As comic book fans, there’s a real tendency for us to be hard on movie adaptations. Naturally, we love the source material, so it can be hard to accept a reinterpretation of that work, especially if it makes distinct departures. Some comic book movies you have to re-watch to really appreciate — for what they are, not simply as direct copies of the comic.
There are some comic book movies, which got a lot of hate, that really deserve a second chance… or at least another watch. Breaking down that special group of movies, CBR has run down all those adaptations that are worth more of your time, even if you don’t really want to give it. Take a look at our list below, and sound off in CBR’s TV/film forum with your picks!
In an era where action movies weren’t that deep (sorry, “Under Siege”), Jean-Claude Van Damme clocked in one heck of a dramatic performance with “Timecop.” Plus, they actually addressed his French accent — so that’s a plus. Packing romance, retribution and a whole lot of time travel, the film sees JCVD play officer Max Walker of the Time Enforcement Commission (TEC) explore a scummy politician’s rise to power by hopping through the time-space continuum.
Even balancing a jarring, time-hopping narrative, the film manages to work as a stellar action movie of the time, while serving as a solid comic book adaptation in its own right. Based on a Dark Horse comic by Mike Richardson, Mark Verheiden and Phil Hester, “Timecop” hasn’t seen the light of day in comics for quite some time — since a 2003 sequel series, in fact. So if you’re looking to explore the property that once was, be sure to check out the 1994 film for a solid adaptation.
Yeah, “Monkeybone” is a weird, weird movie — but it’s the good kind of weird, trust us. Directed by frequent Tim Burton collaborator and “Nightmare Before Christmas” helmer Henry Selick, “Monkeybone” is a real visual treat that serves as an equally good comic adaptation as it does a comedic extravaganza in its own right. The visual style of “Monkeybone” — which explores the melding of a cartoon character in our real-life world, in addition to an incredibly stylistic, Burton-influenced roller coaster of an afterlife — is something that really sticks with you as a viewer.
But as much as the look of the film contributes to its lasting power, its solid cast really sells the material, as well as the fine line between fantasy and comedy. Boasting Brendan Fraser, Bridget Fonda and the illustrious Chris Kattan, among many others — including a wonderful cameo from Stephen King — “Monkeybone” is the goofy-ass kind of movie you definitely can’t forget. And, boy, was it ever ambitious.
13. The Losers
Adapting Andy Diggle and Jock’s Vertigo comic series of the same name, “The Losers” is one of the better comic book movies out there to boast such a large ensemble cast. It’s not incredibly original, as it echoes a lot of what we see in action romps like “The A-Team” and “The Expendables,” but like those movies, it utilizes a strong principal cast to create a strong team dynamic and one heck of a fun thrill ride with its incredible action set pieces.
Starring comic book movie veterans like Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chris Evans, Idris Elba and Zoe Saldana, the film is really an A-list lineup of talent in a movie that is, for the most part, forgotten in favor of films like “RED” that use a similar star-packed formula. Lest we forget the wonderful work executed by Jason Patric in the film, whose eccentric, psychopathic villain is nothing short of exceptional, goofy and, overall, difficult not to watch at all times.
12. The Mask
Who cold forget “The Mask” film? Or, rather, who could forget “The Mask” was a comic book adaptation? Well, a lot of people, unfortunately. On the surface, “The Mask” seems like any other Jim Carrey vehicle of the time, but it’s really a wonderful ode to man-children — and, thusly, a lot of comic book fans. Made at the height of the comedic giant’s fame, “The Mask” sees Carrey’s Stanley Ipkiss come into the possession of a magical mask that transforms him into the embodiment of a Tex Avery cartoon. Even with its goofier premise, the film manages to get across strong themes of confidence, masculinity and that what you wear isn’t necessarily what you are.
Director Chuck Russell of “A Nightmare On Elm Street: The Dream Warriors” fame helmed the film and successfully blended absurd cartoonish special effects into a live-action reality, offering a visual treat and overall fun film for kids and adults alike. Sure, it was way different from the decidedly more gritty, ultra-violent Dark Horse comic book that inspired it, but it remains a fun flick in its own right.
11. Jonah Hex
Once upon a time, a CBR editor went to see “Jonah Hex” on opening day… and he was the only one in the theater. That certainly didn’t help his perception of the film at the time, but over the course of six years, it eventually became clear that there’s at least some merit in the less than well-received comic book movie.
Adapting the Western DC Comics hero of the same name, “Jonah Hex” boasted one hell of a cast, including Josh Brolin, Megan Fox, John Malkovich, Michael Fassbender and Will Arnett, to name a few. But because of some clunkier dialogue, a bonkers plot and incredibly short runtime, it gets a lot of flack from traditional “Jonah Hex” fans. However, for someone not incredibly close to the character, “Jonah Hex” is a rather fun action romp set in the context of a Western set piece, which really lends itself to a unique visual aesthetic and rather bizarre tone you don’t get anywhere else. For what it’s worth, “Jonah Hex” is worth checking out, just to see how weird it is.
10. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Comic book movies don’t get crazier (in every way) than Sony’s last-minute “Ghost Rider” sequel, “Spirit of Vengeance.” You’ve got two elements at play here that’ll either (1) sell you the movie, or (2) have you run away faster than a date who finds your “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” figures. Starring Nicolas Cage at his absolute Cage-iest and under the leadership of “Crank” directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, working their high-octane, balls-to-the-wall action movie magic, this has become a movie that sits firmly in the “so bad it’s good” camp.
Giving you exactly what you’d expect, “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” turns the madness up to eleven and delivers some truly insane, badass action with a wonderfully bat-sh*t crazy performance from Cage to bring everything full-circle. Essentially the “Punisher: War Zone” of “Ghost Rider” movies, “Spirit of Vengeance” is a true experiment in letting directors (and actors) go full-blast in what they do best, rather than trying to tie a film to other comic book movies or a larger shared universe.
9. 30 Days of Night
Aside from the “Blade” films, vampire-centric comic book movies don’t get much better than “30 Days of Night.” Unfortunately, over time, the inventive vampire romp has been largely forgotten. Having started out as an unsuccessful film pitch, “30 Days of Night” began as a three-issue comic book series published by IDW from horror veteran Steve Niles and revered artist Ben Templesmith.
Set in Barrow, Alaska — a town that experiences, as the title of the film suggests, a period where the sun doesn’t rise for thirty days — the film follows a group of townspeople that fend for their lives against an onslaught of vampires that take advantage of the sun-less situation. With an incredibly fun concept, stellar character designs and great performances from Josh Hartnett, Melissa George and Ben Foster, among others, the 2007 horror flick is a surprising treat that holds up as great Halloween viewing on a yearly basis.
A largely forgotten film from 1990, “Hardware” stands out as a wonderful piece of original sci-fi that rose above a batch of cheap “Terminator” knockoffs at the time. Starring “American Horror Story’s” Dylan McDermott as a post-apocalyptic drifter, the film sees his character salvage a defunct killer robot for his girlfriend’s anti-government art. Of course, it inevitably begins to rebuild itself and once again goes on the hunt for human flesh.
Though not filmed as a direct comic book adaptation, “Hardware” became a comic book movie thanks to a unique lawsuit that saw director Richard Stanley taken to court by comic book creators Steve MacManus and Kevin O’Neill, who suggested the film was based off a story they did in “Judge Dredd Annual” 1981, titled “SHOK! Walter’s Robo-Tale.” The comics duo eventually won the lawsuit, forcing the studio to credit them on the final film — constituting “Hardware” as the unlikely first adaptation of a “2000 AD” comic, years before “Judge Dredd.”
7. Fantastic Four
We have a hunch that if 2005’s “Fantastic Four” were released today, in the context of the modern backlash against dark comic book movies, the film might be better-received. Tim Story’s outing with Marvel’s First Family isn’t perfect, but it certainly serves as an accessible introduction to the lovable super-team with a mostly-lovable cast… minus Jessica Alba’s Invisible Woman.
The film gets a lot of its charm from the cartoonish, comic book-y humor it packs in, executed masterfully (considering the corniness) by Michael Chiklis’ Thing and Chris Evans’ Human Torch, who have a wonderful on-screen chemistry that accurately replicates the Thing/Torch dynamic from the comics. A real downside to the film is Julian McMahon’s Doctor Doom, which is more Mr. Grey than it is Victor Von Doom. Still, its unique departure is something you can’t help but (ahem) Marvel at today. Especially for kids, “Fantastic Four” isn’t a terrible film, it’s a lot of fun — it just doesn’t take the characters that seriously at all times. And that’s OK!
6. The Rocketeer
“The Rocketeer” is probably the most genuinely solid comic book movie on this list — and it’s on here not because you remember it wrong, but because you might not remember it at all. A true ode to pulp heroes and its beloved titular character, the 1990 film adaptation of Dave Stevens’ “Rocketeer” holds up incredibly well as a one-off superhero outing that packs a distinct art deco style and glorious period aesthetic.
Billy Campbell’s charming portrayal of the titular hero is textbook superhero acting — in a good way! There is also wonderful acting from the supporting cast, including Jennifer Connelly, Timothy Dalton and Alan Arkin, making for an incredibly fun watch. Directed by Joe Johnston, the film certainly feels like a precursor to “Captain America: The First Avenger” — yet another Johnston-directed period comic book film released decades later — with its pure, boyish hero, endearing love story and fascinating villain.
