Asking a parent to pick their favorite child is probably easier than forcing a passionate filmgoer to choose the best comic book film adaptations of the decade.
Because by last count, there have been a bajillion of them with almost half of those being really good, which is incredible considering the serious hardships we went through to get here, namely Barb Wire, Howard the Duck, Steel, and Schumacher’s reign of the Batnipples. Sure, we had our Batman (‘89) or the underrated and very prescient Mystery Men, but they were infrequent victories and only a very temporary respite from not being taken seriously.
But in 2019, when it’s completely normal for a comic book adaptation to make a billion dollars, I’d say we are living in different times, one in which the fantasies of our youth are being consumed by mass culture as a whole. And we’re very lucky to be experiencing this all, but exponentially more so because of the ten movies below, which can be considered the top ten comic book films of the decade.
Honorable Mention: Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (2010)
Of all the comic book movies on this list, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World is by far the most comic book of them all. In fact, there are moments in this film when you can practically hear the pages turning.
That’s because when director Edgar Wright adapted Bryan Lee O’Malley’s cult beloved graphic novel, he did so with a panel-by-panel reverence for the delightful source material and with a giant jar of manic pixie dust which he sprinkled all over every celluloid reel before delivering them to movie theaters. With a breakneck pace and whip smart quips, the movie is so epically ADHD-friendly that one almost imagines the craft services on set only offered Mountain Dew and sugar cereals (incidentally, the Scott Pilgrim’s tagline is “an epic of epic epicness.” For real).
That said, this action comedy could have easily resulted in a narrative that stumbled too far into cartoonish and saccharine territory, but Wright’s pitch perfect casting choices prevents it from inducing cavities. Featuring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Aubrey Plaza, and Jason Schwartzman amongst others, Scott Pilgrim’s ensemble is so prescient you almost suspect the director sold his soul to the devil in exchange for a copy of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue from later in the decade.
It’s no wonder the film has achieved cult status despite an initial disappointing box office performance. Considering the frenetic pace, the burgeoning talent, and undulating humor, Scott Pilgrim Vs the World took time to catch up with.
10. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Even if The Dark Knight, the revered second installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, had come out in the same decade as The Dark Knight Rises, I would still consider the latter to be a better film.
And it’s no wonder this isn’t a popular opinion when regarding that Heath Ledger’s bat**** (pun intended) Joker won an Oscar. But while Ledger’s depiction was a sensational and sensationalized maelstrom of chaos, it was Tom Hardy’s Bane in Rises that genuinely terrified us with his disdain for order. Exponentially more so when we realized that his efforts to incite the commoners sounded eerily similar to those espoused by Occupy Wall Street around the same time.
But despite director Christopher Nolan’s denial of a Dark Knight Rises political agenda, it’s not necessarily even the mirrored reflection of the real world’s socio-political climate that makes it so enthralling. It was the taut narrative focus of the story that makes it the best of three.
The problem with The Dark Knight, and one that’s rarely discussed, is that we’re introduced to a new villain with twenty minutes remaining, and the film problematically overstays its welcome. Never mind the fact that Harvey Dent’s transition into Two-Face feels rushed and somewhat underdeveloped.
Rises, on the other hand, expertly delivers on a fully realized ensemble, each participant with clear motivations, no one actor stealing the spotlight and inadvertently appropriating the movie as their own acting showcase. Which made this less a movie about Batman or Bane or Jim Gordon, and more a movie about Gotham, the brutally unforgiving urban landscape that made them all what they are.
9. Captain America: The First Avenger
Winter Soldier and Civil War are unequivocally great and, in theory, deserve to be on this list. But if we’re being honest with one another, they were both less Captain America movies and more Avengers Lite.
The First Avenger, on the other hand, belongs solely to Steve Rogers, and it’s also the reason why so many of us were #TeamCap from the get-go. Because the film, like the titular Avenger, conveys an old school earnestness that feels timeless, endearing, and charmingly anachronistic. A good portion of the credit for that goes to the perfectly cast Chris Evans for portraying Cap as a jacked-up boy scout with an “aww, shucks” demeanor.
Yet The First Avenger also encapsulates the salute-worthy spirit that creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby intended on infusing into their patriotic hero; as a deeply moral and uncompromising champion of the people, Captain America doesn’t practice partisanship. He believes in the United States and its propensity for good.
But truly, the film’s greatest achievement is that for a story featuring a man dressed up in an American flag, it could have easily been hokiness incarnate. Instead, the costume serves as an ostensible mirror reflecting on human potential as we imagine Cap as a representative of our greater selves.
