Best of the 2010s: Comic Book Movies
What do we call this decade? The Tweenies? The Teens? The Onesies? Or simply The Tens? Whatever we call this decade, there is no denying it is coming to a close with this year. By year's end, you'll notice professional critics and bloggers looking back at the decade that was. But, being as how there's been over 6,000 films released this decade, doing a proper retrospective can be a bit daunting. Therefore, it is time for the return of my Best of the Decade series!
Every month I'm going to focus on a particular genre of film and count down the 10 Best of the Decade from that genre. This will, ultimately, lead to a 100 Best list. In addition to this, our podcast, The Movie Lovers, will have a corresponding segment monthly during the Film Faves portion of the show wherein we count down our favorite films.
This month, with the summer season coming to a close, we look at the best comic book movies of the decade.
As we have with the rest of the series, let's acknowledge the caveat: the decade is still a few months from finished. But, unlike with science fiction and fantasy, there are only three more comic book movies left in the year: The Kitchen, Addams Family, and Joker. We really aren't sure about these films, but if they surprise enough they will be acknowledge at year's end. So, feel free to take this list with a grain of salt, if you like.
So, what qualifies for this list? Any film based on a comic book or graphic novel that was theatrically released in the United States. That's it! There were over 60 movies based on comics in theaters. Of course, roughly a third were part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 18 were not superhero films. Seven were animated. Seven were part of the DC Extended Universe. Eight were X-Men movies.
Let's see which ones made the list.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
Edgar Wright made three films this decade. The most recent was named one of the best action movies of the decade. But he started off the decade with a movie based on a graphic novel by Bryan Lee O'Malley. It just might be his most imaginative, even if it isn't his own creation. For some, the surface-level video game and comic book visuals were enough to dazzle and entertain. But all of the spectacular duels between Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) and his crush's Seven Evil Exes is just a metaphor for emotional nuances that can help us mature if we face them rather than avoid them. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is hilarious, dazzling, whip-smart and possibly some of Wright's deepest work.
There were two superhero films - both of which received sequels - that took a more irreverent look at the capes and tights subgenre. Check out the latest episode of The Movie Lovers to hear about one. Deadpool is the better film. It is also the most iconic and financially successful, an R-rated action film that made over $360 million domestic ($783 million worldwide). It is the second-highest grossing R-rated movie of all time; remarkably, The Passion of the Christ (2004) beat it by $7 million. It is among the 20 highest-grossing comic book movies ever and the highest-grossing X-Men film. So, what is it that captured so much attention? The brilliant marketing, which featured Deadpool warning parents NOT to take their kids and also poked fun at other popular movies, probably helped. The wink-wink, nudge-nudge humor throughout and Deadpool's 4th-wall breaking monologues kept audiences laughing. It was the antidote to 15 years of (mostly) solemn men in tights, unlike anything audiences had seen before. At the core of it all was a love story, unconventional as it may be, which made Deadpool more than a hollow, gory, LOL spectacle.
So, Hugh Jackman, one of the most iconic superhero stars of the decade, tried a couple of times to get the Wolverine movie fans wanted on the screen. His first attempt in 2009, the studio-mangled X-Men Origins, was an absolute disaster, despite making more money than its more faithful, if mediocre 2013 follow-up. While 2013's The Wolverine was better-received by fans and critics, it wasn't until 2017's Logan that fans got the Wolverine movie they've been wanting. Director James Mangold, who helmed the 2013 film, decided to take the character in the future and tell a story based on the limited comic series Old Man Logan. Having Wolverine past middle-age in a dystopia where the X-Men are history was a revelation for the character. He's a survivor, but what has he to live for at this point? He ends up being the savior of the future, being tasked with helping a young mutant trek across the country to a safe haven. Logan ended up being one of the most dramatic, violent, and brilliant superhero movies of the decade. A fine farewell to the character that made Jackman a star.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
This may be the biggest surprise on this list, as, for whatever reason, it has recently come under fire by some fans. But I contend it is the first great MCU solo film. Here's why: it is the first MCU film since the original Iron Man to be an allegory for real-world issues. It not only goes further than the original in this sense, but it also avoids the somewhat cheesy superhero third act the original fell victim to. Iron Man 3 has issues of PTSD via Tony Stark and military vets, as well as touches on suicide bombings. It deals with those issues with real weight and consequence. Some comic book villains just do not translate well to the silver screen. They may be hokey in their design or intentions or created in a time that makes them greatly harmful to contemporary audiences if translated literally. The Mandarin is such a character. Iron Man 3 pays off the Ten Rings terrorist organization introduced in the original film while both avoiding racist stereotypes and making the character terrifying. And then, to top it all off, there's the Iron Patriot, an allegory for Homeland Security as a symbol of uber-patriotism and knee-jerk national aggression. Iron Man 3 does more thematically than most MCU films, while still managing to be everything the MCU is: popcorn thrills for the masses.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
This pick may be a controversial one, depending on your definition of the source. It's often credited as a manga, but the source material, All You Need is Kill, is defined as a Japanese light novel, which has manga-like characteristics. The poe-tay-toe / poe-tah-toe argument will be up to you to decide. I prefer to occupy my time celebrating one of the greatest science fiction films of the decade. Tom Cruise plays an arrogant ranking officer who prefers being in front of cameras to enemy lines. He finds himself stuck on the front lines on a fateful day in a war between humanity and an alien race. The thing is, after succumbing to a particularly nasty attack from an alien, he discovers he's stuck repeating that day over and over again. The concept is frequently boiled down to Groundhog Day with aliens. There's no denying that comedic element. However, it's pretty damn smart and features one of the decade's best female characters: Emily Blunt's Rita Vritaski. It's also got some truly extraordinary action and terrifying moments. If it weren't for the film's final moment, which pulls its narrative punch in favor of something a little more confusing, Edge of Tomorrow would be a perfect film.
