Last month, a writer at Moviefone unleashed upon the internet a definitive list of the top 25 comic book movies. The piece candidly acknowledges the difficulties in undertaking such a task:
The trouble with making a Top 25 list is how you judge the entries. Do you do it by box office receipts? Or critical consensus? What about the quality of the script, or how well a movie has aged? We took all of these factors into account while making our list, with one more criteria [sic]: how significant is the movie? Where does it stand in the history of comic book movies? These twenty-five entries are the 25 most significant comic movies, with a few entries you’ll recognize and a few that you should seek out immediately.
Box office receipts, which I assume here is intended to mean the number of tickets sold, is something that can be quantified. Calling his list the “top 25” rather than the “25 best” suggests that he should probably just have gone by the amount of money each film has earned. Of course then you get into the problems of rising ticket prices, DVD and blu-ray sales, rentals, the amount of money the films earn on pay-per-view, pay cable, basic cable, networks, and syndication. That’s pretty complicated, and movie studios are notoriously creative in their accounting practices.
The author then mentions “critical consensus,” which of course has no bearing on anything. Critics are unreliable barometers of quality, but even if they were, the author has drifted away from “top 25” and into “25 best” territory which, based on the title of his list, is not his intention. He also mentions that “quality of script” and “how well a movie has aged” are also taken into consideration. This implies that art is quantifiable in ways that it just isn’t. “Quality of script” is in the eye of the beholder, and, didn’t Jessica Alba once claim that scripts were little more than suggestions for the actors?
“Good actors, never use the script unless it’s amazing writing. All the good actors I’ve worked with, they all say whatever they want to say.”
Ms. Alba has appeared in at least three comic book based movies, so she should know.
As for “how well a movie has aged,” that is slightly more quantifiable than “quality of script”– I think most of us would agree that “The Birth of a Nation” and “Triumph of the Will” have not aged well. So I’ll give him that. But his last “criteria” (and that illiterate pluralization does not bode well for the Moviefone author), “how significant is the movie,” is so abstract as to be meaningless. In what way? The aforementioned “Birth of a Nation” and “Triumph of the Will” are also considered by many– film scholars, mostly — to be “significant”. Yet neither of those films has aged well. So which “criteria” is the more important?
Anyway, here is the Moviefone list:
25. Shogun Assassin
24. A History of Violence
22. Road to Perdition
19. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World
17. Sin City
15. Ghost in the Shell
14. Iron Man
13. Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro
11. The Rocketeer
9. American Splendor
8. Men in Black
6. Spider-Man II
5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
4. Ghost World
2. The Dark Knight
Over all this is fairly conventional list. There are a few idiosyncratic choices, but the big ones that everyone claims to love are all in the relative places you’d expect. Putting “Blade” in the top spot was probably an attempt to start a dialogue which, along with trying to get links, is the main reason for such lists.
But what about the alleged “criteria” the author employed? How “significant,” really, is “A History of Violence”? (Nothing in that movie hadn’t already been said in a thousand better films.) How well has “Road to Perdition” aged? (It felt old and dated when it was released.) How many “box office receipts” did “The Rocketeer” move? (Not many.)
“A History of Violence” is the only boring movie David Cronenberg ever made. It gave the impression of being written by someone who’d never been to America — only seen a few crime movies and decided that’s how everyone acts here. “Road to Perdition” took a vigorous, entertaining and thought-provoking book and drained from it every ounce of life, turning it into a Tableau vivant. “Hellboy” was basically just a slightly below-average “X-Files” episode, with a big red guy in it. “X-Men” felt unfinished, and contains one of the most infamous pieces of dialogue in history: When Storm uttered her line about what happens to a toad when it’s struck by lightning, the audience with which I saw the film groaned collectively. “Iron Man” is a neocon wish-fulfillment fantasy, and it stands in stark contrast to “Persepolis,” which fell in just behind it on this list, and “The Dark Knight,” which came in ahead of it. “The Rocketeer” is dull and completely forgettable; I’m sure I saw it, at some point, but I’ve thankfully traded the memory for one of myself, sitting in a darkened room, doing nothing for about 90 minutes. “Superman” is one of the most overrated films of all time and I will tell you why shortly. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” was terrible upon release, an unfunny and uninteresting non-adventure that has only gotten worse with age.
“Ghost World” is an unpleasant mixture of mean-spiritedness and cloying sentimentality, with an obtuse ending that shows a complete lack of courage on the part of the filmmakers. Contrast that with “Art School Confidential,” which was made by the same creators, Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes. That film is also venomous, but it attacks everyone equally, including the protagonist, Jerome. Like Enid of “Ghost World,” Jerome thinks that he’s better than everyone else. He also believes that artists like him are going to be pure and decent, with higher aspirations and morals than those in the suburbia that he finds stifling and phony. If he can just get out, he’ll find people with elevated aspirations, and the full potential of which humans are capable. What he learns is that the art world is full of petty, phony people who are motivated by crass insecurity, who are just looking for the next big trend to follow — it’s just as bad as the world he thought he was escaping. The main difference is their superior, pretentious attitude. By the end of the film, Jerome learns he was no better than anyone else, and he happily gives in to the temptations of celebrity, selling out whatever principles he thought he had in the beginning.
I give the Moviefone author points for including “Castle of Cagliostro,” “Scott Pilgrim,” “American Splendor,” and “Shogun Assassin,” some of which will end up on my own top 25 list. But something about Moviefone’s list intrigued me very much: None of my own five favorite comic book based movies appears anywhere on it. A couple of my five favorites are fairly obscure, but two of them were major, big-budget releases with big stars (one of them was a big summer release that cost over $90 million), and one of them, my all-time favorite comic book based movie, has a significant cult following.
But maybe my own favorites haven’t aged well, or achieved some favorable “critical consensus.” Anyway, I wanted to see if my own tastes are really that far outside the mainstream, so I googled “top comic book movies” and I found another “top 25” list, this one from a website called IGN.
Their list starts out unpromisingly, in the subheader:
Top 25 Comic Book Movies of All Time
And no, Tank Girl isn’t one of them.
Right off the bat, before the article even starts, the reader has encountered hostility. This is a definitive list. Not to be questioned. Anyone who likes “Tank Girl” is shit out of luck with the (three credited) authors of this piece.
But it gets worse, with the introduction:
As Inception gives us another excuse to worship at the altar of Nolan, and with Comic-Con right around the corner, IGN does the rank and file thing again. This time, we present our Top 25 Comic Book Movies of All Time. *Drops the mic.* Now, we know what you’re saying: How come you didn’t give Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher some love? Or or or where’s my Judge Dredd?! Answer: Really? Care space for those movies exist? Really? Real Answer: Because we here at IGN Geek used the following criteria to sort out the bad movies from the really awesome, kick-ass ones. That criteria is [sic] as follows: Impact on the genre, geekout-ability moments, level of storytelling – does the adaptation exceed/do justice to its source material? – and Editor’s Choice. What’s our number one pick? Read on to find out, True Believers. And sound off your favorite films in the comments, unless they’re Punisher or Judge Dredd. Seriously, spare yourself the mockery. It’s not worth it.
The authors of this list have apparently come up with some fantastic alchemical way of quantifying art. Or, rather, they are going to fearlessly defend the status quo. You see, the mass of fanboys have decided, as a group, that Dolph Lundgren’s “Punisher” and “Judge Dredd” are unworthy even of discussion. Rather than debate a film on its merits, they will mock you for your taste.
Again: They will mock you for your taste. This is nothing but a defense mechanism, for someone who is so unsure of his opinion, and has such low self-esteem, that he can’t stand the thought of having to actually debate you. You might win!
They make this assertion in the same paragraph in which they pathetically solicit comments on their list.
But if you’re going to affect such an attitude, you need to back it up with some interesting choices. If not proper grammar (seriously, people who make lists of top 25 comic book movies: criteria is plural. Criterion is singular — but then again, the authors of this list are probably too cool for literacy). Their criteria are completely arbitrary, most especially that “Editor’s Choice” bit. Basically, anything goes with this list. Except, of course, “Tank Girl,” Dolph Lundgren’s “Punisher,” and “Judge Dredd.”
