By Richard “Chubtoad” Sheldon
I get asked quite often what my favorite movies adapted from comics are and why. My list changes depending on the random thoughts that swirl around in my nerdy brain. However, I have put together a list of my top 25 comic book films. This was a tough list to make. I left off so many good ones, but these are easily the best in my humble, nerdy opinion. Do you agree with this list? Would your picks be different? What is my number 1? Read on to find out!
- The Rocketeer
Set in 1939 this film had it all jam packed full of adventure hero goodness! Jet packs, movie stars, Nazis, mobsters and an ever so hot Jennifer Connelly. This was a true homage to the serial adventures our parents went to see in the Saturday afternoon matinee. I just recently re-watched this movie and it totally holds up!
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Who needs CGI?? Give me those animatronic, cheesy puppets any day! By today’s standards this film is outdated and does not necessarily hold up. The style and the score are dated to the 90’s and the movie can be goofy in places, but it’s a ninja turtles flick! It should be goofy to a point! Remember, the turtles were Eastman and Laird’s spoof on Daredevil, so parody is the theme! Best thing about this origin flick is that it does not beat you over the head that it is an origin story. It is all about the turtles kicking ass and taking on the Foot clan, Shredder and macking on pizza and April O’Neil!
Based on Mike Mignola’s series from Dark Horse Comics, Guillermo del Toro turns out a beautiful, stylistic film that captures the tone and style of the comics. The most brilliant part of this film is the casting of Ron Pearlman as the demon turned hero. Pearlman turns in a performance that is comedic, brooding, yet heroic and satisfying. His supporting cast of freaks and weirdos in the B.P.R.D. are just as impressive. I am fully convinced that no one other that del Toro could have made this flick a success.
Before we had the empire that is the Marvel films of today, we were given Blade in 1998. Blade was not only a good adaption of a comic book, but was one of the first to prove that comic property films could be profitable. As a fan of the comic book character I was excited for this film. I did think it was a big gamble considering that for the general audience, Blade is an obscure character. Casting a big action star like Wesley Snipes was a home run! Sure, the CGI blood was a bit to pixilated, and there were untapped plot points from the comics that could have been added. However, the kick ass fight scenes and awesome swordplay makes up for any shortcomings this film may have had. Let me sum this up with three words: Club Blood Bath.
- The Crow
Unfortunately, Brandon Lee’s best film was his last film. The gothic grittiness and dark shadows set the film where Lee’s Eric goes all kick ass undead vigilante on the people that killed him. The supernatural gun fights and the blood producing fist fights give us all the action we need in a comic book film of this nature. There is nothing like seeing an undead hero get revenge.
- Superman II
Some would say that the Donner cut of Superman the Movie with II cut in is the best. I disagree. Richard Lester’s sequel is probably my favorite of all the Superman films to date. I wanted to put Man of Steel on this list, but it did not quite make the cut. This film is dated to the Seventies, but the story supersedes any of those antiquated production values. Zod and the Phantom Zone added a complexity to the Superman mythos that just could not be better. The action scenes are fantastic as Zod plans to rule the earth and destroy his jailer’s son in the process. Kneel before Zod!
- Batman (1989)
I hear all of you saying “Just hold on there a minute Chubtoad! Really? 1989’s Batman?” Yes! Anyone of my generation of nerd has to be endeared by this film. Sure, there were comic book property films before this, but this was the big one! This was the Batman! This was where the books of Frank Miller and Alan Moore’s Dark Knight was set to come to life on screen. Michael Keaton is Batman. I remember all the Bat-craze of the late Eighties. The merchandising, the glorious t-shirts! It was awesome for those of us that were Batman fans. The soundtrack by Prince was magnificent and is still in my playlist to this day. The follow-ups to this film were lackluster, with the Schumacher films bordering on ridiculous, but 1989’s Batman is a top pick for me!
- Sin City
I am a huge fan of Frank Miller’s work. As mentioned above, his take on Batman is superior and his Daredevil is magnificent. However, Sin City is one of his original properties that far exceeds what was expected in comics at the time. Miller teaming up with Robert Rodriguez was able to adapt this comic to screen as though it was always meant to be on screen. The setting, the makeup, the way the cinematography was framed and shot was all stunning and superb. The star studded cast was magnificent. I loved Elijah Wood as Kevin! His interactions with Marv are memorable and brilliant! And who can forget the hot Jessica Alba?!
- American Splendor
This film is unlike any others on the list. This is not a cape and tights wearing, super powered story. This is the always down on his luck, grumpy Harvey Pekar taking on his arch villain cancer. American Splendor is almost a documentary where the real Pekar shows up here and there as well as an animated version of himself. This blurs the lines of reality and makes the substance of the film unclear, but though invoking and brilliant, just like Pekar’s work. This story reminds the audience that the most ordinary and everyday situations can be interesting and make for a brilliant comic story.
