After last year’s major summer for comic book movies with <i>Iron Man 3</i>, <i>Man of Steel</i>, and much more, 2014 has a lot to live up to. Luckily, the start of the comic book movie season (Let’s just call summer that from now on, shall we?) kicks off in a major way with <b>Captain America: The Winter Soldier</b>, and as the entire staff has seen (and loved) the movie, we decided it was time for an update to this countdown. <p>Yes, that means <b>Winter Soldier</b> is joining the list - the question is where? <p>Well, to be honest, that took quite a bit of debate, and after you’ve seen it, you’ll know more what we mean. <p>Meanwhile, a brief eulogy for <i>Scott Pilgrim vs The World</i>, which leaves our fair countdown after sitting in the ten spot. The movie is still quite a bit of fun, and something we’d gladly show off to any friends wanting a good example of a great comic book flick. <p>As for the future of this list, I guess we'll wait and see if any of this "comic book movie season's" later entries, like <i>X-Men: Days of Future Past</i>, <i>Amazing Spider-Man 2</i>, or <i>Guardians of the Galaxy</i> can nudge another out. <p>And now, the revised 10 Best Comic Book Movies list…
Studio: Sony. Director: Sam Raimi. Stars: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina. <p><b>What Makes It Great</b>: <p>Though Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man film might be showing its age (for reasons even beyond the Macy Gray scene) and the third film has been largely reviled since its release for an excess of villains and dance numbers, the second film is not only the strongest of the three, it's one of the most critically acclaimed comic book movies of all time. <p>And it's not hard to see why: Ably capturing the patented Spider-Man formula of good-natured fun and genuine emotion, <b>Spider-Man 2</b> presents a both sympathetic and intimidating villain in Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus, and the best outing for Tobey Maguire in the lead role. It also includes the most distinct Raimi-esque touches — in the scene where Doc Ock's tentacles run rampant at a hospital, and the funniest Bruce Campbell cameo in the trilogy. <p><b>Stand-Out Scene</b>: <p>Spider-Man single-handedly stops a runaway train and saves everyone on board, though at the cost of his mask and, seemingly, his secret identity. But instead of snapping a picture, the passengers — moved to see how young Spider-Man is — agree to keep the secret to themselves.
Studio: Warner Bros. Director: Tim Burton. Stars: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger. <p><b>What Makes It Great</b>: <p>Almost lost in the wash between the triumph of Christopher Nolan's Batman epics (more on those later) and the stink of the two near franchise-killing Joel Schumacher entries is the fact that Tim Burton's <i>first</i> effort in '89 is a darn good movie and was <i>the</i> box office phenomena of its day. <p>Though now dated slightly by the back-lot exterior sets, the by-now-way-too-familiar Danny Elfman score, and the heavy-handed inclusion of Prince songs (what the hell was that about?), Michael Keaton's Batman was a surprising but highly credible one, and Jack Nicholson's Joker was a sensation. <p>And the film had a high bar to clear in its day. True-blue comic book fans were still newly basking in the glow of the original publication of perhaps the two definitive contemporary Batman stories, Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" (1986) and Alan Moore's "The Killing Joke" (1988). <p><b>Stand-Out Scene</b>: <p>Nicholson's presumably improvisational moment of making peculiar random noises to no one in particular before cracking up in the character's famous maniacal cackle.
Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox. Director: Bryan Singer. Stars: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry. <p><b>What Makes It Great</b>: <p>If there is a rule that sequels of films adapted from other media play better than the original, "X2" may be the movie that defines the rule. With all the origin stories, introductions of beloved characters, and establishing of the "mutant" premise out of the way, the film hit the ground running from its very first reel, relying on great moments from the comic books for inspiration, but without paying obvious, heavy-handed homage to them. <p><b>Stand-Out Scene</b>: <p>Wolverine popping his claws and cutting loose on Stryker's solders during their attack on the Xavier Institute. On top of a rousing, well-choreographed action scene, it was the big screen moment hardcore X-Men fans waited decades to see. <p><b>Honorable mentions</b> go to Magneto's inventive escape from his plastic prison cell, as well as the opening sequence seeing Nightcrawler infiltrating the White House.