Full disclosure: “Judge Dredd” would appear on my own list of the top 25 comic book movies. It’s a hilarious, serious film about a serious subject– long before the PATRIOT Act, this film anticipated a world in which officials get to write their own search warrants and render judgment without the fuss and bother of going to a “judge.” Of course, it’s based on a comic book that also anticipated this loathsome situation — although for me, the comic book, while generally entertaining, has a mildly distasteful feel to it. Some of the individual stories are great (the “Judge Death” story reprinted in Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 03 is one of my all-time favorite comics stories), but Judge Dredd is presented as too heroic a figure in the books. In the film, Dredd has to be cast out of the system to learn the error of his — and society’s — ways. In other words, it meets at least one of IGN’s alleged “criteria:” It exceeds/does justice to the source material. It’s no “Demolition Man,” but it’s a decent film with a warning about our future. Plus, as you can see from the photo above, it features Sylvester Stallone wearing a codpiece.
Here is IGN’s list. Remember, these authors are genuine authorities, with some great insights and perfect knowledge to quantify art. Presumably, also, these three authors have seen every single comic book based film ever made, so as to all the better make these judgments:
25. The Rocketeer
24. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
23. The Crow
20 Batman Returns
19. Men in Black
18. Superman II
17. Ghost World
16. Dick Tracy
15. Sin City
14. American Splendor
10. A History of Violence
9. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
6. Iron Man
5. Batman Begins
4. Road to Perdition
3. Superman: The Movie
2. Spider-Man 2
1. The Dark Knight
Have you ever met someone who stared down his nose at you, all attitude and swagger, going on about how great and amazing he was, but after five minutes of talking to him you realized he was nothing but a scared, simpering little twit with no insight, who was trying to prove how cool and with it he was by parroting his peers? That is what I thought when I saw this list. Based on that introduction, I expected something unique and bold. I mean, these are the people who are going to mock you for liking “Judge Dredd.” But this list is even more safe, more provincial, more vanilla than the Moviefone list. All of these are American films, you’ll note. Not even “Akira” made the cut for these stalwarts of film quantification. 17 of them are superhero movies. 4 of them are Batman movies. Four out of 25 feature the same superhero!
When you’re going to cop an attitude, bring something different to the discussion — this list is just tired and embarrassing. I bet the authors’ all time favorite films are “Citizen Kane” and “Gone with the Wind,” too. It’s almost pointless to even talk about these selections, but, because of the nasty attitude (“nastitude”: noun: a belligerently self-righteous manner, usually affected to hide deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy and fear. When the sitting congressman was asked about the photos of his genitalia which appeared on his twitter feed, he exhibited a real nastitude.) they exhibited in their tawdry introduction, I’m going to do just that.
First, I will mention the one good thing about this silly list: It features one of my five favorite comic book adaptations: “The Crow.” This is a powerful, thought-provoking meditation on death and vengeance that asks serious questions. It’s downbeat, but like any great art it is never depressing. Everything about the film, from the production design to the cinematography to the music conveys a sense of loss and sadness. Unlike most superhero films, there is a feeling of genuine danger. It’s a grown-up movie, with a story that feels simultaneously classic and unique, like it has always existed. It’s timeless.
Now, the bad. There is so much bad, but what jumps out at you right away is the presence of “Dick Tracy” on this list. “Dick Tracy” could be the undeniable best film of all time, ever made, but it is based on a comic strip, not a comic book. So it doesn’t even qualify for inclusion. The authors, with the same charm and subliteracy (and don’t forget the word I made up, “nastitude!”) exhibited in their introduction, excuse themselves this way:
Yeah we know we’re cheating a little bit here, and yeah, we know it is a comic strip and not a comic book. But the strip found its way into binded volumes so… Bob’s you’re [sic] uncle.
That’s a bit like saying, “Yeah, I know ‘The Raven‘ is a poem, but I found it in a short story collection, so, Im [sic] calling it a short story.”
This list has no credibility.
But even if we’re going to “[cheat] a little here” and include comic strip-based films, why not include a good comic strip-based film, like “I Go Pogo“? Or how about that “Far Side” movie? Or a movie that’s not a pretentious exercise in self-regard, like “The Phantom“? What about all those “Peanuts” based films from the 70s? How about “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” or “A Charlie Brown Christmas”? I dislike the “Peanuts” immensely, but those films are generally beloved, and they certainly “exceed/do justice to the source material.”
The next movie that jumps out is “Kick Ass.” This list appeared in July 2010. “Kick Ass” was released on April 16, 2010. Less than three months after its release, “Kick Ass” has apparently made enough of an “[i]mpact on the genre” to not only merit inclusion on this list, but to be listed as the 12th “top” of all time. Surely we need more than three months to make such an important decision. You might have absolutely loved “Kick Ass” when it came out, but don’t tastes change? Don’t you evolve?
When I was eight or nine, HBO aired the movie “Xanadu” every Sunday for about three months. And I watched it just about every time it aired. I loved that movie. If you’d asked me at the time to name my favorite musical, I’d have told you “Xanadu.” I loved Olivia Newton-John. I loved ELO’s music. I loved the roller skating. Today, my tastes have changed. I have matured. I am slightly embarrassed to have ever liked the movie “Xanadu” — catching it on one of the pay cable channels a few months ago was a painful experience. There is no story in that film — someone decides to build a roller disco, and then they do! There isn’t even a greedy land developer to oppose them! And the guy with whom Olivia Newton-John’s muse Terpsichore falls in love is a completely forgettable drip (albeit with beautiful hair). If you asked me now what is my favorite musical, I would choose something much more refined and dignified, like “The Apple.”
But some people don’t evolve. Check the presence of “Superman: The Movie” in the number three position. Here’s how the authors describe it:
The original superhero film, Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman brandished its subtitle — The Movie, bitch! — with pride. This was nothing like the matinee serials that depicted caped heroes of the past, or the cheesy TV shows that picked up those low-end reigns in the decades that followed. No, this was certainly a movie — an epic tale of the strange visitor from the planet Krypton known as Kal-El.
In many ways, the film set the standard for the genre which persists to this day. A cast of heavyweight actors gives the movie an instant respectability factor, while an unknown fulfills the main character’s printed-page specifications (and the fanboys’ needs). Christopher Reeve simply was Superman, and Clark Kent for that matter, while Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor brought a new level of humor to the baddie while (in this film anyway) never losing his truly evil streak. And speaking of streaks, the sight of Superman soaring through the sky to the strains of John Williams while he chases down an errant nuclear missile? Yeah, we believed a man could fly.
The series would degenerate fairly quickly after this (Superman II is great and all, but remember it was mostly shot at the same time as the first film). And funnily enough, that would also prove to be a trend that Superman’s descendants would follow: crappy sequels.
Favorite Moment: Superman: “Easy, miss. I’ve got you.” Lois Lane: “You… you’ve got me? Who’s got you?!” Superman: Chuckles. Us: Goosebumps.
If that is your “favorite moment,” it is a poor film indeed. And “Superman: The Movie” is a poor movie. The acting is either wooden (Reeve), shrill (Kidder), campy (Hackman), or catatonic (Brando). The movie is turgid, bloated, and unsure of itself. The presence of the words “The Movie” in the title of the film is not, as the authors suggest, a prideful boast; it’s a sad betrayal of its own feelings of inadequacy. It’s an attempt to distance itself from its source material. This film did not have the confidence to simply refer to itself as “Superman.” It had to throw in that “The Movie” to feel better about itself — no, this isn’t the “comic book,” it’s a movie, I swear.
It’s also deadly dull. I saw it in the theater on its first release, and it put me to sleep. As a young comic book fan I was desperately excited to see it — a “serious” take on the superhero! How could it lose?
Well, it made a lot of money. For its time, I suppose the special effects are okay. But never once did I believe he was flying. Never once did I believe anything about this film. Moreover, it breaks one of the cardinal rules of storytelling, ending with a deus ex machina. Lois Lane who, as played by Margot Kidder, was a walking irritant (she was capable of giving a good performance: look at “Sisters,” for instance — clearly she was just slumming in this film), has died. So Superman flies into earth’s orbit and then starts flying at superspeed around the earth counter to its rotation. For some reason, this causes the earth to start rotating in the opposite direction. This doesn’t damage the ozone layer, or throw the seasons out of whack, destroy crops and cause mass starvation as the environment of the earth is totally devastated. No, inexplicably, forcing the earth to spin in the opposite direction makes time move backwards. Superman makes time move backward so that he can save the irritating Lois Lane from death.
Well, for crying out loud, if Superman can do that, why doesn’t he just do it all the time? Why does he do it when a woman he wants to sleep with dies, and not when some children in Africa get shot by warlords? What the hell kind of a dick is this “Superman,” anyway? If I were one given to making blanket, world-weary judgments about the decline of civilization, I might suggest that the Superman of “Superman: The Movie” is the perfect hero for my generation. A completely selfish narcissist. Willing to risk the lives of everyone on the planet– willing to risk destroying the planet itself– for a little nookie. But I’m not, so I won’t. Instead, I will post a photo from a film that I like better than “Superman: The Movie,” “Howard the Duck.”