Marvel really gambled on this film. To sell an entire movie around this character was a herculean task to say the least. Alien gods wielding magic hammers and traversing rainbow bridges was a stretch of the imagination that was a risk to produce. However, Marvel had started their track record of success and they did get the brilliant Kenneth Brannagh to direct. Casting Chris Hemsworth as the lead in this film was a great choice! I do not know who else could have played Thor, but I know now that it should not be anyone other than Hemsworth. Adding in Natalie Portman was a good casting choice as well. The dialogue was written well and delivered spot on. The breaks in action were just as compelling as the action scenes. This adaption was smartly done.
This! Is! Sparta! Another Frank Miller property has made the list! As a history nerd, I knew the battle of Thermoplae very well. I was quite impressed with Miller’s book when it came out. As much as it stretched the narrative, it held a lot of historical truth to the story. Zack Snyder taking this on as an adaptation to screen was a bold, but fantastic move. Every scene seemed to have leapt of the page and into the motion picture. Spartan King Leonidas was played by Gerard Butler who crushed this part and led the ensemble through a action packed and emotional journey. I remember that the critical response to this film was low, but I just don’t think your average film critic got it. We fanboys got it and we loved it!
Another Zack Snyder film. Another adaptation of a great property by a brilliant book from the Eighties. Alan Moore took the golden age characters to a whole new level. Many have tried to make this adaptation over the years, but it was Snyder that got it done. The fanboy population was split. Some thought that Snyder’s adaptation ruined the property and some, like me, felt that the spirit of the story was captured and the movie plot was compelling. The ending differed from the book, but I felt it was perfect for the film. I think the comic book ending was right for the comic, but would have been a bit too much for the film. The best scene by far is the title credit sequence where we see the Watchmen evolve over the years.
When Mark Millar first debuted the Kick-Ass comic book, I was all in from issue one! Everyday people donning costumes and fighting crime? I’ll take that any day. Who doesn’t want to be Batman right? I remember when the third issue came out there was a letter from Mark Millar published on the inside back cover where he stated that a motion picture deal had been made. How awesome is that?! Only 3 issues in to an 8 issue series and they already inked a deal. I highly anticipated this film and was not disappointed. This was fun and exciting. For a lot of us this film introduced us to Chloe Moretz, who portrayed an awesome Hit-Girl! This vulgar and bloody, yet comedic story is totally worth watching.
- Batman Begins
This film was a breath of fresh air. After Burton’s Goth heavy Batman Returns and Schumacher’s campy Bat-films with Bat-nipples, we needed Nolan’s take on the caped crusader. Christopher Nolan grounded this Batman in reality. We still got our Dark Knight, but there was an edge to this Batman. Portraying Batman like a real person made him a scarier and bigger threat. Finally, the Batman was as he should be. Christian Bale was a great choice and his gravelly voice while in the cowl did not bother me as it did some. This film incorporated the comic book elements well while keeping the story well within a realm of realism. True to the detective comics in every way!
- Captain America: The First Avenger
This is a film that stood up to all the hype that Marvel studios put out there when marketing this venture. This kicked off one of Marvel Studio’s best franchises to date. With the rich history that this character has, this was a very ambitious undertaking for them. The fact that they went all in on the WWII setting and tone not only gave this film an advantage over what Marvel had been putting out, but also enriched the MCU in a way that continues to reverberate through their world today. Very cookie cutter origin story, but that was okay. It was well done and the performances by the cast were spot on as Cap has to take down the Red Skull. Let us not forget the Howling Commandos! I still want a Howling Commandos film or TV mini-series.
- Captain America: Winter Soldier
Back to back Cap! As I stated previously, the Captain America franchise is one of Marvel’s best. There are very few times that you can say that a sequel is better than the first film. This is one of those times. Fresh off the Avengers movie, this felt more like an ensemble film than focused on one character’s story. We had the Falcon premier in this film, we saw the rise of Hydra and the take down of S.H.I.E.L.D. The fact that ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D helped lead in and out of this film made it that much richer of a story. The espionage and danger mixed with the action of the Hydra takeover was superb! At the time, this was my favorite Marvel film to date tied with the Avengers film.
- Iron Man
Just as they say that face of Helen launched the Trojan War, this Iron Man film launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel took a huge gamble on starting off with Iron Man for their cinematic journey. By comparison to Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Hulk, Iron Man was a relatively unknown character to the general audience at the time. Now it is a household name. Largely due in part to another gamble they took by casting Robert Downey Jr. fresh off his getting his life together. RDJ took this movie by the horns and along with John Favreau brilliant direction made this a masterpiece. RDJ has a charm that made him Tony Stark. It would be hard to ever see someone else in that role because the actor and the character seem almost one in the same. RDJ’s humorous quips and his confidence are both a part of Tony Stark and the actor himself. This film not only launched the MCU, but made Iron Man the center of it.
