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The Best and Worst Superhero Adaptations. . . EVER!
All 54 major superhero adaptations ranked with explanations.
I normally hate lists since they lack substance, depth, thought and explanation. After looking at some top 10 lists of superhero movies, however, I kept on saying things like: “My list would be so much better,” and, “I can’t believe they didn’t talk about all of these other cool movies!”
I know that many of you who are like me, old comic book dorks, longed for a more comprehensive list. So here it is: all 54 major superhero adaptations ranked with explanations.
A few things to be aware of before reading:
1) I ranked films according to the following criteria:
- the film’s ability to build on the original character
- if the film stayed true to the source material
- influence of the film on the genre
- visual/aesthetic appeal
- character development
- accessibility to a mainstream audience
2) I’m not an expert. This is simply one dork’s opinion, and you should feel free to disagree with me, unless your middle name is Era. If that’s your middle name, then your opinion will never matter to anyone, and may God have mercy on your soul.
3) If you hated The Dark Knight you will not like this list.
4) I did not include graphic novels like Road to Perdition, American Splendor or Sin City since those are not superhero adaptations.
THE BEST SUPERHERO ADAPTATIONS. . . EVER!
The Dark Knight
Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, and the darkest, most realistic plot ever inserted into a superhero’s world.
Critics have been down on the 2 ½ hour running time; the action sequences are shot in very tight spaces with poor lighting so Batman’s ass-kicking prowess becomes difficult to appreciate.
Kevin Smith made a bold statement when he labeled The Dark Knight as the “Godfather II” of superhero films. . . but he was right. Yes, the movie is loaded with climax after climax, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s so damn good! Aside from a flawless script and excellent performances, you’ll be on the edge of your seat for the duration of this 2 ½ hour piece of comic orgasmia! It’s essentially a crime drama set in Batman’s world. The film deserves serious Oscar consideration.
Tobey MacGuire is perfect as Peter Parker; Alfred Molina’s portrayal of Dr. Octopus will be remembered as one of the greatest comic book villains in superhero film history; the fight scene on the train between Doc Ock and Spidey goes beyond the realm of awesome.
Some scenes also go beyond the realm of corny. Like when the New Yawkahs on the subway stick up for Spider-Man, and those goofy looking kids with the high pitched voices give him back his mask. Ugh! Keep it consistent Raimi!
I really wanted to give this the number one slot. Raimi does almost everything right, and is able to find the perfect mix between superhero parody and serious emotional development of his characters. Unfortunately, there are one too many goofball scenes that bring about feelings of disgust, and at times the dialogue is awful.
Brandon Lee in his last, and greatest, lead role.
Verrry dark, and extremely depressing.
A noir stylized film with a hero who has risen from the dead to exact vengeance upon those who wronged him. It sounds like The Wraith, only it doesn’t suck. The gothic set design and cinematography were clearly influenced by Burton’s Batman and added a flavor of realism. The action sequences were groundbreaking, predating franchises like The Matrix and Blade.
Robert Downey Jr. was born to play Tony Stark.
Favreau must have been under pressure to throw in a “mainstream” supervillain at the end. The uber-iron-man suit manned by Jeff Bridges was kinda lame.
What the film really needed was more substance. Great set up for a sequel that should parallel, if not rival, DK and SM:2.
X2: X-Men United
Great action scenes; lots of new mutants who compliment the headliners without overwhelming the script.
Cyclops takes a backseat to Wolverine.
Bryan Singer did something no other director before Chris Nolan was able to do: balance multiple characters on the screen. The plot was engaging and featured the type of societal critique that made the comic so popular in the first place.
Features the best delivered origin story in the genre’s history.
Very corny at times; the dialogue is often abysmal; most of the fight scenes between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin look cartoonish.
Director Sam Raimi induced a new sense of life into a genre that hadn’t been influential since Burton’s Batman. He did this by finding a balance between classic Sirk-styled melodrama and incorporating visual aspects from the comic book world. The movie is nostalgic for Spidey fans and brings Steve Ditko’s vision to life.
Men in Black
Excellent CGI; very funny; original take on the alien genre.
The director relies too heavily on Will Smith’s performance, and misuses Tommy Lee Jones.
