It’s fair to say that there aren’t many forms of media that have had a cultural impact quite like the comic book. They’ve made their presence felt in almost every corner of culture, whether it be video games, toys, clothing or food (Euro Palace even have a Dark Knight slot game). But nowhere more so than in film. For years studios struggled to make a truly successful adaptation of a comic book and now not a year goes by without another Marvel or D.C. blockbuster; so here’s my top 10 comic books movies of all time… Or, so far.
10. Superman (1978) – The film that’s widely recognised as truly being the first of it’s kind and pretty much set the bench mark for all comic book adaptations that followed it. Capitalising on the developments made by ILM in the field of special effects, this film boasts an impressive pedigree with Richard Donner directing, Mario Puzo, of Godfather fame, writing and Christopher Reeve in a career defining role (chuck in a John Williams score and you have a true classic).
9. Batman (1989) – If ’78s Superman set the bar then this film met it, and then some. Burton’s directing style was an uncanny match for Batman and he finally made the leap (on screen) from Caped Crusader to Dark Knight. This film was huge in it’s day and had a massive impact, ’89 was definitely the year of the bat (man). You couldn’t move for Batman themed products and I believe I spent most of that year playing one of the first Batman video games on the ZX Spectrum.
8. The Punisher (1989) – You may be wondering why I’m including such an outright flop in a top 10 but the answer is simple; The Punisher is the ‘little engine that could’ of the adaptation world. Lundgren in this 1st film outing of The Punisher has given the best portrayal to date, but the enduring appeal of this comic book character means movie makers will keep plugging away till they get it right. For that effort alone it deserves a spot on the list.
7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) – If ’89 was the year of the bat (man) then ’90 was the year of the turtle (s). Making the leap from comic-to-cartoon-to-movie the Zeitgeist was swamped with mutant turtles. What’s more important for me though is the effect it had on independent comic publishers. Eastman & Laird’s TMNT had humble beginnings, but their meteoric fame, in no small part, helped independent publishers gain the recognition they’d long deserved.
6. Battle Royale (2000) – Battle Royale was a popular novel before being adapted into the Japanese Manga comics from which the film was adapted. It deserves a place on my list, simply, because of all it did to popularise Japanese cinema and one of its masters, Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano. Pre-Battle Royale, if you’d asked someone if they had seen a Japanese film (other than Godzilla) they’d have probably looked at you in confusion. Fast forward 5 years and you’d probably get that same look of confusion if you told someone you ‘hadn’t’ seen Battle Royale.
5. X-Men (2000) – This is the point where comic book movies really got interesting. It’s fair to say that up till this point comic book movies had a varying record concerning success. During the 90s studios had all but given up on their often laboured attempts to bring much loved heroes to the screen. This film with it’s big budget, stellar cast, hot young director and (most importantly) digital effects opened the flood gates for what was to come and ushered in a new age of ‘successful’ blockbuster adaptations.
4. Spiderman (2002) – If 2000’s X-Men lined up the shot, then this is most definitely the one that dunked the shot. With it dazzling CGI this is arguably the film that comic book fans had waited so long to see, The Silver-Age of comics met The Digital-Age. It announced properly that now anything was possible, no more wires or mirrors just flat-out incredible mind-blowing action. This is the film that really established Marvel Studios, the 3rd outing from the studio after Blade (1998) & X-Men (2000), now barely a year goes by without at least one comic book blockbuster in theatres.
3. Iron Man (2008) – Apart from quite simply being one of the best films ever this movie is important in my book for one simple reason, Robert Downey Jr. Up until this point a host of Hollywood’s finest had produced very capable portrayals of comic book characters, but Downey did something different. He made the character his own. He provided wit and depth and more over provided ‘his’ interpretation of Tony Stark and a character fans could really get their teeth into, a Tony Stark with a human face, warts and all.
2. Avengers Assemble (2012) – Iron Man may have been the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but Avengers Assemble is the film that made it real. Various story lines and characters intersecting, interacting and sharing the same universe. For me this film is what it’s all about with comic books, a unique and comprehensive world of fantasy (much like that created by Tolkien in Lord of the Rings).
1. The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2008-2012) – I include the entire trilogy because like all good trilogies the films seamlessly blend together into one long saga of awesomeness. Nolan took the character and played to his audience perfectly. The evidence is there for all to see with the proliferation of adult-themed products the films inspired. As mentioned, Euro Palace have amongst their huge range and variety of games a fantastic Dark Knight Rises slot. Hot Toy’s exceptional range of Dark Knight collectables with their hefty price tag are certainly not for children and Lego’s recent ranges of Batman sets are certainly catching the eye of the adult fan. Nolan’s Batman is The Dark Knight that’s grown with his audience, dark, brooding, borderline malevolent. Nolan’s Dark Knight is Frank Miller or Alan Moore’s Batman… Our Batman!