We enter Part 2 of my comic book movie countdown, listing the greatest film incarnations of comic book stories and characters throughout the decades. It was difficult cutting down the list to 30 and ranking these films, many of which are entirely different from one another. But in today’s entry, I get to some of the most memorable and wonderfully crafted movies that have been based on comics.
Click here for Part 1 listing numbers 30 through 21, click here for Part 3 listing the top 10. Read on for numbers 20 through 11!
20. The Incredible Hulk
As far as entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe go, The Incredible Hulk is most likely the forgotten stepchild. It doesn’t have much impact on the universe as a whole and actor Edward Norton’s replacement with Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers weakens the ties even more. But it’s a great fast and fun chase film that shows off the strengths of The Hulk and his human alter ego. As far as influences go, The Incredible Hulk definitely owes much to 1970’s TV show of the same name, it even borrows its “Lonely Man” theme song. But that’s definitely a good thing! Pairing Banner’s quiet and introspective moments alone with bombastic battles create a nice illustration of the character’s dichotomy and lasting appeal.
Best Moment: Caught in a trap laid by General Thunderbolt Ross, Bruce is forced to transform into The Hulk. Taking on sonic cannons, a super solier-enhanced Emil Blonsky, and an attack chopper, The Hulk escapes, narrowly saving the life of his love, Betty Ross.
What Thor lacks in action set pieces and budget, it makes up for in strong characters and vibrant interpretations of heroes coming to life on the big screen for the first time. Chris Hemsworth makes The God of Thunder himself feel like a real person despite his far-fetched beginnings and Natalie Portman is a nice foil as his love interest. Of course, this is also the first appearance of Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Thor’s devious brother. The way that the two characters’ story arcs mirror one another, one embracing heroism while the other embraces evil, gives Thor a much stronger narrative than its follow-up Thor: The Dark World. Best of all, it makes you want more of the Asgardian hero and his galaxy-spanning adventures.
Best Moment: In order to save his friends, Thor lays down his life and is killed by the Loki-controlled Destroyer, an unstoppable living armor. But his sacrifice proves him worthy of Mjolnir and his power once again, leading to him saving his loved ones and all of Asgard.
Almost word for word, shot for shot, Persepolis is a complete remake of author Marjane Satrapi’s amazing autobiographical comic book of the same name. The film tracks Satrapi as she grows up in Iran, which is drastically changed by the Iranian Revolution during her childhood. This is a story about youth, young adulthood, freedom, family, religion, politics, and how they can all clash to form a person. By keeping the black and white animated style of the comic book intact, Persepolis manages to vibrantly convey the horrors of fundamentalist-controlled Iran while still suckerpunching the viewer when needed. Persepolis is a testament to the ability of both animation and comic books to tell real and important stories.
Best Moment: Under the guidance of her parents, Marjane leaves Iran for the first time while still a teenager, leaving behind everything she knew for the sake of freedom and safety.
17. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Like all of director Edgar Wright’s movies, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a manic, homage-filled roller coaster ride that requires multiple viewings to catch every detail. But that doesn’t mean it’s shallow or forgettable. Who knew that a film could deftly blend romance with video game iconography and awesome action sequences? Scott’s fight against the seven evil exes of his love Ramona leads to tons of hilarious moments and fights unlike any ever seen on screen before. Mix in some awesome garage rock and the film is a memorable experience on every level. Your love may vary depending on your feelings about Michael Cera.
Best Moment: Scott’s band, Sex Bob-omb, fights in a battle of the bands, which just so happens to be against twin brothers who are two of Ramona’s evil exes. Sound waves turn into monsters and the two sides’ music literally clashes!
16. Batman: The Movie
Campy and zany as all get-out, the Adam West-led Batman: The Movie is everything that made the television series a classic. While it silly nature and over-the-top ideas were seen as stupid and irrelevant for many years by those who embraced the darker aspect of comic books, thanks in no small part to Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” and Tim Burton’s Batman, this is actually a funny love letter to all the sillier aspects of The Dark Knight and his crime fighting brethren. Adam West’s Batman is a fun and unique interpretation of The Caped Crusader while The Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, and The Riddler are all here in their campy, over-the-top glory.
Best Moment: Batman must dispose of a comically-large bomb laid for him by the team of villains, but is waylaid by countless impeccably-timed innocent bystanders. “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.”
