As we get ready for our Graphic Novel Symposium, we wanted to share this guest post by writing & literature faculty member Vittorio Carli. To see more of Vittorio Carl’s writings go to www.artinterviews.org.
Best Comic and Graphic-Novel-Related Films by Vittorio Carli
Recently the amount of comic book based films has been increasing exponentially. Some have achieved considerable critical and financial success (such as Captain America: Winter Soldier and Avengers).
Avengers (which joined together the Captain America, Thor, and Ironman franchises) is one of the five top grossing films ever. There are also countless comic or graphic novel based films that are being planned such as Dr. Strange, Wonder Woman, Deadpool, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Black Panther, Justice League of America, and believe it or not Leggo Batman (though some of these might stay in development limbo.)
Some of the comic/graphic novel based films (such as Jonah Hex, Ghost Rider, The Spirit, and Green Lantern) failed miserably. The Jonah Hex film was so bad that it might have actually helped bring about the demise of the excellent but low selling DC Western comic series.
My guess is that most of the sequels to the big grossing hero films will be completed, and the planned sequels to movies that performed poorly (such as the disastrous recent Fantastic Four) won’t happen.
Some of the effects of comics tuned into film have not been positive. Since comic based films have become more popular, comics have tended to come out as five or six issue story arches so that they can be adapted into films easier, and comics are now often seen only as potential storyboards for films rather than an independent, worthy art form.
There are many other reasons why some comic writers and artists sometimes hate comic films. When the money is divvied up at the end comic creators’ inevitably get the short end of the stick. Classic comic writer, Steve Englehart claims the DC bought one of his comic series, and then they never published it. Then they supposedly used huge chunks of his story in The Dark Knight film without giving him credit. The writer of the comic series that the last Hercules film (which I actually liked) was based on also received no money.
One of the greatest of all modern comic/graphic novel writers, Alan Moore sees film itself as a lower art form. He loathes ALL of the films based on his comics, and indeed none of the movies based on his work have been as good as the texts they were based on (although I think The Watchmen and V for Vendetta worked well as films too). Before the Watchmen film opened, Moore said, “I will be spitting venom all over it.” (See http://herocomplex.latimes.com/uncategorized/alan-moore-on-w/)
Although superhero comic films tend to earn more, most of the adaptations of shorter Indy graphic novels tend to work better as film adaptations. Some of the superhero films (including Xmen: the Last Stand, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Spiderman 3 have a tendency to cram too much plot and too many characters in movies that would have worked better as miniseries or whole TV series.
One of the most legendary comic films. Andy Warhol’s Batman/Dracula (1964) is not on the list because I could not see it. The film was supposed to have been lost, but It may have been one of the first camp superhero films. The cast included a young Sally Kirkland and the poet, Gerald Malenga, and it predated the Batman TV series.
Speaking of TV series there has also been a recent explosion of comic and graphic novel based TV series, and some are as good as or better than many comic feature films (examples include The Walking Dead, The Flash, Green Lantern, Gotham, Constantine, and I Zombie.)
Here then are my rankings of the best comic and graphic novel related films in order of quality. To include more variety, I generally included only the best individual film in each series (I cheated on Superman because I couldn’t pick between the first and second films.) I would probably only recommend the first 80 0r so.
I’m sure some of these films will be discussed in the upcoming comics and graphic novel symposium on September 30-October 1.
1) Spirited Away (2001)
Sorry, Disney and Pixar, but Japan’s Hayao Miyazaki, is the greatest living animation genius on the planet, and this Wizard of Oz influenced fantasy is probably his most imaginative work.
2) A History of Violence (2005)
A courageous, edgy and intellectually ambitious film about a seemingly ordinary small town dad who discovers that heroism can have negative repercussions. Director, David Cronenberg masterfully demolishes the wall between genre movies and art films. Supporting actor, William Hurt has not been this good since “Kiss of the Spiderwoman” (1985), and Maria Bello is simply marvelous. Based on a somewhat obscure graphic novel by John Wagner and Vincent Locke.
Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi directed this impressive and imaginative animated film which explores that explores the hurdles that a young Muslim woman must face when she is torn between modernism and traditionalism.
Engrossing documentary about Robert Crumb, one of the greatest comic creators to emerge from the 1960s underground comic scene (he created Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural). The iconoclastic artist is known for his eccentricity, but believe it or not he’s the normal one in the family. This is certainly the greatest documentary ever about a comic book related subject. When it came out some critics (including Gene Siskel) thought it was the best film of the year, but the idiotic Oscar voters did not even nominate it for best documentary.
5) Ghost World (2001)
Dan Clowe’s brilliant, almost colorless graphic novel is turned into a riveting drama about the hypocrisy of art school. Steve Buscemi (who I once met at a party in Pilsen) is always great, but I was very surprised that the great leading lady (playing an art school misfit), Thora Birch did not go on to many good things after this film. This also includes one of Scarlet Johansson’s (of Her and the Avengers) first substantial parts (she went on to do a series of terrific art films as well as some recent more mainstream cinematic manure. ) This is far superior to the other film adapted from a Dan Clowes work, Art School Confidential.
