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Team Top Ten: The Greatest Comic Book Adaptations of All Time

Amir here. It’s the first Tuesday of the month and we’re back with another edition of Team Top Ten. In case you haven’t caught up with the series yet, you can see our first episode here (best new directors of the 21st century) and the second here (greatest Best Actress-losing performances). 

With the summer movie season finally upon us in full force, I thought it’d be as good a time as any to discuss what has become one of the premier ways for Hollywood to take every last penny out of collective pockets: comic books! So let’s have a look at what Team Experience considers The Greatest Comic Book Adaptations of All Time.

While spandex-and-cape-clad superheroes and over the top villains usually come to mind when “comic books” are mentioned, the range of films adapted from this source is as wide as films adapted from any other pre-existing material, really. If we had waited a year to do this poll, Blue Is the Warmest Color, Abdellatif Kechiche’s three hour, Francophone epic about a teenage lesbian love affair could have possibly made the top ten and that should tell you all you need to know about the variety of films at our disposal – and mind you, we needn’t wait for Kechiche’s Palme d’Or winner to put lesbians on our list.

For various reasons including several ties, additional weight given to films placed first on a ballot and late submissions by procrastinating Team Experience members we’ve ended up with a list of 11, but even so, we’ve had to leave out some pretty terrific titles. Last month, many of you were surprised at the absence of Glenn Close from Dangerous Liaisons on our list. I found this month’s list to be even more surprising so I’ve listed some of the curiosities of our votes in a trivia section after the list. For now, let’s get right to it with...

11. Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988)
Adapted by Katsuhiro Otomo from his own epic manga, Akira is a sprawling and hyperviolent tour through a post-apocalyptic Tokyo. It's the original "darker and grittier," set in a dystopia dominated by self-interest, whether among the city's corrupt officials or its teenage motorcycle gangs. An angry youth movie, a work of cosmic sci-fi, and a colossal audiovisual achievement, Akira was really the ideal introduction for American audiences to anime's capabilities as an art form.
-Andreas Stoehr

10 more after the jump with misfits, assassins, and superheroes galore

10. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
I was in the very middle seat of the very middle row of a sold-out matinee when The Dark Knight opened because, girl, you know I get there early.  Little did I know how knotted up and claustrophobic I would soon feel, locked into that sea of similarly stunned spectators on every side.  I wasn't prepared for the mayhem or the cruelty in the movie to have such an earnest, brutal edge to it.  Sitting in a Chicago theater and watching Chicago crumble and blaze before my eyes was a genuinely gripping if also a surprisingly distressing experience.  I don't think everything in The Dark Knight works perfectly, and Nolan's solemn maximalism is not the right choice for every scene or indeed every film.  But The Dark Knight feels sincere about what it's doing, much more focused than its predecessor and possessed of infinitely more conviction than its sad, heavy follow-up.  It remains a very potent film, even setting aside the phenomenal, hollow-eyed, hinged and unhinged performance at the center of it.
-Nick Davis

9. Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty, 1990)
Dick Tracy isn’t just my personal favourite comic adapted movie, but remains a nostalgic gem of my early cinephile life. It's the first film I remember seeing in a cinema and it’s no wonder why I fell in love. Even at only five years old I was already a big Madonna fan and the film’s giddy splash of primary colours and cartoonish glee was a recipe for childhood success. Viewing it today, however, I see it as a daring take on the genre with a distinct, unique vision that no comic film has achieved since. By utilising the imagery of the comic strip so literally, director Warren Beatty(!!!) made the biggest argument for “comics are art” possible. It is beautiful and wondrous, magical and jaw-droppingly gorgeous with three Oscars for its effort.
-Glenn Dunks

8. X2: X-Men United (Bryan Singer, 2003)
To name it only "the best of the X-Franchise" is a dubious honor and unfortunately low bar. It might more tellingly be called the best team superhero movie ever made (barring The Incredibles... but that's not eligible for this list). True, there haven't been many of the latter but it even trumps the extremely popular The Avengers because it has a far grabbier opening sequence, more diversity of character, better villains and less plot clutter even though there are twice as many superpowered beings flying around. The best thing about X2 might be how serious it is about the business of entertaining without the lead weight of taking itself too seriously as an entertainment; its intentionally campy mutant "coming out" speeches prevent its pleas for tolerance from becoming too heavy-handed. And glory of glories -- the attack on Xavier's mansion is just about the best that it could possibly be as a set piece, like an actual Claremont/Byrne site-specific classic brought to life: exciting, colorful, weird, and littered with character beats where most blockbusters leave only visual fx droppings.
-Nathaniel R.