Studio: Warner Bros. Director: Zack Snyder. Stars: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey. <p><b>What Makes It Great</b>: "300" makes the list mainly in observance of the "groundbreaking" rule. Aside from a solid script based on a terrific graphic novel by Frank Miller, a star-making performance by Gerard Butler, "300" will be remembered for its innovative use of green screen technology to a create an arresting new wholly virtual landscape that proved highly influential in the genre in the following years. <p>Sure, you might argue that the 2005 green screen panel-for-panel recreation of that <i>other</i> Frank Miller graphic novel "Sin City" came before "300", as did films like 2004's "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow", but the Zack Snyder-directed epic was the first nearly all-CGI box office hit, scoring over $450 million at theaters worldwide. <p><b>Stand-Out Scene</b>: <p>What, you were expecting us to say anything other than the defeat of the 300? Even though you know how the battle will end, the spectacle and the emotion of Leonidas' final assault hits deeply on a visceral level, making it a satisfying conclusion to the story, as well as an amazing four minutes of film. It also sets up a very satisfying epilogue. <p>A sequel/prequel "Rise of an Empire," is in theaters now, but hasn't met the success of the first.
Studio: Sony. Director: Marc Webb. Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone <p><b>What Makes It Great</b>: <p>It's hard to reboot a film series, and even harder to do it inside of a decade, but this made us largely forget about a lot of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man series. That may seem a little harsh, but Raimi's Spider-Mans already weren't aging very well and Marc Webb's "Amazing Spider-Man" just accelerated the process to critical mass. <p>"Amazing" is superior to the original three Spidey features in <i>every</I> conceivable way — better lead actors, better supporting actors, better action and special effects, and yes, better origin story. <p>Fans complaining that 10 years was too soon to retell the origin might have to reevaluate when they realize Amazing tells a much <i>better</i> origin story. <p>"Amazing Spider-Man" is cool, contemporary, and accessible. It gives comic book fans exactly what they want (the best-realized Spider-Man action yet, a path to more Spidey films in the future) and probably what they didn't know they needed (Garfield and Stone frankly mop the floor with Maguire and Dunst). <p><b>Stand-Out Scene</b>: <p>Anything with Garfield and Stone together. Their chemistry is evident and Stone continues to emerge as one of the brightest, most dynamic and appealing young stars of her generation.
Studio: Warner Bros. Director: Richard Donner. Stars: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman. <p><b>What Makes It Great</b>: The "groundbreaking" rule applies here again, which is why this one gets the nod over 1980's "Superman II", which may have been a hair more fun. <p>"Superman" was arguably the first true modern comic book movie adaptation, and holds a special place in the hearts of an entire generation of moviegoers, not to mention the writers, artists, directors, and executives shaping Superman's adventures in various media today. While the special effects are of course now clunky by contemporary standards, the John Williams score remains an all-time classic, and the story and performances are solid and endearing. <p><b>Stand-Out Scene</b>: <p>The helicopter rescue of Lois Lane atop the Daily Planet building. In a rare moment of movie harmony, the Metropolis bystanders' reaction to seeing Superman in action for the first time matched perfectly with the response from modern moviegoers — pure awe and joy.
Studio: Marvel Studios. Director: Joe and Anthony Russo. Stars: Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, Scarlett Johansson. <p><b>What Makes It Great</b>: <p><b>Captain America: The Winter Soldier</b> is the first film from Marvel Studios to really break the mold of the solo hero film laid out by <i>Iron Man</i>, and it takes tremendous risks, not just with this film, but with the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. The term “nothing will ever be the same” is used a lot in comic books, but this might be the first time it’s pulled off in a comic book <i>movie</i>. <p>And aside from all that, it just so happens this is a damn good movie. Chris Evans fully finds his commanding presence, Johansson’s Black Widow finds her depth, and Samuel L. Jackson finally gets a chance to truly let loose and be the badass he knows Nick Fury to be. There’s intrigue, action, major twists, and spotlight moments for basically every named character in the movie. This is a good one, and may mark a real sea change for the way average, everyday folks see superhero films. <p><b>Stand-Out Scene</b>: <p>Nothing quite says “Yup, Captain America is one bad mamajamma” like the elevator scene first shown at Comic-Con International: San Diego in 2013. The start of a larger scene, this is where the movie, and its real focus, takes off. <p>In the scene, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents of various stripes step onto an elevator with Captain America. First there’s the elite strike team members, then men dressed in business suits trying to pretend their conversation is genuine, and finally some large, strapping thug types. And after offering them all an out, Steve Rogers takes them out one by one, systematically tearing them to pieces. A kick-flip of the Shield at the end puts the exclamation point on the scene, and before anyone can take a breath, the action only gets crazier from there.