And I dislike the movie “Howard the Duck,” but at least it has Lea Thompson in her nighties.
When I was a kid, and reading comic books, I was often made fun of. Teased, called names. My sexual orientation was called into question. Why a boy reading books with illustrations of extremely buff men in skintight outfits should be accused of being “gay” (as an insult — remember, this was the 1970s, and our bullies weren’t as politically correct as they are now) is beyond me. But “Superman: The Movie” at least pretended to treat the subject with reverence and respect, even if it couldn’t have given less of a shit about the audience.
(By the way: “Superman II” is almost as bad. Only the third Superman film, called “Superman III,” shows any life, and that because of the presence of the genius Richard Pryor. But the original, rejected proposal for the film could have been the greatest comic book movie of all time.)
As for “Spider-Man 2,” that film is basically a remake of the first “Spider-Man,” (Peter Parker’s relationship with a science father figure who goes bad), with a dash of “Superman II” (superhero loses his superpowers). Yes, it’s well-made, as was the first, as was the third, but none of the Spider-Man films stick with you in any particularly meaningful way, and I have never had any desire to watch any of them again, since seeing them in the theaters. This is a major criterion for inclusion on my own list: Have I wanted to actually watch them again since seeing them the first time?
“The Dark Knight” is actually a good movie, and would appear on my own top 25 list. For some reason, the IGN authors chose to discuss this film in an uninsightful video post. It can be found here , but please don’t waste your time. For one thing, you have to sit through an ad to get to the commentary. How edgy cool is that? (Drops mic!) Some hipster doofus called Greg Miller — you can tell how cool and ironic he is, because he’s wearing a “re-elect Mike Haggar” t-shirt — is the host. I bet he’s got a really interesting, provocative opinion, no?
Well, no. He’s got a very conventional opinion. He even acknowledges the banality of his list by cutely enthusing, “Holy top 25, you didn’t really think we weren’t going to pick ‘The Dark Knight’ as the greatest comic book movie ever made, did you?”
No, but someone who’s obviously cool enough to wear a “re-elect Mike Haggar” t-shirt could at least have some compelling reasons as to why “The Dark Knight” is such a great film. But the most our host can offer is, “It also elevated [the comic book movie] to an art form.”
Film already is an art form.
You can see why these people copped an attitude. If all you’ve got to offer is conventional wisdom, and you’re unsure of yourself and your opinions, cop an attitude and hope you intimidate people into thinking you’re cool. But you’re not, IGN authors. You’re pitiable.
Anyway, we’ve still seen only one of my top five favorite comic book based films. So I went back to my google search and found this completely idiosyncratic and bizarre list from MSN, from way back in 2004. It bills itself as “Top 10 Comic Book Movies.” But that’s just a bait and switch. The subhead says, “From superheros to super-geeks, we recall the best comic book/strip films ever made”.
This is clearly someone who sees a few boxes with drawings in them and thinks, “Comic strips, comic books, they’re all the same.” No, they are not. Comic strips have daily continuity, they have limited space, limited layout options, they have to quickly recap what happened the previous day (or week, if it’s a weekly strip) and then move the story forward, to end on a cliffhanger for the following day or week.
Unless it’s a gag strip — then it has to tell a joke in a few panels.
Comic books have several pages over which to tell a story. They have an entire page on which lay out the artwork.
I’ve only listed superficial differences. The two art forms aren’t interchangeable. Despite what the IGN authors, and the MSN author, believes.
Anyway, MSN’s list of the top 10:
10. Flash Gordon
9. Dick Tracy
7 Superman: The Movie
5. Blade II
1. Ghost World
The first three entries on this list are all comic strips. One of those strips, Thimble Theater (the strip in which Popeye was born) happens to be my personal favorite comic strip of all time, with Popeye being my all-time favorite superhero. But the movie is just… well, as the author of this list says, “You have to be a special kind of person to love Robert Altman’s ‘Popeye.'” I assume this is meant to be a compliment. The author continues:
Maligned by too many as silly, this cartoonish musical looks exactly like E.C. Segar’s comic strip, with Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall perfectly embodying Popeye and Olive Oyl, respectively (Duvall was born to play the string bean). And kudos to Paul Thomas Anderson who, 22 years later, honored “Popeye” by using the Harry Nilsson-penned ode “He Needs Me” (sung by Duvall) to punctuate the eccentricity of his romantic “Punch-Drunk Love.”
Here the author betrays that lack of confidence that seems to be unfortunately typical in fanboys: For some reason, Paul Thomas Anderson’s approval is needed to validate the author’s opinion. And, no, the movie does not look “exactly like E.C. Segar’s comic strip.” It looks like a big, messy stage production slapped together after watching a few of the Fleischer cartoons based on the comic strip.
I do give the author some credit for including “Barbarella” on this list. That film, based on a French comic book, features a young and lovely Jane Fonda in various states of undress.
Unless you’re talking to a die-hard feminist, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t enjoy “Barbarella.” Roger Vadim directed his then-wife Jane Fonda as French comic-strip artist Jean-Claude Forest’s sci-fi nymphet who wears skimpy, ’60s space-age get-ups and, in the most memorable sequence, insatiably breaks the Orgasmatron. Psychedelic, campy and just plain sexy, this is required viewing for every horny nerd out there … and it’s a lot more fun than “Austin Powers.”
It is more fun than “Austin Powers,” but then, you can say that about most things. Last year, I actually went through a (minor, thank you for your concern, I’m fine) medical procedure that was more fun than “Austin Powers.” Anyway, I saw “Barbarella” on HBO back when I was about five or six, and it definitely made an impression on me. Yes, Jane Fonda was hot (she might have been the first woman I ever consciously thought of in such a way), but for me the most memorable scene was the one in which Barbarella was attacked by the blade-toothed dolls. What horror, as Ms. Fonda’s beautiful flesh was covered in technicolor red sauce! One of the most terrifying images I’ve ever seen.
Sadly, much like “Xanadu,” this film has not held up for me as my tastes have evolved. Attempting to watch it recently made me surprisingly bored, and I finally had to give up.
The MSN list does have the distinction of containing absolutely no film that would make it into my own top 25 list.
Moving on, Film 4 has a list that it has grimly and arrogantly declared to be “25 comic book movies to see before you die.” There are a lot of things I want to do before I die (work as a gigolo, write a long, pointless blog post about top comic book movies lists, complete at least 50 marathons), but making sure I see a certain number of “comic book movies” isn’t one of them.
Anyway, here is Film 4’s list:
V for Vendetta
When the Wind Blows
A History of Violence
Ghost in the Shell
The Dark Knight
This list has a number of distinctions. For one thing, it’s the one list that doesn’t “rank” the movies. It takes a genuine intellect to discern the subtle differences that separate a “number 16” film from a “number 17” film. The list-makers are here tacitly acknowledging a limitation of such lists — or their own limitations; either way, that is a good thing. It also features “The Crow,” which, as I’ve already said, is one of my own top five. This is also the first list to feature “Heavy Metal,” another film which would make my own top 25 list. When I was a kid, it was “Heavy Metal” magazine, which mostly reprinted comics that had appeared originally in French comics magazines like “Metal Hurlant” and “Pilote,” that really got me interested in comics in general. Most especially the works of Phillippe Druillet and Moebius made huge impressions on me — but the stuff by Voss and Lob and Bilal was also great. The American Richard Corben’s “Den,” with his insanely muscled men and huge-breasted women, was also a favorite. Sadly, the filmmakers were only able to obtain the rights to a few of the American artists’ works. The “Den” segment is great, as is the segment based on Angus McKie’s “So Beautiful and So Dangerous,” at least until it just completely gives up at the end. The rest of the film is entertaining enough, but it’s frustrating to think of what might have been if Druillet’s “Urm the Mad,” or Moebius’ “Arzach” had been included.
It also contains “V for Vendetta,” another of my “top 25.”
