Since 2008, the rise of films based on comic books has increased exponentially. While the early 2000s offered some excellent comic book films such as the first two instalments of the X-Men and Spider-Man films, there were mostly some enormous disappointments at the box office with other comic films such as Daredevil, Ghost Rider and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen falling flat with critics and at the box office, the latter being so bad, it forced Sean Connery into retirement. These films made audiences not take the superhero genre as seriously as they do today, however, there were a few gems that either fell under the radar during this period and a few that shook up the way we perceive superhero films today. As superhero films are my favourite genre in cinema, this was a particularly tough list but an enjoyable one to write for you all. Before you get to my top ten, there are some honourable mentions below.
Be warned, I’ve put my favourite clips from these films below and some contain violent scenes from films that are rated 15s and 18s!
Avengers Assemble, Joss Whedon, 2012
Sin City, Robert Rodriquez, 2004
Captain America: Civil War, The Russo Brothers, 2016
Hellboy, Guillermo del Toro
300, Zack Snyder, 2007
Deapool, Tim Miller, 2016
Super, James Gunn, 2010
Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn, 2010
The Crow, Alex Proyas, 1994
10. Kingsman: The Secret Service, Matthew Vaughn, 2014
Source: Google Images
A mockery of the spy genre based on Mark Millar’s graphic novel of the same name. It’s violent, over the top and a very British action film. It follows the story of Eggsy, an under achieving street kid who gets involved with petty crimes, gangs and lives with his mum and abusive step father. He is soon recruited to an uber competitive training programme for a spy organisation known as; Kingsman, at the same time a tech giant threatens the world with a ludicrous master plan. Coming out a time where it felt there were too many comic book films being released, this brought a fresh feel to the genre that was in danger of becoming stale. A witty, exciting and well acted romp, Kingsman offers lots of thrills and excellent action sequences, the wonderfully violent scene in the right-wing church being possibly the greatest scene in a comic book film featuring Colin Firth performing all of his own stunts to Free Bird by Lynrd Skynrd. It has a great cheesy villain that echoes the old Bond movies with Samuel L. Jackson as Richmond Valentine, who is clearly having a great time portraying this megalomaniac. Unfortunately the sequel to this film; Kingsman: The Golden Circle didn’t offer the same punch as its predecessor and opted more for style over substance and lacked the heart of the first one.
Best Scene: Church Massacre
9. Dredd, Pete Travis, 2012
Source: Google Images
I personally think that this film is one of the best action films since 1992’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It is a non stop thrill ride full of adrenaline and bombastic violence, this is bolstered by the excellent performance of New Zealand actor; Karl Urban. It takes place in a violent post apocalyptic future in America where the police act as judge, jury and executioner (Kind of like America now really), the titular Judge Dredd teams up with a physcic trainee judge; Anderson (Olivia Thirbly) to take down a drug king pin known as Ma-Ma (Lena Heady) after they are locked in a tower block where the only way out for them to survive is to kill or be killed. One of the coolest features of this film is that we never see Dredd with his helmet off, which makes more of a symbol than a person. The most important aspect of this film is that its fun, and as soon as bullets start flying, they don’t really stop until the last few minutes of the film, its also not for any squeamish folk as its incredibly violent. A feature that this comic book film has that a lot seem to fall flat on, is a great villain. Lena Heady known more famously as Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones plays the villain Ma-Ma and she is just straight up evil, which is what I liked about her, she has her motives and she gets straight to it, no monologues just straight up evil, the only word I can think of to describe her character begins with a C and if you watch it, you’ll think so too and they way that Dredd disposes of her is very satisfying indeed. This film will leave you exhausted but I can promise that you will enjoy every minute of it.
Best Scene: Dredd vs Chan
8. Watchmen, Zack Snyder, 2009
Source: Google Images
Possibly the most divisive inclusion on this list by one of the film industry’s most divisive directors. Set in an alternate historical timeline where America won the war in Vietnam, Nixon wasn’t impeached and superheroes are outlawed through the Keene Act of 1977, unless they work solely for the government. Following the murder of a former colleague; The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the unhinged anti-hero; Rorshach, portrayed brilliantly by Jackie Earle Hayley launches his own spiralling investigation as to who could have done it, making shocking discoveries that could change the world as we know it. Watchmen seems to have the same appeal as marmite amongst film fans, with the fact that they either love it, or they hate it. However, I am one of those fans that love it. Based off the excellent graphic novel by acclaimed graphic novelist; Alan Moore, this film is one that suits Zack Snyder perfectly. It is brooding, dark and incredibly violent. Its a shame he couldn’t bring this kind of panache to last years Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Expertly and stylishly shot, this film encapsulates the graphic novel perfectly with its great characters and relentless violence. The ending in this has been changed from the original graphic novel ending but I feel this ending works better in film form as the ending of the graphic novel would seem a bit silly in a film as serious as this. It’s also worth checking out the excellent soundtrack which features artists such as; Bob Dylan, Nat King Cole, Jimi Hendrix, Leonard Cohen and many more. Its also recently been announced that HBO are producing a series with Damon Lindelof working as showrunner, so this should be good!
