Top 10 Comic Book-Based Movies of All Time

Top 10 Comic Book Movies of All Time

If you have the heart of Captain America and the cunning of Batman, you might be one of the millions of Americans starting your holiday shopping the day after Thanksgiving, otherwise known as "Black Friday". And if you happen to have any comic book fans on your list, there is a bevy of new DVD/Blu-ray releases of some top-notch comic book-related films from this past summer in stores, including The Incredible Hulk, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, Wanted, Iron Man, and The Dark Knight.

But of course that's just the new releases. There are dozens more in the genre to choose from as well. Newsarama thought we'd take the occasion to look at the Top 10 Best Comic Book-Based Movies of All Time, from #10 all the way down to #1.

10. A History of Violence (2005)

Studio: New Line. Director: David Cronenberg. Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris.

What Makes It Great:

"History" gets the slight nod over a couple of other films in their own little comic book movie sub-genre - the comic book movies very few people know are comic book movies, which includes "Road to Perdition" and "Ghost World".

More loosely based on the 1997 graphic novel from DC's defunct Paradox Press imprint than adapted from it, “History” is that – one man’s history of violence refusing to let him go, no matter what he does to push it away or hide from it. Mortensen offers up an amazing performance as a man trying to keep a monster inside him, but in a much more realistic manner than any Hulk story ever did. This overlooked gem that forged the bond between Mortensen and Cronenberg (see "Eastern Promises") is worth seeking out if not for its graphic novel roots, then for the fact that it’s a damn fine film.

Stand-Out Scene:

The final fight at William Hurt’s house is classic, not only in that Mortensten finally surrenders to himself, but also due to the fact that Hurt’s expression of incredulity makes the violence around him a little easier to take. And of course, the ending will have you screaming for more. With most viewers, we mean that literally.

9. Batman (1989)

Studio: Warner Bros. Director: Tim Burton. Stars: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger.

What Makes It Great:

Almost lost in the wash between the triumph of Christopher Nolan's latest two 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 first effort in '89 is a darn good movie and was the box office phenomena of its time.

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 the Joker was a sensation.

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).

Stand-Out Scene:

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.

8. Men in Black (1997)

Studio: Columbia. Director: Barry Sonnenfeld. Stars: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones.

What Makes It Great:

With all due respect to the original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", here is the film that announced not only to audiences, but to Hollywood itself that comic books were fertile creative ground that had much more to offer than just iconic Marvel and DC superheroes.

Loosely adapted from a relatively obscure comic book, "Men in Black" delivered a killer summer movie high concept (is it time to revive the franchise?), along with Will Smith's follow-up to the 1996 ensemble blockbuster "Independence Day", establishing him as a bankable (and soon-to-be the bankable) headline superstar.

Stand-Out Scene:

Though formulaic, the recruitment scene where Smith's New York street cop outsmarts and outshines decorated military men was the perfect showcase for Smith's breakout screen charisma.

7. X2: X-Men United (2003)

Twentieth Century-Fox. Director: Bryan Singer. Stars: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry.

What Makes It Great:

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 establishment 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.

Stand-Out Scene:

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.

Honorable mention goes to Magneto's inventive escape from his plastic prison cell, as well as the opening sequence involving Nightcrawler infiltrating the White House.

6.) 300 (2006)

Studio: Warner Bros. Director: Zack Snyder. Stars: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey.

What Makes It Great:

"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 arrestingly new wholly virtual landscape that will likely prove highly influential in the genre over the next several years.

Sure, you might argue that the 2005 green screen panel-for-panel recreation of that other 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.

Stand-Out Scene:

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, and hopefully, the seeds for the sequel.

5.) Superman: The Movie (1978)

Studio: Warner Bros. Director: Richard Donner. Stars: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman.

What Makes It Great:

The "groundbreaking" rule applies here again. "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.

Stand-Out Scene:

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.

4.) Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Studio: Sony. Director: Sam Raimi. Stars: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina.

