Comics, for decades, have been an integral mainstay of popular literature. Though often undermined and unappreciated by many, superheroes and many others have touched the lives of millions through the pages of their colorful worlds. It’s been a long, strange journey for the comic book genre, and its path to cinematic success was equally challenging. We’ve seen Richard Donner’s “Superman” prove to the world in 1978 that there was, indeed, an audience for live-action superhero flicks, and then Tim Burton would definitively reassure that notion again in 1989, with his groundbreaking blockbuster “Batman”. Then, of course, any ounce of progress that comics had made in the film industry was utterly destroyed and denounced upon release of the 1997 abomination that is “Batman and Robin”.
With help from “Blade” and “X-Men”, followed by Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” in 2002 and Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” in 2005, comic books had reclaimed their spot amongst the most marketable franchises in film, and in 2008, a little movie called “Iron Man” would shake and alter the cinematic landscape for the foreseeable future. Jon Favreau’s fan-favorite superhero classic would amount to substantial financial gain as well as critical acclaim for Marvel Studios, effectively launching the powerhouse of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that continues to enjoy its extreme popularity, today. Love them or hate them, capes and cowls have absolutely dominated the box office for some time now, sparking heavy debate among moviegoers and critics alike, as to if the genre is more beneficial or harmful to the film industry.
Though there are certainly arguments to be made for both sides of the matter, there is no denying that comic book movies have had a tremendous impact on pop culture, and have certainly accounted for some of the most enjoyable watches ever put to the silver screen. Big-budget blockbusters are just the tip of the ever-increasing iceberg, too, as many of the greatest contributions to the genre have flown under the radar in the shadows of DC and Marvel, respectively. Considering the recent hype surrounding “Spider-Man: No Way Home” as well as Matt Reeves’ upcoming “The Batman”, there seems a no better time to be a fan. So, without further ado, let’s count down our picks for the 30 finest comic book films ever made.
30. Batman Begins (2005)
Moving away from the campy mess of Joel Schumacher’s Batman films, the seminal entry into Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy took the character in a darker, more grounded direction, and would help to push the genre to new, unexplored heights. Taking the lore and mythology of Batman seriously, with a decidedly realistic and gritty approach, Nolan would rescue the masked vigilante from his flashy, schlock-ridden past, and reinvent the hero with the definitive on-screen telling of his origin story. Christian Bale proved instantly to be the perfect casting for the titular role, with an ambitious performance that effortlessly captured all three levels of the character.
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From his phony charm as the public personality of Bruce Wayne to his genuine persona to the beast that is unleashed when he dawns the cowl, Bale nailed every aspect of the performance, and would only grow with time. The secondary performances from Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine were just as captivating from the very beginning, and the villainous efforts of Cillian Murphy and Liam Neeson can not go uncommented. Delivering a superhero origin film that still holds up with the best of them, while paving the way for countless genre entries in the process, Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” is a thrilling commencement to one of cinema’s all-time greatest series.
29. Hellboy (2004)
Mike Mignola’s beloved creation of Hellboy has long been a standout in the realm of comics, for the series’ pure originality, and its endlessly endearing hero: the titular half-man, half-demon paranormal investigator. Summoned to earth by the Nazi regime to wreak havoc during WWII, but opting, instead, to use his supernatural abilities to protect the people of the earth, “Hellboy” tells a seemingly simplistic tale of monsters fighting monsters, and loads it with a heartfelt message of never judging a book by its cover. And who better to helm such an adaptation, than the great Guillermo Del Toro?
The acclaimed director’s signature blend of dark fantasy and horror was tailor-made to bring Mignola’s comic to life, experimenting with darker tones than the average superhero movie, while keeping things fun and lighthearted with a steady dose of humor and action. Led by a fantastic performance by Ron Pearlman as Big Red, himself, in an instance of pitch-perfect casting, as well as featuring a wonderful supporting ensemble, brought to life with some terrific makeup designs, the film is a unique blast, spent with even weirder characters. It may not have the colossal staying power of a mainstream juggernaut, but Del Toro and the crew’s passion for the unorthodox hero shines through the screen to craft something special and distinct in a progressively saturated genre.
28. Watchmen (2009)
The film that paired the dynamically poignant writing of the legendary Alan Moore with the visual flourish of filmmaker Zack Snyder is a bit of an overlooked treat these days. Set in an alternate history where superheroes were real and used to assist the United States in key world events before being outlawed by the government, “Watchmen” follows a group of illegally-operating vigilantes, as they investigate the murder of one of their own, in fear they may be next. It’s a grim, cynical look at the possibility of a reality in which superheroes exist, but one that is easily more compelling than some recent, uninspired, studio comic book flicks.