8. Deadpool (2016)
Some people are born to write the Great American Novel. Others feel compelled to search for a cure for cancer. For Ryan Reynolds, on the other hand, his destiny was somewhat less profound. The man was born to be Deadpool. And if there’s one thing we can learn from the actor’s persevering ten year campaign to get this fourth wall-breaking film made, when destiny grabs you by the chimi-f***ing-changas, you don’t fight it.
And aren’t we glad he eventually succeeded? To say that Reynolds is perfect as Wade Wilson is implying that we know where Reynolds ends and Wilson begins, both with their witty asides and sarcastic clapbacks. Deadpool showed us, for better or for worse, how we can have irreverent fun with superhero tropes through high-octane hilarity and a final product that even resulted in a vicarious thrill for the audience as we watched the Canadian actor realizing his vision through maximum effort.
And sure, many dismissed the anti-hero’s debut as gratuitous juvenilia and puerile vulgarity, to which Deadpool would say back, “Why, thank you. Please come again,” while he offers a lewd back-and-forth hand gesture.
7. The Avengers (2012)
When old couples go out for dinner, they’re comfortable enough with one another that they don’t feel pressured to even make conversation.
And so, it’s to director Joss Whedon’s credit that at the culmination of the first Avengers movie, we see Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Captain America all sitting in a dilapidated restaurant and eating shawarma without saying a word.
Over the course of one hundred and forty-three minutes, The Avengers shows Whedon trading in his director’s chair for a lab coat and performing chemistry experiments, specifically social chemistry with bonds developing between Earth’s mightiest heroes. And oh, how they bond. Sure, at first, they fight and bicker, but it’s the battle of New York finale that exemplifies just how a tight-knit family responds to pressure.
Which is why it’s so forgivable that Loki isn’t really all that of a formidable antagonist or for that matter that the Chitauri army is faceless and characterless. Because, when you get to the bottom of it, the conflict was incidental, and we were only there to watch the Avengers assemble.
6. Black Panther (2018)
Black Panther isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s an important movie. That distinction is necessary to make because it more or less resolves the debate over the film’s merits.
From a critical standpoint, director Ryan Coogler doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on action sequences. The epic battle scene in the final arc, for example, in which Wakandans turn on one another is visually incomprehensible and difficult to follow. Moreover, it plays out rather inconsequentially like a group of costumed Afrofuturists spending Sunday in the park LARPing.
But the implications of Black Panther’s $1.3 billion worldwide gross despite addressing some hefty sociocultural issues is profound, exponentially so when you consider the apolitical nature of the MCU up until this point. And while a few months prior, Jordan Peele’s Get Out got all the credit for prompting the all too important conversation about racism, it was Coogler’s Killmonger versus T’Challa rivalry that deftly educated so many of us about the struggle over the polarity within.
At the end of the film, while overlooking the Wakandan sunrise, a dying Killmonger turns to King T’Challa and says, “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships because they knew death was better than bondage.” And we’re left with mouths agape because a modern superhero blockbuster just referenced slavery.
5. Wonder Woman (2017)
The most popular female superhero was created in 1941 yet only got her first solo film in 2017.
Consider for a moment that before Wonder Woman appeared in her first cinematic blockbuster, Batman, Superman, the Fantastic Four, and the Punisher all had three reboots, and the Hulk had two within a span of five-year span.
While there’s no real satisfying reason for that eight-decade oversight, if we look back on the many iterations of Wonder Woman in pop culture’s past, perhaps it’s better off that Diana of Themyscira waited seventy-six years for a worthy cinematic depiction.
After all, would it have been possible in the past for Wonder Woman to have worn armor that didn’t come across as a glorified bathing suit? Or had this film come out during Michael Bay’s peak reign, would we have had to sit through a veritable highlight reel of gratuitous male gaze moments? And talk about subverting the traditional romantic male interest role–Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is not only fine with being saved by Diana, he spends the film’s two hours in stammering admiration of her wondrousness.
“This is No Man’s Land, Diana,” Trevor warns our heroine in one scene taking place on a World War II battlefield, “It means no man can cross it.” And of course, she crosses it, and it’s a thrilling moment, literally, but even more so metaphorically.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
It wasn’t wrong of us to have scratched our heads or laughed perplexedly when Marvel executive Kevin Feige announced in 2012 that there was a sci-fi movie in the works starring a walking tree and a talking raccoon.
