Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wizard's Top 50 Comic Book Movies [2003]

A weekend spent rummaging through the old comic book boxes turned up an old Wizard magazine [1991-2011] and a stroll down films of superheroes past.

Honestly, there's nothing more fun than a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning alone in your basement with box loads of comics surrounding you. Actually, that all sounds like pure geek and it probably is. I was neck deep in The Avengers, Fantastic Four, The Uncanny X-Men, Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Omega Men, West Coast Avengers, The Incredible Hulk, The New Mutants, Justice League Europe, Metal Men, The New Teen Titans, Namor and on and on. I was drowning in classic comic books. It's great to look back at any of these old titles. These titles were one of a kind at one time.

This in turn led me to my local comic shop, which I rarely frequent, because I don't collect any of the new books and simply don't have the time. I spoke with one of the proprietors and he was a terrific fellow geek like myself. I said, "Remember when we used to collect these books, there was only one X-Men title and it was fantastic!" He replied, "Yeah, now they have 50 books. It's crazy. I mean take Deadpool [pointing to the shelf]. There's three titles for a so-so character at best." Clearly it's a money grab out there. Of course things changed many years ago. I remember things beginning to change dramatically in the very early 1990s. As he mentioned, "Today, it's more about the artwork. Story is very secondary. It's hit or miss." I think that's generally true. Our conversation dovetailed into comic books on film and we both winced at how often these films simply "dumb it down" and veer away from the source information discarding the book material that made characters work in the first place. We now have Ultimate storylines. There were very strong opinions shared on the state of the industry, but he was very rational about the topic and quite frankly it was hard to disagree. Green Lantern, Hulk, X-Men - creators have certainly taken their liberties, but sometimes too much so.

Nevertheless, my visit led me to the purchase of The Avengers The Yesterday Quest. It's vintage era John Byrne with an Avengers assembled team I quite enjoyed back in the day. Unfortunately, many of the characters in that story won't be appearing in next summer's film. That film will certainly be more faithful to the original set of Avengers characters.

The fellow to the left played Daredevil in The Trial Of The Incredible Hulk [1989]. Can you believe it? Anyway as I dug my way through the books passing X-Factor and Excalibur, I found an old issue of Wizard. It featured the 50 Top Comic Book Movies Of All Time. I thought I'd post them as it might generate some discussion. The article is from August 2003. It's amazing how things have changed in nearly ten years and how many more proper superhero films have been created since. The look of this Top 50 including the Top 10 alone would appear markedly different. I know personally Batman Begins and The Dark Knight would be in my top two spots. Enjoy the list friends.

50. Batman & Robin [1997]./ 49. Steel [1997]./ 48. Red Sonja [1985]./ 47. Virus [1999]./ 46. Fantastic Four [1994]./ 45. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace [1987]./ 44. Conan The Destroyer [1984]./ 43. Captain America [1991]./ 42. Tank Girl [1995]./ 41. Supergirl [1984]./ 40. The Crow 2: City Of Angels [1996]./ 39. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze [1991]./ 38. The Crow 3: Salvation [2000]./ 37. Superman III [1983]./ 36. Batman Forever [1995]./ 35. Barb Wire [1996]./ 34. Judge Dredd [1995]./ 33. Return Of Swamp Thing [1989]./ 32. Bulletproof Monk [2003]./ 31. Men In Black II [2002]./ 30. Spawn [1997]./ 29. The Punisher [1989]./ 28. Howard The Duck [1986]./ 27. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III [1993]./ 26. Mystery Men [1999]./ 25. Batman Returns [1992]./ 24. Swamp Thing [1982]./ 23. Batman [1966]./ 22. Daredevil [2002]./ 21. Timecop [1994]./ 20. Conan The Barbarian [1982]./ 19. The Mask [1994]./ 18. Blade II [2002]./ 17. From Hell [2001]./ 16. American Splendor [2003]./ 15. The Crow [1994]./ 14. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles [1990]./ 13. Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm [1993]./ 12. Men In Black [1997]./ 11. Akira [1989]./ 10. Blade [1998]./ 9. Batman [1989]./ 8. The Rocketeer [1991]./ 7. Ghost World [2001]./ 6. X-Men [2000]./ 5. Road To Perdition [2002]./ 4. Superman [1978]./ 3. Superman II [1981]./ 2. Spider-Man [2002]./ 1. X2: X-Men United [2003].

Pamela Anderson. 'Nuff Said! Whew! That's quite a list and requires a little commentary here. I've seen a good many of these films and some of the selections catch you by surprise here. Keep in mind, this is a comic book list not a superhero list. I have to literally stop myself to separate the two.

