Worldwide icon-chevron-right Europe icon-chevron-right United Kingdom icon-chevron-right England icon-chevron-right London icon-chevron-right The 50 best comic book movies

The 50 best comic book movies

Join director Edgar Wright and Time Out's film team as we count down the 50 best comic book movies, from superhero blockbusters to inventive indies

By Tom Huddleston, David Jenkins, Alim Kheraj, Adam Lee Davies, Paul Fairclough and Phil de Semlyen

Comic-book movies are a big business. As with horror and sci-fi, genre films have taken a step out of the dark (or the page, in this case) to become true cultural phenomenons. They’re now a multi-billion dollar industry that dominates any year’s film release schedule, with the trailers, cast announcements and costume changes becoming events in themselves.

Now, what with the genre-expanding to include everything from brooding anti-heroes or spandex-clad defenders of justice, tales of action, adventure, murder, mayhem and, er, record-collecting, we’ve knuckled down and picked the 50 best comic-book flicks ever made. 

Recommended: London and UK cinema listings, film reviews and exclusive interviews.

The 50 best comic book movies: 50–41

50. Wonder Woman (2007)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Patty Jenkins

Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright

‘Wonder Woman’ is the perfect example of ‘wait and you shall receive’. After languishing in development bins for nearly two decades, it wasn’t until Gal Gadot’s scene-stealing part in Zack Snyder’s critically mauled ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ that things began to click. The addition of director Patty Jenkins, most famous for directing serial-killer drama ‘Monster’, was the catalyst for success. The film’s period setting and origin story helped it stand apart, as did its injection of lightness into the DC Extended Universe, which previously had a penchant for all things grim. Sure, the pacing sometimes misses the mark, but this is a true girl-powered comic book romp. AK

Buy, rent or watch 'Wonder Woman'

49. 300 (2006)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey

In 480BC, around 300 Spartans (plus countless doomed slaves, but let’s not quibble) really did hold off the entire Persian army – so adapting the incident into an action movie should’ve been a doddle. Sadly, barely a performance in ‘300’ isn’t hamstrung by a one-note declamatory style or can overcome the limitations of a script that struggles to develop the source material. Amid the almost constant clash and thunder of battle/weather/man-hugging those faults are barely apparent, but in the film’s few quiet moments, actors, writers and director are left awkwardly exposed. PF

Buy, rent or watch '300'


48. Man of Steel (2013)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Henry Cavil, Amy Adams

Taking the familiar ‘Superman’ origin story and adding ALL THE SPECIAL EFFECTS, Zack Snyder creates an eye-scorching, deeply silly but (unlike its rotten sequel) rarely dull superhero blowout. The Krypton sequences are so shiny they’re almost impossible to watch, and if anyone can explain what’s going on at the end we’ll give them a medal. But in between there’s fun to be had, particularly from the performances: Kevin Costner adds gravitas, Henry Cavill adds a dry wit and Michael Shannon seems to be having the time of his life as General ‘kneel before’ Zod. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Man of Steel'

The 50 best comic book movies, james batman

47. James Batman (1966)

Director: Artemio Marquez

Cast: Dolphy, Boy Alano

Okay, so we're slightly pushing the definition of a ‘comic-book movie' with this one, but any excuse to wax lyrical about Dolphy, the Filipino actor, king of comedy and all-round laugh-a-minute legend. (Just look at his IMDB page.) Here, the star of ‘Adolphong Hitler’ and ‘Markova: Comfort Gay’ plays both James Bond and Batman, who team up to defeat an evil crime syndicate. Cue much punching, kicking, driving, shooting, pratfalling, cackling, capturing, escaping, leaping, throttling, ducking, headbutting, more punching, girls in bikinis and general chicanery. TH



46. Road to Perdition (2002)

Film Thrillers

Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: Tom Hanks, Jude Law, Paul Newman

Oscar-winning luvvie theatre director goes graphic novel? Nicest Man In Hollywood Tom Hanks as an implacable hitman? Jude Law miscast again? It might not have worked on paper, but the classiest of all comic-book adaptations just about pulled it off on the silver screen. Wonderful photography, a richly detailed Depression-era setting, a sterling cast and a mean streak a mile wide meant that the hardbitten vision of the original was in no way softened for the mainstream. ALD

Buy, rent or watch 'Road to Perdition'

45. Kick-Ass (2010)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Cast: Aaron Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nicolas Cage

Comic-movie fans love to feel a bit naughty – just witness the monumental success of the ‘daring’, ‘adult’ (read: sweary and blood-spattered) ‘Deadpool’. It all started with ‘Kick-Ass’, British director Matthew Vaughn’s knowing, foul-mouthed subversion of the genre in which Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays the hapless teenager who decides to transform himself into a superhero. Nicolas Cage wins MVP as the loveable Big Daddy, and the film could use a lot more of his winning, off-beam charm to counteract the air of bratty cynicism. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Kick-Ass'