Wonder Woman (2017)
There are few films as iconic as this, arguably the best Warner Bros. and DC had to offer. A Wonder Woman film had been in development hell for well over a decade. Joss Whedon was even taking a crack at it, but couldn't come to an agreement with the studio. It's a tricky character: one with a fairly weak rogues gallery and with an array of characteristics; she must be an incredible warrior, but also the most beautiful woman ever to grace the screen; she must be wide-eyed about the world of man, but believable as a diplomat from Themiscyra. In a way, she must be the female equivalent of Captain America. Gal Gadot pulled it off, remarkably. Her Wonder Woman instantly became the defining Diana Prince for another couple of generations the moment she dared to walk up to No Man's Land. She also became a feminist icon in an era desperately in need of a new wave of feminism, right on the cusp of #MeToo and #TimesUp. Wonder Woman became everything we needed in a superHERo film this decade.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Yes, last year's surprise animated success, one of the best animated movies of the decade, was also one of the best comic book movies of the decade. Fondness for Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films is high enough that Spider-Verse's ability to take the claim of Best Spider-Man movie in some fan circles is a huge honor. Despite preferences of such claims going to live action efforts, I think this film is worthy of such a title. It is just nothing like anything we've ever seen from a Spider-Man movie, let alone a superhero movie. It managed to cram so many characters in without feeling overstuffed. It managed to include plenty of superhero action without sacrificing character. It also managed to move the needle on the animated form, which rarely happens and is an extraordinary accomplishment. It even managed to diversify what a superhero movie cast can look like (of course, Spider-Man: Homecoming did this first a year before). Into the Spider-Verse is one of the best of the decade for all of these accomplishments and for having some of the most iconic visuals of the decade.
Black Panther (2018)
While Wonder Woman was the first female superhero film, Black Panther was the first superhero film (or any action franchise film, really) to be fully fronted by a black cast. In fact, there are only two Caucasian actors in Black Panther, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis. This wouldn't be nearly so significant if the film weren't such a huge success on every level: creatively, critically and financially. And, unlike Wonder Woman, Black Panther avoids third-act issues, making it a better film overall. It's worth noting that this isn't a film about a tribe of third-world savages akin to 1933's King Kong. Rather the characters are technologically superior to developed Anglo-Saxon nations and their nation is one that seems to be filled with compassion, pride, and nobility. In some ways, these Wakandans have figured out how to be a better civilization than most others (perhaps avoiding European influence helps?). And that makes Black Panther more than a solid superhero film; it helps make it an empowering piece of black cinema. Of course, anchoring it all is Chadwick Boseman as the title hero and Michael B. Jordan as the deeply-wronged Killmonger, the latter giving us one of the decade's most interesting villains. All of this - and so much more - make up one of the best comic book movies of the decade.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
This film by director James Gunn (Slither) was based on a fairly obscure comic series, so nobody - not even comic book fans - really knew what to expect. What we got was a little bit Indiana Jones in space. A little bit Star Wars. It's about a ragtag group of intergalactic criminals who come together to form a family and prevent a power-hungry villain from obtaining an over-powered MacGuffin. Starlord. Gamora. Drax. Rocket. Groot. They all became iconic characters of the decade. The thing about Guardians of the Galaxy - more than any other MCU film, possibly - is it existed almost completely independent of the greater series; it was a self-contained sci-fi action comedy. And it was perfect. This is Raiders of the Lost Ark perfect. It has a tight script. It has great characters. It has an above-average villain (maybe not Top 3 in the MCU, but a far cry from Thor: Dark World's Malekith). It's hilarious. It has stunning visuals. It features fantastic action. And, let's not forget, a completely believable and lovable gun-loving raccoon and talking tree. The MCU is chock-full of solid films; it really only stumbled once or twice in twenty-two films. But Guardians of the Galaxy is special. I am Groot, indeed.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Okay, so, one would be forgiven for selecting 2012's The Avengers for this spot. Its swooping shot around the team as they assemble for the first time is iconic (if it seems I might be using that word too much it is only because several comic book movies this decade happen to contain some of the most memorable images in film). But I'm going with the one that put a cap on an 11-year, 22-film story arc. Read that again. Eleven years. Twenty-two films. That is astounding. What's more astounding is the series didn't produce diminishing returns. And Endgame managed to satisfactorily pay off everything. It paid off character arcs. It paid off on a storyline that was first teased back in 2012. It paid off on the Infinity War cliffhanger ending. It closed the book on an entire saga while leaving the future for several characters wide open in the most exciting ways possible. It even gave us visual testaments on how many incredible characters this series has brought to the screen - men, women, and alien alike. And now it is the highest-grossing film ever made. And the 2nd-best reviewed film in the MCU (Black Panther beats it by 2% on Rotten Tomatoes). It is an incredible achievement that will likely never be repeated. There really is no equal this decade. You could say it is the be all... end all of comic book movies this decade.
The Avengers (2012), Snowpiercer (2013), Blue is the Warmest Color (2013), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Those are the best comic book movies of the decade. What do you think is the best of the decade? Comment below.
Don't forget to check out the rest of the Best of the 2010s series, including last month's sci-fi and fantasy list. This decade witnessed a huge push for female voices in cinema. Next month we'll take a look at F-Rated movies! Who are some of your favorite female directors? Will they make the list? Find out in September!