5. Howard the Duck
OK, “Howard the Duck” is a pretty weird movie, and it’s certainly not for everyone. In fact, a lot of folks consider “Howard the Duck” one of the worst comic book movies ever — including producer George Lucas, who lost so much money on the movie that he had to sell a wee company called Pixar to another wee company called Apple — but we hold it near and dear to our hearts.
Adapting (loosely) Steve Gerber’s foul-mouthed mallard of the same name, the film sees Howard, a Duck from a duck world, transported to our human world to fight off an inter-dimensional evil and, along they way, fall in love with a beautiful woman played by “Back to the Future’s” Lea Thompson. If that description doesn’t have you interested, “Howard the Duck” probably isn’t for you. If it does, you’ll love the B-movie crappiness and goofy-ass performances from a slew of great actors in this movie, including a young Tim Robbins and Jeffrey Jones.
4. Thor: The Dark World
Marvel Studios can’t hit it out of the park with all of their movies, but we think because of their high success rate, audiences are a little too eager to anticipate a flop from the studio — thus naming films like “Ant-Man,” and this entry on the list, “Thor: The Dark World,” weaker entries in their repetoire. However, in reality, “Thor: The Dark World” is an incredibly entertaining piece of fiction and perhaps the most comic book-y of all the Marvel Studios films released thus far.
Even as a sequel to “Thor,” “The Dark World” stands apart as a more visually stunning outing than its predecessor; one which ambitiously incorporates weirder elements from the Thor mythos, while still serving up the property’s trademark humor to great success. While a lot of viewers criticize Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith as being two-dimensional, he really serves as a downright cool villain, who offers a genuinely dire, fantastical threat for the God of Thunder and co.
Let’s get this out of the way: 2003’s “Daredevil” has a lot of problems. A lot. Least of which are the heavy-handed Evanescence soundtrack and the fact that the first 45 minutes or so of the film is a flashback. But those points aside (and many others), there’s a lot of fun to be had in the Man Without Fear’s first, and only, theatrical outing.
Ben Affleck’s take on Matt Murdock is certainly fun to watch, especially alongside Jon Favreau’s Foggy Nelson, and the chemistry with Jennifer Garner’s Elektra is definitely there (which, makes sense, considering the duo’s real-life relationship at the time). But really, the best part about “Daredevil” is the way it nails its villains. Michael Clarke Duncan’s Kingpin is truly menacing — to the extent that we believe he could break DD’s back at the end of the film — and Colin Farrell’s maniacal portrayal of Bullseye is a real treat throughout. He injects a truly terrifying sense of humor into the character and makes us believe he never, ever misses — especially when he uses airline food to murder an old lady.
2. Tank Girl
Not a lot of people talk about the 1995 adaptation of “Tank Girl” these days, but it’s a truly gorgeous film that manages to elevate the punk rock comic book it adapts. Kind of like “Mad Max” on Red Bull, “Tank Girl” is faithfully based on Jamie Hewlitt and Alan Martin’s comic of the same name. The film even uses animated sequences with Hewlitt’s art to depict certain action sequences to great effect, and packs in a solid punk rock soundtrack that was selected by Courtney Love. Does it get any more ’90s than that?
Aside from blowing us away on a visual level — accurately representing the alt comics from which it is inspired — “Tank Girl” has one hell of a cast that includes Lori Petty as the titular character, alongside Naomi Watts as Jet Girl, Malcolm McDowell as the delightfully clawed villain Kesslee, and Ice-T and Iggy Pop as kangaroo mutants referred to as “The Rippers.” Do you really need any more convincing?
1. Batman Forever
Listen, not every interpretation of Batman has to live up the Christopher Nolan seal of approval. Some Batman movies can be silly, and we love them perfectly fine that way. “Batman Forever” certainly falls into the latter category and despite what you might remember, it works. Inspired by the ’50s Batman comics of Dick Sprang, the third in the initial wave of Bat-flicks is a great movie for kids and adults at the time who were yearning for an Adam West-style return to the Caped Crusader. Packing corny jokes, Bat credit cards and (at times) an absurdly sexy soundtrack, “Batman Forever” is a whole lot of fun throughout, and something we’d definitely watch more than a certain recent Batman movie…
Yes, there are really silly moments in “Batman Forever’s” light-hearted, fun script (See: “It’s boiling acid!”), but it does work on a lot of basic storytelling levels, and doesn’t deserve the flack it’s gotten in recent years. The main crux of the story is Batman and Robin’s relationship, as Val Kilmer’s Dark Knight is introduced to Chris O’Donnell’s Boy Wonder over the course of the film, treating us to the first (and only) successful interpretation of the dynamic duo apart from the ’60s Adam West film. Additionally, killer portrayals of Riddler and Two-Face from Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones, respectively, make for a film that’s equally fun to watch when the protagonists are on the screen and when it’s just the bad guys’ time to shine.
Which comic book movies do you think are incorrectly underrated or just flat out hated? Let us know in the comments!
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