Another point in this list’s favor is that it’s the first to contain a film that I haven’t seen. I’d never even heard of “When the Wind Blows.” Here’s how the film is described:
You’d think today’s kids would have some respect for their own mortality – so why do they remain so fearless? Well, unlike the 1970s and 1980s generation, they aren’t continually being scared stiff. Consider the evidence: scary kids’ TV with scary theme tunes; the potential for drowning in a pre-Thames Barrier London; the daily possibility of being blown up by the IRA; icebergs with the voice of John Hurt giving us Aids; heroin screwing us up (or at least giving us unsightly acne). And the granddaddy of all bogeymen: da bomb. Permeating all pop culture, from ‘Two Tribes’ to Threads, the ridiculously real threat of nuclear annihilation gave us all the screaming abdabs – not helped by Jimmy T Murakami’s adaptation of Briggs’ graphic novel ‘When The Wind Blows’, a darkly satirical riposte to those fatuous ‘Protect And Survive’ leaflets (and an exact photo negative of Disney’s 1957 propaganda cartoon Our Friend The Atom). For Jim and Hilda Bloggs, taking a few doors off their hinges and climbing into a brown paper bag should be enough to ensure their post-holocaust survival. After all, the government wouldn’t lie to us. Would they?
This does what a good “top whatever list” should do– it intrigues us enough to get us interested in seeking out a film we haven’t seen before. It’s not copping a “nastitude,” like the IGN list (I am going to keep using that portmanteau until everyone else does, too). I would take issue with the author’s contention that “today’s kids…aren’t continually being scared stiff.” That’s just wrong– what about “terrorism,” “stranger danger,” “climate change,” and “the obesity epidemic”? Kids are always going to be “scared,” it’s just that what we’re using to scare them is changing.
On the negative side, this list also features “Flash Gordon,” which was originally a comic strip (oh, well, “Bob’s you’re [sic] uncle”):
In an alternative universe, George Lucas snapped up the rights to ‘Flash Gordon’, and praised God he didn’t have to rely on his fallback option: directing a mere homage to it. In another alternative universe, only very slightly removed from our own, Dino De Laurentiis bought the rights, ‘Dune’ novelist Frank Herbert co-wrote the screenplay and Nicolas Roeg added it to his directors CV. In yet a third alternative universe, De Laurentiis replaced Roeg at the last minute with Mike Hodges, a director previously known for gritty crime thrillers like Get Carter. Ah, hang on, that did happen. If Roeg, according to the producer, had attempted to make “Shakespeare out of a comic book,” Hodges proved the perfect director – despite serious misgivings: poor optical effects, a novice frontman, an Italian designer who spoke no English, and costumes you could hardly move in. As Melody Anderson (Dale Arden) said later, “It wasn’t an actor’s picture. It was a special effects picture.” And all the better for it.
Yes, but those special effects were just bad. And no matter how much campy fun the movie is, and how much we enjoy the soundtrack that Queen put together, this is a movie based on a comic strip for crying out loud.
Then there’s the presence of the film “Creepshow,” which wasn’t even based on a comic strip:
In 1954, Dr Frederic Wertham published his rabble-rousing thesis ‘Seduction Of The Innocent’, citing comic books as a cause of illiteracy, juvenile delinquency and sexual subversion: according to Wertham, Batman and Robin clearly batted for the other side, while Wonder Woman was little more than a bondage-happy lesbian. If Wertham’s accusations led to a congressional hearing, most damagingly, for EC comics publisher Bill Gaines, it also spelled the beginning of the end for EC’s lurid horror titles, such as ‘Tales From The Crypt’ and ‘The Vault Of Horror’, with the self-censoring Comics Code Authority ruling comic books could no longer use words like “terror” or “horror” on their covers. Naturally, this didn’t stop a generation of young Americans guzzling them down. And the faster Mr and Mrs Romero confiscated young George’s corrupting EC comics, the sooner he’d smuggle them back. “I’d go somewhere with them and listen to some Alan Freed!” the Creepshow director chuckles. When Romero and Stephen King had the idea of framing their EC comics-inspired anthology with period-style artwork, they knew just who to call: Jack Kamen, whose lurid, controversial illustrations had burned indelibly into the minds of many an impressionable teenybopper.
So now we’re allowing in movies that were inspired by comics, as opposed to being based on comics? That doesn’t seem fair, does it? “Creepshow” features segments written by Stephen King either specifically for the film, or based on his own prose short stories. I guess if you can include comic strip-based films, you can include “Creepshow,” but where is Sam Raimi’s great “Darkman“? That movie would probably be in my top 5, if allowed. For that matter, how about Brad Bird’s “The Incredibles,” which is the second-best superhero film ever made (by which of course I mean it’s my second favorite superhero movie — “Mark of Zorro” is my number one)? Both of those films were clearly inspired by comics. How about Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element,” which bears an uncanny resemblance to Jodorowsky’s and Moebius’s “The Incal“? Including “Creepshow” on this list just opens a whole can of worms or, if you prefer, cockroaches (see the movie!). Let’s leave this list now, before we get too far into the weeds, which is where we already are, where we’ve been for awhile now, actually.
Here’s someone else’s top 20 list . The author introduces it this way:
In honor of the recent release of “Thor” in theaters, and the upcoming releases of “Captain America,” “Green Lantern,” and “X-men:The First Class,” I have decided to put together my Top 20 list of the Best Comic Book Movies of All Time.
I should point out that, in the interest of not making a Top 50 or 100 list, I intentionally left out some movies that, while based on a comic or graphic novel (like “History of Violence” and “Road To Perdition”), did not really have any “comic book” elements in them (i.e., superpowers, costumes, sci-fi elements, or heavy visual elements), and I also excluded all animated films based on comic books as well (i.e., no “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm”).
As it is “Thor” has already made my list, and from seeing the trailers for the other three pending movies, it wouldn’t surprise me if they end up knocking some of my favorites off this list, or possibly forcing me to expand it to a Top 25 List.
This person doesn’t make any pretense to criteria like “impact on genre” or “critical consensus.” He’s all “Editor’s choice,” and why not? It’s his list, he can do what he wants. Including arbitrarily choose to exclude animated movies, or movies that didn’t have “heavy visual elements” (although I am happy for any reason to exclude “Road to Perdition” from any “top whatever” list, I am curious as to why this person believes it doesn’t feature “heavy visual elements”? That film is all “heavy visual elements,” in fact it is weighed down by its “visual elements,” to the exclusion of the emotional engagement that was present in the original work). Is setting out to make a list, and then arbitrarily placing restrictions on that list, any more silly than setting out to make a list (comic book movies) and then breaking your own rules about what you put on that list (comic strip movies)? Anyway, here is his top 20 list:
19. The Incredible Hulk
18. Superman The Movie
17. Men in Black
16. Sin City
14. Superman II
13. Iron Man 2
8. Spider-Man 2
3. Iron Man
2. Batman Begins
1. The Dark Knight
Regarding “Thor,” which, as the author points out in his introduction, is still in theaters as of the publishing of his list, he writes:
Yes, “Thor” already made my Top 10, but given that unlike the other movies on this list, I have only had a chance to see “Thor” once, I reserve my right to change my mind after further viewings. That being said, while I was initially skeptical about this movie, it was surprisingly really good. Chris Hemsworth’s performance of Thor reminded me of the fun and adventurous take that Robert Downey, Jr., brought to the “Iron Man” role. Anthony Hopkins was perfect as “Odin,” and Tom Hiddleson made a fantastic “Loki.” While I would have liked to see more, the action and fight sequences were fantastic, especially the first battle between Thor and the Frost Giants. You can read my entire official review here: www.squidoo.com/thor-review
He’s seen “Thor” only once, he reserves the right to change his mind about it, and yet he placed it in his top 10, above “300,” “Blade,” and “Sin City.” But he might change his mind. That is some enthusiasm. It’s also an acknowledgment that this whole “top whatever” list thing is ephemeral, subject to our changing tastes. This is a good thing, and a vast improvement over the “nastitude” exhibited by the IGN authors.
Also of interest is the presence of “Watchmen” on this list. Moviefone’s author resisted placing that movie on his list, but the “Tank Girl” despising authors over at IGN, and Film 4 critics both listed it. The film version of “Watchmen” is so misguided, so jumbled and nonsensical that it actually made me question my appreciation for the source material.
The novel, which appeared originally in 12 comic books, is one of the most elegantly constructed comic book series of all time. Each issue is like a piece of a very complicated, dense puzzle, and for at least seven or eight issues I was a-tremble with anticipation over what was happening. The characters had an authentic feel, despite the fact that they wore tights and capes, and the book raised some serious political questions. But it was the structure of the book that mattered.
The ending was nasty and nonsensical. Murdering millions of innocent people so that the politicians and government officials who created the dangerous environment in which everyone was living could — what, suddenly start working together? — was an intriguing idea, perhaps, to a psychopath. The mentality that believes that has any chance of working is the same mentality that got us into no fewer than three illegal wars in the Middle East. And as bad as the ending seemed when the original issues were published, back in 1986-87, it feels embarrassingly dated today, following the events of September 11, 2001, specifically.
