By Kevin McVicker
My love of comics is only matched by my love for movies (oh, yeah, and for my wife). When those two interests meet up, the geek in me gets far too excited. Even if it is a travesty of a movie, on some level I can usually still enjoy it (unless it is Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance). I mean, I even love Punisher War Zone. However, this list is the best of the best in terms of movies made from Marvel properties. This is a highly opinionated piece because I strongly do not believe box office or awards signifies a great movie (Note: Halle Berry won an Oscar for acting, and each of the Michael Bay Transformers movies grossed over, if not close to, a billion worldwide).
Transformers: The Movie (1986)
In 1984, both the television cartoon and Marvel comic book series launched based around this toy due in large part to the already profitable relationship Hasbro and Marvel had consummated over the G.I. Joe franchise. By the time this epic animated film was released we were barely into the 80 issue series at Marvel. For all intents and purposes, this was a Marvel animated film. Issue three of the comic book even featured Spider-Man. In terms of just being a movie though, it had an amazing cast with such cinematic legends as: Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stacks, Eric Idle, Scatman Crothers, and Orson Welles. This one gets an honorable mention though, like several others, because it is still a stretch to call it a Marvel property.
Dr Strange (1978)
Maybe you never heard of this little made-for-television movie probably because it aired against the single most important televised event that year: Roots. Compared to Roots, this doesn’t hold water but when you look at this for the time and place that it came out, it really isn’t horrible. It’s on the same level as the Incredible Hulk series, which this was supposed to be the test pilot for its own series. Sadly, like I said, it did horrible in the ratings because of its competition. If this aired a month later or earlier, we could be fondly remembering the Doctor Strange TV series just the same as we fondly remember the Incredible Hulk.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
This was based on the Icon book, which is basically Marvel’s version of Image. This was a creator-owned series, so there is little-to-no mention of Marvel on this movie and it is an extremely, fun (even if flawed) action film. Matthew Vaughan isn’t a stranger to comic books movies, doing both X-Men: First Class and the Mark Millar’s other Icon book whose title I won’t mention on a family friendly site. While a lot of the shots in Kingsman appear copied from both of his other films, he obviously learned from the mistakes of his other two comic movies and created better visuals in this film and also develops a faster and more energetic pacing that both of those other films lacked tremendously. If you can stomach the violence this is a great spy movie.
Men in Black (1997)
More so than any movie mention here in the Honorable Mentions, this movie being on a Marvel properties film list may rub people the wrong way. This comic was original published by Aircel comics in 1990, which was then purchased by Malibu comics in 1991, which in turn was purchased by Marvel comics in 1994. By the time this movie was released, this was a comic published under the Marvel imprint. It was the perfect summer movie when it came out, and still holds up surprisingly well considering all the early CGI used in the movie. While the second movie suffered at barely even being a movie (with end credits it’s under 80 minutes), the third movie redeemed this series. It’s hard to forgive the director Barry Sonnenfield though for the Wild Wild West movie, so this movie only gets an Honorable Mention.
Big Hero 6 (2014)
While many “commoners” may not know that this was based on a comic book, those of us in-the-know are not only aware of that, but also know that this Chris Claremont created team is actually considered 616. In truth, the characters are almost all completely rewritten in the movie to be a team of Iron Man type characters instead of the super-beings they are in the comic, which was one of the most disappointing things about this movie. Other than that, this was an incredibly enjoyable animated feature that’s perfect for an entire family to watch; maybe not on the Wreck It Ralph level of animated features, but still an enjoyable movie.
Now to the actual top ten list…
10 – Punisher (2004)
Hated by many, this second try at a Punisher movie is a great violent action film. It gives the Punisher not only clear motivation so you can cheer as he murders other humans (which is the entire point of the comics), but it also brings in an eclectic cast of characters from Garth Ennis’ run to help you actually care about Frank Castle. This may sound weird, but Castle is a flat character that is just a killing machine. When you give characters around him identities and charisma (two of which are played by actors who had and would play X-Men, mind you), and those characters care for Castle, it helps you care for him. This is far from the perfect Punisher movie, but it was an impressive start. I think if Thomas Jane had been given a second chance with the character (like we saw in the short film Dirty Laundry) this could have been a great series of films.
9 – X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
So many people love to put this at the top of their list of great comic movies, and I don’t entirely agree. It is a decent movie with some great action sequences, and I can’t express how much fun it was to see Blink in action. It’s only because of those attributes that I’m adding this to the list. It is by far the best film to show X-Men in action. In terms of the rest of the film, the logic is atrocious and the motivations of the characters feel inexplicable. For instance, Mystique’s turn from First Class to this film still baffles me. Maybe that’s in large part due to where they decided to start the character in the previous film, and that’s less a fault of this film. There are also far too many scenes that could’ve been saved for a director’s cut (or the about-to-be-released Rogue Cut) and would have helped this film have a better pace. This makes this list because if you can switch your mind off, this is a great popcorn/summer flick.
8 – Iron Man (2008)
This movie shouldn’t have worked. Iron Man is essentially a one note and boring character on his own. How he has survived all these years still somewhat intact is remarkable. To think that the one character trait that we all focus on with Iron Man (alcoholism) spanned only a few more issues than Hank Pym’s spousal abuse, and that these faults have defined what we think of the characters since kinda proves the point that they’re not great characters. With all that against Iron Man, this movie turned that character into a sardonic but loveable playboy billionaire who we were rooting for. That’s an impressive feat. So impressive that it launched a studio that in seven years has made movies grossing multiple billions of dollars.