44. From Hell (2001)

Film Horror

Directors: Albert and Allen Hughes

Cast: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham

The real Inspector Frederick Abberline, head of the Jack the Ripper investigation, was a faintly dull old duffer who retired to the seaside. ‘From Hell’ author Alan Moore’s Inspector Abberline was a middle-aged, rather puritanical flatfoot. The Hughes brothers’ Abbeline is Johnny Depp crunked up on absinthe and opium, subject to hideous visions, troubled by the death of his wife and heading for an early grave – and all the better for it. Despite a contrived feel to the ‘happy’ ending, fans of Moore should feel well served by the overall miasma of grotty hopelessness that gives ‘From Hell’ its faithful credibility. PF

Buy, rent or watch 'From Hell'

The 50 best comic book movies, Friday Foster

43. Friday Foster (1975)

Director: Arthur Marks

Cast: Pam Grier, Carl Weathers, Eartha Kitt

Foxy fashion photographer Friday finds herself in the frame after witnessing an assassination attempt in a decent Blaxploitation also-ran starring Pam Grier. Based on the syndicated comic strip – the first with an African-American female lead – it’s a heady mix of catwalk, political comment and balls-out action. But the knockout cast (which also includes Eartha Kitt and Scatman Crothers) do have their work cut out overcoming the minor-league stunts and unconvincing hepcat dialogue. ALD

Buy, rent or watch 'Friday Foster'


42. Captain America: Civil War

Film Action and adventure

Director: Joe and Anthony Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson

An ‘Avengers’ movie in all but name, ‘Civil War’ threads together disparate storylines, introduces new characters (hello Spidey and Black Panther!) and sows the seeds for future discord. In itself, all of that represents an epic feat of story-wrangling, even before you throw in a tonne of globe-spanning set-pieces and an airport-runway showdown so complex it practically needs its own traffic controller. The Russo brothers establish themselves as the MCU’s go-to siblings – sorry Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver – by taking what should by rights be a wildly overstuffed cast of characters and shaping a coherent, smart and limber story chock-full of big themes. All that, and Tony Stark and Spider-Man became everyone’s new favourite double act, too. PDS

Buy, rent or watch 'Captain America: Civil War'

41. Heavy Metal (1981)

Film Science fiction

Directors: Gerald Potterton, Jimmy T Murakami et al

Ah, fantasy art. Women in bulging metal bras riding dragons into battle. Dudes in leather kecks waving their broadswords at a startled populace. Golden orbs, rearing unicorns and tentacled demons from a dimension beyond imagination (unless you’re super, super high). The pinnacle of this benighted artform has to be ‘Heavy Metal’, the Canadian-made cartoon adaptation of long-running French comic ‘Metal Hurlant’, which thrilled teenage boys worldwide by bringing brutal violence and extreme sauciness to the animated movie. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Heavy Metal'

The 50 best comic book movies: 40–31

40. The Crow (1994)

Film Fantasy

Director: Alex Proyas

Cast: Brandon Lee, Ernie Hudson, Michael Wincott

Gaining a certain notoriety due to the fact that its star – Brandon ‘son of Bruce’ Lee – was killed while filming, ‘The Crow’ still lives large in the heart of many a black-fingernailed Cure fan for its noirish twist on traditional superheroics. It’s that old tale of a young couple at a crucial moment in their relationship when a gang of liquored-up nunchuck-wielding street punks descend and give them a proper thrashing. Brandon lies dead on the roadside only for a crow to inject him with the spirit of life (and crows) so he can turn into a lank-haired vigilante who looks like The Joker’s emo kid brother and knock together some heads in the name of righteous retribution. DJ

Buy, rent or watch 'The Crow'

39. The Rocketeer (1991)

Film Fantasy

Director: Joe Johnston

Cast: Bill Campbell, Alan Arkin, Jennifer Connelly

A film that’s garnered a small cult following in recent years, Joe Johnston’s art-deco adventure gives the shoulder-pads and paranoid politics of 1950s America a twinkly eyed, effects-heavy overhaul. The film stars floppy-fringed Billy Campbell as an out-of-work stunt pilot who finds a rocket pack. He uses it to innocently plough through cornfields and washing lines (as you would). But it takes no time whatsoever for the moustache-twirling matinee idol Timothy Dalton to send in his private army of Tommy-gun-toting hoodlums. DJ

Buy, rent or watch 'The Rocketeer'



38. Barbarella (1968)

Film Science fiction

Director: Roger Vadim

Cast: Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law

The original ‘Barbarella’ strip featured a space vixen with a curious resemblance to director Roger Vadim’s first wife Brigitte Bardot. So it probably wasn’t a huge stretch for the director to cast his new squeeze Jane Fonda in this kitsch masterpiece. The calendar in Barbarella’s spacewagon may read forty-first century, but this world of bouffant hairdos, oil lights and trippy lounge music is most definitely 1968. PF