This was an ideal summer blockbuster featuring the right mix of action, special effects, and laughs that made Iron-Man such a success. A sequel, however, was completely unnecessary.
A visual masterpiece; Jack Nicholson as the Joker; Keaton as Batman was a gutsy pick, but it paid off.
Some scenes were absolutely ridiculous (like Viki Vale walking into the Bat Cave or the Joker’s museum romp); Keaton is NOT the ideal Bruce Wayne.
This film was the first to take the superhero genre seriously. Batman was always supposed to be a dark and psychologically complex character, and Burton explored that idea. What’s even more interesting about Burton’s take on superhero adaptations is that his films (Batman and Batman Returns) focused on the villains, not the hero.
Christopher Reeves in the role that defined his career.
It’s very dated, and earns a 10 on the cheese-ball scale.
Yes, it’s an old film; no, it’s not nearly as good as most of the superhero films made today; but the reality is that without this film none of the others on this list would exist.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Great lines like: “Welcome to pain 101. Your instructor’s Casey Jones;” excellent action sequences considering they featured human-sized Muppets; strong script with a dark backdrop.
The Splinter puppet looks like a sock with hair. I expected the Henson team to do a better job with him.
This film took its cues from Eastman & Lairds classic black and white comic book. It stayed true to the original story, was dark and violent, developed the theme of isolation while making sure the film was accessible to younger audiences. Critics trashed this film. . . I loved it. Granted, I was eight years of age at the time of its original release, but I was stoked to hear that the creators are in talks with the original director to do a live-action remake of this superhero classic.
VERY GOOD SUPERHERO ADAPTATIONS
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
The only film in the Bat-genre that revolves around a genuine mystery.
It’s a cartoon.
In this movie Batman is portrayed as more of a dynamic police officer than an indestructible superhero. Before The Dark Knight it was the only movie to get Batman’s character right.
Each hero is cleverly introduced; great setup for a sequel; Patrick Stewart as Professor X.
The action is a little choppy; Halle Berry is terrrrrrrrible.
This is an all around solid movie that many comic fans had been waiting to see for over two decades. It was a solid introduction to the franchise.
Christian Bale as Batman; Michael Caine as Alfred.
Uneven origin story; too many flashbacks; Katie Holmes, she is not a good actress. And why is she only able to smile with the right side of her face?
It takes about an hour for this movie to pick up. Once it does Nolan does a solid job of introducing his version of the iconic character. The origin story, however, does not deliver.
Another visual masterpiece; Danny DeVito as the Penguin; Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman.
Dark and weird. The allusions to the Christian religion are a bit freaky and unnecessary: the Penguin as Jesus Christ gone wrong and killing all of Gotham’s first born? Get it together Burton!
Many believe that this film was superior to Burton’s original since he was able to make the movie without feeling the stifling demands of producers. It didn’t have the same influence as the original, but it is a better movie. Unfortunately, many were deterred by its extremely dark nature.
The Incredible Hulk
Edward Norton is the perfect Bruce Banner; some very memorable scenes (Banner falling out of the plane to bring about the Hulk change).
It tried to capture the magic of the television series, and came close, but the writers and director abandoned opportunities to make this into a dark film in favor of making it lighter and somewhat comical. They were clearly under a great deal of pressure to make this film into an Iron-Man sized blockbuster.
Edward Norton added a tremendous amount of depth to this role. I’m hoping that Marvel Studios sees the potential of this character and makes a sequel. If they shoot it right, the Hulk could be up there with DK and SM:2
Weseley Snipes in the lead role; action sequences that predate, and in some cases rival, The Matrix.
A little repetitive.
This was one of the first films introduced by Marvel Studios, and it showed their commitment to making realistic, entertaining superhero adaptations that were aimed at an adult audience. Great action movie.
The fight scenes live up to the original; Ron Pearlman adds quite a bit to the cast.
This is a good movie that is a solid companion piece to the original, but Blade’s character is never truly explored, which was kind of a letdown.
Keanu Reaves can act. Who knew?
Stupid people are confused by the plot.
Despite what you may think at first glance, this really isn’t a bad flick. It’s one of the only successful adaptations to come out of the DC universe, and, for the most part, remains true to the source material.
Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane; that new dude as Superman; making it part of the original franchise instead of a franchise reboot like Batman Begins.
Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor; too similar to the original film in terms of plot and story.
The cinematography was superb, and I found myself wanting to like this movie, but I couldn’t for two reasons: 1) Superman is presented as somewhat selfish, and pretty creepy as well. He spies on Lois Lane’s most intimate conversations and is an absentee father. Dude! You’re Superman! You should at least pay child support. 2) Lex Luthor’s nefarious plot is yet another real estate scheme. Didn’t this happen in the 1st, 2nd and 4th films?
The villains, visually speaking, were a bit lame.
I haven’t seen this film in a few years, but I always like it and feel it lives up to the original but is unable to surpass it.
I’D WATCH THEM AGAIN
Original script; great origin story; Ron Pearlman is excellent in the lead role.
A little slow at times; Hellboy and the creatures he fights look like they’re composed of rubber and plastic.
Hellboy is an overgrown child who is more concerned with his love life, cats and fratboy snacks than saving the world. The director has a blast playing with this concept.
Great action sequences; Angelina Jolie.
I liked it better the first time, when it was called The Matrix.
I think critics were more surprised with the fact that this movie didn’t suck than impressed. Very exciting and entertaining but not extraordinarily original.
Jim Carrey is very funny, and showcases his talents; Cameron Diaz; Cameron Diaz; Cameron Diaz.
Jim Carrey can be really annoying.
This was a cool flick, and was groundbreaking in how it utilized CGI.
Dark tone and stylized cinematography that takes a lot of its cues from The Crow.
The script was overly ambitious. It appears as though the director was struggling to achieve his vision with a limited budget.
Many critics rip on this movie; I’m not one of them. The action sequences were solid; Ben Affleck provided a competent performance and the director introduced a hero with serious issues that are engaging and relatable. I’m still hoping for a sequel that will feature a DD vs. Kingpin rematch.
Topher Grace as Venom; most of the fight scenes were pretty good; “evil” Spider-Man/Peter Parker: funny and willing to kill.
Takes the corny factor to a new level, especially at the end when the theme of friendship is explored. Ugh!
This would have been the perfect cap to the franchise had producers allowed Sam Raimi to focus on one villain and the Peter, Harry, Mary-Jane love triangle. Instead he was forced to add the alien-costume storyline, and the film became cluttered. The whole Venom thing deserved its own trilogy, not a mere sub-plot!
Mutant French Poodles; Eric Bana as the Hulk; Nick Nolte is in it.
Ang Lee had an artistic vision for this film. It had potential, but it never hit the mark.
This is a fun and entertaining movie. Don’t expect much more than that.
|Thomas Jane as the Punisher; cool kills; gun fights; dialogue like: “You killed my son!” Explosion and scream in the background, and the Punisher replies by saying, “Both of them.” |
It was filmed on location in Tampa. I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but the movie was missing a sense of grit that only New York City can deliver.
Thomas Jane was a competent Frank Castle. I wish they had retained him for The Punisher: War Zone (which is not a sequel but reboot, like Incredible Hulk). It was a fun movie. It’s refreshing to see a protagonist who takes his punishing so seriously.
Some memorable action sequences.
It’s a CGI animated film.
Definitely aimed towards kids. I’m hoping that the rumored live action version will be a return to the darker tone and setting of the original.
An intriguing plot, and fairly decent script.
Jean-Claude Van Damme’s English.
It’s a good rental.
PRETTY BAD, BUT SOMEWHAT WATCHABLE
I bought this DVD a couple of months ago based on the memory of seeing it when I was 11 years of age. At that time I thought it was one of the greatest films ever made. What did I learn? 11 year olds don’t have very high standards.
Superhero whose skull is ALWAYS on fire? Awesome!
Nicholas Cage is in it.
A movie that could have been cool.
The Thing is such a stupid character.
The comic was introduced as a family friendly book, and has remained that way ever since. It doesn’t lend itself to a dark interpretation, nor should it. The movie was exactly what it should have been.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Jessica Alba; Laurence Fishburne as the voice of the Silver Surfer.
Stupid, stupid plot.
