Comic book movies. They’re everywhere. With the MCU pumping out multiple films per year, and DC’s plan for their own cinematic universe in the works, there is seemingly no end to this world wide phenomenon. As for the MCU, as long as they can continue to make quality movies, I welcome the future. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice looks promising as well. Personally, I’ve been waiting to see the Justice League battle Darkseid on the big screen for many years. I hope that one day I will be able to.
Yet, there exists a wealth of overlooked comic book movies from both recent times and decades past that I believe deserve a place in the “best comic book movie evaarr” hierarchy. The following list will detail which films I think should be entered into the pantheon of some of the best comic book movies to date. There are some frontrunners, for sure, but some of these selections may seem odd to the more casual fan. Hopefully, this list will turn some readers onto some comic book movies that have since become lost in the vast sea of “mainstream” releases.
Well then, let’s get started shall we? (No serious spoilers contained within…seriously.)
6. Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)
Like I said, frontrunners. Now, this film wasn’t necessarily overlooked. In fact, it did quite well at the box office even though it stands as somewhat of a departure from the overall aesthetic of the MCU, specifically in the characters and humor department. Kids will enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy for its colorful characters like Rocket and Groot, while mom and dad can appreciate the adult-ish humor and bask in its wonderful soundtrack.
The reason I have selected Guardians of the Galaxy for this list is that it is somewhat of an underdog in that it is the only film released thus far in the MCU that does not feature a “fan favorite” character like Iron Man or Captain America. Nope, the Guardians are a rag-tag bunch of “idiots,” as Gamora so eloquently put it, who must learn to work together to overcome Ronan the Accuser. Each character has a stake in the mission however, which greatly enriches the story. Sound familiar? You bet it does. The first time I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, I could not help but be reminded of Star Wars. I suppose it’s the whole outlaws-in-space-battling-for-a-common-goal thing that gives the two films a similar quality. Not that that’s a bad thing at all. I believe it’s what sets Guardians of the Galaxy apart from the other films in the MCU, and it’s also what makes it my favorite cinematic offering from Marvel so far.
For me, the highlight of the film is Vin Diesel’s performance as Groot, the plant-like creature who represents the “life” of the group. While only speaking approximately three different words the entire movie, Groot manages to have as much character as any of the other Guardians. This can be attributed in part to Diesel’s performance, and upon watching the special features contained on the BluRay of Guardians of the Galaxy, this writer was surprised to see that very little post production work was done on Diesel’s voice.
With that out of the way, let’s shake things up a bit with the next entry.
5. Flash Gordon (1980)
Flash Gordon made his debut during the Golden Age of comics, and shortly after, his adventures were adapted into film serials. But it wasn’t until 1980 that the property was given the big screen treatment, which perhaps was due in part to the success of Richard Donner’s Superman in 1978. Enter Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon.
There is so much that I love about this film that it is difficult for me to squash it into just a few short paragraphs! From the cast, which includes Timothy Dalton of James Bond fame, to the costumes and amazing set designs, I truly believe that Flash Gordon deserves a great deal more than just cult status. There are some aspects of the film that will seem dated to younger viewers, such as some of the effects and fight choreography, but even in the flashy, CGI infested world of today’s cinema, those aspects do nothing to hurt this great film. In a particularly great scene early on, our hero Flash, who just also happens to be the quarterback of the New York Jets, takes on a group of Ming’s lackeys by attacking them with large egg-like objects that he uses as footballs. Genius.
Underneath the plot, which consists of Flash Gordon leading a revolt against the aforementioned Ming the Merciless, there are wonderful shades of comedy, while the outer shell of the film is glossed in a shiny, campy glaze (mmm donut). The camp does not overwhelm; instead, it brings the film to another level, and it is a pleasure to watch as Flash takes on each challenge as he oozes with gusto.
Lastly, the entire score was composed and performed by Queen. Need I say more? No, I don’t really have to, but I will. There is an execution scene in the film where the sounds of Brian May’s guitars cry out in triumph, creating a great contrasting use of music to paint an incredible portrait of fantasy at its most fun. Watch it!
Oh, and speaking of Richard Donner…
4. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006)
Released straight to DVD and BluRay in 2006, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (from here, we will refer to it as Superman II: TDC), was intended to give fans Richard Donner’s original vision of the sequel to 1978’s Superman before he was replaced by director Richard Lester mid-production. There is a great article here that describes the differences between the two films (ProTip: there are many).
What Superman II: TDC achieves is to close out the story initially introduced in the opening scene of Superman, in which Jor-El (Marlon Brando) banishes General Zod and his crew to the Phantom Zone shortly before Krypton’s destruction. Watching Donner’s version helps me ignore the subsequent and inferior sequels in the franchise.
What really stands out for me in this film is the late Christopher Reeve‘s performance, specifically when playing Clark Kent. Don’t get me wrong, Reeve also makes a great Superman, but this is where I believe he truly shines. The goofy, small town farm boy version of Kent is on full display here, especially in his scenes at the Daily Planet interacting with Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen (where was he in Man of Steel?), and Perry White. Reeve truly is a joy to watch. The film stands well on its own too, as there is a brief introduction recapping the events of the first film. In this way, even though Superman II: TDC is a sequel, it still manages to feel like its own, full movie.
A highlight of the film is during Superman’s battle with Zod in downtown Manhattan where Supes uses the side view mirror of a fuel truck to reflect Zod’s heat vision back towards him, scorching a large billboard in the process. The only part of the billboard that remains undamaged is a small portion behind Zod that reads “Cool it!” Nice touch!
For the second half of the list, I thought we’d darken things up a bit. Sound good?