Sunday, 17 May 2020

17 Comic-Book Movies Deserving A Watch

For better or worse, comic-books are often seen as synonymous with superheroes. While these creations are some of the most popular examples, they're far from all the medium has to offer. The creativity, style, and imagination on offer fit a variety of genres, from down to earth experiences, to 
more fantastical ideas. I have composed this list of some of the more underrated examples of comic-book movies, which deserve to been seen by more people.




This list won't contain the big suspects from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the DC Extended Universe, but hopefully there'll be something for anybody reading to give a go.




The Adventures of Tintin (2011)


Two decades after making Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, Steven Spielberg directed a feature worthy of following in the famed archaeologists adventures, and it didn't star Harrison Ford. Based on the Belgian comics by Hergé, the films follows young reporter, Tintin, who gets drawn into a centuries-old mystery. Aided by his loyal dog, Snowy, and the cantankerous Captain Haddock, they travel around the world to find a fortune which may lay on a sunken ship, called the Unicorn. Spielberg's return to blockbuster film-making wraps a fun adventure around an engaging mystery, as wonderful set-pieces and great characterisation are balanced rather well. All of which is brought alive by impressive motion-capture technology, making for an underrated entry into the directors filmography.



Akira (1988)

Akira Bike Slide Homage | Akira, Akira manga, Akira anime

Katsuhiro Otomo adapts the first half of his landmark manga series, also named Akira, which are condensed into an explosive and imaginative 124 minutes. Set in a dystopian 2019, a secret military project transformers a biker named Tetsuo into a powerful psychic on a rampage. Posing a threat to the city of Neo-Tokyo, stopping him is up to his childhood friend, Kaneda, and a group of psychics. From the oft-imitated bike slide, this is a rightfully influential film which holds up to this day, as the visually spectacular chaos is grounded by the long-friendship at its core. A live-action adaptation has been in the works since 2002, when Warner Bros acquired the rights through a seven-figure deal. The project has been offered to numerous directors, including George Miller and Jordan Peele, and came close with the hiring of Taika Waititi. With the director opting to return to the Thor franchise, it's back to the drawing board for the live-action film, but there's always this fantastic animation.


Batman: Under The Red Hood (2010)


Among DC's animated original films, this ranks as one of their best efforts. A vigilante called Red Hood comes to Gotham City, intent on cleaning up crime through murderous methods. This puts him at odds with Batman, while making the Dark Knight face his greatest failure as a hero. Writer Judd Winick adapts his tale, Batman: Under the Hood, for a gripping story which tackles the characters ethical code, especially in the face of personal loss, while being powered by heartbreaking characterisation.


Constantine (2005)


If you're looking for faithfulness to the DC character, Matt Ryan's portrayal within the Arrowverse may be what you're looking for. Keanu Reeves may not play the role as blonde or British, but that doesn't detract from how convincing he is as the character, in the midst of this fascinating feature. This neo-noir tale is rooted in demons, exorcisms, and the occult, and director Francis Lawrence ensures the gripping story moves along at a decent pace, right up to the low-key finale.


The Crow (1994)


One year after he and his fiancee are murdered, Eric Draven returns from the grave, intent on taking revenge against the gang who ended their lives. The original story was a personal work of James O'Barr, who made it as a form of catharsis, after his fiancee was killed by a drunk driver. The pain and anguish poured into the story and art made for something powerful, which was very well represented in the feature film, but the tragedy also extended to the film, as star Brandon Lee sadly lost his life in an on-set accident. What's left is a sad reminder of the career which could've been, as he captures the tragic heart of the story so very well, amongst a captivating story that's an excellent entry into the action-revenge genre.


The Death of Stalin (2017)


Based on a series of French comics, Armando Iannucci depicts the frantic power struggle over Soviet leadership, in the aftermath of Josef Stalin's death. Over the ensuing 106 minutes, we bear witness to a comedic farce, a dark history lesson, and a compelling power play, all rolled into a single package. On top of that, we have a stranger than fiction tale about dictatorship, and how it affects those under it's thumb, which seems ever more relevant in these times. Central to it are a stellar cast, as a chilling Simon Russell Beale and an exceptional Steve Buscemi race to outwit each other, while Jason Isaacs steals the film from under them.