6) American Splendor (2003)
Well-acted biopic (with Paul Giamatti in the lead role) about Harvey Pekar, a cranky and uncompromising underground comic creator. The real Harvey Pekar shows up in the film too.
7) Sin City (2005)
Gripping neo noir features exciting interlocking stories that take place in the same vicinity (which makes Gotham City seem like Disneyland). One of the most faithful and visually striking comic adaptations ever benefits from the participation of comics great, Frank Miller. Mickey Rourke’s turn as a tough guy is worthy of Ralph (“Kiss Me Deadly”) Meeker. I taught this in my lit class for many years. The sequel which was generally panned is best forgotten (Even I hated it although I tend to like anything Rodriquez does.)
8) Chasing Amy (1997)
Kevin Smith’s charmingly offbeat three-way romance was not based on a comic or graphic novel , but it involves two comic creators and it humorously delves into comic and geek culture. This may be Ben Affleck’s most memorable role. The film is filled with great geeky conversations worthy of Big Bang Theory.
9.) Hugo (2011)
Scorsese’s delightful Speilbergesque family film was based on an obscure French graphic novel. . The plot involves an orphaned boy who runs afoul of a cranky merchant who turns out to be the great director George Melies (he made the iconic “Trip to the Moon,” which even inspired the “Tonight, Tonight” video by Smashing Pumpkins). See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiDWmXHR3RQ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOG3eus4ZSo&ob=av2e.
But the real villain was a mean policeman with an artificial leg (played by “Borat’s” Sacha Noam Baron Cohen who manages to transform utterly transform himself in every role he does.) There’s only one problem. The film may be the best family film of 2011, and it’s definitely the best Speilbergesque film of that year, but it is not one of the greatest Scorsese films. His works over the last decade have been enjoyable enough to make some of my top 10 lists but they pale before his earlier classics such as “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “Good Fellas,” and even the brilliant but maligned “King of Comedy. ” In his old age, Scorsese has retained his technical skill, and his breath taking grasp of film visuals, but he has grown increasingly mainstream and less edgy
10) The Dark Knight (2008)
Heath Ledger gives a mesmerizing performance as the maniacal Joker in this stylish, morally ambiguous action film (Ledger’s so good that the best scenes in this blockbuster action film are of him merely talking). Aaron Eckhart is almost as good as a tragic DA, Harvey Dent. Director, Christopher Nolan outdoes himself creating a visually arresting Gotham City. Sorry Tim Burton, but this is the definitive Batman film, and it is probably the high point of the whole superhero film genre. Who would have thought that a franchise film would be a worthy project for Christopher (“Memento”) Nolan? Comic writer, Steve Englehart claimed that the film’s writers stole huge parts of the script from an unpublished comic series he wrote.
11) Southland Tales (2006)
I’m part of the .0006 of the population that thinks this is a worthy follow-up to the brilliant Donnie Darko. This was one of the few films I ever saw Sarah Michelle Gellar in that did not squander her talents. Southland Tales was an “interactive experience”, with the first three parts published in graphic novels that would be released before the film’s release, and the film captures the final three parts of the experience. The writer/director, Kelly said that the whole project pushed “me to the edge of my own sanity.” I loved the radical slam poets who shoot people as they recite, and this is one of the few films I have seen that is as absurb as the real world.
12) Blue is the Truest Color (2013)
Long but engrossing film about a popular school teacher who falls for a more literate older female artist (she has blue hair hence the title). This won the 2013 Palm d’Or, and it had some of the strongest acting of that year. Based on a graphic novel. In French with English subtitles.
13) The Avengers (2012)
Three super powered beings team up with two super spies to stop an alien invasion led by Thor’s devilish brother Loki. This is a highly amusing superhero film, and some of the best scenes come from the character interplay and friction between very different heroes. But the script is not half as impressive as most of Joss Whedon’s scripts for the Buffy show or Serenity. The Hulk/Loki scene is unforgettable.
14) Oldboy (2003)
This South Korean film about a recently released man who seeks revenge on the people that framed him murder is the best one in the trilogy. The octopus eating scene is impossible to forget. I have not seen Spike Lee’s remake which was both a critical and financial flop. The manga it was based on has hardly any violence. In Korean with English sub-titles.
15-16.) Tie between Superman the Motion Picture (1978) and Superman II (1980)
I did not pick two films from the same series for this list, but both of the first films are too close in quality to choose one. The first film is able to capture a sense of wonder through Lois Lane’s eyes. Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder were so perfect as Superman and Clark Kent that all future versions would be compared unfavorably against them. Superman III, and later sequels in the series were so bad that a later sequel, Superman Returns (2006) ignores all the events after the first two films and it works as an alternate sequel to the second film.