Zack Snyder’s films are an acquired taste, and though the script has the tendency to feel a little convoluted or jumbled, he never once loses the story’s sense of importance and painfully somber tone. Shaping his adaptation through crisp, memorable cinematography, and his signature use of striking colors, Snyder offers the genre one of its most visually stunning entries, in addition to a knockout cast; most notably boasting Jackie Earle Haley’s sensational outing as the faceless crime-fighter, Rorschach. No, not everything in here completely clicks, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another movie quite like this, and for that alone, of course, “Watchmen” cracks the list.
27. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Of all the animated Batman movies to be released over the past few decades, none have left a bigger impact than “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm”. From the team of the hit ‘90s television show “Batman: The Animated Series”, the film finds Bruce Wayne in love, as an enigmatic assassin begins meticulously wiping out Gotham’s criminal underworld, whom many believe to be Batman. Forced to navigate through these heavy murder allegations while balancing his recently kindled romance, this animated take on the Caped Crusader is among the most mature and honest ever put to screen, focusing on the psychology of the Bat, and the crushing sacrifices he makes for a city that doesn’t quite admire him back.
Taking the form of a noir mystery, the film is rich in eerie imagery and filled to the brim with some of the most elegant writing you will ever find from a kid-friendly superhero cartoon. The sleek mystique of the story is engrossing, and the atmosphere whenever the secretive Phantasm is on screen is genuinely chilling. A breezy feature-length extension of an already beloved TV show that effortlessly manages to capture the magic of the series, while delivering an original story, brought to life with help from the iconic voice acting duo of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. What more could you possibly ask for?
26. Brightburn (2019)
The year 2019 proved to be a stellar time for comic book films, and the horror genre, alike, as each would produce some of the year’s most exceptional efforts. It also happened to generate this unsung marriage of the two genres, with “Brightburn”, which curiously tosses a young, conflicted boy with otherworldly powers, into the model of a slasher flick. Crash-landing on Earth inside of an ambiguous spaceship as a child, Brandon Breyer learns on his 12th birthday that he has supernatural gifts, and has been sent, as he so gently puts it, to “take the world”. Playing perfectly as both a sinister spin on the Superman mythology, as well as a not-so-subtle allegory for the nightmares of adolescence, David Yarovesky’s passionate vision is a bloodsoaked expedition into a superhuman’s unfiltered reign on unsuspecting mankind.
Delivering on all of the thrills of a good superhero movie, while never holding back on its superpower-infused gore, the film is a startlingly fun ride from start to finish but isn’t without its heart. Grounded by two terrific performances from Elizabeth Banks and David Denman, respectively, we watch as a family crumbles amidst the chaos, dropping a compelling family drama into the core of this irresistible concept’s madness. An anomaly movie that lives up to its exciting elevator pitch and more, this is exactly the kind of originality each aforementioned genre could benefit from.
25. Sin City (2005)
Four gruesome stories intertwine in this neo-noir anthology film from co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. The characters are repugnant, the stories are cheesy, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. Leaning full tilt into the pulpy noir-inspired direction of the comics, Rodriguez breathes life into this revolting world, with over-the-top graphic violence and an unforgettably bold style. Staying true to the look of the source material, “Sin City” is a gorgeously crafted black-and-white marvel, with vivid pops of color leaking through in certain frames. Never has a film this filthy looked so beautiful, and that’s all an attestation to Robert Rodriguez’s painstaking commitment to translating the aesthetic from the pages of Miller’s work.
Owning a star-studded cast that includes the likes of Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson, Elijah Wood, and even the late great Rutger Hauer, not a single beat of the movie feels dry. Each story meshes into a cohesive unit of silly insanity that will never quite leave your brain, and it’s all topped off by some gloriously true-to-form voiceover narration. This is a truly perfect example of a film that understands exactly what it is, and unapologetically just goes for it. Not every aspect has aged entirely well, but even its worst moments can’t detract from its undeniable charm.
24. Birds of Prey (2020)
Unfairly dismissed by many as DC’s answer to “Deadpool”, Cathy Yan’s “Birds of Prey” is so much more; though, to be fair, it does play much better as a solo outing for Harley Quinn than it does as the team-up movie that its title would suggest. After a heartbreaking departure from the Joker, Harley Quinn ventures out into the open, alone, to find that many of Gotham City’s deadly inhabitants want her dead, as she’s forced to confront her past misdeeds. Margot Robbie comes into her own in the wonderfully zany role of Harley, with a wicked screen presence, and a more fleshed-out direction, as the film explores the complexities inside of the typically depicted one-note character.
This is truly Harley’s film through and through, and it’s all the better for it. Packing loads of laughs, bombastic action, and vibrant visuals throughout, you can’t really seek out a more exhilarating comic book movie. The carefree, almost nonchalant writing is tons of fun, and the entire cast, from Ewan McGregor to Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Rosie Perez, reflect that, with a kinetic energy that leaps through the screen. A simple, good time at the movies that should not be overlooked, Harley Quinn’s breakout feature is certainly among the DCEU’s strongest cinematic achievements to date.