Ozymandias was supposed to be the smartest man in the world– it didn’t occur to him to just assassinate Richard Nixon? (And by the way– why is Mr. Nixon the only world political leader we see in the film? In three hours they couldn’t figure a way to work in his Russian counterpart? Doesn’t he at least bear some responsibility for the state of the world?)
By having Ozymandias “frame” Dr. Manhattan, the filmmakers only amplified the flawed reasoning of the original ending. Other countries would be more likely to go to war in that situation, not less. For crying out loud, look at the still-flourishing “9/11 truth movement.” Why would a worldwide attack by an American (an American who single-handedly won the Vietnam war), that kills millions of people all over the world, not make us even more hated?
Almost as bad is the structure of the film. By following so closely the structure of the original 12-issue series, it felt more like you were being read to than watching a movie. And the movie also had an oddly static feel. Look for instance at the scene in which Nite-Owl and Silk Spectre break Rorschach out of prison. They break into the prison and make their way down a corridor. They punch a few prisoners. They pick up Rorschach. They leave. There is nothing dynamic about the sequence.
The fact that the movie was directed by Zack Snyder, who made “300,” only makes it worse. “300” is the opposite of “Watchmen;” it has genuine energy and movement. It’s exciting to look at. Every scene is elegantly constructed, like a painting, and all the soldiers’ sculpted bodies are beautiful and alive against the computer generated backgrounds. But those elegantly-constructed scenes move. It uses the tools of modern filmmaking and computer technology to create a tribute to heroism in the face of impending doom. One could look at it as a metaphor for our dying culture, if one were given over to such grand pronouncements. One could also say that “300” spits in the face of “Superman: The Movie.”
Again, none of my own top five made the cut, but in fairness to me and him, based on the restrictions he laid out in his introduction, two, and possibly even three of my top five would be disqualified for inclusion on this list.
Here’s another top 10 list, this one posted May 11, 2010 — it features both “Iron Man 2” and “Kick Ass,” which were released within a month of that date. I’m not going to bother posting the whole list, but I do want to highlight the author’s top two choices:
2. The Dark Knight
This was a comic book movie at it’s darkest. I admit that I walked out The Dark Knight very depressed. I mean look at the facts-the movie’s real focus (and almost hero), Harvey Dent, is out of the picture, Batman is now on the run (due to his own choice), his girlfriend is dead-it all ends on a down note. It’s very much The Empire Strikes Back of the series. But let’s look at the positives. Ledger, in his last full performance, gives us a very scary, and very memorable Joker (“Wanna see a magic trick?”). Aaron Eckhart is amazing as Harvey Dent, and, for a few brief moments, Two Face. And Christian Bale (raspy voice aside) still proves that he is the best combination of Batman and Bruce Wayne. The movie is just too good, too well written, and too smart and I would be idiotic not to put it on the list.
1. Iron Man
This movie came out the same summer as the number 2 movie on my list. While The Dark Knight was more of a well rounded movie, there is a reason why I prefer Marvel Comics (Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, Hulk)-their characters are just more fun. Obviously, Marvel Studios (in it’s first production) injected the original Iron Man movie with this “fun” and it shows. As soon as the movie kicks in with AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” you immediatley see Tony Stark, scotch in hand, sunglasses on, making clever remarks. That opening alone just sets the tone for the movie-it’s awesome! Plus, the movie succeds where Iron Man 2 didn’t because all the best moments were not given away in the trailers. For me, the best part of this movie was where Tony suits up in the Mark III armor for the first time. The sequence, the music, and the final shot of Stark’s face is just awesome. Also, hearing the clang of the Mark I armor as Tony stomps towards the door (trying to escape captivity) to take down the terrorists had me cracking a smile. Why is this movie number one? Everything works-the cast, the special effects, the pacing, the music, the humor, the drama, everything. It’s an awesome movie, one that I saw three times in theatres, and proudly own on dvd. I love it. More than any other comic book movie. Period.
As this author notes, “Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight” were both released in the same summer. Both were very successful at the box office. Both were well-constructed. Both had decent-to-very-good performances. Both had interesting visuals. And there the similarities end.
I cannot express to you — I lack the vocabulary– the deep loathing I have for the film “Iron Man.” It is a morally bankrupt film. It is corrupt. At its core it is rotten, all the more nasty for the skill that was utilized in putting it together. While the author of this particular list claims that he “walked out [sic] The Dark Knight very depressed,” I admit that I walked out of “Iron Man” very depressed. The reasons are brought into focus by comparing “Iron Man” with “The Dark Knight”:
Toward the end of “The Dark Knight,” it’s revealed that Batman/Bruce Wayne has been working on a secret project that basically turns everyone’s cell phone into sonar images. He can spy on everyone in Gotham City. I’m not sure exactly how it works, but it’s both ultra cool and scary as hell. Batman realizes that one person shouldn’t have this power- he rationalizes using it because he needs to track the Joker, who is undeniably worse than Batman.
This same Batman who, in “Batman Begins,” brought down the entire League of Shadows to save the life of one murderer doesn’t trust himself to only use the spying device once. That’s why he gives Lucius Fox, the head of Wayne Enterprises’ Applied Science Division, the power to destroy it at any time. And he does just that, once Batman has found Joker.
There are a few decent people in the government, but even those decent people can be corrupted, as happened to poor Harvey Dent. A recurring theme throughout the film is that Commissioner Gordon doesn’t know who on the police force he can trust.
Compare this to the fascist presented in the “Iron Man” movie. This is a guy who builds weapons for the government, so it can perpetuate its Middle Eastern war policies. When Tony Stark is kidnapped, he uses his expertise to build a weapon to free himself (I did kind of like that the terrorists who kidnapped Mr. Stark were too stupid to see that he was building a suit of armor right under their noses). Upon his return to the United States he builds another, more impressive killing machine, so that he can fly back to the Middle East and act as a de facto government agent.
He hasn’t learned anything at all. Tony Stark should never have been in the Middle East. Our soldiers shouldn’t have been there. If it hadn’t been for the United States’ corrupt and continuously wrong-headed policies (one long uninterrupted string of failure, it seems), he wouldn’t have gotten kidnapped.
Iron Man works for the government. Batman works outside of the government. At the end of “The Dark Knight,” Commissioner Gordon is forced to destroy the Bat-Signal, effectively severing all ties between hero and government. At the end of “Iron Man,” Tony Stark is recruited by Nick Fury of SHIELD, which we’re led to believe is some government defense agency.
Batman refuses to use a gun. Iron Man has rocket launchers that pop out of his shoulders.
Bruce Wayne spends the entire film nursing his broken heart. Tony Stark literally has a hole in his chest.
Bruce Wayne pretends to sleep with one hot prima ballerina after another, as part of his carefree, millionaire playboy cover. Tony Stark actually hops from bed to bed (come to think of it, this is one point where Iron Man is better than Batman. Sorry — forget this one.)
“The Dark Knight,” along with “Batman Begins” (which I actually prefer) both belong on my top 25 list. “Iron Man” belongs on my bottom 25 list, which is the worst thing I can think of to write about it. Trust me, no film wants to be on my bottom 25 list. It’s bad.
But, again and finally, none of my own top five are on this list, either. I am beginning to wonder if I’m swimming so far outside the mainstream that I’m just an odd duck. I’m not sure if that was a mixed metaphor (ducks do swim, right?), but I know that on my own blog I’ve been called a “troll,” for holding an opinion that was “unpopular.” Maybe I’m just a troll.
Maybe I should move under a bridge, and demand first-born children before allowing people to cross said bridge.
Here is my own top 25 list. As I mentioned above, a film’s “re-watchability” was one major criterion. Films were chosen based on their sheer badassedness, their kickassedness, their geekassedness, and their overall artistic merit. Also, I considered if the film was necessary to advance the cause of film as art (in other words, if this film didn’t exist, would the world be poorer for it?). Also taken into consideration was Editor’s Choice. And I also gave some weight to “Bob’s you’re [sic] uncle.”
The first twenty will be unranked, and presented in “Editor’s Choice” order:
Most superhero movies that detail the hero’s origin story follow the same template. It is tired and cliche now, it was tired and cliche when “Batman Begins” was released, but Christopher Nolan added a philosophical flourish to this film. Because the government in Gotham City is so inherently corrupt, and most of its workers so dishonest, Batman must take it upon himself to help the honest citizens.
