The Criticwire Survey: The Best Comic Book Movie

The Criticwire Survey: The Best Comic Book Movie
The Criticwire Survey: The Best Comic Book Movie

Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you their responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week’s question:

Q: In honor of “Iron Man 3,” what’s the best comic book movie ever made?

The critics’ answers:

Alan ZilbermanBrightest Young Things/Tiny Mix Tapes:

“The best comic book movie ever made is ‘A History of Violence.’ It’s so suspenseful and thought-provoking that most fans don’t realize it’s based on a graphic novel.”

Mark YoungSound on Sight/New York Movie Klub:

“The answer to this question became very easy last summer, when ‘The Avengers‘ blew every other comic-book movie away in my mind. In addition to the typically Whedon-y jokes, the movie also explores the darker aspects of superheroism — the idea that mankind can’t settle for being outgunned, the idea that only unstable and thus team-averse people would do this kind of work — with a deftness of tone that the ‘Watchmen’ movie wished it had matched. Only ‘The Dark Knight’ can challenge for the title, but Christopher Nolan’s inability to shoot a coherent fight scene holds it back. Honorable mention to the Cronenberg graphic-novel adaptation ‘A History of Violence.'”

Chase WhaleCinedigm

“Richard Donner’s ‘Superman.’ No CGI, just pure heart.” 

Andrew WelchAdventures in Cinema:

“What’s most interesting to me about this question is the entirely different question behind it: Are ‘comic book movies’ and ‘superhero movies’ necessarily the same thing? In all honesty, when I think about Marvel’s ongoing franchises and Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, comic books don’t come to mind at all, even though that’s where they come from. A comic book movie, to me, is one that not only takes its inspiration from a comic but also comments in some way on the form. In that sense, I think a movie like ‘American Splendor’ counts, and especially Warren Beatty’s ‘Dick Tracy‘ adaption. Not only is Dick Tracy a hero, but everything about the movie’s production design is meant to remind us of its origins. I don’t see that same thing happening (at least to that degree) in the deluge of big screen superhero movies we’re getting every year now.”

Scott WeinbergTwitch/Movies.com:

“I hate to sound like a crotchety old grandfather — plus I’m sure several of the critics in this poll are going to choose the same film — but my #1 favorite is Richard Donner’s rendition of ‘Superman‘ from 1978. I’m not any sort of expert on the history of Superman but I believe that this film strikes a perfect tone between modern fairy tale and actual adventure movie. The sweetness of Reeve is offset by the wonderful weirdness of the three villains, the supporting cast is fantastic, the tone is both reverent of the source material and slyly modern in its comedic sensibility, and (of course) it’s a legitimately great action/adventure movie. Sweet for kids, smart for adults, and old-fashioned for the aging coots who actually do lover superhero cinema. More modern comic book films that I really like? ‘Road to Perdition!’ Intelligent, melancholy, legitimately suspenseful, gorgeous to look at (and listen to), and stocked with excellent actors. I still believe that ‘Watchmen’ is a really fascinating film, that ‘Spider-Man 2’ and ‘X-Men 2’ are better than their predecessors, and that ‘The Avengers’ is to a young generation what Richard Donner’s ‘Superman’ was to me. What a huge ball of clever, kick-ass fun that whole Marvel series was.”

Anne-Katrin TitzeEye For Film:

“‘The Rabbi’s Cat‘ (‘Le chat du rabbin’), adapted from Joann Sfar’s comics, concerns an utterly fascinating and irritating cat which, after eating the rabbi’s parrot, is now able to speak. It was the first New Directors/New Films 3D screening at MoMA last year. The cat is in love with the rabbi’s daughter, discusses serious religious matters and insists on having a bar mitzvah. The title credits transport you to Algiers in the 1920s, but you might as well have landed on a wildly patterned orange purple Prada pantsuit. The nameless cat, with big green eyes, and movements that at times resemble a kangaroo, at others a deer, snuggles, reads Stendahl’s ‘Le Rouge et le Noir’ out loud, discusses the Talmud, and is worried about his changing nightmares — all in the first 15 minutes of the movie. How he gets to Ethiopia in a 1925 Citroen, meets Tintin, and tries to ‘solve all problems through dialogue’ is an impressive and entertaining undertaking.”

