Nobody would have believed you 20 years ago if you said that one day, masked men in tights would dominate the global box office. But as any certified
comic book nerd will tell you, it was bound to happen. With so many glorious heroes, villains, storylines, and climactic finales, adult picture books have become ground zero for blockbuster movies. Which means that words like “gyuff,” “pffft,” “zoink,” and “bamf” are perfectly acceptable things to say to your college professor. Today we celebrate the majesty of comic book flicks, from billion-dollar behemoths to arthouse spools, with the very best comic book movies of the last 20 years. Because comic books rule. Nuff said.
Cover Photo: Marvel Studios
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ranked 20 comic movies
20. 'Ant-Man' (2015)
Paul Rudd belongs in comic book movies, and thanks to the success of the genre, perennial benchwarmer hero Ant-Man got a chance to strut his stuff with wisecracking Rudd at the wheel. Special effects have come far enough in the last decade to do Ant-Man's perspective-warping adventures justice, and together with the jaunty tone of Rudd, delivered one of the surprise winners of recent years.
19. 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' (2010)
Comic books are more than just superheroes and villains duking it out with capes on. Comic books are about everything under the sun. One unique and idiosyncratic example is Edgar Wright's zany film,
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. As a small-town band battles to rule the music scene, bassist Scott Pilgrim fends off his new crush's army of ex-boyfriends as they attempt to thwart their burgeoning romance. Wright employs his frenzied filmmaking style to create (with the help of Beck and other fine musicians) an energetic foray into the world of garage rock and teenage angst.
18. '300' (2006)
Visuals don't get much crisper than this. With the sophistication of green screen technology, creators were able to rip panels straight from the comics and plop them right onto the big screen with devastating results.
Sin City began the trend in 2005, and the following year, 300 followed suit in full-blown color. All we can say is...wow.
17. 'Logan' (2017)
Logan is dark. Graphic. And made for grown-ass adults. The story of Wolverine is a tragic one and this movie pulls zero punches bringing the grim reality of his life to the screen. Spinoffs are usually cause for concern, but in this case, it insists there is sometimes light at the end of that tunnel.
16. 'Deadpool' (2016)
If campy and ridiculous is your thing,
Deadpool is your movie. Handsome clown Ryan Reynolds is not encumbered in the least by the mask and tights. His barbs and zingers fly like hot cakes from the over-the-top violence of Deadpool's sizzling skillet. I guess what we're saying is that Deadpool is the guilty, greasy spoon, hangover breakfast of comic book movies that will leave you feeling satisfied and slightly gassy.
15. 'Avengers: Endgame' (2019)
Building a universe takes time. Juggling that entire universe in one epic movie takes skill. The Russo brothers, with writing assists from veterans Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus, skillfully spin a yarn as stacked as it gets, managing to craft a big time bonanza of Marvel madness in a tight, entertaining package.
14. 'Captain America: The First Avenger' (2011)
Who doesn't love a WWII movie with classic cars, ballroom swing music, and heaping spoonfuls of patriotism? Add in a little Stanley Tucci and you have yourself a winner. Steve Roger's origin story is loaded with clever VFX, Nazi takedowns, and aw-shucks can-do charm, nicely capturing the uni-dimensional heart and soul of Captain America. Plus, we get a glimpse of the Tesseract and a chance for Hugo Weaving to churn out more villainy badness.
13. 'Kick-Ass' (2010)
Not your average superhero movie,
Kick-Ass opened the door for comic book movies to be lighthearted, un-fantastic, and self-aware. The can-of-worms dialogue and oddball characters (not to mention the hilariously plausible setup) add up to one helluva ride. Did we mention Nicolas Cage is in it?
12. 'Ghost World' (2001)
We know what you're thinking. This isn't a comic book movie! Au contraire, the collection of serialized comics released in 1997 was adapted for the big screen by indie guru Terry Zwigoff. Before she was Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson apathetically bopped around with gal pal Thora Birch as they navigated the swirling waters of life on the brink of adulthood. Did we mention Steve Buscemi is in it?
11. 'X2: X-men United' (2003)
Nightcrawler's infiltration of the Oval Office is probably still the greatest opening sequence of any comic book movie ever made. The special effects are smooth and mind-blowingly real and perfectly showcase a mutant's abilities. It's a high point that carries through the rest of the movie, even if the following 120 minutes don't hold a torch to it. If they had,
X2 would be the best Marvel movie of all time, and the movie the X-Men sorely deserve.
10. 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' (2017)
The title says it all. Our friendly neighborhood Spiderman finally got back to his roots when Tom Holland and team nailed Spiderman's youthful exuberance and humor with the lovely
Spider-Man: Homecoming. The willfulness and inexperience of Holland's Peter Parker captures what life must have been like for Spider-Man in the early days. And with cameos from Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr., and a deliciously wicked turn from Michael Keaton, what's not to love?
9. 'Guardians of the Galaxy' (2014)
Indiana Jones, part Firefly, part... Parks and Rec? Who knew a story involving space raccoons and non-verbal homunculi would be so popular? With a rocking soundtrack, a gaggle of hilarious villains, spaceships and lasers, and Chris Pratt at his A-game finest, the movie entertains and delights from start to finish. It's even the kind of thing your comic-book-hating-girlfriend might enjoy. Just saying.
8. 'Black Panther' (2018)
Black Panther was cool. Black Panther was fun. And Black Panther was woke (for a Marvel movie). But then remembering it within the context of a giant Disney machine, the buzz starts to lose some of its authenticity. That said, it succeeds on other fronts. With a strong performance from Michael Boseman, incredible production design, great use of isiXhosa, and the introduction of Wakanda women, the film brought a dazzling and badly needed new dimension to the Marvel landscape. And if we're lucky, Black Panther 2 will go even further with it.
7. 'The Avengers' (2012)
On paper, the Avengers aren't nearly as cool as the X-Men. But owing to a strong cast, the brilliance of Robert Downey Jr., and Joss Whedon's studied hand,
The Avenger's brought large-scale comic book motifs to life like never before. For once the stakes were huge. For the first time it really felt like planet Earth was on the chopping block. Thankfully, Iron Man and his posse were there to save the day, all while entertaining the bejeezus out of billions of earthlings.
6. 'Iron Man' (2008)
Who knew the director of
Swingers and a recovering drug addict would be responsible for building a comic book empire? Iron Man surprised and delighted audiences everywhere when it came out, with its honest storytelling and disarming blend of one-liner sarcasm and extreme pathos. The recipe was popcorn dynamite and lit the fuse on what would become the most successful franchise in movie history, with a MCU that keeps expanding faster than a belt buckle at Thanksgiving dinner.
5. 'Batman Begins' (2005)
Chris Nolan's reboot of the caped crusader makes Tim Burton's incarnation look like a silly box of potpourri. Obviously the influence of Frank Miller's seminal contribution to the franchise helped establish the tone and feel. But recognizing the genius of the source material in itself was an act of wisdom. Combine that with a stellar performance by Christian Bale, and suddenly comic book movies had elevated to the level of art.
4. 'V For Vendetta' (2005)
The first time you watch
V For Vendetta, it can be a little disappointing. Considering it came out the same year as Sin City and Batman Begins, the experience doesn't come off quite as thrilling or action-packed as you'd expect. But given another chance, the film reveals hidden charms. It becomes a balanced stroll through a dystopian park that's as lean as any film like it. Methodically paced and tonally rich, this Wachowski-penned revolutionist flick has proved itself to be a sturdy gem that's inspired a generation.
3. 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' (2018)
Cartoons have always been able to do what live-action has only recently achieved: a limitless embrace of the visual imagination.
Into The Spider-Verse takes that freedom and runs with it, letting us swing around New York in a totally immersive way. The feel of the film is as comic book as anything we've seen, combining digitally sculpted 3D, 2D, and hand-drawn animation to create a fantastic cohesion. But beyond the killer visuals, the movie is populated with dynamic characters who borrow from great moments of Spidey lore while creating something wholly modern. The movie also bends the rules of the MCU in boundary pushing ways, all the while having something important to say. It's a film that soars in every sense of the word, and is arguably the best Spider-Man movie ever made.
2. 'Sin City' (2005)
Shot for shot renditions of beloved graphic novels once seemed impossible until Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller achieved parity with
Sin City. It might seem like this would be a limiting way to make a film, but when the source material is as good as this, sticking to the script is the right way to go. Dirty, dangerous, raw, and violent, Sin City brought excitement, grit, and adult respect to the format.
1. 'The Dark Knight' (2005)
The builder's stone of modern DC comics, this legendary storyline is the one we were all waiting for. And when
The Dark Knight finally hit theaters in 2008, no one was disappointed. Going darker, madder, and more chaotic, the second installment in Nolan's Batman trilogy brought us one of the greatest screen villains of all time. Forget popcorn. Forget witty banter. Forget fun little Easter eggs and shots at redemption. The Dark Knight brought the nightmare of Gotham City to the big screen as perfectly as it has ever been realized. Canon.