I don’t have the energy.
Robin is finally introduced to the franchise.
Warner Bros. placed a great deal of pressure on producers to make the franchise more “family friendly.” Schumacher responded with a camp/homosexual interpretation of the characters. Why God? Why?
I liked some elements of this movie. Chris O’Donnell was a competent Robin, and there were some pretty cool action sequences.
Men in Black II
Will Smith is more of an equal to Tommy Lee Jones than an apprentice.
Will Smith is just so damn arrogant in this film. He’s not terribly funny, and I get the feeling that Tommy Lee Jones truly wanted to punch him in the face during filming.
The movie relies too heavily on Will Smith, and the script was just too weak to succeed. I have the feeling they were writing this as they went. Like Jurassic Park III, another gem.
The idea of evil Superman. But why didn’t he have a goatee?
Lines like: “this is my mamma-jamma, super-duper computer.”
The fight scene between Evil Superman and Clark Kent is fun to watch, as is Clark’s return to Smallville. And Richard Pryor was a solid addition, but as a whole the movie fails to deliver.
Ryan Reynolds in an action role? No, no, NO! That’s all wrong.
While watching this film, I couldn’t help but think that they recruited script writers from MTV studios. And no, that’s not a good thing.
X-Men: The Last Stand
Most of the major characters are killed off.
They didn’t kill off every major character.
This film should have been about Jean Grey and Cyclops. Instead, Cyclops is portrayed as a whining bitch and killed off in the first 10 minutes. What the hell happened?
John Leguizamo as the violator.
How was DB Sweeney still getting work?
They had the right idea, but it’s like the director had no idea how to make movie.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
The set design and creatures were very cool. I’m looking forward to Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of The Hobbit.
Performances; terrible script; way too long, ridiculously cheesy.
After introducing the character on a dark platform of mythology and historical fiction, the franchise is reduced to a family friendly lame-fest.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Superman’s actions reflect the title.
How is Superman able to talk in space? When did he learn Russian? Why are the Russian cosmonauts able to understand him in the vacuum of space?
The central villain of this movie is a mix of Superman’s and Lex Luthor’s DNA. Weird.
Very funny movie.
It’s not supposed to be a comedy.
I don’t know. Rob Schneider is in this movie. That’s kinda neat right?
The Crow: City of Angels
Can’t think of any.
There’s a reason why you haven’t heard of this movie.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II
Vanilla Ice is in this movie, and introduces “The Ninja Rap."
I was hoping for Bebop and Rocksteady.
Vanilla Ice was the only highlight (and I’m not being sarcastic). Need I say more?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
The character Casey Jones returns.
They actually made it.
The turtles go back to in time to ancient Japan where they don samurai gear and . . . I’m not going to dignify this movie with a full synopsis.
Batman and Robin
It was so bad that producers decided to hold off on another so audiences would have time to forget that it was ever made.
Joel Schumacher’s camp interpretation of the characters; a Bat-suit with an XXL cod piece and nipples; George Clooney was a terrible Batman; Chris O’Donnell was dreadful; Governator Ahhhnald was even worse as Mr. Freeze. . . the list goes on.
I hate this movie.
So bad it’s kind of funny.
Shaq is in it.
I really don’t remember what happened in this movie. I don’t think it matters.
I’ve got nothing.
We get to see Pamela Anderson.
Unfortunately, we also have to hear Pamela Anderson.
Pamela Anderson is a sexy superheroine. Bleh!
The acting; the script; the directing; the cinematography; I heard the food on set was pretty bad; dressing rooms were small; stage hands were underpaid; etc.
The only scene I remember is when Supergirl caresses a poster of Christopher Reeve as Superman. Supergirl and Superman are cousins. It’s weird to caress a picture of your cousin.
There are many.
How did they not know this movie was going to suck when they were making it? How?!
There aren’t any. This movie is unwatchable.
Everything, literally everything about this movie was awful.
Howard the Duck
Lea Thomson rocks out with a four-foot puppet duck.
It’s about a walking duck. A duck!
Ugh! George Lucas! C’mon dude! You do this for a living! What happened? Oh wait, wait…you made The Phantom Menace. Okay. This makes sense.