Luke Y. ThompsonTopless Robot:

“There are so many I love, from ‘Akira’ to ‘Ghost World’ to ‘The Crow,’ that it was really hard to select just one. It may even be cheating a bit because this one was a newspaper comic strip before being a comic book, but I always come back to 1980’s ‘Flash Gordon.’ I loved it as a flat-out adventure as a kid, and I love the satire, innuendo and Fellini references as an adult. One or two of the effects have dated — the lizard man looks hilariously terrible and the image of Earth at the beginning is an obvious fake — but for the most part the visuals hold up, having been so stylized and bizarre from the get-go. It is also, thanks to a dispute between Sam J. Jones and the filmmakers prior to post-production, probably the greatest example of dubbing I’ve ever seen.”

Ian ThomasThe Flicksation Podcast:

“I wish I was cool enough to say ‘American Splendor,’ which I love, but I have to join what’s sure to be a chorus picking ‘The Dark Knight.’ Generally a superhero film is only as good as its villain and Heath Ledger surprised everyone in creating the most entertaining supervillain to date. His Joker is one of film history’s best villains of any kind. On top of that ‘The Dark Knight’ features a master filmmaker working near his peak, with an intelligence not common in the genre. I love ‘The Dark Knight.'”

Andreas StoehrPussy Goes Grrr:

“This was a tough one — ‘Batman Returns?’ ‘Fritz the Cat?’ ‘Akira?’ — but eventually I decided on ‘Tales from the Crypt,’ the 1972 horror anthology based on several spooktacular EC Comics stories. Each of the film’s five chapters is a genuinely scary morality tale, acted out by a cast of stalwart British thespians and laced with morbid irony. A couple of their endings are so gruesome, in fact, that I can scarcely think about them without getting the chills. This is comic book horror done right, realized onscreen by director Freddie Francis with exactly the same lurid power it had in print.”

Josh SpiegelMousterpiece Cinema/Sound on Sight:

“I’m going with ‘The Dark Knight,’ a perfect distillation of the superhero myth that blends Christopher Nolan’s grimmer take on comic books with the medium’s more colorful flourishes, best exemplified by Heath Ledger’s Joker. So much has been said of Ledger’s iconic performance, so I’ll acknowledge some of the film’s other strengths: its intense score; its crisp, IMAX-aided cinematography; Christian Bale’s subtle, nuanced take on an increasingly weary Bruce Wayne; and the memorable action set-pieces. Rare is the movie that earns an audible, audience-wide gasp of awe, but I still remember sitting in a packed house on opening night, reeling not just at the shot of an 18-wheeler flipping end over end, but at Batman subsequently bouncing off a building with a tricked-out motorcycle. There are many good comic-book movies. ‘The Dark Knight’ is, to me, the great one.”

Don SimpsonSmells Like Screen Spirit:

“Assuming that we’re not limited to superhero comics (though Enid is a superhero in her own right), I deem ‘Ghost World‘ to be the best comic book movie ever made. Daniel Clowes’ ‘Eightball’ is one of the only comics that I ever read faithfully, and I still look back fondly upon my love affair with the eight issues that made up a serialized version of ‘Ghost World.’ Sure, I was a bit apprehensive when it was announced that Terry Zwigoff would be adapting ‘Ghost World’ into a movie. Maybe it helps that my expectations were so low, but I ended up loving the movie adaptation just as much as the comic. But why is it the best? Well, because I find it to be the comic book movie that best captures the mood, tone and style of the source comic.”

Jason ShawhanNashville Scene/Interface 2037:

“Ang Lee’s ‘Hulk.’ It’s such a magical blend of ambition, expansive weirdness, and Greek tragedy. Its transitions and visual layout are the perfect synthesis of cinema and comic book. And the fifth act, where it starts out like a black box play and ends with an epic intergenerational battle that imprints itself across the sky? Transcendent.”

