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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

what is the best comic book movie ever?

comic book movies

So Iron Man 3 had a killer opening weekend in North America — second biggest ever, after last year’s Avengers — after a killer opening in the U.K. last week (where it came even closer to matching The Avengers). If IM3 isn’t the best comic book movie ever, it sure comes damn close for me.

What about you?

What is the best comic book movie ever?

Pick more than one if you must!

(If you have a suggestion for a Question, feel free to email me.)


  • American Splendor – I love the way it plays with the different ways he is represented and it made me laugh.

  • Haven’t seen IM3 yet, so for me personally it’s either Dark Knight (as the best movie that is an adaptation of a comic book), or Spider-man 2 (as a movie that best embodies the essence of ‘comic book’).

  • Jim Mann

    Probably Spider-Man 2, though Superman, X-Men 2, Iron Man, and The Avengers are all in the running. (To me, The Dark Knight is a good but overblown and overrated film.)

  • Patrick

    Superman: The Movie–the alpha and omega of comic book movies. There’s a magic to this film that has never been replicated, even by the people who made the Chris Reeve-Supes movie sequels.

  • Eric M.

    Completely in agreement. I’m from Cleveland and that movie gets every detail 100% right. I had the pleasure of meeting Harvey Pekar at a book signing about 6 months before he passed away and it was one of the great moments of my life. He bemoaned the state of modern comic book industry (particularly independents), discussed his love of jazz and his disdain for superhero comics (or as he put it, “one guy in tights beating up another guy in tights”). He was a true original and the film adaptation is a great representation of his work.

  • I enjoy a comic book film, especially when there is good room to look at who would indulge in the whole super-hero thing; but it has nothing to do about my life.

  • Bluejay

    I agree. I’m not really sure why; I love a ton of other comic book movies (specifically, superhero movies), many of which surpass this film in certain ways: they’re better edited, have more sophisticated effects, have more intricate or logical or “mature” plots, have equally superb acting, have more flawed and more relatable characters, have deeper philosophical explorations or more biting social commentary, and so on. But everything in Superman: The Movie just works for me. It’s on the plane of myth. It’s a perfect storybook adventure (despite Supes insisting to Lois that he isn’t like Peter Pan flying with children). I watch it and I’m a kid again. That’s not Chris Reeve hanging from wires on the screen. That’s a man from the stars, soaring above the earth and smiling right at me as the credits roll. That’s Superman.

    A lot of really good close seconds, though, including many mentioned here. I’m hopeful that Man of Steel will join their ranks. Nothing will diminish Reeve’s Superman or Donner’s take on the story, but I always welcome new interpretations.

  • No love for Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, MAJ?

    I do love Spider-Man 2, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and Marvel’s The Avengers. I also have a soft spot for Tim Burton’s Batman for nostalgia purposes.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    YMMV, but I’m not so sure Mask of the Phantasm has aged particularly well. B:tAS holds up better, largely because the episodes are short.

  • Patrick

    Well said.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I agree here as well, with both you and Bluejay. Superman: the Movie works in a way and on a level that makes every other Superman movie feel unnecessary. (Which explains why, on some level, I constantly find myself dreading every rumor of an upcoming Superman property, despite my adoration of the character.)

    Superman II suffers mightily from the fact that the Salkinds are crazy people. But it’s still enjoyable overall, due to a couple of extremely well staged sequences (the Eiffel Tower scene and the fight over Metropolis), some very authentic performances from Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, and an absolutely iconic performance from Terrance Stamp.

    ETA: I am looking looking forward to Man of Steel. It seems like David Goyer is trying to do something with the story and the character, I think the leads are exceptionally well cast, and I’m hoping that Zach Snyder’s visual sense will be well worth seeing. But I still don’t think the film is necessary.

  • Patrick

    Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was the only good theatrical Batman movie of the 1990s. (It sadly only had a limited theatrical run).

    OTOH, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman and Robin were all putrid, intelligence insulting, mall products designed to sell tie-in merchandise.

    Also, I think MotP may have had just a smidge of influence on Batman Begins in terms of telling Batman’s origins on screen which none of the other Burton/Schumacher films ever truly delved into.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I’m not saying Mask of the Phantasm was bad. I’m saying it hasn’t aged well.

    Batman Returns did have an excellent score. And it had Michelle Pfeiffer, who’s Catwoman is far more believable than Anne Hathaway’s.

  • Patrick

    *More* believable? Her character fell to her death off a high rise only to be resurrected by cats licking her. Later she electrocutes herself, and then at the end of the movie appears unharmed. Putting aside that, Pfieffer vamps it so severely, that Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt would have told her to turn it down a few notches.

    If you mean she’s closer to the comic book version, okay. But, more believable a character? C’mon.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I know, right? Think about that for a second.

    Anyway, there’s a difference between a realistic character/performance and a realistic plot. (And are we gonna call the plot to TDKR “realistic”?) Pfeiffer’s Selena Kyle has always come across to me as an authentic character, one who actually makes decisions about her actions (when she’s not being railroaded by the awful script that seemed to think the Penguin’s story was the one we should care about). The movie tells her story, in no small part because Pfeiffer makes it tell her story. Hathaway spends TDKR just sort of there, doing what the script tells her to do. Consider: you clearly recall just how hard Pfeiffer vamps it up. In 20 years, what do you think you’ll remember about Hathaway’s performance. Hell, what do you remember about it now?