Buy, rent or watch 'Barbarella'

37. Swamp Thing (1982)

Film Horror

Director: Wes Craven

Cast: Louis Jourdan, Adrienne Barbeau

Unfairly forgotten nowadays, Wes Craven’s take on DC’s mutant eco-hero finds the director shaking off his gorehound image, spreading his wings a little and working with a bigger budget – all of which would feed directly into his next movie, the genre-defining ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’. Well received at the time, ‘Swamp Thing’ follows an experimental biologist whose experiment spins out of control (inevitably), transforming him into the titular gloop-loving plant-person. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Swamp Thing'


36. Gainsbourg (2010)

Film Drama

Director: Joann Sfar

Cast: Eric Elmosnino, Lucy Gordon, Laetitia Casta

The celebrity biopic is given a wild makeover in director Joann Sfar’s adaptation of his own graphic novel, blending real life, comic book and musical. The film is strongest when it launches itself fully into the vibrant, cartoonish world created by Sfar – the great chanteur is chased by a grotesque anti-semitic cartoon, has his head turned into a cabbage and is frequently accompanied by a long-fingered cartoon character who serves as his conscience. Unrestricted by the parameters of the real world, the graphic novel proves to be the only medium through which to tell the tale of a man who is mad, bad and dangerous. BR

Buy, rent or watch 'Gainsbourg'

35. The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1972)


Director: Ralph Bakshi

Cast: Skip Hinnant

It must have been quite a shock for conservative cinemagoers back in 1972 when this anarchic ode to lewd debauchery hit the screens. At that time, animated films were safe, cuddly Disney movies aimed at families. To oldies, Ralph Bakshi’s stoner adaptation of Robert Crumb’s articulate, subversive comic-book creation must have seemed like the work of the devil. Like Disney’s animations, it also anthropomorphised its animal characters. But there’s nothing cute about this crew of sex-starved revolutionary reprobates. DJ

Buy, rent or watch 'The Nine Lves of Fritz the Cat'


34. Dick Tracy (1990)

Film Thrillers

Director: Warren Beatty

Cast: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna

It’s easy to be churlish – and fun too! This lavish, inventive and expertly acted adaptation of Chester Gould's enduring comic character is a decent chunk of entertainment. Warren Beatty might be a bit wishy-washy as Tracy, but he’s propped up by a fine array of supporting talent (Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, um, Dick Van Dyke and, Madonna). Ultimately though, it’s a case of all fur (rain)coat and no knickers, all the glitz and glamour failing to completely disguise the scarcity of any real thrills. ALD

Buy, rent or watch 'Dick Tracy'

33. V for Vendetta (2006)

Film Action and adventure

Director: James McTeigue

Cast: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt

Comics genius Alan Moore takes a dim view of Hollywood, and while it’s true that there’s yet to be a truly worthy adaptation of his work, all the Moore films have something to recommend them. We can’t help wishing Lilly and Lana Wachowski had taken the reins of this adaptation of Moore’s Thatcher-baiting dystopian masterpiece themselves rather than handing it off to their erstwhile assistant (whose subsequent career has not been pretty). But the film does retain Moore’s revolutionary angst and uncompromising attitude. Those masks haven’t become a symbol of global anti-capitalism for nothing. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'V for Vendetta' 


32. Death Note (2006)

Film Horror

Director: Shusuke Kaneko

Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Kenichi Matsuyama

The Japanese ‘Death Note’ comic-book series took a simple concept – a book in which anyone could write the name of a victim and the manner of their death, and the universe would conspire to make it happen – and played it out over several years. In bringing the story to the screen, director Shusuke Kaneko chose to focus on the darker aspects of the story, and the result is a strange mixture of brooding, action-packed, almost apocalyptic darkness, small-scale suburban realism and wacked-out psychedelic absurdity. The film works as a thoughtful alternative to the usual horror-comic flicks, and has a great hero in reclusive sugar-junkie L. TH


31. X-Men: First Class (2011)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart

After ‘Kick-Ass’, it was only a matter of time before British director Matthew Vaughn was offered a proper Hollywood superhero franchise. And he made a solid fist of it with this ‘X-Men’ origins story, in which James McAvoy’s Professor Xavier tries his damnedest not to be blown off the screen by the metal whirlwind of Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, while also attempting to convince Jennifer Lawrence’s slinky Mystique not to turn evil. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'X-Men: First Class'

The 50 best comic book movies: 30–21

30. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991)


Director: Lam Ngai Kai

Cast: Fan Siu-wong, Fan Mei Sheng, Ho Ka-kui

We’ve seen this notoriously madballs Hong Kong gorefest that comes on like an early Peter Jackson version of ‘Scum’, but we'll step aside and let the film’s biggest fan, Edgar Wright, give you the lowdown.

