The summer movie season in full swing again and comic book movies are dominating cinema like never before. But comic books have been the subject of films both great and terrible since the time of movie serials in the 1940’s.
Over the decades, comic books have been used in a wide array of film interpretations. Whether the characters are wearing tights, dark leather, or plain clothes, their vibrant personalities and decades of history shine through. In any case, these adaptations have resulted in many classic and downright amazing films. And many of them hold a special place for me in my love of movies.
Ranking them may not always be easy with the surprising amount of diversity they supply, but it had to be done! I present to you, numbers 30 to 21 of The Greatest Comic Book Movies! For numbers 20 – 11, go to Part 2 and for the top 10, go to Part 3.
30. Superman Returns
Plenty had issue with Bryan Singer’s reintroduction of Superman into modern films. Mostly, it was because of the movie’s decision to continue the tradition of Christopher Reeve and the tone of his films. It also didn’t help that a large swath of the movie was filled with quiet moments of introspection, which was in direct opposition to many viewers wanting high octane action. But this is meant to be more of a throwback film, just with better special effects. It won’t go down as a classic, but it has far more good points than many remember.
Best Moment: Murphy’s Law asserts itself when an airplane with Lois Lane inside and a space shuttle on top plummets from the sky. Superman intervenes, catching it at the last moment in the middle of a crowded baseball stadium and announcing his return after five years in space.
29. The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his Dark Knight Trilogy is easily its weakest. There are far too many strange lapses in logic and moments that stick out as quite unreal in the context of the more grounded tone of the rest of the series. That being said, there are plenty of good qualities to be found as well. Christian Bale makes for a great Batman, both in and out of the cowl, and the supporting cast is stellar as always. Plus, the film is bolstered by Anne Hathaway’s devious Catwoman and Tom Hardy’s brawny and loquacious Bane. Strong action sequences and a good emotional undercurrent help keep The Dark Knight Rises moving along. For more insight, read my in-depth look at The Failures of The Dark Knight Trilogy.
Best Moment: After repeated failures, Bruce Wayne finally climbs out of the pit that he was imprisoned in by Bane. Chanting, great performances, and a superb score makes this chill inducing. “Rise,” indeed.
28. Superman II
The greatest aspects of Superman II really comes down to two elements: Christopher Reeve as Superman and Terrence Stamp as General Zod. Reeve is still the quintessential Superman and Clark Kent and that continues here, even when he’s saddled with some so-so points in his character arc. Stamp’s General Zod is a wonderful egomaniac with the powers of a god and one of the most memorable lines in cinema. However, the film also has quite a few jarring shifts in tone and poorly-aged comedic moments. It’s mostly due to the fact that director Richard Donner was fired halfway through and replaced, leading to reshoots and shifts in focus that did the film no favors.
Best Moment: “Kneel before Zod!”
27. Thor: The Dark World
While the first Thor emphasized character building over action set pieces (partly out of a restricted budget), this sequel went the exact opposite direction. The Dark World is all beefy special effects-laden battles across The Nine Realms. It may scratch a certain itch at times, but when paired with the film’s insistence on comedic moments that undercut dramatic tension, it makes the movie feel like it has far lower stakes than it should. Chis Hemsworth gives Thor a great on-screen presence despite a relatively minor character arc. And while Tom Hiddleston as Loki is the best thing about the film, it also highlights the weakness of main baddie Malekith. Read my review here.
Best Moment: After Thor busts Loki out of prison, his brother taunts him by shifting his appearance multiple times, finally turning into Captain America for one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best cameos.
26. Batman Returns
When director Tim Burton came back for the sequel to the blockbuster Batman, Warner Bros. gave him full creative control. What they got in return was something exceedingly Burton-esque. Every moment of Batman Returns is suffused with darkness and gothic imagery. However, this works just as many times as it fails. Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is one of the film’s strong points and has great chemistry with Michael Keaton’s Batman, while Danny DeVito’s Penguin makes a lasting impression, even if he often goes too far into an extreme portrayal at times. However, Batman himself is one of the movie’s weakest points, receiving minor screen time and acting out of character frequently. So much murder!
