By Daniel Fox | @DanielFox85
In case you haven’t noticed, we currently live in a cinematic world that is completely saturated with Comic Book/Superhero films. From the years 2000 to 2009 there were 30 movies adapted from existing comic books. With the release of Captain America: Civil War, 30 more comic book films have arrived since 2010, thus matching the entire total of films from the previous decade in just over half the time. Meanwhile there are another 18 currently in the studio pipeline scheduled to be released before the end of 2019. For those who struggle with math, that’s a whopping 48 comic book films scheduled for this decade, against 30 films made in the 2000’s. Even if you want to go back to the 1990’s, there were only 19 comic book films made in that entire decade. So in the span of 3 decades we’ve gone from an average of two comic book films a year in the 90’s, to three a year in the 2000’s, to now an average of five comic book films a year in the present decade.
It’s no secret why this is the case. Money. Comic book movies absolutely dominate the box office both in the United States, and especially internationally (looking at you China). In fact, 7 out of the top 10 highest grossing domestic box office opening weekends in history belong to comic book films, and all but one of those films (The Dark Knight) have come in this current decade (side note, while looking that statistic up I saw that three Twilight films are in the top 20, I then proceeded to die a little inside).
I live in Honduras, a third-world country, and in my city of La Ceiba we have a really awesome two-screen movie theater (insert sarcastic tone here). However, we do get a majority of the mainstream films that are released in the states, just on different timelines. But the power of comic book films is completely evident here. In December I went to a second night showing of Star Wars VII, I was so paranoid about not getting tickets that I made my wife leave about 45 minutes early, but there was barely anybody there with the theater maybe 20% full. When I went to see Batman v. Superman about a month ago the line was out the door, every seat sold out. Two weeks ago for Civil War it took me going to the theater on three separate occasions before I finally arrived early enough to get a ticket to a show time.
So many comic book films are being put out there, I was curious if the quantity was somewhat diluting the quality of the films being released. What I saw when I went through all the films was a definite tier system. Overall, there are not too many films that are flat out horrible (although they certainly exist), and also not too many films that were 5 star quality. Most films did tend to stay in that 3 or 4 star range, enjoyable but not a film that could define the genre. So because I have an obsession with ranking things, I decided to try to put these 30 films into some type of class system. Without further ado, here is my ranking of the existing 30 comic book movies of this decade.
**To clarify these are films based on existing comics or graphic novels, therefore a film like Chronicle that is an original work but isn’t based on an existing source material is not included in this list... sorry if you’re a big Chronicle fan, maybe send a support letter to Josh Trank, I’m sure he could use one right about now**
The “Batman Nipple-Suit” Division
30. Jonah Hex (2010)
29. The Green Hornet (2011)
28. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)
27. Fantastic Four (2015)
26. Green Lantern (2011)
25. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Ok, small confession. I have only seen a couple movies in this division, so I guess Jonah Hex could theoretically be the greatest movie ever made, but common sense is telling me… no. Also, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Megan Fox is in two of these films. Do you think Seth Rogen took a really bad bong hit before he signed on for Green Hornet, also how did they convince an Oscar winner in Christoph Waltz to sign on for that film? Was there blackmail involved? Also telling that two of these films (The Green Hornet, Green Lantern) were openly ridiculed by their stars in later films (This is the End, Deadpool). Without a doubt though the biggest disaster is Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four. Trank was coming fresh off Chronicle and managed to get Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan on board for a film that would all but erase the memory of the horrible two films that preceded it. Rumor was all Trank had to do was nail this film and that Disney had him hand-picked for a Star Wars centered movie. What he proceeded to do was blow his entire career by completely mismanaging his budget and crew, fighting on set with his cast, and ordering reshoots three months prior to release. To top it off Trank racked up $100,000 in damages at his rented house in New Orleans due to letting his small pet dogs destroy everything in sight, and yes that actually happened.
The “Emo-Dancing Peter Parker” Division
24. Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
23. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
22. Iron Man 2 (2010)
21. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
20. Thor (2011)
19. Iron Man 3 (2013)
18. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Have you ever walked out of a movie and when asked your thoughts by a friend your response is, “it was ok.” That pretty much defines these films. I can barely remember anything about these, so in order here’s the only things I remember about this division; Jim Carrey’s horrible accent, Tommy Lee Jones, Mickey Rourke using The Wrestler to get a nice paycheck and Terrence Howard getting the shaft, something about elves, Natalie Portman in the desert, me being so completely ticked off about the Mandarin twist that I completely shut down, and that I was shocked a Ben Affleck version of the Batman actually carried the entire movie.
