50 Greatest Comic Book Movie Adaptations

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When we asked our staff to vote on the best comic book movie adaptations, we were afraid the results would consist only of superhero films. While there are many superhero movies listed below, it is great to see a bulk of non-Hollywood films appearing on the list as well. We set out to compile a list of 50 movies but as it were, we ended up with 5 ties, and so the list consists 55 films instead. Let us know if you think we missed something. Enjoy!

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55. The Adventures of Tintin

Spielberg’s first venture into animation is one of his best. Taking notes from the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark playbook, Spielberg crafted another spirited, thrilling, and always entertaining adventure. The Adventures of Tintin is one of the most pleasurable, family-friendly experiences, that boils down to one grand treasure hunt. There’s much to admire on-screen, but it is the spectacular action scenes that stand out most. Take for instance the flashback involving the 17th century Haddock battling with the villainous Red Rackham. The sequence narrated by Haddock is brilliantly choreographed as the camera continuously spins around the action while it jumps from past to present. Meanwhile, the big chase scene through a terraced Middle Eastern city also deserves praise: Sakharine pursues Tintin who flees with Haddock on motorbike, while Snowy bolts after Sakharine’s falcon, all in hopes of retrieving three pieces of paper blowing in the wind. This tour-de-force action sequence alone lasts 2 minutes and 38 seconds and was conceived and executed in one single shot. The Adventures of Tintin is another fine entry in Spielberg’s canon and proves once again why he is the master of cinematic escapism suitable for the entire family. (Ricky D)

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54. Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

Comic book artist Joann Sfar interprets the life of ’60s pop star Serge Gainsbourg (played here by Eric Elmosnino), beginning with his childhood years in Nazi-occupied Paris, through his early years as a painter and jazz musician, to his life as a wildly popular singer-songwriter. Sfar won the Cesar for Best First Film for this directorial debut and it is easy to see why. Both evocative and faithful in its depiction of the famed French singer’s lascivious life, Gainsbourg finds a unique artistic way to tell the story of one man’s life. Sfar’s most audacious move is to give his hero an alter ego in the form of a giant, cartoon-looking bad-boy with an outsize head who haunts Gainbourg’s thoughts throughout his entire adult life. Gainsbourg’s two-sided personality and his over-the-top antics with Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta), Jane Birkin (Lucy Gordon), and beatnik icon Juliette Gréco (Anna Mouglalis) share the movie’s best moments, and Sfar packs the soundtrack with one classic tune after another, which help keep the film flowing even as the story begins to run out of steam. The animation if superb and the cinematography is gorgeous, but the reason to see this biopic, is for the powerful, gripping performance from actor Erik Elmosnino. (Ricky D)

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53. Fritz the Cat

There was a time when Fritz the Cat was the most familiar character of the Underground Comix scene – so popular that Robert Crumb’s most famous creation served as the basis for a pair of film adaptations produced by Steve Krantz: Fritz the Cat 1972, directed by Ralph Bakshi, and The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat 1974, directed by Robert Taylor. The first film went on to become a worldwide hit, grossing over $100 million and at the time, was the most successful independent animated feature ever. Despite it’s shortcomings, Bakshi delivered one of the more creative and daring forays in feature-length animation – even if the unsatisfied Crumb, disowned the project. Fritz the Cat, like the comic, is often amusing and always provocative and will forever bear the distinction of being the first “X-rated animated movie.” (Ricky D)

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52. A Boy and His Samurai

A Boy and His Samurai (Chonmage Purin) is an enjoyable entry from Fish Story director Yoshihiro Nakamura. Single mother Hiroko (Rie Tomosaka) and her son Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki) encounter a samurai that has time-travelled from the Edo period to the present in Japan. With the combination of Hiroko’s hectic work schedule and Tomoya’s fascination with this figure from the past, it is agreed upon that the samurai, Yasube (Ryo Nishikido), will stay with the young family. What begins as a fascination and bewildered examination of the present time from Yasube’s perspective, turns into a deep appreciation and heavy involvement in a very important housemaid task: cooking.

Based on the manga by Gen Araki called Fushigi no Kuni no Yasubei, Nakamura presents a story that is light and fun in tone but is layered with a concern for the contemporary Japanese society. The further Japan distances themselves from their past as time moves forward, there is a hope that there will remain an understanding and respect for the past.

Ryo Nishikido captures the strict manners of a Samurai naturally while acting hilariously shortly after in reaction to modern household appliances like the microwave. His nuanced performance captures most of the film’s great moments alongside the charming, curious energy of Fuku Suzuki’s Tomoya. Rie Tomosaka does a good job capturing the conflicting emotions of balancing the roles of mother and sole provider before welcoming Yasube less so as a partner, and more so the samurai as a friend and companion for Tomoya.