7 – Blade 2 (2002)
While not really expanding into any comic book lore, this movie instead created its own and turned its back on its predecessor. All this in large part due to the amazing vision of director Guillermo del Toro. This movie isn’t good because it’s like the comics; it is good because it is nothing like the comics. There are great fight scenes, and some amazing stylized violence along with spectacular monster designs. This is the movie horror fans and action fans alike can enjoy. I’ll give in to the fact that the plot isn’t great and is basically a delivery device for the visuals, but that’s what you get in a del Toro film and why we all love him so much (perfect example: Pacific Rim).
6 – Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
1) I’m not on the anti-Tobey Maguire bandwagon, and 2) I’m not a fan of reboots. With those two things said, this movie is a phenomenal comic book film. While the 2001 Spider-Man’s origin was almost scene-for-scene the same origin as in the comics, this films origin story may be the best version of an updated origin ever told. It’s simplistic but emotional. It quickly captures the impact and reasoning of the origin without spending half of the movie retelling it (unlike what a certain superhero film this year did). It does a great job intertwining both the main continuity and the ultimate continuity into one cohesive tale which makes it open and accessible for all Spider-Man fans. The characterizations are all well captured, and best of all, in the tradition of another entry on this list, this film understands the tragic (not evil) nature of Spider-Man’s best villains. Sadly the successor to this film lost almost all the aspects of this film that made it work and I think retrospectively has sullied even the memory of this film in the minds of many fans. However, I think taken on its own this is a spectacular comic book movie.
5 – Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
This was another movie that shouldn’t have worked. After the failure of DC’s Green Lantern, the idea of doing a superhero movie is space was a foreboding premise. Not only that, but then to fill it with a team of characters that were only nominally familiar to most comic book fans unless you were into Marvel’s cosmic scene, was just another factor that made this movie a sure miss. On top of all that, then you get the writer/director of Tromeo & Juliet (a b-movie remake of Romeo & Juliet brought to you by the people who also brought you the Toxic Avenger) and you’re making a call that this film is sure to be both a critical and box office failure. Lastly, they cast the fat guy from Parks & Rec as the lead actor in this action packed film. What were they thinking? Well, apparently Marvel Studios knew something we didn’t or were willing to risk making a comic book cult movie on par with Howard the Duck, and everything worked out. What we got was a funny, action packed sci-fi film that connected with the audience. This movie became a box office and a critic success, and while this next part doesn’t entirely speak to the quality of the film, the soundtrack was certified platinum which is incredibly rare for any album any more. All around this movie was a huge success and proved that Marvel Studios might not be able to do any wrong in the eyes of the movie-goers.
4 – X-Men 2 (2003)
While the first X-Men film and the Spider-Man film were impressive and showed that finally comic books could be properly captured on screen, X2 was the movie I felt that finally showed the general public that comics were a source for great stories. What I mean by that is people finally started asking me about comics after seeing this movie. Friends wanted recommendations on where to start reading and what to read. My family looked at me understanding what this thing was I had been passionate about for the 22 years of life at this point. Maybe I’m wrong, but this is the point where I think people (the general public) saw that comics could be adult without being “mature” (to put it in comic terms). This movie (and in part Spider-Man 2) is vital in the fact that comic films today can be taken serious and are a sought after source of stories by studios.
3 – Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)
America cinema in general misses the ball in one huge area and this is straight up action sequences. As in Thor: The Dark World, it does a great job of creating inventive fight sequences using superpowers and special effects, but what is generally lacking is solid choreographed action that doesn’t cut every half second to a different angle to hide how little time they wish to spend properly filming said scene. Even the first Captain America film is incredibly guilty of this. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (apart from being a taut political thriller in the tradition of the best Tom Clancy could offer) has some of the best fight scenes an American movie has offered in a long time. They filmed them incredibly well on top of not relying completely upon dim lighting and jump cutting like some horror film. The major one, of course, is the middle of the road battle between the titular characters. This is why CA:TWS is so far up on the list. It’s just a great action film, and probably the best America has produced in many years. (And Jarid was in it.)
2 – Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Nominated for two Oscars, this is the only movie on the list to actually win an Oscar (Best Visual Effects), but was also one of the highest grossing movies of all time when it first debuted. I said that’s not how we’re grading these movies, but those thing matter for a reason. First, the most important factor for any superhero to be great is to have an equally great villain, and Doctor Octopus turns out to be cinematically brilliant. Not only was an actor of the highest caliber cast to play the role, but time was taken to show his connection to Peter Parker, his connection to Spider-Man, and how a man like that could turn and become insane. In comic book terms, in was completely logical. On top of that, director Sam Raimi was at the height of his game on this movie, creating what I still think is the greatest superhero/supervillain battle ever captured on screen with the epic train fight. Also the “awakening” of Doctor Octopus scene in the hospital was a fun throw back for all the many fans of Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy. To top all of that, my nephew thinks this is one of the greatest movies of all time apart from all the Star Wars and Jurassic Park movies, so it is obvious he has impeccable taste in cinema.
1 – Avengers (2012)
For starters this actually is still the highest grossing Marvel film of all time. Its sequel is tried to beat it, but it looks like it headed to Blu-ray before it crossed the line. What this movie did was something that no one thought was possible, which was take a team of huge characters on their own and manage to make them work on screen, each with their own subplots and character development and moments of action. This movie manages to balance that seemingly impossible feat while also in many ways staying true to the comics. More than any movie made to this day, this movie feels the most like a comic book came to life. This is the greatest Marvel movie. (And Jarid was in this one too.)