In the late ’30s through around 1940, when superheroes first appeared in comics, they were mostly figures of justice. Superman and Batman willingly and gleefully broke the law all the time, in order to right what they saw as some fundamental wrong. Then Joe Simon created the abominable Captain America, specifically to promote/cash in on the government’s desire to involve the US in World War II, and things started changing. Superheroes became figures of “law and order,” unconcerned so much with “justice.” But as we all know, laws are often unjust, and are created by politicians and bureaucrats for occasionally nefarious purposes. In “Batman Begins,” Batman is a figure of justice, not of “law.” This film is about that distinction.
The Dark Knight
Batman: Ashes to Ashes
“Fan films” are created by people who are motivated solely by love for the characters they follow in the comics or in film or television. And, perhaps, to have something to put in their demo reels. Regardless, many fan films exhibit enthusiasm and creativity that is sorely lacking in major, officially licensed films produced by the big studios for big money. “Ashes to Ashes” is my own favorite: It is “Un Chien Andalou” of fan films. It tells the story of a petty thug haunted by a terrible past and, in the present, a bizarre and horrific Batman and Joker. But then again, the story might be something that rational people try to impose on the film later, as in a dream. The movie is a series of terrible, disjointed images– it’s like opening the head of a fevered fanboy and videotaping the worst superhero-related nightmare he ever had. It’s probably the best attempt to create the film equivalent of a dream since the last episode of “Twin Peaks.” Because it’s a fan film and can’t be sold, you can actually watch it here if you like, but be warned: It’s fifteen minutes of not safe for work craziness.
Castle of Cagliostro
I am a cynical, hateful bastard. Either that, or I am an optimist who is constantly being disappointed. Watching “Castle of Cagliostro” for the first time when I was eleven made me feel like a kid again. It is the film for which the word “whimsical” was not coined, but it’s certainly an apt description. The hero is the lovable cad Lupin, a master thief who was originally conceived as the grandson of the famous criminal mastermind Arsene Lupin, created by French author Maurice Leblanc. When Lupin realizes that his latest haul of stolen money is counterfeit, he decides to track down the counterfeiter, leading him to Cagliostro and one zany, exciting situation after another. The chase scenes are as good as any ever filmed, especially the final chase in the castle’s clock tower.
Art School Confidential
Harvey Pekar’s autobiographical “American Splendor” comic stories are self-serving celebrations of everyday life, specifically Harvey Pekar’s everyday life. It takes a lot of chutzpah to write anything at all, but to so obsessively chronicle every aspect of your life — a story about standing in line at a grocery store, or taking the city bus — requires a mania with which most people are not cursed. I happen to be very glad that Mr. Pekar was so cursed, because I always found his stories to be oddly inspiring. The film adaptation of several of his stories, along with the book he wrote with his wife, Our Cancer Year, is a clever and exciting mixture of live action scripted film, animation, and documentary that feels like the original comics, and a movie adaptation of those comics. Mr. Pekar was a man with an implacable moral code, and he was unwilling to compromise for anyone, even when he was in the wrong — and, in his stories, he often did admit he was wrong. And yet, he couldn’t help himself, he still did the wrong thing anyway. People are like that sometimes. As a celebration of Mr. Pekar, with all his faults, it becomes a celebration not necessarily of “the everyman,” but of a specific type of “everyman.” An exasperating, stubborn everyman whose great success is living his life without compromising.
We’re still dealing with the oppression of the Victorian era — by which I mean the guilt and shame imposed on the masses by those in power, in particular where sexual desire is concerned — and for examples of the long reach of Victorian repression in modern pop culture, one need look no further than the continuing popularity of vampires. Oh, what a disservice Bram Stoker did to everyone who has come after, grafting onto the vampire mythology heaping doses of judgment and superstitious fear. But, oh, what an amazing marketing genius. And, it wouldn’t have worked so well if there weren’t something in humans that wanted to be exploited. Humans seem to like to feel guilty, especially when they feel good. It’s why religion has been so effective for so long.
I’m not a fan of vampires, but I am a fan of Daywalkers, which is what Blade is. His mother, while still pregnant with the fetus Blade, was bitten by a vampire. Presumably, the pregnancy itself wasn’t enough of a punishment for having sex. Blade’s mother paid the price, but Blade himself became a superhero with all of the powers of a vampire, but with none of the weaknesses. He can go out in the sunlight without being burned to a crisp, for instance.
The vampires of the film, who of course operate in some shadowy secret society, are attempting to discover some kind of MacGuffin that will give them the power to take over the world, or something. Blade is intent on stopping them. The story doesn’t really matter. It is the attitude of the film, in particular of watching Blade in the person of Wesley Snipes, a powerful, tough, modern man with genuine sex appeal destroy the remnants of what Stoker hath wrought that makes the film worthwhile.
Fritz the Cat
I always thought that Robert Crumb was one of the best artists to ever work in comics. I love the way he renders figures, and I love the shading and cross-hatching. But his solo stories usually left me feeling cold; I believe it has much to do with the fact that, despite their salacious veneer, at heart his stories feel reactionary, even Puritanical in their underlying attitude. His Fritz the Cat stories are his best work by a long shot, and Ralph Bakshi’s animated adaptation of the stories improves upon them just slightly, with the result being an effective satire of America in the early 1970s. It’s generally remembered as the first X-rated animated film (it’s pretty tame compared to, say, a typical “South Park” episode), but it also made over $100 million at the box office, which means it’s the most successful “independent” animated film of all time.
Before Wes Craven made “Nightmare on Elm Street,” which did alright for him, he made this adaptation of the DC Comics horror character, which did not do alright for him. The story is of a scientist who creates a chemical formula that will turn deserts into lush swampland, or something, but when a rival scientist Arcane’s goons burn down his laboratory, some of the chemicals get on the scientist, and he turns into a superstrong creature in a green, rubber suit with a clearly visible zipper. What it lacked in budget it more than made up for with enthusiasm, and charm. Also, it had Adrienne Barbeau in a tight white T-shirt.
V for Vendetta
There are a lot of people who believe that the role of government should be to protect people from any danger, and that the best way to do this is to completely dominate and control them. Most of those people go into the government, and set about building institutions that erode freedom in the name of “safety.” The comic book stories appeared originally back in 1982, and the writer Alan Moore has said he wrote it in response to what he saw happening in England under Margaret Thatcher’s leadership, but that doesn’t really matter because, surprise, all leaders are the same!, and everything’s worse now in England and America — thanks to the ongoing wars in which we are forever engaged: wars on poverty, drugs, terror, obesity, wars in the Middle East, are all used as excuses by our governments to limit our freedoms. There are cameras on nearly every corner in England, catching such criminal acts as placing cats in rubbish bins; we’ve got cameras in America, too. We’ve also got children being frisked on their way to boarding airplanes because, apparently, the act of traveling is enough to make you a terror suspect. (But, hey, at least the TSA is now “revising” its current patting-down-those-under-12 policy!) By fighting a corrupt system, V is labeled a “terrorist,” but this film suggests that in fact it’s the oppressive government that’s the real threat, and offers the hopeful if perhaps naive idea that one person can inspire everyone to rise up and demand the government that supposedly works for them stop treating them as criminals.
Superman: The Mad Scientist
In 1941, the Fleischer Studios began releasing a series of short animated films based on Superman’s comics. They remain by far the best filmed representations of the character (if only that original proposal for “Superman III” had been filmed!). This particular short is the first in the series, featuring a no-nonsense recap of Superman’s origin up to that time, along with an electrothanasia ray, a destroyed bridge, smoking journalists, falling buildings, and obviously a mad scientist. Also, some absolutely beautiful animation, most especially when Superman punches the electrothanasia ray. These shorts managed to capture the manic energy of the “one damn thing after another” style of writing employed in the original comics. Moreover, the danger in this film feels more real than that of “Superman: The Movie.” You can actually watch this film here, if you like.
The movie begins with the complete destruction of Tokyo in a mysterious and powerful explosion. 30 years later, Neo Tokyo has risen in its place, a better city, visually stunning and full of life and energy. Right away, one of the film’s main themes is apparent: the resilience of humanity.
However, like any big city, Neo Tokyo has its share of teenage biker gangs who fight each other in high-speed motorcycle battles on the city’s streets. There’s also the corrupt Council and the terrorists who oppose them. And then there’s the shady government scientists doing experiments with ESP.