If you're going to put anime in the mix you can certainly include Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind. It's seeds were established in a Hayao Miyazaki comic book and would personally notch higher here than Akira for me. Even His And Her Circumstances by Gainax was a splendid animation series based on a manga comic. So including one comic-based anime feels a little random.

We all know the Batman series began with Tim Burton. Today, Burton would be pushed further down the list and wouldn't crack the Top 10. Michael Keaton's Batman was good too, but the Burton Batman came just a little too early in his career. If given the reins today, his Batman would be stronger. Remember Red Sonja? She cracks the Top 50 here. That's crazy! Still, those Conan pictures tend to hold up. Speaking of crazy, there are film here that really fall well off my radar like Steel, Virus, Tank Girl and Barb Wire. How does Barb Wire beat Supergirl? Okay, it is Pamela Anderson, but Helen Slater is nothing to sneeze at. Barb Wire was absolutely panned too. How soon we forget. Conan The Destroyer is easily a better film.

I enjoyed The Crow, but wonder if it isn't quite the superior film I once thought it to be. Shortly thereafter came director Alex Proyas arrived with the superior film Dark City.

Dolph or Thomas Jane? This may be the only list to feature the earliest incarnations of the Fantastic Four and Captain America as well as the first The Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren. I'm not sure any of these films remain on the list, but that first Punisher film was far superior to the third one, Punisher: War Zone, which was atrocious.

I still have yet to see Howard The Duck. We've got the much maligned Howard The Duck and Swamp Thing making the list as well as a Jean-Claude Van Damme picture. I never really think of the goofy Hollywood pictures like The Mask, Mystery Men, Bulletproof Monk or Men In Black, but, again, this is a list for comic book films.

Road To Perdition and American Splendor are just terrific films based on comic book sources. I really have to stop thinking about men in tights [boy, that just doesn't sound good] or capes when it comes to comic books. I'm a victim of my youth and I wouldn't have it any other way. We didn't have a world filled with dark and gritty graphic novels. We had superheroes in tights. Well, that's not entirely true. There were certainly other companies that delivered some terrific science fiction or monster-based stories.

Spawn was a good film with a limited budget, but the Todd McFarlane hero never really spawned a love affair for me. Admittedly, it was a little after my comic hey day.

The always impressive Ron Perlman. The first two Blade films were solid and to be honest the Guillermo Del Toro directed Blade II is the superior film and should probably be in the Top 10 here.

Teenage Mutant NinjaTurtles. Ugh! I could never do it really.

In the top 10, director Joe Johnston of Captain America [2011] acclaim makes the list and deservedly so with The Rocketeer. Ghost World is one of those pictures that simply wouldn't have registered, but again I'm thinking capes and tights.

The X-Men films were solid. Though, to be honest, they move so far away from the source material and continuity that it makes it difficult for me to have deep affection for them or embrace them entirely. They are fine pictures and at least they tell a story with good narrative structures. Along with X-Men and Spider-Man, Daredevil quietly continued a strong wave of superhero films at the turn of the century.

Ultimately, I think the list gets it right on the Top 4 considering the potential selections in 2003.

Additionally, Wizard truly rips some of the made for television heroes. Those titles include: Captain America [1979], Captain America II: Death Too Soon [1979], Dr. Strange [1978], Generation X [1996], a shelved pilot for Justice League [1997], The Incredible Hulk Returns [1988], Trial Of The Incredible Hulk [1989], Death Of The Incredible Hulk [1990], Nick Fury [1998] and Vampirella [1996]. Wizard can slight the Bill Bixby-directed Hulk films all they want, but no one can call into question Bixby's passion for the series and commitment to the character that was David Banner on television.

The Wizard list is fair and sticks to its running theme of comic book films circa 2003. Its got me thinking about my own selections. So much has come and gone since the list was published in the now defunct magazine. Batman Begins. The Dark Knight. Watchmen. Elektra. Hellboy. Green Lantern. More X-Men. New Fantastic Four films. Thor. More Punisher films. Hulk films. Where is Dick Tracy on this list? Any others come to mind? What would your Top 20 be?

Next Issue!: The Sci-Fi Fanatic Top 20 Comic Book Films [featuring Capes and Tights].


John Kenneth Muir said...


I love lists such as this Wizard top 50 comic book movie tally. It's so much fun to see what others think, and to quibble with the final results! :)

Seriously, though, I am happy to see that both Blade movies place relatively high, that the 1970s-80s Superman movies franchise is highly regarded, and that there is some real love there for The Rocketeer. I agree with all of that.