What Makes It Great:

Like its Marvel Comics cousin, "X2", the first "Spider-Man" sequel is just that much more satisfying than the very good original, and for largely the same reasons. Free of all the necessary exposition of the "origin story", "Spider-Man 2" just focused on telling a rousing action-adventure story.

And Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus made a surprising, and much more effective screen villain than the original's Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, whose impact was impaired by being behind an expression-static metal mask during his confrontations with Spidey. Doc Ock had a more empathetic human quality, often the secret ingredient behind top-notch screen villains, and in turn the secret ingredient for great action films.

It also helped that the not-so-good Doctor didn't have to share screen time with one or two other villains, which seems to often be the case in superhero sequels.

Stand-Out Scene:

Forgiving the fact there aren't really any elevated subway trains in the middle of Manhattan, the CGI-driven chase/action sequence on Manhattan's elevated subway trains in one of the genre's most crafty and kinetic.

3.) The Dark Knight (2008)

Studio: Warner Bros. Director: Christopher Nolan. Stars: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart.

What Makes It Great:

Perhaps one of the best reviewed comic book movies of all time, and certainly the most financially successful, a strong argument could be made to place "Dark Knight" in the top spot. But the reasons for its third place standing have more to do with the strengths of the Top 2 entries than any weakness on its own part.

It goes almost without saying Heath Ledger's final, transformative performance as the Joker is "The Dark Knight's" calling card. Nicholson's Joker was still very much Nicholson. Ledger disappeared into the role and completely made the 70 year-old character entirely his own.

The super-solid story, direction, and performances of the original mostly simply carry over here, although special mention also goes to Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon. While a small handful of actors in Nolan's two efforts received higher billing than the veteran character actor, he's the glue that holds them together.

Stand-Out Scene: With all due respect to Bale, Cain, Eckhart, et al, pretty much any scene Ledger is in, including the inventive bank robbery opening sequence.

2.) Iron Man (2008)

Marvel/Paramount. Director Jon Favreau. Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow.

What Makes It Great:

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.

Having already demonstrated considerable box office savvy with the holiday hit "Elf", which appealed to adults and children equally, here Favreau takes 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 woman, kids, and just about anyone that might not have ever read a comic book before. And he did it all the while staying very faithful to the comic books.

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 want 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.

Stand-Out Scene:

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.

1.) Batman Begins (2005)

Studio: Warner Bros. Director: Christopher Nolan. Stars: Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes.

What Makes It the Best Comic Book Based Movie of All Time:

Okay, so why "Batman Begins" over "The Dark Knight", when the latter has all the Academy buzz and box office clout? By re-invoking the "groundbreaking" rule one last time (a decision we can maybe revisit if "Dark Knight" takes home some of those Oscars). And what ground did "Batman Begins" break? It was the first comic book superhero movie that didn't play like a comic book superhero movie.

Executed almost entirely without even a trace of camp, "Begins" runs over an hour before a costumed Batman makes a first appearance, yet even the most hardcore comic book fan couldn't complain. Almost more "Bourne" than Batman, "Begins" opened the comic book-superhero genre to not necessarily a bigger audience, but definitely a broader one.

Need proof?

Consider "Batman Begins" made $205 million in its theatrical life, compared with "Dark Knight's" $530 million. While some of the sequel's strikingly superior box office performance can be attributed to the aforementioned Ledger-factor, much of the credit should also go to the then Bat-weary audience "Begins" actually drew to the franchise over the three years in-between on DVD, Pay-Per-View, and cable - a home video audience so enthralled they were motivated to go see the sequel at the theater.

Ledger or not, "The Dark Knight" was always poised to be a monster hit because of "Batman Begins" post-box office trailblazing.

Stand-Out Scene:

Christian Bale claiming the Batman role as wholly his own with his growling, high-wire interrogation of Flass, or the artfully directed Batmobile car chase, one of best put on film since the car chase heyday of the 70's.

So that's our list. No doubt some of you disagree with our rankings or thought we missed the boat on some films entirely. As always, feel free to let us know and share your own lists with your fellow fans…


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