7. Batman Returns (Tim Burton, 1992)
Batman Returns manages a remarkable feat in that it remains faithful to the original source material, but doesn't dilute or compromise its directors signature vision in the process. This is as dark a film as Burton has ever made, an interminable winter of discontent that only a Penguin could survive. Keaton and DeVito are both aces, but it's really Pfeiffer who seals the deal here. More than any other character borne of a comic book page, it's her rendition of Catwoman that sings; she rises like Bolero, and falls like a Dying God, lending this picture a chilly air of tragic fatalism. It's the rare instance where a Performance (with a capital P) not only makes the movie, but elevates it past what it could have been. Look for the Star who takes what could have been just another toy story about monsters and men, clutches it between her claws like a new Louis Vuitton, and struts away with it all, tail sashaying behind her gloriously. The comics have never been so lucky.
-Beau McCoy

6. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright, 2010)
What Scott Pilgrim vs the World has that too many adaptations – of comic books, or any literature for that matter – do not is a significantly unabashed exuberance in its delivery. Wright’s enthusiasm for the story he’s telling seeps through into every frame of the film and that type of joy in a film like this is irresistible. It’s not so much that Scott Pilgrim vs the World is a fun experience (it is, but that’s beside the point); the point is that that the collective sense of investment and care in the project and its characters emanating from the creative team and the actors is the palpable ingredient turning this from a good film into a great one. The film is firing not just on the writing and acting, on so many technical levels with A+ editing and visual effects and it might seem easy to call it a case of style over substance as it launches into its final third; but golly, what style!
-Andrew Kendall

5. Ghost World (2001, Terry Zwigoff)
Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are such droll, social misfits that you can almost see them  communicating through speech bubbles, as if the "regular" world couldn't contain the intensity of their feelings and desires. Their lives change over the course of a summer as they contemplate the vast world that awaits them after graduation. Adapted from Daniel Cloves' comic book and graphic novel by the eccentric Terry Zwigoff, the greatest thing about Ghost World is that it replicates the effect of best comic books: you want to see these characters come to life somewhere near you.
-Jose Solis

4. Oldboy (Park Chan Wook, 2003)
The first rule of Oldboy is: don’t watch it on an full stomach. The second rule of Oldboy is: there isn’t a rulebook. Park Chan-wook’s brilliant film is perhaps the most atypical adaptation of a comic book yet filmed. It’s a curiosity and a novelty within what normally typifies comic book-derived filmmaking. It’s brutal, hard toned and unsavoury on a variety of levels — fierce, compulsive viewing brim full of striking vibrancy. It stands up and stands firm: takes the lead from its lead, Choi Min-sik. It harnesses the excess and imagination on the page and throws it in searing, pounding images across the screen. (Oldboy is best seen in the biggest, darkest, loudest auditorium you can find.) It exhibits wholly pugilistic power. But it hammers on the heart too. The soul-crushing and so-unfortunate-it-hurts sadness is every bit as impacting as the full count of body blows. That revelatory sting in the final stretch delivers thrice the amount of poison deemed healthy for any viewer. Everything hurts by the end. Oldboy is ink-raw cinema.
-Craig Bloomfield

3. Spider Man 2 (Sam Raimi, 2004)
In Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man movie we get the gag about the teenage boy who can't stop shooting "webs" all over the place - his room's a sticky disaster! Well in the sequel, Peter faces every overly virile boy's worst nightmare - he suddenly can't get it up! Yeah it's broad and teenage and silly - impotence as annihilation - but isn't that precisely all a Spider-Man movie should be? Everything about Spider-Man 2 is on-point perfect for me - Peter's Catch 22 between love and duty, mirrored perfectly by the doomed love affair between Doc Ock and his wife (rendered with great and delicate depth by Alfred Molina and Donna Murphy). And the vertiginous action scenes are as good as these things get. Go get 'em, tiger? Oh it's already been gotten.
-Jason Adams

2. Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, 2007)
Vincent Paronnaud’s and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis would place near the top on any number of lists. A list of the most powerful depictions of recent history, for example, or a list of the most moving coming of age stories. It would surely have a place of distinction on any ranking of the most stunningly beautiful uses of animation. That said, I am glad to see it place so highly on a list of comic book films, because in capturing the full richness of Satrapi’s book Persepolis has elevated the standing of both graphic novels and their cinematic adaptations.
-Michael C.

1. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)
David Cronenberg's A History of Violence owned me in ten seconds the first time I saw it, effectively pulling off (in one glorious long take) that thing that comics do when they write out a sound in the background of a series of frames. It's rare that a film not only stays true to its comic origins, but manages to transcend them, and Cronenberg manages it here, aided by stunning work from the entire crew - especially a never-better Viggo Mortensen and the devastating Maria Bello (who was robbed of an Oscar for this), creating a fully believable marriage in crisis. Their sex scene on the stairway is one of the best, most visceral sex scenes of all time, and the final scene around the dinner table is perfect, on every level. It's one of Cronenberg's best films, and pulls off the neat trick of being both slick popcorn entertainment and as deep, auteur provocation. Brilliant.
-Daniel Bayer


• Many films had fervent fans but found little support among the rest of the group. In fact, 7 of the 17 ballots submitted were topped by films that didn’t make the cut, while one of the other ten ballots didn’t have a number 1 film, because Nick Davis is still waiting on the great comic book adaptation. The seven ballots were: The Mask (yours truly), American Splendor (Andrew Stewart), Chicken with Plums (Paolo Kagaon), Tales from the Crypt (Andreas Stoehr), Speed Racer (David Upton) and Superman: The Movie (Tim Brayton, Deborah Lipp).

• Ghost World’s highest placement on a ballot was at 4th, which makes it the only entry on any of our top ten lists so far that failed to crack the top three on even a single ballot. It was, however, mentioned by ten different voters – and curiously, at 5th by almost all of them – so it’s a consensus favorite. I plead guilty to having never seen it.

• 50 different films were chosen by our voters, which is much smaller than our two previous sample sizes. Of these, only seven films were not in English. The Caped Crusader was Team Experience’s favorite superhero, with 5 different Batman films splitting 10% of all our votes.

• Each Avenger can claim to getting at least two votes from Team Experience. Aside from The Avengers (ranked 21st), Iron Man 3, Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor all have their own supporters. Scarlett Johansson needs her own film ASAP. 

• Team Experience clearly wouldn’t mind David Cronenberg taking another trip to comicsville. A History of Violence gained more than double the points of any other film on the list, except Persepolis. It won an easy, landslide victory. Only four of our seventeen contributors didn’t mention it on their ballots, while another four selected it as their number one.

If you have suggestions for top ten lists on your favorite topics, let us know in the comments or on twitter @amiresque.

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References (14)

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Reader Comments (36)

Personal ballot of any and all comic book film adaptations:

1. Oldboy
2. The Dark Knight (As self conscious as Nolan's effort is, I'd still say it's top of the heap as far as live-action Batman adaptations go.)
3. Superman: The Movie
4. Akira
5. Sin City (was this seriously on 0 ballots?)
6. Battle Royale (Again. Nobody?)
7. Ghost World
8. Persepolis
9. A History of Violence (I thought it was interesting if slightly shallow)
10. Batman Returns

Personal ballot no matter the format:

1. Oldboy
2. Batman: The Animated Series
3. Paul Dini's Justice League Cartoon
4. Spectacular Spider-Man (Takes the most generally agreeable aspects (the smooth fighting style, realized here with greatly kinetic animation that kicks the butts of either previous entry) of the Raimi films, stripping out what could be said to be distasteful (the overt and stilted melodramatic dialogue style that Maguire got forced into, even in costume) and also giving us back the quips without tossing him into the bit too cocky "Andrew Garfield delivery" territory. It is the absolute PERFECT Spider-Man adaptation.)
5. Batman: Arkham City (It actually tries to take the somewhat goofy elements (like the ACTUAL Lazarus Pit concept) seriously in an approximation of a live-action look and Nolan REALLY should have gone back to the drawing board after hearing about it and it's predecessor, Arkham Asylum.)
6. Superman: The Animated Series
7. The Dark Knight
8. Superman: The Movie
9. Akira
10. Sin City

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

11. Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, at this moment.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I love Ghost World so much. Three words: "Mirror. Father. Mirror."