Good movie, excellent animation, everybody likes it. I saw it four times in high school and college, so I really, really liked it at the time. It’s full of effectively disturbing images, such as tragic Tetsuo’s guts spilling out onto the sidewalk and the brutal gun and motorcycle battles. The ending is left deliberately vague, and it’s never made entirely clear exactly what “Akira” is supposed to be– it’s some kind of government weapon, or project, or something– but the questions that linger on after the film ends are worth thinking about.
In 2090, a group of advanced beings who sort of resemble gods as depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphs live in a pyramid that’s floating high above New York. These beings believe that they are in fact gods, and the creators of the human race. One of them is a particularly annoying jerk called Horus, whose antics have earned him a death sentence from his fellow immortals. He’s given seven days to visit earth before he’ll be killed. In that seven days, Horus plans to inhabit the body of a human man and impregnate a human woman, so that he can extend his life.
Horus’s plan is complicated by the fact that humans have been modifying themselves with replacement body parts. Horus can’t occupy a human body long enough to get the job done. Or, something like that. That is maybe a third of the movie. I mean, it gets a lot more complicated from there.
French illustrator Enki Bilal adapted his own “Nikopol Trilogy” into a film featuring a mixture of live action and computer animation that looks so much like a French science fiction comic book that watching it for the first time I had that same giddy feeling that I’d had when I first opened an issue of “Heavy Metal” magazine when I was six years old. Half the time the story made no sense to me, but the visuals are absolutely beautiful. Bilal was able to translate his drawing style, with its muted colors and high detail, perfectly.
Batman XXX: A Porn Parody
For most people, those moments in which they achieve sexual climax are the happiest of their lives. That sweet sense of anticipation that gives way to a tingling of the loins, then the dizziness of ecstatic release and complete loss of self as you exist only in that single moment before the drowsiness and then the calm of blissful sleep is unmatchable. There is no greater feeling than the giddy thrill that comes from coming.
For many, that feeling of joy is only enhanced when it is shared with a partner. Yet there are times when it must be experienced alone. Perhaps you’ve just broken up. Perhaps you’re physically loathsome. Perhaps you’re being oppressed by some reactionary religious government edict. Perhaps you don’t have money for bus fare. In those times, pornography is the most helpful alternative.
Look at the areas where internet pornography is most frequently consumed. In the United States, Utah is the pornography-consumption capital. This also happens to be one of our most religious states. The Middle East, a vast wasteland of religious repression, is another region in which an unusually large amount of pornography is enjoyed.
Making people happy is the noblest pursuit. Making people who are suffering repression happy is even nobler than the noblest pursuit.
Those who make pornography are the noblest people I know.
Compare the inclusive world of pornography, inviting to anyone with an internet connection, to that of the modern comic book. Today’s comics are so loaded down with backstory, so burdened by years of continuity, that they have become exclusive (or, “X-clusive”). The world of comics is populated by angry fans who puzzle over ever bit of minutiae, and take to the message boards to criticize anyone who doesn’t toe the line about their favorite characters or this month’s favored writers or artists.
Pornography has it all over comics. Pornographers, when they do comic book themed “porn parodies,” are slumming. But “Batman XXX: A Porn Parody” is an uncannily perfect parody of the Adam West television show, which was itself based on the Batman comics of that era. This then is a (unofficial) comic book movie once removed, with the added bonus of hard core sex. Watching this film was like what I remember wanting the show to be as a kid. And, yes, I always thought that Catwoman and Batman should do it. All that flirting between Julie Newmar and Adam West drove me crazy.
The sets, the costumes, the quality of the acting — everything matches perfectly with the 1960s original series. Everything about this film works, from the sets to the costumes to the acting, to the campy tone, match perfectly the original series.
This is a film that does exactly what you want a film to do — it makes the viewer insanely happy. It does the opposite of what most comics now do.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World
Scott Pilgrim is a self-absorbed slacker who is between jobs and only has a place to live thanks to the generosity of a gay friend, with whom he shares a bed. He has spent the last year in a mopey haze, after having been dumped by a young woman who is now famous. No one would blame this woman for dumping him, based on what we see of him at the beginning of the film. The time he’s not spending moping he spends in a band, and with his 17 year-old girlfriend, whom he has yet to kiss. He meets a woman called Ramona, and finally starts to break out of the dreary rut of his life, only to learn that he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends (“The League of Seven Evil Exes”) before he can move forward with his life.
This film uses the conventions of fanboy culture — in particular comic books/superhero narrative and video games — not only in the narrative itself, but in the structure of the film, which uses devices like captions and Street Fighter style introductions to the fights between Scott and the Exes — to both critique and celebrate that culture. Michael Cera’s impassive “manboy” shtick, which has worn a bit thin, is perfect in this context, and Edgar Wright’s direction is frenetic and witty. It’s his best film, which is saying a lot.
This movie starts unpromisingly, with some surprisingly bad animation, but then quickly recovers with some surprisingly bad live-action. In some ways, “Jonah Hex” is one of those all-too-rare “so bad it’s good” kind of films, but in other ways, “Jonah Hex” is just very good. Hex, a Confederate soldier, ran afoul of his unit’s commander Quentin Turnbull when he both refused to engage in the killing of civilians and then shot and killed Turnbull’s son. So Turnbull killed Hex’s family, forced him to watch, and then branded Hex’s face with Turnbull’s initials.
Hex is rescued by Indians, and somehow in the process he obtains the ability to briefly revive the dead and so communicate with them. This doesn’t make sense in the actual context of the film except as a metaphor– Hex was forced to watch his family burned alive, and now has the ability to briefly revive the dead — but the manner in which it’s employed is funny and moving. Hex’s intimate relationship with the dead (his ability to communicate with them), ultimately profits him in no meaningful way. He cannot bring his family back; all he can do is live removed from society, with only Megan Fox in a bustier to keep him company.
Most people might remember this as one of the last films parodied by the philistines on “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” but this is actually an entertaining, clever, and totally demented film. Director Mario Bava uses an assortment of camera tricks and pop-art sets to create a world that’s as lush and vibrant as anything created with CGI today. As for Diabolik– he’s an anarchic, nasty criminal mastermind whose antics are bringing down the government of whatever European country it is in which he operates. He kills police officers and bombs government buildings because, oh, what the hell, they’re there, and they’re either in the way of his thieving plans, or they might be in the future.
And now my top five:
5. The Spirit
Frank Miller, creator of the original “Sin City,” “300,” and “Dark Knight Returns” comics, and author of “Elektra: Assassin” and “Hard Boiled,” is one of the greatest cartoonists of all time — up there with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Milton Caniff. His stories are insanely creative and, unlike so much of what is published in mainstream comics today, distinctive. Even his work with characters like Batman feels like nothing else anyone’s doing. He was credited as co-director on the film adaptation of “Sin City,” but “The Spirit” is Miller unbound, without the mitigating influence of Robert Rodriguez.
“The Spirit” is a completely crazy movie. It’s so over the top and bold that watching it is almost exhausting. It seems like at no point did anyone say to Mr. Miller, “No, that’s too much, you can’t do that.”
In Will Eisner’s original Spirit newspaper comic book insert, the Spirit character was a former police officer Denny Colt who, for some reason, was able to punch his way out of his grave and dig his way back out. No real explanation for this was ever given, and no real explanation was ever given as to why the Spirit was able to withstand the terrible, punishing beatings he received in most of the stories. He was basically an everyman in a blue suit who could take a lot of punishment. In Frank Miller’s film adaptation, the Spirit has a healing superpower, the result of medical testing done at the hands of his arch-enemy, The Octopus, a supervillain who shouts his lines while wearing samurai and nazi outfits, and carrying huge guns with ten barrels.
The movie is like a catalogue of everything I happen to love about Mr. Miller’s work: the script is full of overripe, hardboiled dialogue. The movie is full of beautiful women photographed as if they are stylized pieces of art. It has oddball throw away characters. Brutal violence. Literal toilet humor. Romance, danger, excitement.
More than any other film on this list, and more than any other film ever made, “The Spirit” has the look and feel of a comic book but, unlike “Watchmen,” “The Spirit” actually moves like a movie. Stylistically, it’s a perfect match between the two media. It’s imperfect, I know, but it’s also balls-out entertaining that its flaws are easily ignored.
4. Mystery Men
Throughout the Spring and Summer of 1999, residents of Los Angeles saw billboards all over town which featured silhouettes of superheroes like “The Shoveler,” “The Blue Raja,” “The Bowler,” and “Mr. Furious.” Any intrigue that might have been engendered by these billboards (trust me, there was very little intriguing about them) was negated by the movie’s tagline, “Expect the Unexpected.” If that isn’t the worst tagline in movie history, then, well, I won’t finish my thought, but that is a very, very bad tagline.