Sam Raimi was the perfect director for this film. He is the ultimate Spider-Fanboy. The Evil Dead mastermind connected with the essence of Spider-man and knew how to get to the core of Peter Parker as a character. The casting was well done. No longer would we have the muscle-bound, square-jawed leading man playing the hero. Here we have Toby Maguire, who embodied Peter Parker perfectly. His teenage angst and wide-eyed wonder were captured by Maguire as though Parker leapt off the page. Raimi and Maguire were given power to produce greatness and took on a great responsibility making this film. Remember! “With great power comes great responsibility!”
- X2: X-Men United
This was Bryan Singer’s best of the original three X-films. His wheels fell off soon after when he jumped over to make the failed Superman Returns sending both franchises into the depths of mediocrity. X2 gave us Wolverine uncovering his origin while also becoming more entrenched in the X-team. We see him interact with the school’s children in a way that makes him an endearing character for more reasons than his kick ass claw action. Favorite characters return and the addition of Pyro and Nightcrawler enriched the cast in a way that many fanboys appreciated.
- The Avengers
Avengers Assemble! This was the mountain top of the MCU phase one. All roads led to this! A film of this magnitude with so many marquee characters required a director that knew how to handle an ensemble cast. Joss Whedon was the answer! Here is a guy that made many successful shows with ensemble casts and was a master at telling balanced stories. This film was near perfect in my opinion. Everything I would want from an Avengers movie was there. Each character stood out and was featured well, but not one character stood above another. Avengers is a film that many thought was a Herculean task, and would be hard to pull off. Wonder how Joss made it seem so easy and seamless?
- X-Men: First Class
Matthew Vaughn had been chomping at the bit to tell an X-story ever since he left X3 just weeks before production began. This was his chance. Some thought this film would be a disaster with all the rumors from the set of problems and setbacks. However, when you cast actors like Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence you have guaranteed success. Sure, the continuity to the original films does not quite connect the way it should, but no one cares. This film turned out to be gold. No matter the issues during production, at the time, this was the best X-film to date!
- Guardians of the Galaxy
If you came to me as a kid and told me that someday there would be a Guardians of the Galaxy feature film, I would never had believed you. This was a comic book that while great, was just not mainstream to where I could imagine general audiences going to see it. Fortunately, Marvel had mustered a good track record with their films prior to this. Add a cast of favored actors and BOOM! Success! Not only did the audience flock to see this film, it was one of the highest grossing films of that year! This ensemble led by Chris Pratt’s Starlord pulled off this film in such a way that it became an instant classic.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past
Just two choices back I said that First Class was the best X-film to date. Well it was usurped by its successor. Days of Future Past was one of my favorite Chris Claremont X-stories when I was a kid. When this film was announced I got excited to see it. I had my reservations as it was announced that Singer was returning to direct. After X3 and Superman returns, he lost some cred with me. But what a glorious return! This film was adapted well, with just the right amount of changes to make it work. Quicksilver was one of my favorite pieces to this film. I will never hear Jim Croce sing Time in a Bottle without thinking of this movie! With Apocalypse coming soon, I am excited to see what more we get from this franchise!
- Spider-Man 2
With the origin story out of the way, this was the chance to make our favorite web-slinging hero shine. Not bogged down with having to keep referring to his origin, Peter shows us the life of a secret identity having to keep up with his personal life while at the same time defending the city of New York from the criminal element. Spidey 2 also gave us a cooler villain with Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus. Doc Ock was both a ruthless villain and a man that had the audience empathetic towards his plight. This was another example of a sequel outshining the original film.
- The Dark Knight
And here we are! Number one on my list and I am sure on many of your lists, The Dark Knight! It’s funny. I just noticed as I am writing this that my top 3 films are all sequels. Strange how that happened. However, you cannot name a more superior comic book film adaptation that this one. We had Nolan return with Bale as the Bat again. The supporting cast of Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Aaron Eckhart was inspiring and fantastic. The best piece to this film? Heath Ledger’s Joker. Here we have a psychopath that is taking over and ruling the Gotham underworld armed with only his wit and homicidal tendencies that would rival the craziest of lunatics. This film did not change comic book movies, it changed the way the world views comic books period.
Here we are. That is my list. What do you think? Would your list look different? Let me know.
Richard “Chubtoad” Sheldon is a nerd that is featured on the HHWLOD.com and taylornetworkofpodcasts.com You can hear him on the Walking Dead TV podcast, the DCTV Podcast, The LOD Podcast and many more.
You can follow him on Twitter @chubtoad01 and Instagram @chubtoad01