Greetings from the Odinson,
I recently watched Captain America: Civil War again and I have to say, that is darn near a perfect film. I really cannot find any weaknesses in this Gold Standard of comics-to-movies magic. If I were forced to try and find a single flaw I guess it would be that a non-comic fan or someone who is not familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe would probably be better served watching the other Marvel movies before Civil War, but even that is not completely necessary. That’s how well-crafted this film truly is.
With a new movie and/or TV show based on a Marvel, DC, Star Wars, and other comics and pop culture properties hitting the screens every other month, comic fans really do live in a time of riches. However, this was not always so. Growing up through the 70s, 80s, and 90s, other than the occasional Superman and Batman film (which were not all great), there were comic book adaptations that were coin flip hits and misses at best. For every Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie there was Howard the Duck, The Mask, and Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, and for every Tim Burton’s Batman there was Barb Wire, Time Cop, and Tank Girl. It seemed Hollywood would try and adapt any comic to film except for an icon. I’m not here to say these films were all bad, far from it. Many of them are quite enjoyable and watchable, many of them are not. What I am saying is that right here, right now is a great time to be both a comic and movie fan.
So, I got to thinking. What were the comic book-style films that bridged the gap between the times when Hollywood was mildly interested in our beloved medium to now, when Hollywood is all but maintained by adaptations of our beloved medium?
Well, of course, there were the pop culture juggernaut franchises like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and The Lord of the Rings. Plus, there were the Action Heroes of the 80s (Rambo, Dutch, John McClane, etc.) and the cult heroes of the 90s (Dark Man, Ash, The Crow, Blade, etc.). But, all of these are well established Gold and cult classics. So, I really wanted to dig deep and come up with a unique list of either comic book inspired or comic book-like movies which every fanboy and girl should see in their life time.
So, the Odinson explored his extensive collection of videos, cherry-picking from all the great VHS tapes and DVDs, and this is the list I came up with.
Top 10 Movies All Comic Book Fans Must See at Least Once
10 – Looper (2012) – This is easily one of the best science fiction films of the last ten years. Influences include Blade Runner, Terminator, and Akira. The premise: In the distant future, time travel has been invented and outlawed. The only ones with the will and resources to use it is the criminal underworld. They send marks back to the past where they are dealt with by hitmen known as Loopers. Joe, a Looper, in the present is stunned when he comes face-to-face with himself from the future. Now, this is where it gets wild. To say any more about the plot would be giving too much away. Needless to say, this film attacks many different ideas not the least of which are the consequences of time-travel and the age old question – If you could travel back in time and kill Hitler before he grew up, would you? Writer/Director Rian Johnson has quickly raced to the top of my list of creators to watch, and I won’t have long to wait because he is writing and directing Star Wars: Episode VIII! I can’t wait.
9 – The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension (1984) – Instead of living in the 1930s, what if Doc Savage and his eclectic group companions lived in the modern day 1980s? Well, the Man of Bronze, instead of being a scientist-detective-surgeon-master of disguise-martial artist, would be Buckaroo Banzai, a physicist-neurosurgeon-test pilot-rock star-super hero. This film is full of Gold Standard pop culture pedigree. It stars Peter Weller (RoboCop, The Dark Knight Returns), John Lithgow (Twilight Zone: The Movie, Dexter), Ronald Lacey (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Red Sonja), Clancy Brown (Highlander, Starship Troopers), Christopher Lloyd (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Back to the Future), and Jeff Goldblum (The Fly, Jurassic Park, Independence Day). Plus, recently it has been announced that Buckaroo Banzai and his cohorts will be returning in a new TV series with showrunner Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats)!
8 – Cyborg (1989) – In a dystopian future, war and famine have cast civilization into ruin. Now, a plague sweeps across the globe and threatens to bring mankind to the edge of extinction. In this wasteland, only the strong survive. Pirates and marauders pillage and plunder any and all who cross their paths. The last scientists, in a hidden bunker in Atlanta, use their super science to turn a woman into a cyborg, part human, part machine, and send her out to find a cure for the plague. She succeeds, but her bodyguards are murdered by the most vicious pirate gang in the world, a ruthless army of killers led by the deadly warrior Fender. Fender plans to use the knowledge of the cure to become a god. Only one man may be able to stop him, a slinger named Gibs.