The movie deserved a lot better than the crummy marketing campaign, but I don’t think that’s all that killed this movie at the box office. It was, and remains to this day, the best filmed parody of superheroes. In many ways, it’s a vicious evisceration of the entire idea. And if there is any group of people that does not have a good sense of humor about itself and what it loves, it is comic book fandom. And when the fanboys didn’t come out in force to jack up the opening weekend, the movie had the stink of failure upon it, and it just never recovered.
There is so much to love about this movie, and so much that it gets right about the absurdity of superheroes. There’s Champion City’s most famous superhero, Captain Amazing, and his costume covered with product logos, like a NASCAR driver. There’s the conversation between the second-string superheroes Mr. Furious, the Shoveler, and the Blue Raja, in which Mr. Furious insists that Captain Amazing, must be billionaire lawyer Lance Hunt, and the Shoveler says no, that doesn’t make any sense, because Lance Hunt wears glasses and Captain Amazing doesn’t. There is the Blue Raja, in his room, practicing his cutlery-based puns (“I didn’t expect to see you again so — spoon!”). There’s the Spleen’s origin story — cursed by a gypsy that forevermore he would always be the one who had “dealt it!” There is the scene in which the second stringers leap upon Casanova Frankenstein’s car, throwing cutlery, a bowling ball, and flatulence at it, with Mr. Furious leaping on the roof shouting, “Your roof! Your roof! Your roof is on fire!” There is Captain Amazing’s gruesome demise. There is Tom Waits eating a bowl of cereal, watching television, and wondering, “Oh yeah… how’d that whole ‘Death Ray’ thing work out?”
Then, there’s the fight between the women in the Wonder Woman outfits. It’s like they somehow got hold of the sketchbook I kept in third grade!
The only criticism of the film is the presence of that terrible Smash Mouth song that was in every other movie in 1999-2000, I don’t want to mention it by name but you remember it I’m sure.
“Mystery Men” got it too right, too soon. Perhaps if it were released today, it might be different. Then again, superhero movies have already become parodies of themselves. In a world in which “Iron Man 2,” “Thor,” and oh fill in the blank can make it onto fans’ top-10 lists, “Mystery Men” might just be superfluous.
Or not. You can actually watch the entire film here.
3. The Twelve Tasks of Asterix
Asterix is a resident of the only area of Gaul that remained unconquered by the Romans. Although the small city in which he lived was surrounded by Roman sentries, they were able to hold out thanks to a magic elixir concocted by the town’s druid, which gave all the residents super strength. The Roman sentries, having been defeated yet again by the Gauls, decide that they must be gods, but Julius Ceaser is unconvinced. He decides, however, to test the Gauls in the manner of the demi-God Hercules, by presenting them with twelve tasks. If they successfully perform them all, Julius Ceaser will be convinced that they’re actually gods and hand over the entire Roman empire to them. If they fail, they must agree to become slaves.
The Gauls agree to these terms, and Asterix and his sidekick Obelix are sent out to, among other things, outrace the fastest man in Rome, resist Sirens who promise them anything they could ever want (the two leave their island when the Sirens refuse to kill and cook a wild boar for Obelix), deal with a bureaucracy while filling out paperwork required to complete the next task, and crossing an invisible bridge “which you do not see, over there.”
The movie is full of slapstick humor, historical and literary references, lowbrow humor, and full-on surrealism. It’s also one of the most fun, and funniest, films ever made.
You can actually watch the film here, online, and judge for yourself.
2. The Crow
No matter how far human beings advance, death is the one unavoidable absolute; everyone dies. We understand this in the abstract, and yet when it happens to someone we love, we always ask the same questions, and wonder the same things. Why now? Why her/him? What did s/he do to deserve this? How could something so terrible have no real explanation? Was it all for nothing after all?
Human beings have always used art to help them deal with that which seems inexplicable, or unfair. The artist James O’Barr created the original comic book “The Crow” as a way of processing his grief over the death of his girlfriend, in an accident caused by a drunk driver. The story of the original comic book series is bleak, angry, introspective, self-hating, and fantastic. It’s easily one of the best American comics ever published, as well as one of the most affecting fictional accounts of how people cope with death ever published in any medium.
The film is an almost perfect adaptation. Using the novel as a basis, the director Alex Proyas created a unique piece of cinematic art that is kinetic, imposing, melancholic, and disturbingly violent. One year after being beaten and killed, a man is revived by a crow and given the chance to take revenge on the despicable reprobates who killed him and his girlfriend. This he does in brutal fashion, taking out each member of the gang one by one.
It’s the ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy: To return from the dead, to avenge the loss of a loved one. The appeal of the concept is visceral, but the film looks terrible and beautiful and stylish. The Detroit in which the revived musician Eric Draven exacts his revenge is a nightmare city, rigged to give aid and comfort to the corrupt and the violent. This is cinema as perception — no place is this unrelentingly dark all the time, no world is this full of corruption and hopelessness. But when you’re trying to deal with your grief, especially grief that comes from senseless violence, everything is a reminder of what you’ve lost.
A man called Oh Dae-su, who is a bit of a jerk, is abducted by unknown assailants and awakens to find himself in a room from which he can’t escape. For fifteen years he remains in this drab room, with no idea of why he is there, nor who has locked him away. His only contact comes from a television set, on which he learns, a year into his incarceration, that his wife was killed and he himself is suspect.
After 15 years, Dae-su is released, and is presented with some money and a cell phone by a homeless man. His ordeal isn’t over — it’s actually about to get a whole lot worse. He meets a young waitress named Mido who decides to help Dae-su investigate the terrible plot against him. The more they learn the worse it gets for everyone involved, and the last act is basically one gut-wrenching revelation after another.
Oldboy is based on a Japanese comic book published in 1997, but it’s from a grand tradition of moralizing horror entertainment that is as old as human beings. Western audiences will note echoes of classic Greek tragedy, such as the works of Euripides and Sophocles, through Jacobean theater, Shakespeare, say, and then Aphra Behn, and following a line straight through to modern horror films like “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street.”
One of the joys of this hilariously overwrought, bleak film is that its revelations raise just as many questions as they answer. The motives for revenge are clear in both the protagonist and antagonist, and yet the actions are inscrutable. The story moves forward with such force that the viewer barely has time to even think about what’s happening; but it definitely lingers once it’s over. The film isn’t realistic (the plot relies a little too heavily on coincidence), but it is authentic. It is authentic because it appeals to something prurient in human nature — the grotesque depths of imagination of which human beings are capable. In a way, it is the flip side of “The Crow” — not a wish fulfillment, but a begrudge fulfillment.
It also has one of the best fight scenes of the last decade, as Dae-su, armed first with a hammer, then his fists, fights maybe 30 guys in a long, dark, narrow corridor. The scene is a microcosm of the film: Brutally violent, exhausting, beautifully photographed, grungy, and filled with what critics sometimes call “Grand Guignol humor.”
“All those who are blood-type AB, raise your hand.”
Having finished composing my own top 25 list, I have to admit it was extremely difficult. But then, so is playing the accordion. Just because doing something is difficult doesn’t mean it should be done, nor that we should celebrate and encourage those who do.
I note that I did something for which I criticized IGN’s list — ranked four “Batman” related films. I am not willing to call myself a hypocrite, however, because two of my four were “unofficial,” and therefore kind of, in a way, don’t count as “Batman” films. I would also like to excuse any other perceived hypocrisy that readers might detect in this post. As I’ve said, making such lists is hard.
I would, however, like to link to one of my favorite “top” lists, a list of favorite horror films of a writer called A.Jaye at a blog called Thrill Fiction. His list is everything I think such lists should be — written with confidence not arrogance, and with an interesting and unique point of view. His number one choice, “Exorcist III,” was a movie I hadn’t seen before reading his explanation of why he chose it. I’ve seen it since — it’s a good film. Not my favorite horror film, but a good film. And I wouldn’t have seen it without reading his list.
That is what these lists should do. Spread enthusiasm. They shouldn’t be taken as an excuse to belittle someone else because their taste is different from yours. That defeats the whole purpose. After reading that IGN list, I question my appreciation of every one of the films from their list that appears on my own. How can I share a liking for certain films with such people?
I’m sure you have your own choices for favorite comic book movies, and I’m sure they’re different from mine. At least, I hope they are. If we can’t tolerate disagreement about art, then we can’t really tolerate disagreement on anything, can we?
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