17) Diary of A Teenage Girl (2015)
Believe it or not this engaging but under hyped tale of a young woman who foolishly starts a relationship with her mom’s boyfriend is the most poignant and finest comic book or graphic novel based film of 2015. The teen is also a wanna be comic creator and we see some of her stories in animated sections of the film. Unfortunately when I saw this film my local theatre (Crestwood was the only suburban theatre that ran it) no one else was in the theatre.
18) Battle Royale (2000)
Fukasaku Kinji’s horrific and hyper violent action film is like an Asian update of “Death Race 2000,” mixed with “The Most Dangerous Game,” but the sequel should be avoided. Much better than the similar and more mainstream Hunger Games (although no one in this film can act as well as Jennifer Lawrence). In Japanese with English sub-titles.
19.) Snow Piercer (2014)
After the world freezes, a bunch of survivors struggle for supremacy aboard a train that never stops. The poor are mistreated and they rebel: they struggle to go forward and overtake the decadent rich people in front of the train (it’s a neat microcosm for society as a whole.) These brutal, edgy, smart and uncompromising films were one of my favorite pictures of the 2014. Tilda Swinton is remarkable as a keeper of the corrupt order/ villain with false teeth. I had trouble deciding whether I should put this higher than the Guardians film, but this one got the nod because Snow Piercer is a better work of art overall (although guardians is more entertaining.)
20.) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
This is the summer’s perfect escapist/popcorn film, and it expertly combines comedy with galactic sci-fi with comedy. It’s like a cross between Star Wars and The Avengers with a colorful cast of characters (including a human, two green aliens, a raccoon like creature and a talking tree) fighting each other than teaming up to save the world. Also stay for the extra credit clip to see the most delightful cameo yet in a Marvel film. I even like the way they used the mostly bad ‘70s songs (context is everything and they serve an important purpose in the film.)
21) Cemetery Man (1994)
Rupert Everett, in one of the most memorable roles, stars as a cemetery employee who must dispose of the corpses that keep rising up. Like many giallo films this film has twisted humor, gross out violence, fantastic lighting and attractive shot composition. This Italian horror/comedy classic was based on a story by the author of Dylan Dog (avoid the American film with that title). Not for the squeamish or easily offended, but that’s also true of many of the films on this list. This comes in both Italian and English dubbed versions.
22) Shogun Assassin (1980)
My eyes were glued to the screen for every second of this tale of a paid killer who kills accompanied by his baby son. Based on the hyper violent but well-crafted Baby Carriage from Hell comics. In Japanese with English sub-titles.
23) The Incredibles (2004)
It’s odd that this film captures some of the humanistic charm of the early Fantastic Four comics when the FF films utterly failed in that regard.
24) V for Vendetta (2005)
This dystopian film which was based on an Alan Moore comic is about a masked outlaw that fights against a fascist state (which can be seen as the US or Britain). This was a tremendously influential film which inspired some members the occupy movement and the hackivist group anonymous (many ended up wearing the Guy Fawkes masks like the film’s protagonist.
25) Unbreakable (2000)
M. Night Shyamalan’s brainy and philosophic film (these words don’t apply to most of the Marvel adaptations) sneaks in a superhero plot structure and offers a meditation on what it means to be a hero and villain. One of the most unjustly underrated films on this list.
26) The Watchmen (2009)
This film could not possibly capture the greatness of Alan Moore’s comic series (which was perhaps the best hero comic series of the last 25 years), and it really needed to be a miniseries to capture the epic sweep of the comic, but it does a surprisingly good job for a two and a half hour film. In comparison the same directors other comic film 300 is lame and shallow. Some comics fans were unhappy about how the ending was changed.
27) Road to Perdition (2002)
This film casts against type and features one of Tom Hank’s few villainous roles. He plays a not completely evil gangster who tries to protect his son.
28.) The Crow (1994)
This Goth action film about a hero who rises from the grave to avenge the death of his girlfriend at the hand of an evil land lord is wonderfully atmospheric and stylish. Also Brandon Lee who plays the film’s lead anti-hero showed great promise (this was his only major role before his death.) This is a much better supernatural action film than Spawn or Ghost Rider.
29) Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)
This exciting thriller plays like a cross between a superhero film and a Bourne like spy flick. It deals with a World War 2 era hero who must confront the cold reality of the modern espionage world. It features a great villain, the winter soldier, an assassin who is somehow connected to Captain America’s past. There are many great stunts and action scenes plus a fine supporting cast. Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as the black widow (who for some reason has no Russian accent). Samuel Jackson is the Nick Fury, and Anthony Mackie is the Falcon (this character is supposed to become a new Captain America in the comics). Emily Van Camp (from Revenge) is introduced as a suspicious neighbor and potential future love interest. This also ties into the Shield TV series, especially the ending.
30) Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972)
A wandering assassin struggles to survive along with his infant son that he brings around in a baby carriage. This was the first of six films that were based on the popular manga series. The rest of the films are also worth checking out and the manga comics are classics. Based on the same comic series as Shogun Assassin (1980). In Japanese with English sub-titles.
31) Steamboy (2004)
This is one of the best examples of steampunk cinema which often presents alternate realties in which the world has made tremendous strides in steam-powered technologies (Its followers often wear Victorian style clothing.) This fascinating retro science-fiction epic takes place in Victorian England. An inventor named Steamboy receives a mysterious metal ball containing a new form of energy capable of powering an entire nation, the Steam Ball. He tries to use the energy to redeem his family honor. This underrated film was directed by the great manga artist/film maker, Katsuhiro Otomo, who also did Akira. It took over ten years to make, and it was one of the most expensive animated films ever made. This imaginative well reviewed film lost money in America (Why am I not surprised?)
32) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2005)
We enter a fantasy world imagined by a Canadian rock musician who is pursuing his dream girl. In order to win her he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends. I have not read the comic, but the film is colorful and dazzling thrill ride through one character’s imagination. One of the most whimsical and fun filled films on the list.
Hellboy (2004) and Hellbox II: the Golden Army (2008)
Ron Pearlman (from Sons of Anarchy) is a joy playing a gruff demon who is adopted by a scientist and ends up fighting supernatural evil forces for the US. Del Toro’s direction is wonderful, and both films are filled with exotic visual delights. The supporting cast (Selma Blair as Liz and Doug Jones as Abe Sapien) are equally well cast. I didn’t care for the film the first time I saw it on-line (I had to keep shutting off the film because of constant interruptions), but when I rented the two films I connected with them.
35) Stardust (2007)
Touching, elegant and surprisingly romantic animated film about a man who has various adventures and finds true love while searching for a fallen star. This is a bit of a cheat since it was not technically based on a comic, but it was adapted from a novel by one of the greatest comic writers, Neill Gaiman, which is usually published with illustrations by comic artist, Charles Vess,
36) Ironman (2008)
The film is well cast (Robert Downey Jr. is actually too good for the role), and the CGI special effects are more than impressive. The only thing the film lacks is a great villain (none of the sequels have one either). Also Gwyneth Paltrow is mostly wasted as the loyal Pepper Potts, and it’s hard for me to fully buy the idea as a millionaire arms manufacturer (or former arms manufacturer) as being so completely noble. Despite my criticisms this is one of the key marvel universe films and mandatory viewing for superhero film fans.
37.) Tales from the Crypt (1973)
Peter Cushing and Joan Collins star in this anthology film which was based on the controversial horror comic series from the ‘50s. I admit it I’m a sucker for Hammer films especially ones based on classic texts, and this Hammer imitation is from Amicus studios.
38) Creepshow (1982)
This gory and wickedly funny horror anthology film was not based on a specific comic series, but it was done in the style of EC comics such as “Tales from the Crypt,” with lots of puns and shock endings. All of the episodes except for the Stephen King one are very good, but I particularly liked “Father’s Day,” and “They’re Creeping Up on You.” Although many people thought this was below the talents of George Romero, this might be his most successful l film apart from his zombie films and “Martin.” I got my cake.
39) Swamp Thing (1982)
The recently deceased Wes Craven did right by the classic comic series that was created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. The plot involves a swamp creature who thinks like a man who tries to save humans who often won’t accept him. This was followed by a sequel and a TV series which began to add elements of Alan Moore’s take on the character.
40) Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wood (1984)
The film tells the story of a young princess who gets involved in a struggle involving a kingdom that tries to use an ancient weapon to destroy enormous insects. Nausicaä must stop the Tolmekians from enraging these creatures.
41) Vault of Horror (1973)
Tom Baker (one of the many TV Dr. Whos) plays a role in another anthology film based on the grisly but masterful EC comic stories.
42) Spiderman 2 (2004)
Spiderman faces his greatest challenge yet when he takes on the multi armed Dr. Octopus. Well cast film does a good job capturing Spiderman’s movements using computer technology, and Toby Maguire is perfect as the web slinger. As much as I like this film I still prefer Sam Rami’s evil dead flicks.
43) Antman (2015)
Paul Rudd is right on the mark as a thief that steals a super suit and ends up being a size changing, insect controlling super hero. He is groomed for the role by the cranky original owner of the costume (Michael Douglas) and his jealous daughter played by Evangeline Lilly. This is more like a comedic Incredible Shrinking Man than a typical hero film, and at its core it’s a film about a sympathetic loser who is trying to redeem himself.
44) Blade 2 (2002)
The half vampire, Blade (he was human in the comics) teams up with vampires to fight a deadlier menace, the reapers. The film series actually made the Blade character more interesting and powerful than his comic book counterpart.
