The GeeksverseThe Roundtable | Favorite Comic Book Movies

The Roundtable | Favorite Comic Book Movies
Published on Friday, August 9, 2013 by
2013 has already seen a slew of big comic book movies like Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and The Wolverine along with more modest fare like Bullet to the Head, R.I.P.D., Red 2, and 2 Guns. Do any of them make our lists of personal comic book movie favorites? Click through to find out!

Not too long ago, the idea of making a “comic book movie” must have sounded like commercial Russian roulette to Hollywood studio executives. Sure, once upon a time, serial films starring comic book-based heroes were highly popular features in cinemas across North America but by the time the close of the 20th century had arrived, comic book movies had become anathema to the film studio purse-string holders. Unequivocal box-office successes like Superman (1978), Superman II (1980), Batman (1989), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), Batman Returns (1992), The Mask (1994), The Crow (1994), Men in Black (1997), and Blade (1998) proved to be the exceptions that reinforced the rule that comic book films were critical and commercial gambles that, more often than not, failed to pay off in terms of ticket receipts or good press, as they were vastly outnumbered by outings that either underperformed at the box-office or were universally panned by critics (often times both) like Popeye (1980), Heavy Metal (1981), Superman III (1983), Sheena (1984), Howard the Duck (1986), Superman IV (1987), The Punisher (1989), Captain America (1990), The Rocketeer (1991), Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Ri¢hie Ri¢h (1994), Tank Girl (1994), Batman Forever (1995), Judge Dredd (1995), Barb Wire (1996), The Crow: City of Angels (1996), Steel (1997), Batman & Robin (1997), and Spawn (1997), not to mention the numerous comics-based film projects that ended up going direct-to-video (although we’ll cop to having a soft spot for Vampirella) [look kids, it’s Roger Daltrey!–ed.] or, as in the case of 1994’s notoriously terrible The Fantastic Four, never getting an official North American release at all.

All that’s changed in the past dozen years or so, however. A combination of changing viewer demographics, rising movie ticket prices, ubiquitous marketing, a subjective improvement in comic book filmmaking quality, and all manner of other factors has resulted in comic book movies becoming very big business. How big? For the first three business quarters of 2009, film production accounted for 35.5% of Marvel Entertainment’s earnings compared to publishing’s 21.3%, and one can only imagine how much that ratio has tilted in favor of the former with Disney’s acquisition of Marvel and the continuous roll-out of Marvel Studios feature films since 2008’s Iron Man. Even box-office duds and certified flops can still end up making money on the back-end, as Dredd 3D demonstrated earlier this year with its strong performance on the VOD and DVD/Blu-Ray markets.

For ill and good, the widespread perception within the mainstream comic book industry seems to be that comic book movies are as important as the comics themselves to the financial health of comics publishers.

A previous Roundtable may have unintentionally painted some of us as cynical of comic book movies, but in truth, as fans of comics, we are actually quite fond of a good number of them. In this week’s Roundtable, we ask Comixverse staffers and contributors the question: What are your top three favorite comic book movies?

Troy Osgood

Does 1986’s The Transformers: The Movie count?  Or is that more toys then comics? [I’d say it’s more of an extension of the television series than a comic book movie, but I’ll let it stand–ed.]

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If that one doesn’t count, then I’d have to go with 2012’s The Avengers for #1. I absolutely love the movie. Great story, plot, it hits all the key points. But most importantly, it doesn’t try to be a “comic book” movie. More often than not, any comics-to-movie adaption tries to change a lot of things so the larger, non-comics reading audience will accept it. A lot of the things that we just accept as comic book reality/physics, the general public won’t. The Avengers doesn’t do that. It throws all the comic booky goodness out there but in a way that the general public found acceptable. And it was still a movie that comic geeks could enjoy.

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2008’s Iron Man comes in next, I think, much for the same reasons as The Avengers. This was the one that said to the general public: “Look, not all comic book movies are Catwoman or Daredevil.  They can be cool.”

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Jason Thees

I know it’s a pretty traditional answer, but The Avengers holds a pretty special place in my heart right now. I grew up a Marvel kid (before migrating to DC in my early teens) and to finally, finally see that spectacle on the screen is pretty amazing to me. I don’t know that I’d say it was the *best* comic movie, but it captured some magic for me that will probably never happen again. And also, the scene with Thanos and his ziggurat after the credits gave me the biggest fanboy-gasm I’ve ever had in my life, especially since I managed to catch that unspoiled.

The first Men in Black and last year’s Men in Black 3 are up there in a tie as well. Neither are very true to their comic counterpart, or at least not until the Marvel run, which was based off the first film, but they’re both fun rides, and capture the imagination. I have similar hopes for R.I.P.D. [I don’t want to ruin it for you, but R.I.P.D. isn’t looking all that good, but I suppose it’ll do in a pinch if you’re just looking for a supernatural twist on the MiB formula–ed.]