7 – Swamp Thing (1982) – This film introduced a very young Odinson to the character of the Swamp Thing. I have spoken before on the impact that character has had on me (see The Odinson Revisits Quite Possibly the Perfect Horror Comic). This is a fantastic B-movie, complete with laughs, low-budget monster FX, and a great cast. This film adaptation also stays pretty darn close to the source material, at least the pre-Alan Moore retcon material. Plus, a nice little cherry some may have forgotten is that this little gem was written and directed by none other than horror film legend Wes Craven (The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Street, Scream). We’ll forgive the campy 1989 sequel The Return of Swamp Thing and the forgettable 1990 TV spin-off because the original is just that good.
6 – The Last Dragon (1985) – Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon takes the format of a classic western, throws in the fantasy elements of a comic book, seasons in some pop music for flavor, and adds the cherry on top that is kung fu to produce a live action comic book-style film aimed directly at the MTV generation. As a fanboy who not only saw this gem in the theatres multiple times during its original theatrical run, but having just watched it again in the last week, twice (yes, I said twice), this is one guilty pleasure that truly holds up and stands the test of time. What else can I say about a movie that features a protagonist that catches bullets with his teeth?! This is one film that truly possesses the power of the Glow.
5 – A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) – For two straight films, dream-demon Freddy Kruger went basically unchallenged and terrorized the teenagers of Elm Street, murdering them at will in their sleep. However, in this installment, the kids of Elm Street fight back! Nancy Thompson, the heroine from the first Nightmare, is joined by a motley group of kids who all discover that in their dreams, if they believe it, they can be powerful. Teaming up and using their newfound dream-spawned super powers, the Dream Warriors take Freddy down a peg in arguably the second best chapter of this beloved horror franchise.
4 – The Eliminators (1986) – What do you get when you assemble a scientist and her robot sidekick, a pirate, a ninja warrior, and a nigh-unstoppable cyborg and send them after a mad man bent on world domination? You get one of the best and absolutely most underrated B-movies of the 20th century. This all but forgotten gem from the Reagan era is the very definition of a comic book come to life.
3 – Chronicle (2012) – When three teenagers come into contact with a mysterious object they suddenly develop powers and abilities beyond those of mortal men. Clearly influenced by the mythologies of Superman and Akira, this movie explores the motifs of power and corruption and right and wrong. Plus, this film delivers a delicious little twist to the super hero genre. Yes, we witness the origin story of a hero, but that story is almost a subplot. What truly takes center stage as this supercharged tale unfolds is the birth of a super villain. Normally, found footage movies do not do it for me, but this movie is fantastic.
2 – Dogma (1999) – Bethany is just an average, normal girl who has lost her faith, but her life is forever changed the night an angelic messenger charges her with a quest to save the world. She is joined by a dead guy from the past, a magical Muse, and the dynamic duo of Jay and Silent Bob. Their mission is to stop two indestructible renegade angels from undoing creation. The only thing standing in their way is a rogue demon, his hockey goon henchmen and a monster comprised of human waste. Writer/director and Hall of Fame fanboy Kevin Smith (Clerks II, Yoga Hosers) concocts a supernatural action/adventure with a plot that would be right at home in the four color medium.
1 – Flash Gordon (1980) – The fact that the production, from the costumes to the special FX, is so far and away over the top, and the fact that the actors and creative team behind the cameras were all on the same page and played their roles straight against such an absurd backdrop, makes this cult classic an absolute gem. The soundtrack by the rock band Queen alone is worth the price of admission. Hands down, the Odinson’s absolute favorite thing about this great film is pop culture royalty Max von Sydow (Conan the Barbarian, Ghostbusters II, Judge Dredd, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as Ming the Merciless. Next to Terence Stamp’s General Zod, Sydow’s Ming is the greatest, most arch super villain to ever grace the Silver Screen. Flash Gordon is the greatest comic book-style B-movie ever! If you’ve never seen it (and for shame if you haven’t), or if it has been a while since you have seen it, do yourself a favor and track this one down right now.
Honorable Mentions: Enter the Dragon (1973), The Warriors (1979), Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), MegaForce (1982), Dreamscape (1984), Ice Pirates (1984), Streets of Fire (1985), and John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998).
Today, we have Spider-Man swinging onto the Big Screen every three years or so, the Avengers assembling to take down Ultron, and even the DCU’s villains embarking on a mission as the Suicide Squad. The films above, those unsung heroes of cinema, those diamonds in the rough, they are the films over the last thirty-plus years that took their creative cues from comic books and put it on the Big Screen.
They may be overshadowed in the movies today by the Rock Stars of comics, but these classic pieces of art, these truly wonderful moments in time when cinema captured the spirit of comic books will never be forgotten.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell