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The Ten Best Comic Book to Movie Adaptations
Over the last couple of decades, superhero and comic book-based movies have saturated the film industry. From high-powered superheroes like Superman and Captain America to independent comic book crime fighters like Kick-Ass, audiences flock to comic book-based films. Comics and graphic novels that make it to the silver screen aren’t reserved solely for superheroes; films like Road to Perdition and 300 were also based on successful comic books.
While the comic book movie genre has come under a lot of fire from critics and leading film community members, box office results are hard to argue with. Even still, the golden age of comic book movies may be coming to an end, as an oversaturated market will often collapse. With that in mind, let’s take a moment and look back at the ten best comic-book-to-movie adaptations.
10 Dick Tracy (1990)
The classic comic strip Dick Tracy first appeared on Sunday, October 4, 1931, in the Detroit Mirror. Created by Chester Gould, the character was a tough, intelligent police detective with a bizarre array of recurring bad guys to battle. “This lavish, inventive, and expertly acted adaptation of Gould’s enduring comic character is a decent chunk of entertainment.”
While Warren Beatty doesn’t deliver his usual Oscar-level performance, with supporting talents like Al Pacino, Madonna, Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, and Dick Van Dyke, this film has plenty to applaud. Released the summer after Tim Burton’s first Batman film, Dick Tracy planned to capitalize on the success of the modern-day comic book movie and helped start a decades-long trend.
9 V for Vendetta (2005)
Based on the 1988–89 DC Vertigo Comics limited series of the same title by Alan Moore, David Lloyd, and Tony Weare, this story takes place in a fascist totalitarian futuristic United Kingdom. Moore, whose work on the groundbreaking graphic novel The Watchmen, once again brings his genius to bear with a dim view of global politics and propaganda.
It stars nerd movie icons Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving. A shadowy freedom fighter known only as “V” (Weaving) begins a violent campaign to destroy those who have embraced totalitarianism. In his quest to liberate England from its oppressive ideological chains, “V” recruits a young woman (Portman) he’s rescued from the secret police to join him on an epic adventure. It may be impossible to adapt an Alan Moore book into a movie perfectly, but V for Vendetta comes close.
8 Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Marvel’s epic comic event Civil War was a 17-part universal cross-over published in 2006-07. The comics involve every superhero in the Marvel Universe, something impossible to pull off on the big screen. With that in mind, Marvel Studios did a superb job incorporating nearly every hero they had previously introduced and one or two new ones. The key elements and driving forces in this story are represented well in the film adaptation.
The line is drawn between the title character and his sometimes friend, sometimes rival Ironman, Tony Stark. Riddled with guilt over the death of innocent civilians during the Avengers battle with Ultron, Tony feels compelled to conform to government guidelines. Meanwhile, “Cap” feels those with superpowers can not align themselves with politicians or governments. This film delivers everything a comic nerd could want, including the MCU’s first appearance of Spider-Man with his various Star Wars references.
7 Batman (1989)
There’s no end to Batman stories in comics, TV, novels, and movies. Tim Burton’s first film starring the Caped Crusader was a comic book masterpiece. All that was missing were the “Zap!” and “Pow” splattered across the screen. Burton’s vision of the classic hero was brought to life with the brilliant acting of Michael Keaton, Kim Bassinger, the Oscar-nominated Jack Nicholson, Billy Dee Williams, and Jack Palance.
This origin story doesn’t spend too much time pouring over the dark details of Bruce Wayne’s tragic past. Burton focuses on all that makes Batman great: the gadgets, the Batmobile, the colorful backdrop of Gotham City, and witty oneliners. For the first time, the villain Joker is given a legal identity, Jack Napier, who falls into a vat of chemicals while grappling with the Dark Knight. Oh, and Prince provides the soundtrack. Many feel that Keaton’s Batman was the best live-action portrayal of the character and that this is the essential Batman movie.
6 Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Among the MCU’s many films, few bring so many comic book frames to life as the third installment of the Thor series. Ragnarok takes several different Marvel story arcs and ties them together, allowing fans to see what their two heavy hitters are doing while the rest of the group grapples in Civil War. Thor and Hulk have a light-hearted albeit devastating adventure together, allowing for character development, new characters to interact with, epic battle scenes, and the ability to take pages right out of the books and onto the screen.
It transforms Thor into a new version of the God of Thunder, who has learned from his mistakes (mostly) and achieved a healthy amount of self-awareness. The movie opens with an almost Deadpool-esque soliloquy from Thor, who’s investigating the prophesized doom of his home realm of Asgard, the cataclysm of the title. This film expertly combines fun, fear, action, and superhero lore.