Last. but not least, is 2010’s The Losers (based on the DC/Vertigo comic). This is the movie that made me like Chris Evans, which got me excited for 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, which led to The Avengers, et cetara, et cetera. It was a great throwback to the ’80s in a lot of ways, feeling like one part The A-Team and one part Schwarzenegger flick. Lots of one-liners that actually made me laugh out loud, too… “Oh my God, I’m the black MacGyver… BlackGyver!” To this day, my group of friends looks for ways to use the phrase “that’s right bitches; I’ve got a crossbow.”

Zedric Dimalanta

Getting a comic book movie right isn’t as easy as it looks. It certainly helps that the preexisting comic book source material can be used as the rudimentary basis for a feature film adaptation’s storyboards, but as I’ve discussed extensively in a prior column, comics are more than just elaborate storyboards or “paper movies.” Comics are an intrinsically more interactive medium than film, because readers have to fill in the narrative gaps created by the “gutters” between panels, they have to provide the intonation, phonation, and pitch contour that implies context and subtext to the dialogue, and they have to dictate the pacing of the storytelling, whereas in film, the continuous nature of full-motion means those narrative gaps don’t exist except during deliberate scene changes, vocalization context/subtext is supplied by the actors, and the pacing is determined by the director. One major implication of this difference is that certain sequential art/visual storytelling techniques won’t work nearly as well in full-motion film or animation. The comic book movies I enjoy watching and re-watching the most, I find, are not only great standalone viewing experiences, but are also those films that take something unique to the source comic book and translate it into an equivalently memorable movie experience.

Anyway, lengthy preamble out of the way, here’s my list of my top three favorite comic book films:

3. Ghost in the Shell (1995)

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Mamoru Oshii’s super-slick animated retelling of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell manga helped spark my personal interest in neuroscience and the cognitive sciences. Yes, parts of the dialogue sometimes sound like freshman Introduction to Philosophy discussions but even those whose eyes glaze over with the characters’ strange penchant for engaging in lengthy and often jarring dialectics on the themes of identity and free will should appreciate its highly detailed backgrounds as well as the many action set pieces that were pretty much unprecedented at the time in terms of their quality and are still impressive to watch today.

2. The Crow (1994)

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1994’s The Crow was the first R-rated film I ever saw in the theater unaccompanied by an adult. I remember cutting class with a couple of mates to make the screening and the person at the ticket counter not caring that we were obviously too young to be watching an R-rated film (we didn’t bother to change out of our high school uniforms), but my fondness for the Alex Proyas-directed film goes beyond mere nostalgia. There’s the unfortunate circumstance of it being Brandon Lee’s final film—Lee died from injuries sustained in a freak shooting accident during filming—echoing the same tragedy that surrounded his late father’s final film project and making it all the more significant to me, already a dyed-in-the-wool Bruce Lee fan at that point in my life. But what I feel isn’t discussed enough is just how important Proyas’ vision for James O’Barr’s comics creation was to its eventual status as a pop culture icon. The director managed the impressive task of smoothing over the rough edges of the source material without compromising its merits, although I will say that the film’s third act feels somewhat tacked on.

1. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

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Originally released in Japanese theaters in 1984, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is based on the first 16 chapters of the manga of the same name, both created by the esteemed filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. I won’t use this space to recap what makes the film so powerful and influential, even more so than the original manga, but suffice it to say that the film pretty much laid down the loose blueprint for many of Miyazaki’s subsequent award-winning and much-beloved works that feature strong, independent-minded, female leads, an emphasis on the need to balance technological progress with a respect for the environment, three-dimensional “villains” who aren’t necessarily “bad guys” in the traditional sense, inventive character designs, and a fascination for flight. While it can be contended that later, similarly-themed Miyazaki films such as 1986’s Castle in the Sky and 1997’s Princess Mononoke trump Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in terms of both technical execution and artistic direction, it’s difficult to argue against Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind‘s staggering influence on modern character, creature, prop, and vehicle design in animation and comics the world over.

The first version of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind that I saw was actually the “Americanized” re-cut version entitled Warriors of the Wind, which mangled the material beyond all recognition and it was only through the Internet phenomenon of illicit “fansubs” that I was able to watch the original film in its entirety during the late 1990s. Fortunately, viewers who don’t speak Japanese need no longer resort to such measures today to see the film as Miyazaki intended it to be viewed: In 2005, Buena Vista Home Entertainment released an uncut and re-dubbed version of the film on DVD for North America that included the original Japanese audio track as well as a new English-language track that features performers such as Patrick Stewart, Mark Hamill, Uma Thurman, Edward James Olmos, Alison Lohman, and Shia LaBeouf and in 2010, that remastered version was issued on Blu-Ray.

