50 essential comic-book movies, with Edgar Wright: part 1

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In Part One we're scraping the barrel with 'Howard the Duck' and 'Judge Dredd', getting frisky with 'Gwendoline' and 'Josie and the Pussycats' and having an identity crisis with 'James Batman'...

50. Howard the Duck (1986)


Directed by Willard Huyck

Movie most fowl
The original example of ‘No, but the comic book was, like, really good and subversive and clever!', ‘Howard the Duck' was the film which, single-handedly and over night, transformed our collective image of George Lucas. But is it really that bad? After 24 years of gags, worst-ever polls and mountainous critical opprobrium, could anything really be that bad? Well, it's about a duck from space who knows Quack-fu and falls in love with a synth-punk rock chick whose band he decides to manage. And it cost $36 million. So yes. THWatch this so, so, so, so, so, so wrong clip
Read the Time Out review

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49. Largo Winch (2008)


Directed by Jérôme Salle

L'homme indestructible
Considering how many comic books the French and Belgians pumped out in the 1960s and '70s, it's remarkable how few of them made it to the big screen. In the wake of ‘Largo Winch' that seems to be changing, with new adaptations of ‘Tintin', ‘The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec' and, um, ‘The Smurfs', all in the pipeline. In updating Philippe Francq and Jean Van Hamme's series of corporate espionage thrillers, director Jérôme Salle seemed to have stumbled upon a natural winner, updating the guns, girls and gadgets glamour of Bond with a more relatable and globally anti-establishment ethos. But the film doesn't really work, in part because we've kind of seen it all before, in part because the action sequences don't have much vim, and in large part because the hero, Largo himself, is just a bit of a prat. TH
Watch the trailer here

Read the Time Out review

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48. Judge Dredd (1995)


Directed by Danny Cannon

Judge not, lest ye be judged...
For the comisphere, Danny Cannon's interpretation of one the subtlest, most mischievous satires ever to be rendered in pen and ink ranks somewhere between Salman Rushdie's 'The Satanic Verses' and the Munich Agreement, and not in a good way. Taking as its cue Dredd's epic, 15-issue '2000 AD' strip 'The Cursed Earth', the movie cuts out the best characters, including grenade-toting punk Spikes Harvey Rotten, and ditches inspired but actionable storylines like the brutal Burger Wars between Ronald MacDonald's (sic) paramilitaries and The Burger King's death squads. In their place, we get a dull rehash of Stallone's already lumbering 'Demolition Man' from a couple of years earlier, with a polystyrene sound stage standing in for the sprawling Mega City One and a bit of Orange County quad-bike track for the vast, radioactive desert of the Cursed Earth. What should have been an easy translation – the Dredd strip, after all, has its roots in the 'Dirty Harry' films – comes off like a turbocharged episode of 'Space Precinct' minus the narrative peril. It's hard to overstate the lack of ambition and ready compromise stinking up the show here and, moreover, its almost impossible to discuss the movie's vast array of faults without mentioning the whole 'taking off the helmet' issue. And that just makes you sound like the worst pantywaist fanboy. Gah! PF
Watch scenes from the film's premiere (which looks like it was more exciting than the feature presentation)

Read the Time Out review



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47. Supergirl (1984)


Directed by Jeannot Szwarc

‘Is it a bird..?' (Honk!)
Oof! With budgets on the Superman movies getting tighter than the Man of Steel's undercrackers, little was expected from this lightweight spin-off, but nothing could prepare audiences for the barrage of cut-price offal that eventually splattered across the screen. The effects look as if they were salvaged from some experimental late-'60s sci-fi mood-mare, the sets look pillaged, the low-grade film stock makes all the outdoor scenes look like they were shot on Walton Mountain and the cast – especially Peter O'Toole – look utterly befuddled. Helen Slater does a fine job as Ms Supes and Faye Dunaway looks like she's having a ball on baddie duties, but the general level of quality on show is such that – as you can see below – the producers had real trouble in even stitching together a two-minute trailer. ALD
Watch the trailer here

Read the Time Out review

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46. Dennis the Menace (1993)


Directed by Nick Castle

Gnasher! Sick balls!
The British Dennis the Menace was an amoral, softy-bashing hoodlum who ruled his neighbourhood with an iron fist and a pumped-up attack dog. Had he been given his own big-screen workout, it might have been a cross between ‘Romper Stomper' and ‘The Tin Drum'. Alas, it was not to be. His identically named though slightly less demented US cousin, however, snagged himself this saccharine John Hughes-produced vehicle that exists as little more than an excuse for Walter Matthau – as his crusty but ultimately benign neighbour, Mr Wilson – to bellow "Why, you little..!!!" about once every three or four minutes while he inches his way towards that inevitable heart attack. Tee-hee, indeed, eh, readers? ALDWatch the trailer here
Read the Time Out review

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45. The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak (1984)