The “Too Soon” Division
17. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
16. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
Ok, I’m a notorious defender of these two movies, while a majority of the public is… not so much. I really think Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone blew away Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, almost to the point where I wish the original Spider-Man trilogy (ok maybe leave out the third) would’ve been held off for those two actors. There were two main problems to this series, first of all as the division title suggests they came way too soon, only 5 years after Spider-Man 3. The mistake was going through the entire origin story again, something that Marvel definitely picked up on and is using for the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming, but Sony had to do something in order to keep the rights so I understand from a business perspective why they did it. The second problem was the villains, if you’re going to be a great comic book movie then the villain has to be a great as well. As much as every scene with Garfield and Stone was great, every scene with Rhys Ifans, Jamie Foxx, and Dane DeHaan was just terrible.
The “Catch it on Cable” Division
15. Man of Steel (2013)
14. Ant-Man (2015)
13. The Wolverine (2013)
12. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
All of these movies, I feel, are above average but not great. I never really understood the bad reputation Man of Steel received, I really enjoyed it, and it is lightyears better than Batman v. Superman. Ant-Man was a solid low-budget, low risk/high reward film, and I really enjoyed Paul Rudd in the role, but I would’ve loved to see Edgar Wright’s version. The Wolverine was a really enjoyable film that had a solid character arc for Hugh Jackman’s Logan. The second Avengers couldn’t live up to the hype and is probably somewhat better than what I give it credit for, I just remember expecting something in line with the first film and being letdown.
The “Go Ahead and Add it to the Blu-ray Collection” Division
11. Deadpool (2016)
10. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
9. Kick-Ass (2010)
8. X-Men: First Class (2011)
7. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
6. Big Hero 6 (2014)
The thing I find in common with all of these films that sets them apart is that they are in their own ways all really original comic book films. Things that haven’t necessarily been done before in previous comic book movies. This trait made these films stand out, and while they weren’t necessarily the cream of the crop, they are definitely on the marquee of the best films so far this decade. Deadpool is the first Marvel film to go for the hard R rating and succeed. Days of Future Past was the first film that really brought together two film franchises from the same comic into one movie, in bringing the 2000’s X-Men into the same world as X-Men: First Class. I don’t think Deadpool would’ve been made if Kick-Ass wasn’t such a hit. This is the first R-rated comic book film that I remember being successful, and the Big Daddy rescue scene is still one of my favorite comic book film scenes of all-time. Hey Matthew Vaughn, good for you going back-to-back on this list with First Class coming up next, original in that it was the first X-Men origin story. Civil War was great and was the first film to have friends turn into foes. Big Hero 6 - excuse me, Academy Award winning Big Hero 6 - proved that almost a decade after The Incredibles there is a market for a good animated comic book or super hero film.
The “Amazing, but still not quite as good as The Dark Knight” Division
5. The Avengers (2012)
4. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
3. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
2. Dredd (2012)
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
All of these are excellent films, not just comic book movies, but great films that would rank up there with any other dramatic or comedic work as a challenger in my top ten films of the year list. To be clear, none of these are at the level of The Dark Knight, which remains the high-water mark of comic book movies to aim towards. These all miss the mark for that level of greatness, but they all are great successes in filmmaking. Not many films can say they were the climax that all other films were being built towards over a five year period, but that’s what The Avengers was at that point. It doesn’t seem so radical now that it’s so commonplace, but the idea to make five different stand-alone films focusing on characters that would come together for a movie with a massive scope was a very radical notion at the time. When it was planned in the late 2000’s, people were not sure if it was going to work, but credit to Marvel and Joss Whedon for putting together a film that has a perfect blend of character development, action, and comedy. The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t get the recognition it deserves mainly because people expected it to be The Dark Knight. You can’t expect a pitcher to go out and throw back-to-back perfect games. The film is what it is, a fitting end to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, and the more I’ve watched it over the years, the more I’ve appreciated the film. Guardians of the Galaxy had absolutely no reason to be successful, a very obscure comic that probably 99.9% of the population had never even heard of five years ago complete with a talking raccoon. But its originality, humor, and star Chris Pratt absolutely made this one of the best comic book films of all-time. If there’s one film in the hierarchy of this list that I’m guessing most people haven’t seen it’s probably Dredd, and if you are one of those people you need to see this film ASAP. Vaguely modeled after a 2011 Indonesian film, The Raid (check that film out as well) it is probably the best pure action film on this list. This is nothing like the horrible mid-90’s Stallone vehicle Judge Dredd. Credit to star Karl Urban for never taking off his trademark helmet throughout the entire film, and writer Alex Garland (Ex Machina) for a fast paced, intelligent, action packed film. My number one of this decade, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, successfully transformed a comic book movie into a political thriller. The number of relevant, and thought provoking questions about the role of government this film asks in between great action set pieces make it stand apart at the top of the list.
So there’s the list, it’s only my opinion and is totally subjective, which is why going to the movies is so much fun. What does the rest of this decade have in store? I’m not sure what the quality is going to be, but I’m sure that I’ll be standing in line opening night making a bunch of studio executives very happy.