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Comics In Movies

Written by Mike Mumah on Monday, April 30 2007 and posted in Features
Comic book movies are big money in Hollywood these days. In fact, super-hero flicks are some of the most profitable properties floating around Hollywood. They come with their own audience hardwired in, thousands of fanboys ready to shell out big money to see their favorite heroes do in motion what they’ve been [...]

300 been doing for their fan’s imaginations in comic books for years. It’s only been recently that effects have been able to match the effects that artists like Jack Kirby, Neil Adams, Jim Lee, and Alex Ross have been dreaming up for years in print, and until 2000’s X-Men became a box office smash, comics were dead in the motion picture medium. Today, I’m going to take a look at a few of the greatest, and worst films that made the jump from the printing press to the projector.

These are the films that exemplify the best that comics have to offer, and have transitioned from comics to film to elevate both forms.

1. 300 (2007)
One of the bloodiest, yet most beautifully shot films of the modern era, 300 raises the bar on what to expect for the future of film. Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 (Dark Horse), the film stayed fiercely loyal to its source material. Every frame from the comics made its way to the film. Moreover, the film has sparked a bevy of political debate, since 300 seems to be as much commentary about current events as it does to be about the Battle of Thermopylae, which took place 2,500 years ago.

Spider-Man 2 2. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Spider-Man 2 showed exactly why comics and their characters have remained so popular: it’s not just the spectacle, it’s about the character themselves. Peter Parker is easily the most relatable, honest character to come out of comics. He’s the everyman, trying to do what he can to help, no matter how hard life smacks him in the face. Spider-Man 2 also features the most exciting fight sequence in the history of film.

3. Superman: The Movie (1978)
The long time box-office champ proved that a man, and a comic book film, could fly. Using actors like Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando, Richard Donner gave legitimacy to the project, allowing Christopher Reeve to define Superman/Clark Kent flawlessly. I still get chills the first time Kent reveals himself as Superman.

4. Batman Begins (2005)
The Batman franchise had become less watchable cinema than a cartoon parody of itself. Director Christopher Nolan decided to take a more pragmatic approach and focus on why a man would dress up like a bat and fight crime. With his more realistic approach, he and star Christian Bale made Batman cool again.

5. Road to Perdition (2002)
This dark film by director Sam Mendes, Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, and Daniel Craig bring their formidable talents to this non-traditional comics film. There are no super heroes, and even few comics fans are aware of the source of this powerful film about a criminal on a path of redemption and revenge, while protecting his own son.

6. Sin City (2005)
This adaptation of the first three stories of Frank Miller’s gritty noir graphic novels may help herald a new era for cinema and how comics films are shot. By bringing key frames of the artwork to life, Sin City showed us that there’s much more potential to the comics medium than most people ever were aware of.

7. Spider-Man (2002)
The haymaker in the one-two combination that brought Hollywood to it’s knees and ushered in the Comic-to-Film Revolution. With beautiful lighting, great acting, special effects, and a real character that’s more than just a cartoon, Spider-Man proved that not only were comics films good, but also very bankable.

X2: X-Men United8. X2 : X-Men United (2003)
Marvel continued to roll out good films, and once the introductions were concluded with the first film, the kid gloves were off. Bryan Singer delivered a powerful film full of action and emotion, and when it was all said and done, it was just a great ride.

9. Superman Returns (2006)
I’ll confess, this movie made me cry. Even worse, the first time I saw the trailer in theatres I broke down in tears. I grew up with Superman, and seeing him for the first as I’ve only been able to imagine him rescuing an airplane left me choked up.

10. V for Vendetta (2005)
The film version lacked some of the power of the original comics series by legend Alan Moore, but it still carried much of the same message: change is always possible, and the people that are in power are only in power because you let them. This tale of retribution and revolution was published nearly twenty years before 9/11, but somehow becomes more relevant in this post-disaster world.

11. X-Men (2000)
The father of the modern era of comics films, X-Men was the film that began it all. Interesting characters, a slew of powerful actors like Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, and newcomer Hugh Jackman as the much loved Wolverine are part of the brew that made the X-Men franchise such a success. But it’s the tale of oppression and isolation that most people can relate to on some level that really gives this title its spice.

