It seems like every year we say this has been the biggest year for comic book movies yet. With <i>300: Rise of an Empire</i>, <i>Captain America: The Winter Soldier</i>, <i>Amazing Spider-Man 2</i>, <i>X-Men: Days of Future Past</i> and now <i>Guardians of the Galaxy</i> already released, and <i>Sin City: A Dame to Kill For</i> and <i>Kingsman: The Secret Service</i> still waiting in the wings (not even mentioning <i>Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles</i>), it’d be hard to argue 2014 won’t be the new record setter again. <p>Eagle-eyed readers might notice we tend to revisit our countdown of the 10 best comic book-related movies every time we have a new addition to the list which means, yes, <b>Guardians of the Galaxy</b> and its happy-go-lucky yet heartfelt nature has cracked the countdown… <p>…But you’re going to have to keep reading to find out where.
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, <i>Spider-Man 2</i> 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 <I>The Dark Knight Returns</I> (1986) and Alan Moore's <I>The Killing Joke</I> (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: Warner Bros. Director: Zack Snyder. Stars: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey. <p><b>What Makes It Great</b>: <p><I>300</I> 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, <I>300</I> 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 <I>Sin City</I> came before <I>300</I>, as did films like 2004's <I>Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow</I>, 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.
Studio: Fox. Director: Bryan Singer. Stars: Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart. <p><b>What Makes It Great</b>: <p>Fox gave its ailing X-Men franchise a needed shot in the arm with <i>X-Men: First Class</i>, and prodigal director Bryan Singer makes his triumphant return with <i>X-Men: Days of Future Past</i>. Juggling X-Men from both past and future, this prequel/sequel/reboot is not just a master class in comic book movie continuity, but also a tense, over-the-top thriller in its own right. <p>X-Fans were able to have their cake and eat it, too, as Singer was able to bring together stalwarts like Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan with fresh faces like Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. But the star of the show, as always, is Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, as he bridges the temporal divide to stop Mystique from killing the creepy Dr. Bolivar Trask (played by <i>Game of Thrones</i> superstar Peter Dinklage) and thus setting off a mutant apocalypse. <p><B>Stand-Out Scene</B>: <p>Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it — there are a lot of standout action sequences in this movie (Magneto lifting a football stadium using his mastery of magnetism, the future X-Men’s doomed last stand against the Sentinels, or Patrick Stewart giving his younger self a much-needed pep talk), but this movie belongs to Evan Peters, the white-haired speedster known as Quicksilver. As Peter Maximoff frees Magneto from his concrete cell underneath the Pentagon, director Bryan Singer creates an astonishing, almost Rube Goldberg-esque sequence where a cadre of armed guards are taken out with their own weapons (and a liberal dose of snarky humor).
Studio: Marvel Studios. Director: James Gunn. Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper <b>What Makes it Great:</b> <p>Poised to set a new August opening weekend record, it’s clear that <b>Guardians of the Galaxy</b> is going to be another in the long line of Marvel Studios hits. But financial success does not a good movie make - so why does this crack our top ten? <p>Mostly, because it’s different. The risk of taking five unknown characters (8 if you count the primary villains) and making them the stars of their own flagship franchise is not a small one. Filling that movie with comedy, heart, and more than a little bit of dancing was a risk too, and it paid off in spades. <p>There’s no denying that there’s something just plain <i>fun</i> about what <b>Guardians</b> has done. It never takes itself too seriously, but always just serious enough - it’s about balance, about friendship, and about the good guys saving the day against the bad guys. It has just enough Marvel Cinematic Universe advancement to sate the fanboys (us included), and a stinger sequence that will finally require way more explanation to your non-comic reading friends than Thanos’s grin in <i>Avengers</i>. <p><b>Stand-Out Scene</b>: <p>Forgoing spoilers as it’s been out for about 24 hours, no scene demonstrates the heart of the film more than a touching moment between Rocket and Groot, and none captures the fun of the film more than a few minutes later as “O-o-h Child” plays. Trust us, you’ll know them when you see them.
Studio: Warner Bros. Director: Richard Donner. Stars: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman. <p><b>What Makes It Great</b>: <p>The "groundbreaking" rule applies here again, which is why this one gets the nod over 1980's <I>Superman II</I>, which may have been a hair more fun. <p><I>Superman</I> 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 <I>Daily Planet</I> 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><I>Captain America: The Winter Soldier</I> 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 bad-ass 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 <I>Elf</I>, 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. <I>"Iron Man</I> 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 <I>Batman Begins</I> got its position because it "didn't play like a comic book superhero movie", <I>The Avengers</I> 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 <I>Iron Man</I>, Joss Whedon's <I>The Avengers</I> 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>: <p>Oh, pretty much the entire third act — the "assembled" team battle with the invading alien hordes. <p>And this is maybe <I>The Avengers</I> greatest of several secret weapons. While many films in the comic book genre labor with their third acts, <i>The Avengers</i> 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><b>What Makes the Trilogy the 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 (besides, this countdown would be a lot less interesting if it were Batman movies, and all three qualify). <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><I>Dark Knight</I> may well live on as the consensus critical best of the bunch, but we still favor <I>Begins</I>, perhaps due to the expectations-vs.-delivery factor. <p><I>Begins</I> 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]