We are living in the age of the comic book film. In the last decade, superhero movies have taken over the box office, bringing the comic books of our childhood — or for some of us, adulthood — to life like never before. With the 2013 release of the new Superman film, “Man of Steel,” let’s celebrate eight movies that capture the spirit of comic books and make us even more excited for the superhero films to come.
8. “Superman: The Movie” (1978)
The only way to start this countdown right is with a Superman film, or more specifically, the greatest of all Superman films, so far that is. “Superman: The Movie” set the stage for all comic book blockbusters. It all begins with the hero’s origin story, spanning his life from Krypton native to Daily Planet writer, culminating in the struggle against his arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor. Christopher Reeves was superman, capturing the essence of the hero as he grows up in the American heartland. “Superman: The Movie” is a terrific statement on humanity; that it’s not up to a hero to change the world, but it’s up to the rest of us. The film captures what it means to be a superhero, and it features no CGI, just pure movie magic.
Best Scene: When Superman rescues Lois Lane from the helicopter and does his first shirt reveal. Set to the musical stylings of John Williams, it gets me every time.
7. “Spider-Man II” (2004)
The first in our series of comic book sequels that soars past its predecessor: Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man II.” We find our hero, Peter Parker, in a dark place, trying to balance his normal life with his calling as New York’s defender against evil. But things get complicated quickly when Parker befriends Doctor Octavius. Alfred Molina kills it as the tragically sympathetic villain with sentient robotic arms, because moral ambiguity is so in right now. “Spider-Man II” serves as the perfect sequel and one of the most fully-realized, comic book-faithful films to date. The film also offers old-school Raimi fans an “Evil Dead” homage in the operating scene, and it breaks the good movie = bad video game rule. “Spider-Man II” is a GameCube/PS2 classic. We can only pray that history repeats itself with Andrew Garfield’s spidey sequel.
6. “Watchmen” (2009)
It’s 1985 in an alternative U.S., where the streets run rampant with crime and corruption and our country is on the brink of war with Russia. With the doomsday clock closer than ever to striking midnight, our unlikely band of heroes, the watchmen, take matters into their own gloved hands. Zack Snyder, director of “Man of Steel,” brings the immortal graphic novel to life. Snyder captures the book’s dark brilliance and social commentary, but the film does best when it focuses on its six main characters. The watchmen serve as a team of anti-avengers who come out of retirement to track down the masked assassin taking out their superhero friends. Jackie Earle Haley commands his scenes as the supremely satisfying Rorschach, and Patrick Wilson nails his role as the charmingly vulnerable Nite Owl. “Watchmen” has long been considered unfilmable, since doing such a legendary book screen justice is a feat many films fail to do (The Great Gatsby.) So check it out before everyone sees “Man of Steel” and liking Zack Snyder becomes cool.
Best Scene: The opening credit sequence: a black-and-white montage of the crime-fighting league’s evolution over Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin.'” Gotta love that.
5. “X2: X-Men United” (2003)
Three years after “X-Men,” director Bryan Singer bestows unto us “X2: X-Men United,” a tour-de-force that improves on the first movie in every way. When Colonel Stryker wants to wipe out the entire mutant race — the guy has some complicated father-son issues — the mutants band together to fight back. Along the way, Wolverine, Mystique and their gifted friends are given depth and pathos on their journey of self-discovery. The film is a statement on the burden of super-heroism and the social consequences of growing up in a world where you don’t belong. “X2” is a perfect superhero film, with no shortage of unforgettable characters, stunts and mutant-on-mutant romance. And the claws-vs.-claws fight scene between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike took three weeks to film. Worth every minute.
Best Scene: The opener, in which Nightcrawler goes on a White House ass-whooping rampage. It’s the best opening scene in a comic book movie, claws down. Also, shout-out to the equally-enjoyable “X-Men: First Class.” Both are must-see films.