Edgar Wright says:
‘A lot of Eastern films have this “try anything” aspect to them. Mixtures of comedy, romance, action and horror. “Riki-Oh” is incredible, it’s this futuristic super-violent prison movie. It was made in Hong Kong, but it’s a manga comic-book adaptation. Perhaps its actual quality is debatable, but it’s just an awesome film. It’s just astonishing, so ridiculously violent. If they made it today maybe they’d be able to pull off some of the visuals a bit better, but I just love it. I showed it to the cast and crew of “Scott Pilgrim”, and I've screened it with audiences, and they always go for it. I’ve gone past the point of thinking it’s a so-bad-it’s-good film, it’s just so entertaining in its silliness and goriness. I have this theory that the only bad films are dull films. And “Riki-Oh” is not dull. It’s highly, highly eventful!’

29. Black Panther (2018)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Ryan Coogler

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya

Now one of the highest-grossing films of all time, ‘Black Panther’ is not just an important movie, it’s also a great movie. With an almost entirely black cast, a black director and black writers, the film is a thrilling exploration of afro-futurism, cultural oppression and revolution. Its story is magnificent, too, proving it to be one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best standalone outing, and the acting feels electric, with the performances by Boseman, Jordan and Wright really standing out. It’s that rare breed of superhero movie that’s worthy of repeated viewings. Without a doubt: Wakanda Forever. AK

Buy rent or watch 'Black Panther'


28. When the Wind Blows (1986)

Film Animation

Director: Jimmy T Murakami

Cast: John Mills, Peggy Ashcroft, Robin Houston

Ah, the ’80s: deely boppers, legwarmers, the kids from ‘Fame’ and impending, inevitable nuclear holocaust. Halcyon days. Cartoonist Raymond Briggs’s book took the archetypal all-English couple – ageing, fusty, conservative, affectionate and slightly confused – and subjected them to the disease, despair and degradation that surviving the holocaust would entail. The film version, scripted by Briggs himself, is a faithful, beautiful and completely devastating adaptation. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'When the Wind Blows'

27. Blade II (2002)

Film Horror

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman, Leonor Varela

The hero is half man, half vampire, the Daywalker, samurai-sword-wielding bane of all Satan’s minions. The director is one of the most revered fantasists in modern cinema. The sidekick is a country-singing legend with a voice that could strip a sideboard. The villain is... one half of Bros? Yes, the one thing everyone remembers about ‘Blade 2’, apart from the fact that it’s about 100 times better than it had any right to be, is that Luke Goss made his big comeback in the role of the mutant king of the sub-vampire Reaper sect. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Blade II'


26. Persepolis (2007)

Film Animation

Directors: Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi

Cast: Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve

At a time when computer-aided graphics are reaching unimagined levels of reality, ‘Persepolis’ could have felt crude and heavy-handed. Instead it’s the perfect adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel autobiography. These images are unique in their ability to convey the hilarious highs and soul-crushing lows of Satrapi’s early life in Tehran and Vienna, while also giving a memorable and shocking account of the Iranian revolution. Coming-of-age tales are commonplace in modern cinema, but ‘Persepolis’ tells its simple story with a grace and visual intricacy that would be unthinkable in live action. Entertaining, tear-jerking and never preachy. BR

Buy, rent or watch 'Persepolis'

25. Iron Man (2008)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Jon Favreau

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow

The moment the first trailer kicked in with the feedback drone from Black Sabbath’s headbanger, we knew this was going to be good. You want huge explosions, bone-crunching violence, witty asides, a bit of romantic intrigue, dudes flying through the air, a light smattering of politics and a whole heap of industrial-scale destruction? You got it. TH

Edgar Wright says:
‘The first “Iron Man” is, for me, the best origin film. It came out the same year as “The Dark Knight”, but I kind of preferred “Iron Man”, which I know is heresy! To take a character who, outside of the comics world, is not so well known and make a massive blockbuster was just remarkable. All the planets came into alignment. You know, the man in tights thing is getting a bit played out, so this connected because it’s a gadget film, it’s hi-tech: he’s not just a man, he’s a weapon. Just great.’