Best Scene: Silk Spectre & Nite Owl Prison Scene/ Rorshach’s Escape
7. Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins, 2017
Source: Google Images
It’s been a tricky start to the DCEU as they try to emulate the success that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen over nearly a decade. With instalments such as Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad failing to impress fans and critics alike, the future looked bleak for this film universe. However, it was this years Wonder Woman that appears to be DC’s saving grace. Its a breath of fresh air in a film industry chock full of testosterone filled male led superhero films. Directed by Patty Jenkins, this film follows the story of Diana, Princess of Themyscira (Gal Gadot) and warrior in training rescues a crashed pilot and learns of conflict in the outside world. Believing the God of War; Ares is behind this, Diana goes on a journey of discovery to end Ares once and for all. Set to the back drop of WWI, Diana travels across Europe with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and his gang to stop Ares. Both leads in this; Gadot and Pine are excellent to watch and have excellent chemistry on screen together. Its a thrilling action packed film that brilliantly encapsulates the horrors of WWI seen through the eyes of someone who is a bit naive. I liked this trait of Diana because she wasn’t perfect and didn’t understand why certain things happen in the world, I felt it brought quite an emotional impact to the character. This film has also been a massive achievement and step forward in the film industry, its the highest grossing film with a female lead and director raking in a huge $821million, I just hope this makes the film industry take women more seriously and makes the right step forward.
Best Scene: Diana vs German Soldiers
6. X-Men: Days of Future Past, Bryan Singer, 2014
Source: Google Images
Combining the best parts of both of the X-Men franchises, Days of Future Past brings both young and old casts into the fray for a journey through time to save mutant kind as we know it. Sending Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) into his past self, the X-Men are in a race against time in a desperate effort and stop and event that will destroy the future of humans and mutants alike. Following on from the success of First Class, Bryan Singer adapted what is considered to be one of the greatest ever comic book storylines in the Marvel universe. Differing from its comic book counter part, the focus is on Wolverine in this fast paced outing in which the stakes are very high for everyone. Once again featuring a personal battle between Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), we as an audience are split because both have reason and we see where the root of the rivalry sprang from, giving us more insight into the future films as we see how the fundamentals of a relationship are tested and made of opposite sides of a divide and echoes down the decades until the two finally reconcile when close to death. With great character driven moments and intense action, this film is the X-Men franchise at its peak, its funny but also keeps itself grounded with its story.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn, 2014
Sources: Google Images
Probably the biggest surprise to come out of 2014 and the Marvel Cinematic Universe on a whole. Featuring D list superheroes, two of which are a sentient tree and an anthropomorphic racoon, made by a B movie director, this film should have been a failure, except in turned out to be one of Marvel’s biggest ever hits and is an absolute joy to watch. Following Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his crew of intergalactic criminals; Gomara (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) are forced to work together to stop a fanatical Kree warrior known as Ronan (Lee Pace) from destroying the galaxy after he comes into possession of an infinity stone. Full of heart, ridiculously fun action set pieces and great special effects, Guardians of the Galaxy is what the Star Wars prequels should have been; fun. The film also takes itself less seriously as other Marvel instalments as it is full of humour and very funny one liners. From the get go, you know its going to be a departure from your typical Marvel film as when we’re introduced to Peter Quill as an adult, he is dancing to Redbone’s ‘Come And Get Your Love’ whilst going through a tomb to find an artefact. Another highlight of the film is its brilliant soundtrack, a worthy purchase for any music lover featuring great hits from Blue Swede, Redbone, David Bowie, The Jackson 5 and many more. The bottom line, its fun from start to finish with lots of jokes and brilliant action sequences. Its sequel is also excellent too!
Best Scene: Escape From The Kyln
4. Logan, James Mangold, 2017
Sources: Google Images
Hugh Jackman’s last outing as his famous X-Men character; Wolverine and its one hell of an emotional rollercoaster to watch. Set in a future where all the X-Men have been killed by the mind of a deteriorating Professor X (Patrick Stewart), he and Logan attempt to hide from the world when they suddenly find themselves having to look after Logan’s daughter/clone; Laura or X-23, who is pursued by dark forces. What follows is an X-Men film unlike any other that has come before, it is visceral, bloody and so incredibly violent, it makes Deadpool look like a Disney film. By the time you finish this film, it will feel like you’ve run a marathon, it’s exhausting and depressing and will leave you feeling a little hollow with its gut wrenching emotional finale. At times, the violence in the film does leave you feeling a little numb. It isn’t constantly violent but when there is violence, its brutal and shocking and left me a bit surprised that this film was only a 15 and not an 18. I do believe that the success of Deadpool being a successful R-Rated superhero film certainly helped Logan because it showed that superhero films rated R can be successful with mainstream audiences. After a disappointing offering with X-Men Origins: Wolverine and average sequel; The Wolverine it was pleasing to see that Hugh Jackman and his character could make their trilogy go out with a bang rather than a wimper.