Matt RorabeckMovie Knight:

“While superhero movies like Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy, Singer and Vaughn’s ‘X-Men’ films and Raimi’s [first two] ‘Spider-Man’ films are great and incredibly entertaining, I believe the best comic book movie ever made is David Cronenberg’s ‘A History of Violence.’ It’s a film most people don’t realize is a comic book movie and Cronenberg handles the material wonderfully. He makes the story his own but still keeps the essence of John Wagner’s graphic novel. This is a comic book movie without capes and superpowers. It’s just a thrilling tale about a man, his family and his haunting past. A masterful adaptation from a fellow Torontonian (I promise I’m not biased because of that) and the best comic book movie ever made.”

David RoarkPaste/Christianity Today:

“Well, I’m going to kind of answer the question and say my current favorite: ‘Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.'”

Jordan RaupThe Film Stage:

“‘A History of Violence.’ Or ‘Road to Perdition.'”

Matt PriggeMetro US:

“‘Ghost World‘ or ‘Danger: Diabolik.'”

“There’s an important distinction to be made between comic book and graphic novel, but the only movie adaptation of either I care for are of the graphic novel type. Ergo, I’ll pick Cronenberg’s ‘A History of Violence,’ for remaining true to his aesthetic, striking an incredibly tricky tonal balance, as well as being commercially satisfying.”

“I’m going to keep to your criteria of ‘comic book’ movie and not cheat and disqualify ‘The Incredibles’ and go with my favorite true adaptation of the medium, ‘Watchmen.’ I’ve never understood the hate towards this film as both a stand alone work and an adaptation. The novel is considered the greatest comic series of all time in some circles and I don’t know how this adaptation could have been much more faithful. Snyder’s ending makes more sense and works better than the interdimensional squid as well, giving the film a logical and realistic grounding that so many fans of comic book films demanded at the time of its release. The film even does a good job of subverting comic book films the way the novel skewered comic conventions. It’s one of the best shot comic book films as well and Snyder puts together a hell of a cast the knocks it out of the park. While not my favorite movie to come out since its release, I don’t know if any other film has found its way into my Blu-ray player more often since.”

“I must say ‘The Avengers‘ is my new favorite, beating out ‘Watchmen’ which beat out ‘Spider-Man 2’ when it came out.”

“Truth: Who will join me in admitting that whenever there’s a new comic book character to understand, they sigh and head to Wikipedia? But that said, for one summer I was obsessed with ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.’ Not only did I memorize the movie and collect the comics, I bought three packs of ‘TMNT’ trading cards each morning at the drug store until I owned every single one — 88 of them, plus 11 stickers. (Looks like I can sell my life’s greatest accomplishment on eBay for $15 plus shipping.) The movie is flawed, sure, but it’s better than you remember. There’s a Jimmy Cagney joke, for christsakes. And for a 11-year-old in 1990, it was perfect. The characters were dead-on from testy Raphael and bimbo Michelangelo to geeky, Corey Feldman-voiced Donatello and Leonardo being, well, boring Leonardo. And I don’t care how many quality movies he’s made since: Elias Koteas will always be my Casey Jones. If Michael Bay’s ‘TMNT’ remake has the dude-bro fun of ‘Pain & Gain,’ cowabunga.”

“This question leaves a bit of wiggle room since it asks about comic books, not superheroes. There have been several great superhero films featuring all manner of capes and cowls, but if I’m going to pick just one that’s based on a comic book, I’m choosing ‘American Splendor.’ Giamatti gets Harvey Pekar’s bleak and grumpy demeanor just so, and to prove it, the film takes time to introduce us to the genuine article. There’s the wonderful way it incorporates the original art into the narrative, and also pus the whole thing on hold while the actors involved rap with the people they’re portraying. As Harvey would say ‘ordinary life is pretty complex stuff’ and the way ‘American Splendor’ understands that makes for a great film.”

