Kicking Ass: The Best and Worst Comic Book Movies

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Dark Knight (2008) 82 $565M
Top-Grossing Comic Book Films
(Adjusted for Inflation) *
Spider-Man (2002) 73 $529M
Batman (1989) 66 $479M
Spider-Man 2 (2004) 83 $458M
Superman (1978) 88 $436M

* U.S. grosses only; based on 2010 ticket prices. Source: Box Office Mojo

The release of Kick-Ass this week has got us in a comic book fervor. The new movie’s unique blend of superhero worship in a real-world setting combines the sensibilities of indie comics and popular comic-book rhythms, and buzz is high due to advance screenings held at South by Southwest and ShoWest. (The early reviews are certainly encouraging.) And Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass isn’t the only comic getting the Hollywood treatment; the big-screen adaptation of Andy Diggle’s Vertigo comic The Losers is being released on April 23rd with a lot of advertising but little to no positive word of mouth.

When you look at the last decade in cinema, you’ll see that the comic-book genre rivals almost all others in terms of box-office receipts. For better or for worse, the crowds that flock to Comic-Cons across the world have made their permanent mark on Hollywood. With the blockbuster releases of little-known comic properties Men in Black 71 (1997) and Blade 45 (1998), Hollywood realized that the cost of digital effects had come down enough to bring more popular comic-book properties to the multiplex. X-Men 64 and Spider-Man 73 followed soon after, helping to wash away the stink of one of the genre’s worst offenders, Batman & Robin 28. That still hasn’t stopped studios from making their fair share of critical duds such as Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 45, Daredevil 42, Elektra 34, and Ghost Rider 35.

Below, we look at the best and worst movies based on comic books (including graphic novels and manga -- but not comic strips, which will be covered later in a separate feature) in Metacritic's database. We have also slotted in a few older films that aren't available on Metacritic where we felt they should appear. (Sorry, Howard the Duck fans.)

The 10 Best Comic Book Movies
Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
1 American Splendor 2003 90 8.0
It's based on: American Splendor comic books by Harvey Pekar
Proof positive that not all comic-book movies are of the capes and cowls variety, American Splendor was based on the autobiographical work of Harvey Pekar, played masterfully in the film by Paul Giamatti. He and his wife Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis) live out their seemingly ordinary lives in Cleveland, Ohio, dealing with money woes, health issues, and the adversity of being a struggling artist in the United States.
Budget: $2M Gross: $8.0M
1 Persepolis 2007 90 8.1
It's based on: Persepolis graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi
The 2007 Academy Award Best Animated Feature nominee is a French adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel about her coming of age alongside the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Stark and elegant black-and-white animation evokes the violent atrocities, cultural identity issues, and religious confusion that haunt Satrapi’s upbringing while she copes by buying into Western pop-culture vices like denim jackets and Michael Jackson. Politically charged and fronted by a female protagonist, Persepolis is a rarity among comic-book movies.
Budget: $8M Gross: $22.8M
3 Ghost World 2001 88 8.3
It's based on: Ghost World comic books/graphic novel by Daniel Clowes
Filmmakers began to take on more literary indie comics beginning with Crumb documentary director Terry Zwigoff’s critically-acclaimed take on teenage outcasts Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) and how they deal with their post-high-school graduation ennui and changing friendship. The two protagonists are believably sympathetic as social misfits, and Steve Buscemi and the late Brad Renfro lend strong support to Daniel Clowes’ world in this modern cult classic.
Budget: $7M Gross: $8.8M
3 Superman: The Movie 1978 88 7.2
It's based on: Superman DC Comics character created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster
Richard Donner’s oft-imitated but rarely matched big-screen spectacle is a classic adaptation that masterfully incorporates a full and satisfying origin story with an amazing cast and winning portrayals. Christopher Reeve owned the dual role of nerdy, mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent and alien Kal-El (Superman), and Margot Kidder’s sophisticated sass made it impossible for anyone else to play Lois Lane. Gene Hackman’s menacing and irreverent Lex Luthor and Marlon Brando’s celestially dignified Jor-El add to the embarrassment of riches.
Budget: $55M Gross: $300.2M
5 Spider-Man 2 2004 83 7.7
It's based on: Spider-Man Marvel Comics character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Director Sam Raimi raised the stakes by increasing both the angst and the action in the blockbuster sequel to the successful Spider-Man. Dr. Otto Octavius enters the mythology, wreaking havoc throughout New York City and in Peter Parker’s increasingly more complex life. Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), and James Franco (Harry Osborn) got to flex their acting muscles in the film’s more emotional post-9/11 mindset. A battle between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus on a runaway subway train is a memorable set piece.
Budget: $200M Gross: $783.8M
6 The Dark Knight 2008 82 8.8
It's based on: Batman DC Comics character created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger (uncredited)
Why so serious? Christopher Nolan bested his own Christian Bale-headed Batman reboot Batman Begins with this even better sequel to the tune of over a billion dollars worldwide. The late Heath Ledger’s unforgettable gleefully sociopathic take on the The Joker propelled the film to an unprecedented financial and critical success that remains unmatched by any other comic-book adaptations. Nolan is currently working on a follow-up that could show up in 2011.
Budget: $185M Gross: $1,002M
7 A History of Violence 2005 81 6.8
It's based on: A History of Violence graphic novel written by John Wagner and illustrated by Vince Locke
David Cronenberg began his recent series of collaborations with actor Viggo Mortensen with this adaptation of the 1997 graphic novel about a seemingly mellow small-town restaurant owner who is brought to a violent breaking point in defense of others. Unfortunately, this heroic act brings unwanted attention and changes. Like Road to Perdition, this critically acclaimed film shows the repercussions of violence on both the protagonist and his family.
Budget: $32M Gross: $60.3M
8 Iron Man 2008 79 8.3
It's based on: Iron Man Marvel Comics character created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby

Secret identities be damned! Robert Downey, Jr.’s portrayal of billionaire Tony Stark was a refreshing palate cleanser. Instead of a brooding superhero, we get a self-aggrandizing, freewheeling socialite who likes to save the day and have a lot of fun while at it. Even though the film came out the same summer as The Dark Knight, it still managed to do extremely well at the box office, and the sequel, Iron Man 2, comes out on May 7th.

Budget: $140M Gross: $585.1M
9 Akira 1988 n/a * n/a
It's based on: Akira serialized manga by Katsuhiro Otomo
Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1998 adaptation of his own futuristic manga introduced Japanese anime to many foreign audiences. Post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo, beset by gang violence and terrorism, is also home to secret government projects like the one that teenage friends Tetsuo and Kaneda happen to stumble into. A supernatural battle in Neo-Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium is the climax of one of most influential anime films of all time.

* The 2001 U.S. re-release received a 76 based on just 4 reviews.

Budget: $11M Gross:
(U.S. only)
10 The Crow 1994 n/a n/a
It's based on: The Crow comic book by James O'Barr
One of the first high-profile adaptations of an indie comic, The Crow is unfortunately remembered mostly for Brandon Lee’s tragic, accidental death during the shooting of the film. His intense performance as musician-turned-undead-vigilante Eric Draven helped the film do justice to James O’Barr’s gothic revenge saga. Audiences and critics alike fell in line with their praises, and the success of the film led to several lesser sequels.
Budget: $15M Gross: $94.0M

The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). User scores represent an average of scores assigned by site visitors on a scale from 0 (bad) to 10 (good). Grosses represent worldwide box office receipts (rounded to the nearest 0.1 million) unless otherwise noted. All box office figures are from Box Office Mojo.

Looking for something a bit more terrible?

Turn the page for our list of Hollywood's worst comic book movies, as well as the remaining films that didn't make the cut.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (41)

  • 120spaced  

    What? No Sin City??

  • joe  

    Daelin, it's not a crappy list, it's simply compiling he top 10 comic book films in order of their overall critcal sucess, not by the maker of this article's personal prefrence.
    And secondly, Batman (1989) blows in comparison to 'he Dark Knight. It's entertaining, but emotionally hollow and unintentioanlly camp, that's why it got 66 in comparison to TDK's 82. A History of Violence is a clever, engaging thriller with excellent performances from its cast and that's why it deserves to be on the list. What are YOU smoking?

  • Ilovethisstuff  

    Uh how come so many people didn't know 300 was originally a comic book, that's just sad the comic book industry is so overlooked there's great stories there, that's why Hollywood is constantly using them as source material.

  • Ifthiswerespartaidpi  


    That you were aware 300 had a historical context is unimpressive.

    It was far more striking that when proven genre-clueless you became snide and defensive. Hilarious.

  • bdgr  

    I can't believe there's no mention of The Phantom (Billy Zane in purple spandex?!!). And am I the only one with a soft spot for The Shadow (Alec Baldwin)?

  • Matt  

    Whoa whoa whoa, the second Ninja Turtles movie? The third one is far worse. The second one is sort of a "so bad it's good" kind of movie but the third one was just plain awful.

  • alex pearson  

    Where on earth is, 'batman mask of the phantasm'?

  • Jason  

    Rottentomatoes is definitely more reliable as for as meta scores go for movies. And let's face it, The Crow sucks ass.

  • Pieter  

    my top 3? 1- Spiderman 2, 2-Iron Man, 3-X-Men 2.

    300 is rubbish and so is The Crow, Spawn, Punisher, Watchmen... and sad to say - I hated The Dark Knight. except for The Joker

  • Jesse  

    Uh, what about Superman II????? Better even than the first Superman, and by Metacritic's own score of 99, should be #1. I don't get it...

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