The 10 best comic book adaptations

Joseph Fahim
12 Min Read

What makes comic-book film adaptations so popular? Simply, they re the ultimate medium for escapism. More important though, the adaptations resemble a postcard from the viewer s childhood or adolescence when all these different stories founded a strange, exciting world many have resided in.

The majority of the films presented in this list are produced in this decade when adaptations have finally fulfilled the expectations of comic fans and started to compete with the best of current world-class dramas. New future entries might see changes in the list later; for now though, here are the best comic-book adaptations of all time.

10) X2 (2003). Based on Marvel s X-Men, created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.

After introducing his characters in the first film, independent director Bryan Singer ( The Usual Suspects ) produced a sequel with thrilling action sequences (the Nightcrawler presidential assassination attempt) and expanded further on the series themes of racism and bigotry. Funny, entertaining, touching and highly philosophical, X2 perfectly combined the thought-provoking depths of the original source material with grand spectacles appeasing to both the hardcore fans and ordinary audiences.

9) Superman (1978). Based on: DC Comics Superman, Created by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel.Forget last year s emotional mushy so-called revival of the franchise; the essential Superman remains the original Richard Donner directed movie.

The film s special effects have dated badly yet the movie never failed to suspend belief through the years. Reeve is both serious and witty as the most iconic of all superheroes and the chemistry between him and Margot Kidder is still dazzling. Unlike Superman Returns, the first installment of the series never takes itself too seriously making the film a pure delight.

8) Akira (1988). Based on Ôtomo s comic Akira. Akira was the film that brought the world s attention to the alternative universe of Animies (Japanese animated movies).

Akira contains an elusive, post-modern plot about a member of a bike-gang who set off for a destructive quest in search of a mysterious mystical being called Akira after the greedy, corrupt government secretly operates on him, unleashing unforeseen superpowers in the process. Taking place in nuclear-torn future neo-Tokyo, Akira is filled with morally ambivalent characters, nudity, upsetting violence and major political and religious undertones.

It s also a visually stunning film filled with explosions of colors and beautifully drawn images. American animations are yet to produce a film half as ambitious as Akira.

7) Sin City (2005). Based on Frank Miller s Sin City graphic novel series.Robert Rodriguez highly stylized version of Miller s pulp-noir is a triumph in visual filmmaking and the most faithful adaptation of a comic book.

Both the film and novels are an exercise in style-over-substance indeed and shades of misogyny (almost all female characters are either prostitutes or strippers) are quite obvious. Nevertheless, when such a style is so distinctive and unique, these narrative flaws are totally forgivable.

The film is noir with capital N. It is shot in all black and white and the bold framing of comic books is emphasized within every scene to produce a film that feels like homage to the noir-films of 40s on steroids.

6) Batman Begins (2005). Based on DC Comics Batman, created by Bob Kane.It took Warner Brothers 28 years to produce the first definitive Batman film. After Joel Schumacher put the final nail in the series coffin with the travesty that was Batman & Robin; gifted young director Christopher Nolan ( Memento ) resurrected the franchise by directing a character study hiding in a cloak of an action flick.

The chief problem with the first caped-crusader films is that most viewers couldn t empathize with a character that happens to be an attractive millionaire who basically has everything any man could wish for. In Begins, we finally come to understand the anguish and hurt tormenting Bruce Wayne and the reasons why he chose to select such a less-traveled path. Batman Begins is a dark entertainment with an A-class cast headed by the former American Psycho Christian Bale who brings nuance and unobtrusive poignancy to a character we never truly knew.

5) A History of Violence (2005). Based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke.Canada s greatest filmmaker David Cronenberg used a psychologically-simplistic novel to craft one of the best films about nature of violence, its actual implications and the instinctive attraction to blood-shed.