45) Kingsman: The Special Service (2014)
Edgy, dark and pessimistic spy film delivers some thrills and some great fight sequences (including some involving a woman with artificial blade limbs.) Samuel Jackson plays a variation of Nick Fury with a lisp (since the avengers, he seems to always play spy characters.)
46) Thor (2011)
The title thunder god is exiled to earth by his father Odin, and he must battle the destroyer, an indestructible metallic being. Chris Hemsworth is a good Thor but Tom Hiddleson is unforgettably sinister as Loki. Most of what’s right about the film is because of the considerable talents of Kenneth Branagh. The sequel was a dark dud.
47) Wanted (2003)
Hyper violent action film about a man who joins an assassin’s league to get revenge on his dad’s killer. Angelina Jolie is both good and seductive as his mentor/love interest, but the plot is a bit confusing.
48.)Tamara Drewe (2010)
Gemma Arterton is delightful in Stephen Frears’ whimsical romantic drama about a journalist whose life drastically changes after she gets a nose job. The film follows her romantic misadventures after she comes back to the small British town she grew up in. This film is based on a graphic novel that was adapted from Thomas Hardy’s “Far from the Madding Crowd.”
49) Tank Girl-(1995)
Tough punk girl in the future befriends a mutated talking kangaroo. Based on the popular British comic series. A guilty pleasure for sure. My favorite scene is when Ice-T (dressed as a kangaroo performs at a beat poetry reading) I’m the only person I know of that actually likes this film. A quintessential grunge era movie with a terrific soundtrack that it is well used in the film.
50) Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines (2012)
This top notch documentary about the history of females in comics intelligently brings up the issue of sexism in the industry, and the most interesting parts deal with the development of the Wonder Woman character and how she changed with the times
Xmen First Class (2011)
This film explores the history of Professor’s X’s Xmen and Magneto’s Brotherhood. The thing I liked most about the film is that it was one of the only Xmen films that could not have been called Wolverine Saves the Team with the Help of his Mutant Sidekicks (also most of the Xmen females are less powerful than their comic counterparts). The plot development is a little better than the other films in the series, and the visualization/ characterization of the beast is improved. Plus the film has the always impressive Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. I also greatly admired Xmen: Days of Future Past almost as much (the opening and conclusion are especially great).
The Wolverine (2009)
I don’t really think that this QUITE equals Xmen: First Class, but I noticed I left it out so I had to stick it in somewhere. Still this is superior in every way to the first Wolverine film, and it includes some great stunt work and action scenes, plus the Asian setting is used well.
53) Batman: Mask of Phantasm (1993)
This stylish animated feature completely captures the flavor of a children’s comic. It also works much better than Tim Burton’s films. Believe it or not Mark Hammil (from Star Wars) does the Joker voice.
54) Mystery Men (1999)
When Captain Amazing, a successful square jawed superhero is defeated, a group of third string heroes try to rescue him from the clutches of the Disco loving arch villain Casanova Frankenstein. The terrific cast includes Hank Azaria, William Macy, Janeene Garafalo, and the former Pee Wee Herman, Paul Reubens. This riotously funny superhero spoof works for the first two thirds, but it loses its direction when the mock heroes suddenly become competent. Based on Bob Burden’s characters that originally appeared in Flaming Carrot comics. The Specials (2000) was similar but not quite as good.
55) The Mask (1994)
A normal loser (played by Jim Carey) finds the mask of Loki, the god of mischief. When he wears it, he finds he can transform his body, and the way he uses his body sometimes make him look he came out of a Frank Tashlin cartoon. This was one of Carey’s big break through roles and one of his first good films. Of course, you can’t go any lower than Dumb and Dumber or Ace Ventura.
56) 30 Days of Night (2007)
A swarm of vampires attack a small town, and the humans struggle to survive. This film features amore animalistic, less human type of vampire than usual (Bella from Twilight would not go near them). This film has more in common with Night of the Living Dead than Dracula.
57) The Men in Black (1997)
Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith play two heroic government agents who combat aliens and wipe the minds of all witnesses. In the original Aircell comics the protagonists hunt also hunt paranormal creatures such as zombies and werewolves in addition to aliens.
58) Dark man (1990)
Sam Rami (who has always been great at combining the arty and trashy) created this enjoyable old fashioned superhero film that was heavily influenced by Universal horror films such as Phantom of the Opera.
59) From Hell (2001)
This complicated film based on Alan Moore’s dense comic series blames jack the Ripper on the illuminati. This film benefits from a rich cast including Johnny Depp and Heather Graham. Believe it or not this was directed by the Hughes Brothers (best known for Menace II Society.)
60) Akira (1988)
Violent and exciting cartoon made for adults. It’s about motorcycle riding youths that struggle against a telepathic motorcycle gang in the Tokyo of the future. Brilliant visuals but the storyline may be hard to follow for some. Based on the manga book (Japanese comic) with the same name
61) Blood the Last Vampire (2008)
This exciting Asian Action film about a tormented half breed vampire with a soul would make a good double feature with Blade.