12. Blade (1998)
A B-level comics character was one of the first to find cross-over success on the big screen, aided by great effects and Wesley Snipes. Blade, a comics character straight out of Marvel Comics’ vault wasn’t even marketed as a comics film, but its success helped pave the way for X-Men.

Hellboy 13. Hellboy (2004)
Hellboy was a difficult sell for many studios. The source material was a popular character amongst a select sect of comics fans but no one outside of the culture had ever heard of, and director Guillermo Del Toro wanted Ron Perlman as the lead? Nevertheless, what the Mexican auteur created was a character that was as funny as he was odd, a blue-collar freak that works on the side of angels, despite his demonic appearance.

14. Batman (1989)
I’m not so sure that Batman would have worked had director Tim Burton not cast Jack Nicholson as the Joker, but all I know for a fact is that when I was in junior high, Batman was just…cool. Despite Burton’s many liberties with the character, the film is a stylistic break-through, and anything that turns global attention toward comics is a good thing.

15. A History of Violence (2005)
Another fine example that comics are more than muscular he-men in spandex, Viggo Mortensen plays a mild-mannered man who becomes a hero in his small town after stopping a crime, but draws attention from outside sources that think he’s a wise-guy and murderer in hiding. The film even garnered an Oscar nomination for William Hurt.

Theses films, while watchable and fun, somehow just missed the target, but still deserve honorable mention.

16. Constantine (2005)
The casting of Keanu Reeves is one of many head-scratching decisions that brought this film into the so-so categories. While beautifully shot with a decent story, the film was off the mark on what makes John Constantine one of the most interesting characters in all of comics. Though Rachel Weicz can make any film worth watching.

17. Blade: Trinity (2004)
Bringing the action levels up along with casting Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel still only made this film cooler, but not great as the first Blade had been. And no matter what you do, just because you have vampires in your film doesn’t automatically mean Dracula needs to make an appearance. It’s the vampire equivalent of jumping the shark.

Fantastic Four18. Fantastic Four (2005)
This is not a good movie. The story falls flat and Doctor Doom, the most fearsome villain in the entire Marvel arsenal, never seems to be a big threat, or a great schemer. The whole film seems to be more an introduction than a feature, but the characters are so interesting and compelling, you’re left wanting to see more. Next month, we’ll get just that.

19. Daredevil (2003)
It’s not Ben Affleck’s fault, but the pacing of this film brings it down into the ho hum categories. Having preceded Batman Begins, Daredevil skipped the early, developmental stages of the superhero’s career, opting instead to spend ten minutes with montage and voice-over. The rest of the film, while interesting, seemed to just fall flat.

20. Hulk (2003)
Fans of the Hulk want to see the Hulk do what he does best. Smash. Waiting 45 minutes for that to happen just ain’t cricket. While director Ang Lee’s approach involved innovated split frames making the film feel more like a comic book, watchers ended up more confused by the end of the film.

21. Ghost World (2001)
Starring Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, and an unknown Scarlett Johansson, Ghost World has the benefit of being one of the first non-superhero comics films to reach the silver screen. Unfortunately, the film was nearly as underground as the source material, and just as odd. Still, I good watch for the teen angst crowd.

22. Flash Gordon (1980)
This film has seventies kitsch stamped all over it, trying to ride the wave created by the phenomenon that was Star Wars. What it lacks in acting, script, and special effects, it gains for spirit and fun, and with a soundtrack by the legendary band Queen, it’s hard to not smile as you watch this b-grade flick.

23. Dick Tracy (1990)
Batman sparked early Hollywood interest in comics properties, but computer imagery had yet to rise to the standards we’re now used to, so the more mundane characters came to the fore. This highly stylized film is fun, with great characters and performances, notably by Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, and Madonna.

Batman Returns24. Batman Returns (1992)
Burton and Keaton’s final return to the Dark Knight further diverted from the comics characters, turning the Penguin into freakish mutant, Catwoman into an undead creature seeking vengeance, and Batman himself into the kind of hero that shoves a bomb into a clown’s pants and kicks him into the sewers to explode. That, my dear fanboys, just ain’t cool.