15. Iron Man 3
While many hardcore comic book fans will remember Iron Man 3 for pulling a fast one and completely changing the character of The Armored Avenger’s greatest foe, The Mandarin, it’s really far more than its major twist. In fact, Iron Man 3 may be one of Marvel’s most stylish and thoroughly enjoyable films ever. At the center, as always, is Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark. He’s fast, funny, incredibly charismatic, and a perfect portray of the hero. Add in director/writer Shane Black’s fresh take and the film pops much more than the overlong Iron Man 2. Plus, every scene is either incredibly funny or filled with dynamic action. The “barrel of monkeys” mid-air rescue and the House Party Protocol finale are real standouts.
Best Moment: Tony escapes from The Mandarin’s compound with the belated arrival of his armor. Well, only one hand and one leg. The result is a dizzying, funny, and exciting shootout that takes full advantage of the imaginative Mark 42 armor.
14. X2: X-Men United
It’s been more than a decade, but no X-Men film beats X2: X-Men United. This is really where the franchise matured, found its strengths, and used its many characters to their greatest extent. Unfortunately, due to many bad missteps, it’s also the only time an X-Men film completely succeeded. X2 manages to balance its huge cast of characters while giving the fans what they really want: more Wolverine. But his complex backstory is deftly blended into the overall narrative through the credible threat of William Stryker, who endangers the mutant race as a whole. This is also the film where director Bryan Singer managed to create intense and exciting action sequences, with Nightcrawler’s attack on The White House, the invasion of the school, and Wolverine’s fight with Lady Deathstrike all still holding up more than a decade later.
Best Moment: William Stryker’s military forces invade a severely underprotected School for the Gifted, leaving it up to Wolverine to protect the children. Flying into a berserker rage, Wolverine kills countless soldiers and helps several students escape, but he can’t save the school.
13. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
As a follow-up to the first Hellboy, Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy II takes all the elements that made the first film a treat and makes them far more vibrant and memorable. If the first is a quirky superhero/horror/romance film, this is a full-blown fantasy epic. If you’re looking for a movie that truly embodies Del Toro’s passions and sensibilities as a director, this is it. Add on top of that another great turn by Perlman as Hellboy, outstanding special effects, and a much more compelling story, and Hellboy II is a comic book film that lasts in the memories of viewers while being as odd and category-defying as any Del Toro movie.
Best Moment: Hellboy and company enter the Troll Market under the Brooklyn Bridge. The world they enter is the perfect encapsulation of Del Toro’s imagination and a wondrous blend of practical and CGI effects for an equally spellbinding and scary experience.
12. Batman: Under The Red Hood
DC Entertainment has stuck to a pretty regular schedule of animated films adapting some of their best comic books with at least one coming out every year. But Batman: Under the Red Hood is one of the few that surpasses the source material and becomes a truly great movie on its own. This is part crime drama and part super hero flick, with a strong emotional wallop. After all, the movie centers around Batman’s greatest failure – the death of Robin – and what happens when his deceased sidekick seemingly returns to life. Each long-established character is injected with new life through brand new voice actors, while splashes of strong violence bring home the dark and serious nature of Under the Red Hood. There’s a reason why this in ranked higher than most of Batman’s live action movies.
Best Moment: Batman and Nightwing confront the Red Hood, leading to an extended foot chase across Gotham’s rooftops, catching a falling helicopter, and a massive explosion. One of the best action scenes in any cartoon or live action superhero movie.
This may be specifically for people in my age range, but the first Spider-Man will always have a special place in my heart. While some of it is due to nostalgia, it’s hard to beat Sam Raimi’s first outing with Spider-Man. This is the perfect origin story for the Web-Slinger, and while some elements of the movie are slightly dated (Macy Gray!), it still works great on countless levels. The blend of romance and heroics found here became the template for so many superhero films in its wake, although most failed to match up. Tobey Maguire is especially strong in this first film, selling Peter’s transformation and keeping the character relatable. Yes, the Green Goblin is just plain bad and some of the humor is far too campy for its own good, but Spider-Man is still genuinely satisfying. Far more so than the reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man.
Best Moment: Spider-Man swings through New York, flipping, jumping, and swinging in all his super-powered glory, ending the movie on a high note and making you desperate for more!
Agree with my picks? Think I’m way off? Let me know! Click here for the final installment, where I count down the final 10. There will be Avengers, adventuring journalists, and a battle of the Batmen!