Weekend Roundtable: Best and Worst Comic Book Movies

When I first sent out this week’s Roundtable topic to the staff, it was intended as a tie-in with the theatrical release of ‘The Green Hornet‘, which I had in my head as a comic book movie. As some of you probably already realize, it turns out that ‘Green Hornet’ is actually based on a radio serial. D’oh! There’s no excuse for me to not know that. Ah well, the character has also had a comic book over the years, and the movie certainly looks comic book-ish. And anyway, I can just say that we’re doing a tie-in with ‘The Cape‘ (which is a TV show, not a movie, and isn’t based on a real comic). Whatever, screw it. It’s done now. So, here’s our look at the Best and Worst comic book movies.

Dick Ward

  1. Best:Watchmen‘ – I loved ‘Sin City‘ and I marveled at ‘300‘, but no comic book movie had me more invested than ‘Watchmen’. It’s an absolutely brilliant film from start to end, and one of the few comic book movies where I actually approve of the changes made to the story. ‘Watchmen’ is equal parts drama and action, and does everything I’ve ever wanted a comic book movie to do. It takes the format seriously, and lovingly recreates the book with great respect. It also features what I consider to be one of the best openings in a movie – a brief look at history in the world of the Watchmen set to Bob Dylan.
  2. Worst:Catwoman‘ – As silly as the portrayal of the character was in ‘Batman Returns‘, the Halle Berry version of ‘Catwoman’ is worse. She’s more like “Pumawoman” than Catwoman. She has super powers for some stupid reason, including telescopic vision….just like a cat. What? The worst of it all is that Catwoman is actually a really interesting character with a lot of potential. Selina Kyle is a cat burglar – hence the name – who manages to have tremendous success as an international criminal without any super powers. She’s fascinating! She could even be in a ‘Batman’ movie as a romantic interest, since for some reason he has to have one in every film. Of course, while the public still remembers ‘Catwoman’, we’re not likely to see a new film.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

  1. Best:Scott Pilgrim vs. the World‘ – Poke around any movie-centric message board or blog, and chances are you’ll immediately plow into a rant about how theaters are being flooded with remakes and double-digit IQ sequels – that no one’s taking any chances or doing anything original. If you’re part of that group, then…well, you really shouldn’t have passed up ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ back when it was making the rounds in theaters. At least now you have a chance to make things right on Blu-ray. Edgar Wright’s adaptation of the universally-loved graphic novels is a breathlessly infectious adrenaline rush. Picture the manga rack at Barnes and Noble guzzling down a bag of Pixy Stix and then plunking a couple of quarters into a Double Dragon arcade game, and you’re somewhere in the ballpark. ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ easily ranks among the most visually inventive and tightly constructed films of the past few years. It’s howlingly funny, and is so densely packed with gags that you’ll still be picking out stuff you missed your eighth or ninth time through. Its hyperkinetic battle sequences are more imaginative and more skillfully choreographed than pretty much every traditional action flick that’s come down the pike in ages. The sprawling ensemble is straight across the board brilliant, and…C’mon, I should’ve had you at “Edgar Wright.”
  2. Worst:The Spirit‘ – Fresh off the successes of ‘300’ and ‘Sin City’, Frank Miller was handed the keys to direct his very own feature-length comic adaptation. Miller opted to stay away from the grim and gritty stuff this time around, instead hammering out something so indescribably, unrepentantly campy that it makes the 1966 ‘Batman: The Movie‘ look like a Merchant-Ivory production. In one of the movie’s first big slugfests, the Spirit gets whacked between the legs with an oversized lugwrench and then gets stuck in a toilet. One of the bad guy’s flunkies gets run over by a van and walks around with tire treads dug into his face. You get to marvel at Samuel L. Jackson bungling a clone and instead creating a tiny head on a foot that bounces around his lab. The Spirit trots around town with a Xeroxed picture of a butt to see if anyone’s seen the woman it belongs to. There’s one, like, ten minute scene where Scarlett Johansson and Sam Jackson are dolled up as Nazis for no reason whatsoever, and Jackson’s chief character trait as the movie’s master villain is that he really, really doesn’t like eggs. Maybe you’re reading all that and thinking, “That sounds AWESOME!” You’re wrong! It’s not awesome. ‘The Spirit’ is a parade of one-joke characters, awkward slapstick, an aggressively bland story, and no sense of pacing whatsoever. The ‘Batman’ movie-slash-TV show from the ’60s was campy, sure, but it was also ridiculously fun. ‘The Spirit’…? Not so much.