Some choices, as you rightly suggest, are baffling, like Red Sonja on the list. Hmmm....

But, as usual, great fodder for debate!


a famous historian said...

Thank you so much for posting this - it's so easy to forget how much has changed in ten years. It seems like they didn't really have fifty good comic-book films then, hence the likes of Red Sonja on the list. Still, even then I think Batman Returns should rank higher.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

My pleasure both of you.

I agree. It's great fun to look back and see things in a historical context.

Heroes in cinema were indeed hard to find and you're right things have changed a lot.

Those Superman films were pretty special when I was young. I was pretty wide-eyed in the cinemas for those first two and they pretty much blew me away.

Superman in particular was an event that really rivalled the Star Wars release for me. It was that big seeing it on the big screen and it was filmed in a positively grand, epic manner. I loved that!

By the way, welcome aboard Famous Historian. I always love fellow historians.

Best to you both,

le0pard13 said...

Great look back, SFF.

"Today, it's more about the artwork. Story is very secondary. It's hit or miss."

Good point. Though, I do appreciate sharp, eye-catching, mythological and iconic graphics, if the story is secondary, you're only getting half of a comic book or graphic novel can deliver.

Considering what you covered here, that's still quite a collection you have there. Some thoughts on that Top 50 Comic Movies of All Time:
• Howard The Duck (1986) ahead of Spawn 1997) and The Punisher (1989}??? Ah... no.
• only Batman (1966) beats that... man do I detest that campy series
• Blade II (2002) should be higher... preferably knocking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) out of the top 20 and ahead of Blade (1998)... I still appreciate the original entry of that series
• Spider Man II would be ahead of Spider Man (2002) in my accounting
• I agree with you that Red Sonja has no business on the list
• yea for your appreciation of the underrated Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren; that one accomplished a lot given its low budget and low expectations; the recent Punisher: War Zone film seemed to follow the harder edged comics by Garth Ennis and while I enjoyed Northern Irish actor Ray Stevenson in the part, it's execution was poor

Great post. Just make sure no one throws it away ;-). Thanks.

Todd W in NC said...

I recently ranked as many superhero movies as I could think of. I didn't remember enough about Daredevil to include it, and I left out Blade and Men In Black too because I didn't remember in time that they were based on comic books. Otherwise, here's how I ranked 30 movies...

30. (F)  Batman & Robin  (Joel Schumacher!!!)
29. (D+)  Batman Forever
28. (C)  Green Lantern
27. (C)  X-Men 3  (X3: The Last Stand)
26. (C+)  G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (not exactly superhero but close)
25. (C+)  Fantastic Four
24. (C+)  The Greent Hornet
23. (C+)  Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
22. (C+)  Batman Returns
21. (C+)  Superman Returns
20. (C+)  Superman 1
19. (B-)  X-Men Origins: Wolverine
18. (B-)  Spider-Man 3
17. (B)  Kick-Ass
16. (B)  My Super Ex-Girlfriend  (a superhero comedy, sure; but it still counts)
15. (B)  The Incredible Hulk  (Edward Norton version; never saw the Eric Bana one)
14. (B)  X-Men 1
13. (B)  Thor
12. (B+)  Captain America: The First Avenger
11. (B+)  The Incredibles  (Pixar)
10. (B+)  Watchmen  (more of an artsy choice; I appreciate it more than I like it)
09. (B+)  Batman  (Micheal Keaton original)
08. (B+)  X-Men 2  (X2: X-Men United -- I hate the "X2" title)
07. (B+)  X-Men: First Class
06. (A-)  Spider-Man 1
05. (A-)  Iron Man 2
04. (A-)  Batman Begins
03. (A-)  Spider-Man 2
02. (A-)  Iron Man 1
01. (A+)  The Dark Knight

Looking at it again, I might be tempted to re-arrange the order a little. Batman Begins, Spider-Man 2, and Iron Man 1 & 2 all virtually tie for 2nd place, and I might have Watchmen and The Incredibles ranked too high.

G.I. Joe and My Super Ex-Girlfriend are included because when I first ranked these, it was for a *superhero* movie list, not specifically a comic book movie list.

J.D. said...

Great to see THE ROCKETEER and GHOST WORLD ranked so highly. They would certainly feature prominently on my list. Interesting to see TANK GIRL make the cut! A guilty pleasure for sure but a real flawed mess of a film.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Ha, cool list. I think I might actually have that issue! In fact, weird thing: I've recently been going through all my old issues of Wizard magazine, this article is obviously a little dated because so many good comic book films have been released after it,but still, there's some movies that I would never have included in there!

