In the last 10 years comic book, comic strip, graphic novel and superhero movies have had a renaissance of sorts. These were normally the sort of things reserved for direct to video releases and the occasional Saturday morning cartoon fair. It was a genre not taken seriously and not proven to be commercially viable for the movie going public.
And it is a shame, really, as the only super hero movie to really make the leap to compete with the larger draws was the original Superman. With Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, the genre made a slow but steady comeback and by the time the 20th century ended, the genre was ready to explode. And explode it did, as comic book and super hero movies have proven to critics favorites and commercial draws in an era where attendance is down.
And while several quality movies based off comic books and/or featuring super heroes did exist before the past decade’s worth of quality, the renaissance of the super hero genre mimics the proliferation of action movies in the late 1980s and 1990s. With whole subjects and texts waiting to be translated from the page to the screen, the genre has nowhere to go but up. Until then, we have the top ten comic book / super hero movies of all time:
10. The Crow
One of the best revenge movies to date in a field filled with many, The Crow has become more symbolic of bad direct to video sequels and failed stars trying to resurrect careers like Ed Furlong than the initial premise it showed. And what a premise; Brandon Lee stars as Eric Draven. Some lowlifes killed him and his fiancÃƒÂ©e; Draven is resurrected to avenge it. And oh boy does he inflict some welcome revenge in a plot that was abused and copied pretty ridiculously in the many sequels that have followed. What makes the first still so good is Brandon Lee’s Eric Draven.
Lee is not just an ordinary man who gets resurrected; he’s an unstoppable killing machine with face paint and leather. With an all-seeing Crow on his shoulder, he moves back into the world he left, he has to deal with the people he left behind while avenging the love of his life. In what would be Lee’s final film, as he died tragically on set in the same sort of bizarre manner his father, martial arts legend Bruce Lee, did on his only American martial arts release Enter The Dragon.
Arguably the first great comic book movie since the original Superman came out, Spider-Man opened in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11th, 2001. And in a country needing a hero, the beginning of the resurgence in comic books movie really began with the original Spider-Man. Featuring the origin of the web-slinger, and perhaps the best casting decision in a superhero movie ever with Tobey Maguire as the erstwhile Peter Parker, the original Spider-Man was the movie that came out at the right time in the right environment to an audience that was ready for it.
8. Sky High
Spoofing trends and recent pop culture minutia is a time-honored tradition in cinema, but good satire that transcends the particular moment is hard to find. Enter Sky High, a great super hero movie that is a masterful satire of the teen movie while being an excellent teen movie.
Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is going to the same high school his parents did. Being a second-generation child at a high school is one thing, but when your parents (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston) are the world’s greatest super heroes then you have a lot to live up to. Especially when you don’t have any powers of your own. Saddled into the “sidekick” class with all of the usual social outcasts, Will eventually gains his powers and moves into the “hero” class with all of the more socially affable folks. From there it’s a great story about being young, the powers of friendship, looking for acceptance, and fighting super villains.
Featuring the best cast of any super-hero/comic book movie of 2005, Sky High succeeds because it hilariously spoofs the tenets of a teen movie while being a great addition to the genre. On top of nods to famous super heroes in existence and quality reinvention of the standard plot devices of inferior teen comedies, Sky High is the sort of movie that anyone can enjoy.
7. Dick Tracy
Was there ever a cast for a super hero/comic book movie as loaded as the one Dick Tracy had? You had Academy Award winners and nominees galore as the roster for the film is a who’s who of acting talent of the past 20 years. Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, James Caan, Mandy Patinkin, Dick Van Dyke, Paul Sorvino, Warren Beatty and Madonna all joined the tale of a comic strip detective trying to fight the mob. With a great story that leaps off the newspaper page, Dick Tracy is a great movie that gets underappreciated in the genre.
Beatty stars as the stone-jawed detective, squaring off against Big Boy Caprice (Pacino), a mob boss. Tracy must find a way to bring him down while Caprice must struggle in the era after prohibition. In what would earn seven Academy Award nominations (most notably Pacino for Best Supporting Actor) and three wins in technical categories. And that was what made Dick Tracy so cool years ago; the world of the comic strip came alive and on to the screen in what would be the standard by which backgrounds and scenery would be judged until Sin City raised the bar even higher.