Aaron Peck

  1. Best:V for Vendetta‘ – I’m not a big comic book fan. I’ve never sat down to read comic books. They just don’t particularly interest me. I know fanboys have fits when a movie doesn’t match what was in the original book, but one of my favorite comic book adaptations is ‘V for Vendetta’. Maybe it’s because I lived in England for two years, so November 5th has more meaning to me. Or maybe it’s just because I really like Natalie Portman. Whatever the reason, ‘V for Vendetta’ is one of the few comic book adaptations that I’ll watch over and over and never get sick of. I understand that some people were put off by the movie not adhering strictly to the source material, and others were expecting ‘Matrix 2.0’ when they first saw it in theaters. Still, I love its underlying message that governments should be afraid of their people. I love Hugo Weaving’s performance, even though we never see his face. And like I said, Natalie Portman is always a class act in my book. It also helps that this is one of my wife’s favorite movies.

Nate Boss

  1. Worst:Spider-Man 3‘ – After the great first two entries into the ‘Spider-Man’ film series, I had huge hopes for Spidey 3. Huge. With no massive recastings, and an interesting villain set, it seemed like the bar was going to be raised, particularly with the use of Gwen Stacey and Eddie Brock. After missing it in theaters, the Blu-ray release date came the day after I blew a DLP lamp. The wait was extended an excruciating extra week. I really wish the disc blew up instead… every ‘Spider-Man 3’ disc, so that I could continue to want to see future Spidey films. What a pile of horseshit this film is. The handling of Peter Parker’s darker side is ridiculous. He seems more like a dancer for some awful My Chemical Romance video (he has that emo thing down pat) than a twisted version of himself. Then you have villains that damn near drop out of the sky who aren’t given proper screen time or development, a ret-con of the existing storyline from the previous films concerning the death of Uncle Ben that makes no sense whatsoever, and Spider-Man yet again revealing his identity to his arch enemy. Twice, by telling Sandman, and having the symbiote retain Parker’s memories. Oh no, another final confrontation concerning great heights and the fragile Mary Jane Watson, who gets captured more than Princess Peach. This is a film so awful it sullies the other movies in the series. It definitely deserves the tag of worst comic movie ever made. Halle Berry fans rejoice, I’m not neutering your kitty.

