the Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill, the most iconic interpretation of the character, with all due respect to Heath Ledger) thrusts Phantasm into genuinely epic territory, Batman caught between his arch-nemesis and an entirely new conflict.

Animation bias seems to be the only logical reason why Phantasm isn’t talked about more when Batman is brought up in conversation (it actually received a theatrical release, so people would have been aware of it at the time). And although there is nothing to be done about animation bias, which is actually a thing, that problem doesn’t take away the fact that the screenplay for Phantasm completely and utterly dwarfs every other Batman film, includingThe Dark Knight (whose sometimes hokey and heavy-handed inquiries into human morality make it less convincing). The script of Phantasm soars with deeply affecting drama, laugh-out-loud comedy and scenes of dread that are usually only reserved for Scarecrow plotlines, building up to a climax that rivals any encounter in battle between opposing forces. Phantasm doesn’t receive the benefit of Hollywood prestige or blockbuster effects, and it really doesn’t need them. On its own, it is a razor sharp look at the life of Bruce Wayne and how difficult it is to live in the present when you’re haunted by the past and fear the future. In a perfect world, Phantasm would be recognized not as a great comic book film, but as a perfect dramatic film in its own right. If you have yet to see it, it’s better late than never. (Sean Colletti)


6. Spider-Man 2

The reasons why Spider-Man 2 is the greatest comic book film ever made are many – Sam Raimi’s ability to mix humor, camp and thrilling action with honest heart and emotion, an all-time great villain in Dr. Octopus, and a truly compelling character arc for Peter about embracing your gifts, shortcomings and responsilities – but for me it boils down to one scene. No other comic book film has a scene with more dramatic weight than the scene in the film where Peter tells Aunt May where he was the night Uncle Ben was murdered, and his role in the reasons why he’s dead. There’s an unbearable silence as Aunt May looks away from Peter. He reaches out to grab her hand, but she pulls it back, gets up and walks out of the room. I was ten years old when I saw this film, and even back then I understood that what I had just seen was devastating, this was some truly heavy shit. Even now, multiple rewatches since, the scene is still just as effective. No comic book movie before, or since, has had a dramatic moment that heavy pulled off with such impact and grace. (Dylan Griffin)


5. Guardians of the Galaxy

One word permeated every review of Guardians of the Galaxy. That word was ‘fun’. Marvel movies are known for their distinctive style, mixing action with elements of comedy and brief moments of tragedy to create box-office hit after box-office hit. GOTG director James Gunn took the comedy element and ran with it, adding more fun to the proceedings with a classic soundtrack (cleverly incorporated into the story), wonderful one-liners and a group of heroes who simply didn’t get on and hilariously bickered whilst saving…well, the galaxy. Chris Pratt stamps his mark as a leading man with an impressive turn as likeable rogue Peter Quill aka Star-Lord and is our introduction to a wondrous galaxy of talking plants, animals and aliens of all types. The whole core cast bring a wonderful mix of personalities to their individual characters and the usual Marvel problem of weak villains (i.e. not Loki) is covered up by strong visuals, adventure and fun. And Howard the Duck. (Brendan Bergmanski)

Scott Pilgrim VS. The World

4. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World 

Even though it’s based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Oni Press graphic novel series, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the first film to capture the energy, aesthetic, and language (Combos, gold coins, extra lives to name a few.) of video games. The film is about twenty-something Toronto slacker and bassist Scott Pilgrim’s (Michael Cera in the role he was born to play.) attempt to win the love of mysterious American Amazon delivery girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). To do so, he must defeat her Seven Evil Exes, which include a former Superman (Brandon Routh), the current Captain America (Chris Evans), and a unfairly named Duff (Mae Whitman).

