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The 5 Greatest Comic Book Movies Of All Time

The Best Comic Book Movies Of All Time

Comic book films are big business right now. Hardly a month goes by without some spandex-clad superhuman flying across our screens, dealing out vigilante justice with a smile and a quip. For all their silliness, comic books lend themselves extremely well to the film format. Here are the best examples of the genre, movies that take the graphic novel adaptation from twee children’s entertainment to pure, audience-thrilling, thought-provoking cinema.

5 Sin City

This may be an odd choice for a greatest comic book adaptations list since the movie barely qualifies as an adaptation at all. Robert Rodriguez’s take on Frank Miller’s gritty crime comics is as true to the source material as any film ever made. They actually used the comic panels as story boards for some scenes. The effect is a pure adrenal thrill from first act to last.

This ultra-stylized film noir follows several intertwining stories in a corrupt, crime-ridden fictional city. Hookers, psychos, hitmen and cops all find themselves wrapped in the city’s tendrils. Fueled by mountains of cigarettes and oceans of booze, they bribe, betray and love each other. Backs are stabbed, clothes are shed, clues are found and morals are learned. It’s refreshing to find a moving so shamelessly fun.

Sin City is refreshing in that it has no pretensions. Slam back a shot, light a smoke, and watch the bullets fly.

4 Superman

The prototypical superhero received the prototypical Hollywood film treatment in 1978, and the film has proved as much a part of its titular hero’s legacy as anything he did in comic form. Dated special effects aside, Superman endures as a compelling character drama, directed with superb craftsmanship by Richard Donner and bolstered by John Williams’ iconic score. See the movie that started it all. You won’t regret it.

Christopher Reeve brings Superman to the screen with an under appreciated performance, playing the dichotomy between nebbish Clark Kent and godlike superhuman to fantastic effect. The legendary Marlon Brando brings his talents to bear as Kent’s doomed father Jor-El, but Gene Hackman’s scheming performance as Lex Luthor steals every scene he’s in. Released at the dawn of the blockbuster era of Hollywood film, Superman offers all of the optimism, heroism and drama befitting its source material.

3 Marvel’s The Avengers

If The Dark Knight elevated its source material to new levels of poignancy and realism, Avengers takes the opposite tactic: it revels in color, wit and special effects. Fans waited with baited breath for 2012’s big budget team up of Marvel’s cinematic giants. The result wasn’t just a movie. It was an event.

Eschewing tragedy and bidding realism a fond farewell, Avengers is content to put the gigantic personae of its costumed leads onscreen in grandiose fashion and let them duke it out. Writer-director Joss Whedon’s renowned wit is on full display for every minute of the film’s run time. Characters crackle off the screen with memorable lines, trading barbs and laser blasts with such enthusiasm that even the most jaded of moviegoers will find themselves enthralled.

Post-Dark Knight comic book movies keep their noses pressed to the dirt. Avengers wants only to soar.

2 Oldboy

Graphic novels have always been considered “kid stuff”, a reputation their film adaptations often struggle to throw off. Enter Oldboy, a Korean manga adaptation, equal parts detective story, kung fu brawler, and Greek tragedy. It earns its R-rating with gruesome torture scenes and thrilling fights, and yet the core of this violent revenge tale is as poignant as Shakespeare. The Cannes Film Festival agreed; Oldboy walked away with the Grand Prix award in 2004, a prize rivaled in prestige only by the illustrious Palme D’Or.

The story follows a deadbeat businessman named Oh Dae-su who finds himself trapped in a hotel room by a mysterious tormenter. For the next fifteen years he struggles to stay sane, training his body and planning his vengeance. He is released with no explanation, and thus begins his weird, tragic odyssey to discover who abducted him and why.

The story evokes Oedipus with a John Woo flavor. While the fight scenes are spectacular (with one single-shot hallway brawl deserving serious consideration for best action scene of all time) the film does not revel in its violence. Oh Dae-su’s journey is a doomed one, and the film explores his descent with somber elegance and dry humor. For fans of comic book films and world cinema alike, Oldboy is required viewing.

1 The Dark Knight

Few films can match The Dark Knight‘s legacy. Intelligent and beautifully constructed, Christopher Nolan’s Batman epic wowed audiences and critics alike in 2008, and its popularity endures to this day. Standing head and shoulders above its cartoonish peers, The Dark Knight cast aside formula and rebuilt the summer blockbuster from the ground up. Franchises as diverse as Star Trek and James Bond have aped its gritty style ever since.

Simultaneously extravagant crime fiction and commentary on the War on Terror, The Dark Knight manages to both entertain and challenge. Heath Ledger’s iconic turn as the Joker has entered pop culture as one of film’s greatest villains, made all the more significant by his untimely death and groundbreaking posthumous Oscar win.

We find ourselves following a flawed Batman confronted with impossible conundrums, compromising every ideal he ever believed in yet coming out victorious. Somehow, the film elevates its subject matter to something political, philosophical, and real. There will never be another movie like The Dark Knight. It isn’t just a great Batman movie. It’s a great movie, period.

So there you have it. The top five comic book films in all their glory. And the next time someone scoffs at you for eagerly reserving midnight tickets to the next big superhero showcase, just remember, great cinema can come from anywhere.

Are there any other comic book movies you think should be on this list? What is your favourite comic book movie? Let us know in the comments section below. Also, check out this great list of the best superhero movies, which is another one of our writer’s takes on a similar theme.


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