I’ve been working on a lengthy article about comic book and graphic novel films for one of the schools I teach at.Here’s an abbreviated and altered version of the list I made for the article of the the top 30 (in my opinion) films adapted from comics and graphic novels. I still have not seen Hercules or the new Sin City film, and I have not been able to make it through Hell Boy yet.
1)Spirited Away (2001) -Sorry, Disney and Pixar, but Japan’s Hayao Miyazaki, is the greatest living animation genius on the planet, and this Wizard of Oz influenced fantasy is probably his most imaginative work.
2) A History of Violence (2005) – A courageous, edgy and intellectually ambitious film about a seemingly ordinary small town dad who discovers that heroism can have negative repercussions. Director, David Cronenberg masterfully demolishes the wall between genre movies and art films. Supporting actor, William Hurt has not been this good since “Kiss of the Spiderwoman” (1985), and Maria Bello is marvelous. Based on a somewhat obscure graphic novel by John Wagner and Vincent Locke.
3)Persepolis (2007)-Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi directed one of the most impressive and imaginative animated film explores that explores the hurdles that a young woman must face when she is torn between modernism and traditionalism.
4)Crumb (1994)-Engrossing documentary about Robert Crumb, one of the greatest comic creators to emerge from the 1960s underground comic scene (he created Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural). The iconoclastic artist is known for his eccentricity, but believe it or not he’s he normal one in the family.
5)Ghost World (2001)-Dan Clowe’s brilliant, almost colorless graphic novel is turned into a riveting drama about the hypocrisy of art school. Steve Buscemi (who I once met at a party in Pilsen) is always great, but I was very surprised that the great leading lady (playing an art school misfit), Thora Birch did not go on to many good things after this film. This also includes one of Scarlet Johansson’s (of Her and the Avengers) first substantial parts (she went on to do a series of marvelous art films as well as some recent more mainstream cinematic manure. )
6) American Splendor (2003)-Well acted biopic (with the late great in the lead role) about a cranky and uncompromising underground comic creator.
7) Sin City (2005)- Gripping neo noir features exciting interlocking stories that take place in the same vicinity (which makes Gotham City seem like Disneyland).. One of the most faithful and visually striking comic adaptations ever benefits from the participation of comics great, Frank Miller. Mickey Rourke’s turn as a tough guy is worthy of Ralph (“Kiss Me Deadly”) Meeker. I taught this in my lit class for many years. I have not seen the sequel which was generally panned (although I tend to like anything Rodriquez does.)
8) Chasing Amy (1997)-Kevin Smith’s charmingly offbeat three-way romance was not based on a comic or graphic novel but it involves two comic creators and it humorously delves into comic and geek culture. This may be Ben Affleck’s most memorable role.
9.) Hugo (2011) – Scorsese’s delightful Speilbergesque family film was based on an obscure French graphic novel. . The plot involves an orphaned boy who runs afoul of a cranky merchant who turns out to be the great director George Melies (he made the iconic “Trip to the Moon,” which even inspired the “Tonight, Tonight” video by Smashing Pumpkins). See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiDWmXHR3RQ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOG3eus4ZSo&ob=av2e.
But the real villain was a mean policeman with an artificial leg (played by “Borat’s” Sacha Noam Baron Cohen who manages to transform utterly transform himself in every role he does.) There’s only one problem. The film may be the best family film of the year, and it’s definitely the best Speilbergesque film of that year, but it is not one of the greatest Scorsese films. His works over the last decade have been enjoyable to make some of my top 10 lists but they pale before his earlier classics such as “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “Good Fellas,” and even the brilliant but maligned “King of Comedy. ” In his old age, Scorsese has retained his technical skill, and his breath taking grasp of film visuals, but he has grown increasingly mainstream and less edgy,
10 The Dark Knight (2008)-Heath Ledger gives a mesmerizing performance as the maniacal Joker in this stylish, morally ambiguous action film (Ledger’s so good that the best scenes in this blockbuster action film are of him merely talking). Aaron Eckhart is almost as good as a tragic DA, Harvey Dent. Director, Christopher Nolan outdoes himself creating a visually arresting Gotham City. Sorry Tim Burton, but this is the definitive Batman film, and it may be the high point of the whole superhero film genre. Who would have thought that a franchise film would be a worthy project for Christopher (“Memento”) Nolan? Comic writer, Steve Englehart claimed that the film’s writers stole huge parts of the script from an unpublished comic series he wrote.
