Friday, December 19, 2008

The Top Ten Comic Book Super Hero Movies of All Time

This year saw the Super Hero genre come into its own.  It is entirely possible that a Comic Book Super Hero movie will win the Best Picture Oscar once and for all legitimizing the genre.  So, what better time to look back and pick the ten best Comic Book Super Hero films of all time.  (Note: I'm looking specifically at Super Hero movies based on Comic Book characters leaving out great films such as The Incredibles)

10. Mystery Men (released August 6, 1999)

directed by Kinka Usher

A completely underrated satirical masterpiece about the lesser known heroes overshadowed by Captain Amazing (possibly related to Dr. Horrible's nemesis Captain Hammer?) starring Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, and Janeane Garofalo.  It is a hilarious take on comic books and super heroes in general as well as an outstanding super hero film in its own right.  It is based on the Dark Horse comic Flaming Carrot Comics by Bob Burden.

Mr. Furious: That's because Lance Hunt is Captain Amazing!

Blue Raja: Oh, here we go.

The Shoveler: Don't start that again.  Lance Hunt wears glasses.  Captain Amazing doesn't wear glasses.

Mr. Furious: He takes them off when he transforms.

The Shoveler: That doesn't make any sense.  He wouldn't be able to see!

9. Batman (released June 23, 1989)

directed by Tim Burton

A fantastic rebooting of a series too dominated by the vision set by the television show over twenty years earlier.  It completely erased that understanding of Batman and returned him to the dark interpretation of his past.  Tim Burton was the perfect director to reimagine the Dark Knight and Jack Nicholson completely embodied the Joker to the point where I became sure that no one else would be able to play him on the big screen.  Ultimately, of course, I was wrong, but I was right for 19 years and that's not bad.  As for Michael Keaton, to this day he is still probably the best version of Batman/Bruce Wayne.  Don't get me wrong, Christian Bale is good, but Keaton's Batman and Bruce Wayne were completely different characters.  Bale's Bruce Wayne has just a little too much Batman in him for my taste.  The DC comic was, of course, created by Bob Kane.

Joker: Where does he get those wonderful toys?

8. Batman Returns (June 19, 1992)

directed by Tim Burton

Even better then the first, Burton returns (no pun intended) to deliver an even darker Batman.  As perfect as Nicholson and Keaton were for the first movie, the casting for this film topped itself with Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman and Danny DeVito as Penguin.  While generally not considered by the masses as a superior film to its predecessor, this is a film that gets better with each viewing and still stands up as a great comic book film to this day.  Sadly, it would be a long time before Batman looked this good on the big screen again as after this film Joel Schumacher tried to take the Dark Knight away from the dark territory Burton had placed him in and return him to the cheese of his sixties sitcom.

Max Shreck: Selina Kyle, you're fired.  And Bruce Wayne, why are you dressed up like Batman?

Selina: Because he is Batman, you idiot.

Max Shreck: Was.

7. Hellboy (released April 2, 2004)

directed by: Guillermo Del Toro

As perfect as Tim Burton was to rescue Batman, no director has ever been a more perfect fit for a comic book than Del Toro was for Hellboy.  Del Toro is simply the most imaginative director the world has ever known when it comes to creatures of the non-human variety (more commonly referred to as Monsters).  His work is always visually stimulating as well as smart, exciting, and perfectly executed on a technical sense.  He understood the world of Hellboy and transferred it perfectly, as far as story and themes go, to the big screen.  If Hellboy were a character on the level of Superman, Batman, or Spiderman, this would have been instantly hailed as a masterpiece.  As it is, it is only a cult classic.  And for what it is worth, no other actor could have played Hellboy.  Ron Pearlman as Hellboy might just be the greatest casting choice of all time, especially considering how relatively unknown he was (and sadly still is on a large scale).  Probably the best thing that could happen for Hellboy is the fact that Del Toro will be directing The Hobbit and its sequel.  And I have little doubt that they will be far better then anything Peter Jackson ever did with The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but then I think Del Toro is probably one of the 5 best young directors working today.  Hellboy is a Dark Horse comic created by Mike Mignola.

Abe Sapian: Remind me why I do this again?

Hellboy: Rotten eggs and the safety of mankind.

Abe Sapian: Ah.

6. Superman: The Movie (released December 15, 1978)

directed by: Richard Donner

Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Miss Teschmacher: Lex, what's the story on this guy, do you think it's the genuine article?

Lex Luthor: If he is, he's not from this world.

Miss Teschmacher: Why?

Lex Luthor: Because if any human being were going to perpetuate such a fantastic hoax, it would have been me.

5. Spider-man 2 (released June 30, 2004)

directed by Sam Raimi

The first time since Superman that one of my childhood heroes really came alive again was with the first Spidey film, when they released the sequel, it topped the original in every way possible.  Not only did it seem real that Our Favorite Neighborhood Spider-Man was swinging throughout NYC, but the film completely captured the problems that have always plagued Peter Parker, who I have no doubt would be much happier had he never been bitten by that damned Radioactive Spider.  Also, this film had what to this day is the most breath-taking and perfectly shot action-fight sequence in a super-hero movie as Spidey and Doc Ock battle atop the el train.  Marvel comics and the genius that is Stan Lee brought us Spider-Man.

