The Ten Best R-Rated Comic Book Movies (According to Our Readers)

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, 'Wait! Didn't they just do this?!'And we did. One [...]

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I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Wait! Didn't they just do this?!" And we did. One week ago, we updated our list, originally done about 19 months ago, of the best R-rated comic book movies of all time...but we didn't do it right. Here's the thing: When one of these lists is put together it isn't--believe it or not--one guy sitting in a room going, "How can I screw over Blade fans?". Typically either everyone on staff chips in some ideas, or the writer solicits them from other writers, editors, comics pros, regular readers, etc. In 2012, when we did the first list, we got a lot of people screaming that certain movies--good movies, too, mind you, not The Spirit or anything--had been left off the list, and they gave us some good reasons. We took that into account when we updated the list, and perhaps a mistake I made as the writer was being transparent about one particular change. "While I still have a soft spot for Ghost World and American Splendor, our readers roundly rejected the idea that they belonged on the list, being that they were such radically different films (small, quiet and with a totally different sensibility) than the bombastic action that fills most of the movies on the list, I wrote. "We'll have to agree to disagree, but for the purposes of the list, I'll leave them off. This time." Fans of those movies, then, just piled on along with fans of other movies left off the list. An hour or so after the last one went live, I admitted that retaining the "top five" style of the original list had been a mistake. As, in my opinion, is numbering the list. I have a clear #1 in my head--Dredd--but not everyone will agree and frankly once you get past the top two or so, anything good enough to belong on a "Ten Best" list oughtn't be forced to duke it out for position. So! Taking into consideration more input from more readers, and returning my beloved indie films to their positions on the list, I've decided to expand the list to ten, which is what we'll do again when and if we have to update the list in the future. And, no, the order of these means nothing. Just take this as a list of really great movies and don't worry whether Ghost World is better than Blade (it is), because that's really comparing apples and oranges. Oh, and this one's going to stand for a while, so don't bother complaining... ...wait, did I just say that on the Internet?!


American Splendor The cleverly-meta American Splendor movie, featuring the real-life Harvey Pekar appearing alongside his cinematic counterpart, among its many delights, may be the smartest comic book movie ever made. Paul Giamatti, a treasure in just about everything he's ever been in, gives one of the best performances of his career as Harvey Pekar, a cantankerous file clerk who turns into one of the great indie comix artists of the 20th Century. Along the way he spars with everyone from his wife and other cartoonists, to David Letterman and NBC. Following on the heels of the movie's success, Pekar's American Splendor had a miniseries published by DC Comics, along with a number of high-profile projects like Students For a Democratic Society and The Quitter, that gave the revolutionary cartoonist a renaissance in the years leading up to his death in 2010.


Ghost WorldThe Avengers is still not my favorite comic book adaptation in Scarlett Johanson's CV, and we're not talking about Iron Man 2. This bizarrely-awesome little flick starring Johansson and American Beauty's Thora Birch perfectly captured the tone and subversive humor of Dan Clowes' graphic novel and was enough of a critical and financial success to give director Zwigoff and Clowes a second chance to work together–on the underwhelming Art School Confidential–as the studio hoped to recapture the magic of Ghost World. Honorable mention here goes to Crumb, Zwigoff's documentary about underground comix rock star R. Crumb, which was a truly fascinating film; Crumb in it is like a train wreck; it's hard to watch him, but even harder to look away.


The Crow Just five years after the character made his first appearance in the comics, James O'Barr's supernatural revenge thriller became a major motion picture--and synonymous with tragedy. Brandon Lee's death overshadowed the film itself and so it took years for The Crow to get its due with audiences as one of the best comic book adaptations ever made--but even in an era where EVERY comic is being viewed as a potential treasure trove of intellectual property for Hollywood, it's safe to say the film retains that title. Blade

Wesley Snipes as Blade

Would Blade still be an R-rated movie these days? It's so hard to say, but the film doesn't feel particularly like it's any worse than the Dark Knight Trilogy in terms of violence or nudity. Maybe language? In any event, Blade was a revelation when it came out because it was an objectively good movie made about a Marvel Comics character. There really hadn't been one up until that point--at all, unless you count the Malibu imprint and Men in Black. But we don't. And besides, Blade is a Marvel Universe proper character, which is a whole different conversation because he could, potentially, show up in a Marvel Studios sequel someday!


A History of Violence A film that never really got tagged with the "based on the graphic novel by…" credit in a meaningful way, this Academy Award nominee is likely one of the only movies on this list that most casual viewers have no idea had its genesis as a comic book. Most viewers also don't know that it was the last movie to be produced on VHS for the sale and rental market in the U.S. from a major studio. The performances in this film are great and, while he's never had anything positive to say about comic book movies himself, Cronenberg is one of those guys a bit like Roman Polanski: hate him if you want; you're still going to praise his skill as a filmmaker. Honorable mention here goes to Road to Perdition, which is also a crime thriller that many viewers don't know is a comics adaptation.