“This is a harder question than it seems, because some movies really try to capture the feel of a comic book, while others use comic book elements to do something more specifically cinematic. If I was going to go with the former, I’d probably pick ‘Spider-Man 2’ or ‘The Avengers,’ both of which are like comic books come to life. But I’m going to go with the latter and pick ‘The Dark Knight.’ Christopher Nolan’s entire Batman trilogy is brilliant, but the second film in the series is pretty much perfect. Nolan uses the classic Bob Kane character as a means to explore ambitious ideas about good and evil, as well as society’s need to have clear distinctions between them during times of crisis. ‘The Dark Knight’ is endlessly rewatchable, and you can find new layers to it every time. Plus, Heath Ledger’s Joker is one of the best screen villains ever. Artfully made, thematically rich, and exciting as all get-out, this is a movie that even people who hate comic books can love. (For the record, people who hate comic books are not to be trusted.)”

“‘Ghost World.'”

“It’s hard to confidently pick a favorite since these are the type of movies that I tend to see only once, but the first one that popped into my mind was ‘Spider-Man 2.’ I could watch Alfred Molina with those sentient robot-snake arms all day. Doc Ock and Oswald Cobblepot from ‘Batman Returns’ are my favorite villains by a mile.”

“It may not be an insanely original choice, but I may have to go with ‘The Dark Knight.’ I briefly flirted with the idea that ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ could in fact be better, but I need a few years to sit on that one. ‘The Avengers’ comes the closest to bringing a comic book to life as a movie, but Christopher Nolan’s second Batman flick is the best film overall to come from a comic book origin.”

“I’m in the minority here, but I truly feel ‘Batman Begins‘ is probably the best comic book movie ever made. I understand it didn’t have the complexity or scope of ‘The Dark Knight.’ But it did have Christopher Nolan, elevating his game to new heights with an emotional and systematic reboot of an entire genre. Everything is real, everything is possible, and that slow build of characterization leads to a wonderful payoff once we finally see Batman. It also has a fantastic score and one of the best final lines in recent memory. It’s my favorite of the three films and, I think, the best comic book movie of all time.”

“Traditional pick: ‘The Dark Knight.’ Alternative: ‘Ghost World.'”

“At what point do most measure the start of the ‘comic book movie?’ Is it Roger Corman’s fast and loose interpretation of Marvel’s ‘Fantastic Four?’ Is it Alec Baldwin tearing off his own prosthetic nose in ‘The Shadow?’ Or when Matthew Vaughn makes ‘Kick-Ass’ in order to prove he can handle ‘X-Men: First Class?’ Look no further than Michel Gondry’s ‘The Green Hornet.’ Its production is as crazed as the original ‘Iron Man:’ originally a vehicle for Stephen Chow to write and direct, it then went to the duo of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg for a punch-up. Only the ‘Superbad’ crew weren’t fans of a plot point where Kato (then Chow) would install a device in in Britt Reid (Rogen) and control him like a physics doll on crack — or, the CGI-lination of ‘Kung Fu Hustle.’ Gondry, instead, took the fratboy comedy that Rogen wanted and gave it enough polish that it rivals the armchair psychology of Ang Lee’s ‘Hulk’ but with as much style that it rivals and overcomes Matthew Vaughn’s ‘Kick-Ass’ with the first instance of ‘Kato Vision.’ ‘Hornet’ goes into the realm of a family that nearly every hero deals with: seriously, who doesn’t have daddy issues? Batman, Daredevil, Superman, Aquaman, Spider-Man, Iron Man — according to the films — etc. And it deals with the idea of escalation in Christoph Waltz’ Chudnofsky tries to deal with the ‘age’ of costumed heroes and becomes so unhinged his own lackeys devolve from nuanced speaking roles to mooks that are designed to suck up The Black Beauty’s bullets. Gondry’s ‘Hornet’ is definitive of the time, so much as Mark Steven Johnson’s ‘Daredevil: Director’s Cut’ was instrumental in forming the mold. (If you can track it down, an original copy of the ‘Daredevil’ DVD comes with a 5-hour behind-the-scenes documentary which presents just how hard Marvel was trying to establish franchises).” 