These are the films that are…well…they were made. Some are so awful that they somehow become the stuff of legends. Some are just plain unwatchable, others are clearly a breakdown of taste and sanity.

25. Batman: The Movie (1966)
I feel guilty placing this movie, based on the popular tv show from the sixties, in the craptacular categories, but that’s part of why I love it. Two words, shark repellent. If that’s not worth a watch, I don’t know what is.

26. Ghost Rider (2007)
The special effects were incredible, and the Ghost Rider looked fantastic. The favorable reviews end there. Ghost Rider came off as so powerful, that the villains never seemed to pose a threat, and decked out in their emo getups, never seemed that scary, nor put up much of a fight.

27. Elektra (2005)
Made largely to capitalize on the popularity of Jennifer Garner rather than the popularity of Daredevil, this film looked cool and Garner looked sexy. Watch the trailer, you’ll get more out of it.

The Phantom 28. The Phantom (1996)
While you may think dressing up Billy Zane in a plane purple costume complete with hoody and slapping a mask on his face would be cool…it’s simply not. The script could have been the Godfather, for all we’d know, but it wouldn’t matter. Purple only works on Jack Nicholson.

29. Blade II (2002)
Wesley Snipes fights really, REALLY scary vampires. Anyone else remember the rest of this one? No story, no memorable characters, no good movie.

30. Superman III (1983)
Somehow one of the most recognizable icons in the world, and most importantly, the guy who the film is named for, takes a back seat to Richard Pryor. As much as I love Richard Pryor, I want to see Superman slug it out more. The film is a lame parody of itself, and not funny no matter how you view it.

31. The Punisher (2004)
While not a bad film, it’s just nowhere near as good as the original comics story it was alleged to source. Maybe it’s that I’m just not a big Punisher fan, but in the end, it’s just Rambo with a cool t-shirt.

32. The Punisher (1989)
It was the greatest casting of Dolph Lundgren since He-Man in Masters of the Universe or even Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. This movie has a special place in my heart, as it was the last film I ever watched on my first VCR. Dolph walks into a room full of bad guys, and opens fire with a very large machine gun…and tape begins to fly out of my player. My VCR had been Punished.

33. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
This movie almost killed the Man of Steel, and surely would have had Bryan Singer had not jumped from X-Men to bring Supes back to film. In this flop, Superman decides to rid the world of all nuclear missiles, and ends up fighting the forgettable Nuclear Man.

34. Batman Forever (1995)
Director Joel Schumacher wasn’t aware that Batman was a comic book. He had only been aware of the campy sixties TV show starring Adam West. While Jim Carrey is great, his Riddler over-shadows Tommy Lee Jones one note Two-Face, which is possibly the most interesting of Batman’s villains.

35. Batman and Robin (1997)
As if there hadn’t been enough black light scenery and costuming in Batman Forever, Batman and Robin ups the ante by adding…Batnipples. The puns are overwhelming and the story laughable, I personally feel that Clooney made for the best Batman, even if he was in the worst film.

36. Captain America (1990)
You’ve never seen this movie, and with any luck, you never will. Starring Matt Salinger (the son of the great J.D. Salinger) in the titular role, this film opted to design the hero’s costume with rubber ears and equip him with a transparent shield.

Spawn37. Spawn (1997)
While a popular comics character, for me it tended to symbolize a lot of what was wrong with comics in the nineties, and I could never really attach myself to it. Even the film left me dry.

38. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
Somehow this phenomenal comic story by legend Alan Moore about classic literary characters like Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde became a lame flop in the theatres. The casting of Sean Connery ought to do enough to merit tasty goodness, but in the end, nothing but bitter fruit.

39. Catwoman (2004)
Even star Halle Berry acknowledged the true worth of this film by personally showing up to accept her Worst Actress Razzy. While Berry looked sexy sporting skin-tight leather, she’d look good wearing a moo-moo. Google for the photos, turn the DVD into a coaster.

To discuss.

Posted originally: 2007-04-30 16:35:47

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