Summary

  • Many comic book movies that deviate from the formulaic narrative structure are often dismissed and overlooked, even if they have value within the genre.
  • Movies like Mystery Men and Constantine should be reconsidered for their unique blend of satire, unconventional humor, and departure from traditional comic book tropes.
  • Despite mixed reviews, movies like Spider-Man 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand pushed the boundaries of their respective franchises, exploring complex themes and delivering standout performances.

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Comic book movies are notoriously overlooked by the Hollywood elite, but even within the fandom, several incredible movies have not received the admiration they deserve. While some deservedly count among the greatest movies of all time, several comic book adaptations explored themes and storylines that were atypical for the genre. As a result, many were met with critical derision and an unfavorable backlash from audiences. Nevertheless, many of these should be reconsidered for their contribution to the comic book movie genre.

Comic book movies are often criticized for being too formulaic, but when a movie comes along that counters this it is often dismissed. Even movies by the beloved Marvel Cinematic Universeand DC Universe have sometimes received unfair criticism, despite their very obvious value within the wider genre. Numerous great movies have expanded the potential of comic book adaptations, pushing the boundaries of action, morality narratives, and deft superhero satire.

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10 Best Superhero Movies Of All Time

From multiple Batmans to Spider-Man, multiverses and time travel, here’s our rundown of the best superhero movies ever.

10 Mystery Men (1999)

Directed By Kinka Usher

The cast of Mystery Men team up and prepare for the final battle

Mystery Men was a superhero comedy movie loosely based on Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot Comics. The movie follows a group of inept, unconventional superheroes with peculiar powers who set out to save their city from a menacing villain. Starring Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, and William H. Macy, the ensemble cast delivered memorable performances that infused the narrative with an offbeat, comedic energy. Mystery Men holds a pretty average score on Rotten Tomatoes which should be much higher. It showcased a unique blend of satire, unconventional humor, and superhero parody. Mystery Men challenged the comic book tropes, offering a refreshing departure from the formulaic narratives of its time.

9 Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Directed By Sam Raimi

Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man screaming while pulling the symbiote off his head in Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man 3

Release Date
May 4, 2007

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
139 minutes

Writers
Sam Raimi , Alvin Sargent , Ivan Raimi

Spider-Man 3 is often labeled the weakest in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. While it certainly does have its flaws, the movie boasted several commendable aspects which are frequently overlooked. The movie delved into Peter Parker’s internal struggle with the black symbiote suit, all while battling Sandman. Despite the infamous dance sequences, Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of the conflicted hero remains compelling. As was Thomas Hayden Church’s Sandman, who was so effective he could have carried the entire movie. The visual effects and action sequences are notable for their time, and while the movie may have stretched itself too thin, it paved the way for future Spider-Man adaptations.

8 Constantine (2005)

Directed By Francis Lawrence

Keanu Reeves as Constantine walking among rusty cars.

Constantine adapted the DC Comics Hellblazer series and often finds itself in the shadow of more celebrated superhero movies. However, the dark and atmospheric occult thriller starring Keanu Reeves as John Constantine has earned its place as an underrated gem. Constantine adeptly blended supernatural horror, film noir, and religious mythology, creating a distinctive and compelling narrative. Its atypical interpretation of the superhero genre, strong performances, and a richly layered plot set the movie apart. While it may not have achieved blockbuster success, Constantine deserves recognition for its daring departure from the traditional tropes, and its attempts to expand the potential of comic book movies.

7 The Losers (2010)

Directed By Sylvain White

The taskforce walk passed an American flag in The Losers

The Losers

Release Date
April 23, 2010

Director
Sylvain White

Rating
pg-13

Runtime
97minutes

Writers
Peter Berg

The Losers was overlooked by many audiences. It featured an ensemble cast including Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Idris Elba, and MCU alumni Chris Evans and Zoe Saldaña. It was adapted from the DC Comics series of the same name and followed a group of betrayed CIA operatives seeking revenge against a powerful adversary. Its fast-paced storytelling, witty dialogue, and charismatic performances add a refreshing layer to the action movie narrative. The Losers only has a 48% score on Rotten Tomatoes merits much greater praise. The Losers was deftly performed and a thrilling, grittier rendition of a comic book movie.