The film revolves around a restaurant owner whose dark past is unveiled when he heroically saves his waitress from two cold-blooded murderers. Unlike standard comic-book fares, Cronenberg s action sequences are excessively violent yet stimulating. The consequences of this violence are nothing but revolting though and Cronenberg never gives full revelations of the motivations lurking behind his characters actions. A History of Violence is an atypical comic-book adaptation with a depth and seriousness rarely found in most of the genre s outcomes.

4) American Splendor (2003). Based on the autobiographical series by Harvey Pekar.In 1975, Harvey Pekar, an average clerk at Cleveland hospital, decided to write a comic-book based on his ordinary life that became a cult smash and granted him a regular fixture with talk show host David Letterman. American Splendor is the plot-free chronicle of Pekar s life that celebrates his bitterness, humor and ordinariness.

The highly original and artful film amalgamates Pekar s life and his books with footage of the real Pekar along with his eccentric wife Joyce and his friends. Paul Giamatti (Sideways) is side-splitting and tragic as a man who eventually realizes that his sad, little life is richer than the tens of novels cramming his house.

3) Ghost World (2001). Based on Fantagraphics Ghost World, created by Daniel Clowes.The imaginative tale of the everyday life of two young female misfits (Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson) is arguably the greatest underground comic-book adaptation to date.

Cynical, funny, distressing and utterly heartbreaking, Ghost World captures the confusion and lethargy of post-high school life and the beginning of adulthood. While (Rebecca) Johansson character sinks slowly into tedious meaninglessness of the real world, the quirky Enid (an outstanding Birch) chooses instead to hang around with a hapless, lonely record-collector (played by the underrated Steve Buscemi) who shares her loneliness and peculiarity.

Ghost World is about alienated people trying to find their place in the world. By the end of the film, you ll be yearning to embrace the characters, comfort them and inform them they re not truly alone.

2) Oldboy (2003). Based on the graphic novel by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi.South-Korean director Park Chan-Wook outraged the world with his second part of the vengeance trilogy that boasted extreme, graphic scenes featuring a long uninterrupted shot of the protagonist fighting a gang with hammer, eating a live octopus and cutting his own tongue.

Beyond all the gore lies a Shakespearian tragedy of a regular man embarking on revenge spree to uncover the identity of the captors who inexplicably abducted and imprisoned him in a hotel room for 15 years.

Chan-Wook brings his visual flare to the uncompressing story that explores the notions of forgiveness, responsibility and redemption. It s is also a film about how thoughtless actions can inflict the uttermost of pain upon another person; how we can easily destroy life of others without even realizing it. Oldboy is a film of raw emotions where violence is a demonstration of the leading character s rage, desperation and search for a stolen purpose. Chan-Wook s poetic sadism is dreadfully engaging and somber and despite the brutality he projects upon his viewers, he still manages to keep you clutching to the edge of your seat till the very surprising end.

1) S
pider-Man 2 (2004). Based on Marvel s Spider-Man, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.The best comic-book adaptation is a film with a big heart, straightforward story and great characters. Director Sam Raimi, of the low-budgeted The Evil Dead horror films has created an intimate, heart-warming love story in an epic scale.

The reason why Peter Parker is the most beloved superhero is because he s the kind-hearted normal kid with a persona that is not miles away from the millions of his fans. His superpowers have become a curse instead of bliss. He s still struggling with money, his career is suffering, his good deeds are never appreciated by his city and the responsibilities his powers demands are keeping him from his secret love, Mary-Jane. Is it worth being good? The sensible answer is, not really, and he soon grasps this fact.

The dilemmas Parker faces are universal conflicts most of us struggle with everyday and Raimi refuses to give his hero a break. That s why, when the ending finally comes, a spine-tingling sense of release is induced and a lasting feeling of pure joy unexpectedly washes away any kind of sorrow the viewers may have held before watching the film.

Spider-Man 2 is the best comic-book adaptation as it fulfills the dream of every fan of the web-slinger of doing the right thing, saving the day and getting the girl. The bar has been raised up high and Spidy 3 will have a lot to live up to.

For a full review of Spider-Man 3, make sure to check next week s The Reel Estate.

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