Ever since Christopher Reeve donned the Superman cape and costume in 1978's Superman, Hollywood studios have become obsessed with adaptations of comic books. In fact, over thirty different comic book inspired superhero films will be released in the next five years. With Marvel's Ant-Man set for release this week, here are the top ten comic book films.
(For a second opinion, you can watch last year's Reel Genius with Robert Wilonsky and DMN culture critic Chris Vognar for their favorite comic book films.)
Spider-Man 2 stands out not only as a great comic book film, but a great sequel. While many comic book sequels fail to top the original, Spider-Man 2 is more than just a copy of the first film with a new villain. Though Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus is a great, fleshed out villain, it's the relationship between Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) that drives the film and adds an emotional weight to the plot.
Though the emotion is more developed, the film retains the light and humorous tone of the original movie and provides a story that is both for longtime fans of the character and casual viewers interested in a great story.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy is a remarkable summer blockbuster that is equally charming, hilarious and action packed. Director James Gunn does a great job at creating a unique visual style and allowing the unique characters to have equal character development and screen time. It's a wonderful film that manages to be both constantly entertaining and still well directed and written.
The great cast, fantastic humor, witty dialogue, and wonderful emotion make for one of the most unique movie experiences in quite some time. It's everything a Marvel movie should be and then some.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Avengers: Age of Ultron is the definitive summer movie: an action packed and heartfelt film that delivers in spectacle, but more importantly elevates the characters to a more three dimensional level. Though Age of Ultron has its share of action and humor, it's the writing that puts it above other blockbusters of its kind and makes it a memorable and exciting adventure.
Director and writer Joss Whedon does a great job at finding the perfect tone. The film does skew darker than its predecessor, but it never sacrifices the uniqueness of the characters, and doesn't shy away from adding humor to the story. While this level of comedy within a film of this type could potentially undermine the film's plot, Whedon uses the perfect amount of humor, most of which is cleverly written and plays off of the relationships built between these iconic characters.
The darker elements also succeed; though the film doesn't aim for realism, it has a great grasp of the world in which it exist, allowing it to trek into darker territory.
X-Men: First Class
The X-Men franchise struggled to remain relevant following the failures of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but director Matthew Vaughn revitalized the genre with 2011's X-Men: First Class. The film took the franchise back to its roots, telling the story of the mutant cause throughout the Cold War and its effect on historical events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
While the clever writing, which links the comic book mythology with history, is a huge addition, the dynamic between a young Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) adds an additional layer to the film, establishing the conflict of the original trilogy of films while also looking at the characters' history in a new light.
The Avengers served as the first successful superhero crossover film, combining the individual comic book franchises of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and The Incredible Hulk into a team up franchise. While the individual franchises did a great job setting up the characters, The Avengers brilliantly brought the characters together, with director Joss Whedon giving each character the perfect amount of screen time and development.
Though the achievement of creating the first cinematic shared universe stands on its own, The Avengers is also an incredibly entertaining and thrilling adventure film that combines heart, action, and humor to create a spectacle of a film, standing out as one of the best films of the genre.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a better acted, directed and written film than its predecessor and the other films in Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Russo Brothers do a great job at taking Captain America and putting him in a modern environment with real world problems and discussions on politics, morality and societal sacrifices, as well as crafting an intriguing 1970s-inspired conspiracy espionage thriller that remains engaging throughout.
Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson, Sebastian Stan and Samuel L. Jackson give deeper and better performances than they ever have before as their respective characters, and welcome additions like Anthony Mackie and Robert Redford also give excellent performances that place the film on another level. Packed with a great score and fantastic action sequences, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a fun, thrilling and socially conscious action film that furthers the Marvel Universe in new and exciting ways.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
X-Men: Days of Future Past is an entertaining and thrilling ride that ranks as Bryan Singer's best film since The Usual Suspects and the greatest film in the X-Men franchise. The plot is intricately and cleverly woven through historical events that make the mutant struggle a real and often more believable.
The film goes through multiple time periods and locations but still keeps a consistent tone and feel, especially during an ending battle that builds up tension throughout all areas of time. But what makes Days of Future Past superior to many other action films is its characters. Despite large aspects of time devoted to action, the characters drive the film and are given realistic motivations and development, as portrayed by a stellar cast.
The Dark Knight Rises
It's difficult to say how much director Christopher Nolan reinvented the superhero genre. Not only did his Batman trilogy inspire other filmmakers to take their content seriously, it also brought respect for a genre otherwise thought to be "silly" and demanded a higher quality from modern action films.
Though The Dark Knight Rises is perhaps the weakest in the trilogy, it is still a remarkable cinematic achievement that takes the trilogy to another level, drawing itself as an epic. Like many of Nolan's films, The Dark Knight Rises has a wealth of interloping stories that intersect, but his firm direction stops them from ever becoming convoluted. It's also an inspiring and emotionally powerful story about hope that says a lot about the state of our modern world.
If Superman was responsible for starting the superhero movie trend, and films such as Spider-Man and X-Men revitalized the genre, then Batman Begins was the film that gave it respect. In the summer of 2005 when Christopher Nolan's stunning first entry into the Batman trilogy was released, audiences around the world realized that Batman Begins was not just a good superhero movie; it was a great movie period.
The idea of taking a larger than life character and humanizing him was an odd concept at the time, and since has amassed even more success and popularity. The brilliance is that Batman Begins doesn't suffer from needless exposition, instead engaging the audience in the incredible story and weaving the genesis of the character and the story together.
Christian Bale delivers an incredible performance that deeply resonates with the film's theme of fear, as well as nailing the duality of Bruce Wayne and Batman.
One of the best films of its kind, Batman Begins is an incredible piece of filmmaking.
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight is not only one of the most gripping an entertaining modern adventures, it's also a legitimately great crime-thriller, a study of the clash and perception between heroes, villains, and the line between them, a nail-biting thriller, a political commentary and one of the best films of the decade.
At 152 minutes, The Dark Knight is impressive in the way it embodies countless genres seamlessly and takes the audience on a story that beautifully ties itself together. Christian Bale is great in a much more subdued and tangible way, but Health Ledger's shocking performance as The Joker is not only a modernized terrorist, but also an iconic villain that takes his place among Darth Vader, Norman Bates and Michael Corleone.
In the years since its release, The Dark Knight has grown to impact the film industry, and remains a deep, subtle, engrossing and riveting piece of filmmaking that has so far stood the test of time and provided us with the greatest comic book films to date.