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Top 25 Comic Book Movies of the 2010s

on November 22, 2019, 3:14pm
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Had this list been written 10 years ago, it would have looked very, very different. The films mentioned would have been more off-beat and niche, many recognizable as comic book adaptations only to the deepest of geeks. (I still remember walking out of 2003’s Daredevil and having a friend say, “I didn’t know that was based on a Marvel comic.”) Now is a post-Avengers world, however, and the superhero movie is Hollywood’s dominate force.

Which is why, in putting together this list, it was a bit of a struggle to diversify outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Under the powerful mouse ears of Disney, Marvel simply exploded the industry. The benchmark for a successful blockbusters is now 10-digits long, the concept of a straight sequel has been replaced with the interconnected universe ideal, and audience expectations of quality are higher than ever. While the upside to this has been the truly remarkable MCU, the downside is a decrease in diverse stories and risk taking.

mcu logo Top 25 Comic Book Movies of the 2010s

That’s not to say there haven’t been some great non-Marvel, non-DC productions made since 2010. From Swedish coming-of-age films to financially frustrated cult classics, there were plenty of smaller standouts birthed from the neighborhood comic shop. Only too often did studios attempt to ride Marvel’s wave, and too often they crashed numbingly short. So while marquee superheroes may dominate this list, pay attention to some of the less familiar names, reminders that being different can yield the same results as following tried-and-true formulas.

There are hundreds of worthy properties still out there sitting on shelves — even in the Marvel and DC section — all waiting to be given the respectful, careful adaptations they warrant. These 25 films from the last decade set the standard they’ll have to meet. —Ben Kaye, News Editor


25. Joker (2019)

Joker r rated billion dollar box office

Joker (Warner Bros.)

Warner Bros. didn’t seem to have any clue how to make good of their DC Comics properties for most of the decade. The unanticipated result of their go-for-broke interconnected universe failing to pan out was a willingness to take a risk on Todd Phillipscharacter study of comicdom’s most iconic antagonist, Joker. Controversies aside, the movie delivers a brutal look at how one man’s mental illness leads him to anarchistic darkness. Taken with the Oscar buzz for star Joaquin Phoenix and the record-shattering $1 billion box office take, and you have one of the decade’s most successful adaptations on numerous levels. –Ben Kaye


24. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Kingsman: The Secret Service, Taron Egerton, Michael Caine, Comic Book Movie, Fox

Kingsman: The Secret Service (20th Century Fox)

There’s something incredibly pleasing when something so completely left-field takes over culture for a moment. No one really knew what was coming with Kingsman: The Secret Service, but writer-director Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman deliver a slam-bang spy blockbuster that takes dozens of clichés and has a jolly good time blowing them to hell. With playful spins on every James Bond quirk or Men in Black-style recruitment montage, the film is at once an ode to and a send-up of classic tropes. Truly insane action sequences (there’s a woman with swords for legs, for Christ’s sake) and stellar chemistry from Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Taron Egerton add up to one bloody fun romp. –Ben Kaye


23. Shazam! (2019)

shazam warner bros dc comics zachary levi

Shazam! (Warner Bros.)

DC and WB lost themselves in trying to be the gritty, “realistic” counterpoint to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s colorful costumes and quippy heroes. There’s a reason none of those films are on this list, and Shazam! is. Shazam! allows itself to play within the world of superheroes rather literally, as the titular hero is just a kid who learns everything about capes from his comic-obsessed foster brother. Zachary Levi plays the adult-sized version of young Billy Batson (Asher Angel) with charming innocence, keeping what is otherwise a standard three-act origin story feeling fresh and — most importantly — fun. –Ben Kaye


22. Dredd (2012)

Dredd, Karl Urban, Comic Book Movie

Dredd (Lionsgate)

Even seven years after its release, Dredd is a sleeper on this list. While its dismal box office haul may have proven no one was asking for another Judge Dredd movie, its cult status demonstrates it’s a better film than the receipts make it appear. Alex Garland‘s script does a beautiful job of establishing the rules of a dystopian society and then locking them in 200-story high-rise. It’s an expansive and yet claustrophobic setting in which Karl Urban’s titular anti-hero gets to run absolutely rampant with bombastic action scenes. It’s one of Urban’s best roles, and there’s still hope he’ll be able to return to it despite the poor profits. –Ben Kaye


21. Kick-Ass (2010)

Kick-Ass, Lionsgate

Kick-Ass (Lionsgate)