Heed one single warning: do not view A Boy and His Samurai on an empty stomach. (Anthony Spataro)

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51. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Arriving at the peak saturation of a multimedia fad, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles appeared absurd to critics and baffling to the many parents forced into theaters. But since then, the acceleration of superhero action movies into the bread and circuses of digital spectacle, as well as a string of increasingly brain-dead live action installments, have recast the film as almost a bravura miracle. Financed by legendary Hong Kong production house Golden Harvest (previously responsible for popularizing Kung Fu cinema via export to the West), the film dodged the tone of the then ubiquitous cartoon series for an almost straight adaptation of the much darker source material. With then-cutting-edge puppetry provided by the Jim Henson Creature Workshop (made almost more charming by the intermittent visibility of performers’ faces through the turtle’s open mouths) the film fits in more with the oeuvre of late period Henson fantasies like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal then even its own sequels. Though successful enough to warrant a rushed follow-up, the film’s own controversial levels of violence and cursing led to a sanitation of tone and content that would sink the series within a just a few years.  But just as its 2014 reboot gave us New York City in the post-Giuliani era of Times Square decadence and terrorism paranoia, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is arguably most notable for distilling the essence of New York City in the final days of its postindustrial grime. (Adam Hofbauer)

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50. Death Note

Having previously seen cinematic life as an animated series, this is the first of three live-action films based on the graphic novel series by writer Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata. The film stars Tatsuya Fujiwara as a student named Light who uses a supernatural book to rid the world of people he considers either evil or a threat to his goals. The wave of death he causes is attributed to someone named “Kira” and law enforcement agencies scramble to identify and capture the mass murderer. Joining the investigation is a famous but mysterious detective known as L.

Death Note is a unique high-stakes chess match between two brilliant characters that manages to stay on course in spite of the occasional cartoonish presence of demonic CGI beings that, while very faithful to the film’s source material and animated incarnation, become distractions from the narrative. The real star of the show here is Kenichi Matsuyama as the sweets-obsessed detective L. Matsuyama, charismatic and very quiet in the role, delivers an outstanding performance that is so subdued it makes Ryan Gosling in Drive look like Jim Carrey.

Matsuyama also starred in Shinsuke Sato’s great alien invasion graphic novel adaptation Gantz (2010) and its lesser 2011 sequel and delivers an impressive physical performance as the lead in Yoichi Sai’s chambara film Kamui (2009).

Death Note’s story is concluded in Gamera trilogy director Kaneko’s Death Note: The Last Name, also released in 2006, and Kenichi Matsuyama returned to the L role in Ringu director Hideo Nakata’s L: Change the World (2008)-an only fitfully successful non-supernatural suspense thriller pitting L against a bio-terrorism plot. (Terek Puckett)

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49. Fudoh The New Generation

Fudoh: The New Generation helped bring Takashi Miike out of direct-to-video obscurity and into the international film scene. Like all of his previous movies it was intended for video release, but his employers were so impressed by this subversively darkly comic tale of generational redemption they bumped it to a Japanese theatrical screening, which even got it play in several festivals outside of Japan, most notably the Toronto International Film Festival. In Miike’s video-cinema years, he almost exclusively made gangster/Yakuza films, Fudoh being no exception. But what set it apart was Miike’s growth as a visual artist, and willingness to push the content beyond what was expected of traditional gangster movies. His previous movies were mostly played-for-straight actions and crime sagas, whereas Fudoh is the first of his films to embrace surrealism and comedy to a large extent, and its willingness to turn things loose and become extravagant would become a staple of Miike’s style. Fudoh: The New Generation is just as dramatic as it is comical, however, refusing to soften the blows attached to its core narrative, the son of a Yakuza boss swearing revenge on his father after murdering his brother to appease his superiors. It’s a movie that depicts violence in two modes; as a toxic force of human nature that breeds further violence, and as an absurd thing that humans do that defies all logic. These two modes describe not just Fudoh, of course, but literally dozens of the movies that Miike would make after. Takashi Miike is a pacifist filmmaker, and his filmography is so equally fascinated, disgusted and befuddled by human violence that sometimes the only way to depict it is through an outlandish, blood-splattering-across-the-wall display of performance art. It is through this action that Miike is making fun of the thing he hates, along with his own movies and the entire filmic genres he operates in. He has made movies that function entirely in just one of the two modes described (or with little overlap) but Fudoh: The New Generation is such a memorable film in that it’s his first to truly parody the movies he was previously making and introduce Takashi Miike as a comical subversive artist and is still one of the strongest balancing acts of these two sides of the coin that he’s ever made. (Trevor Dobbin)

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48. We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!)