62) The Rocketeer (1991)
This fun and nostalgic film about a man who fights crime while wearing a rocket pack to fly plays homage to cinematic serials like Commander Cody and the Rocket men. The film is nice to look at but the film can’t quite match the stunning visuals from Dave Steven’s gorgeously rendered comic series.
63) Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Visually dazzling Japanese anime film about a female android that goes against a super criminal that is usurping information highways in the future. Definitely not for kids.
64) Cowboys vs Aliens (2011)
Entertaining if forgettable merging of sci fi and western starring Harrison Ford and featuring Olivia Wilde as just about the most attractive alien ever. Originally I avoided the film because of the title but it delivered all the expected chills and thrills that you would expect from a film with that title
65) Heavy Metal (1981)
Juvenile but engaging sci-fi action film is made up of little vignettes adapted from the fine European mature comic series. There’s even a fine South Park episode that parodies this movie which has lots of stoner appeal.
66) Faust: Love of the Damned (2001)
Ugly, cheap, ultra-violent but engaging low budget Spanish film about a man who sells his soul to the devil. As a result he sometimes turns into a horrific demon that has and uses his long claws like the Xmen’s Wolverine.
67-68 ) tie between Mirrormask (2005)
This direct to DVD fantasy film is about a circus girl who retreats into a fantasy world. The visuals are dazzling but I found the story confusing. Based on a Gaiman penned text.
This universally acclaimed animated film was based on Neil Gaiman’s popular fantasy novel.
69) Barbarella (1968)
The president of Earth orders an innocent adventuress to rescue scientist named Durant Durant who has been kidnapped who designed a deadly weapon. This sexy, campy space film was one of future Oscar winner Jane Fonda’s first star vehicles (Bardot and Loren were asked before her). The band Duran Duran also got their name from the film, and Rolling Stones fans might want to see one of Anita Pallenberg (Keith Richards’ former Signiant other) in one of her most memorable parts. The often humorous script was co-written by Terry Southern, but the most creative thing about the film may be the many ways they think of to get rid of Fonda’s clothes. This was directed by Roger Vadim, one of the lesser lights to emerge from the French New Wave (although I love his work in Spirits of the Dead.) it also Inspired the Vampirella character (who made her comic book debut the next year.)
70) Dr. Mordrid (1992)
Jeffrey Combs (of Re-Animator) plays a powerful sorcerer who comes to earth to stop an evil man from opening a gate to hell. This is technically not a comic based film, but it started out as an adaptation of Stan Lee ‘s and Steve Ditko’s trippy Dr. Strange comics, but the rights to use the character expired (there will be a big budget Dr. Strange film coming out in a few years.) It’s much better than the made for TV Dr. Strange film from the 70s.
71) Hercules (2014)
First of all let me start off by saying that there have already been too many Hercules films, and almost all of them were completely unwatchable; the Kevin Zorbo TV series was actually much better than the often badly dubbed films. But this film is a bit different. Dwayne Johnson plays Herc as an unreliable braggart, and we are not really sure if the stories he tells are real, fabricated or exaggerated, so this is a meta myth movie. Based on the graphic novel, Hercules: The Thracian Wars. Don’t confuse this with the terrible The Legend of Hercules which came out the same year.
72) Gainsborough: A Heroic Life (2009)
Uneven and offbeat but entertaining biopic about the late French singer who was romantically involved with Bardot and Jane Birkin. Astonishingly this dark crooner went reggae at the end of his life. There are scenes in which an animated Jewish stereotype character (which might be a monstrous version of him) emerges.
73) The Specials (2000)
This low budget clone of Mystery Men has some funny moments and a great cast of good underappreciated actors such as Thomas Haden Church, Jordan Ladd, Rob Lowe, and Judy Greer who also showed up in this year’s Ant man.) This film is about the seventh most possible superhero group struggling to gain respectability.
74) Kickass (2010)
This violent film satirizes buddy comics and presents a batman and robin like team that are actually horribly injured in fights as if they were real. Most critics just did not get this film. It was trying to show just how terrible the hero sidekick/use of young people to fight crime thing would work in a more real world than most comics usually portray. Nicholas Cage has a great cameo. The film is sometimes renamed on DVD to please the more puritanical members of our society.
75) Wonder Woman TV Show pilot (1975)
Okay, so the acting is atrocious (Lyle Wagner Is particularly terrible), the stunts are poorly staged, and the story is silly, but this pilot has its saving graces. This movie depicts the Amazon’s princess’s WWII adventures, and the film plays out as a campy, action filled comedy. The movie follows the comic books fairly well (except for the origin story), and Lynda Carter is the perfect choice to play the Amazon princess. I have not seen the failed recent pilot, but an earlier one, starring Cathy Lee Crosby is terrible.
