I think it's time I did one of those countdown lists. I'm going to make it a top 20. This list is going to be what I think are the 20 best comic-based movies ever made. Because everyone who knows me already knows my number 1 I'm not going to divide this up into multiple articles. So let's get into it as soon as possible, I'll just lay a couple of ground rules first.
1) It needs to be a movie either based on a comic, whether that's a comic book, a Japanese manga, a French comic, a European comic magazine, a web comic, or a newspaper comic strip, I don't care.
2) This is my opinion, so it's not definitive, it's just what I like.
3) If I want to cheat and include a pulp hero like The Shadow, or a knock-off comic hero like Darkman, I totally can. But I won't, so this rule is pointless.
So let's get on with it boys and girls, after the jump!
Based on: The Flaming Carrot, by Bob Burden.
Mystery Men is notable as being both a satire of super heroes in film... and an actually funny one at that. Many have attempted to satirise the super hero -- many have failed. (I'm looking at you Condorman.) But Mystery Men is one of the few that actually succeeds at being funny and well-judged in its observations about the super hero genre.
I wouldn't call Mystery Men laugh out loud funny. Its observations aren't exactly startling or original (if you've ever watched the Tick, or read an old issue of MAD Magazine you've probably seen most of these jokes before). Still, the whole narative is weaved around characters who are endearing -- people you want to see succeed, and as a result the film succeeds too.
If you're one of those people who thinks that fart jokes are unfunny simply because toilet humour is automatically low class, you might not enjoy some parts of the film. But fortunately for me, I'm not one of those people (though I may have been once upon a time), so my nitpicks of the film are few and far between. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.
Based on Batman, created by Bill Finger and that other guy.
The Tim Burton Batman movie disappoints some purists because it strayed a bit from the source material. Batman uses guns, he kills people. Bruce Wayne isn't debonaire, he's weird. Seriously weird. The gritty comic world familiar from then-popular works like Year One and Dark Knight Returns is exchanged for a highly stylised gothic fantasy... and you know what? I couldn't give a crap about any of that.
This was my first big super hero movie. This was the first super hero movie I got to experience the whole process for -- the announcements, the hype, the tie-in comic book, the TV commercials, all of it. (I didn't buy any Batman toys.) I can remember having long phone conversations with my friend about it, as he spoiled every minute of it for me before I watched it. Then I got to watch it and it was AWESOME!
And it's still awesome. I still love this movie. It's stylish, it's wonderfully hammilly acted. The only real down point is that Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale is a real blank hole in the middle of the film. But who gives a crap? The Joker's great, Bruce Wayne's great, Alfred's great. If all of Batman was this great I might actually LIKE Batman.
V for Vendetta
Based on V for Vendetta, drawn by David Lloyd and written by (...)
The thing that makes V for Vendetta so damned good is that it invites you to openly question its politics. V for Vendetta offers a simple position -- sometimes you need to take violent action to reform a society and make it better. However, despite the kinda lame ending (with everyone unmasking to reveal that everyone was V), throughout the movie you are invited, as an audience member, to question the motives of the heroes and to decide for yourself how this horrible society should be reformed.
What makes it even more amazing? It's better than the goddamn book it's based on. V for Vendetta the book IS good -- but unlike the movie it takes a harder stance -- and doesn't ask its readers to question its politics. V for Vendetta the comic thinks that its message of Anarchy in the UK is right and correct and doesn't ask you as an audience member to think for yourself about it. That's probably why Alan Moore insisted his name be taken off the movie.
V for Vendetta also inspired this Kpop video clip, which is another reason to love it:
Based on The Amazing Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
Do you remember how exciting it was when comic books finally started to dominate mainstream blockbusters? I do. First there was Blade, which at the time rubbed me the wrong way (I like it a lot better now), then there was X-men which very shyly put everyone in black leather and downplayed the powers and just generally seemed a little bit ashamed about being based on a comic. And then there was Spider-Man.
Spider-Man was a revelation. It totally embraced its comic book roots. It looked like a comic -- Peter's powers were realised like a comic. This was high level melodrama lifted straight from the page. It was especially thrilling to see completely absurd elements of the Lee/Ditko origin (like Spider-Man's stint as a wrestler) right up there on the screen.