Seven features into his career, Lucas Moodysson surprised us all with We Are The Best, a wonderful Swedish comedy adapted from a semi-autobiographical graphic novel by Moodysson’s wife, Coco. We Are The Best is the rare coming of age film that doesn’t seem exclusively targeted either to teens or to adults. The movie follows three young misfits growing up in early ’80s Stockholm. Klara (Mira Grosin) and her best friend Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) are 13-year-old rebels looking for a cause, and look to music to express their anxiety. Despite having no instruments or discernible musical talent, the two put all their energy into forming an all-girl punk band, recruiting their shy, classical guitar-playing schoolmate Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) as the third wheel. We Are The Best is smart, funny, heartwarming and features three remarkable performances from the trio of young actresses. Along with the early-1980s setting, the fist-pumping soundtrack and one of the finest end-credits gags in recent memory, We Are The Best makes for an exhilarating watch all the way through – (Ricky D)

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47. V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta, in the original Alan Moore comic form, had a massive cultural impact. Set in the mid 1990’s after a nuclear war, the Norsefire Party has taken control of London. The party rules with an Orwellian level of fear and surveillance. A lone terrorist/vigilante named simply “V” stalks the elite party members and has enlisted the help of a young media intern named Evey Hammond. The comic was built around author Alan Moore’s fears of totalitarianism and oligarchy, themes that have resonated heavily with generations of readers.

In 2006, the comic finally received a film adaptation scripted by the Wachowski siblings. Hugo Weaving starred as the iconic character, maintaining the iconic symbolism of the comic by never once removing his mask on camera. The film is riddled with nods and references to the letter V, some are subtle and some are extremely overt. Moore’s characters came to life on the big screen, and reached an even wider audience than his comic. The titular character’s mask, crafted in the image of revolutionary Guy Fawkes, has become a symbol for anti-government and anti-Wall Street protest movements including the multinational Occupy movement. It has been stated that the title character V was even influential at the start of the recent Egyptian revolution. The mask is also the face of the international organization known as “Anonymous”. It’s easy to see that V for Vendetta’s themes are both incredibly far-reaching and resonant with so many of it’s viewers. (Cory Weddell)

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46. Superman II Director’s Cut

Comic book movies simply don’t get much better than Richard Donner’s cut of Superman II. Having directed the first film and having completed a good chunk of filming on the second, Donner found himself replaced by the producers over creative control. It’s a shame, because as you can see now, Donner’s cut is clearly the superior film. There is less of a tonal clash as replacement director Richard Lester leaned more towards comedy than drama, and Donner’s footage helps create a streamlining narrative between the first film and this one, as both were conceived as one long story. Still though, one of the most heroic cinematic moments comes in the climax when Superman regains his powers and returns to save Metropolis. The film has spent a significant amount of time amping up the suspense for Superman’s return, and they deliver on it. John William’s score starts to play as a wind blows over some newspapers. Superman,  who appears in front of the Daily Planet and General Zod, delivers a snappy one-liner: “General….would you care to step outside?” That sort of heroic storytelling in cinema has become influential and iconic. Comic book movies don’t have moments quite as cinematically thrilling and heroic as that. (Dylan Griffin)

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45. The Rocketeer

Plenty of films that appear on this list star comic book characters who are more well-known to both movie-goers and comic book readers alike than Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer, but arguably no film better captures the swashbuckling charm of classic comic books like The Rocketeer. Director Joe Johnston (who would go on to cover similarly retro ground in the first Captain America film) creates a pre-war world of square-jawed heroes, attractive-but-tough women and sinister villains. Billy Campbell brings an aw-shucks charm to the title role as stunt pilot Cliff Secord, who gets drawn into a dangerous battle between the FBI, the mob and Nazi insurgents when he finds a high-tech jetpack that allows him to fly. Jennifer Connelly, in an early role, is perfectly cast as Cliff’s girlfriend Jenny, and makes the most of a script which smartly allows her to do more than just the usual damsel in distress routine. Timothy Dalton (during his stint as James Bond), playing the Errol Flynn-esque actor Neville Sinclair, strikes just the right balance between suave charm and villainous scenery-chewing. The cast is rounded out by Alan Arkin, as the warm and funny Peevy, Cliff’s mechanic friend, and Paul Sorvino as an archetypal 30s era mob boss. Elevated by a soaring, bombastic score from James Horner (one of the composer’s best), The Rocketeer is both retro and timeless, sincere but not hokey, and most of all, grinning-from-ear-to-ear fun. (Austin Gorton)

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44. Hellboy 2

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is almost a textbook example of how to do an effective sequel. First, cut away the fat. In this case, “the fat” is the bland-as-an-unadorned-saltine Agent Myers, who gets axed now that his job of serving as an exposition facilitator/audience surrogate is fulfilled.

