Comic Books. Graphic Novels. Mangas. For the geeks in us, they have always been the greatest source of entertainment. Most of their characters grew with us and have become an indispensable source of nostalgia and excitement. The heroes instilling values and righteousness even before our parents could and the villains portraying the complexity of the world that lies ahead of us. As a result of their ever increasing popularity, we also got to see many comic book movies. In this segment we will only be looking at live action films though, no disrespect towards animated or short films, they are great but categorization is required to have a clear idea when it comes to such a huge collection of adaptations. Disagreeing with both the popular opinions : comic book adaptations should be a source of entertainment and the best comic book movies can only be judged by placing it in the same light as you would do for any other film.
Entertainment enthusiasts have to understand that the cheap popcorn flick that is being served today in the disguise of a blockbuster is just very mediocre from a critical perspective, and staunch film critics should do better than generalize the sub-genre and recollect the impact some of the films had on the industry. The films on this list may prefer displaying the ugly side of the world, a desire for realism, an uncomfortable factor for a considerable section of audience but if you look around most of the characters and situations exist in the world we live in and its subtext is an intelligent social commentary that changes in presentation depending on the creator’s vision. Without spending much time on explanation that most of you are aware of, let’s look at the list of top comic book movies ever (And yes there are movies on this that you may not be aware of that they were based on comic books). You can some of these comic book movies on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime.
Absolutely no surprises here. ‘Oldboy’ is the only masterpiece on this list. Adapted from the Japanese manga of the same name by Korean director Park-chan Wook, ‘Oldboy’ is one of those rare movies that are better than their source material. ‘Oldboy’ goes skinny dipping in the gory and shocking waters of the darkest subjects ever put in a graphic novel, relishing its lust for horror with outspoken style. ‘Oldboy’ was to Asia what Chinatown was to the western world, the birth of neo-noir and since then Korean cinema is going through a period of renaissance. Choi Min-sik who plays the tragic titular character Oh Dae-su, gave a riveting performance which can only be matched by the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis or the late Hoffman.
Park did change some elements within the movie, inclining it towards the mythical character of Oedipus and this did make the film feel like an epic. Except the story, the camerawork with long shots of the action sequences that feel so rhythmic and the beautiful trumpeting score that keeps on elevating the glory of the beast Dae-su had become, ‘Oldboy’ is undoubtedly the boldest epic of contemporary cinema, with Quentin Tarantino being a special entry in its fan following.
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‘Watchmen’ is one of the best superhero movies ever made. It is an unusual gem from the usually puzzled Zack Snyder. I have always considered ‘Watchmen’ to be the ‘Zodiac’ of superhero movies for sharing similar traits. With a runtime over 3 hours, Watchmen patiently breathes life into every character and develops them as the story unfolds, something which modern superhero movies take 3-4 movies to achieve. Though a couple of characters maybe mediocrely written, they are essential to the plot and are given their fair share of space. No particular character hogs the limelight and that is exactly what is expected from an ensemble movie, and very similar to ‘Zodiac’ it focuses on the lives of people affected by the events that take place.
Apart from being a gripping mystery thriller, this movie gave us the finest antihero of the 21st century in the merciless Rorschach, a commendably faithful performance from Jackie Earle Haley. Rorschach is born out of Travis Bickle’s contempt of the changing world and Batman’s sheer badassery. The motives of the film and the mysterious killer appear simplistic throughout the course and we believe it’s one of those adaptations with dark lucid visual storytelling and reflecting character but this all takes a massive turn when the climax of the film takes place and it’s only then we realize the hints Snyder had been placing all around us. DC always involves the most beautifully made movies quite contrary to the criticism of its love for darkness but it is important to note that the use of shadows and subdued lighting is an art that requires utmost precision and it is done perfectly in Watchmen. Though long it’s completely worth your time and yeah you can leave the popcorn outside.
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3. A History of Violence
Cronenberg and Mortensen may not be the greatest director-actor duo, but when it comes to stylish no holes barred thrillers only Scorsese-DeNiro can claim to be better. Its adapted from a graphic novel of the same name and let me take a moment to stress on the word ‘graphic’. With sex scenes that are so rough they would make a ferris wheel out of your brain cells to deaths that are so red you would wish you were born colorblind, Cronenberg as usual plays with the viewers’ hearts but with a foreboding sense of doom that pretty much dominates over the gore. The Empire Magazine named it the 448th greatest film of all time and was in many critics’ best films of the decade list, and it rightfully deserves the plaudits. It highlights the genius of a good graphic novel, the emphasis on the gore but the motive to weave the hidden psyche of people.