Honorable mentions: Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1999), Iron Man (2008), Sin City (2005), Heavy Metal (1981), Ghost World (2001).

Kevin Kessler (contributor)

Ah, comic book movies! My bread and butter! Since I first saw Tim Burton’s original Batman as a child I was hooked on the prospect of seeing the pages of my favorite comic books come to life in an action-packed cavalcade of cinematic bliss. For years Batman was my only hope. They rolled out a new Batman once every couple of years, and of course eventually killed the franchise with the repugnant Batman & Robin. Then, Marvel stepped up to the plate and began their yearly blitzkreig on the summer movie season. And while I loved their offerings from X-Men to Spider-Man, I still yearned to see the Dark Knight of my youth plastered on the screen once more to fully erase the stain of “Bat Nipples” from my mind. Then, vindication came to me in the form of my first entry.

1. Batman Begins (2005)

This is not the movie most would point to as their favorite of the three “Nolanverse” films, however I truly believe it’s the only perfect movie of the three. This movie took us to a place we had never been before. It was a movie about Bruce Wayne, and not a movie about Batman. We got to see how Bruce aged from a traumatized young boy watching his parents bleed out, into the freaking BATMAN! It felt like a little bit of Batman: Year One, mixed together with elements of Batman: The Animated Series. Scarecrow was awesome, and Nolan pulled it off without dressing a grown man like a scarecrow. And, pronunciation of his name aside, Liam Neeson CRUSHES it as Ra’s Al Ghul. And the way they ended it, with the Joker card, truly masterful. It got everyone excited. I also loved the characterization of Gordon, as it was the first time on a screen, apart from the animated series (oh how I love thee BTAS!), that Gordon was more than just a bumbling cop who can’t do his job without a vigilante. Their uneasy partnership started slowly and blossomed into a genuine friendship built on a foundation of mutual respect. It’s a shame that the series ended up where it did. More on that in my next solo article.

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2. Man of Steel (2013)

Listen, if you’ve read my review of the film here on Comixverse, you’ll know that I basically had a love affair with this movie. It had it all. Action, suspense, romance, more action, themes of loss and acceptance, and even more ACTION! There’s nothing I can say about it here that I haven’t already said in my earlier review, so for my full thoughts, go check that out.

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3. The Avengers (2012)

I know, I know, everyone is using this one. But come on! This movie is near PERFECT! This was the culmination of Marvel’s masterful equation. At Marvel they created the anti-anti-life equation with Phase One, breathing life into a franchise encompassing six films over five years! Iron Man + The Incredible Hulk + Thor + Iron Man 2 + Captain America: The First Avenger = The Avengers. My only gripe was Captain America being somewhat marginalized in the film, which was strange given his prominent standing on the team: I could’ve done with a little less Black Widow and a little more Steve Rogers.

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Joe Milone

Three comic book movies… so tough to really narrow it down, since there are quite a few excellent ones and I can probably do a top 10 or maybe even more, but I digress. I do agree with the choices my colleagues listed, like The Avengers, Ghost in the Shell, and Batman Begins, so I won’t go on about those. My Choices are as follows:

Watchmen (2009): I know it was neither a commercial success nor a critical success, but to me it’s one of the best adaptations of the source material. [Apart from the 2008 motion comic DVD, isn’t it the only adaptation of the source material?–ed.] I think on a commercial level it fails, especially if you never read the book. It being so faithful to the book, hurts its general appeal… it’s not really easy to get into. Having read the TPB until it fell apart, I watched with awe and appreciation. And I did like the change to the ending, it just made more sense then an intergalactic squid.

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Blade (1998): I think this movie worked in many ways: good story, good music and good action. I think Blade worked well because people weren’t overly familiar with the character and therefore were less critical of the changes. I myself knew very little about Blade other then he was a Marvel character and therefore never knew he was British in the books. Sometimes the less known characters make for the best movies, people are less picky.

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Finally, I choose Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Cap is one of my all-time favorite characters and I hadn’t much hope in ever seeing him grace the silver screen again after the disaster that was the 1990 movie. And then when the Marvel Studios Phase One stuff was announced and Cap was on the list, I was overjoyed. Then came the announcement of Chris Evans as the Star-Spangled Avenger, and I was quite skeptical to say the least.  Then I saw the movie and I found that I was wrong to doubt Evans’ ability to play the lead role. Chris Evans actually turned out to be an excellent choice for the lead role, and of course Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull was fantastic as well. Good story and great effects and I was hooked on this film! I hope the sequel can follow its lead!

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Did we overlook any of your favorites? Do you feel like Bryan Singer’s X-Men films are under-represented in our lists? Think we should have thrown some love to Donner’s Superman movies? Let us know in the comments section below or in one of our social media channels.
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