The movie has its weaknesses. Tobey Maguire could never pull off the Spider-Man half of the persona. The Green Goblin does kinda look like a Power Rangers villain. But it was such a benchmark film for comic book cinema that it must be on my list!!
Based On Barbarella, by Jean-Claude Forest
This is a strange movie. It's about a sexy (as in played by Jane Fonda sexy) young space lady, who travels to a planet searching for Duran Duran (a scientist, not a band), and who has all kinds of weird and wonderful sexual adventures on the way. The movie might be described as 'softcore', in that you see boobies -- but there's really no actual on-screen sex.
Some might find it easy to dismiss Barbarella as a piece of sexist tripe. But I think that would be doing it a great disservice. This movie is about sexual liberation. This might not be immediately obvious to modern audiences because most of the sex in the movie is very standard heterosexual coupling. In fact any implications of "unusual" sex (like, say, lesbianism or bondage) comes from the villains, and is generally dismissed. The way the movie turns this very safe straight sex into the pushing of sexual boundaries is by changing the boundaries -- suggesting humans no longer even have sex physically any more. By having Barbarella break free from these sci-fi sexual norms she becomes a symbol of breaking free for people in our society -- or at least people in the 1960s.
The movie's pacing is relatively slow by modern standards, and it's surprisingly chaste for a sex romp, but the movie's sense of humour and general psychedelic weirdness more than make up for any shortcomings.
Fist of the North Star
Based On Hokuto no Ken, written by Buronson and drawn by Tetsuo Hara.
There's only one anime movie on this list -- and it's Fist of the North Star. I was introduced to Fist of the North Star by a fellow KPop fan who watched it with me online. He recommended it because it was a movie he'd loved when he was younger (and still loved). Fist of the North Star was an awesome experience for me -- hanging out with a friend online and watching a film. Need to do that more often.
Why does the movie make the list, though? There's a million anime adaptations out there -- couldn't I have chosen Ghost in the Shell, or Akira or something better known for being a great piece of Anime cinema? Shoudn't there be MORE anime on a list of comic adaptations? Maybe. But you know what? Anime adaptations tend to be pretty lifeless. They sap the energy and originality out of their source material, to present a formulaic, passable entertainment that makes you wish you were just reading the comic.
What makes Fist of the North Star stand out is that it is everything the comic is and more. It's violent, and it's ridiculously, insanely manly. This material feels like it BELONGS in a ridiculous, over-the-top animated film. It's just pure visual entertainment, and anyone who doesn't enjoy it, needs to drink some more milk and get some hairs on their chest, son.
Based On 300 by Frank Miller
If Fist of the North Star is one of the most ridiculously masculine films in history, then 300 is so masculine that it wraps all the way around into camp. Take one of the most macho moments in European history, and strip away all realism and ramp up the masculinity to 11 and you have 300. Sure, in real life the Greeks were able to hold off the Persians partly due to their superior weapons and armour. But in 300 they hold off the Persians because of their superior pectoral muscles!
It's not a secret that I absolutely adore musicals, and 300 is ridiculously close to being a musical in the grand old MGM tradition. Nearly everything is there, from the staged dancing of the fight scenes, to the call-and-response style dialogue, to the big theatrical performances from the leads. They even have a fantasy ballet sequence when Leonidis visits the oracle. The only thing missing is a score by John Green and a couple of songs by Arthur Freed.
300 is a movie that's so straight that it's gay, and so gay that it's straight. In a way, that makes it the most historically accurate movie about ancient Sparta ever made. It's hard not to love it for that.
Fritz the Cat
Based On Fritz the Cat, by Robert Crumb
This is a movie that I love for all the wrong reasons, because there's no right reasons to love this movie. Fritz the Cat is basically an R-rated (or X-rated, or whatever) animated romp through the mind of Ralph Bakshi using the lense of Robert Crumb's hit underground comic Fritz the Cat. It's a glorious window into an era, and it captures the 1970s better than anything I've ever seen anywhere else.
