We're in the middle of a deluge of comic book movies right now. 'Thor' is the no. 1 movie in the country, with 'Priest,' 'X-Men: First Class,' 'Green Lantern,' 'Captain America' and 'Cowboys and Aliens' all due this summer. (Not to mention 'The Avengers' and 'The Dark Knight Rises,' which are being shot as we speak.) Is this the golden age? It's entirely possible. Before we can decide that, though, we have to rewind and take a look at what came before. After the jump, Moviefone presents our list of the Top 25 Comic Book Movies.
The trouble with making a Top 25 list is how you judge the entries. Do you do it by box office receipts? Or critical consensus? What about the quality of the script, or how well a movie has aged? We took all of these factors into account while making our list, with one more criteria: how significant is the movie? Where does it stand in the history of comic book movies? These twenty-five entries are the 25 most significant comic movies, with a few entries you'll recognize and a few that you should seek out immediately.
25. 'Shogun Assassin' (1980)
Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima's 'Lone Wolf and Cub' manga is a certified classic. A samurai, Ogami Itto, is betrayed and forced to go on the run. He takes his son, Daigoro, with him, and together, they are the lethal sword-for-hire team Lone Wolf and Cub! 'Shogun Assassin' is a mix of the first two adaptations of the 'Lone Wolf and Cub' manga, and a surprisingly good time at the movies. Quentin Tarantino's a fan, too. Come for the cheesy dialogue, but stay for the great action, clever gimmicks, and Daigoro's classic voiceover.
24. 'A History of Violence' (2005)
David Cronenberg's 'A History of Violence' is a loose adaptation of the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke. It takes plenty of liberties with the original characterizations and plot points, but still manages to come out pretty good in the end. Cronenberg knows exactly what he's doing, and he knows how to make you feel it, whether "it" is disgust at the visceral violence or the desperation in an incredibly awkward sex scene.
23. '300' (2007)
Zack Snyder's '300' is pure visual spectacle. You get to watch a horde of hard-bodied men with impeccably toned abs walk around in capes and loin cloths while battling faceless hordes, monsters and Persian ninjas. Snyder does a pretty good job of bringing Frank Miller's original graphic novel to the silver screen, and he makes up for his shortcomings by amping up the visual effects. This is the movie where Snyder's signature visual style actually works.
22. 'Road to Perdition' (2002)
This adaptation of Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner's graphic novel may well have the best cast of any comic book movie ever. Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, Daniel Craig and Jude Law are all featured, and you'd be hard pressed to beat any of them. What's more, 'Road to Perdition' has a direct link to 'Lone Wolf and Cub.' Collins has admitted that the original story is an homage to 'Lone Wolf and Cub.' There's something about a father and son team that just works, and this is one of the finest examples of the trope.
21. 'Hellboy' (2004)
Sometimes an actor is born to play a role. Patrick Stewart was rumored to play Professor Xavier of the X-Men for years before he got the role, and who wouldn't want to see Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson play Namor the Sub-Mariner? In this case, Ron Perlman and his throaty growl was perfect casting for Hellboy. He's got that right mix of cool detachment (Hellboy's response to most major threats is not worry, but something closer to "C'mon! Seriously?!") and devil-may-care physicality.
20. 'X-Men' (2000)
'X-Men' had the interesting effect of pulling the comics featuring the X-Men into the 21st century, kicking and screaming. The movie largely ditched the DayGlo and garish costumes for something sleek and leathery, with perhaps a little bit of bright yellow for contrast. This movie made the X-Men cool again, and while its cast is about 50/50, it definitely set the bar high for the next wave of superhero movies. 'X-Men' was sexy, funny, and violent: three traits that can make a good movie great.
19. 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' (2010)
It may have flopped at the box office, but Edgar Wright's adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel series shows what happens when a director really gets what he's working on. It's visually cluttered in the best way, with every action scene doing its level best to jump off the screen and every conversation overflowing with personality. The 'Seinfeld' gag partway through the movie still kills, and Wright did a great job adapting a long story into a short running time.
18. 'Persepolis' (2007)
Comics are one of the most powerful ways of telling a story, and Marjane Satrapi's 'Persepolis' is proof. Her tale of coming of age in Iran, not fitting in, experiencing war first-hand, and standing up for yourself and those who need your help was an instant classic, and the movie adaptation was just as good. The animation is simple, effective, and beautiful. 'Persepolis' racked up a whole host of awards and nominations, and it's easy to see why.
17. 'Sin City' (2005)
'Sin City' remains one of the most interesting comics adaptations. Rather than picking and choosing from the mythos, like 'X-Men' or 'Spider-Man' did, Robert Rodriguez directly adapted several of Frank Miller's stories into one movie, turning the disparate stories into a series of vignettes that weave in and out of each other's path. What's more, he shot it on a green screen and gave the old college try to emulating Miller's signature visual style. The result? A treat for 'Sin City' fans and a change to directly transplanting comics onto the silver screen.