The timing of Kick-Ass was absolutely stunning in retrospect. Right as superhero blockbusters were beginning their siege on Hollywood, here came this scrappy, twisted, independent production playing off the entire concept of masked crimefighters. Another Vaughn-Goldman collaboration, Kick-Ass revels in its outrageous violence with such expletive-laden glee that you forget those are really kid actors playing these roles. Which is what makes it such a breakout performance from Chloë Grace Moretz, selling a completely twisted character like Hit-Girl with sincere craft. We also get one of Nicolas Cage’s smartest performances ever by way of a clever nod to Adam West. –Ben Kaye


20. The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Marvel, Chris Hemsworth, Comic Book Movie

The Avengers (Marvel Studios)

Remember when we thought this was the biggest possible payoff an interconnected universe of films could deliver? Such precious naiveté. Still, at the time, the feat was truly amazing to behold: five separate movies building towards one colossal crossover event. It was something unheard of just seven years ago, and now it’s the dream of every Hollywood studio. Yet, for all the attempts, no one has come close to pulling it off as well as Marvel did with the first Avengers. It may have been a game of first-to-the-table, but by Jarvis did they set that table magnificently. –Ben Kaye


19. We Are the Best! (2013)

We Are the Best!, Comic Book Movie

We Are the Best! (Svensk Filmindustri)

Sweetness runs throughout this drama, starting with the familial romance behind its creation: The graphic novel on which it’s based, Never Goodnight, was written by Coco Moodysson, the wife of the director, Lukas Moodysson. The concept of youths finding identity in music isn’t exactly fresh, but the Moodyssons paint a truly lovely portrait of punk rock in 1980s Sweden with We Are the Best! Best of all, the band isn’t actually any good, which just makes the joy and camaraderie they discover simply in the attempt that much more affecting. —Ben Kaye


18. Deadpool (2016)

Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds

Deadpool (20th Century Fox)

We all love an underdog, and despite the fact that the titular anti-hero is indestructible, the creation of Deadpool is one of fighting through a wave of resistance. Ryan Reynolds, director Tim Miller, and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick had to toil in obtuse studio hell for years to make this thing happen. Their efforts were greatly rewarded in a movie that lampoons the entire concept of superheroes even as it harps on the exact same tropes. With Reynolds in a part he was born to play, Deadpool rejuvenated an industry suffering from comic book fatigue while showcasing the value in R-rated adaptions. All while finally getting Colossus right. —Ben Kaye


17. Big Hero 6 (2014)

Big Hero 6, Animation, Disney

Big Hero 6 (Walt Disney Studios)

Big Hero 6 looks practically nothing like its comic book counterpart, a Marvel book that sees Baymax as a dragon-like robot with a human’s mind fighting alongside mutants. That makes this one of the rare cases where changing source material doesn’t anger fans and instead creates new ones. An ode to classic anime as much as anything, this Academy Award-winning picture should have launched a whole wave of Disney animated adaptations of Marvel properties. Though that never came to pass, this dearly warm movie remains both fun and comforting in a way that only animated movies about lovable robots can be. —Ben Kaye


16. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Sony)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Sony)

Spider-Man back with Marvel, Michael Keaton back in a comic book movie — Homecoming indeed. After being teased with his cameo-sized role in Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland showed himself to be the best live-action web-slinger in a 15-year span that saw three attempts at the franchise. Bursting with anxious optimism, he’s a delight as Peter Parker and a perfect foil to the hardened determination of Keaton’s Vulture. Both characters’ motives are grounded in actual pathos, leading to one of the most relatable superhero adventures ever, and certainly in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And how good does it feel to still be able to say “the MCU’s Spider-Man”? —Ben Kaye


15. Wonder Woman (2016)

Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot

Wonder Woman (Warner Bros.)

Hopefully the version of this list that publishes 10 years from now will have far more female-led adventures, but until then, thank Zeus for Wonder Woman. Although we have to move passed yet another CGI-bloated third act from yet another DCEU film, at least this time we care about our hero getting there. Much of that is due to Gal Gadot’s undeniable charisma, and director Patty Jenkins earns just gallons of credit for her work. People laid a lot of hopes on this film, not leastwise because of WB’s poor track record to this point. Being delivered such a dignified, compelling portrayal of one of comicdom’s mightiest warriors was a true gift from the Gods. —Ben Kaye


14. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Captain America: Civil War, Chris Evans, Superhero Movies

Captain America: Civil War (Marvel Studios)

Call it Avengers 2.5. This many characters jammed into one film shouldn’t work and certainly not so well that it still feels like the title character’s movie. And yet as deftly as the introductions of Black Panther and Spider-Man are handled, so too is Captain America’s story. It’s a perfect juggling act between comic book crossover event and political thriller. While it also features what remains one of the greatest splash-panel battles ever captured on film, the fact that the intimate two-on-one duel in a Siberian bunker is the more impactful fight is a testament to the Russo Brothers’ unparalleled talents at superhero moviemaking. —Ben Kaye


13. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Chris Pratt, Marvel, Comic Book Movies

Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel Studios)

Six years ago, the idea of a raccoon, a tree, and an ’80s-obsessed man-child leading a successful movie was considered a risky endeavor. Writer-director James Gunn shut that opinion down quick with this utterly winning family film stuffed with diversely lovable characters, delightfully romping about the screen to an iconic-level soundtrack. In addition to making Chris Pratt a star, Guardians introduces one of the MCU’s dark horse MVP’s in Bradley Cooper (the fact that he voices a digital raccoon makes it easy to under appreciate his performance). From a grander perspective, it also manages to thrust MCU closer to Endgame than many of the Avengers’ solo adventures. High on believin’, indeed. —Ben Kaye


12. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok, Chris Hemsworth, Comic Book Movies

Thor: Ragnarok (Marvel Studios)

Before Ragnarok, Thor was a third-stringer behind guys like Iron Man and Captain America. Considering the way Endgame panned out for those two, we have to be doubly thankful for how Taika Waititi revitalized him. Being in the pitch meeting for this weird, wild, wonderful cosmic adventure must have seemed like a dream. Revamping a character so thoroughly in his third act, going from stuffy neo-God to campy people’s champion, is no easy feat. With a stellar supporting cast (Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, and perhaps Mark Ruffalo’s best turn as Bruce Banner/Hulk) and a vibrant score from Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, Waititi pulls it off masterfully. —Ben Kaye


11. Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3, Robert Downey Jr., Comic Book Movie, Marvel

Iron Man 3 (Marvel Studios)

When Iron Man 3 first came out, fans ripped it to shreds. The main gripes were the dismantling of the iconic villain The Mandarin and the relative lack of, well, Iron Man. Once the blood stopped boiling, however, it was easier to appreciate Ben Kingsley’s iteration for its own brilliance. What’s more, writer-director Shane Black presents Robert Downey Jr. with the most compelling solo Tony Stark material precisely because he took away the suit. Black’s script finds a way to up the quippiness of comic book cinema’s quippiest hero while simultaneously delivering a striking depiction of PTSD. This may still feel like an MCU outsider, but so does Winter Soldier — and just wait to see what we have to say about that one. —Ben Kaye


10. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises, Tom Hardy, Christian Bale, Batman, Warner Bros., Comic Book Movie

The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Bros.)

No doubt either of the other entries in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy would place higher on this list were they released this decade, but that doesn’t diminish this finale’s merit. Although no one can hold a candle to Heath Ledger’s Joker, Tom Hardy’s Bane is his own kind of towering menace. “Do you feel in charge?” is still one of the most chilling lines in cinema. Of course, this is still a Batman movie, and Nolan’s handling of the Caped Crusader as Myth is superb, showcasing the symbolic nature of the hero like no filmmaker before or since. —Ben Kaye


09. Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan, Chadwick Boseman

Black Panther (Marvel Studios)

A comic book movie nominated for a Best Picture Oscar — did we ever think we’d see the day? Battle rhinos aside, Black Panther got so much right at a time when pop culture desperately needed it to. Balancing deep cultural meaning and blockbuster fun is no easy task. By giving viewers a villain with Magneto-level righteousness (Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger), director/co-writer Ryan Coogler grounded all the technobabble battles with vibranium trains and VR remote controlled Lexuses around heavy pathos. Still, it’s Chadwick Boseman’s powerful performance that carries the film, giving the character the gravity and respect he — and his audience — deserve. —Ben Kaye


08. Death of Stalin (2018)

The Death of Stalin (eOne Films)

The Death of Stalin (eOne Films)

Political satire of this scope doesn’t often originate in funny pages, nor does it regularly land on film with such buoyant irreverence. Armando Iannucci’s black comedy The Death of Stalin makes a mockery of Soviet-era politics with such deftness that the modern parallels are as hilarious as they are poignant. Watching a stellar cast of Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Tambor, and more literally fall over each in this farcical look at diplomatic one-upmanship turns what should cause head-spinning rage into a casket of wry chuckles. That’s something we desperately needed in the era of Fake News and still do in the Age of the Impeachment Hearing. —Ben Kaye


07. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Avengers: Endgame, Robert Downey, Kr.