Drew Taylor

  1. Best:Hulk‘ – There’s a moment in ‘The Green Hornet’ when the word gets out that our villain (Christoph Waltz) wants to find and kill our heroes. The screen subdivides as it follows various underworld characters, and then subdivides again, turning into a moving mosaic of images. Besides being one of the few showy “Hey! Look! I really directed this movie!” moments from director Michel Gondry, after I thought it was cool for a minute, I realized that another comic book movie had done the same thing for a prolonged amount of time much better. The movie? Ang Lee’s unfairly maligned ‘Hulk’. Is it a classifiably great comic book movie? Maybe not. The dialogue is leaden and, last I checked, comic books were supposed to be, you know, fun. But there’s a boldness to both its direction and execution that still leaves me breathless. The way that the movie frame gets turned into comic book panels is beyond incredible, and the way the story crescendos, not in a pile-up of two-dimensional baddies but with the more emotionally resonant conflict between father and son, is amazing and abstract. It’s the kind of ballsy, outside-the-box thinking that I thought we were going to get with ‘The Green Hornet’. (We didn’t.) My runner-up was going to be ‘Punisher: War Zone‘, so clearly my thinking was a little left-leaning too…
  2. Worst:X-Men Origins: Wolverine‘ – Maybe just because it’s been on television a lot lately, and maybe just because I’m so jazzed about Darren Aronofsky taking on the property, but comic book movies don’t get a whole lot worse than ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’. This is a thunderously dull action extravaganza that takes everyone’s favorite mutant and turns him into a barely recognizable goon. The problems with this movie are myriad. Take, for example, it’s “period” setting (the climax takes place during the Three Mile Island incident, which happened on March 28th, 1979) without any formal indications of time or place. (No, “Soundstage in Australia” doesn’t count as “place.”) Then there’s that ham-fisted effort to squeeze the film into the ongoing continuity of the ‘X-Men’ franchise, via creepily youthful Patrick Stewart. It doesn’t even entertain on a popcorn level like, say, ‘Punisher: War Zone.’ For a man with unlimited healing abilities, this was dead on arrival.

Mike Attebery

  1. Best:Superman: The Movie‘ – I was tempted to go with ‘Batman Begins‘ and ‘The Dark Knight‘, because I’m sure no one would ever consider those. After much thought, I have to go with ‘Superman’. Richard Donner’s film came out just one month after I was born, but 33 years later, it remains the quintessential superhero origin tale. It’s so effective and so resonant that director Bryan Singer approached the failed 2006 series relaunch by casting an actor with as close a resemblance as possible to the iconic Christopher Reeve, and plotted the film as a continuation of the story after Richard Donner’s first two films. Still, the best of the bunch is still the original. Reeve was, is, and always will be Superman. This epic origin tale brought the legendary DC character to life like never before. Sure, the film isn’t perfect, but it comes damn close. I’m sure there will be future ‘Superman’ movies, but this is still the best. As far as comic book movies themselves go, this remains my favorite.
  2. Worst: ‘The Green Hornet’ – I’ve seen the trailer. That’s enough.

Josh Zyber

  1. Best: ‘Ghost World’ – Not all comic books are about superheroes, you know. Terry Zwigoff’s adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ comic follows two young girls (Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson), freshly graduated from high school, who’ve started to drift apart as they search for direction for their futures. One is ready to grow up and enter adulthood, while the other can’t let go of her youthful rebellion. The movie is a smartly-observed character drama that avoids any formulaic journeys of discovery or pat moral lessons. Any revelations the characters have are small ones. If they change at all by the end, that’s only because they were heading that way all along. ‘Ghost World’ is a cynical yet insightful look at the trials of adolescence.
  2. Worst:Superman Returns‘ – It had been just shy of two decades since the ‘Superman’ franchise last saw any action on the big screen. I’m still waiting for some. As I’m sure most everyone remembers, the previous two (really, two-and-a-half) movies were godawful crap in a can. The success of ‘Batman Begins’ proved the power of a good reboot, and that’s exactly what Superman needed. Instead, Bryan Singer gave us this belated sequel, really an unabashed carbon copy of the first film with all of the fun sucked out. ‘Superman Returns’ is a laborious slog that reiterates the character’s all-too-familiar origin story, and rehashes villain Lex Luthor’s scheme to cause a natural disaster and profit by buying up valuable real estate. Meanwhile, Supes himself spends the whole picture creepily stalking Lois Lane and moping about how the world doesn’t need him anymore. This is a movie that exists only to remind people of a better movie that they’ve already seen, and what’s the point of that? Superman may have returned, but I sure don’t care.

Those are our picks. Now tell us which comic book movies you love or hate in the Comments.


    • nate boss

      i still don’t quite get the hate on HTD. perhaps it being a childhood favorite makes me still enjoy it the same way i enjoy mrs doubtfire.