300/Watchmen These were far and away the most popularly-requested additions by our readers last year. They're also hugely controversial, drawing jeers in the Facebook comments not just when people suggested them for this list but also more or less anytime they come up. There are a lot of people out there who don't like Zack Snyder's approach to these films. But the approach is what has them paired together, rather than us trying to decide which of the two should be on the list. I've always thought that Watchmen was hugely underappreciated and unfairly maligned, but didn't care much for 300--which, to me, suffered from the fact that I was never all that interested in Frank Miller's graphic novel. Many other viewers, though, will point out that most of what Snyder did right in Watchmen from a filmmaking perspective is just stuff that he'd already done on 300 and copied. That's arguably a fair point.


Kick-Ass One major objection that many fans have to Mark Millar's work is that it's sometimes not clear whether he's engaging in satire or just being a destructive jerk. Kick-Ass not only took some of that criticism but arguably, with the crass title and vulgar character names, is a perfect case study for exactly what Millar does that doesn't connect to a mainstream audience. At the same time, it's a great case study for what Millar does well. The plot, the action and the characterizations were all strong. It's sometimes hard to get into a story where the characters are all kind of over-the-top and unlikable...but that's how teenagers are.

V for Vendetta In spite of Alan Moore's repeated objections, the shady ethical nature of the Watchmen and V for Vendetta deals and the fact that many comic book fans deride this adaptation for not being slavish enough to the source material, it was a fantastically entertaining film in its own right, which returned leading lady Natalie Portman to respectability in geek circles following her cardboard performance in the Star Wars prequels. V For Vendetta stood out among its fellow Alan Moore adaptations League of Extraordinary GentlemenConstantine, From Hell and Watchmen as clearly the best of the bunch, and the one most likely to have a lasting impact on popular entertainment. Years after the film was released, for instance, you can still walk into a costume shop and get V for Vendetta-branded costumes. Want to try that with LXG? It also brought Moore's work into the mainstream outside of comics in a big way and set the stage for things like Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous adopting the Guy Fawkes mask.

Sin City Featuring the best use of comic book tropes onscreen in the history of filmmaking, Sin City's ultra-violent, ultra-stylized look and feel made it an immediate cult sensation and brought moviegoers into the bookstores hoping to get a deeper look into Frank Miller's mad genius. Directed by Miller and El Mariachi maestro Robert Rodriguez, and featuring uniformly amazing performances by its large cast, Sin City pushed at the boundaries of how a comic book film is perceived. Stark, smart and sexy, Sin City is the kind of film that could have found a life for itself relying on the story and acting alone, but the way they integrated Frank Miller's work into the film took it to the next level. With a sequel coming up next year, the real question of Sin City will be whether the second film will taint the first one in any way. As a follow-up to one of the great comic book adaptations of all time, it faces a number of challenges: neither Miller or Rodriguez are performing at the level today that they were in 2005, when the first film happened; and while the first movie came as something of a bolt out of the blue, the second will be not only anticipated but will be met with expectations by a large audience that may be difficult to meet.


Dredd 3D In the days after the film's release, my first thought was that this was the most fun I'd ever had in a comic book movie. That might still be true, and it might--if this were my personal list--even be a "best comic book movie ever." There was a temptation to rewrite this list in the moment, crowning Dredd the #1 of something because I was in love, but I held off, knowing that sometimes you can get out of a movie and think "that was the greatest thing I've ever seen," only to discover it doesn't hold up on second viewing, or doesn't hold up on home video without an enthusiastic crowd, or..., or..., or. Not so with Dredd. The performances are absolutely top-notch, with Karl Urban completely disappearing into the role, and not just because he did the right thing and refused to take off the helmet.  Lena Headey is a great villain, both more powerful and more believable than she was as the King's wife in 300 (a role she'll reprise next year), only to be outdone in the "bad-ass pretty lady" department by Olivia Thirlby, who was so good, and whose character was so compelling, she would have stolen the show from just about anybody but Urban. It was also beautifully shot. It looked like a massive film, like something done on a budget two or three times what it was made for. There were a few scenes where the visuals were a bit underwhelming, and it draws some unfavorable comparisons to The Raid since the structure is so similar, but really, it was a movie that made you wonder why Travis wasn't fielding the biggest job offers in the business and what the heck other directors DO with all that money. This movie is a cult classic, and it's the kind of film that deserves a sequel. Urban and the fans are still working on making that happen, but even if it doesn't get one, those who love it will at least know that  a great movie without a sequel is better than getting a Speed 2 or Batman & Robin. Oh, and this movie just became available on Netflix Instant! Enjoy!