16. 'X2' (2003)
'X2: X-Men United' has a clunky official title, but this loose adaptation of Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson's 'God Loves, Man Kills' was, at that point, one of the best comics movies ever. It opens on what may well be the best fight scene in a live-action comics film, and ends with the type of cliffhanger that leaves you thirsty for more. There's a lot in 'X2' to enjoy, whether it's Mystique and Magneto's cattiness when discussing Rogue's shock of white hair or Wolverine battling Lady Deathstrike.
15. 'Ghost in the Shell' (1995)
'Ghost in the Shell' is a perfect storm of talent. It's based on a manga created by Masamune Shirow, who also created 'Appleseed,' 'Dominion Tank Police,' and hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of fantastic art over the course of its career. It's directed by Mamoru Oshii, whose career is littered with award-winning feature films and incredible motion pictures. 'Ghost in the Shell' made a huge splash in America when it was released, with anime fans and casual viewers alike clamoring to see it.
14. 'Iron Man' (2008)
While Robert Downey Jr had quite a few solid roles before 'Iron Man' came out, 'Iron Man' definitely catapulted him back to the top of Hollywood. His role as Tony Stark, the cool exec with a heart of steel, endeared him to audiences. Downey as Stark could charm the fur off a polar bear in the dead of winter. Stark was a hero that was confident, but not Classic Movie Star confident. Downey got the job done so well that the best parts of 'Iron Man' don't even involve his high-flying suit.
13. 'Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro' (1979)
If you haven't heard of this one... get familiar. It stars one of the greatest characters to ever grace a TV screen, Monkey Punch's gentleman thief Lupin the 3rd. Imagine Robert Downey Jr in 'Iron Man' and double the charm. On top of that, the acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki directed this feature. If that's not enough for you, Bruce Timm borrowed a shot from this movie for 'Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.' People who are in the know love this movie, and with good reason.
12. 'Spider-Man' (2002)
Spider-Man is one of the best-designed and flexible characters in comics. He flips between real-life drama and acrobatics with the greatest of ease, and may well be the most interesting superhero, at least in terms of powers and potential. 'Spider-Man' realized that potential with a number of breathtaking sequences that took place far above the ground, rather than on it. For the first time, we could see what Spider-Man would REALLY be like in real life ... and it was exhilarating.
11. 'The Rocketeer' (1991)
This adaptation of Dave Stevens's 'The Rocketeer' has an interesting history. It floundered at the box office, raking in a mediocre amount of cash, but still managed to imprint itself on America's consciousness. The leather jacket, the distinctive helmet, and the rocket pack are indelible memories for people of a certain age, and positively iconic. This period piece can be a little hokey, but it's easy to see why it's such an attractive work.
10. 'Superman' (1978)
Richard Donner's 'Superman' did a great job of capturing the majesty of flight. One of the reasons why Superman is such an iconic hero is that he can do almost everything normal human beings want to do. Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder were fantastic as Clark Kent and Lois Lane, the right mix of movie star beautiful and believably down to Earth. 'Superman' proved to a generation that serious takes on comics can work, and what's more, they can be great films. 'Superman' is still the best live-action version of Superman we've seen, despite the massive leaps forward in visual effects in the years since 1978. What Donner and crew understood was that Superman needs to be grounded and human, so that we can relate to him, but not so grounded that you don't get to feel what it's like to be in flight.
9. 'American Splendor' (2003)
'American Splendor' wears a lot of hats. It's partially a biopic of Harvey Pekar, the legendary comics writer. At the same time, it's partially an adaptation of his autobiographical comics, whose publishing history stretches all the way back to 1976. Finally, Harvey Pekar himself provides a voice-over commentary about the movie itself, breaking the fourth wall. The result is compelling, and interesting from both an entertainment and analytical angle. It forces you to engage with the movie on several levels, rather than just passively observing the action on the screen. Comics can be weird in a very beautiful way, and 'American Splendor' does a great job of capturing that fact.
8. 'Men in Black' (1997)
You didn't know that this incredible blockbuster was based on a comic? It was! Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers created the original comic in 1990, and seven years later, 'Men in Black' hit the silver screen. The mix of Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith was fantastic, updating the Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy duo of '48 Hrs' or Danny Glover/Mel Gibson team of 'Lethal Weapon' for the '90s. Smith was smooth, brash, and more than a little cocky. Jones was experienced, severe, and more than a little tired. The result was alchemy, and the interactions between the two of them anchored this special effects-driven film. 'Men in Black' is funny and memorable, a genuine highlight of the '90s.
7. 'Batman' (1989)
Tim Burton's 'Batman' is legendary. Thanks to this film, the Batman oval is one of the most familiar symbols in our culture. The highlight of the film by far is Michael Keaton's role as Bruce Wayne, not Batman. He's playing the role of an absent-minded, empty-headed billionaire to the hilt, providing a blueprint for Robert Downey Jr to follow in 'Iron Man' nearly 20 years later. Keaton-as-Wayne is forgetful, casual, clumsy and a flawless secret identity. After all, who'd ever suspect this idiot to be the Batman? Jack Nicholson as the Joker and the stunning soundtrack by Prince deserve a nod, as well. While 'Batman' has some pretty glaring flaws, it's significant because it's such a great experience. This set a new standard for superhero movies, made its budget back several times over and burned itself into our memories.
