50 essential comic-book movies, with Edgar Wright: part 7

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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a guy in shiny Spandex tights? Well, yes to the last one. It's also our Number One pick: the most essential comic-book movie ever made...

| 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-6 | 5-2 | Intro |

1. Superman II (1980)


Directed by Richard Donner and Richard Lester
The Krypton Factor
The production history of the first two ‘Superman' films is an epic in itself, with its own heroes, villains and struggles for dominance. Even the list of rejects and almost-rans is astounding: Robert Redford, Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Burt Reynolds and Neil bloody Diamond as Superman; Dustin Hoffman, Christopher Walken, James Caan and Paul Newman as Lex Luthor; Spielberg, Coppola, Friedkin and Lucas in the director's chair. But it's hardly surprising they said no: when Richard Donner signed on in 1976, fresh from ‘The Omen', the script was 400 pages long, the movie was intended to be shot in Italy and was so camp that it contained a cameo appearance from Telly Savalas in character as Kojak.

Donner changed all that: ‘Superman' was the first movie to even attempt to capture the true spirit of a comic book superhero, tipping the audience a sly (sometimes literal) wink, but treating the subject with seriousness, soul and absolute sincerity. The first movie may go off the rails in its last act, as Gene Hackman's OTT performance pushes matters back into high camp territory, but the film's opening sections are simple and beautiful, elevating the unironic, effortlessly iconic all-American purity of the central character into mythic, pseudo-religious but still emotionally rewarding territory.

Superman.jpg

But even though ‘Superman' was a huge success, Donner's troubles were far from over. With about 75 per cent of ‘Superman II' shot alongside the first film, production troubles and arguments over tone led to Donner being ‘released' from the project, and Richard Lester (already on-hand as a co-producer) brought in to finish it off. Lester junked much of Donner's material, added the Eiffel Tower opening and reworked the movie (notably the love scenes between Clark and Lois) to give it a lighter, breezier feel. But with Gene Hackman refusing to work with Lester, Marlon Brando demanding extra money for extra work (fair enough) and Margot Kidder having lost quite a lot of weight in the intervening year, the film as released was a tonally inconsistent patchwork guided by two very different visions.

And yet it remains a fantastic piece of work, vastly superior to the original in its action sequences and characterisation, particularly of the villains: Terence Stamp's General Zod remains the gold standard of supervillainy, while his city-flattening sidekicks Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and monosyllabic giant Non (Jack O'Halloran), though hardly what you'd call richly developed, are highly memorable. And while Lester certainly took Clark and Lois's relationship into '40s screwball territory, their courtship is still a beautifully realised and genuinely affecting romance.

But where the film scores highest is in its set-pieces: the aforementioned Paris death match kicks things off with a bang, but it only gets better: the arrival of Zod and the gang on the moon is both visually stunning (a Donner scene, and it shows) and genuinely unsettling, while Zod's attack on the White House isn't just a great subversive action sequence, but delivers by far the film's best line (see the clip below). The final Metropolis showdown between Supes and the bad guys may have dated, effects-wise, but it's a suitably apocalyptic finale.

Superman 2 3.jpg

It's impossible to imagine the modern superhero movie without ‘Superman' and its sequel - the costumes, the characterisation, that sly, perfectly judged balance of the knowingly ironic and the grittily realistic, the iconic and the emotional: it all starts right here. And while effects technology may have moved on, tastes may have broadened and the iconography may have been irrevocably altered, there's simply no substitute for Christopher Reeve in a cape, leaping tall buildings with a single bound. Look, up there in the sky...TH

Edgar Wright says:

‘What Richard Donner did with "Superman" was to treat it very seriously. He clawed the superhero genre back from the kind of underpants-outside-tights joke that it had become. He rescued the genre. But "Superman" feels like a great pilot episode. I prefer "Superman II". It really nailed that sense of fun and danger. There's an amazing scene with all the supervillains on the moon, Zod, Non and Ursa, when they attack the lunar pod. I remember watching that as a six year old and thinking it was just astonishing, and really frightening.'