With a stunning performance by Mortensen capturing the essence of the trademark noir hero and the descent into his own hell, the movie is not about a plot, but its characters and the adversity of a confounded existence. I rank it among the likes of ‘American Psycho’ and ‘There Will Be Blood’ as a great character study of a man whose back rests on the bed of Satan and his hands grasping salvation, which he looks for in hiss family because there’s nothing within.
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4. Spider-Man 2
One of the earliest Marvel movies and hasn’t been bettered to date. ‘Spider-Man 2’ was released more than a decade ago during the initial stages of the uprising of the genre and with groundbreaking practical effects and a terrific sound design, it laid the foundation for adrenaline junkie superhero movies. The innovative camerawork was appreciated and Raimi’s direction was critically acclaimed and he still remains the best director to supervise a superhero flick, his past work on the Evil Dead series always a reminder of his capabilities. The story is mainly taken from The Amazing Spider-Man Issue No. 50 “Spider-Man No More” and was lauded for its decision to explore the life of a superhero and the responsibilities that toll up on him, conveying the humane side of the man behind the mask.
This theme was brilliantly supported by using the tragic super villain Doctor Octopus (the most developed villain to ever exist in a Marvel movie), who was visually appealing and battling his own demons like Peter Parker. The most difficult job is to create a most illustrious fantasy and to keep it rooted with the fundamental aspects of life, and the film is undoubtedly successful at that. It keeps on the edge of our seats till the end with the scene involving Willem Dafoe reeking of nostalgia and signaling towards a crazier sequel, which unfortunately was a clusterf*ck. P.s : With the train stopping and Dr Octopus lifting the reactor scenes,the movie also has the two greatest moments in the trilogy’s history.
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5. Road to Perdition
Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, Daniel Craig and Jude Law. Has a cast for a comic book adaptation ever been this good? 17 Oscar nominations between the four of them and unlike most movies with a spectacular cast, this doesn’t fail. The duo of Sam Mendes and the late Conrad Hall (who was posthumously awarded for the Best Cinematography ) worked in perfect tandem with the performances of the actors. Set in 1931 during the Great Depression, a time where the mafia thrived, it follows a mob enforcer and his son as they seek vengeance against a mobster who murdered the rest of their family. Though it sounds like a normal crime story, there’s a catch. The man who kills Michael Sullivan’s family is the son of the very man who serves as a father figure to Sullivan, raising him when he was orphaned.
The movie unlike most entries on this list focus on the impact of violence on the perpetrators rather the act itself. The beauty of the movie lies in its depiction of relationships, especially the one between Sullivan (Tom Hanks) and his son. Sullivan desires to prevent his son from walking down a similar path, which is shown in great contrast with that of the mob boss Looney (Paul Newman) and his son. The camerawork in this is one of my personal favorites with brilliant thematic use of water and the haunting visuals of the deadly streets of Chicago. If you are a Hanks fan then you cannot miss this.
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6. Batman Begins
The movie Batman deserved and also the one he needed! Most people would consider ‘The Dark Knight’ to be the best from the trilogy, but in all honesty it falls short of Begins’s statement. Though Keaton’s Batman was a blockbuster and set numerous records, the films that succeeded it brashly destroyed The Caped Crusader’s reputation, him being at the receiving end of many parodies. With the best origin depiction on screen and some phenomenal use of lighting, ‘Batman Begins’ is visually the most enticing movie from the trilogy combined with the roaring score that laid the foundation for the Academy Award winner in ‘The Dark Knight’. Though the film was criticized for the lack of development of its villains, Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) and Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson), I believe it was a good step with the metamorphosis of the dark knight captured steadily in the expanded screen time.
DC never truly capitalized on the catapulting start that Begins gave it and deviated a lot with the progression of the series switching between themes in a haphazard manner. The kid inside never ceases to forget the image of a huge black figure soaring over the streets of the heavy tinted smoking streets of Gotham, with the weighted swiftness showing the energy and the determination of the man underneath it, but also implying its point : “It is not who you are underneath, it is what you do that defines you” and that is kicking asses!