6. 'Spider-Man II' (2004)
Sam Raimi's 'Spider-Man' was good, but 'Spider-Man II' was so much better. James Franco as Harry Osborn finally got some room to really show his stuff, which is still just a fraction of his range. Alfred Molina was endearing and relatable as Doctor Otto Octavius, and a genuine threat as Doc Ock. The stand-out star, by far, is J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. Simmons may well be the best casting in the entire history of comics movies. His JJJ is a true curmudgeon, dismissive of everything and everyone, brutally opinionated, curt, and more than ready to talk your ear off at high speed. Simmons is a highlight, digging into his role with relish and making you wish that 'J. Jonah Jameson: Crusading Journalist' was a real movie.
5. 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' (1990)
I know what you're thinking, but before you say it, go back and watch 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' again. The franchise that Eastman and Laird built has endured over the past few decades, and incredibly, the first movie still holds up really well. It's very '80s in some ways, and a little corny in others, but it's also incredibly entertaining. The plot never drags, the jokes still hold up, and Elias Koteas as Casey Jones is amazing. The sequence in the park where he meets Raphael for the first time is about as great of a scene as you'll see in a comics movie, and he's solid gold from there on out. The turtles were created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, and the level of quality shows. The turtles still look good 20 years later, and are weirdly expressive but still believable. 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' is an easy movie to just sit back and enjoy.
4. 'Ghost World' (2001)
Terry Zwigoff's version of Dan Clowes's 'Ghost World' proves that great comics movies don't have to be blockbusters. 'Ghost World' made a modest profit, but that isn't the point. The cast is shockingly good, with Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, and Scarlett Johansson diving deep into their roles. Watching them move through the story is simultaneously funny and depressing. Birch isn't exactly the type of person you'd want to hang out with on a regular basis. She's caustic, cruel, and amazingly willing to take pleasure from someone else's pain. The movie reminds you of this regularly, but at the same time... some of the stuff she does is pretty funny. 'Ghost World' walks the line between tragedy and comedy, and does both equally well.
3. 'Akira' (1988)
Katsuhiro Otomo's 'Akira' is one of the greatest comics of all time. Its six volumes explore the meaning of power, control, friendship, and other heady concepts, aided and abetted by Otomo's incredibly detailed draftsmanship. He adapted his own epic to animation and the result is amazing. It doesn't capture every bit of nuance in the book, but what it does capture, it does very well. Its two hour running time is littered with absolutely incredible shots. From the cascade of falling glass early on, to the high-speed and beautiful motorcycle chases, and on through to Tetsuo's monstrous transformation at the end of the film, 'Akira' is a knockout. Pick this one up on Blu-ray and watch it on the biggest TV you can find, and we guarantee you'll be impressed. It's over twenty years old and still insanely detailed.
2. 'The Dark Knight' (2008)
'The Dark Knight' made roughly a gajillion dollars, guaranteeing Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale a place in Superhero Comics Movie Valhalla. 'The Dark Knight' is a sprawling, imperfect epic, but you can't argue with the results. Heath Ledger was the perfect choice to play the Joker, bringing a hardcore mix of nihilism and cruelty to the character without descending into cartoonish brutality. The Joker was never anything less than a threat, and malice lurked behind his every chuckle and smile. Aaron Eckhart played Harvey Dent and Two-Face so well that you probably wished he had a movie of his own to go wild in. Bale's Batman growl got goofier, but as the Joker and Two-Face ran wild over Gotham and sent the city spiraling off into chaos, Batman's gritty, macho confidence provided the perfect center. We wanted Batman to win, we wanted the Joker to chew up the scenery, and we wanted Two-Face to find peace. 'The Dark Knight' delivered on almost every level.
1. 'Blade' (1998)
'The Dark Knight' is the crown prince of comics movies, but 'Blade' has to be the king. In 1998, if you wanted to go and see a comics movie, you were looking at 'Steel' or the late-era and unbelievably bad 'Batman' sequels. 'Blade' revived the genre in mid-stream, paving the way for the comics movies to come. The frenetic editing, leather costumes, gritty realism, grimy settings, and brutal violence gave birth to 'X-Men,' 'Daredevil,' 'Batman Begins,' and more. Deacon Frost remains Stephen Dorff's best role, with just the right mix of casual indifference and Machiavellian malice. Wesley Snipes brought all his martial arts training, if not his acting training, to bear as Blade. 'Blade' is infinitely quotable, hilarious, and earns its R-rating. David Goyer wrote (or co-wrote) both 'The Dark Knight' and 'Blade,' and it's easy to see why both films are high watermarks for comics films. 'The Dark Knight' may be an avalanche, but 'Blade' is the snowball that first started rolling down the mountain. Some comics movies are always trying to ice-skate uphill, but 'Blade' did it better than most.
What are your picks for the greatest comic book movies of all time?
Read more David Brothers at ComicsAlliance.