Fritz is, of course, problematic. It involves rape, it's racially insensitive, it's sexually explicit, sexist, and sometimes the animation is a little bit dodgy. And yet... and yet the movie is so damned charming. I love Ralph Bakshi's style, the way his animation carves its own identity really appeals to me, even when it's not perfect.
Fritz was his first movie, and it's also his best movie. If you only ever seen one x-rated softcore porn involving athropomorphic animals this year, I recommend this one.
The Dark Knight Rises
Based On The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller, and Knightfall by a tonne of different creators, and in general Bob Kane and Bill Finger's Batman character.
My experience with Dark Knight Rises was awesome. I went to see the movie with a few friends who were big Batman fans. I'm not one. I don't HATE Batman, but I don't really appreciate Batman. I found the previous two movies in the series -- Batman Begins and The Dark Knight very overblown and boring. They aren't BAD movies, but they're too long, and I didn't find Christian Bale engaging, and I didn't care about the people or the city...
Then along comes Dark Knight Rises. Oh my god, how did such a boring trilogy end so goddamn well? You've got Bane, you've got Catwoman... and FINALLY Christian Bale's Batman made sense to me. He worked so much better as the grizzled old veteran for me than he ever worked as American Ninja from the first two films. Everything was right about this movie. (Well, okay... I have some nitpicks. I didn't like Talia Al Ghul's reveal as the main villain. That was lame.)
The Dark Knight Rises is the frickin' best Batman ever.
Based On The Avengers by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (and featuring Black Widow created by Lee, Don Rico and Don Heck and Hawkeye created by Lee and Heck.)
Avengers is a landmark of the Superhero genre. And it is a movie genre nowadays. It's the first team-up movie. It got there before Justice League, before Batman/Superman. It's the first time we've had a super hero team that was made up of characters who were expected to be able to support their own stand-alone franchises. Sure we've had Fantastic Four before, we've had X-men... but this is the first time that we didn't have to wait for the action to start, because we already KNEW these characters!
So it's a bit unfortunate that half of the movie is setting up the team -- and the other half is kinda pedestrian action that I'd already seen done better in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. This is why Avengers isn't higher on the list -- it's more remarkable in conception than it is in execution.
But forget about the nitpicks. It's a damn good movie -- a hell of a lot of fun, with tonnes of great funny, exciting and character-filled sequences. It's worth every second you spend watching it. The movie is not flawless, but it's damned entertaining.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Based On Tintin, by Herge.
I adore Tintin. I think Tintin is a comic art masterpiece. For this reason I was rather trepidacious about the Tintin movie. I tend to have a bit of a raw relationship with things that I love being adapted. My reaction to the Narnia movies, for example, was less than fair. Sometimes when you're really attached to the source material you just can't accept the little changes they make -- the way things are reordered and rearranged for films can be frustrating and annoying and ruin the experience for you. On the other hand sometimes you just get swept up in the experience, go along for the ride, and have a hell of a time along the way.
The Tintin movie was like that. This thing moves at a breakneck pace. You barely have a moment to stop and take a breath, because either you're in the middle of a huge action sequence or you're laughing your arse off at some piece of slapstick.
And that's what I've always loved about Tintin -- that it can take you on wild journeys, with strange characters and exotic locations, but also can delight you with its humour and wit and heart. This movie is a great adaptation because it understands the spirit of the source material so damned well and it puts it all up there for you to see, right on the screen.
The Addams Family
Based On The Addams Family, by Charles Addams.
People might suggest that this is a cheat -- after all this movie only got made because of the TV series, not because of the old comic strips that the TV series was based on. People who suggest that can go to hell. This movie starts with an homage to one of the great moments from the comic strip -- a moment so delightfully dark and sadistic that the TV show never would have gone that far. Here's the strip:
The key to this movie's success is the realisation of the Addams themselves and their world. Each of the family members is wonderfully portrayed on screen. Gomez is a triumph for Raul Julia, Christina Ricci was basically born to play Wednesday Addams, Christopher Lloyd is a wonderfully energetic Uncle Fester and Anjelica Huston just about steals the show as Morticia. These characters are realised in a world that is both macabre and absurd, which makes for some wonderful humour.