Click here to find out who to kneel before

Read the Time Out review

| 50-41 | 40-31 | 30-21 | 20-11 | 10-6 | 5-2 | Intro |

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



Users say

19 comments
theduck
theduck

Obviously there are going to be complaints, people claiming this movie doesn't belong on the list, that one should be higher (or lower), or whatever, and that's all valid. But for goodness sake, people, read the ground rules. Know why Superman: the Movie, Batman, Batman Begins, Hellboy, Blade, and others aren't on the list? Because they stated, quite clearly, that they were only including ONE MOVIE PER SERIES (with the obvious exception of Burton's and Nolan's Batman, which are really two different series). Please, find something else to complain about, OK?

Sam
Sam

I only have one problem with this list and that is that V for Vendetta wasn't on it, I think it's a great film however I'm yet to read the graphic novel so perhaps upon reading it I may understand why it was excluded

Aaron
Aaron

I thought it was a class list, any list of riki oh on it is a list to be proud off ha ha, people need to stop complaining, voice your opinion ofcourse but in doing so dont give sumone else abuse, just take a deep breath and voice your opinion of wat you agree or disagree with no need to be bring in where people are from. Altho it is true that the british and american audience have a clear difference in movies espec endings, thus the two different endings in evil dead 3 army of darkness, but as an irish lad i bet you americans and british wudn't enjoy true irish movies and dry irish humour but that is cultural differences and opinion difference no need to get angry please lets just all agree and disagree in a friendly manner!!!

Hooligan
Hooligan

FANTASTIC LIST!!!! Totally wrong...but that's what makes everyones opinions so great...because we are all individuals! I have to admit, I disagreed with your number 1 choice until I read.... 'There's an amazing scene with all the supervillains on the moon, Zod, Non and Ursa, when they attack the lunar pod. I remember watching that as a six year old and thinking it was just astonishing, and really frightening.' ...It took me right back to being a child and that was exactly how I felt....perhaps the greatest Super hero scene, but still dont agree on the entire movie! WELL DONE ON A WELL ARGUED LIST!!!!

fung0
fung0

What a disappointment for top pick. Superman II was by far the worst of the Christopher Reeve series, and that's saying something.

Zak
Zak

Fantastic list guys! I completely disagree with it, but that goes without saying. It was totally unexpected and thoroughly enjoyable to read. I wish people could just enjoy reading someone else's opinion rather than getting mad because all of their favorite movies weren't on that particular list, or weren't in the correct order. And I do like how you tried to stick with one film per franchise (except with Batman, but the Nolan Batmans and Burton Batmans are totally different so it's acceptable). Probably the most fun comic book list I've read yet. Now I shall be off to your list of WWII movies!

mario
mario

V for Vendetta ????????

Apathygrrl
Apathygrrl

Wow, was this list ever horrble. There are too many awful, awful movies on this list of so-called "essentials," there are way too many incorrectly ranked movies, and too many obvious and glaring omissions. Therefore, your entire list is invalid. It requires a rewrite. It is your homework, people of Timeout.com, to rewrite your list, and do a better job of it this time!! Nearly half these movies do not belong on any movie list save for "worst" lists. Judge Dredd was mind-numbingly stupid. Howard the Duck was god awful. Danger Diabolik was so horrible my friends and I decided to count how many hits of acid the director must have taken to make the film, and we lost count after 41 (True story!). The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was a steaming pile of horse feces that completely buried the awesome source material. Fantastic Four was a joke, and an unfunny one at that. Hulk was so painful to watch that when I saw Hulk bite the head off a missile I wanted to smash my TV. There’s campy, and then there’s so campy that it’s nauseating, which is where Flash Gordon fits. Constantine felt like it got lost in the netherworld halfway through and never came back; dreadful. Dennis the Menace?? Please, you might as well have put Garfield on this list. Ghost Rider was the cinematic equivalent of a frontal lobotomy. I felt like I suffered brain trauma after being unwillingly subjected to it. I even suffered eye strain from rolling my eyes back in my head too far and for too long. Seriously, even Edgar Wright said “What the hell is James Batman?� When your guest blogger is questioning some of your choices, you know you’ve got problems. I could honestly go on for hours about how bad this list is. Glaring omissions, including ones that other people have already mentioned: Batman, Batman Begins, Spiderman, Superman, V for Vendetta, Ghost in the Shell, The Mask, Blade, Hellboy, 30 Days of Night, Heavy Metal, Wanted, The Incredible Hulk, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, etc.