Directed by Just Jaeckin

Faster, pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Given director Jaeckin's previous 'literary' adaptations, 'Emmanuelle' and the underrated Ferrero Rocher-type smut-bust 'Story of O', it's disappointing that this slimly financed erotic adventure fails to live up to its leather-bound source material. John Willie's bondage comic strip 'The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline' graced the pages of his own 'Bizarre' magazine in the days when America's wartime permissiveness was faltering under a new Puritanism and only Bettie Page in a horse's bridle stood between sexual democracy and the zipper police. Where those strips were geared to getting Gwendoline to the point where she could be bound and gagged by the curvaceous agent U-69, Jaeckin's loose adaptation imposed a storyline involving a rare butterfly, paternal loss and a trek to China. The result is a more circuitous route to the same destination; clothes fall off, get wet or are otherwise torn before somebody has to be bound and gagged and, if possible, sexually humiliated in a tasteful manner. No opportunity for tittays to burst free is left untapped and the cinematic references are pure 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Hooters'. It's tame, mainstream stuff compared to Willie's original, especially with spandex rock-chick Tawny Kitaen in the lead, but the film is so incompetently put together it's hard to deny there's a certain clueless '80s charm at work. PF
Watch the softcore thrills of the original trailer


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44. Josie and the Pussycats (2001)


Directed by Harry Elfont & Deborah Kaplan

The outlaw Josie's sales
Based on the cutesy, 1960s Archie Comics series about the artistic travails of a three-piece girl band prone to wearing scandalous leopard-print outfits (much to Jughead's sexual annoyance), this snappy, partially-forgotten film version is really not all that bad. Here's where the problems arose: aside from heralding the final A-list role-of-the-fluffy-dice for kooky lead actress Rachel Leigh Cook – who has not really had a mainstream hit since – the key thing the film is remembered for is its have-your-Starbucks-cake-and-eat-it attitude towards product placement. Obviously, with the story centred around the girls trying to resist bloodsucking corporate bastards (cf Alan Cumming dressed like a dimestore Morticia Adams), the many tongue-in-cheek inserts of Quality Branded Items actually made it look like the fat cats may have won this bout. To quote Kim Gordon from her cameo in ‘The Simpsons’: ‘It isn't about freaks; it's about music, and advertisement, and youth-oriented product positioning.’ Amen to that. DJ

Edgar Wright says:

A lot of people have suggested that “Josie and the Pussycats” might be an influence on “Scott Pilgrim”, and weirdly it has one of the same producers, Mark Platt. I hate to disappoint them, but I’ve never seen it. I’ve never even seen the cartoon.

Watch the toe-tappin' intro to the original Hanna-Barbera cartoon series

Read the Time Out review

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43. Lucky Luke (2009)


Directed by James Huth

Ride 'em, garçon-vacher...
Alongside the much-loved likes of ‘Asterix' and ‘Tin Tin', Maurice De Bevere's (or ‘Morris', as was his nom de plume) long-running comic strip ‘Lucky Luke' stands as one of the most popular in mainland Europe. Not a million miles away from Woody from 'Toy Story', the character of Luke is a fond parody of Western Man-with-No-Name stereotypes, a wanderin' happy-go-lucky sharp shooter who is more often than not found putting the kibosh on those dastardly Dalton brothers as they attempt to pull off another devious scheme. To date, there have been two film versions culled from the material, a 1991 shelf-filler that saw Italian-born action pin-up Terence Hill jettisoning the help of long-time partner Bud Spencer to make a forgettable, family-friendly action Western, and a far more successful Francophone version from 2009 which had newly-minted megastar Jean Dujardin (he of the massively popular ‘OSS 117' movies) nodding, winking and nudging his way through the title role. It also helped that doe-eyed Euro pin-up Sylvie Testud assumed the role of Luke's beau, Calamity Jane. DJ
Watch the teaser trailer here

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42. James Batman (1966)


Directed by Artemio Marquez

Kapow! Splat! Krunch! Kiss! Bang! Martini!
Okay, so we're slightly pushing the definition of a ‘comic-book movie' with this one, but any excuse to wax lyrical about the great Dolphy, 82-year-old Tagalog king of comedy and all-round laugh-a-minute living legend. Just look at his IMDB page. In this one, the star of ‘Adolphong Hitler' and ‘Markova: Comfort Gay' plays both James Bond and Batman, who team up to defeat an evil crime syndicate bent on destroying the world! Cue much punching, kicking, driving, shooting, pratfalling, cackling, capturing, escaping, leaping, throttling, ducking, headbutting, more punching, girls in bikinis and general chicanery. Dolphy, even though we've never actually seen one of your films all the way through, we salute you! TH

Edgar Wright says:

‘What the hell is “James Batman”?’
Watch the world's first cleavage-staring contest here


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41. Fantastic Four (2005)


Directed by Tim Story

Blame on!
Rushed, plasticky and disposable, what could easily have been a franchise to rival Marvel's own ‘X-Men' was immediately undercut by a series of missed opportunities. Perhaps holding out for George Clooney as Reed Richards in a '60s-set Silver Age adaptation of the funnybooks' favourite family was like wishing for the moon on a stick, but Tim Story's brace of FF films (the other being 2007's derisory ‘Rise of the Silver Surfer', which made the first film seem, in comparison, like 24fps of fried gold) were so anonymous that the property was – as early as 2009 – already being prepped for a ground-up reboot. Some nice interplay between the leads and a well-conceived finale can't make up for a palpable lack of ambition or the inescapable feeling that the people behind the cameras had little-to-no feeling for the material. ALDWatch the trailer for Roger Corman's shelved ‘90s version here

Read the Time Out review

See 40 through to 30


Author: Derek Adams, Adam Lee Davies, Paul Fairclough, Tom Huddleston, David Jenkins and Bethany Rutter


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