TV & FILM
brian-mcgee - August 8, 2018
So what's the best comic book movie ever made? The past two years have seen some damn good ones, and the optimist in me says that the best is always yet to come, but there are so many comic book movies at this point that the sheer number of contenders for this title is bigger than at any point in history.
Everyone's got their own personal favorites, whether it's the film that made them fall in love with the genre, or an older movie that remains the gold standard by which all others are judged. So before I turn it over to you, I thought I'd reveal my personal Top 5 Best Comic Book Movies in hopes of jump-starting the conversation...
Screenwriter Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation) and director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) had no small task in front of them when crafting the second big screen outing for famed comic book character Judge Dredd. Thankfully they went in the polar opposite direction of 1995's campy, overwrought, Versace-designed adaptation starring Sylvester Stallone, and gave us a dark, violent, bloody affair that was down and dirty.
Featuring some brilliant effects courtesy of a drug called "Slo-Mo," as well as a fairly contained narrative mostly set in one location, Dredd is the perfect film for both fans and newcomers to the property alike. Karl Urban is perfection as the titular judge, jury, and executioner, as is Lena Headey as the ruthlessly brilliant villain Ma-Ma. There's so much here to love—not least of all is the film's lean, mean 95 minute running time—and it's endlessly re-watchable.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen many surprisingly great films in its ten year history, but none were a bigger surprise than 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy. Every bit of an exciting, out of nowhere surprise as Star Wars was 27 years earlier, James Gunn's hilarious adaptation of the relatively unknown property revitalized superhero cinema.
The other contender for this spot was the other MCU film released that year, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but the sheer, unbridled joy of the Guardians first space adventure gives it a slightly higher replay value. Everything about this film screams, "This shouldn't work," but it does work and it works better than any other film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thanks to its sheer pluckiness.
The grandaddy of all comic book movies is still one of the best. Opening with a black and white prologue that brings us back to the birth of the big blue boy scout, Superman: The Movie has it all. Over its epic length it manages to explore the character's entire backstory, bring him into the modern era, and pit him against his greatest antagonist, without ever feeling over-stuffed or boring.
Christopher Reeve remains the definitive live action version of the character forty years later, and Gene Hackman's hammy take on Lex Luthor never bleeds over into the annoying the way it did for his most-recent successor in the role. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention John Williams' brilliant score, including what remains the most iconic superhero theme to this day. Skip Man of Steel and show your kids this version of Superman—for reference, they have identical running times. I guarantee they'll believe a man can fly.
If you like your comic book movies grounded in as much realism as the superhero formula allows, this is your Mt. Everest. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight revitalized the comic book film after years of being regarded as a joke thanks such terrible efforts as Daredevil, Catwoman, Fantastic Four, and so on.
Thanks in no small part to Heath Ledger's mind-blowing, Oscar-winning interpretation of the most famous comic book villain in history, The Dark Knight remains the gold standard for many a decade after its release. Complex and layered without ever losing the sense of adventure and excitement that a comic book movie needs to deliver, this is one of those films that lives up to the hype and then some.
As much as I love The Dark Knight, the first comic book movie that I felt lived up to the potential of the genre remains—for me—the greatest of them all. Bryan Singer's X2: X-Men United is the perfect sequel in that it expands and improves upon the themes and characters from the first film. It's also got a killer sequel set-up at the end—which was unfortunately completely squandered by Brett Ratner's The Last Stand three years later.
X2 rivals The Wrath of Khan as the greatest genre sequel ever made, which shouldn't come as too big of a surprise as the former's ending takes more than a few cues from the latter's brilliant third act. While The Dark Knight is probably the better Film (capital F), X2 is the better comic book movie in my mind, never sacrificing its comic roots to make it more grounded in reality. That's not a knock against TDK, it's just that, as a lifelong comic book reader, I find X2 to be the slightly more satisfying comic book movie.
I look forward to the arguments and lists that are sure to follow in the comments section below!