The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)


Adapting Phoebe Gloeckner's semi-autobiographical graphic novel, Marielle Heller brings to screen a raw depiction of burgeoning sexuality. Bel Powley brilliantly portrays 15 year old Minnie Goetze, an aspiring comic-book artist who enters into a sexual relationship with Monroe, the mid-30s boyfriend of her mother. Far from exploitative, this topic is sensitively handled by all involved. Crucially, it a approaches the story without judgement upon our lead, while never downplaying the severity of the situation.


Dredd (2012)


After the unfavourable response to 1995's Judge Dredd, it must've felt like that was it for John Wagner's character getting a big screen adaptation. The efforts of Alex Garland and Pete Travis proved otherwise, offering a pared down take on the character, free of the decades of character history. It follows a day in the life of the eponymous judge, jury, and executioner, as he's paired up with a rookie Judge, and the pair fight their way up a 200 story block of flats, to stop a drug lord. Karl Urban conveys so much with only half of his face on-show, while delivering the deadpan laughs. On the opposing side is Lena Headey, giving a gleefully horrific performance as Ma Ma, who will stop at nothing to protect her empire. A pulse-pounding action film which doesn't hold back, and properly utilises slow-motion effects, to effects which are both gorgeous and gory.


Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)

Green Lantern: First Flight - Movies on Google Play


An early showcase among their Animated Original Movies, this is a pleasant reminder of how DC was once considered a heavy hitter on this front. Before Ryan Reynolds portrayed Hal Jordan, Law & Order: SVU's Christopher Meloni gave his voice to portraying Hal Jordan, the test pilot who finds himself recruited into the Green Lantern Corps. DC stalwart Lauren Montgomery captures the intergalactic police vibe very well, working within the overall scope which is wonderfully realised, with thanks to the terrific animation style.


Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)


While the first feature adaptation of Hellboy was a more grounded affair, complete with Agent Meyers serving as an entry point for viewers, the sequel feels like Guillermo Del Toro was given free reign. Working off an original story he concocted with creator Mike Mignolia, this sequel sees an evil prince breaking an ancient pact between humans and creatures, and sets out to release The Golden Army, whose destructive power can annihilate the human race. Naturally, it's up to Hellboy and his crew to stop him, but the story throws up interesting questions, asking what their actions are truly worth, when it's in service of people who respond with such disdain and hatred of those who are different. There's also a tremendous imagination on display, with a set-piece surrounding a rampaging beanstalk being an utter highlight. But at it's core, this is a film about its characters, and be it through a drunken sing-a-long, or the action scenes, it depicts these moments so wonderfully.


Kick-Ass (2010)


Years before Deadpool gave us a pointed satire at superheroes, Matthew Vaughn did wonderful work with this feature adaptation of Mark Millar's comic-book. The story sees high-school student Dave Lizewski decide to become a superhero, despite not having any powers, training, or real reason to do so. Calling himself "Kick-Ass", he goes viral after saving somebody from a gang-attack, but he gets drawn into a bigger fight involving real heroes. As an action-comedy, it's a wonderful blend of thrilling violence and humorous beats, which gets turned up a notch with the introduction of real superheroes. The father-daughter duo of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl make the best parts of this film, with Nicolas Cage delivering one of his best performances by channelling Adam West's turn as the Caped Crusader.


The Mask (1994)


The career of Jim Carrey exploded in the year 1994, when three of his best-known films were released within that same year. Book-ended by his starring roles in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber, there was the film which earned Carrey his first Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. A loose adaptation of the Dark Horse Comics title, The Mask follows timid bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss, whose life changes when he wears the mystical Mask of Loki. It transforms him into a supernatural playboy, out to do the things Stanley cannot, while contending with a crime lord. A hilarious film which makes the most of its imaginative premise, helped by Carrey's madcap energy, and a winning performance by Cameron Diaz (in her first feature role!).