  1. BostonMA

    Best: The Dark Knight, followed by Sin City, and then Batman Begins.

    Worst (from what i’ve seen): Superman II. yup, i greatly disliked Superman: The Movie and absolutely hated II.

  2. Alex

    As feeble and Spider-Man 3, or Wolverine, or Superman Returns were, I can’t think of any comic-book movie that was as singularly dreadful as “Ghost Rider.” Yes, it had Sam Elliot (who always makes me want to grow a mustache and shoot someone) and Peter Fonda (who needed a big roll of floss to get those bits of scenery out of his teeth), and it had occasional (I can think of three) nifty special effects shots, but the movie was just abysmal. Blackheart was reduced to a sniveling little weasel that makes Robert Pattinson look ferocious, the set design looked vaguely like a High-School play I was in, the acting reminded me of that same play, the chemistry between the leads was like oil and water and not even in the same glass, and Nicholas Cage… oh, how the mighty have fallen. It’s awful, it’s horrible, it’s a crime that it’s on the $6.99 rack because they’re charging about $30 too much.

    • Alex

      Oh, I didn’t mention my favorites. It’s “The Dark Knight” with “Spider-Man 2” and “X2: X-Men United” in a tie for second place. Also, being a rather tall fellow, I have a soft spot in my heart for that lovable lug, “The Incredible Hulk.”

  3. best. conan the barbarian. one of the 10 greatest films of all time. the us cut. not the Europe cut which is still pretty good but i like the u.s. one better.

    worst. tank girl. wow. with superman 4 , howard the duck , the dark knight Scott Pilgrim , ghost world and spider-man 3 runners up.

  4. Jane Morgan

    Best: ‘A History Of Violence,’ directed by Cronenberg, starring Viggo, based on the graphic novel by Wagner and Locke.

    Worst: ‘Jonah Hex.’

  5. Ryan

    I absolutely Hated Watchmen. It is the absolute worst comic movie I have ever seen. I feel sorry for my sister she bought it and also thought it was garbage. I do not see what people like about it. I haven’t even heard of watchmen until that movie came out.

  6. Jared Chamberlain

    As a life long fan of comics, i have to say that Catwoman and Wolverine are locked it a tie for worst comic book adaptation ever.
    On the other side of the coin, I absolutely adore Punsiher: Warzone, which is in a three way tie with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, and The Dark Knight.

  7. Patrick A Crone

    The Best is a 3-way tie: Superman the Movie, Spider-Man and Batman Begins. Superman is the movie that set the bar for Comic book adaptations. Spider-Man and Batman Begins are made with the same kind of passion.

    The Worst is a tie as well: Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four-Rise of the Silver Surfer. To this day I’m not sure how, after the first one, they put out a sequel so fast. Just painful to watch. At least Rachel McAdams had the sense to turn down the part of Sue Storm

  8. EM

    Best: “Diabolik” (a.k.a. “Danger: Diabolik”), not that I’m familiar with the source material. But the movie is exciting and stylish.

    Runner-up: “Batman: The Movie”. POW! (What more need be said?)

  9. motorheadache

    BEST: The Dark Knight– not exactly an original pick, but I wouldn’t want to lie just to say something “unique.”

    WORST: Steel– staring Shaq. Anyone remember that one? If we’re talking something a bit more recent, I’d go with Ghost Rider.

    Pretty reasonable picks from everyone so far, but I don’t understand how any of you thought Punisher: War Zone is up there with the best. Really?!

    • Jared Chamberlain

      Punisher: War Zone is in fact not a great film in general, but it is a great Punisher film, and I’ve been a die hard Punisher fan since I was six.

      BTW you were 100% correct putting Steel on the worst list if I’d thought of it, I’d most likely have used it too.