Best Moment: As lovers, Bruce and Selina Kyle dance at a Christmas ball only to realize each other’s secret identity, which makes them enemies. The heartbreak feels real, making this one of the few scenes in the film with actual emotion.
The modern age of comic book movies was kicked off in part by Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000. And while the movie does show signs of its age today, it’s still a solid entry. The film’s focus on characters helps it to overcome some of its underwhelming action. The slow pace of the film can come off as boring and it doesn’t quite pop like the other films on this list. But it has some fantastic actors, specifically Patrick Stewart as Professor X, Ian McKellan as Magneto, and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. More than a decade later, they’re still playing the same roles. It’s a testament to their strength on screen in this age of constant recasting.
Best Moment: Wolverine and Sabretooth square off on the top of the Stature of Liberty. Claws, growling, and lots of stabbing ensue over the fate of human- and mutantkind!
24. Iron Man 2
This overstuffed sequel had the unenviable task of continuing Tony Stark’s adventures in a convincing manner and also setting up the massive team-up in The Avengers. In the end, there are too many elements and characters for each to get a proper amount of the spotlight. However, Robert Downey, Jr. is just as great as ever as Stark. Plus Sam Rockwell is a dynamic and hilarious rival, while Don Cheadle ably picks up the reigns of James “Rhodey” Rhodes as the character finally becomes War Machine. Combined with some great pieces of action (especially the Monte Carlo face-off) and excellent special effects and Iron Man 2 is a fun entry into the catalog, while not being especially strong in any area.
Best Moment: Tony Stark is cornered and knocked senseless in a Monte Carlo racetrack by the vengeance-seeking Whiplash. But the sudden use of his Mark V suitcase armor turns the table and saves the day.
23. Man of Steel
It’s easy to see that director Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is a direct response to the slow and poorly received Superman Return. But it’s insistence on massive action may sometimes override the central ideas and morals of Superman in favor of bombastic battle scenes. Of course, any discussion of Man of Steel has to mention the neck breaking. It’s a point of contention, but it works in the desperation of the film’s climax. Overall, it’s a confident reinterpretation of Superman in the modern age. And while’s its lasting impact is yet to be seen, its emotional undercurrent is frequently its strongest part. Read my review here.
Best Moment: Superman finally meets his biological father, Jor-El, who imparts his knowledge of Krypton and presents him with his suit. Superman takes to the skies for the first time accompanied by composer Hans Zimmer’s superb “Flight” for the film’s only truly joyous moment.
This is the original comic book blockbuster event, which helped to redefine The Dark Knight on screen for years to come. Director Tim Burton infused Batman with a gothic quality that is perfect for the tortured hero. Michael Keaton also puts in a strong performance as Bruce Wayne, both in and out of the costume. But Jack Nicholson is the real star as the manic Joker, with his villain being much more memorable than many of Batman’s scenes not featuring him. The film may have as many weak points (ALL OF VICKI VALE’S SCENES) as strengths (Anton Furst’s Batmobile), but it’s irreplaceable.
Best Moment: Batman rescues Vicki Vale from The Joker, smashing out of a museum and being greeted with the Batmobile for the first time, racing away from henchmen and saving the day.
This offbeat adaptation by visionary director Guillermo Del Toro is equal parts horror, comedy, action, and romance. It’s quite the mixture, but Del Toro strikes the right balance throughout and every scene drips with mood. But most of all, strong, believable performances by each actor are what make Hellboy memorable. Simply put, Ron Perlman was meant to play the gruff, sarcastic, and charismatic Hellboy. He’s magnetic and is the ultimate reason why the film is so memorable.
Best Moment: Hellboy secretly follows new recruit Myers, whose out on the town with our hero’s love interest, Liz Sherman. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop, Hellboy gets love advice from a little boy and belts his rival in the head with a pebble.