Second, ramp things up in just the right ways while not going too big. The clockwork Nazi assassins and Lovecraftian horrors of the first film are replaced with dark elves and an army of magical robots, which takes the visuals in a new direction, keeping things fresh. The fantastic practical effects and sets from the first film are appropriately stepped up, the absolute highlight being the Troll Market scene, which stands up with the Cantina sequence from Star Wars for the sheer number of creatively designed and incredibly executed practical effects creatures on screen at any given second. Finally, newcomer Seth McFarlane joins the cast as the fun and interesting ectoplasmic German psychic Johann Krauss

All in all, Hellboy 2 presents just as much, if not more, of what made the first film memorable, fun and visually astounding —  and the one-two punch of the two films have ensured that even years later, the fans (and Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman!) are still clamoring for more. (Thomas O’Connor)

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43. Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 is one of the few Marvel Cinematic Universe films that had a distinct directorial style while also continuing the story of the hero that kicked off this blockbuster starting juggernaut. Writer/director Shane Black uses all his trademarks in the film from setting it at Christmas to crafting an exciting buddy team-up sequence between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Rhodey (Don Cheadle) sans Iron Man or War Machine suits that evokes the spirit of his work on Lethal Weapon. Composer Brian Tyler also blends orchestral music and the guitars that drove the first two films to create an exciting heroic theme for Iron Man that comes to play during the most dangerous and climactic sequences.

Like its protagonist, Iron Man 3 blends action, comedy, and serious emotional issues well. The funniest part of the film (and the one that made some fanboys groan) is Black’s revisionist take on the classic, yet jingoistic Iron Man villain The Mandarin by making him a paid actor named Trevor and played with gusto by Ben Kingsley. The lack of a big external foe allows Tony Stark to wrestle with his inner demons, including PTSD from almost dying in Avengers, his relationship with Pepper Potts, and his legacy. However, Black tempers this darkness with oodles of snarky one-liners, some unlikely team-ups, and a fireworks worthy, final setpiece involving virtually every Iron Man suit from the comics to make Iron Man 3 simultaneously personal and explosive. (Logan Dalton)

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42. Sin City

Although Sin City hangs its hat on stylization more than substance, it does a great job of replicating the comic book experience. There’s something to be said for re-creating the noir and hardboiled detective stories for a modern audience that doesn’t necessarily have the familiarity of Raymond Chandler and exaggerating it so far that it becomes totally engrossing. Added to those aims are Sin City’s split narratives, which eschew linearity and cohesiveness in favor of bringing its central characters to life in tight vignettes.

There’s such an eclectic cast of characters in Sin City that there’s bound to be someone or something for any viewer to latch onto. Whether that’s Mickey Rourke’s legitimately impressive turn as Marv or the villains of varying horror (Elijah Wood’s Kevin and the grotesque and disturbing yellow man played by Nick Stahl stand out), Sin City embraces the ideas of good and evil and finds people to fit on nearly every point of that spectrum.

In that sense, the film does a better job of being a comic book movie than a lot of entries on this list even if it does a worse job being a film on its own. But when so many recent adaptations have either been aimed at a wider audience via accessibility and easy entertainment or, in the case of Nolan’s Batmans, attempted gritty realism, Sin City stands out for doing its own thing and not worrying about what people think of that aesthetic. As popular film becomes more homogenized, things like Sin City deserve an extra bit of love for taking more risks than concessions. (Sean Colletti)

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41. Hellboy
 
It would have been easy for Hellboy to be left out of the “serious and gritty” era of comic-book films in the early aughts. Nazis employing Rasputin to conjure demons to help them win World War II is a little more odd compared to, let’s say, the tamer origins of Spider-man. Fortunately, the fantastical elements inside the mind of Guillermo Del Toro wound up splashed on movie screens nationwide. Such originality in the comic-book genre was refreshing in a crowded landscape full of heroes with little variation or flair to their name. Lovecraftian monsters, gothic backgrounds and vibrant colors were perfectly matched to the talents of Del Toro, but the real highlight here is Ron Perlman, who has an absolute blast as Hellboy. A perfect mix of Humphrey Bogart and the Hulk, Hellboy doesn’t lack confidence and he’s never short of a witty one-liner. Hellboy doesn’t have the mainstream popularity of Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman, yet this is the hero who has fans clamoring for sequels in a time where superhero fatigue is starting to set in. Del Toro avoids such pratfalls by dumping the endless exposition and backstory in favor of blending character interactions and entertaining set-pieces into a wholly entertaining picture. More comic-book films and their directors should take a lesson. (Colin Biggs)
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