23. Iron Man (2008)
The film that birthed the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains one of its most triumphant efforts. Taking a B-list hero from Marvel’s roster and using him as the foundation of the MCU was a gamble that would obviously pay off for everyone involved, but nobody knew that at the time. In hindsight, we all know the comic book genre owes “Iron Man” a large debt that can likely never quite be repaid, but on its own, Jon Favreau’s film makes for a damn good standalone, as well. Robert Downey Jr.’s career was single-handedly rescued from the ashes in the role of Tony Stark, with casting so perfect he would go on to anchor the MCU for over a decade, and in return, would launch the character of Iron Man into superstardom.
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The supporting cast around RDJ is fantastic, helping to shape a simple, yet effective, story of Tony Stark finding humility and selflessness, deciding to clean up his act as a reckless playboy and suiting up to help the world around him. It’s fun, witty, charming, and just about everything that audiences have come to love about the world’s biggest movie franchise. By the time that final line is spoken and Black Sabbath starts roaring over the credits, it’s made abundantly clear as to why this film would go on to spark something special.
22. Unbreakable (2000)
Predating the mainstream comic book movie craze that we are currently still engulfed in, M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable” is a patient, studious dissection of the superhero origin story. It was certainly a strange decision to follow up his critically-acclaimed psychological thriller “The Sixth Sense” with this ambitious oddity, but it’s hard to argue that it didn’t pay off, as Shyamalan’s grounded love letter to comics is undoubtedly among the most meditative and realistic portrayals of self-discovery the genre has to offer. After an extremely fatal train collision leaves one lone survivor, David Dunn (Bruce Willis), grapples with his incredible invulnerability, as a conspiracy comes to light of him potentially being a secret superhuman.
Coming to terms with his newly discovered abilities as he struggles to find his purpose in life, the film is an intimate glimpse into the world of an Everyman internally conflicted by immeasurable revelations. Samuel L. Jackson’s contrastingly fragile antagonist to Bruce Willis’ stoic, indestructible leading man, is among the most underrated hero/villain struggles in cinematic history, and the unraveling relationship between the two is the riveting, beating heart of the film. For anyone seeking a thoughtful deconstruction of the genre, devoid of the spandex and capes, without the glitz and glamor, then, by all means, look no further than this early 2000s gem.
21. Kick-Ass (2010)
Posing the simple premise of an ordinary, well-meaning teenager donning a costume to fight crime, Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass” is an equal parts vulgar and endearing satire of the superhero genre. Having fun with its concept, the film follows Aaron Taylor Johnson’s powerless hero’s trials and tribulations in becoming a masked vigilante, as he finds himself sucked into the dangerous, crime-ridden crevices of New York City. With electrifying side performances from Chloë Grace Moretz and Nicolas Cage as the “real-life” vigilante father/daughter duo of Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, as well as the delivery of a genuinely threatening villain from Mark Strong, this colorful cast of heroes and villains astonish with every passing frame.
Injecting an R-rated punch, full of brutal action and hilariously crude moments throughout, into a good-natured message of somebody trying to do the right thing, despite being in way over their head and being hit with the inevitable ramifications, Vaughn’s raunchy comedy is surprisingly layered. Amplified by a corny, triumphant score that fits the tone of the film beautifully, everything seamlessly meshes to create something that can be funny, dramatic, and thrilling, all at once, without feeling out of place. A film that admires what came before it, while paving its way as a staple of the genre in its own right, this is over-the-top comic book craziness done right.
20. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
The epic conclusion to Jon Watts’ Homecoming trilogy is everything that it’s been hyped up to be. Picking up immediately where “Spider-Man: Far From Home” left off, the film finds Peter Parker and his loved ones’ lives spiraling out of control upon Spider-Man being framed for the death of Mysterio. Seeking help from Doctor Strange, a spell is cast that accidentally unleashes Spider-Man villains from across the multiverse into the world of the MCU. The return of old faces from the previous Spider-Man series’ are a welcome sight, with each actor slipping back into their guises with ease, and making for interesting interactions within the MCU’s own cast of characters.
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The stakes are raised, and Tom Holland and Zendaya each give their best performance inside of the trilogy, as the film takes a slightly darker tone. Every big moment resonates, with excellent surprises and huge amounts of fan service dropped at every turn; pulling out all the stops to ensure that this once-in-a-lifetime event would not disappoint. It definitely isn’t without its errors and missteps along the way, but “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is a satisfying ode to three generations of Spider-Man films that will leave fans grinning from ear to ear, as an early definite standout of Marvel’s phase 4 catalog.