“Honestly, I’m somewhat surprised at how tough it was for me to decide what is the ‘best’ comic book movie. I’ll confess, this isn’t a genre I get particularly psyched about. And yet, there are quite a few of these movies I’ve not only enjoyed, but thought were pretty darn great. Richard Donner’s ‘Superman’ kicked things off with a plucky bang and there’s no question ‘The Dark Knight,’ especially thanks to Heath Ledger’s heart wrenching performance, is a dazzler. Yet, to me, it’s ‘Batman Begins‘ that takes the prize. Christopher Nolan’s take on the often comic tale is so dark, surprising and truly dramatic, this whole franchise evolves into something far more, well, interesting than I certainly had ever expected. And Michael Caine as Alfred? Could there be a more inspired choice than that?”

“Now, the easy answer to this question is Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight,’ as it is one of the great American films of the 2000s, and easily the best movie ever made where the source material is a ‘comic book.’ But can we really call it a ‘comic book’ movie? The film understands the essentials of the Batman mythos it plays with to a certain extent, but part of Nolan’s intent was to shed anything ‘comic’-esque from the film, and root it firmly in reality. So it really does not feel like a ‘comic book’ movie, but a ‘crime drama.’ And it is a damn great one. But I have trouble considering it a ‘comic-book movie.’ So of the films based on comics that truly feel as if they are cinematic extensions of their colorful source material, the answer would surely have to be Joss Whedon’s ‘The Avengers,’ which probably embraces its comic-book origins more than any other superhero film, while soaring to entertaining heights the genre has rarely seen. Of all ‘comic-book’ films that actually feel like comic-book films, it is the best.”

Q: In honor of “Iron Man 3,” what’s the best comic book movie ever made?

More critics’ answers:

Peter LabuzaLabuzaMovies.com/The Cinephiliacs:

“David Cronenberg’s ‘A History of Violence.'”

“While I loved Chris Evans as Captain America in that film as well as ‘The Avengers,’ I really think the best comic book film — which also stars Chris Evans — is ‘Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.’ This cult film that never found its audience is magical fun and made me feel invincible. When musician Scott falls in love with Ramona, his world turns from battle of the bands to battle of the exes–so all the superhero angst is there. Fleet and funny, the film is filled with delightfully surreal moments sprinkled throughout the film to keep the characters and the viewers off guard. Every sound effect — from the ring of a school bell to the sound of a guitar, to Scott thonking his head again a pole — screams across the screen in big letters making the graphic novel origins of the story come to life. Likewise, all of the action sequences — from an ersatz Bollywood-style musical moment to a live-action video game — are played in an over-the-top style that is highly enjoyable. Even if the plot is little more than step and repeat as Scott meets an ex, gets his ass kicked, and grapples with his messy personal life that results from his discovery, the deadpan Cera makes his geeky charm appealing. The supporting cast is droll and amusing as are all the pop culture music and movie references. One could easily create a drinking game to play while watching ‘Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World,’ but the film is intoxicating enough on its own.”

“‘Ghost World!’ However a Wikipedia search tells me that they made a movie out of ‘Aya of Yop City’ so if that ever makes it to America maybe that’ll be my new #1.”

“If I wanted to be a pretentious jerk, I’d say that the best comic book movie ever made is ether ‘Ghost World’ or ‘Road to Perdition’ or ‘Persepolis’ or ‘American Splendor’ or ‘A History of Violence,’ all of which were either serialized comics graphic novels before the were movies. If we’re talking about superheroes, what’s remarkable is that there have been more good films in the genre than bad ones in the last 15 years. But despite the great work Christopher Nolan, Sam Raimi and Bryan Singer have done with their superhero franchises in the 21st century, the 1.5 Superman films Richard Donner made in the ’70s were what established the precedent for taking fantastic material derived from comic books seriously. Donner reportedly posted signs reading simply VERISIMILITUDE around the set for the 19 months of filming he did on the concurrent production of ‘Superman’ and ‘Superman II’ before being fired off of the sequel. (The campiest elements of the theatrical version of ‘Superman II’ came courtesy of Donner’s replacement, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ director Richard Lester.) Plus, none of the many superhero pictures that followed having given us a piece of casting as inspired as the selection of unknown Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel, or a score as memorable as John Williams’ Superman theme. So 1978’s ‘Superman‘ is the most significant comic book movie, for creating the genre that the 2013 releases ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘The Wolverine’ and of course ‘Man of Steel’ all occupy.”