With a revamp of the long dead franchise coming to the silver screen next summer in Superman Returns, the movie that began the trend of comic book and super hero movies was the original Superman. And it was the pinnacle of a mostly direct to video genre until the comic book movie explosion of the past seven years surpassed it; but the marvel of it all is just how strongly it holds up even compared to some of its counterparts nearly three decades after it made Christopher Reeves into a permanent household name.
With an all-too familiar story to be told about the Man of Steel, Superman holds up after so long because of how easy to understand the story is. It isn’t dated or tied in to some sort of time period like other super hero or comic book movies are. The effects may have been topped in the years to come, but they still look great even in comparison to modern special effects.
5. X-Men 2
Ensemble movies are always tough to make; add in superpowers and it becomes that much more difficult. So when the original X-Men opened to box office success and critical acclaim, a sequel was needed and made shortly thereafter. And much like Spider-Man, which introduced us to our characters and gave a world for them to operate in, X-Men laid the foundations for a better movie in the franchise in X-Men 2.
Taking the themes of acceptance of youth and meshing them with a fight against evil, X-Men 2 features the original cast and a few additions taking on a new nemesis: an out of control Army officer bent on extermination
4. Sin City
Originally a series of graphic novels by Frank Miller, the man credited with reinvigorating a stagnant Batman comic book franchise, was brought alive earlier in 2005 by a man (Robert Rodriguez) known for two things: action movies and children’s faire. Shot against a blue screen and featuring the deepest cast list of top line actors and actresses over the past decade, the beauty of the film is how it uses violence as a motif.
Sin City follows three tales of unspeakably violent revenge: Marv (Mickey Rourke) rages against those who killed Goldie and framed him for it. Bruce Willis fights the establishment to protect Nancy Callahan as a little girl from the clutches of the son of a politically connected priest (Nick Stahl) and later on when little Nancy grows up into a curvy stripper (Jessica Alba). Dwight (Clive Owen) goes after hero cop Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro) over a woman.
3. Conan the Barbarian
With a cult following from the graphic novels which spawned him and large enoaugh to warrant a big picture treatment, Conan The Barbarian changed a lot about Hollywood. It was the movie that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star, as the whole world was introduced to a man who reinvigorate and revolutionize action movies for the next 20 years before shocking the world and becoming Governor of California. It made fantasy-type movies accessible to the public, as the sword and sorcery aspect of cinema showed to be a commercially viable property.
Without the success of Conan the Barbarian, a movie series like Lord of the Rings might not have happened. It was a door opener for an entire genre, and it wasn’t anything complex. It follows the origin of its title character and his quest for vengeance against the man who took his family, his village and his childhood in Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). What makes Conan the Barbarian still hold up for almost two decades is that it is still a showcase for the unbridled and unprecedented charisma of its main star coupled with a tight script, graphic violence and solid action sequences.
2. Spider-Man 2
One of the top grossing movies of 2001 and the signature franchise of Marvel Comics, Spider-Man came into theatres in the aftermath of the horrific events of September 11th, 2001. So when Spider-Man 2 was announced, doubts about its ability to draw as well as the first (as well as uneven reviews from critics for the original). And what a way to come out, as Spider-Man 2 would be one of the top rated and top-grossing movies of 2004.
Following where Spider-Man left off, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is finding that being a college student, working, and trying to be a super-hero isn’t working out. Dealing with the travails of being a student, a growing animosity with his best friend Harry Osborne (James Franco) as well as trying to win the love of Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) while maintaining his secret life leaves him neglecting everything in his life and suffering because of it. Throw into this mess a new enemy in Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) and life for the web-slinger isn’t shaping up to be all he had hoped. Spider-Man 2, with an easily accessible plot and characters developed strongly from the first movie, furthers the original’s ideals about what a hero is about and takes it further; Spider-Man 2 is about the sacrifices one has to make as a hero.
1. The Incredibles
The fact that this won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2004 is remarkable. But why it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture is more remarkable. The Incredibles wasn’t just a great animated movie, or even merely a great super hero themed movie. It was a great movie, period, and just as worthy as the five pictures nominated for Best Picture.
The Incredibles following two middle-aged super heroes Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible in retirement (voiced by Holly Hunter and Craig Nelson respectively). Settled into suburbia with three children, Mr. Incredible is lured out of retirement under the auspices of a new job. When it goes awry, his super-powered family has to come together and deal with both evil and each other in the best-written movie of 2004. With tremendous animation, a wonderful plot and terrific characters, The Incredibles is easily the best super-hero/comic book movie of them all.