4. “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” (2010)
Meet Scott Pilgrim. He’s 22, plays bass guitar, and he’s “in between” jobs, wandering the menacing streets of Toronto trying to figure it all out. But things change when Scott, played by Michael Cera, hopelessly falls for Ramona Flowers, a mysterious girl with a dark past. Hint: it involves more pissed musician/actor ex-boyfriends than Taylor Swift has. Scott’s life goes from battle of the bands to battle of the exes as he has to fight for Ramona’s love, literally. Director Edgar Wright, who brought us “Shaun of The Dead,” “Hot Fuzz” and “Spaced,” is known for playing with genre conventions. Here, he brings comic books, video games and endless pop culture references together to create something amazing. Each scene feels like a comic book chapter, and the plot is structured like a video game, where Scott defeats an evil ex at the end of every level. The film features classic comic book gfx and even sound bytes from games like Streetfighter and Sonic The Hedgehog. It’s the comic book movie for the Nintendo generation, for the moping, angsty ’90s slacker in all of us. Chris Evans is better in this as an evil ex than he is in “Captain America.” And Wright will be joining the marvel universe soon; he’s set to direct “Act Man” in 2015. Can’t wait.
Best Scene: Scott Pilgrim defeats Todd the Vegan. It’s a victory over vegans everywhere.
3. “Iron Man” (2009)
No one knew what to expect that fateful first week of May when “Iron Man” hit theaters. But critics, movie-goers and comic book junkies alike were blown away. The true hero of the film is Jon Favreau, who rose from directing “Elf” and writing “Swingers” into directorial greatness. Favreau stayed faithful to the source material and took a serious risk in casting Robert Downey Jr, a 40-plus actor, as the lead. But the movie turned out pure gold, or you know, pure iron. “Iron Man” revived Downey’s career and launched the Marvel universe onto the big screen. “Iron Man” may be the best origin story superhero movie, and definitely one of the finest comic book films to date.
Best Scene: That entire first hour of the film where Iron Man builds his suit in Afghanistan. Legendary.
2. “The Dark Knight” (2008)
So much has been said about Christopher Nolan’s unforgettable Batman sequel. A superhero film is only as good as its villain, and when you have the best super-villain role of all time, the hype is completely warranted. For an epic 150 minutes, Batman navigates Gotham and his own moral maze, trying to save his city, its mayor and himself from darkness. “The Dark Knight” is the best film on this list, no question, but when it comes to comic book movies, it isn’t the genre’s best. “The Dark Knight” isn’t necessarily just a “a comic book movie” — it’s a crime-drama that sheds the confines of the source material. But that’s what makes it so incredible. “The Dark Knight” is one of the defining films of the 2000s and it also marks one of the finest film trilogies in Hollywood history.
Best Scene: The joker interrogation scene, where the police set aside good cop/bad cop for some good cop/batman. Great stuff.
1. “Marvel’s The Avengers” (2012)
After years of anticipation and four solo superhero franchises in the making, Marvel brought us “The Avengers” — and the world of comic book movies would never be the same. As the film’s release date approached, critics and fans said it couldn’t be done. But from the incredible ensemble cast to the razor-sharp script, Joss Whedon made the impossible happen. While “The Dark Knight” showed us what a comic book movie could be, “The Avengers” represents what it should be. “The Avengers” is the paramount comic book film, the peak of a genre that is just entering its golden age. It’s revolutionary yet instantly classic, a film for Stan Lee fans and movie-lovers alike. And as the third highest-grossing film of all time, “The Avengers” is the new generation’s 1978 “Superman,” bringing this list full circle. In a world of great comic book movies, “The Avengers” emerges as the greatest. And with “Thor: The Dark Warrior” being released in 2014, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” in 2014 and “The Avengers 2” in 2015, the best may be yet to come.
Best Scene: Tough to choose, but the hulk (the film’s unlikely MVP) slamming Loki on the ground is an instant classic in itself.