“Richard Donner’s ‘Superman‘ was able to capture the iconic feeling of not only the character but the entire idea of the superhero. It was a grand adaptation, something most superhero films seem to struggle with. Something usually gets lost in the translation to live-action, maybe because these characters are best when drawn.”

“‘A History of Violence.'”

“I’ve got to go with the obvious here and pick ‘The Dark Knight,’ and for many reasons — but above all, for Heath Ledger’s immortal turn as the Joker. He created a villain that haunts the mind and corrodes the soul. I’ve thought of him lately in the wake of such insanity as the Boston Marathon bombings: ‘Some men just want to watch the world burn.'”

“Every wisenheimer is gonna say ‘Ghost World’ or ‘American Splendor.’ But I think you mean superhero movie. That’s how I’m interpreting the question. My favorite, right now, at least, is ‘Thor.’ It’s just so ridiculous. I’ve seen it more times than I’d care to admit. Thor has kinda become my go-to Blu-ray when I come home drunk and the wife is asleep. (This doesn’t happen THAT often, in case you think I need to be in a program or something.) I like to watch it from Natalie Portman’s point of view — a nice Jewish girl scientist who runs afoul of a giant space shaygetz with a hammer. ‘Superman’ has better writing, ‘The Dark Knight’ is more polished and ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ and Marvel’s ‘The Avengers’ are probably better films, but ‘Thor”s insanity with the Rainbow Bridge and Bifrost and Odinsleep just slays me. And you have to respect a movie that puts itself on pause so it can shoehorn a franchise-inspired S.H.I.E.L.D. interlude. That’s straight outta comics! Of note: I didn’t really dig ‘Thor’ when I first saw it! Further proof that sometimes a film grows on you with time!”

“I almost went with ‘Ghost World,’ but I figured that would bring down the ire of the graphic novel vs. comic book nerds. So, instead, I think I’ll go with ‘The Avengers.’ Not the heftiest lifting thematically, but it kept the spirit of the comics and, more importantly, the fun. Considering the logistics of getting this gargantuan movie made, let alone making it good, ‘The Avengers’ has to be up there in the cinematic comic canon.”

“Not knowing a lot about comic books, I would say that the most surprisingly good comic book movie was the first ‘Iron Man.’ When the lights went up, virtually everyone in the theater was in awe of how good it actually was.”

“I get concerned sometimes that people think of me as the ‘superhero movie guy’ because of the Marvel Studios beat I cover at Movies.com, but, in truth, my movie fandom and my comic book fandom are kind of separate. I love comic book movies as a comic book fan; I like seeing the characters I’ve grown up with come to life, but it’s rare that a superhero movie stays with me in the way that my favorite films do. It doesn’t really ‘honor’ ‘Iron Man 3’ for my answer to be ‘Crumb,’ because Robert Crumb wouldn’t touch a property like Iron Man with a ten foot pole. And I’m not trying to be cute and contrarian, I swear. ‘Crumb’ is a fascinating, often troubling, look at not just a unique personality but at how our compulsions define us as artists. When people say that films like ‘The Dark Knight’ take comics ‘seriously,’ I get it, but ‘Crumb’ is a film that treats the creation of comics as something that has to exist, with the same care and craft as any ‘legitimate’ art form. That’s incredibly important to me (and the film is damned entertaining to boot). Even if you’re unfamiliar with the artist, there’s never a moment in the doc when you wonder why R. Crumb isn’t making the kind of disposable kiddie fare we associate with comic books. Crumb sneaks the legitimacy and artistry of sequential storytelling under the door, while documenting the quirks and foibles of an endlessly fascinating oddball and his family. It’s truly, truly great.”

“‘Superman II.’ Actually, I don’t know if I’d consider Richard Lester’s 1980 film the ‘best’ comic-book movie ever; Bryan Singer’s underrated ‘Superman Returns,’ for one, certainly has more of a sense of boldly iconic, mythical imagery to its credit (you’d be surprised at how rare a quality that is in a lot of movies based on comic books). But during a time when the prosaic, soulless Christopher Nolan Batman movies are getting wildly overhyped as pinnacles of the genre, a movie like ‘Superman II’ — with its emphasis on strongly developed character drama, breezy light touch and many comic grace notes — frankly feels like an oasis of deep feeling and human warmth. Plus, yes, I do think this is better than Richard Donner’s lumbering 1978 original, and Christopher Reeve > Brandon Routh. So sure, I’ll go with that (for now, at least).”