Buy, rent or watch 'Iron Man'


24. A History of Violence (2005)

Film Drama

Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ed Harris

It’s ironic that the film in David Cronenberg’s oeuvre that feels least like it was adapted from a graphic novel is the one that was. ‘Shivers’, ‘The Fly’ and ‘eXistenZ’ all could’ve been ripped straight out of a speculative sci-fi page-turner, rather than this smouldering drama about a regular small town Joe who turns out to be... well, anything but a regular small-town Joe. Not falling into the trap of attempting to merely replicate 2000AD linchpin John Wagner's graphic novel on the screen, Cronenberg brings his queasy, corporeal concerns regarding our inability to read or truly understand people to a tightly wound drama of family dysfunction and the resurfacing of personal demons. DJ

Buy, rent or watch 'A History of Violence'

23. Danger: Diabolik (1968)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Mario Bava

Cast: John Phillip Law, Marisa Mell

The film that really took the first steps into the wild world of comic-inspired superheroism was this berserk, Italian-funded Technicolour camp explosion. Part James Bond, part Batman and part Casanova, Diabolik is a leather-clad master thief who gets into hot water when he tries to rob 20 tonnes of gold. Tom Huddleston

Edgar Wright says:
‘“Danger: Diabolik” has a sense of completely unbridled imagination. They don’t make any attempt to make it look realistic. [Director] Mario Bava’s composition and staging has a real try-anything attitude. When it turned up on “Mystery Science Theatre” as a turkey to be laughed at they were missing the point, it’s supposed to be fun. It made me really angry! “Danger: Diabolik” is so much fun, so beautiful to look at. I absolutely love it.’


22. X-Men 2 (2003)


Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry

Wolverine strives to uncover the secrets of his past, which leads him to a mysterious military base. Meanwhile, General William Stryker, a staunch advocate of the Mutant Registration Act, launches an attack on X-Men mansion to eradicate Professor Xavier and his kind once and for all. Faced with possible extinction, Xavier turns to his enemy Magneto for help in fending off the deranged military man. TH

Edgar Wright says:
‘“X-Men 2” is indisputable. The first one looked like it was slightly compromised, like they ran out of money at the climax. But “X2” feels fully realised, and it was a real shame that Bryan Singer didn't get to do a trilogy. The scene in the White House with Alan Cumming bouncing around is fantastic. It’s such an amazing set piece.”

Buy, rent or watch 'X-Men 2'

21. Flash Gordon (1980)

Film Fantasy

Director: Mike Hodges

Cast: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow

If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing Mike Hodges’s glorious kitsch folly, try to imagine a ‘Star Wars’ movie filmed through a wall of Vaseline. DJ

Edgar Wright says:
‘Some of the films which are derided by comic fans, which are dirty words, are the ones I really like. And the best of those has to be “Flash Gordon”. It’s the same writer, Lorenzo Semple, as the “Batman” TV series, which is still really fucking funny. With “Flash Gordon”, there’s just no attempt to make it look realistic. The costumes and the music... it’s amazing! It’s bubblegum camp, and I love it!’

Buy, rent or watch 'Flash Gordon'

The 50 best comic book movies: 20–11

20. Dredd (2012)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Pete Travis

Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris, Lena Headey

Few films are guaranteed to make a nerd seethe like Danny Cannon’s disastrous 1995 ‘Judge Dredd’, a film that took everything that was great about 2000AD’s unruly dystopian action strip and chucked it in a vat of toxic waste. So thank Tharg for this much-needed reboot, in which Karl Urban plays the taciturn lawgiver with all the grimacing tough-nut nihilism he can muster, stomping through the convincingly detailed wasteland of Mega City One like the angel of grim death. It’s not perfect – Alex Garland’s script could really do with a jolt of life – but it’ll do until they finally remake it again for the 2020s. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Dredd'

19. American Splendor (2003)

Film Comedy

Directors: Shari Berman and Roger Pulcini

Cast: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Judah Friedlander

Nobody runs the gamut from bitter disgruntlement to teeth-grinding rage against the universe like Paul Giamatti. At least, not since the passing of Harvey Pekar, whose long-running comic book ‘American Splendor’ mined a mighty black vein of mundane alienation. As played by Giamatti, Pekar is equal parts rotten bastard, self-pitying child and misunderstood genius. It’s an uncompromising portrayal, weaving the contents and creation of Pekar’s semi-fiction into a blend of real life and real art. The reward for the audience is in the life-affirming insight that comes from sticking with this articulate malcontent right to the not-so-bitter end. PF



18. Men in Black (1997)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith

Sci-fi and comedy often make for uncomfortable bunkmates. The rule of thumb is that any successful galactic laugh-a-rama should hold up as decent sci-fi even if you were to strip it bare of gags. ‘MiB’, for its part, is crammed with more slick ideas, groovy hardware and thrilling set pieces than all but a handful of recent straight-up science fiction movies, and that’s before you factor in the film’s razor sharp comedy. ALD

Buy, rent or watch 'Men in Black'