I'm not going to call Addams Family a perfect movie. The plot for example, is inevitible and obvious. Somehow, though, that doesn't seem to matter. This is a movie about the world of the Addams Family and it's a weird, wonderful, (dare I add kooky?) world. As a viewer I want to be in that world for as long as possible and having to put up with a crappy plotline to get to spend time with the Addams is well worth it.
Josie and the Pussycats
Based On Josie created by Dan DeCarlo
Archie have not made much of a showing when it comes to film. There's no movies of their super heroes, and their regular characters only have an awful TV movie. So thank god for Josie and the Pussycats. Josie and the Pussycats is a sharp, in fact downright savage at times, parody of the music industry (and especially the industry as it stood in 2001).
It features an awesome cast (Rosario Dawson, Alan Cumming, Parker Posey and of course Rachel Leigh Cook as Josie), and characters who are instantly likeable and fun. Plus it's one of the few really GOOD comic book movies to feature a mainly female cast.
The plot's framework is ultimately a bit sappy and predictible (there's a moment where the three girls promise to be friends forever, and if you've ever seen a movie you know what THAT means for the plot), but there's still enough neat twists and turns that it doesn't feel stale. Besides, who cares about the plot in a movie that opens with a parody boy band singing their big hit, "Backdoor Lover"? Here's the video clip:
X2: X-men United
Based On The X-men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and featuring characters created by guys like Len Wein, Chris Claremont, John Romita and Dave Cockrum
I'll be honest. From here on out this list is going to become a bit Marvel biased. It's understandable -- Marvel has been the source for the largest variety of comic movies from one company's characters. X-men 2 represents basically the best of the Marvel movies -- before Marvel Productions established an entirely new paradigm for what you could do with a comic book movie.
So X-men 2 is basically the story of Wolverine and his origin, but it's also the story of Magneto and Xavier's relationship. It's also about the extremes people are willing to go to for their ideals -- and that if you start with corrupted ideals, your actions will always be corrupt too, no matter how much good you're trying to do in the world.
It's not flawless. You still have some of the shyness about the source material that comic book movies often had before Iron Man. Despite that, this is one of my all-time favourite comic movies... and I don't even like the X-men.
Based On Iron Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber Jack Kirby and Don Heck
It would be tempting to lay Iron Man's success at the feet of Robert Downey Jnr. He is so charismatic and enjoyable as Tony Stark that it doesn't matter how long it takes to get to Iron Man (it takes a little while) because you're so enjoying watching Tony Stark be an arsehole -- but a likeable one -- to everyone.
Origin movies are often a pain in the arse, but Iron Man isn't. That alone should give it a place on the list -- but Iron Man is even more important than that. This is where the Marvel Cinematic universe was born. There was kind of a false start with Incredible Hulk, but Iron Man got everything right. It established the tone of wonder, fun, and drama that would be the blueprint for awesome movie after awesome movie out of Marvel studios.
The other thing about Iron Man is that it look great. You can really tell they stepped up their game after Transformers came along in 2007 and set a new benchmark for robo-mechanical CGI in films. Iron Man is one of the best, and it's going to be loved as one of the best for a very long time.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Based on Captain America by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
This is probably one of the movies that demonstrates the futility of a list like this. If a movie this recent can get to number 5, then am I really considering the whole history of comic movies in a fair light? More importantly, if a movie this recent can get to number 5, doesn't that mean that my list could have to change next year... or the year after... or maybe even in a few weeks when I see Big Hero Six? Maybe... but any of these lists is going to be skewed by when you make it.
Captain America is part of Marvel's second wave of films, after Avengers. It's not a period piece like the first Captain America. Instead it's a bold statement of a film. There's no attempt here to recapture what worked in the first film -- there's no punching Hitler, no Red Skull and even the returning concepts and villains are turned on their heads. This is not a traditional Hollywood sequel. It's a comic book sequel.
And that's why it's so goddamn awesome. I'm not a huge fan of spy thrillers, but this one was great. Look at that cast, Robert Redford, coming back to a genre he helped to build, Chris Evans as Cap, Scarlet Johansen as Black Widow, Anthony Mackie as the Falcon. Man, this is so damned good. I never wanted it to end. If you haven't seen it yet, you desperately need to go watch this movie.