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJan

My only real issue with the list is the lack of American Splendor. Otherwise, spectacular selections and reasons. Spider-man 2 is still a favorite of mine in the superhero field, while A History of Violence is one of my ten or so best of the 00s.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

Nick: I do love The Dark Knight, and I sort of know all it's details and nuances by heart. And The Dark Knight Rises gets so much wrong about it's place that EVEN THE VILLAIN CHOICE IS (OBJECTIVELY) WRONG. You can debate about the wisdom of Nolan's neutered "realist" take on Ra's being a part of the series or what he did to Joker to cram him into his aesthetic choices, but Joker says "They'll be doubling up the cells at the rate this city's inhabitants are losing their minds" at the end of The Dark Knight. And yet, we get Bane and Talia al Ghul as the villains. They are not freshly crazy citizens of Gotham, like that line of dialogue PROMISED. Batman Forever was kinda bad, but at least it's choice of villain isn't intrinisically invalidated by how Batman Returns ended.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Well I can't say I'm disappointed that ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES didn't make the list (did y'all know it was technically a comic adaptation?) I'm not as big of a fan of A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE as everybody else it would seem (it wasn't on my top ten) and same goes for OLDBOY. My top ten went..

1. Dick Tracy
2. Batman Returns
3. Spider-Man 2
4. Addams Family Values
5. Ghost World
6. Hardware
7. Akira
8. American Splendor
9. Speed Racer
10. Weird Science

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Glenn -- i also voted for addams family values so you're not alone.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Glenn: I didn't, otherwise I would have.

Though there are so many comic book / graphic novels I'm even aware of that have adaptations.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

also i HATE Oldboy. but whatevs. i get that people love it.

June 4, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Ghost World
American Splendor
The Road to Perdition- One of the most beautifully photographed movies and Mendes' best film.
The Dark Knight
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Rocketeer
A History of Violence

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Scott Pilgrim has always been one of those movies I wish I liked more than I actually do. I go with it for the most part, but its third act always loses me.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWill h

Will h, I'm right there with you on Scott Pilgrim. I really liked it, but something's missing for me, and I don't quite know what it is.

I am STUNNED that graphic-novel-come-to-life Sin City isn't on this list. Mine:

1. A History of Violence
2. The Rocketeer (WHY did this flop?!? WHY?!? Am I the ONLY person who loves this movie?!?)
3. Sin City
4. X2
5. The Mask (Jim Carrey's best performance. Yeah. I said it!)
6. Ghost World
7. Addams Family Values/The Addams Family
9. Persepolis
10. Dick Tracy (GOD this movie was EVERYTHING when it came out. Yellow was my favorite color for like two or three years afterward just because Beatty looked so damn cool in that trench.)

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Will H. - I'm with you. I certainly like Scott Pilgrim a whole Hell of a lot without actually loving it.

Glenn - I was torn between Addams Family Values, Superman 2 and Dick Tracy for my #10 spot ultimately siding with Dick Tracy after a fresh viewing.

My ballot was remarkably in line with the taste of the group with 8 out of 10 of my choices making it, if you count Akira in the #11 spot. I'm genuinely shocked by the absence of American Splendor, which I would've predicted for the Top 5.

My ballot

1. Persepolis
2. A History of Violence
3. Oldboy
4. The Dark Knight
5. Ghost World
6. Spiderman 2
7. Akira
8. American Splendor
9. Batman Begins
10. Dick Tracy

If I was ranking best performances in a comic book movie than I would definitely include Batman Returns near, or maybe at, the top. As it stands it's way too uneven for me to place the whole film over other titles.

As for X2 I've never been convinced of its greatness. It's a solid entertaining movie, I don't argue that, but so is Iron Man, Spider Man, Road to Perdition, The Avengers and more. I don't see that quality that its fans see which sets it apart.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Volvagia: Battle Royale's based on a regular prose novel; the manga was written after the movie's release.

Did Nausicaa get any votes? People always seem to forget about that one, which is weird since everyone loves Miyazaki.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrubi-kun

rubi-kun: I got confused up. Remove that, put American Splendor in slot ten on the film only side.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

wil h -- i feel exactly the same about that movie. i love the comic so i wanted to love it but it just loses steam.

June 4, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Seriously, I think Sin city deseverd to be in top 10. There's still too many super heroes on the list (why dont make a specific top 10 super heroes list?), and I would love to see more manga-adaptation (like Ichi the Killer, Battle Royale). Love the number 1 slot though

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTombeet

If I could have voted only for Mickey Rourke's scenes in Sin City I would've considered for my ballot.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Nausicaa had no votes.

