With The Dark Knight Rises out in cinemas this week, one of the most critically acclaimed and financially successful series of comic book adaptations comes to a close. We take a look back at some of our favourite comics on-screen over the last thirty years or so.
Our list focuses mostly on adaptations of English-language comics with one prominent exception, but includes films from both Marvel and DC, independent comics and non-capes as well. This is a favourites list, so if yours isn’t on there, make a suggestion in the comments below.
Based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, it couldn’t have been in more capable hands than Britain’s Edgar Wright. He brings all of his rapid editing superpowers to the table in the action sequences, and the net effect is that while you may not be entirely sure what hit you, it has left you in a good place with a strange desire to hit the video arcades.
9. Sin City
Frank Miller’s set of noir flavoured comics are pulp fiction elevated to grand heights. Robert Rodriguez took on the difficult task of literally translating Miller’s unique visuals to the screen, shooting entirely on green screen and digitally to achieve a film that looks like no other. Except maybe Miller’s own The Spirit, which we’ve tried to forget. Booze, blood and dames, this has got it all.
8. Ghost World
With the possible exception of the Bat-mask that Enid (Thora Birch) dons, there isn’t a single cape to be seen in this quirky indie gem. Hipster before mumblecore, like all the best hipsters are, even Scarlett Johansson (who appears twice on this list) is tolerable! Coupled with a terrific blues soundtrack, and who else but Steve Buscemi, Daniel Clowes adapted his own series of comics/graphic novel for Terry Zwigoff. Also: whatever happened to Thora Birch?
The final word in both Japanese manga and anime, Katsuhiro Ohtomo’s masterpiece is an adaptation of his original 2182-page manga epic. Although it prunes much of the last half, only covering a fraction of the huge source material, this is a visually stunning piece of cinema in any language. We shudder to think what horrors that long-gestating live action version has in store for us.
6. X-2: X-Men United
While Blade (1998) may have the honour of being the first of Marvel Studios’ big-screen co-productions, Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) was the first of the major Marvel characters to make it large in the modern era. The first film was just fine, but fans got the adaptation they had always dreamed of in Singer’s sequel, introducing Nightcrawler, the God Love, Man Kills arc from the comics, and pieces of Wolverine’s origin. Speaking of which, we finally got to see Logan go berserk. This is how to make an X-film.
5. Spider-Man 2
As The Amazing Spider-man recently proved, there is only so much you can do with Spidey’s origin story. Sam Raimi’s first film brought Spider-man to life in ways we had never seen before, and Tobey Maguire made a terrific Peter Parker. With the follow-up, Raimi and his team are free of the burdens of exposition, and can launch straight into an epic show-down between the wall-crawler and a brilliant Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus. The third film dropped the ball with too many villains and a emo dance sequence.
4. The Avengers
With Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, Marvel Studios didn’t just create a film but a whole world. Built up through five individual films, it was the ultimate pay-off for patient fans new and old. What The Avengers mostly achieves is an end to one chapter and opening a door to another, filled with sequels, spin-offs and a growing legion of fans who have had their expectations raised by the unnecessarily high quality of this series.
3. Iron Man
It all started here. There wouldn’t be an Avengers film without Iron Man (2008) in many ways. Taking everybody by surprise, especially given that Iron Man was barely known outside the comics world, the high-octane film not only impressed with its flawless action and tongue-in-cheek comedy, but rightfully made Robert Downey Jr a superstar again. Jon Favreau guided his baby onto the big screen with such affection it made new Iron Man fans overnight.
2. Batman Begins
There are strong arguments for The Dark Knight, and undoubtedly now some for The Dark Knight Rises, but with this film director Christopher Nolan and writer David S. Goyer achieved the impossible: making Batman’s origin story seem fresh again. With its non-linear set-up and mature approach to the material, Nolan had the odd notion that if you threw great actors like Christian Bale, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine at the material, it might just be a winner. He was entirely correct.
1. Superman: The Movie
It’s hard to believe that there was a time when Christopher Reeve wasn’t synonymous with Superman. John Williams most iconic of scores, a script co-written by The Godfather‘s Mario Puzo, a delightfully villainous Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor and a chemistry between Reeve and Margot Kidder (as Lois Lane) that can’t be force. So influential was Superman: The Movie, that a number of elements – including the crystal technology, and even the nature of Clark’s relationship with Metropolis – actually becoming comic book canon as the result of this film. The perfect origin story of a superhero, along with being an unsurpassed piece of movie magic.
Agree or disagree? What are some of your favourite comic book films? Let us know below or hit us up on Twitter.