19. Batman (1989)
Tim Burton’s groundbreaking comic book classic remains one of the most pivotal landmarks of the genre, as well as a whimsical Burtonesque adventure that still holds up as a historic piece of the director’s filmography. While not the most obvious pick to craft a Batman movie, Burton’s imprint on the film, and really on the world of superhero cinema as a whole, is undeniably evident. Marking arguably the first dark(ish) on-screen portrayal of a superhero, “Batman” is utterly full of the kind of gothic imagination and eccentricity that its auteur visionary is synonymous with.
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Containing a fine outing from Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman, as well as the iconic, dreamlike casting of Jack Nicholson as the Joker, what the film may lack in plot, it more than makes up for with its wacky charisma. Nicholson’s Joker parades and cackles his way through the runtime as a one-man-show up there with the greatest comic book depictions of all time, as Burton masterfully crafts the eerily macabre atmosphere of Gotham City, in a brilliant translation from page to screen. Throw in Danny Elfman’s immortal score that has seemingly followed the World’s Greatest Detective since its conception in 1989, and you have what is surely one of the most prized products of a rapidly expanding genre.
18. Black Panther (2018)
Garnering lots of praise for its almost entirely black cast, while proving that there was room in the MCU for more culturally-diverse stories and morally-testing concepts, 2018’s “Black Panther” quickly became the talk of the comic book world. The late Chadwick Boseman and company would skyrocket King T’Challa to a household name, and give young black fans everywhere the chance to see themselves represented on-screen like never before – reminding us all of the true importance of the genre. Following the death of his father, T’Challa returns home to accept his rightful crown as the king of Wakanda and is quickly tested by the arrival of the disgruntled Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).
Driven by his hatred and rage, Killmonger presents the idea of supplying powerless minorities with weaponry from the technologically-advanced Wakanda to help them battle back against their oppressors, in a divisive story that genuinely poses a villain worth hearing, and a discussion worth having. Aside from the compelling narrative, Ryan Coogler’s boundary-breaking film is also a visual feast for the eyes, taking home Best Costume Design, as well as Best Production Design at the Academy Awards, marking the first-ever Oscar wins for the Marvel franchise. A thought-provoking, world-building step in the right direction for the MCU that sadly lost its inspirational star too soon, this is one sensational blockbuster that will not soon be forgotten.
17. Dredd (2012)
Without a doubt, 2012 was one of the most significant years in comic book movie history. Christopher Nolan’s indelible Dark Knight trilogy was brought to a close, we saw Spider-Man rebooted with breakout star Andrew Garfield, and Joss Weadon even helmed what would become arguably the most influential crossover movie of all time, with “The Avengers”. However, one movie, unfortunately, slipped through the cracks that year, as the box-office flop, turned cult-classic “Dredd” is now considered an overlooked treasure of the genre, and for good reason. Set in a futuristic dystopian wasteland, gangs rule the grimy wreckage of Mega-City One, as Judges (a group of law-enforcers that operate as judge, jury, and executioner) are the only hope of ridding the streets of their filth.
On her first day of training, a young officer (Olivia Thirlby) is paired with top-ranking Judge, Dredd (Karl Urban), as they attempt to force their way to the top of the dangerous 200-story housing project tower of Peach Trees, to locate the feared drug lord, Ma-Ma. As lives are lost and morals are tested, the black-and-white nature of Karl Urban’s stone-cold Dredd is questioned, while the film plays out like an immersive video game, similar to the equally badass action flick “The Raid”. A one-liner-spewing, brutal good time, this gritty sci-fi extravaganza is one that comic book fans definitely shouldn’t sleep on.
16. The Suicide Squad (2021)
From one R-rated, action-packed romp to the next, “The Suicide Squad” gets everything right that its predecessor, the 2016 disaster, could not. Omitted from the restraints of Marvel’s kid-friendly image, James Gunn ventures over to the DCEU to bring it its most unabashedly cruel, hilariously violent entry, to date. While it very easily could’ve been an unfiltered retread of “Guardians of the Galaxy”, Gunn and crew push the genre to new, strange heights, with a film crafted around a group of largely unknown, utterly outlandish members of the DC Comics roster, and find a tremendous untapped potential within them. It’s the same set-up as the previous film but given infinitely more heart.
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Washed up villains sent to do the government’s dirty work and likely lose their lives in the process, Gunn takes this ragtag group of criminals, and offers them genuine compassion, without ever changing who they are. Margot Robbie solidifies herself as the definitive on-screen Harley Quinn before anyone else can even have a go at it, and Idris Elba, David Dastmalchian, and Daniela Melchior all offer up fantastic ensemble pieces, while James Gunn displays a knack for vulgar, unhinged, black-comedy-infused creativity, that hasn’t quite been utilized in his work since the 2010 superhero parody “Super”. Cleverly adding on to what is quickly becoming his own private genre within the comic book movie realm, James Gunn leaves us with this lively passion project that never fails to entertain.
15. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s beloved Dark Knight trilogy obviously wasn’t what everyone was expecting. It may not be the refined masterpiece many were anticipating, with some plot holes and rushed writing standing out unlike its predecessors, but it sure is a stirring send-off to one of the greatest cinematic sagas in recent memory. Brought out of hiding upon the arrival of the hulking terrorist known as Bane, an older, more tattered Bruce Wayne must rise to the occasion one last time, to stop Gotham’s reckoning before it’s too late. Christian Bale is debatably giving his best work in the role of Batman here, and the additions of Anne Hathaway, as well as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, are very much welcome.
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However, it is, of course, Tom Hardy’s imposing performance as the formidable Bane that shapes “The Dark Knight Rises” into the fitting finale that it is. Giving the trilogy a villain that can finally match the Bat, not only in wit, but in physicality, Tom Hardy’s cunning brute steals scenes and captivates an audience for well over two hours, with iconic lines, and some stellar fight sequences. It has its issues throughout, but Nolan’s farewell to Batman is a powerful resolution that is sure to send goosebumps down spines by the time that monumental Hans Zimmer score swells up for the very last time, and the trilogy that helped define a genre, fades to black.
14. The Crow (1994)
A film that deals with unimaginable tragedy, blanketed, of course, by its own unimaginable tragedy, the late Brandon Lee truly left the world with a piece of himself, in this supernaturally-charged gothic revenge tale, up there with the greats. Set on Devil’s Night, precisely one year after the death of himself and his fiancée, Eric Draven, rises from the grave to exact merciless vengeance on those who took everything from him, on that fateful night. It’s an, at times, very unsettling watch, but Lee finds so much charisma in the character of Eric Draven; commanding the screen with a wicked screen presence that ranges from lighthearted malevolence to genuine sorrow, and ties the whole film together.
Making sure the movie never goes off the deep end with its B-movie antics, Lee’s performance gives the film its aching heart, with a special kind of enchantment that likely would’ve made a star out of him, if not for his untimely passing. It’s a powerful, heartbreaking story of innocence gone too soon, but also a touching reminder that pain is only temporary, and the love you have for those you’ve lost lasts forever. Surprisingly heartfelt, chaotic fun, with a strong, poignant message at its core, 1994’s “The Crow” is a timeless cult classic that melts through its dreary, definitely ‘90s exterior, to deliver one of the most delightful experiments of the comic book genre.
13. Deadpool 2 (2018)
Following the incredible, unprecedented success of the oddball game-changer that was 2016’s “Deadpool”, many were skeptical as to if Ryan Reynolds and company could recapture the same magic for a sequel. With a lot to prove, yet again, the team of “Deadpool 2” clearly gave it their maximum effort, and delivered a continuation that has everything moviegoers loved from the original, while going bigger and better, and propelling the character into a wider-scoped story, with a brilliant side cast to boot. Ryan Reynolds gives an even stronger outing as the foul-mouthed Deadpool, delivering on the same self-referential, fourth-wall-breaking hilarity of the first film while digging deeper into the psychology of the Merc with a Mouth.
The anti-hero is tasked with a lot more emotional depth that, on paper, shouldn’t work quite as well as it does. Josh Brolin’s Cable is the perfect straight-man to Deadpool’s uncontained zaniness, Zazie Beetz is a pure beam of energy in the role of Domino, and David Leitch ups the ante of the first movie, with some explosive action from the director’s chair, as each new acquisition, brings something fresh to the table. Enriching what worked from the previous film, with more mature themes of loss and new beginnings, without ever losing its crass, high-octane edge, “Deadpool 2” is the unlikely family flick we never knew we needed.
12. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Bringing Steve Rodgers out of the battlefields of WWII, and into modern times in his second solo outing, this take on Cap is a tighter, sleeker espionage flick, with Marvel fan favorites, the Russo brothers, taking the reins as co-directors. Adapted from the comic book run of the same name, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” sees the return of Rogers’ lifelong friend, Bucky, as the brainwashed assassin known as the Winter Soldier. It may sound a little silly, but it genuinely makes for one of the most compelling narratives in the entire MCU. As Cap struggles to come to terms with the present, he’s snatched back into the past by the arrival of a dear friend, turned deadly enemy.
Working on several levels, as a layered look into Steve Rogers’ failure to connect with the times, as well as a paranoiac spy story, and a heated political-thriller, with all of the makings of a big-budget, buttery popcorn movie, it’s not hard to imagine why this is consistently ranked amongst the best in the genre. With an absolutely terrific ensemble far too long to list, excellent writing, and each action-packed set-piece topping the last, Captain America’s sophomore effort is a non-stop thrill ride that certainly stunned plenty upon release and continues to be praised, nearly a decade later.
11. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Spidey’s first solo introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe was truly everything that it should’ve been. Pushing away from the failed, albeit enjoyable, stint of Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man movies, the wall-crawler’s integration into the pre-established vision of the MCU was a long-overdue treat that brought a much-needed dose of youthful innocence and fun, to the franchise’s overarching world of heroes. Exploring the cataclysmic events of past films in the series, specifically “The Avengers”, through the perspective of a superpowered teenager, Jon Watts’ take on Spider-Man is a street-level look at the effects Marvel’s superheroes have had on the normal, everyday life around them.
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The film works perfectly, as a smaller-scoped world builder for the MCU, a fun high school comedy, and a huge step towards the growth of Tom Holland’s endearing Avenger, with a light plot that allows all of these elements to breathe individually, yet mesh, as a unit, seamlessly. Michael Keaton makes for a threatening, believably grounded villain as the Vulture, and Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man is given a fantastic mentor role, in a delightful twist on the beloved Uncle Ben character. A scaled-down, lively shot of energy was just what this franchise needed, and “Spider-Man Homecoming” delivered in spades while blessing the comic book genre with its definitive “friendly neighborhood” depiction of everyone’s favorite web-slinger.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Marvel’s biggest cinematic gamble also proved to be one of its greatest success stories, in the form of James Gunn’s stylish space opera “Guardians of the Galaxy”. Taking a team of abnormal unknowns from deep within the pages of comic book history, Gunn whipped up what probably should’ve been the MCU’s first surefire miss, and instead gave the franchise a fresh, one-of-a-kind experience that will likely go down as a future sci-fi classic. In electrifying fashion, a squad of mostly unproven actors, helmed by a largely unproven director, were able to band together and deliver one of the most impressively surprising hits of the decade, while offering the MCU its very first supergroup to rival Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
From the infectiously hilarious ensemble cast (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, etc.), to the film’s catchy soundtrack, and unforgettable dialogue, James Gunn and crew gave a franchise that was teetering on stagnation, an unbelievable boost that seriously could have never been predicted. In an unbelievably odd turn of events, Marvel veered away from its hammer-wielding god and its heart of gold super soldier to deliver a movie featuring a talking raccoon and a sentient tree, and it genuinely worked; converting each and every member of the Guardians into a household name, up there with the likes of Black Widow and Iron Man.
9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
There can be a genuine argument made that no film has ever captured the feeling of reading a comic book, quite like this. Colorful characters, stunning visuals, unique animation, and a simple, yet effective story that encapsulates the core values of the mantle of Spider-Man as good as any, collide to make this beautiful, expertly crafted explosion of a movie. Finally given his due as the main character in a feature film, Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) is made the foundation of this wide-reaching, universe-expanding plot, with the Peter Parker we all know and love, acting as a mentor figure, whose best days are behind him. The movie follows the standard Spider-Man routine, as Morales has trouble adjusting to his newfound abilities, before the formula is completely shattered, upon the arrival of multiple Spider-People from other dimensions.
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The story is then elevated into something that had never quite been done with any superhero flick at the time, as several versions of Spider-Man, each stranger than the last, collaborate, into vibrant chemistry that pops on screen. Each character is given their chance to shine, as the voice work of Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, and John Mulaney (to name a few) make phenomenal companion pieces to what is easily Shameik Moore’s show. Filled to the brim with stunning imagery, paired with a highly spirited script, this animated superhero adventure took the comic book genre by storm and shows no signs of slowing down, with a sequel soon on the way.
8. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
The culmination of the MCU’s first ten years of filmmaking was every bit as exciting as promised. Tying together virtually every character the franchise has to offer for the very first time, the Russo brothers had a lot to juggle in terms of large-scale storytelling and pacing, but they pulled it off, masterfully, into a colossal movie of epic proportions, that shockingly never feels bloated or rushed. Every hero feels utilized, and every interaction between them brings a moment of levity that pays off in the hearts of fans, amidst the series’ most intense effort, to date. Marvel’s track record with antagonists has long been the subject of mockery, but Josh Brolin would help put an end to that, with his powerful portrayal of the Mad Titan, Thanos.
It was no secret that a film this big, overflowing with superheroes left and right, would need a strong, compelling villain, and Brolin’s Thanos was precisely that, with a sinister presence and motivations that felt disturbingly justified. While its successor, “Avengers: Endgame” contains plenty of spectacles, “Avengers: Infinity War” is the more complete package, with a gripping story, plenty of memorable moments, and of course, an unforgettably devastating finale that still leaves audiences gasping for breath, to this day. If ever there were a film that perfectly displays everything that fans have come to love from the MCU over the years, it has to be this one.
7. Logan (2017)
After nearly twenty years in the role, following some good movies, and some bad ones, Hugh Jackman was given the definitive swan song that his portrayal of Wolverine more than deserved, with James Mangold’s “Logan”. Set in the near future, the film finds Logan (Jackman) and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) aging, and hiding on the Mexican border, subsequent to the eradication of nearly all mutants; living out whatever is left of their lives, in tremendous pain. Hugh Jackman is simply at the top of his game as the older, battle-scarred Wolverine, conveying a devastating sense of vulnerability and anguish often left unexplored in superhero films.