Studio: Marvel/Paramount. Director Jon Favreau. Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow. <p><b>What Makes It Great</b>: <p>It would be easy to just say "Robert Downey Jr." and leave it at that. But that wouldn't be fair to the film's secret weapon, director Jon Favreau. This movie edges out <i>Winter Soldier</i> due to the original risks he took in changing the way people look at superhero movies. <p>Having already demonstrated considerable box office savvy with the holiday hit "Elf", which appealed to adults and children equally, here Favreau took what was at the time, at best, a B-list comic book character and crafts a story and characters with mass appeal. "Iron Man" plays equally well to the hardcore male comic book reader, as it does with women, kids, and just about <i>anyone</i> that might not have ever read a comic book before. And he did it all while staying very faithful to the comic books. <p>Favreau didn't rethink the core concept in order for it to make more "sense" to non-comics fans. He knew audiences would buy into the fantastical conceit of the armor and sci-fi elements so long as its human counterpart made them <i>want</i> to suspend their disbelief, and in that respect Favreau came up aces with Downey Jr., which was at first an unexpected and somewhat risky choice. <p><b>Stand-Out Scene</b>: <p>Its very first. Downey Jr.'s hyper-witted riffing with the army soldiers in the armored jeep right before it's attacked not only set the entire movie's pitch-perfect tone, but immediately placed the audience in the palm of its star, where he held them steady through the closing credits (and even for a moment after).
Studio: Disney/Marvel. Director: Joss Whedon. Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner. <p><b>What Makes It Great</b>: <p>While our one-time all-time favorite "Batman Begins" got its position because it "didn't play like a comic book superhero movie", "The Avengers" once ascended to the top because it plays <i>exactly</i> like a comic book superhero movie. <p>...scratch that. It plays like a comic book — that happens to be an awesome big budget movie. <p>This is the sub-genre ultimately (so far) realized: Bigger, bolder and more fantastic than even Hollywood standards. Crisp dialogue. Breakneck pacing. Seamless special effects. (If not costumes... keep working on the Cap uniform, Disney.) <p>Taking hold and sprinting with the baton that began with Favreau's "Iron Man", Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" doesn't adapt anything for "mainstream" audiences. It doesn't re- or over-think its source material. Which is a more difficult task than Favreau faced because of the extreme disparate elements — a soldier, a monster, a god, and a machine — it has to integrate. <p>No, it's not <i>exactly</i> the comic book Avengers in specific detail, but it's 100 percent pure in spirit. <p><b>Stand-Out Scene</b>: Oh, pretty much the entire third act — the "assembled" team battle with the invading alien hordes. <p>And this is maybe "The Avengers" greatest of several secret weapons. While many films in the comic book genre labor with their third acts, <b>The Avengers</b> revels and thrives in it, ending on such a high note it should leave most anyone with human DNA wanting for much more. <p>More Iron Man. More Cap. More Thor. More Hulk. <p>And definitely <i>more</i> Avengers.
Studio: Warner Bros. Director: Christopher Nolan. Stars: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman <p>What Makes the Trilogy the <i>New</i> Best Comic Book Based Movie(s) of All Time</b>: <p>OK, OK. This is somewhat a cheat, yes, but each film was produced, co-written and directed by the same person, and tells a cohesive story that despite Christopher Nolan's claims he made decisions one film at a time, we suspect were at least mapped out in outline form from the very beginning with the intention of completing the cycle. <p>In other words, all three films effectively make up one big production ... and what a production it is. <p>Individually, it'd be perfectly understandable if a fan had a favorite comic book film other than one of these three, but considered together, is there any more impressive cinematic achievement in the category? <p>Perhaps in future years Joss Whedon can string together a more impressive body of Avengers films, but until then, Nolan's modern-day masterpiece is the standard bearer, and we suspect it will remain so for a very long time. <p><b>Stand-Out Chapter</b>: <p>"Dark Knight" may well live on as the consensus critical best of the bunch, but we still favor "Begins," perhaps due to the expectations-vs.-delivery factor. <p>"Begins" was the film that rewrote the rules for comic books/superhero movies that its sequels took to another level. Perhaps what they say about first loves simply applies here. <p>[note: fan-created art by Deviant Art Contributor Andrewss7]