Not every comic book movie is an epic box office smash, and with good reason – a lot of them suck. But there are rare hidden gems that get sadly overlooked; some due to poor marketing, some suffer from terrible release dates, and many just get ignored because in the age of $150M+ budgets, a lot of the smaller, non-Marvel or DC films simply don’t get love from critics on the interwebz.
As a lover of movies and a devourer of graphic novels, I feel it is my duty to tell the world about the films that have gone unseen or underappreciated. Here is part one of my two-part series: The Top 10 Most Underrated Comic Book Movies.
Hold on to your lightsabers, people – things are about to get geeky.
10. Watchmen (2009)
Zack Snyder, best known for his ultraviolent adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300, took a crack at directing yet another classic – arguably the most critically acclaimed comic book series of all time, Watchmen.
The results were mixed, depending on who you ask. Some felt it was a faithful recreation, with the look, feel and overall tone being as close as you could possibly achieve. Some complained about the addition of gratuitous violence that was absent from the original book, and the vastly different ending. And others simply lost their minds (writer Alan Moore being one of them) at the thought of their beloved series being adapted for the screen. Why mess with perfection?
I have mixed emotions, and feel like everyone had a valid point. But regardless, this is a vastly underrated comic book adaptation that surpassed many of its Marvel and DC counterparts in terms of storytelling and creativity, yet it amassed far less at the box office.
If you’re a fan of the book, of Snyder’s trademark style, or just comics in general, give Watchmen a viewing – you won’t be disappointed. And if you’ve already seen it, watch the extended cut on DVD or Blu-Ray – it’s even better than the original.
9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Forget the sequels. Ignore the cartoon. And pretend that the recent animated film doesn’t exist…actually, just forget about pretty much everything, especially Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap.” The original live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film from over two decades ago still stands the test of time, and is worth another viewing.
The martial arts scenes are fantastic, the action is intense, and the story is very close to the first TMNT series put out by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. There are a few minor adjustments, and it was softened a little around the edges, but the essence of the story is intact. Best of all, the turtle suits are awesome! The look is very authentic, and the stunt men were able to pull off some very impressive fight choreography while buried under a considerable load of green latex.
8. The Crow (1994)
Brandon Lee, son of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee, made his final appearance in this film, having been killed on-set. An accident involving a prop gun ended his life before the movie was finished, and there was a very real possibility of the project being shelved indefinitely. With the blessing of his family, The Crow was completed using a body double for Lee, as well as a clever blend of CGI.
The result was a haunting tale of love, loss, and revenge; accompanied by beautiful sets, a killer soundtrack, and some truly fantastic performances (David Patrick Kelly’s ‘T-Bird’ was particularly entertaining).
Although a farewell to Brandon Lee, it introduced the world to director Alex Proyas, who would go on to helm the vastly underrated Dark City (and the very not good Nicholas Cage vehicle Knowing, but I forgive him).
James O’Barr’s gothic, black-and-white comic was faithfully brought to the screen, and although it was tarnished by some truly horrible sequels and an even worse television series, the original from 1994 stands as one of the most original – and most overlooked – comic book adaptations ever made.
7. The Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Anyone familiar with Marvel MAX comic The Punisher: War Zone knows that it’s not just “dark” or “gritty” — it’s freakin’ disturbing. Frank Castle isn’t called The Punisher for nothing: he slaughters the guilty without mercy, and often does it in the most spectacularly violent way possible. The movie captured the essence of the comic without a single compromise, and that’s saying a lot in an age when we had to endure a watered-down, PG-13 version of Daredevil (a travesty that I will not elaborate on now, as that rant could last several thousand words on its own).
Hollywood has simply been afraid to let some comic book characters be who they really are in fear of alienating the mainstream, but on the third attempt at a Punisher feature, they finally got it right.
The film was decimated by critics and ignored at the theaters, all but guaranteeing we won’t be enjoying a War Zone 2 any time soon. But this movie is a must-watch if you love The Punisher, if you love action, and if you can stomach sitting through a movie that’s so packed with blood-drenched executions it makes Hostel and Saw look like Disney animated classics.
6. Wanted (2008)
Mark Millar’s brilliant six-issue comic book series was released as a film in the summer of 2008, and although it lacked the household name recognition of Batman or The Hulk, the result was a surprise box office smash, and some very favorable reviews from the grumpy, comic-hating critics.
So if it was such a hit, why was it underrated? Because years later, it still isn’t being given credit as one of the great comic book movies, and lauded for its action, directing, and numerous achievements.
For an unapologetic R-rated comic book film, it scored a very respectable (and surprising) 71% on Rotten Tomatoes, and debuted #1 at the North American box office with a $50M+ opening weekend. Internationally it broke records in South Korea and Russia, in part due to Russian director Timur Bekmambetov.
It was a loose adaptation to say the least (the book was about super villains who collaborated to rid the world of super heroes, and the movie was about a group of assassins) but Bekmambetov stayed very close to the spirit of the original source material despite the changes, and had the blessing of creator Mark Millar himself.
Although it lacks some of the more traditional comic book elements from Millar’s series (don’t expect any masks or costumes) Wanted still has everything an action fan could ask for: gratuitous violence, four-letter words, Angelina Jolie firing a shotgun from the hood of a cherry red Dodge Viper…and if all that doesn’t sell you, it’s got Morgan Freeman playing a ruthless gun wielding bad-ass (that alone is worth the price of admission.)
Come back soon to see the second part of my countdown, including the number one most underrated comic book movie!
Blake Northcott is an author, Twitter-er, and occasional Slayer of Vampires (only the ones that sparkle). You can follow her on Twitter, or pick up her best-selling Sci-Fi/Superhero books Vs. Reality and Relapse over at Amazon.com.