In the last decade Hollywood has released an abundance of films based on comic books. Some range from the mega-popular superheroes such as Batman, Superman, Iron Man and the X-Men, while others are not so well known.
Films such as “Men In Black,” “Road To Perdition,” “V For Vendetta,” “From Hell,” “Watchmen” and “The Mask” were all based on comic books, or graphic novels.
There have also been multiple attempts at trying to get a comic book adaptation right on the big screen. In 2003 “Hulk” was released, and was a horrible film. In 2008, “The Incredible Hulk” was not perfect, but was a huge improvement.
The Superman and Batman film franchises have undergone several facelifts, with another one potential in the works for Superman.
And, of course, there have been several films that just didn’t work well on the big screen at all, such as “Catwoman,” “Elektra,” “Daredevil,” “Ghost Rider,” “Constantine” and “The Spirit” to name a few.
To be a good comic-based movie, you have to have a lead character that fans will root for, an engaging villain that is seen as a plausible threat to the lead character, interesting action sequences or at least interesting story twists and something for the lead character to do, whether it is save a city, the Earth or a person.
With several more movies based on comics scheduled for release in the near future, here is a list of the 10 best comic-based movies.
1. “The Dark Knight” (2008)
An easy choice as the greatest comic book based film of all time. “The Dark Knight” takes the reboot of the Batman franchise established in “Batman Begins” and ups the action, the acting, the storyline and the intensity.
No other film delivers more edge-of-your-seat moments in two and a half hours. And those moments are wrapped around an engaging storyline with several twists and turns.
Christian Bale does another excellent job as Batman and Bruce Wayne. While a lot of fun has been made about his growling voice as Batman, Bale comes off as the menacing vigilante that Batman is best known for in the comics. Meanwhile he plays Wayne as a very smart person who knows he has to portray the playboy lifestyle in order to get what he wants.
Of course the cream of the acting crop is Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker. Calling it the greatest acting performance in the history of cinema isn’t hyperbole. Ledger doesn’t just throw some makeup on and act silly; he literally becomes The Joker throughout the entire film. It’s hard to picture the same actor who starred in “Brokeback Mountain” or “A Knight’s Tale,” because he doesn’t just look different, he talks, walks and acts different.
Ledger also does a good job of upgrading The Joker from just a thorn in Batman’s side to someone who might be able to outsmart Batman and end up winning.
The supporting cast is also mostly excellent. Gary Oldman doesn’t get enough credit for his portrayal of Jim Gordon, and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Michael Caine as Alfred all deliver rock solid performances.
A great cast, a great script, and directing from Christopher Nolan that should’ve delivered him an Oscar, “The Dark Knight” is a comic film that stands alone as the best.
2. “Iron Man” (2008)
Director Jon Favreau immediately scored a hit film by going out on a limb and casting Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man. While Downey wasn’t a big star at the time, he is the picture perfect Tony Stark.
Downey easily goes from cynical businessman to superhero in a believable and approachable way. He doesn’t loose his sarcasm, and much like Bruce Wayne he knows playing the playboy in public will get him what he wants as Iron Man.
Jeff Bridges is excellent as the main villain Obadiah Stane, a rival of Stark’s who wants to take over his company.
The film explores Stark’s transformation into Iron Man in a way that keeps things engaging. A lot of times an origin story can bring a film to a screeching halt, but this one doesn’t. It’s funny, it’s action packed and it helps show that Tony Stark isn’t perfect, which allows the audience to relate to him and root for him to succeed.
Again, not everything is perfect. Terrence Howard is mostly wasted as military liason James Rhodes, and Gwyneth Paltrow is far from great as Stark’s assistant Pepper Potts.
But ultimately the film is fun, and a surprise ending and a surprise after the credits show that Favreau isn’t scared of taking risks, and also shows that he had his sights set on making a great movie.
3. “The Crow” (1994)
Brandon Lee made just six films, including this one, before being accidentally killed on the set of “The Crow.” This movie shows what a star he could’ve been, as he gives an amazing, heart-felt performance as Eric Draven, a musician who rises from the dead to avenge his murder and the murder of his girlfriend.
“The Crow” bolsters acting and action sequences that would rival any mainstream blockbuster, yet it was not a big money maker nor did it have a huge budget.
The plotline is simple; Draven comes back from the dead and is immune to being harmed. So he tracks down all of those involved in the murders and kills them one-by-one until he finds who was ultimately responsible for the murders.
While Lee is fantastic as Draven, Michael Wincott is just as good as the lead villain Top Dollar. Wincott brings silent intensity to the leader of the criminal gangs in the city, one who wants more power and wants to bring the police department to its knees.
Ernie Hudson also gives one of his best performances as Sgt. Albrecht, who ends up helping Draven bring the killers to justice.
“The Crow” might seem like just another action film, but it has a heart, it has emotion and it’s a film that allows you to care about the lead character and root for him to succeed, even if he’s just out to kill.
4. “X2 – X-Men United” (2003)
The first “X-Men” movie kept things relatively simple. The main characters are all mutants with special abilities, and they are all struggling to learn and accept those abilities.
The good mutants are lead by Professor X (Patrick Stewart), while the evil mutants are lead by Magneto (Ian McKellen).
“X2” ups the ante by adding more mutants to both sides of the equation, then making the mutants the target of the United States government. The action is bigger, the powers are greater and the storyline is deeper.
Hugh Jackman returns as Wolverine, a character who doesn’t feel pain and heals himself. He is searching for answers to how he became Wolverine, and is receiving help from Professor X. Wolverine’s search leads to William Stryker, a government operative who has been secretly extracting information from a captured Magneto.
Eventually all of the mutants must team together to rescue Professor X from Stryker, and to stop Stryker’s plan to kill all of the mutants.
The casting is excellent, as each actor shines in their respective roles. Jackman, Stewart and McKellen might be tops, but Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler and Famke Janssen as Jean Grey also deliver great performances.
The only downside to having so many mutants is that some don’t get a chance to truly come to the front. James Marsden as Cyclops and Halle Berry as Storm aren’t used that much, while Rebecca Romijn as Mystique gives about the same performance as she did in the first film.
And there are several younger mutants played by Anna Paquin, Shawn Ashmore and Aaron Stanford that don’t really separate themselves from each other.
However, the movie has a blistering pace that always keeps the viewer interested, and features one of the saddest, yet best, endings of all comic based movies.
5. “Sin City” (2005)
Featuring an amazing ensemble cast of Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Benicio del Toro, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Michael Clarke Duncan, Josh Hartnett, Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy, Jamie King, Nick Stahl and Elijah Wood, and filmed in a style using the comic book storyboards as the movie’s background, “Sin City” makes you feel like you are immersed into a comic book world.
The movie has three different storylines that all take place within the same city. All three are relatively engaging, and all three feature amazing acting performances.
The best of the three is “The Big Fat Kill,” which features Owen, del Toro, Murphy, Dawson and Alexis Bledel. Owen and del Toro are amazing as usual, and it delivers the most edge-of-your-seat moments.
The storyline featuring Willis, Alba and Stahl bookends the film, and Rourke’s performance as Marv in “The Hard Goodbye” was the first step of his Hollywood comeback.
But the biggest star of the film is the directing by Robert Rodriguez, and the scenery which was based entirely on the original graphic novels by Frank Miller. The concept was used again in “300” and “The Spirit,” but “Sin City” uses it the best.
6. “Men in Black” (1997)
Obviously elevated by the superb casting of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as odd couple partners, “Men in Black” is one of the most enjoyable movies ever made. The acting is great, the pacing is excellent, the storyline is interesting and director Barry Sonnenfeld keeps the humor tongue-in-cheek without getting cheesy or corny.
Besides Smith and Jones, Vincent D’Onofrio is beyond excellent as the evil alien out to take over Earth. His mannerisms, not just vocal but also body movements, really create his alien character.
Linda Fiorentino has never been better in any movie, which is a shame that she didn’t return for the sequel, and Rip Torn is solid as the head of MIB.
Tony Shalhoub brings a memorable comedic scene as Jeebs, and David Cross also provides a memorable comedic scene as an attendant at the hospital morgue where Fiorentino’s character is a medical examiner.
Not only was the movie enjoyable in 1997, even with all of its pop culture references and after a disappointing sequel it still holds up. Much like “Ghostbusters” in the 1980’s, “Men in Black” always finds the funny bone.
7. “Superman” (1978)
Strictly for nostalgia sake, no list of the top comic book films of all time could be complete without the original “Superman.”
With the tag line, “You’ll believe a man can fly,” “Superman” ushered in the superhero movie. The effects at that time were cutting edge, and it made a huge star out of Christopher Reeve, who never could live down playing the iconic role of Superman.
The film’s plotline is very simple. It stars with the basic Superman origin story, showing Kal-El being placed in a spaceship on Krypton minutes before the planet explodes, and eventually landing on Earth where he is discovered by Martha and Jonathan Kent.
From there, the Kent’s new son Clark discovers he has special abilities. Eventually he travels to the Fortress of Solitude where he is able to communicate with his deceased father Jor-El. After years of education on his powers and responsibilities, Clark becomes Superman and heads to Metropolis to live a normal life as Clark Kent, and save the day as Superman.
Gene Hackman is superb as the evil Lex Luthor. While Luthor’s ultimate plot to buy land in the Nevada desert and then destroy California to make his desert property the new West Coast is a bit far-fetched and eye-rolling, Hackman delivers a classic performance that is one of the best of his career.
Margot Kidder is solid as Lois Lane. Her chemistry with Reeve as Clark is much funnier and more enjoyable, than the way she played Lois when Superman is around, which is more on the annoying side.
Like most special effects movies, the film does look dated, and several parts do look cheesy. However, it is still very enjoyable to watch and a solid “Superman” story.
8. “Spider-Man 2” (2004)
While none of the three Spider-Man films have been perfect, “Spider-Man 2” is the best. Featuring the most compelling storyline and villain, combined with continued superb action sequences and a fantastic ending, “Spider-Man 2” surpassed its predecessor and made for a tough act to follow.
Tobey Maguire is once again perfect playing the role of Peter Parker and Spider-Man. He is completely believable as the shy Parker, who can turn into Spider-Man whenever he senses trouble.
Kristen Dunst is solid as Mary Jane Watson, Peter’s longtime love interest who he is keeping at a distance because he doesn’t want to put her in harm’s way by revealing his alter ego to her.
Alfred Molina seemed like an odd choice for Dr. Otto Octavius, who becomes the evil Dr. Octopus. However, he gives an outstanding performance and is able to give his villain a heart without coming off cheesy. He also makes Dr. Octopus a worthy adversary for Spider-Man.
James Franco isn’t given too much to do as Harry Osbourne, who is still reeling over the death of his father Norman in the first film and still blames Spider-Man for his father’s death. However, we are able to see more of Harry’s decent into madness, and his scene at the end of the movie was a welcome surprise.
And while he doesn’t have a ton of screen time, J.K. Simmons returns to give another perfect portrayal of Daily Bugle chief J. Jonah Jameson.
The movie improves on what was done in the first film, while staying faithful to the Spider-Man lore, and delivers entertainment.
9. “Blade II” (2002)
Much like “Spider-Man 2,” “Blade II” takes the best parts of the first film and improves upon every aspect. The action is bigger, the storyline is grander and the movie ultimately is better.
Wesley Snipes is perfect as Blade, a half-man, half-vampire who hunts vampires to protect humans.
The second film picks up where the first film left off. At the end of “Blade,” the hero had ventured to Russia to battle vampires. In “Blade II,” he is in Prague, searching for his mentor Abraham Whistler, who seemingly died in the first film.
Eventually, Blade must team with a group known as The Bloodpack, a squad of vampires that was originally formed to go after Blade. Instead, Blade and The Bloodpack wage war with Reapers, a new, mutated form of vampires.
Director Guillermo del Toro does a fabulous job pacing the movie. Despite the fact that the film involves a lot of explanation of vampire elders and vampire traditions, the movie never lags.
Kris Kristofferson is perfect as Whistler. And, we are given a very plausible explanation as to why he didn’t actually die in the first film.
Leonor Varela is sexy and seductive as Nyssa, the daughter of a vampire elder that could seemingly be a love connection for Blade.
And Ron Perlman is excellent as Reinhardt, a member of The Bloodpack who doesn’t like Blade and is constantly trading quips with him.
“Blade II” is not only the best of the Blade movie franchise, but it is one of the best comic book films.
10. “Batman Begins” (2005)
An ambitious reboot of the Batman film franchise that hits every mark it aims for an paved the way for “The Dark Knight,” “Batman Begins” must be on this list because it not only is a good start to a hopefully long franchise, it’s a good film.
“Batman Begins” does retell the origin story of Bruce Wayne and Batman, and keeps things pretty similar to past stories until Wayne travels with Henri Ducard to train with the League of Shadows, a vigilante group run by Ra’s al Ghul. It’s here that we see just how Batman learned martial arts and his ability to not only be a good detective, but to move like a ninja.
When the movie shifts to Gotham City and Wayne full embraces becoming Batman, the movie could’ve tumbled down the cheesy tone of the Joel Schumacher Batman films. But instead of just turning Batman into an immediate superhero, we see some of his early struggles, some of his limits due to not having the right technology immediately at his fingertips, and some lessons that he learns that turns him into the savior of Gotham City.
Christian Bale is perfect as Bruce Wayne and Batman, as is Michael Caine as Alfred, who has a juicier role here than he does in “The Dark Knight.” Gary Oldman is also perfectly cast as James Gordon, who at this point is merely a sergeant in the Gotham City Police Department.
Liam Neeson is Henri Ducard, whose big reveal at the end of the film is a great surprise twist and sets up a fantastic finish to the movie.
Cillian Murphy does a great job with what turns out to be a smaller role as Dr. Jonathan Crane, whose alter ego is the villainous Scarecrow. Murphy has the looks of a classic movie villain, and he puts on a great performance here.
Morgan Freeman, Tom Wilkinson and Rutger Hauer are also solid in their supporting roles. The only miscast throughout the movie was that of Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, an assistant district attorney. Holmes just doesn’t have the authority of an A.D.A., and she also doesn’t play scared very well either.
Ultimately, the credit for the fantastic film has to go to director Christopher Nolan and writer David S. Goyer, who are obviously fans of Batman and wanted to craft the best movie possible.
The film makes things simple; it doesn’t use a lot of special effects and tells a story that anyone can follow, regardless of whether or not you know anything about Batman going into the film.