I should echo the sentiments on Sin City, which was also on my own ballot, and naturally, The Mask, that as mentioned in the article was my top pick. I'm especially surprised the former missed out. Along with American Splendor, Toad to Perdition and Superman, I'd predicted it for the top ten.

For the curious among you, here's the rest of the pack: 12. Spider Man. 13. Superman: The Movie. 14. Road to Perdition. 15. Sin City. 16. American Splendor. 17. The Mask. 18. Batman: Mask of Phantasm. 19. Addams Family Values. 20. Superman 2.
And of course, The Avengers at 21.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

Re: my last comment, that's not a typo! Toad to Perdition is the little seen film wherein Paul Newman gives his last performance, unrecognizably made up as an Amphibian.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

Michael C -- i would have also voted for that short film :)

Amir -- i can't wait to see Toad of Perdition!

June 4, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Who else voted for "Scott Pilgrim vs the World" is what I wanna know? I also did, i twas my #1. More significantly, though, I'm way curious did anyone else vote for "Spider-Man" because that's ranked above "Spider-Man 2" on my ballot.

My ballot:
"Scott Pilgrim vs the World"
"History of Violence"
"Dick Tracy"
"Spider-Man 2"
"Batman: Mask of the Phantasm"
"The Mask"
"Batman Returns"
"Batman Begins"

I'm way more enamoured with my top 8 than the others and particularly love the top 3, but more than any film on my personal ballot I'm WAY happy that "Dick Tracy" made the collective top 10. I was hoping people didn't forget how fantastic a film that is.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

rubi-kun- For what it's worth, I dithered about Nausicaa for a while, ultimately deciding that since the manga was written only to drum up support for the movie (unless I've been misunderstanding that story all these years), I couldn't in good faith count it. Not sure what other people felt about it.

Also, I refused to give Sin City spot entirely on the grounds that it gave Frank Miller a directing credit, and is therefore directly responsible for The Spirit, which would be high in the running for the title of worst comic book adaptation of all time.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTim

In Dick Tracy I've always found it endearing just how much Big Boy Caprice cares about rehearsal at the Club Ritz. It's as if his whole vast criminal conspiracy was secondary to his main goal of putting on one hell of a floor show.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

@ Nathaniel R: Please watch Ghost World as soon as possible. Great movie with what I consider to be career-best performances by Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi :)

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMeghan

Meghan - I'm not sure, but I believe Nat has seen Ghost World. I was the one who wrote the article and I promise to take your advice and watch it.

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

1. Spiderman 2
2. Superman The Movie
3. Watchmen
4. X2
6. The Dark Knight
7. Hellboy 2
8. The Avengers
9. Justice League: The New Frontier
10. Super

This is my top ten superhero film list. Comics are a medium not a genera and I tend to dislike comparing films like Ghost World and A History of Violence to The Avengers.

June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNR

1. Ghost World
2. The rest

June 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Yes, i have seen Ghost World. I'm not really a fan but so many people like it that i suppose i should revisit.

June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

1(tie)-Spider-Man 2
3-The Dark Knight
4-The Dark Knight Rises
5-Batman Begins
6-Superman II
7-Superman: The Movie
9-Scott Pilgrim vs. the World


Batman Returns
A History Of Violence


Man Of Steel
X-Men: Days Of Future Past

June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Armour

For the record, Sin city rated very high on my list...maybe #2. I'll have to pull it up. Road to Perdition and Addams Family rated highly. It's hard to get down to ten. I was very happy with my list at 14.

June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

I just posted my list of ten over at MNPP today.

I think Mickey Rourke himself is terrific in Sin City but his storyline bores me to tears - my favorite parts are the Elijah Wood parts, but then I have issues. But that movie's pretty hit or miss.

June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJA

Hell Lot Of Information Indeed

September 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRock On 2

Nov 12, 2016 - UFC 205 - Alvarez vs. McGregor pits Conor Notorious McGregor vs Eddie Alvarez fight in Madison Square Garden, New York, New York

November 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterUFC 205

January 1, 2017 | Unregistered Commentersugar bowl

Love the addition of Ghost World and A History of Violence here. Both transcend their medium easily.

April 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJuana Harrelson

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