Avengers: Endgame (Marvel Studios)

The audacity of Marvel to pull off what they did with the Infinity Saga on even a basic level is preposterous. The fact that they did it with such an inarguable panache is a master stroke. It would’ve been easy to just throw a bunch of iconic characters on screen together and say, “Isn’t this cool?” We’ve seen how that isn’t enough to make for a good movie, though, and the MCU earned every gasp, cheer, and tear in Endgame. That’s what will forever set it in its own league of comic book adaptations, perhaps untouchably so. It’s hard to envision something this massive coming together so beautifully ever again — but Marvel has proved us wrong before. —Ben Kaye


06. Snowpiercer (2014)

Snowpiercer, Chris Evans, Comic Book Movie

Snowpiercer (RADiUS-TWC)

High-concept disquisitions on class often thrive in comic book form, and Snowpiercer is stunning proof that it can translate just as well to film. Director Bong Joon-ho turns Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s graphic novel into a visionary cinematic experience full of set pieces equally resplendent and gruesome. Every turn on the tracks is gripping, surprising, and fiercely well designed. Where many post-apocalyptic sci-fi flicks can get lost in their own absurdity, Joon-Hu’s thrives in it. It’s a ride that sticks with you and makes you want to get on again, even once you already know the allegorical horrors that await. —Ben Kaye


05. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Comic Book Movie, Universal

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Universal)

Moving manga into live action falls short of quality more often than not. Yet, here we have a manga-inspired Canadian comic series that comes to life with such vivid verve in the hands of British filmmaker Edgar Wright that one has to wonder why other adaptations don’t go for broke more often. (Netflix’s Bleach almost made this list.) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is completely outrageous, loud and bombastic, anchored both by Wright’s unbridled daring and impeccably appointed cast. Deadpan performances from Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, Alison Pill, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead allow the pure insanity of the proceedings to whirl about in a way that awes rather than overwhelms. It’s a gift of a film, a comic movie that revels in being a comic movie. —Ben Kaye


04. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men, Wolverine, James McAvoy, Hugh Jackman, Nicholas Hoult, Comic Book Movie, Fox

X-Men: Days of Future Past (20th Century Fox)

At this point, we’ve reached complete X-fatigue, so it’s a good thing Disney’s absorption of Fox will give Marvel a chance to take a few beats before rebooting X-Men. (Yay corporate consolidation?) But for a brief, shining moment in the first half of the 2010s, the mutant movies were at the top of their game. There should be absolute chaos with the amount of characters and timey-wimey gimmickry in Days of Future Past, but beyond all odds, it works. It’s sort of a reverse Infinity War, with a meeting of two X-teams instead of Avengers and Guardians, handled with a reverence mutants hadn’t seen since X2, and haven’t since. The result is a sweeping summer blockbuster that has more fun in its bold moves than many of its peers. —Ben Kaye


03. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Marvel Studios)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Marvel Studios)

Captain America should be an impossible character to pull off in the modern era — too noble, too pure, too old-fashioned. But by leaning into Steve Rogers as a man out of time, one who must reconcile his ideals with modern realities, the Russo Bros. and Chris Evans gave the character a depth that made Cap a fan favorite. Winter Soldier’s paranoid thriller premise, sharp and well-staged action, and great supporting turns from Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Robert freakin’ Redford proved that the MCU could soar even without Iron Man leading the charge. While all involved would go onto bigger, more bombastic things, Winter Soldier’s exploration of what it means to stand steadfast for what that famous shield represents, even after the world’s changed, made it memorable and distinctive, before and after its fireworks went off. –Andrew Bloom


02. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (Sony)

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (Sony)

In a year where debate rages as to whether superhero films count as true “cinema,” perhaps the best case for their legitimacy came out only 12 months ago. Into the Spider-Verse manages to be a lot of things at once: a thrilling, heartfelt introduction to Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a multi-verse Spidey story including at least eight webslingers, and a visually stunning animated adventure like nothing we’ve seen before. More than its vibrant mix of aesthetics from Golden Age comic panels to modern street art, Into the Spider-Verse manages to blend these disparate elements into one of the best animated films — and superhero stories — of the decade. –Clint Worthington


01. Logan (2017)

Logan (20th Century Fox)

Logan (20th Century Fox)

Describing Logan is complicated. It’s a spinoff sequel to a franchise that had technically been reset, and a coda for the two heroes that built it. Seeing the film unfold, though, it’s quite simple: Logan is a Western. This isn’t a theme park ride, but a grounded tale about two legends being crushed by the weight of time. Where it really leaps from the pages is how James Mangold wields two decades’ worth of invested character development into an auteurist meditation on legacy and mortality. By doing so, Mangold took a sharp detour amidst the Golden Age of Comic Book Movies, inviting us to a funeral that ultimately suggests not every film in the genre needs “To be continued…” –Michael Roffman

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