76-77) Hulk (2003) and Incredible Hulk (2008)
Despite the huge amounts of talent involved, neither of Hulk films works completely for various reasons, but Ed Norton made a better Bruce Banner than Mark Ruffalo, Eric Bana or Bill Bixby. In the newest Hulk comic series the Hulk’s alter ego will be a Korean kid (and the new Captain America is African American and, the new Thor is female)
78) Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle (2014)
This informative three hour PBS documentary covers many of the basic figures and events in the comic world, but it panders a little too much to comic film fans. The three parts explore WW II to the ‘50s, the 60s to the 80s, and everything after that. As always Stan Lee provides some of the best quotes, but there are also enlightening interviews with writers Len Wein, Denny O’Neil and Gerry Conway, and artists Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert. Here’s a link to the trailer. http://www.pbs.org/superheroes/home/
79) Bulletproof Monk (2003)
Chow Young Fat is a martial art expert monk who wants the protect a scroll. This straight to DVD film based on has its moments.
80) Black Mask (1996)
Jet Li (who I once met at a panel discussion) plays a super soldier who is forced to fight former allies. Brutal but well-staged action film.
81) Ghost Rider (2007)
When I reviewed this film when it came out for reelmoviecritic, I was one of the few critics that gave the film a positive review. The stunts, script, and special effects are not particularly memorable, but I thought that Nicholas Cage’s performance captured the boyish, regular guy persona of the comic character well, and I enjoyed seeing the underrated and underused Peter Fonda playing Mephisto (who is basically a Marvel version of Satan.)
82) Batman (1989)
Michael Keaton (who has been terrific in some other films such as Birdman and Clean and Sober) was the wrong choice to play the caped crusader (although Ben Affleck may end up taking his place as the worst Batman). Tim Burton’s Blade Runner inspired Gotham is fine, and the film is riveting whenever Jack Nicholson’s Joker was on screen (although Heath Ledger became the definitive joker) playing him as a homicidal artist.
83) Comic Book Confidential (1988)
This doc interviews some comic greats (such as Stan Lee, Trina Robbins, Frank Miller, Carl Barks, jack Kirby and Robert Crumb) but it did not tell me that much I did not know. This might be a good entry point to the comics world for novices.
84) The Fountain (2006)
Flawed but intellectually ambitious film by Darren (Black Swan and Pi) Aronofsky tells three stories in different time frames and jumps back and forth somewhat between them. Hugh Jackman may or may not be playing the same role in each part
85) Ichi the Killer (2001)
The gore in this creative film about a murderer made me numb at times, but the film maker Takashi Miike is unquestionably talented, although he’s done better films such as the horror classic, Audition (1999) and Visitor Q. In Japanese with English sub-titles.
86) Weird Science (1985)
Kelly Le Brocque plays the artificially created “perfect woman” who befriends two science geeks and teaches them about life. John Hughes’ entertaining but forgettable film was based on a short story from the EC comic that gave the film its name. The film which has a cult following also spawned a TV show spinoff.
87.) Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
Okay, so I don’t remember this film that well, but I remember that I liked it and all three of the female leads (Rachel Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson and future Sharknado star, Tara Reid) were engaging as the comic inspired rock all girl band. The film is based off of a comic series that spun off from Archie.
88) Blankman (1994)
Only about half of the jokes work in Daman Wayan’s superhero parody, but when it’s funny it’s really funny. Daman Wayans is a nerdy guy who moonlights as a superhero along with his sidekick who everyone calls the other guy. Robin Givens is the Lois Lane like reporter that he wants to be with. I wouldn’t want to pay a full cinema price to see this but it’s worth watching on TV (It seems like it’s on every other day.)
89) American Ultra (2015)
A creative comic book writing stoner who works at a convenience store finds out that he was brain washed, and he is secretly a Manchurian Candidate style government assassin. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart (if you keep her away from Twilight she can be very good) are fine but the script loses its way. This was not based on a comic series, but it seems to be attempting to do a comic type film and the writing is in the vein of Garth Ennis or Mark Miller. It might be worth seeing on video.
90.) League of Extraordinary Gentleman (2003)
This pre superhero film dramatically dumbs down Alan Moore’s graphic novel and fills the screen unnecessarily with an eternity explosions and mindless action. Nonetheless it’s sometimes fun to see some of the strangest literary characters from different classic novels (like a vampirized Mina Harker, Dorian Gray, Tom Sawyer and Captain Nemo) interact onscreen.
91) The Losers (2010)
This film about an elite black ops organization is a mixed bag. Based on the semi popular Andy Diggle penned series from Vertigo.
92) Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1974)
Different vignettes depict the life of a counter cultural, promiscuous drug taking cat. This dated film suffers because of its dated primitive animation style, but the brilliance of Robert Crumb’s concepts sometimes carries the film. This was a sequel to the Fritz the cat film. When Crumb got sick of the character he killed him off in The Death of Fritz the cat comic.
