What are the best comic book movies ever made? Ask anybody on Twitter -- something that happens about once a day, given how prevalent and popular comic book movies have become -- and you'll get the same handful of answers. The Dark Knight. Avengers: Endgame. Logan. Superman: The Movie. You'll get some folks with unconventional answers that still get some love, like Josie and the Pussycats or Road to Perdition. But one that doesn't come up as often as maybe it should, is Crisis on Earth-X. The four-part Arrowverse crossover marks arguably the high water mark of the crossover-event-as-movies dynamic, and is such a smart, cohesive piece that it's likely the best screen treatment many of the characters involved are likely to get in a single, widescreen story.
Just over three years ago, the Arrowverse shows -- then Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and DC's Legends of Tomorrow -- crossed over for what, to that point, was the biggest and most ambitious endeavor they had attempted yet: "Crisis on Earth-X." The four-part story brought all of the heroes together for four episodes (one from each show), aired over a two-day period. Playing as much like a single, feature-length movie as anything you're likely to see on superhero TV, "Crisis on Earth-X" pitted the heroes of Earth-1 and Earth-38 (where Supergirl came from) against their evil doppelgangers from Earth-X, a world where the Nazis won World War II.
The annual Arrowverse crossover events are not always easy to see as "movies." The "Invasion!" storyline was close, but given the hundredth episode of Arrow coming in the middle of it, there were a number of moments where it felt like the "movie" was interrupted for an episode of TV. "Crisis on Earth-X" was a bit different: in addition to being pretty stand-alone, the story had a pace that really did flow from episode to episode in an organic way. "Elseworlds," which followed "Earth-X," a single, coherent narrative but it was pared way down, in part in response to the exhaustion and burnout the main casts of the shows had after "Crisis on Earth-X." And then came "Crisis on Infinite Earths," which is undoubtedly the most exciting thing that the shows have ever done, but given its massive scope and cast of thousands, feels a little less cohesive than "Earth-X." Given how much smaller "Elseworlds" felt, you have a little of the Goldilocks factor going on when you try out the three: "too hot, too cold, just right." And "Crisis on Earth-X" is where many fans think they got it just right.
We are hardly the first people to point out that it's a great "superhero movie." But the benefits of the Arrowverse -- the long, emotional connection that fans have with characters that they have been following for five years at that point -- helped it really connect with an audience in a way that's difficult to top. It also features writers who have a fundamental understanding of what makes the characters tick, and what makes them appealing,. that comes with the kind of familiarity years of consistent work breeds (this is also why Marvel movies seem to get better and better as they progress). Similarly, the actors -- who were already pretty well cast for the most part -- are able to access an emotional depth because of their years in the Arrowverse that's rare to any stand-alone movie.
Framing the whole thing around the relationships between Barry and Oliver and their respective love interests, "Crisis on Earth-X" gave casual fans an understandable, emotional hook for the story. Arguably, it plays better as a movie than it does as TV, since Barry and Iris got married on an episode of DC's Legends of Tomorrow. They also had to share their wedding with Oliver and Felicity, which is cute when you're making a movie and Oliver and Barry's relationship is at the core of it...less cute when fans of each pair of characters have been invested in these nuptials for five years.
And, like Infinity War or Endgame, "Crisis on Earth-X" has significant roles for the various members of the Legends team, which is a rarity for these crossovers, where it's generally just Sara and Ray who get a lot of play. The Firestorm storyline that anchors the final act of the "movie" is smart and heartfelt, and understandable at first glance to people who don't watch the show but understand a tortured father-son dynamic when they see it.
Is "Crisis on Earth-X" really comparable to the established classics of the genre? Well, your mileage may vary. For some fans, the Arrowverse has become "their" version of live-action DC, and not withotu some reason. Not everyone is going to put this up there with Logan and Avengers, but when the debates start to swirl for the millionth time, "Crisis on Earth-X" deserves at least a place in the discussion.