11)Southland Tales (2006) -I’m part of the .0006 of the population that thinks this is a worthy follow-up
to the brilliant Donnie Darko. This was one of the few films I ever saw Sarah Michelle Gellar in that did
not squander her talents. Southland Tales was an “interactive experience”, with the first three parts
published in graphic novels that would be released before the film’s release, and the film captures the
final three parts of the experience. The writer/director, Kelly said that the whole project pushed “me to
the edge of my own sanity.” I loved the radical slam poets who shoot people as they recite, and this is
one of the few films I have seen that is as absurb as the real world.
11) Blue is the Truest Color (2013)-Long but engrossing film about a popular school teacher who falls for a more literate older female artist (she has blue hair hence the title). This won the 2013 Palm d’Or, and it had some of the strongest acting of that year. Based on a graphic novel. In French with English subtitles.
12) The Avengers (2012)-Three super powered beings team up with two super spies to stop an alien invasion led by Thor’s devilish brother Loki. This is a highly amusing superhero film, and some of the best scenes come from the character interplay and friction between very different heroes). But the script is not half as impressive as most of Joss Whedon’s scripts for the Buffy show or Serenity (I loved Serenity).
13) Oldboy (2003) – This South Korean film about a recently released man who seeks revenge on the people that framed him murder is the best one in the trilogy. The octopus eating scene is impossible to forget. I have not seen Spike lee’s remake which was considered a flop
Superman the Motion Picture (1978) and Superman II (1980). I usually don’t pick two films from the same series but both of the first films are too close in quality to choose. The first film is able to capture a sense of wonder through Lois Lane’s eyes. Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder were so perfect as Superman and Clark Kent that all future versions would be compared against them. Superman III and later sequels in the series were so bad that a later sequel, Superman Returns (2006) ignores all the events after the first two films and it works as an alternate sequel to the second film.
16) Battle Royale (2000) – Fukasaku Kinji’s horrific and hyper violent action film is like an Asian update of “Death Race 2000,” mixed with “The Most Dangerous Game,” but the sequel should be avoided. Much better than the similar and more mainstream Hunger Games (although no one in this film can act as well as Jennifer Lawrence).
17.) Snow Piercer (2014)-After the world freezes, a bunch of survivors struggle for supremacy aboard a train that never stops. The poor are mistreated and they rebel: they struggle to go forward and overtake the decadent rich people in front of the train (it’s a neat microcosm for society as a whole.) These brutal, edgy, smart and uncompromising films may be one of the best pictures of the year. Tilda Swinton is remarkable as a keeper of the corrupt order/ villain with false teeth. I had trouble deciding whether I should put this higher than the Guardians film, but this one got the nod because Snow Piercer is a better work of art (although guardians is more entertaining.)
18.) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)-This is the summer’s perfect escapist/popcorn film and it expertly combines comedy with galactic sci-fi with comedy. It’s like a cross between Star Wars and The Avengers with a colorful cast of characters (including a human, two green aliens, a raccoon like creature and a talking tree) fighting each other than teaming up to save the world. Also stay for the extra credit clip to see the most delightful cameo yet in a marvel film. I even like the way they used the mostly bad ‘70s songs (context is everything and they serve an important purpose in the film.)