  • Patrick

    I thought Hathaway did a fine job all things considered. Her scenes with Bale had some spark. And her overall badass-itude livened that deeply flawed movie.

    I remember the part where she’s roughs up that guy she was working for:

    Hagen: “You dumb bitch!”

    Selina: “Nobody accused me of being dumb.”

    Or my personal favorite is where she’s Wayne’s maid and is all nervous and standoffish until Wayne catches her in a lie and then her true affect comes to the surface. That’s excellent acting on Hathaway’s part.

    Pfieffer’s Catwoman was an emotionally unhinged dominatrix. Hathaway’s Catwoman was a femme fatale par excellence. I prefer the latter’s subtle slinkiness with a touch of conscience.

  • There’s a list.
    Incredibles
    Dark Knight
    Avengers
    Superman
    Iron Man
    Ghost World (it counts)
    Spider-Man 1-2 (not 3)
    Rocketeer
    Captain America: First Avenger
    Thor

  • Mystery of Batwoman was slightly better than Phantasm. There are other DCAU movies that were way better. Under the Hood in particular.

  • Batman Returns when it was on Catwoman was great. On the Penguin… what fnking drugs was Tim on?

  • her character arc – coping with rampant sexism – was and is an unsettling indictment of our society. That she had to respond by dressing up in a handmade leather bondage outfit that kept getting more damaged the more she fought was an apt symbol IMHO.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    You speak truth.

  • RogerBW

    For me it’s a toss-up between the original Superman and the first Iron Man. Both of them managed to get away from generic superhero comic levels of power fantasy and managed to produce something like interesting characters.
    (Didn’t know The Rocketeer was based on a comic. If you want a nomination for comic-based TV series, well, it’s got to be The Middleman…)

  • Jim Mann

    I forgot one: The Incredibles is also near the top of the list.

  • Captain_Swing666

    For US comics – Probably Avengers Assemble (aka The Avengers). Simply because it actually delivered what it promised. All too many Comic Book movies wimp out when it comes to the action – The Avengers didn’t.

    For Japanese comics – Probably Ghost in the Shell (and it’s TV series spin off – which I actually prefer)

    British comics – that’s tough (I haven’t seen Dredd yet) simply because we don’t have the pop culture clout to get films made – we do have some great characters though. But I do have a soft spot for “My Name is Modesty” which despite it’s low budget does quite a few things right by the character.

    French comics – I love “The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec”

  • the rook

    i would also suggest
    “From Hell”
    “Road to Perdition”
    and
    “Men in Black” (first and third movies)

    and though this is for movies and not teevee series i would also draw attention to the single season of “The Middleman”.

  • Bluejay

    I’ve already cast my vote for Superman: The Movie, but I also want to put in a good word for Hellboy, which I think perfectly captures the tone and style of the Mike Mignola comics. And as Reeve did with Superman, Ron Perlman personifies Hellboy so completely — he looks and talks pretty much exactly as Mignola drew the character — that it’s near-impossible to imagine anyone else in the role.

  • Bluejay

    The Middleman was sheer elegance in its simplicity.

    I miss Dub-Dub.

  • Jim Mann

    Though they are TV series, not movies, I think the three major DC animated series — Batman, Superman, and Justice League — are worth adding to the mix. All were quite good, and belong on the list of best comic book adaptations.

  • innpchan

    Hellboy, with the first Iron Man a close second. If the big fight had ended at “How did you solve the icing problem?”, it would have won. You could just smell the suits screaming for another explosion.

  • (It sadly only had a limited theatrical run).

    Um, MOTP had a 1,500+ theater release when it came out Christmas Day 1993. The reason it failed is because WB hardly marketed it and essentially dumped it.

  • Patrick McDonnell

    Best? A History of Violence. Fave? Dark Knight.

  • Patrick

    Unbreakable needs some love here. While not based on a comic book, it’s reverence for the medium is palpable. It’s a very original and clever story not to mention Shyamalan’s best film to date. (Sorry Sixth Sense)

    “Go to where people are…”

  • Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman continues to amaze me as a film that got the tone just right – a little funny, a little scary, a little absurd, and always visually compelling. Personally I’ll take Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson over Christian Bale and Heath Ledger any day. The Avengers would be a close second, pulling off the neat trick of fitting each of the superheroes neatly into the story and giving them some great interaction. My third pick would be X-Men: First Class. Undoubtedly the first time in history when the fifth film in a series (and the second origin story) has far and away bested its predecessors.

  • beccity98

    It’s funny you say that, because I immediately though of this video. http://youtu.be/fKbAEmvZyKQ Apparently, Kevin Smith did not like this Batman.

    I really have no opinion, because I don’t really read comics, though I’m familiar with a lot of the characters from their movies and tv series. I did dig a Watchman out of the trash at the beach, and I still have it (It wasn’t really *in* the trash, someone had placed it on top, and it sat there for quite a while before I went over and picked it up.

  • I like this breakdown. They’d be my picks as well.

  • The Avengers. Nuff said :P

  • Paul Jones

    Dredd…

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