6 Dredd (2012)

Directed By Pete Travis

Judges Dredd and Anderson standing side by side and looking serious in Dredd

Dredd

Release Date
September 21, 2012

Director
Pete Travis

Rating
R

Runtime
95 minutes

Dredd, the 2012 adaptation of the iconic British comic book character Judge Dredd, often goes unrecognized in discussions about the genre. It boasted a sterling performance from Karl Urban as the titular character and a gritty, visually arresting depiction of the dystopian Mega-City One. Dredd featured an unrelenting tone, stylish cinematography, and a focus on the intense, day-in-the-life narrative. It embraced its R-rating, delivering visceral action and a stark portrayal of a crime-ridden future. Dredd was notable for its refusal to compromise the dark and violent themes in adapting the source material. Despite being overlooked by the comic book discourses, Dredd offered a gritty and unapologetic take on the genre.

5 Tank Girl (1995)

Directed By Rachel Talalay

Lori Petty talking to another character in Tank Girl

Tank Girl, the 1995 adaptation of the anarchic comic series, is an underrated cult classic. Starring Lori Petty as the eponymous Tank Girl, the movie combined a punk aesthetic, irreverent humor, and a rebellious ethos. Despite its unique and avant-garde approach, the movie faced mixed reviews and struggled at the box office (via Metacritic). However, over time, it has gained a devoted following who praise its bold style, overt feminist themes, and energetic soundtrack. Tank Girl is rightly receiving the recognition it deserves, offering a vibrant and eccentric experience that defies the conventions of typical comic book adaptations.

4 Iron Man 3 (2013)

Directed By Shane Black

Iron Man 3

Release Date
May 3, 2013

Director
Shane Black

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
130 Mins

Writers
Drew Pearce , Shane Black

Many think Iron Man 3 is the worst MCU movie but it should be reconsidered. The movie took Tony Stark on a personal journey, exploring the aftermath of The Avengers and delving into the character’s vulnerability. Robert Downey Jr. delivered a captivating performance, showcasing a more human side of Tony Stark as he is stranded without his Iron Man armor. The movie focused on character development over traditional superhero spectacle, and, as a result, was far more compelling than Iron Man 2. Furthermore, Iron Man 3 examined themes around mental health, which had not been previously explored in the MCU, creating a fresh interpretation of the Iron Man series.

3 Watchmen (2009)

Directed By Zack Snyder

Watchmen adapted Alan Moore’s iconic graphic novel and is undervalued in the superhero movie landscape. The movie faced challenges in compressing the intricate narrative in the source material into a cinematic format. While not entirely faithful to Moore’s graphic novel, Watchmen stands out for its bold ambition, striking visuals, and complex storytelling. The movie grappled with profound philosophical and ethical questions, challenging typical superhero tropes. The depiction of flawed and morally ambiguous characters was highly unconventional for the genre and incredibly effective. As a result, the depth, visual style, and mature themes have prompted a re-evaluation of Watchmen since its initial release.

2 X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Directed By Brett Ratner

X-Men: The Last Stand

Release Date
May 25, 2006

Director
Brett Ratner

Cast
Hugh Jackman , Patrick Stewart , Ian McKellen , Halle Berry , Famke Janssen , Anna Paquin , Kelsey Grammer , James Marsden , Rebecca Romijn , Shawn Ashmore , Aaron Stanford , Vinnie Jones

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
104 Minutes

Genres
Action , Adventure , Superhero

Writers
Brett Ratner

X-Men: The Last Stand received very mixed reviews, criticized for its departure from the source material and the absence of the original X-Men director Bryan Singer. However, the movie is vastly underrated. It navigated complex themes of acceptance, identity, and sacrifice within the mutant community as it was faced with a supposed “cure” for mutants – continuing the discrimination allegory that defines the X-Men franchise. Despite its flaws, it featured several standout performances from Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, and Kelsey Grammer as the iconic Beast. The emotional stakes in X-Men: The Last Stand were far higher than previous X-Men outings, providing a resonant conclusion to the initial X-Men trilogy.

1 Batman Forever (1995)

Directed By Joel Schumacher

Blended image of Batman, Two-Face and the Riddler from Batman Forever promo images

Batman Forever

Release Date
June 9, 1995

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
117 Minutes

Genres
Action , Adventure , Superhero

Writers
Akiva Goldsman , Lee Batchler , Janet Scott Batchler

Batman Forever was a drastic diversion from the darker tone established in the Tim Burton Batman movies. Schumacher opted for a brighter style, complete with neon colors and campy performances – which made the series far more family-friendly. Batman Forever explored the psychological struggle Bruce Wayne faced as Batman, exploring notions of duality and trauma. Jim Carrey’s performance was over-the-top but injected some well-needed energy into the narrative. Additionally, Batman Forever successfully balanced action with character development, bridging the two eras in the 1990s Batman movie series. While not as brooding and atmospheric as its predecessors, its vibrant and novel visual style marks it as an underrated comic book movie.

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