J. Jonah Jameson: I'll give you $150 for all of them.

Peter: $300

J. Jonah Jameson: That's outrageous.  Done.

4. Batman Begins (released June 15, 2005)

directed by Christopher Nolan

Returning Batman to his darker roots once again Christopher Nolan also did something no Super Hero movie had tried to do before, he grounded his tale in a reality that was much easier to believe in then the standard Super Hero fare.  It helps, of course, that Batman is the one Super Hero without any real super powers, but what Nolan did was make a believable Super Hero film that is bigger then the genre itself.  Or at the very least he set up a world in which he would do just that.  This film also contains the greatest Super Villain of them all.  One few people who don't spend a lot of time at comic book shops might not know, Ra's Al Ghul.  Batman's real arch nemesis served a greater purpose in this film, he also helped make Batman who he is.  While it was a reboot, it was also a perfect reimagining for the more realistic world in which this Batman exists.  Christian Bale also did a fine job reminding us how Batman should be portrayed helping to erase the horrific job done by George Clooney (who otherwise I like quite a lot.)

Earle: Why is no one answering the phone?

Bruce: It's Wayne Enterprises, Mr. Earle, I'm sure they'll call back.

Earle: Bruce? You're supposed to be dead!

Bruce: I'm sorry to disappoint.

3. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (released July 11, 2008)

directed by Guillermo Del Toro

Hellboy returned to the big screen with a lot more Del Toro imagination behind him in this amazing, inventive, and utterly gorgeous sequel.  Where the first Hellboy was very much a literal translation of Mignola's creation to the big screen, this film took Mignola's characters, themes, and world and merged them with the themes and worlds that exist only in Del Toro's magnificient brain (which lucky for us translates very well to the movies).  With the magical imagination that helped make Pan's Labyrinth such a surprising hit, Hellboy II was considerably deeper and more thoughtful and incredibly more visual then it's outstanding predecessor.  Again I hope that the fact that Del Toro will be behind the lens for The Hobbit will cause more people to seek out Hellboy and this amazing sequel.  Sadly, like it's predecessor, Hellboy II never got to occupy the top spot as Greatest Comic Book Super Hero Movie Ever Made as it also debuted at number 2.  However, where Hellboy debuted at number 2 behind a movie released almost 15 years earlier, Hellboy II missed being number 1 by a mere nine weeks.

Hellboy: You're in love.  Have a beer.

Abe Sapian: Oh, my body's a temple.

Hellboy: Now it's a playground.

2. Iron Man (released May 2, 2008)

directed by Jon Favreau

A mere nine weeks before Hellboy II would come out, Iron Man was released and blew audiences away.  While many predicted it would be a hit, no one predicted it would be as critically acclaimed as it quickly was.  While Iron Man wasn't the known quantity of a Superman, a Batman, or a Spider-Man, or even as The Incredible Hulk who would be getting a new film a few months later, Favreau showed that a Super Hero doesn't have to already be a house hold name in order to become a movie star, it just needs a really great movie and Favreau delivers on that front.  Much like Superman: The Movie did 20 years earlier, Iron Man was much more then it's genre, it was simply a great film.  Outstanding story, characterization, acting, action, and dialogue all helped turn this into far and away the best comic book super hero movie ever made at the time of it's release (and for a whole 10 weeks after it).  Robert Downey Jr. was pitch perfect casting for the role of rich industrialist/playboy turned super hero Tony Stark due in large part to his empathy of the characters playboy past and new desire to make something greater for himself.  Iron Man was a Marvel comic also created by Stan Lee.

Pepper Potts: What is going on here?

Tony Stark: Let's face it, this is not the worst thing you've caught me doing.

Pepper Potts: Are those bullet holes?

1. The Dark Knight (released July 18, 2008)

directed by Christopher Nolan

So many things deserve to be said about this film.  Much like Iron Man and Superman, this film truly is more then just a Super Hero movie or a Comic Book movie, this is a movie about good and evil and how closely the two can be sometimes, about how they are two sides of the same coin, and about how hard it is to remain good while fighting evil, something that this country hasn't always been able to do.  While the story itself is, like Batman Begins before it, a super hero story that is completely believable, with a villain who is so frightening precisely because you can believe that someone like him could exist (much like Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh in last year's best picture winner No Country For Old Men) and there really is no good reason or explanation for him, which is even more terrifying.  Last year, I felt that Bardem so infused Chigurh that he would win the Best Supporting Actor because he had brought to the screen the scariest villain since Hannibal Lector.  This year I have no doubt that Ledger will win Best Supporting Actor (and would have even if he hadn't died) because his Joker is scarier even then Chigurh was.  Despite the fact that he was working with a character that people were familiar with, he was able to reinvent it and make it completely his own.  In fact it made the take that Nicholson had on the character almost completely obsolete.  And that is something that deserves to be awarded, posthumously or not.   As for the story, it works on that level, as a story about Batman verse the Joker, but like I mentioned before, the film also works on an entirely different level in these times in which we live, and it is because of that that this film is so important.  Sure the movie is expertly made, the acting is perfect, the cinematography is stunning, but the messages are so much more.  They are important, they are timely, and they are true.  It's a Super Hero movie, but it also just might win Best Picture.

Harvey Dent: The famous Bruce Wayne.  Rachel's told me everything about you.

Bruce: I certainly hope not.

Until Next Time, the runners up, if you're interested (or the honorable mentions, perhaps) were Spiderman (May 3, 2002 directed by Sam Raimi), X-Men (July 14, 2000), X-Men 2 (May 2, 2003), and Superman Returns (June 28, 2006) (all directed by Bryan Singer).

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