Best Scene: Laura vs. The Reavers
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Russo Brothers, 2014
Sources: Google Images
When it comes the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I don’t see their films as superhero films, rather than genre based films that happen to have a superhero in. The Winter Soldier sums this up perfectly because at is heart it acts as a political spy thriller that echoes the cold war and acts as a superhero film secondly. As Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) struggles to get to grips with the modern world, he teams up with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to battle super assassin; The Winter Soldier. While doing so, he discovers a much more sinister secret, lying at the heart of S.H.I.E.L.D. When it was announced that The Russo Brothers were directing this, I saw it as a bit of a step back from Marvel as I hadn’t particularly enjoyed anything of theirs prior, with the exception of Community. However, their directing proved me wrong and it was superb. The action is incredible, it is fast paced and will have you constantly sat on the edge of your seat as you don’t know what the outcome is going to be. Focusing on themes of not knowing who to trust in your government and who is watching who, it echoes what is going on in the world today, and that helps build up the suspense in a thrilling way, because the film keeps you guessing throughout and will leave you surprised with some of its reveals. Featuring great performances throughout and good villains, The Winter Soldier is a must watch for any Marvel fan, especially after the average Captain America: The First Avenger.
2. V For Vendetta, James McTeigue, 2006
Sources: Google Images
A dystopian political thriller based on the 1988 graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore. In a future where a totalitarian government known as ‘Norsefire’ rules England’s populace with an iron fist, a freedom fighter known as ‘V’ (Hugo Weaving) plots to overthrow it with the help of Evie (Natalie Portman). Originally written as a commentary to Thatcher’s England in a mature graphic novel/comic book format, this modern film adaptation takes place in a post 9/11 era. McTeigue’s take on it raises thought provoking political themes that echo George Orwell’s 1984 and serves as a bleak warning even in todays society with the unfortunate rise of right wing supporters throughout the world. The tricky situation with this film, is that you don’t know whether or not to agree with V’s motives, after all, he is a terrorist, inspired by Guy Fawkes. On the surface, he is seeking bloody revenge on those who wronged him, but when you delve deeper, his vigilante justice appears to have another meaning. His vengeance isn’t rooted from his own pain, but also of someone else, Valerie, a woman he never met in a concentration camp and only communicated through letters she wrote to him in his cell. He isn’t out to see the world burn, he sets out to achieve more than justice or revenge and wants to bring hope to those who lost it. With plenty of stylized action, violence and lots of wonderful bombastic moments to the tune of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, it is easy to see what makes V For Vendetta so captivating and leaves the audience wanting to take part in V’s crusade to bring down a fascist regime for the greater good, after all once an idea is planted, like V says “Ideas are bullet proof”.
1. The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan, 2008
Finally. After three days of writing this article, I am finally at my number one. And this film is undoubtedly the greatest film based on a comic book. I saw this film on its release day in 2008. Back then, I was a fan of film, but it is this film that made me fall in love with films. Its very rare that a sequel is better than its predecessor and The Dark Knight defies does this perfectly, making it able to stand shoulder to shoulder with great sequels such as The Godfather Part Two and The Empire Strikes Back. This film is relentless and that is meant in the best way possible. It has everything an action movie should have, pulsating energy, anticipation and when watching, you feel that every moment is important. It has one of the best opening scenes of any film I’ve seen, a gang of masked clowns ruthlessly offing one another until only one is left, a scene that should be shown at film school to be taught on how to create tension and how give your films villain a proper introduction without giving too much about him away. Every action scene is incredible, you don’t know how each sequence is going to end and you can’t tell if a character is going to live or die. One of the best features of this film is that none of the characters including Batman are safe, particularly when Rachel dies, at that point I thought anyone could be next. Batman (Christian Bale) is as formidable as ever with criminals being terrified of him, but it is not him that this film belongs to.
What every comic book film needs is a good villain and The Dark Knight has the best villain that I personally have seen in any film with Heath Ledger’s electrifying portrayal of The Joker. The best thing about the Joker is that we know nothing about him, and by the end of the film, we still don’t. The only inkling we get about him is that he has not motive for doing what he does, he just wants to watch the world burn. He changes his origin story multiple times throughout and at the end of each one does something unpredictable and shocking, every time he’s on the screen with someone, you focus on him and only him as he commands every scene he’s in, even in those with Batman, the character you should be focusing on. The great tragedy of this film is wondering what would have been in place for Ledger had he not passed away. It takes a lot for a comic book film to make you focus more on the villain than its hero. Every character in this film you care about and don’t want anything to happen to them, even Harvey Dent’s evil turn is tragedy stricken and you feel sorry for him in a corrupt world where he tried to do good. This film is dark, complex and it will make you feel like you’ve gone ten rounds with Batman himself in not just a thrilling comic book films but as a rich crime saga that will stand the test of time.
It took me a long time to write this, I know its long but I love these films and wanted to make sure that I had written everything I wanted to say and make it good enough for you all to read! I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it! Thanks!