Archive for October 5th, 2009

My Top Twenty Comic Book Movies of the Decade was going to be a top ten but there where so many great films to choose from it became a top twenty. I had the opposite problem with the 90’s, the decade was filled with dross like Judge Dredd and Batman & Robin. I actually came up with four great 90’s comic book films. I subsequently found out I had been misinformed and Dark City (1998) was actually an original idea and not based on a comic book. I pressed on anyway and came up with the Top Three Comic Book Movies of the 90’s.

Batman Returns (1992): Tim Burtons Batman is often overlooked these days as it is in the considerable shadow of The Dark Knight. Looking back now there are similarities between Batman (1989) and Batman Begins (2005). It rebooted (although he term wasn’t used back then) the character who was still best known on the screen for the camp 60’s TV show. It made a huge amount of money (approximately eight and a half times its budget of just under fifty million dollars). Most importantly it produced a sequel that was better than the first film. Following up Jack Nicholoson’s Joker was going to be tough but they pulled it of with triple antagonists: Christopher Walken as ruthless business mogul Max Shreck, Danny DeVito as The Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. Whether by luck or judgment Pfeiffer was perfect in the part bringing the right measures of action, comedy and sexiness to the character. She wasn’t actually first choice, Annette Benning had been cast but was forced to pull out of the demanding role due to pregnancy. Susan Sarandon, Raquel Welch, Ellen Barkin, Bridget Fonda, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Lena Olin and even Cher where considered. Pfeiffer had come close to getting the part of Vicki Vale in the first film when Sean Young (who coveted the role of Catwoman) had to drop out after being injured during filming. If she had got it obviously she wouldn’t have been able to play Catwoman. Pfeiffer was so good as Catwoman that producer Denise Di Novi and writer Daniel Waters proposed a Catwoman spin-off possibly with Tim Burton directing. By this time Batman Forever had moved the franchise away from Burtons Gothic image more towards family friendly crap. The project was all but shelved until eventually after ten years a very different Catwoman film did come out ten years later. The less said about that the better. Burton stuck with his original vision of Gotham from the first film. The city looks somewhere between a futuristic metropolis and a gothic fairy tail. The visuals are really complemented by the score by Danny Elfman that is brilliant as ever.

catwoman batman returns

The Crow (1994): The film will always be infamous for the tragic death of its star Brandon Lee. Without the years of mythology and baggage that characters like Batman came to the screen with the crow was a relatively new comic book. Alex Proyas film came out in 1994 just five years after James O’Barr’s comic book of the same name. The film was certainly the first I had heard of the story. Eric Draven a rock musician (changed from a mechanic in the comic) comes home to find his girlfriend Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) being raped. Eric is killed and Shelly dies later in hospital. Exactly a year later on “Devils Night” the night before Halloween he comes back from the dead accompanied by a crow to avenge his own and Shelly’s deaths. The directors original idea was to shot the film in black and white emulating the style of the comic book. The studio vetoed the idea fearing it would put viewers off. The idea was possibly ahead of its time having since being used in Sin City. Set over just two nights there is very little daylight in the film, along with costumes and sets this helps with the films neo gothic look.. Despite the gothic styling the film is far more an action film than a horror with perfectly choreographed action. The photography and design have are striking and have been emulated ever since. It is a film that couldn’t be made today as no director would be able to resist the opportunity to overuse crappy and unnecessary CGI effects. The first rule of comic book movies is a credible villain; this is provided by Michael Wincott as Top Dollar and his sister Myca (Ling Bai). Michael Wincott had already played a memorable villain, Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood when he did the near impossible by not being completely overshadowed by Alan Rickman’s Sheriff. He went on to play Philo Grant in Strange Days. The three characters are very similar and all memorable. The budget for the film was relatively low at around fifteen million dollars. Its first weekends revenue covered 80% of the budget. Even the top grossing films of the year, Forrest Gump and the Lion King could only manage around 50%. It went on to take around ninety-five million dollars worldwide. This financial successes is the biggest problem with the film. It resulted in three sequels and a TV spin-off all of which were rubbish.

The Crow

Blade (1998): I recently described blade as the most important Marvel film ever made. With the success of Spiderman and the X-Men this sounds strange as Blade is one of their less well known and less profitable franchises. But it was the first decent film made from a marvel comic boot and proved that Marvel titles could make good profitable movies. After years of the rights to Marvel comics being sold off for TV shows and rubbish tiny budget films Blade was Marvel studios first film(a co production with New Line Cinema) and a relatively low risk venture. Blade wasn’t one of their big name comic books. The film had a relatively low budget of around forty five million dollars. Written by David S. Goyer (whose other writing credits include: Dark City, Blade II, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) based on the character originally created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. As is so often the case the film works because of the casting. Wesley Snipes is perfect in the lead role giving the right blend of stone faced killer, brooding hero and a little deadpan humour. The supporting cast is also good with Kris Kristofferson as Abraham Whistler his sidekick, mentor, weaponsmith and general farther figure. Stephen Dorff makes a good villain and the face-offs between his character Decaon Frost and Blade are good. As well as what the film did for comic books and Marvel, it re-invented the vampire movie. Moving it away from the gothic horror of the old MGM and Hammer movies and the romanticized ideas of films like Interview with the Vampire. Blade may not of invented the vampire action movie, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires came more than 20 years before blade, but blade reinvented it and created a lot of imitators. The film had two sequels, the first (Blade II (2002)) is better than the original the second (Blade Trinity (2004)) was terrible. This was followed by a short lived TV series where Snipes is replaced by Kirk Jones AKA rapper “Sticky Fingaz”.


Any other suggestions for good comic book adaptations of the 90s?

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