Geoffrey
Geoffrey

This list is awful. True, there are good movies on here, but where is the love for the first comics book movies? Captain Marvel was a serial, but it's still a movie. And it was the first comic book movie ever. That leads us to the movie versions of the superman tv show with George Reeves, the best superman ever, and to all the other serials, like the batman, and phantom ones. Also, for a list laden with cult hits, where the hell was Swamp Thing?

Tim
Tim

I knew once I saw "Howard the Duck" this was going to be a poor ranking of films. No "Superman"? "Spider-Man", "Batman"? "Batman Begins"? These may not have been the very best films but were a lot better than a great many films on this list.

Nat
Nat

@Brian. I'm English, and I find that pretty offensive if you think ALL of us would place Ang Lee's Hulk over The Dark Knight. Give us a bit of credit. On topic, this '50 Essentials' list is absolute rubbish, why is Iron Man at 22?! These guys are clueless.

Brian
Brian

Were yuou people drunk when you put this list together? Judge Dredd? Constantine? Maybe its because you're British, but most Americans despise more than half the movies on this list because they are just so bloody awful.

Darik
Darik

I really, truly, desperately hated this list. So The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen trumps Sin City, solely on the grounds of its premise, eh? Flash Gordon is better than X2 and The Dark Knight, and the Hulk- the bloated, pretentious, glacially slow Ang Lee Hulk- is ranked above all three? Dick Tracy makes the list, but V for Vendetta is nowhere to be found? And is it too much to ask that an article titled "50 Essential Comic-Book Movies, with Edgar Wright" actually feature Wright's input on every movie??? The article was well-reasoned and the arguments were strong, and I can't really fault the writers for having different tastes than my own, but I lost my respect for these opinions somewhere around the point that I noticed Tank Girl ranked higher than The Crow. "Essential" movies, indeed.

Kenny Richardson
Kenny Richardson

Superman:The Movie should have been number 1 on the list. Superman 2 was good but nothing is better then the first Superman Movie.

Alex
Alex

When doing these top 10/50/100 lists, you should list the things that hold personal significance to you- your favourites- instead of what is acclaimed by critics and fans alike. Godfather 1 and 2 may be regarded as the greatest movie of all time, but is it YOUR greatest movie of all time- does it say something to you about your life, your history, your experiences...and even your future. I ramble on, but the point is clear; that is why I will list to you MY favourite comic book films of all time, with no regard to what film critics and fans have to say about them: No.1- Superman Returns: beautiful, stirring, unforgettable; as close to art-house cinema for comic book movies as they come. No.2- Iron Man: Rousing origin story. Technological, fututristic and relevant to today's political climate. Has the corporate espionage that is conspiciously lacking in Batman films. No.3- Batman (1989) Without it, Batman: The Animated Series (and its spinoffs) would never have been made- and for me, that has personal significance. Plus, it has truly memorabel scenes- e.g. when Wayne has a flashblack to his parent's murder. Well written, good music.

remy
remy

one more thing: where the fuck is the 1966 "Batman The Movie"?

remy
remy

I hope you lads realize "A History of Violence" is by far the best movie on this list. Cronenberg's movie was the only really great Hollywood movie in that year. but I suppose that was your point by naming this list "the most ESSENTIAL" rather than "the GREATEST". oh, and I'm still waiting for the top 50 movies made by rat-arsed directors. it will be the best thing ever published on this site.

Nick Margerrison
Nick Margerrison

What an excellent article! Couldn't agree more with Superman 2 as number one. Think you missed a trick re: Ninja Turtles. Still get annoyed when I think about how bad the Dredd film was. Saw a preview of Scott Pilgrim this week. It's great!

Zak
Zak

I'm sure you tried not to do full franchises for the sake of having a more interesting list... but it just seems weird to have a list with Judge Dredd on it and not Spiderman, X-Men, Superman, Batman, Batman Begins, Blade, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, etc. I'm sure everyone is going to point out what was missed, but in my opinion: A Punisher movie (preferably Dolph Lundgren's) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Spawn Ghost in the Shell Hell, even The Mask and V for Vendetta Not all of these are great, but definitely better than Howard the Duck



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