Road to Perdition (2002)


A story about fathers and sons, told within the confines of a gangster movie, this early 2000's gem deserves to be seen by more people. Mike Sullivan works as a hit-man for a crime boss he considers a father figure, but after his son is witness to a killing, Mike and his son go on the run, to save the latter's life from the crime boss' goons. At the same time, Mike is intent on taking revenge against those who've wronged him. Tom Hanks is known for essentially being the kindly father figure, representing the best ideals we wish to see in people, so seeing him portray an intimidating hit-man is a shock, but it helps that he's so believable in the role. Acting opposite a young Tyler Hoechlin (now playing Superman in the CW's DC shows), they wonderfully capture this father and son who've felt so distant from each other, and through horrible circumstances, finally get to have a heart to heart, and understand each other. A powerhouse of emotions, with tense sequences to boot.


Speed Racer (2008)


After making a killing with The Matrix trilogy, Lana and Lilly Wachowski were brought on-board to realise a live-action adaptation of Speed Racer. What could've been a churned out product to capitalise on a known brand name is anything but, as the backbone of the story focuses on real-world topics, such as corruption and match-fixing within sports. As such aspects costs the life of a famous racer, his younger brother (the eponymous Speed) teams up with police and the mysterious Racer X, in order to bring an end to such illegal activities. Surrounding all of this is a visual feast which feels utterly ambitious, breathing life into the big racing spectacles just as much as into the smallest moments. If you can get get on the wavelength of this story, then you'll be rewarded with something that feels so one of a kind, that it's no wonder the film is getting rediscovered over a decade after its release.


Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)


Beginning as a horror anthology series published by EC Comics in the 1950s, Tales From The Crypt was turned into a long-running HBO TV series in the late 80's. The popularity led to a screenplay being retooled into the first Tales From The Crypt feature film, which carried the self-contained horror spirit, while never feeling like an overlong episode of the series. The story sees Frank Brayker on the run, tasked with protecting a valuable artefact from demonic clutches. This leads him to a boarding house, where he and the residents are beset by The Collector, who intends to get the artefact through whatever demonic means possible. What Ernest Dickerson delivers is a supernatural siege flick, orchestrated by the devilishly entertaining Billy Zane, which balances the horrific and the comedic so very well. With how expansive this mythology feels, there's enough potential within this story for a Mad Max style series, with the Demon Knight helping out different people. It's a shame this didn't happen, but at least we have this one film.


Teen Titans Go! To The Movies (2018)

Teen Titans GO! To The Movies - Official Trailer 1 [HD] - YouTube

In the midst of the recent superhero boom, it's easy for some films not part of a cinematic universe to slip through the cracks. It's a shame that this expansion of the long-running Teen Titans Go! animated series is one such overlooked gem, as it's a knowingly witty take on the genre, told with great reverence. Where else would you get such deep cut references as Detective Chimp, or Challengers of the Unknown? The shorthand comparison for this is a family friendly Deadpool, but that feels a bit of a limiting comparison. While it skews to a younger audience, that doesn't mean it's only for those whose age is in single digits. It has such bite, unafraid to go to some very dark places, and is all the funnier for it. Good luck getting the earworm songs out of your head, also.



Turtles Forever (2009)

Turtles Forever (2009)

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the heroes in a half shell, this made for TV animated film is a wonderful colliding of the characters, throughout their many iterations. The characters from the darker 2003 series meet up with their counterparts from the massively popular 80s show, and that sets up the fun which comes from crossing over these worlds. Through contrasting the tones, and especially the different versions of The Shredder, we get a loving tribute to these iconic turtles, throughout their many forms. There's even time to acknowledge the darker roots of these characters, which were born out of Mirage Studios.



Agree/disagree with any of these inclusions? Interested in checking out any of the suggestions I made? Sound off below.

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