Rather than sending the celebrated Marvel hero out with the now-accustomed bells and whistles of the genre, Mangold opts for a more personal, road-trip-style movie, as the depleted Logan reluctantly agrees to aid a young mutant-refugee on her hazardous quest to freedom. Told, essentially as an R-rated Western, Jackman is fully unleashed in his final bout as the rageful Wolverine, as the film shows in graphic, unflinching detail throughout, the grim severity of superpowered anger versus the average bad guy, with each and every fight scene adding its own unique pool of blood to the mix. Amidst the horrific carnage, however, is an unexpectedly emotional center, and a decidedly sad story, that cleverly never shies away from the heavy-hitting themes of discrimination and marginalization, that has reigned so prevalent with the X-Men over the years.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Few sequels, across any genre, have ever been able to reclaim the original’s electricity, and give the series a beneficial shove in a new direction, quite like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”. On the run after a deal gone awry, the Guardians’ ship crash-lands on a mysterious planet, where Star-Lord is introduced to his estranged father, Ego (Kurt Russell), who informs his unsuspecting son about his shocking celestial ancestry. With the team already fully established from their previous outing, James Gunn keys in on the unconventional family dynamic of the Guardians, delving deeper into their collective relationship, as they bicker and squabble their way through the film, before ultimately needing to band together and fight for one another when it matters most.
Gunn shows great restraint as a writer, opting to tell a relatable, character-focused story, rather than a gigantic space epic, while also showing sizeable improvement as a director; with an impressive visual flair, and compelling beats of action that never go overboard in their approach. The longer runtime is utilized, wisely, to further develop the side pieces of Nebula and Yondu, while Kurt Russell undoubtedly makes for one of the MCU’s strongest villains, giving his charming trademark delivery a neat twist. Boasting non-stop laughs and a magnificent soundtrack, as well as a moving narrative about the unbreakable bonds of true friendship, all topped, of course, by the pop-cultural icon that is Baby Groot, this follow-up to Marvel’s smash hit sensation more than lives up to its predecessor.
5. V for Vendetta (2005)
Another film on this list adapted from the brilliant work of Alan Moore, this dystopian-set political-thriller may go overlooked by some, but certainly carves out its spot amongst the greatest comic book movies of all time. In the wake of this fictional depiction of London’s fascist state, titular anti-hero, V, aims to strike back against the government’s oppression of its people, with the help of his bright young muse, Evey (Natalie Portman), and some uncompromising terrorist tactics. Hugo Weaving is absolutely untouchable in the role of the enigmatic V, bringing an elegant charm and passion to the character that bleeds through the dreadfully gloomy atmosphere of Great Britain’s authoritarian rule. In fact, the film’s greatest strength may be the symbolic importance of V.
In every way, the masked-vigilante is Big Brother’s worst nightmare, as an artistic champion of freedom and individuality, willing to launch himself into a one-man crusade against the government to stand up for what is right. Through the Wachowskis’ beautifully-adapted script and the graceful direction of James McTeigue, this is a film that knows exactly what it wants to be, through and through, all the way down to the meta casting of John Hurt as Britain’s tyrannical dictator. Leaving audiences with an uplifting message of resilience and perseverance in the bleakest of times, “V for Vendetta” will tear you down, pick you back up, and ultimately give everyone a reason to remember, remember the fifth of November.
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
While, oftentimes, directors of comic book films are used simply as vessels for a larger-than-life project, and not so much as creative forces, it’s pretty impossible to argue that there was a director specifically suited to helm an adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series, better than Edgar Wright. At once, a faithful translation from page to screen, as well as a perfect display of Wright’s trademark filmmaking style, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is an unapologetically idiosyncratic moviegoing experience like no other. Centered around the ignorant, unmotivated Scott (Michael Cera), who takes an interest in the mysterious new girl, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the titular scrawny coward must battle his way through Ramona’s seven evil-exes to win her affection.
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It’s a nice story about fighting for the ones you love and helping them overcome their personal demons, as well as a look into Scott’s individual pursuit of self-worth, told through an over-the-top, video-game-inspired world. Wright’s visual gags and rapid-fire editing service the script wonderfully, without ever distracting from the film’s decidedly silly, yet touching moments. Michael Cera also excels, as the unorthodox leading man, bringing his delightful brand of awkward humor to the table, as well as undeniable chemistry with Winstead, that plays off of her sarcastic edge, flawlessly. Never subtle in approach, but always a good time with a big heart, Wright’s criminally underrated masterpiece may have been ahead of its time, but has since, luckily gained a well-deserved cult following, as an iconic comic book rom-com that never gets old.