“I avoid using terms like ‘best’ or ‘worst’ since my knowledge about comic book based movies is too limited to make such appointments with the insight and confidence it takes. However: my favorite in this genre is Nolan’s Batman trilogy. If I have to choose one of the three, it would have to be ‘Batman Begins’ for being the first eye-opener in the series. It brought the superhero movie into a new, much darker and therefore more interesting place, and managed to convert even a sceptic like me.”

“Superhero movies can be fun, and I really enjoyed ‘The Avengers’ and ‘X2,’ among others, but my only answer to this can be ‘American Splendor,’ a joyous celebration of outsider life and one of the few biopics true and savvy enough to allow the real people portrayed to wander in and out of the movie, as this one does. Paul Giamatti deserved every award in existence, and few more that would need to be made up, for his performance as comics icon Harvey Pekar.”

“Tough call but I’ll have to go with the first ‘Iron Man.’ Maybe the comics have taken on some of the swagger of Downey’s Tony Stark but in fact, he just seems to match the persona of the millionaire character we’ve seen from his introduction and just finding a way to make things like the relationship between Tony and Pepper really be a fun part of the movie, almost more fun than the actual action set pieces. That’s what makes the film so brilliant. I’d call ‘Thor’ a close second.”

“Still ‘Superman: The Movie.'”

“I was tempted to cheat here and pull the, ‘I see Nolan’s Batman trilogy as one film’ card, however I’ve decided to fly the flag for what I believe to be an underrated effort from a director who will give us the summer’s other big superhero movie. ‘Watchmen‘ is commonly regarded as the finest comic ever written, yet the film is divisive at best. Released under the weight of unrealistic expectations, Zack Snyder’s ‘Watchmen’ is a much better film than many gave it credit for upon release and I believe it will age better than most superhero films being hailed as the best of the genre currently. The opening montage is one of the greatest opening montages/credit sequences of all time and the film on a whole has much more substance than the critics would have you believe. It is a flawed film no doubt, yet also a brave one and a film that deserves to be recognized as one of the high points in the superhero film genre. Dark, mature, stylish (a word that seems to be used as a criticism rather than a compliment in regards to the work of Zack Snyder) yet crucially, substantial. Following the release of ‘Man of Steel,’ when everybody starts re-visiting and liking ‘Watchmen,’ I want it noted that I liked it and supported it before it became trendy to like, rather than hate, Zack Snyder.”

“Going by any comic adaptation, the answer would likely have to be David Cronenberg’s ‘A History of Violence.’ But to keep it more in the superhero vein, I’ll go with Tim Burton’s ‘Batman Returns.’ Idiosyncratic in a way that has since been permitted mostly to smaller properties (such as those appearing under the Marvel Knights label), ‘Returns’ takes the heavy style of Burton’s first Batman movie and explodes it, crafting a messy but fascinating work that uneasily balances some of campiest displays of any Batman movie along with some of the darkest. Fan service and risk-minimization now dictates the tentpole comic franchises, which makes Burton’s shaky familiarity with the material all the more exhilarating, and allows him to craft something truly his own. And good God, how did that version of Catwoman, fierce dominatrix oozing sex through the stitches of her shattered-obsidian leather get-up, get put in a movie aimed at kids?”

“Easy. That honor goes to Joe Johnston’s adaptation of Dave Stevens’ ‘The Rocketeer.’ The simplistic origin story (and a damn fine underdog one at that) captured the essence and fun of the comic and aside from the initial lackluster box office draw is loved around the globe. Granted it was an easier sell than most of the more fantastical themed comics of its time (or to date) which certainly helped when it came to believable effects. But a non-superhero film it was and still succeeded in becoming a wildly energetic ride that to this day rivals those films about alien saviors, nasty spider bites or anyone with gamma radiation issues. With a trifecta of an engaging story, perfectly cast actors and one hell of a score by James Horner, ‘The Rocketeer’ easily stands out among the top contenders and, in my eyes, remains the best comic book movie ever. Pity Johnston couldn’t capture lightning in a bottle a second time with ‘Captain America’ but then that just goes to show the greatness of ‘The Rocketeer’ and how it’s more than just the sum of its parts.”