17. Logan (2017)

Film Action and adventure

Director: James Mangold

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart

Two things stand out from this gritty bone-and-gristle farewell to the Marvelverse’s most reluctant superhero. First, it’s unashamedly R-rated in a way that leaves your eyeballs needing a post-movie ice bath. A gloriously bloody snikt-athon (snikt being the name given to the sound of Hugh’s claws sliding out), it’s so unrestrained, so brutally committed, it feels like it’s making up for lesser Wolverine outings (‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’, we’re staring at you). The second – with apologies to Stephen Merchant, whose superhero debut is as joyous as it is unexpected – is its star. Hugh Jackman’s grumpy, jaded and often booze-soaked old-timer is the gunslinger-with-a-heart facing his final showdown. In a film that takes its cues from westerns, he gives the superhero genre its John Wayne-in-‘The Searchers’ moment. PDS

Buy, rent or watch 'Logan'


16. Watchmen (2009)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson

This adaptation of Alan Moore’s subversive superhero epic had perhaps the most painful gestation in modern movie history, going through countless drafts and a fistful of directors. But eventual helmer Zack Snyder had one guiding instinct, and it saves the film. In sticking as close to the source as he could (barring a slightly improved ending), Snyder all but took himself out of the equation, creating a film which takes not just its narrative and dialogue but its visual style, its colour palette, its soundtrack, even its editing from Moore's masterpiece. It doesn't come close to capturing the emotional intensity and raw political fury of the novel, but ‘Watchmen’ remains entrancingly bleak. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Watchmen'

15. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Film Action and adventure

Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo

Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson

Probably the best of Marvel’s ‘Avengers’ spin-offs, ‘The Winter Soldier’ riffs smartly on ’70s conspiracy thrillers, and even casts Robert Redford as the head of Shield, whose efforts to protect humanity are shifting uncomfortably close to despotism. Points about government surveillance are unsubtle but well timed, and the irony of placing the ultimate flag-waving Yankee boy in opposition to his government is brilliantly played. The effortless camaraderie between Evans’s square-jawed crusader and Scarlett Johansson’s pithy Black Widow adds warmth and soul. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier'


14. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Film Action and adventure

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper

It was already a triumph of marketing: in January 2014, we could barely have picked the five mismatched heroes of Marvel’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ out of a line-up; by May we knew all their names, even the trash-talking racoon. So what a relief that the film turned out to be worth all the hype, the best straight-up slice of space opera since ‘Serenity’. The plot may make next-to-no sense – there’s some bad guys, a prison and a talking tree – but that’s irrelevant. The special effects are shiny, the action’s speedy and the jokes are sharp, and there’s an unexpected layer of sweetness to tie it all together. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

13. Mystery Men (1999)

Film Comedy

Director: Kinka Usher

Cast: Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Hank Azaria, Claire Forlani

When ‘Kick-Ass’ became a smash hit, it was largely forgotten that the whole ‘superheroes can be ordinary people too’ idea had been done before, and a lot better. ‘Mystery Men’ doesn’t just have one of the best ensemble casts in living memory (deep breath: Ben Stiller, William H Macy, Hank Azaria, Eddie Izzard, Janeane Garofalo, Geoffrey Rush, Greg Kinnear and a simply amazing turn from Tom Waits). It also benefits from a wildly inventive script inspired by Bob Burden’s comic book. Sporting as many quotable lines as any film on this list (‘We strike down evil with the mighty sword of teamwork and the hammer of not bickering!’), the film has a unique, oddball visual sense to rival your Tim Burtons and Guillermo del Toros. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Mystery Men'


12. Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Film Animation

Director: Mamoru Oshii

Cast: Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Ōtsuka, Iemasa Kayumi

Second only to ‘Akira’ in the anime canon, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is if anything even more impenetrable and otherworldly. In the near-ish future, a cyborg cop able to hack into any network at will hunts for the notorious cyber-criminal known only as the Puppet Master. If you can find someone to give you a detailed breakdown of the plot from there on, we’ll hand them a trophy – but suffice it to say that the action is breathless, the animation beautiful and the concepts complex and dizzying. Fingers crossed the promised Scarlett Johansson remake has even an ounce of the original’s madcap intensity. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Ghost in the Shell'

11. The Dark Knight (2008)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger

Building on the excellent ‘Batman Begins’, Nolan constructed a wonderfully layered film that works as a thunderous action movie, a mystery worthy of the World’s Greatest Detective and a comment on the war on terror. And Heath Ledger’s startling performance gives proceedings more edge and bite than a hundred Ra’s al Ghuls. From the initial bank heist to the Caped Crusader’s headlong burn into third-act redemption, ‘The Dark Knight’ brings home the bacon and fries it in the pan. ALD

Edgar Wright says:

‘I thought “The Dark Knight” was great. It's a real testament to Chris Nolan as a director. What’s great about it is that it fashions a new story out of familiar origins. It’s more like a crime saga than a superhero movie. It feels more like “The Godfather 2” than just another Batman film.’