Based On American Splendor, by Harvey Pekar
This movie isn't a strick adaptation of a comic. It's... actually a biopic of the author, and some of his friends.Welll... actually it's more of an adaptation of the process of creating the comic, rather than a strick biography of the people involved. Well... It's a really good movie.
It's based on an old indie comic, called American Splendor -- and the movie involves both real world versions and acted in-movie versions of the people invoved with the comic. Particularly it's the story of Harvey Pekar, the guy who wrote (and did basic thumbnail layouts for) the comic.
I'm not really sure how to talk about this movie in the same terms I've talked about the other films on this list -- so let's put it this way -- if you love comics, this is worth seeing. If you love stories about strange, broken people, this is worth seeing. If you love Paul Giamatti this film is worth seeing. It's quirky, funny... it's a world created around people who need each other because they barely have what it takes to survive in the real world. I love this sort of thing -- and this is definitely one of the greats of its genre.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Based On Guardians of the Galaxy, volume 2 by Andy Lanning. Featuring characters created by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Bill Mantlo and plenty of others.
You already love this movie, I don't need to tell you to love it. So instead of talking about why this movie is on the list, I wanna talk about my own experience with the character of Rocket Raccoon.
I've always loved the Incredible Hulk. Especially I love the run written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by Sal Buscema. I had one particularly special issue of Incredible Hulk -- issue #271. This issue guest-starred Rocket Raccoon and I loved it.I read this issue again and again until the comic literally fell apart. Rocket became very special to me. I didn't read his own limited series until a couple of years ago -- and I still haven't read any of his modern appearances. This one comic alone made me love Rocket. But... he was really really obscure. No one outside of a very select few comic fans had
ever heard of him.
And now... I see Rocket's face every time I go down the toy aisle of a K-mart or Big W. I see little kids, and teens and adults who all know and love him at comic conventions. It brings a tear to my eye to know that this character who was so beloved to me growing up is now a household name. Bless you Guardians of the Galaxy. You're the frickin' best.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Based On Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird
Is it wrong to put a movie this high on the list entirely out of nostalgia? Maybe... I dunno. Of all the movies on this list, this is the one I've watched the most. I spoke earlier about how Batman was my first experience with movie hype -- well TMNT was that for me, but on steroids. I remember watching awful current affairs programs (specifically Hinch) just because they had stories about the TMNT movie's excessive violence -- because I could get to see the clips from the movie they played!
TMNT stands up surprisingly well -- in a way which none of the other TMNT movies do. The lighting is a big part of it, it's grimy, and filled with deep shadows that give the Turtles far more reality than they'd have even in the movie's direct sequel which was much more bright and plastic looking.
The fights are fun, the characters are fun, there's a great cheesy 1990s soundtrack, and it features one of my favourite stupid movie exchanges of all time. Here, check it out for yourself:
Based On Judge Dredd created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra (and Pat Mills). Judge Anderson created by John Wagner and Brian Bolland
Sometimes it feels like I'm the only person in the world who was looking forwards to this movie before it came out. Dredd hit at the perfect time for me. I had only a few months earlier started a subscription to 2000AD, and I was reading all the Dredd material I could get my hands on. I read an interview with Karl Urban that showed he knew way more about Dredd than I did -- referencing stories I'd never heard of, and would have to read eventually.
But best of all, he refused to do the role if unless he kept the helmet on for the whole movie.
So I went into this film with confidence and came out thrilled. It was perfect. The movie is tightly scripted, straightforwards and a freakin' visual treat. If there's a better adaptation of a comic out there I ain't ever seen it. Dredd is not just my favourite comic adaptation -- it's one of my all-time favourite movies.
Will we get a sequel? I don't know... I honestly don't care. Dredd is something extra special for me, and I love it. If we never get another Dredd movie starring Karl Urban that'll be sad... but this movie will still be there. I hope if you haven't seen it yet that you take the time to check it out, because it's amazing.
(If I missed anything, feel free to tell me. Maybe I'll do an honourable mentions list later.)