Edgar Wright, who also wrote the film, gifts the film with snarky zingers (The best lines go to Sex Bob-Omb’s drummer Kim Pine.), flash fried editing, and the most glorious fight scenes of his action heavy oeuvre. He revels in the original comic’s video game physics and occasionally uses comic book devices, like visible sound effects and moving the frame from left to right. He also manages to give the film the emotional warmth as Scott learns self-respect by the end of the film and generally becomes less of an asshole. Throw in some original music from Beck (who doubles as the real Sex Bob-Omb) plus a soundtrack featuring a lot of great Canadian bands along with Easter Eggs from video games and other comics, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an all you can eat buffet of comics, video games, and independent music and filmmaking. (Logan Dalton)

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3. Akira

Set in a dystopian future, Tokyo is home to roving bands of biker gangs. Tetsuo and Kaneda are members of one of these gangs gangs. After a violent encounter with their rivals, Tetsuo becomes wrapped up in a secret government project while Kaneda falls in with an underground rebel group attempting to free him. Tetsuo begins to develop incredible psychic abilities, including a mental link to someone called Akira, which begin to drive him insane. Akira’s art is beautiful and so intricately detailed that they feel almost more real than live action. The plot is intricately woven and masterfully scripted, leading the viewer through each twist and turn of the story.

Because of this it’s easy to talk about what Akira is, but it is more important to talk about what Akira has done. Akira was the first anime film to receive a major worldwide release and massive acclaim. The film appears on every “best of” list from Siskel and Ebert to Time Magazine. Because of the mastery involved in producing this film, it was able to pave the way for modern anime in both styling and popularity. The film has influence that reached even outside the genre to directors like the Wachowskis.
Even almost thirty years after its release, Akira continues to be massively popular and has even developed a cult following, much like the titular character. (Cory Weddell)


2. Dark Knight

There’s a really solid argument to be made that The Dark Knight did more harm, ultimately, than good. Christopher Nolan’s second take with the caped crusader would throw WB too far afield in the pursuit of even grittier superhero action, further perpetuated the idea that the all takes on Batman must exist within Frank Miller’s “Batman as fascist” mold established in The Dark Knight Returns, and was used as a rallying point that would lead to the dilution of the best picture Oscar when the category would expand to ten nominees. But even given all of that, Nolan’s film stands out as an incredible piece of work. Despite being notorious for being a “grounded” and “real” movie, Nolan’s Batman still wears its comic book origins on its sleeve: Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister expand the look of Gotham into these deep blue and grays that recall the Batman’s silver age costume through by way of Michael Mann; Heath Ledger’s infamous and paradigm outlier Joker, with his stark white face, dark purple jacket, and shock of hair dyed a reptilian green, stands apart from this world while still clearly being a product of it. And the film’s underlying arc – how does Bruce Wayne continue to exist in a world where the Batman is still a necessary presence – has been a question posed in the pages of comics for over 75 years. For as much as The Dark Knight brought comic books into a cinematic world incredibly similar with our own, it is only as successful as it is because Christopher Nolan and company knew when to keep one foot in the world of the comics. (Jj Perkins)


1. Oldboy

Widely acclaimed, Park Chan-wook set the bar for revenge thrillers with his Korean film about a man who is freed from imprisonment after fifteen years of isolation. The 2003 adaption of the 1990’s manga written by Nobuaki Minegishi and illustrated by Garon Tsuchiya is not to be confused with the 2013 remake by Spike Lee. The original version took away the Grand Prix at Cannes and undoubtedly cemented Park Chan-wook as a master filmmaker. While Oldboy may be one of the most gloriously violent films you’ll ever see, it is also wickedly clever. In fact, meticulously choreographed brutality and sheer volume of bloodshed make this just as great an action movie as it is a dramatic exploration of retribution and the twisted ways we can damage lives. By far the greatest scene in the movie, at least from a cinematic perspective, is the infamous hammer fight during which the protagonist, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-Sik) fights his way down a hallway of murderous guards. Another favorite moment comes when Oh finds a link to his captors. You’ll certainly never look at dumplings the same way. Park Chan-wook produced another film on this list, Snowpiercer, an equally raw and powerful film with a similarly distinct tone. Oldboy is the second installment of Chan-wook’s “Vengeance” trilogy, along with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005). For an in-depth examination of how the film differs from the manga, check out this article over here. (Meg Strickland)

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