Batman and Robin in the top fifty? The franchise killer? Really?

That Roger Corman Fantastic Four is shit! Funny yeah, and amusing...but far from "top"

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace- the worst one of all!

Albert Pyun's Captain America is atrocious! Rubber ears on poor old cap...terrible.

Steel, no words. Virus...I actually walked out of that one...then returned out of pity, for real!

I've always loved HOward the Duck though...I guess I grew up with it, it's the nostalgia factor.

I guess we can blame the bad movies on this list to the fact that it was made way back in 2003, cool post man.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Gosh, loads of great responses here.

Nothing like a good retro list to get the juices flowing right friends?

L13: Good points L13. And it's certainly a visual medium, the comic or graphic novel that is.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on The Punisher with Dolph. I admit, while I havent seen it in years, I always loved the camp Batman series as a kid. I just loved it. I lived for it, but it might have had a lot to do with the timing of that in my life which was at just the right time and age.

I enjoyed Blade. That is solid and it's arguably a close call. There's just something about the visual style by del Toro that I love plus the superhero componenent of a SUPER TEAM of vampire slayers. I loved that storyline. I really really did.

Spider Man 2 seems to get the nod as the better of the two films. Close call for me, but I can understand. I never did see #3.

I like Ray Stevenson too, but he stil llanded kind of flat in that poorly executed film as you put it. Gratuitous and just an awful film.

Keeping those comic ssafe is always tough! ;)
Thanks L13 sff

Todd W: As always Todd, another outstanding and thoughtful list for me to enjoy. I forgot about the Green Hornet.

Daredevil is solid [rank around #16]. The BLade films, except 3, are too. I didn't realize Men In Black wa sa comic based film either.

I will say that I loved your list and their respective grades which is not far off from my own feelings on a lot of them. I will tell you where we part ways.

Iron Man. Overrated for me. I just never loved the first film and I thought the second film was long and winding and a little boring. I'm being a little hard, but I just never loved Iron Man. I like the ideas and I like its use in today's climate, bt just never could rank it in my top 10.

You didn't miss much on the Bana Hulk film. Crap really.

I loved the Superman films [the first two] and would easily put them in place of the Iron Man films. : )

Watchmen is a great choice and I know exactly what you mean. I was fascinated by the film. I was sort of in awe of it. It's pretty incredible. I think you give it a good position. I may not have liked it as much as I was enthralled by it. I want to go back and watch it again. It's impressive.

I still need to see First Class. X3 was not good. Your grade is perfect. I liked Wolverine better too.

Loved the two Nolan Batmans and Batman Begins just a bit more still today. I just never cared much for the earlier films.

But I can tell you your list is making complete sense to me. Thanks Todd.
best, sff

J.D.: I've heard good things about Ghost World. I'll have to see that one along with First Class. I never did see Tank Girl. It looked like a mess. :) Cheers mate. sff

The Film Connoisseur: Thanks for your input. There's not much you haven't seen. I never did see Virus, or at least the whole thing. Glad I didn't miss much.

Howard has to be a kind of cult classic. No interest in seeing Superman IV. I stopped at 3. The first two are classics for me. Thank you. Cheers pal, sff.

El Vox said...

I enjoyed Howard the Duck too and don't think it is as bad a film as has been written about. I'd add Sin City to the list, it's a well made film, and so was 300. I'd also mention the movie about the woman growing up in Iran, Persepolis. (It came from her graphic novel.) I might even include Heavy Metal, the animated film based on the long running comic magazine.

Although not fitting inside the category of super heroes, I'd have to include the biopic, Crumb, and The Whole Wide World (about R. E. Howard). I was happy to see they included American Splendor and Ghost World, which I would have thought they'd have overlooked. One other one, that doesn't exactly fit, but is a well made movie based on a comic strip is Lil Abner--it's based on a Broadway musical starring Peter Palmer and Leslie Parrish, but pretty entertaining. Funny no one mentioned the Popeye movie with Robin Williams either or The Phantom (The Ghost that Walks) movie or The Shadow with Alec Baldwin.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Great addition to the thread here El VOX!

Thank you and I couldn';t agree more with you on Sin City and 300 if they qualified here. They were excellent.

this list definitely predates those films I think.

Gosh, Popeye! Great call. What a fine little film. I bet if I saw it again today I would be stunned at what a visual treat it was. It just screamed comic books back in the day. Williams and Shelley Duvall were terrific.

Thank you again.