If you love movies and comic books, you’re living in a golden age. It seems like every property created by comic-book publishers is getting optioned into a film these days. Before we get into this list, let’s agree off the bat that the Tim Burton Batman films, first two Christopher Nolan Batman films, the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, and the first two Bryan Singer X-Men films (especially X-2) are awesome and don’t need to be included here. Instead, let’s focus on some slightly different choices.
5. Superman (1978)
It all starts here. Forget how dated the movie may look. Forget the now-cheesy special effects or the scientifically impossible reversing of time by spinning the planet backwards. In fact, forget anyone else who ever played Superman on screen. There’s only one: Christopher Reeve. This is the movie that sparked the imagination of a generation and paved the way for all the other films that followed. His performance as the earnest and bumbling Clark Kent and as the confident and supremely powerful Man of Steel won audiences over worldwide. Reeve wasn’t super beefy, but then, he didn’t need massive physical bulk to display strength onscreen. Maybe it’s nostalgia talking, but the film feels warm. Bright. (Unlike Man of Steel from 2013.) It’s the film equivalent of your mom’s best home cooking. Superman is the ideal; he’s the hero kids look up to. There’s a comfort in that. Gotta love Big Blue.
4. Men in Black
Did you know Men in Black was a comic book first? It was done by publisher Aircel in 1990. The film adaptation (from 1997, the first of three) stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, and is about a super-secret agency of nameless agents who protect the world from the truth of extraterrestrial life. Specifically, the truth that there is a lot of it out there, and a lot of it co-exists with humans on Earth. It’s funny, with great performances by Smith as new recruit Agent J and Jones as the deadpan Agent K. And don’t overlook Vincent D’Onofrio as Edgar, or at least as a hideous bug-alien main bad guy wearing the skin of a man formerly known as Edgar. With lots of action, tons of cool gadgets and some fun cameos, there’s a reason this one was a hit.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
Even by comic-book standards, Guardians of the Galaxy is something of an obscure title. The team has had several lineup changes over the years, and the most current lineup in the books matches what we see in this film. And what a film! Big action sequences, great special effects, an insane bad guy chasing after off-the-scales powerful cosmic gems, and a surprisingly enjoyable turn from Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer. And get this: it’s funny. But funny in an 80s adventure-comedy way, like watching Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Goonies. That’s the kind of feeling it provokes, and the killer old-school soundtrack certainly helps trigger those memories. It was the most fun a lot of people had in the theatre in 2014 and was an unexpected blockbuster. “I am Groot.”
2. The Avengers
Despite naming a bunch of obvious choices at the beginning, we can’t have this top five list without The Avengers. It is, by far, the best superhero adaptation done to date. It got the characters right, its action was intense, the amendments it made to certain details from the comics were acceptable, and one of the hidden scenes during the credits made every Marvel fanboy’s head explode with giddy joy. It had everything a popcorn blockbuster has to have, and it played to the interests of both hardcore fans and a general audience: sheer spectacle and enough character study to make us care. Pepper that with Joss Whedon’s penchant for witty one-liners, and you’ve got an instant classic. And of course: Best. Hulk. Ever.
1. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Those who love video games, especially old-school 8-bit games, are in for a treat with this film. Based on the comic Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the film follows the titular character, a bass player who falls in love with Amazon delivery girl Ramona Flowers. But to win her heart, he has to battle her seven evil exes. That’s right, battle. As in video game boss battle and the enemies even drop coins when they lose! But it’s not all games, there’s real heart here. Michael Cera is great as an awkward soft-spoken love-struck geek (which is arguably every role he’s ever had, but that’s another story), and seems an unlikely hero, but he pulls it off. The film is a delight. Bonus: there was a console game made for the film, in 8-bit side-scrolling style, and scored by none other than chiptune masters Anamanaguchi! How much better does this have to get?!