The Best Comic Book Movies of All Time

hellboy 2

Jacob Hall: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

How can a film adaptation of a comic series feel nothing like its source material while retaining everything that makes that series so special to begin with? It’s a question a comic book fan may ponder while watching Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy and it’s superior sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, two films that fundamentally modify the very nature of the title character and his world while also feeling like love letters instead of betrayals. del Toro, so in love with Mike Mignola’s wondrous comic book creatiion, is confident enough to inject the character with a big dose of his own DNA. He makes Hellboy his own.

Removed from the comics entirely, the Hellboy movies are just plain beautiful. A cocktail of H.P. Lovecraft and classic folklore and Judeo-Christian mythology and Jack Kirby, they proudly wear the colors of a superhero movie while living in their own freaky bubble, a bubble where monsters are the coolest thing ever, especially when they’re high-strung 60-year old teenagers armed with big guns. It’s a wacky fantasy, built for preteens and those lucky enough to exist on the same wavelength as del Toro, the rare artist capable of blending high art with great trash. The Hellboy movies are fast food produced by a five-star chef. They’re comfort food produced with supreme class.

The first Hellboy is a ton of fun, a enthusiastic collage of hand-picked genre concepts perched on the shoulders of an incredible Ron Perlman performance, but its sequel is different, more perfect experience. del Toro opens up Hellboy’s world, steering this demonic secret agent and his team of monstrous (and that’s a compliment here) allies into a literal fantasy world filled with elves and trolls and fairies. The first movie tells us that the world is bigger than we know, but the follow-up shows us, filling every frame with creatures so imaginative and so different than what we’ve seen before that we can only imagine what wonders lurk in every other crack and crevice around this world. It helps that del Toro’s natural affection for the odd and the grotesque is in full swing here – there is no cannon fodder here, just creatures who have found themselves on the wrong side of a desperate conflict.

Earlier this week, del Toro revealed that Hellboy 3 is officially dead and that our final moments with Big Red, where he learns that he’s going to be a father while also knowing that he’s key to the coming apocalypse, will forever exist as a cliffhanger, frozen in time. Maybe that’s the way to remember the Hellboy series, with an ending that’s funny and sincere and weird, aware of the weight of the moment but willing to shrug it off because life can’t be all doom and gloom.

iron man

Blake Harris: Iron Man

I’ll admit it, when I first heard that the director of Elf and That Actor Who Got Arrested Driving Naked in his Porsche would be bringing Iron Man to the big screen, I was not particularly optimistic. It didn’t help either that just one year earlier, a trio of super-sized flops — Ghost RiderSpider-Man 3 and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer — seemed to have killed off the superhero genre. But then…that trailer.

From the back of a Humvee, with a tumbler casually in hand, we meet the hero we never knew we wanted but now could never live without: Robert Downey Jr. He goes by the name “Tony Stark” and later by “Iron Man” but none of that matters right away. Because snarky sanguine, Robert Downey Jr. — musing about fear and respect; wondering if it’s too much to seek both — has already roped us in. No costumes, no fight scenes, no reliance on a blockbuster IP; just this crazy calm charismatic guy ushering in a new era of superhero movie.

In retrospect, it’s kind of shocking that Marvel gambled $140 million on that film, especially when you throw in a Holden Caulfield hero and a villain whose machinations actually kind of make sense. We don’t even see the iconic suit of armor, which was by no means iconic at the time (see 2007: Iron Chef > Iron Man) — and yet the movie glides on character and story, flaws and redemption, arrogance and technology — until finally the credits roll and we’re collectively reminded that blockbuster films can actually be clever, thrilling and fun. So much fun that…wait, wait, the credits are over, but man alive I think there’s more. Is that Samuel L. Jackson? Did he just say Avengers? Oh boy, what hijinks there will be, when the earth’s mightiest heroes meet the earth’s mightiest ego…

Wolverine 3 title Logan poster

David Chen: Logan

Logan is one of my favorite superhero film because it DGAF about being a superhero film. It doesn’t need to set up future franchise films. It doesn’t need to be an origin story. It’s a gritty, violent western with the trappings of an X-Men film, led by an actor who has been inhabiting this character for nearly two decades. By being freed from its (X-Men) Origins (Wolverine), it has the ability to take the character to places that others wouldn’t dare. This Logan is a cold-hearted, f-bomb dropping, arm and leg-amputating killer. You are scared at what he can do to people.

Ultimately though, all of that atmosphere wouldn’t mean much without an emotional connection to the character. What has Logan been through? How has it impacted what he’s doing in this film? The filmmakers explore these ideas in rich and interesting ways. In making this swan song, they left it all on the table. I loved it.

Road To Perdition

Jack Giroux: Road To Perdition

Director Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition, based on Max Allan Collins’ graphic novel, hits me like a ton of bricks every time I revisit it and get lost again in this breathtakingly beautiful story about a father (Tom Hanks) and son (Tyler Hoechlin). Comic book movies often tell stories about good versus evil, but rarely is that battle this internalized and expressed with such emotion. Road to Perdition is about the fight between good and evil happening within these characters, most notably Michael Sullivan Sr., a mobster killer, isn’t much of a talker, but Hanks speaks volumes in every scene. The mixed emotions of fear and love he has for his son, who he desperately wants to go down another path, is always real and palpable. Hanks’ performance, and his character’s hope for his son, always moves me to tears.

Also, the ambush in the rain? Beautifully shot by the late Conrad Hall and capped off by a heartbreaking exchange between Hanks and Paul Newman. The presence of those acting giants alone helps make the scene as epic.

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