      • motorheadache

        Well, my main problem with War Zone was that the tone was all over the place– It was part hokey, over-the-top black comedy, but also dealt with a very serious story thread with Punisher accidentally killing a Fed (something in of itself I had a problem with). IMO, it was an odd mix that didn’t work. Also the set design really bothered me– all the neon lighting reminded me of the Joel Schumacher Batman films.

        So far, I haven’t been satisfied with any of the Punisher films, but War Zone is my least favorite because of the reasons I mentioned.

  10. I love ‘The Spirit,’ you people are crazy 🙂

    And anyone putting a ‘Superman’ movie on their list is wrong. Because ‘Superman’ is awful.

    • Jane Morgan

      The Superman monologue in ‘Kill Bill Vol. 2’ is better than all the Superman movies put together.

    • Josh Zyber

      I hope you’re joking, Dick. The Spirit is unwatchable and indefensible on any level.

      As for Superman: The Movie, I think that the first half is a legitimately great movie, but it falls apart in the the second half with Lex Luthor’s land-grab scheme, Miss Teschmacher and Otis, and the spinning-around-the-world-to-make-time-go-backwards stuff.

      • I will defend the hell out of The Spirit. It’s campy and wonderful! Sam Jackson regained my respect after that movie.

        I feel the same way about ‘Superman’ movies that you do about ‘The Spirit. They’re just bad. Bad bad bad.

        • hurin

          The Spirit and Dick Tracy are the ones I hate the most. They took some really good source material and did nothing with it.

      • Jane Morgan

        On the other hand, the trailer for ‘Superman Returns’ was thrilling.

        As was the trailer for ‘Hulk.’

        I wish there was a blu-ray with a hundred killer movie trailers at maximum visual quality.

  11. The Spirit I had a blast with, its totally cheesy and hilarious for all the right reasons, I firmly believe it was made this way on purpose and I definitely enjoyed it for what it was.

    I cant believe that some people actually put Scott Pilgrim down as being the worst, not only is that a fantastic adaption it was easily one of the best films of last year, god I’ve watched that at least 5 times already since I purchased it and it gets better every time! Plus when you have movies like Batman and Robin, Steel and Catwoman out there, Scott Pilgrim should win about 20 oscars in comparison

    So Best I would definitely say Scott Pilgrim and The Watchmen (amazing movie!)

    Worst would be Batman and Robin and Daredevil for me, havent seen the DC of Daredevil which I heard is much better, but the theatrical one blew hard and I really had a problem with Kingpin being black, not because I’m racist or anything of the sort, just that he isnt black in the comics, I hate it the other way too, if a character is black they shouldnt cast a white guy or girl instead….although I cant think of too many people big enough to fit the bill of Kingpin that are decent actors so in that case he worked out good

    Oh and I cant forget how terrible (yet lots of fun) Spawn was as well, I hope the low budget redo of that series gets going and makes it right

  12. El Bicho

    Chaz, do you have a problem with Eastwood in “A Fistful of Dollars” since the character was originally Japanese?

    • nate boss

      ouch. technically it is a different character (gunslinger instead of samurai), but yeah, same idea.

      also, what about Nick Fury? in the original comics, for about 40 years, he was a grizzled white dude. now he’s Samuel L Jackson, to fit in with the ULTIMATES line of comics. i still prefer me honky Fury, but i can’t say no to anything SLJ.

  13. Kizzle

    Best – My opinion on this changes constantly but right now I’d say the first Blade film. Not only did it set up an awesome sequel, but it’s the movie that sort of convinced everyone that there could be good Marvel films.

    Worst – How Superman IV isn’t running away with this baffles me. Runners-up: Blade Trinity, Batman & Robin.

  14. Steve

    I don’t see how anyone can think that Superman Returns is worse than the superdreadful Superman IV The Quest for Peace. SR is a masterpiece in comparison.

    • Josh Zyber

      Isn’t this kind of like saying that being punched in the face is a lot better than being kicked in the nuts? When it comes down to it, both options are pretty terrible.