“Filmed and paced with throbbing forward motion, Christopher Nolan’s direction of ‘The Dark Knight‘ is a triumph of operatic action, drama and music synthesis. There are always three or four conflicts toppled on each other simultaneously, adding to the richness. The Batmobile shedding its shell to convert into the Batcycle is the most exhilarating moment of all comic book movies. Of course, Nolan transcended its comic book origins. Noir, tragedy, comic book — it’s all at once.”

“‘Popeye,’ but only when you watch it again and realize it’s a remake of ‘McCabe and Mrs. Miller.'”

“As good as Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies were (and they were, quite), and the handful of other worthies, here I have to look to the east, and say ‘Oldboy.’ Completely aside from Park Chan-wook’s considerable cinematic flair, and the legendary single-take hallway fight, ‘Oldboy’ has the transcendent sense of the unrealistic that literarily characterizes comics at their most essential. (That’s not meant to condescend to comics in any way; the sense that anything is possible is one of the finest things about comics as a form.) It’s dark and fucked up and rewatching it more than once every couple years is rough, but ‘Oldboy’ is really brilliant. Just, y’know, not necessarily a picture fathers will want to watch with their daughters. Or their pet octopus.”

“The Baby Cart movies, a.k.a. ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ (1972-1974), still remain my personal favorite, capturing the grandeur, violence, tragedy and victory of Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s unforgettable manga. If I had to choose one of them, I’d say the unusual dramatic set-up and incredible final battle of the fifth film, ‘Baby Cart in the Land of Demons,’ make it the best. Honorable mentions: ‘The Dark Knight,’ ‘American Splendor,’ ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Iron Man.'”

“For super hero movies (as always hearing the question as ‘what’s your favorite’ rather than ‘what’s the best’) I’ll go with Brad Bird’s ‘The Incredibles.’ It places superhero characters in something like actual cultural history and saddles them with something like real world human conflicts and failings in a way that’s smarter and feels more honest than the big screen ‘Watchmen’ or any of the Marvel films that I’ve seen. Richard Donner’s original ‘Superman’ to place and ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ (everyone gleefully craps on its director, but it was most appealing to me of the three) to show. As far as movies that play like comic books, I’d nominate Sam Fuller’s ‘Hell and High Water’ which feels just like a Milton Caniff comic strip come to movie life (runner up in that specific dept. going to the first 10 minutes Ted Tetzlaff’s ‘Riffraff’). Peter Hunt’s ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ has a similar visual energy to some of Jim Steranko and Guido Crepax’ 60’s sequential art. Honestly any movie that doesn’t repeat frames or shots or angles much (Sergio Leone’s movies, some of Kurosawa’s wheelhouse work and David Fincher’s ‘Se7en’ come immediately to mind — the use of ENR bleach bypass in ‘Se7en’ also added a nice ‘inked in’ look) and instead goes for, in essence, a new ‘panel’ for each shot feels like a comic book turned movie — which is a good thing.”

“While its legacy (the trend toward the dark reboot) may not be particularly admirable, ‘Batman Begins‘ remains an era-shaping highlight. It’s the kind of epoch-defining blockbuster movie that brings to mind Bazin’s ‘In Defense Of A Mixed Cinema,’ and observe an air of originality even of a work derived from another, with Nolan channeling Bob Kane’s meditation on fear and re-appropriating it for an America in the wake of 9/11.”

“Superhero: ‘The Dark Knight.’ Non-superhero: ‘Sin City.'”

The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on April 29th, 2013:

The Most Popular Response: “The Place Beyond the Pines,”
Other Titles Receiving Multiple Votes: “Upstream Color,” “To the Wonder,” “Jurassic Park 3D,” “Spring Breakers,” “The Lords of Salem,” “Mud.”

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