3. Joker (2019)
Fans were skeptical, and rightfully so, when it was first announced that DC would be granting the character of the Joker his very own solo film. Giving the esteemed supervillain an origin story, whose ambiguity is a key ingredient of his intrigue, simply felt wrong and misguided, especially taking the company’s recent blunders into account – looking at you once again, “Suicide Squad”. Fortunately, however, Todd Phillips’ gritty ‘70s-esque project would surpass all negative expectations, and go on to certainly warrant its existence, as a subversion of the comic book genre, that packs a real punch. Rooted in reality through the lens of a Martin Scorsese-inspired character study, Phillips’ take on the Clown Prince of Crime is a struggling comedian, known as Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), living out his monotonous days as an unnoticed reject within the deplorably vile city of Gotham.
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Depicting Joker as a mentally-ill victim of societal neglect, the film offers a glimpse into a side of the notorious villain, never quite seen before. Awarding Arthur genuine sympathy from the audience, as the product of a failing system, the film evokes a true empathy that never would have initially been expected; without commending the character’s violent punchline towards the end of the story. Driven by a powerhouse performance by Joaquin Phoenix, as well as an eerie score and an effectively bleak, immersive production design, “Joker” is a slow-burning thriller that proves how more mature, riskier interpretations of beloved comic book icons can be just as successfully engaging as any expensive action-packed blockbuster.
2. The Avengers (2012)
If Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man” was the movie that opened the door for the MCU, then 2012’s “The Avengers” has to be the one that tore the door off its hinges, while simultaneously setting the gold standard for all superhero team-up films in the process. Pulling every hero from each of their solo outings into one cohesive unit, Joss Whedon’s historic crossover event would set a precedent for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it today. Nowadays, comic book films of this magnitude and this scale are obviously commonplace, but the pure novelty of these characters coinciding on screen with one another had never really been attempted up until this point, and it made for something truly special, that still holds its ground amongst the top-tier titles in the MCU.
Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth each reprise their starring roles from previous films, while Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, and Mark Ruffalo all get the opportunity to really come into their own for the first time in the expansive series, and their dynamic as a team is phenomenal from the very beginning. Long before its explosive conclusion, the film is effortlessly engrossing, with fantastic individual moments and sizzling banter between its heroes. Elevated further by a sensationally charismatic antagonist in the form of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, and the stellar, aforementioned third act, the movie absolutely triumphs, while still finding its formulaic footing. In a time when each movie in the franchise tries to top the last, this simple, well-crafted trailblazer continues to entertain.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
There may never be a comic book film that can top “The Dark Knight”. Christopher Nolan’s indelible masterpiece has long been a shining example for superhero movies that don’t necessarily need to comply with the genre’s restraints; taking itself seriously, as a political-crime-thriller that just so happens to be dressed in capes and clown paint. Though remaining grounded and raw, the film also contains the greatest on-screen depiction of the eternal struggle between Batman and the Joker. Through the menacing, straight-laced portrayal of Christian Bale’s Batman and the, unhinged yet calculated magnetism of the late Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn as the Joker, Nolan pits order against chaos and delivers the purest translation of the archenemies’ relationship, ever put to film.
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Joker’s commitment to disrupting Gotham’s established order and, in the process, breaking the Bat, is the stuff of comic book legend, and Ledger utterly relishes in the escalating madness. Every single passing scene remains iconic, to this day; each given its own sense of urgency to effectively keep viewers on edge, while the technical aspects like its stunning cinematography and spine-tingling score, coupled with a gripping story overflowing with ramping tension, remain faultless. Possessing inspired writing, endlessly quotable lines, and a star-studded cast firing on all cylinders, this mesmerizing roller-coaster ride of insanity and mayhem set the bar high for all other members of the genre back in 2008 and has yet to be matched.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
No, it may not be derived from any specific comic book origin, but Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Birdman” is easily the most honest, thought-provoking stance on the state of the superhero genre and its impact on Hollywood, ever put to film. Painting a portrait of a washed-up actor known for his glory days as the leading role of a successful superhero blockbuster, this Michael Keaton-starring drama would take home the award for Best Picture at the Oscars, for its unrelenting portrayal of an aging thespian’s quest for self-importance. Critiquing the cyclical nature of celebrity-obsession, and the cold place the industry leaves its stars once their time in the sun has ended, the film follows Riggan Thomson (Keaton), as he scrambles to mount a career resurgence on Broadway.
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Thomson, through one long, seemingly continuous take, struggles to disassociate himself from his mask-wearing past; mirroring today’s creative climate, as big-name actors are forced to wrestle their with artistic expression, in a world that is telling them to either hop on the train of franchise blockbusters, or be left behind. Without taking sides or pointing fingers, Iñárritu raises a timely debate on the effects of the genre and has tons of fun doing so, through the genius casting of the great Michael Keaton, whose own career could certainly be compared to that of the film’s woeful protagonist. Some may find it preachy or pretentious, but it certainly makes for an intriguing watch, despite differing viewpoints on the comic book craze.