In retrospect, Guardians of the Galaxy’s $800 million box office gross makes it hard to remember that it was once considered a real gamble for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which had just settled into a comfortable precedent of focusing on geekdom A-listers (Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and the Avengers). But by entrusting GotG Vol. 1 to then controversial indie filmmaker James Gunn, we see Marvel in full risk-taking mode, an uncommon strategy for the Disney-owned studio and one they’d only revisit once again for Thor: Ragnarok.
And maybe it was the freedom to explore obscure characters without being tethered to the baggage of canon that gave this film an opportunity to stretch? Or perhaps it was Gunn’s propensity for infusing humor, heart, and a killer soundtrack into a movie about a dysfunctional family which could very well be the most relatable premise ever?
Whatever the reason, you’ve got to give the dude credit–after all, Gunn was so confident with his realized vision that he held on to the merchandise-friendly Baby Groot until the end credits.
3. Logan (2017)
All the elements were there. Arguably the most badass superhero of all time portrayed by an actor so perfectly cast that he had to eventually pivot radically hard to starring in musicals just so he could throw Wolverine fanboys off his trail.
Yet despite all the moons aligning, Hugh Jackman still had to claw his way through nine middling X-Men films to get to a narrative worthy of the Weapon X legacy. But Logan was worth the wait.
Equal parts brooding and sensitive, James Mangold’s second Wolverine film and Jackman’s final appearance as the titular mutant transcended the restrictive comic book movie genre and became an evocative example of what happens when you stop patronizing to your audiences, as Fox was wont to do, and make a heart wrenching dystopian tale for grown-ups that unabashedly confronts mortality.
“This is what life looks like,” Patrick Stewart’s Professor X tells Logan in their final scene together. “You should take a moment and feel it.” He could have been talking to the audience.
2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Technically, this movie shouldn’t exist. And the fact that it does speaks to the time in which we’re living in.
For one, prior to Spider-Verse’s release, there was already an existing franchise in theaters featuring a Spider-Man, which is reason enough for Sony studio execs to kill the project out of fear of confusing the average moviegoer. Then Spider-Verse introduces the notion of a Multiverse, a complex concept for a children’s animated movie, in which there’s not just one Spider-Man, but actually a multitude of Spider-People. On top of all of that, the protagonist, who has been known since 1962 as a white man named Peter Parker, was suddenly a half-Puerto Rican and half-African American teenager named Miles Morales.
On paper, all of the aforementioned criteria made Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse a tough sell, but it wasn’t the superpowers that made this movie work. It was the humanity. With Phil Lord and Christopher Miller at the helm, Miles Morales and crew conveyed so much emotional gravitas that at times it was hard to believe they were all computer generated. And yes, that even goes for the web-slinging pig.
1. Infinity War/Endgame (2018/2019)
Look up any best comic book movies of the decade-list and you’ll witness a critic squirming over their reasoning for determining Endgame over Infinity War or vice versa as the more worthy installment.
But I have a theory; three movies makes it a trilogy, but two movies just makes it a two-parter. Case in point? Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 is one movie, according to Tarantino himself. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows Part 1 and Part 2? Also one movie. Therefore, as it stands to reason, Infinity War and Endgame are one movie. Change my mind.
For the non-comic book reading audience, Infinity War was a genuine heart wrenching gut-punch with half the world’s population snapped away into nothingness by Thanos the Mad Titan. Which meant the heroes that the audience had spent ten years investing emotionally into were now considered dead. Cue the end credits. Go home and mourn.
And while part one gave us a global tragedy, Endgame truly brought on the feels. Give credit to the Russo Brothers for avoiding neat resolution by establishing a conflicted Tony Stark who insists that the snapped come back after a five-year absence without revising history. Or by concluding a twenty-two film story arc with poetic goodbyes to a trio of beloved characters. Or by enlisting every single character in the MCU without making moviegoers feel like gluttons at an all you can superhero buffet.
More importantly, for the first time in the MCU, we have a well-developed, nuanced and believable villain. Thanos was undeniably evil, but his argument for curbing overpopulation is unnervingly similar to the debate we’re hearing from some scholars today. But what makes a villain truly great is when they’re able to inspire the sort of conversation we haven’t really witnessed in cinematic history before; can a towering homicidal CGI character be hot?
Ultimately, though, Infinity War and Endgame, as one film, is my favorite comic book adaptation of the last ten years because it achieves the impossible. And I don’t mean time-traveling in the quantum realm. It gave fanboys and casual moviegoers alike both reason to rejoice. Because we not only loved it for culminating into a perfect amalgamation of heart, humor and action, but we loved it 3000.
What was your favorite comic book movie of the decade? Let Your Geek Sideshow and tell us in the comments!