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7. The Crow
You would be surprised to know that Heath Ledger was equivalent to a modern day reincarnation of Brandon Lee. Brandon Lee is a cult legend, mainly due to his portrayal of Eric Draven of this gothic action flick, which had inspired Ledger’s Joker to an extent from the make-up to the chaotic mannerism, though their motives differed. The visual style of the movie which was heavily praised is like Edgar Allan Poe meets Sam Raimi, with gothic horror and fast paced shots that dance along step by step with the overflowing action. The Crow served as an inspiration for many darkly veiled movies including Sin City, Blade and The Dark Knight trilogy and making Lee a melancholic legend. The movie was grungier than any adaptation ever made and critics claimed its portrait of inner Detroit made Gotham City feel like “Emerald City”! The movie was named the 468th greatest film of all time and its massive cult following and modern cultural influences is a proof of its everlasting legacy.
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Christopher Reeve’s ‘Superman’ has become the universally accepted representation of The Man of Steel. “Christopher Reeve’s entire performance is a delight. Ridiculously good-looking, with a face as sharp and strong as an ax blade, his bumbling, fumbling Clark Kent and omnipotent Superman are simply two styles of gallantry and innocence”. This is what the critics said about Reeve who based his image on Cary Grant and went through an astounding fitness schedule under the guidance of David Prowse (Darth Vader). He became the poster boy of the 80s and played the character 4 times until his last performance in 1987. Apart from Reeve’s casting, the film was spot on with its decision to have a very fine structure with a lot of emphasis on the plot unlike the recent Man of Steel which was everywhere.
Richard Donner divided his movie into three segments : the scenes on Krypton featuring the legendary Marlon Brando were right out of a 70s sci-fi flick, Clark Kent’s childhood in Smallville reminiscent of the 40s and 50s exploring the American scenery and upbringing, and the third segment set in Metropolis inducing realism into the superhero by connecting him with the everyday life. The visuals are commendable with the unavailability of CGI technology not affecting it by a tad bit and the use of precise practical effects has never grown campy.
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Long before the Deadpool movie was even a concept, the world witnessed the nastiest R rated superhero. Blade. The vampire hunter whose hate for the blood suckers sometimes reaches the point of fanaticism, was given a fitting tribute by the enigmatic Wesley Snipes (the man never ages!). Though most fans would argue about Blade 2’s exclusion, for giving the series a perfect start the credit goes to Blade. This was the time when Marvel barely interfered in the development of superhero flicks and as a result the filmmakers paid attention to the movie as a whole, compared to the current universe set-up which focuses on the end product and not on the steps leading up to it. With no affiliations, director Norrington’s experience on the sets of Alien as a special effects artist and Snipes’s run of gritty roles and martial arts talent, Blade was innovative with its visual imagery and the brilliant action scenes on screen.
Though it lacks in the Evil department with an inferior character to that of Ron Perlman’s in the sequel (Del Toro and his villains!), it does make up by trumping its sequel with visually narrated action rather than the sequel’s over the top violence and also Blade 2’s inconsistency in character development owing to the huge cast.
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10. Sin City
Many would argue over Sin City’s place at the bottom and I personally felt, though entertaining, well that pretty much all it was. The graphic novel features rather generalized themes and they aren’t really any issue, it was never meant to preach to you, but when it comes to ranking the best works entertainment is not the deciding factor. The movie is an anthology of Frank Miller’s (writer of 300 and The Dark Knight Returns) graphic novels with the segments in the movie serving as an adaptation of 3 different books. The cast is huge but breathtaking as well with Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Rutger Hauer and Jessica Alba being some names and surprisingly every character was played to perfection. Being a Dark Horse work, it had an exclusive visual style that was replicated on screen under Miller’s guidance.
Most of the film was in black and white with high saturation that gave an overlapping effect to the shadows on screen, but added color for selected objects like apparel and sources of light. Another movie to use rain in the background to convey a harsh environment, the difference being the rain is flashy and almost paining to watch and there’s nothing watery about it unlike the symbolism in ‘Road to Perdition’. Even Tarantino was roped in to direct a couple of scenes and we know the man cannot miss out on something so lucrative and gory.
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