It’s not that hard, really it isn’t. Now, more than ever, it’s
pretty easy to do super heroes in the movies. The Matrix came out in 1999. Ever
since then, all of the technology needed to produce these super-human feats
has been in place. The One, a really terrible movie with Jet Li, had gorgeous
action sequences in which Jet Li was The Flash, Superman, and Batman. It can
That said, it’s not really fair for me to do a series of lists, because
many of these films didn’t have access to the technology. Doesn’t
matter; I’m doing it anyway. These movies knew the job was dangerous when
they took it. And in most cases, the problem wasn’t so much the effects
as it was the writing and plotting. That never requires a computer, unless, you
know, you’ve hired Akiva Goldsman.
Here was my criteria for what movies to consider: I went with anything that
was a comic book or a comic strip first, before it was anything else. The Shadow
and Doc Savage didn’t make the list (lucky bastards) because they started
out as pulps. The Green Hornet didn’t make the list because it was a radio
show first. You see what I mean? Also, the movie had to have some sort of official
release. Othewise, the FF movie and the JLA pilot would have horribly skewed
the results. The full list, with my ratings from one to four stars, can be viewed
As for criteria, these movies were judged first and foremost by how well the character
translated to the big screen. Plot, story, and details followed in that order.
Without any further ado, here are my picks for the top five best comic book movies
of all time.
Kind of a cheat, really, since this was also a vampire movie. That is, movie-going
audiences accept vampires a lot more than they accept super heroes. Blade did
a great job of bridging the gap with a simple, action-driven storyline.
Fat Joker killing Thomas Wayne aside, this movie made it cool to like Batman again.
Even now, people are looking down at the tattoo they got on their arm twelve years
ago and thinking, “Aw, man . . . ” Batman gets lots of points for style,
which is almost enough to overcome its flaws.
3. The X-Men
The best thing about this movie was that it wasn’t an embarrassment. Seriously.
It could have been awful. Thankfully, a lot of details got covered, and while
they had to lose their trademark costumes, the X-Men surprised everyone from the
wish-fulfillment of the Wolverine fans to the average guy who just wanted stuff
to blow up real good.
It may seem a little dated now, but it still holds up for that giddy rush when
you see Superman save Lois Lane for the first time. A faithful origin, a great
villain, and lots of Superman doing what he does best—being a symbol. I
still don’t like the way he goes back in time (who DIDN’T think he
was spinning the Earth backwards when they were kids?), and that’s still
my only quibble about the whole thing.
I’ll quote from myself, here: “They really got it right this time.
Perhaps for the first, and maybe only time, they put the character onscreen with
the same impact that he has in the comics, which is something that other versions
of the character got wrong, or ignored for simplicity’s sake.” I’ve
rewatched the movie and it still holds up for me. I revel in the little details,
like the spot-on Jameson and the un-Hollywood (but completely comic book) ending.
There are also several movies that, while great in their own right, didn’t
make the cut for one reason or another. These would be on a top ten list, but
not on a top five. They are:
10. The Mask
Factoring out the cheerful viciousness of the original comic, this light-hearted
adaptation worked better than anyone thought it would. The story had some problems,
but back in the early nineties, what didn’t?
9. Batman Returns
In some ways, this film was better than the first, but in other ways, it was much,
much worse. Nevertheless, the Batman/Catwoman/Penguin triangle was really effective,
and the movie had a cool sense of humor that made up for its shortcomings.
8. The Crow
Lots of style, lots of cool action, and some spot-on (albeit tragic) casting made
The Crow a worthwhile endeavor. The problem was, no one really cared, because
no one had heard of the comic book. After the fact, it was a smash success, though.
7. The Phantom
Boy, oh boy, what a fun movie! Just like the strip and the comics, The Phantom
started and ended with a bang. Excepting the “Green Lantern Power Ring Fight”
at the end, the story was remarkably faithful to the source material, and Billy
Zane looked absolutely fantastic, to boot.
6. The Rocketeer
In spite of the fact that the Doc Savage material had to be removed, Disney’s
adaptation was well-received, classily executed, and best of all, not embarrassing.
The characters looked like they stepped right out of Dave Stevens’ graphic
novel and really came to life. Some of the story had to be compromised, but what
got put in its place was just as good.
But what about the worst? That’s really what we want to avoid in the future,
isn’t it? I think so. It’s not really that hard, when you look at
the list, but I’ll run them down for you all the same.
5. Superman 4
I’ve read the script with all of the stuff that was cut out of the movie
replaced, and you know what? It’s not much better. This is an embarrassment
to everyone involved.
Two words: “The Wimp!” This movie sucked a plate of ass, for many
reasons, chief among them was wasting Peter Cook in the movie. It never should’ve
gotten made. Not a good part of the Superman canon to begin with, it makes an
even lamer story when told with the same tone as Superman III.
3. Batman & Robin
If you loved the 60’s Batman, boy, has Joel Shumacher got a treat for you!
Appalling, horrible, script, overblown, poorly lighted fights, and the most ridiculous,
outlandish plotting. In some ways, it really mirrored a comic . . . a terrible comic.
How much crap can one put in a super hero movie? This bucket of ass shows you
in graphic detail.
2. Howard the Duck
Look, I don’t care if YOU liked it, this movie should never have been made.
Steve Gerber is a nut, and I mean that in the most complimentary sense of the
word, and Howard the Duck was a brilliant, funny idea. This movie isn’t
Howard the Duck. It’s not even close. Oh, there’s a duck in it named
Howard. But that’s where the similarities end.
1. Swamp Thing
“There is—much beauty in swamp—if you only look.” Well,
don’t look at Dick Durock. He’s the guy in the baggy, ill-painted
and ill-fitting rubber suit who gets to battle Louie Jordan as Arcane and chase
around a half-naked Adrienne Barbeau filling in (and filling out) the Matt Cable
role. They took a pretty clever, well-drawn comic book series and made it into . . . well,
it’s not even schlock. It just went against everything that the comic book
tried to be. I don’t care if Wes Craven DID direct it; this is the worst
movie adaptation of a comic book I’ve ever seen. Particularly when you consider
that a year after the movie was released, Alan Moore wrote “The Anatomy
Lesson” and redid Swamp Thing . . . and then years after that, they did a sequel
to the movie that was just as bad as the original. You just can’t win for
It’s important to remember that these things aren’t the be all and
end all of science fiction. In fact, many of these movies wouldn’t be on
my top ten list, or even my favorite movies of all time list. And if you throw
in other movies that are clearly comic book flavored (The Matrix, for example),
then it dilutes the power of these movies even further. Statistically speaking,
there are far more terrible comic to film adaptations than good ones. Here’s
hoping it’s going to get better in the next few years . . .