19) Cemetery Man (1994)-Rupert Everett, in one of the most memorable roles, stars as a cemetery employee who must dispose of the corpses that keep rising up. Like many giallo films this film has twisted humor, gross out violence, fantastic lighting and attractive shot composition. This Italian horror/comedy classic was based on a comic series by the author of Dylan Dog (avoid the American film with that title). Not for the squeamish or easily offended, but that’s also true of many of the films on this list. This comes in both Italian and dubbed in English versions.
20) The Incredibles (2004)-It’s odd that this film captures some of the humanistic charm of the early Fantastic Four comics when the FF films utterly failed in that regard.
21) V for Vendetta (2005))-This dystopian film which was based on an Alan Moore comic is about a masked outlaw that fights against a fascist state (which can be seen as the US or Britain). This was a tremendously influential film which inspired some members the occupy movement and the hackivist group anonymous (many ended up wearing the Guy Fawkes masks like the film’s protagonist.
22)Unbreakable (2000)-M. Night Shyamalan’s brainy and philosophic film (these words don’t apply to most of the Marvel adaptations) sneaks in a superhero plot structure and offers a meditation on what it means to be a hero and villain. One of the most unjustly underrated films on this list.
23) The Watchmen (2009)-This film could not possibly capture the greatness of Alan Moore’s comic series (which was perhaps the best hero comic series of the last 25 years), and it really needed to be a miniseries to capture the epic sweep of the comic, but it does a surprisingly good job for a two and a half hour film. In comparison the same directors other comic film 300 is lame and shallow.
24) Road to Perdition (2002)-This film casts against type and features one of Tom Hank’s few villainous roles. He plays a not completely evil gangster who tries to protect his son.
25.) The Crow (1994) =This Goth action film about a hero who rises from the grave to avenge the death of his girlfriend at the hand of an evil land lord is wonderfully atmospheric and stylish. Also Brandon Lee who plays the film’s lead anti-hero showed great promise (this was his only major role before his death.) This is a much better supernatural action film than Spawn or Ghost Rider.
26) Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) – This exciting thriller plays like a cross between a superhero film and a Bourne like spy flick. It deals with a World War 2 era hero who must confront the cold reality of the modern espionage world. It features a great villain, the winter soldier, an assassin who is somehow connected to Captain America’s past. There are many great stunts and action scenes plus a fine supporting cast. Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as the black widow (who for some reason has no Russian accent). Samuel Jackson is the Nick Fury, and Anthony Mackie is the Falcon (this character is supposed to become a new Captain America in the comics). Emily Van Camp (from Revenge) is introduced as a suspicious neighbor and potential future love interest. This also ties into the Shield TV series, especially the ending.
27) Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972) – A wandering assassin struggles to survive along with his infant son that he brings around in a baby carriage. This was the first of six films that were based on the popular manga series. The rest of the films are also worth checking out and the manga comics are classics.
28) Steamboy (2004) This is one of the best examples of steampunk cinema which often presents alternate realties in which the world has made tremendous strides in steam-powered technologies (Its followers often wear Victorian style clothing.) This fascinating retro science-fiction epic takes place in Victorian England. Steamboy . An inventor named receives a mysterious metal ball containing a new form of energy capable of powering an entire nation, the Steam Ball. He tries to use the energy to redeem his family honor. This underrated film was directed by the great manga artist/film maker, Katsuhiro Otomo, who also did Akira. It took over ten years to make, and it was one of the most expensive animated films ever made. This imaginative well reviewed film lost money in America (which am I not surprised?)
29) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2005)-We enter a fantasy world imagined by a Canadian rock musician who is pursuing his dream girl. In order to win her he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends. I have not read the comic, but the film is colorful and dazzling thrill ride through one character’s imagination. One of the most whimsical and fun filled films on the list.
30) Stardust (2007)-Touching, elegant and surprisingly romantic animated film about a man who has various adventures and finds true love while searching for a fallen star. This is a bit of a cheat since it was not technically based on a comic, but it was adapted from a novel by one of the greatest comic writers, Neill Gaiman, which is usually published with illustrations by comic artist, Charles Vess,