Buy, rent or watch 'The Dark Knight'

The 50 best comic book movies: top ten

10. Oldboy (2003)

Film Thrillers

Director: Park Chan-wook

Cast: Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jung

Few know that Park Chan-wook's ‘Oldboy’ was inspired by a manga by Garon Tsuchiya, though by all accounts the adaptation is very loose. Both involve a man locked away for 15 years for no reason he can understand, before being unleashed to wreak havoc on his captors. The film version has become famous for two things: an extraordinary single-shot side-view battle scene in which our hero batters a corridor full of thugs with a hammer and his fists, and the scene where he bites a chunk out of a live octopus. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'Old Boy'

9. Batman Returns (1992)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer

Despite Tim Burton’s decline, we can still look back and marvel at his ‘Batman’ films. The twilight travails of DC’s brooding, masked crusader seemed to chime perfectly with Burton’s gothic, off-kilter visual sensibility, and with a near-perfect pair of films he managed to mesh together the ripping yarn of a tortured playboy with a slyly adult take on stock comic book crime-fighting adventures. DJ

Edgar Wright says:

‘When Tim Burton’s “Batman” came out, I don’t think I’d ever been so excited about a film. I had the t-shirt... And although I think it’s still got a lot of great things in it, it has dated now, and so has “Batman Returns”. The things that were good then are still good: Tim Burton’s eye and that amazing production design. But the problem is that Burton is just more interested in the villains than the heroes, which is a problem that comes up in a lot of superhero films.’

Buy, rent or watch 'Batman Returns'


8. Snowpiercer (2013)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Cast: Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell

Amazingly, ‘The Host’ director Bong Joon-ho’s adaptation of French graphic novel ‘La Transperceneige’ still hasn’t received a UK release – and sadly, it isn’t likely to. It’s a tragedy, because this is quite simply one of the best sci-fi movies of the decade. Bong turns a faintly ludicrous premise – following a sudden global freeze, the only humans left alive are the passengers on a single train following an endless circular track – into a rivetingly strange and unpredictable class satire. Tilda Swinton is the most memorable as a Thatcheresque Yorkshire psycho with gravestone teeth, but everyone here is superb, and the action scenes are phenomenal. TH


The Avengers
Zade Rosenthal © 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2011 Marvel.

7. The Avengers (2012)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Joss Whedon

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston

Talk about a vindication. By the time of ‘The Avengers’, director Joss Whedon had been through the grinder of cancelled TV shows, mangled scripts and failed directorial attempts. So it was pretty big of Marvel to hand him the reins to the most anticipated comic-book movie of all time. It’s now the third highest grossing movie of all time. Despite cramming together the leads from a decade’s worth of superhero blockbusters, ‘The Avengers’ is so much more than just a wisecracking love-in between a bunch of guys in tights. As with much of Whedon’s work, it’s the sheer generosity that wins out, both to the characters and the audience. This is an overflowing goody-bag of a film, crammed with bar-raising action set-pieces, wonderfully sketched characters and just enough old-school Whedon wit to reward those who’d stuck with him all along. TH

Buy, rent or watch 'The Avengers'


6. Ghost World (2001)

Film Comedy

Director: Terry Zwigoff

Cast: Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi

A masterful brew that manages to be at once melancholy, socially relevant and painfully funny, director Terry Zwigoff’s first foray into fiction filmmaking (following his brilliant doc profile of Robert Crumb) resulted in this cult comic-book classic. Based around the acerbic doodles of hip Chicagoan malcontent Daniel Clowes, it’s leagues above faux-alternative movies like ‘Juno’. Perfectly cast, Thora Birch rocks an iconic bob as Enid, whose summer holiday art classes form the backdrop for a story about a crucial, character-building period of her life that also allows her to reassess her relationship with level-headed best pal Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson). DJ

Edgar Wright says:

‘I loved “Ghost World” for its performances, though I felt like it had lost some of the beauty of Daniel Clowes’s artwork. Maybe it was a deliberate choice to make it seem more naturalistic, but his artwork is incredibly beautifully composed and stylised, and they didn’t really go for that. It’s a funny, very sweet film, though.’

Buy, rent or watch 'Ghost World'

5. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Sam Raimi

Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina

Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’ series is one of the most unabashedly enjoyable comic book franchises ever to grace our multiplex screens. The first film was a little rough around the edges, but pasted over the cracks with its abundance of heart. The second hit the ball out of the park, over the freeway, across the state lines and deep, deep into the ocean. DJ

Edgar Wright says:

‘In a lot of these cases, part two is the one that really works. When it came out, “Spider-Man 2” was simply the best Marvel adaptation. It totally nails the look. The action scenes, whether it’s the train sequence or the scene in the bank, or Doc Ock’s breakout in the hospital, it’s Sam Raimi, [cinematographer] Bill Pope and Marvel Comics all coming together perfectly. And unlike some of the grittier films, it embraced the colour of the 1960s Marvel comics in a way that made it really glorious.’