93) Art School Confidential (2006)
An alienated young man tries to find acceptance and love in art school. This film isn’t bad but everything it does and says was done better in Ghost World, which was made by the same film maker (he also did Crumb.)
94.) Supergirl (1984)
Helen Slater is ok in the title role but Faye Dunaway shamelessly overacts (she won a Razzie for her performance.) The advance word is that the new TV series pilot with Melissa Benoist is much better.
95) 300 (2007)
I know that this was box office hit but I really deplored this mindless, fascistic violence fest based on Frank Miller’s comic series, but then again I wasn’t crazy about the comic series either.
96) My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006)
This is not a very good film, but it has a great premise. The idea is what if a man dated a woman with all of the powers of Supergirl and she ended being a psychotic, vindictive stalker. I can’t quite recommend this interesting dud, but it’s hard for me to completely hate any film starring Uma Thurman (I even kind of liked Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.)
97) Danger Diabolik (1968)
This French/Italian film stars John Phillip Law as Diabolik a master criminal who robs to please his girlfriend Eva (Marisa Mell). It was directed by the master giallo film maker/cinematographer, Mario Bava who went on to virtually create the slasher genre with films like Kill Daddy Kill, but this is not one of his best works.
98) Batman (1966)
I know this campy film and the show it spun off of are fondly remembered, but the series was basically a one joke show. By the time this film was made, the whole premise had pretty much run out of steam. The only saving grace is the show always had great actors playing great villains (in this film we get Cesar Romero’s Joker. Lee Meriwether’s Cat Woman, Burgess Meredith’s Penguin, and best of all, Frank Gorshin’s Riddler).
99) Elektra (2005)
The film’s portrayal of the character was a bit more faithful to the comics than the Daredevil film it spun off of, and the always photogenic Jennifer Garner makes a nifty action hero. The director’s cut is a bit better than the other version (despite the appearance by Ben Affleck), and I basically didn’t think that this deserved to be such a critically reviled film.
100 Oblivion (2013)
This film has some moments of natural wonder and visual splendor, but I was just flat out bored most of the time I was watching this futuristic dystopian snooze fest. It might work as tranquilizer.
101) Heavy Traffic (73)
Ralph Bakshi’s animated film about a cartoonist has an appealing ‘70’s underground vibe and it was the first animated film to receive an X rating but it is not porn).
102) Meteor Man (1993)
The talented Robert Towscend created this weak African American spin on superman about a mild mannered teacher who gains powers from exposure to a meteorite. Marvel later put out a comic series adapted from the film.
103) Spawn (1997)
The only thing I really liked about this mind numbing exercise into mayhem was the killer demon clown character (played by the talented actor/performance poet John Leguizamo. Todd MacFarlane the artist/writer who created Spawn is a fine illustrator but a terrible writer.
104-105) Black Scorpion (1995) and Black Scorpion II: Aftershock (1997)
Roger Corman produced these two films starring Joan Severance as a brutal, costumed urban vigilante (she’s kind of like DC’s huntress character.) These almost bottom of the barrel, low budget made for cable films might be worth renting or streaming.
Worst Comic Films
Here is a list of the worse comic/graphic novel films. I still find it amazing that the Fantastic Four, one of the most important and popular comic series of the ‘60s has still not been adapted into a decent film. The Punisher flicks have also been dumb and dismal. Howard the Duck was so bad that it’s good. Note: I only saw clips of the Roger Corman FF film and the Justice League pilot, but they looked terrible
Alien vs Predator (2004), Barb Wire (1996), Batman and Robin (1997), Big Tits Zombies (2007), Blade Trinity (2004), Captain America Made for TV film (1979), Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979), Captain America (1990), Constantine (2006), Daredevil (2003), Cat Woman (2004), Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2011), Fantastic Four (1994), Fantastic Four (2005), Fantastic Four (2015), Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) , Howard the Duck (1996), Incredible Hulk Returns (1988), Jonah Hex (2010), Judge Dredd (1995), Justice League of America pilot (1997), Man-Thing (2005), Nick Fury Agent of Shield (Dave Hasselhoff) 1995, The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak, The Punisher (1989), The Punisher (2004), Punisher War Zone (2008), Sheena (1984), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014), The Spirit (2008), Steel (1997), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (97), Vampirella (1996), Wonder Woman (Cathy Lee Crosby) 1974, Xmen Origins: Wolverine (2007)
Subjects for future research (films I haven’t seen or don’t remember)
Big Hero 6, Birds of Prey, City Hunter, Dredd 3-D, Dr. Strange made for TV film, El Muerto, Generation X, Green Lantern, The Guyver, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, I Frankenstein, Lady Death, Metropolis manga film, Monkeybone, Oblivion, Painkiller Jane, Push, Red, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Sparks. The Surrogates, Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, Timecops, Virus, Whiteout, Witchblade, The Wind Blows, Wizards
To see more of Vittorio Carl’s writings go to www.artinterviews.org.