5 Sin City (2005)
Frank Miller’s Sin City is a neo-noir crime anthology film directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller based on Miller’s comic book series of the same name. Much of the film is based on Miller’s original comic series’s first, third, and fourth books. A star-studded cast, including Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, and Mickey Rourke, brings Miller’s dark vision to life.
The black & white film follows the graphic novel books nearly perfectly. Sin City introduces a world of crooked cops, sexy dames, and desperate vigilantes. Some seek revenge, others lust after redemption, and others hope for a little of both. A universe of unlikely and reluctant heroes still trying to do the right thing in a city that refuses to care. Focusing on nuisance, lighting, and cinematography, this film delivers more than a comic book movie’s expected action and effects. It has valuable lessons and hope, along with charismatic characters.
4 Superman: The Movie (1978)
No superhero list would be complete without the Man of Steel. Before the MCU or the DCEU, there was Christopher Reeve’s Superman and Gene Hackman’s Lex Luther. It was perhaps the first great comic book movie starring the most significant film actor of the 20th century, Marlon Brando. In an era when three-and-a-half-hour superhero movies wouldn’t make it past the editing room, most of Brando’s scenes were cut. Nonetheless, his Jor-El brings credence to a film whose lead was a relative newcomer.
Clark Kent’s origin story has been told countless times, and Richard Donner’s version is widely considered the definitive story. It touches on his childhood in Kansas and wanting nothing more than to play football on the high school team and stand up to local bullies. Forced to hide his abilities until he moves to the big city under a separate identity, he introduces himself to the world as Superman via journalist Lois Lane. Enter criminal mastermind Luther, and Warner Brothers end up with one of the best comic book movies ever.
3 Logan (2017)
After nearly two decades of playing their respective roles, Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman deliver their final (sort of) performances as Professor Charles Xavier and James Howlett, aka Logan, aka Wolverine, aka Weapon-X. Based on the Old Man Logan graphic novel, this film delivers a degree of violence worthy of Marvel’s best killer and an accurate adaptation. With the rest of the X-Men long dead, Wolverine keeps Professor X hidden away in a “mental powers proof” warehouse until a girl shows up with the same powers as Logan.
This, of course, starts them off on a wild and blood-soaked journey away from those who intend to enslave mutantkind. The inevitable bloodbath that becomes of those who stand in Logan’s way is framed by unparalleled acting. Stewart, Jackman, and newcomer Dafne Keen as X-23, the daughter of Weapon-X, deliver powerful performances. A female X-23 has two front claws and a hind claw on each side. With two of them, it’s no surprise this film ranks as one of the best in its genre.
9 Black Panther (2018)
The first comic book-based film to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, Ryan Coogler’s 2018 Ben-Hur-esque film exceeded expectations. The late great Chadwick Boseman played the lead. Boseman made his name playing non-fiction roles such as James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and Jackie Robinson. Supporting roles by Angela Basset, Andy Serkis, and Winston Duke rounded out the film. However, Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger sets this film apart. Jordan delivers such a powerful role the audience could easily be swayed to his point of view.
The hero prevails despite the villain’s convictions, and the MCU does the character’s sixty-year history and source material justice. This origin story takes most of its storyline right from the comics. With a modern twist as the MCU often does, it is hard to beat this film regarding book-to-screen consistency and creativity.
The story follows Prince T’Challa as he ascends and defends the throne of Wakanda. Wakanda is a relatively unknown country in an undisclosed part of Africa that has technology centuries more advanced than anywhere else on Earth. The role of Black Panther takes T’Challa from fighting with the Avengers to taking on cybernetic arms dealers and even his own flesh and blood in this critically acclaimed film.
1 The Mask (1994)
The Mask, like Loki, is based on a mythological god of mischief. Based on the comics published by Dark Horse Comics, it stars Jim Carrey in the title role along with Peter Riegert, Peter Greene, Amy Yasbeck, and Cameron Diaz in her film debut. Imbued with godlike powers, doormat Stanley Ipkiss completely loses control of his life in hilarious ways that only Carrey could bring to life.
The only things that stay constant for Ipkiss after he puts on the Mask are his infatuation with Diaz’s Tina Carlyle and the interference in his life by gangster Dorian Tyrell (Greene). With nearly limitless power, Ipkiss paints the town red and runs amuck all over the fictional Edge City. The Mask grossed over $351 million with a roughly $20 million budget, making it the most profitable film based on a comic up to that point. The film also influenced the resurgence of swing music in the 1990s.