Every week, we attempt to answer a new pop culture related question. This week’s edition of /Answers asks the following: Which is your favorite comic book movie adaptation? And when we say comic book movies, we don’t just mean superhero movies. Every movie based on a comic is up for grabs, including Scott Pilgrim, Persepolis, A History of Violence, American Splendor, Ghost World, Men in Black, Dredd, The Rocketeer, Hellboy, Sin City, V For Vendetta, Road To Perdition, 300, Snowpiercer, and more. Find out our personal favorite comic book movies of all time after the jump.
As always, we have the regular /Film writing and podcast team providing answers, alongside a special guest filmmaker. This week we are joined by James Mangold, director of comic book movies The Wolverine and the upcoming Logan, as well as Walk The Line, Girl Interrupted, Cop Land, Kate & Leopold, Identity, and Knight and Day.
Jeff Cannata: The Avengers
I’m a Marvel Zombie from way back. But as elated as I was when Samuel L. Jackson appeared after the end credits of Iron Man and said “I want to speak to you about The Avengers Initiative” – and as my arms raised screams in the emptying theater can attest, I was very elated – I have to admit I never really dared to believe that an Avengers film could happen. And then a Thor movie came out… and it was good?! And Captain America worked on film?! And… WHAT… Joss Whedon, the absolute dream guy for the job was hired to write and direct? What? No. There was still no way that The Avengers could live up to decades of my wishes and imagination.
But it did. It did. It did the thing that had never been done on the big screen. It brought the comic idea that these individual heroes, each proven capable of carrying their own films, together, all in one story, without giving short shrift to any of them. It somehow managed to make a guy who only uses bow and arrow cool while also figuring out how to make The Hulk actually feel like The Hulk for the first time on screen. And it was funny! And action-packed! And it delivered every fanboy’s dream moment – all of them. Hawkeye vs. Black Widow? Check. Cap vs. Iron Man? Yep. Hulk vs. Thor? Oh, hell yeah. It nailed all of these characters, in a film about trust and team building, and did it with moment after unforgettable moment. It embraced “comic book” in a way no film before it ha, and proved that super heroes don’t have to be dark and brooding to work on the big screen. Things didn’t have to be dumbed down or simplified from their paneled roots. Not only is The Avengers the best comic book movie, it’s the most comic book movie.
Chris Stipp: Batman
One of the reasons I've chosen Tim Burton's 1989's inaugural vision of the Caped Crusader as the definitive comic book movie isn't due to how progressive it was, technologically, emotionally or metaphorically, but more for how it broke through my expectations of what a comic book movie was supposed to be and helped reset my expectations of what a comic book movie could be. Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, and Kim Basinger didn't approach the material with exaggerated performances because it was based on a comic book (one could make the case that Nicholson's Joker succeeded because of this transition from the heavy to supervillain), they were grounded in a world where humanity and insanity could co-exist in the same space.
For a boy of 13 whose only exposure to superhero movies was a Superman who donned tight red briefs, Batman was a revelation. It was dark, it was gray, it was grimy, and Batman was badass. Hand-to-hand combat, fists to the face, henchman Bob getting shot willy nilly, and the dark humor…it tickled me on every level and still stands as one of those movies I had to see more than a handful of times in the theater (the first Rami Spider-Man and X2 share that same designation). And for good reason. The score from Danny Elfman is immutable and who would have foreseen that The Purple One's "Batdance" would be a runaway, number one hit? The movie tore through the box office, it was the fifth-highest-grossing film in history up until then, and it's easy to see why: the story was well-told and its explorations into the machinations of this hero, this villain and what made them similar and dissimilar was fascinating. The denouem ent, where the Joker finally gets his, still stands as a classic ending every time I see it.
James Mangold: Superman: The Movie
I’ve said comic book movies aren’t a genre. But superhero movies – I don’t know if they’re a genre, because I don’t know what rules would hold them all together, unless you also include like Greek myths and the Christ story, all of which would be superhero movies. But what would be my favorite? I love the Richard Donner Superman movie.
The charm. The lightness. There is incredible deft touch with the portrayal of Superman. I think it’s the most successful portrayal of Superman. I think the cast is phenomenal. I think Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor is phenomenal. But I find the first act of that movie, culminating in that one night in New York when he’s stopping burglars out on the river and on the side of a building and meeting up with Lois Lane to be just fabulous. I saw it when I was like 13 years old, and I thought it was amazing. That would be my favorite.
Peter Sciretta: The Dark Knight
As a kid, Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie and Tim Burton’s Batman were my favorite comic book movies. As a teenager, I fell in love with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 and how perfectly it captured the tone of the comic books and it was the first comic book adaptation that sucked me in emotionally. But as an adult, Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight is my vote for best comic book movie of all time.
Yes, it finally brought the dark gothic vision of the hero to the big screen, something many comic book fans had been waiting decades to see. And while Hollywood spent the next ten years obsessed with slapping the dark and gritty take onto other movie franchises, I think they missed the real reasons why this film worked so well and is considered by many to be a masterpiece.
The dark and gritty version of Batman was borrowed from the modern Frank Miller comic books, but the grounded realism and respect that Nolan brought to the comic book adaptation was what I believe audiences connected to. It was the first comic book movie adaptation not to be treated like a comic book movie adaptation.
There is so much to love about this film. Han Zimmer‘s score is tense. Nolan’s casting of Heath Ledger as The Joker elevates this story in a way no other superhero story has before or since. With The Dark Knight, Nolan had indeed brought the world of Gotham to life. And experiencing the film in an IMAX theater with the 70mm full-screen footage was almost like the first time I saw a high definition television set. But it wasn’t just a jump in quality – it was an immersive expansion of the traditional theatrical experience.