Buy, rent or watch 'Spider-Man 2'


4. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

Film Fantasy

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair

Building upon the stylish, supremely strange world he conjured up for the first ‘Hellboy’, del Toro let rip with this sequel, ramping up the scope and bombast without allowing the intimacy and pathos of Big Red’s thorny metaphysical predicament to fall by the wayside. It’s the baddies that make this second instalment so stunning, nudging the film from great to something close to comic book alchemy. Luke Goss is perfect as the vengeful Elvish prince who not only attempts to wrest the world from the ravages of man, but also begs some searching questions as to Hellboy’s chosen place in the world. ALD

Edgar Wright says:

‘“Hellboy 2” I really liked. I’ve never read the comics, so I watch “Hellboy” as a Guillermo del Toro fan. He really creates his own universe, and it’s just beautiful. On a production design level it’s just absolutely staggering.’

Buy, rent or watch 'Hellboy II: The Golden Army'

3. Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)

Film Action and adventure

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

It could’ve been awful: a snarky, post-modern hipster-fest stuffed with nostalgic callbacks to Nintendo games and indie-rock, following a loveably hapless skinny-jeaned hero as he meets and woos his manic-pixie-dreamgirl. Of course, with Edgar Wright at the helm this was never really a possibility. The script is a delight and Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are a wonderfully unpredictable on-off central couple (though they’re both thrown in the shade by sneer-of-the-year Kieran Culkin). But it’s Wright’s direction that makes the movie fly, balancing comedy, sweetness and manic video-game action to intoxicating effect. TH

Edgar Wright says:

‘“Scott Pilgrim” is roughly equidistant between “Ghost World” and “X-Men”, which for a studio film is completely bananas. But that’s what attracted me to it. A lot of comic book adaptations go one of two ways: either they’re striving for some kind of realism, like “Iron Man” or “The Dark Knight”, or they’re very stylised, like “Sin City” and “300”. This was an attempt to embrace the magical realism of comic books – I wanted it to be a real pop art explosion.’

Buy, rent or watch 'Scott Pilgrim vs the World'


2. Akira (1988)

Film Animation

Director: Katsuhiro Otomo

Cast: Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama

For most of us in the West, this was our first mind-expanding peek into the world of anime, and it took our breath away. ‘Akira’ opens with a nuclear explosion and only gets wilder, throwing in gang warfare and organ harvesting, mysticism and military malfeasance, cryogenics and berserk, grotesque Cronenbergian body horror. A singularly strange, compelling experience. TH

Edgar Wright says:

‘“Akira” is just fantastic. I saw it at the British premiere at the Watershed Cinema in Bristol in 1988 or ’89. I saw it with my brother, and unbeknownst to us, Simon Pegg was in the audience, six years before we actually met! Japanese animation is interesting. It’s like the cartoon equivalent of spaghetti westerns – they don’t have the same money the Americans have, but they make up for it in style. There are a lot of things in “Scott Pilgrim” taken from Japanese animation. We took a lot of those same stylistic shortcuts.’

Buy, rent or watch 'Akira'

1. Superman II (1980)

Film Action and adventure

Directors: Richard Donner and Richard Lester

Cast: Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder

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 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 the script was 400 pages long and so camp 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, tipping the audience a sly wink but treating the subject with seriousness, soul and absolute sincerity. But even though ‘Superman’ was a huge success, Donner’s troubles were far from over. With about 75 percent of ‘Superman II’ shot, arguments over tone led to the director being ‘released’ from the project, and Richard Lester brought in to finish it off.

Lester junked much of Donner’s material, added the Eiffel Tower opening and reworked the movie to give it a breezier feel. But with Gene Hackman refusing to work with Lester, Marlon Brando demanding extra money and Margot Kidder shedding weight, the film as released was a patchwork guided by two very different visions. And yet it remains a fantastic piece of work, superior to the original in almost every way: Terence Stamp’s General Zod remains the gold standard of supervillainy, while Clark and Lois’s courtship is genuinely affecting.

It’s impossible to imagine the modern superhero movie without ‘Superman’ and its sequel – the costumes, the characterisation, that perfect balance of irony, fantasy and realism: it all starts 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 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, when they attack the lunar pod. I remember watching that as a six-year-old and thinking it was just astonishing, and really frightening.’

Buy, rent or watch 'Superman II'


    More from Time In

      You may also like

        Support Time Out

        We see you’re using an ad-blocker. Ad revenue is Time Out’s main source of income. The content you’re reading is made by independent, expert local journalists.

        Support Time Out directly today and help us champion the people and places which make the city tick. Cheers!

        Donate now