I never expected, when I started this site, that superhero movies would end up dominating the big budget blockbuster landscape. I thought this topic would be a minor niche which wouldn’t interest very many people. They may very mainstream nowadays, but back then, giving a major budget to a comic book movie was still quite risky, and an unqualified success like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was very rare.
Cape Jeer is a review site for movies based on superhero comics. It also stretches to cover some cases of comic book characters who aren’t super, and some superhero characters who lack a comic book pedigree. Your reviewer is Paul “Supersonic Man” Kienitz.
Anyway, for some reason I ended up watching quite a few movies that were based on comic books, even though I rarely read the comic books themselves. (I guess I could claim that I liked them before it was cool.) So, inspired by such fine B-movie sites as Stomp Tokyo and And You Call Yourself A Scientist!, I just thought I’d give my rankings and reviews of which are the good and the bad in this category of film. And once I’d seen about fifteen of them, I figured I might as well start filling in the rest of the list. I didn’t realize how many such films had already been made back in the 20th century, let alone have any inkling of how popular and lucrative the genre was about to become.
Now that we’ve been flooded with new superhero films, and a whole ton of new comic book movies are coming out, this may offer a little perspective. Especially since they are now making so many of them that I wouldn’t be surprised if before much longer they oversaturate the market and cause a crash in the popularity of the genre. Personally, as I was one of the people who got on board earlier than average, I’m also one who’s getting tired of the format earlier than average. It’s to the point where I’m considering a moratorium on big blockbusters in my reviews. Many of the big-money franchises seem to be descending into bland audience pandering where they previously offered stories which were somewhat more thoughtful or meaningful. I don’t think there’s much risk of the mainstream audience getting tired of superheroes in the abstract any time soon, but there’s a very real possibility that, as the turkeys gradually outnumber the triumphs, they’ll tire of the kind of superhero movies that studios continue to spend big money on.
Making a movie based on a superhero comic book is a difficult art. The film medium demands a certain realism that the comic page seems to demand an absence of. There is a difficult set of choices to be faced about how much to tone down the outrageous parts — too little and your film story can lose all believability, too much and you lose the flavor of the comic. (Should Captain America have silly winglets on his head, or be sensible and wear a helmet? Should the Hulk make mile-long jumps, or just stomp around? In each case, both approaches have been tried.) And do you present the world in which the action takes place as realistic and true to life, or as stylized and artificial, distanced from reality? Too much of the former and any scientifically impossible elements of the story put a real strain on believability unless you tone them down, and too much of the latter can make the story as meaningless as watching somebody else play a video game.
And how much do you remain “true to the source material”? That’s what the serious comix fans want from you, but failing to expand beyond the limitations of the comic book medium can impose major limitations. Sticking close to what worked in the comics will probably give you a film that’s in the middle of the pack. Departing in an original direction can send you to the bottom, or to the top. In recent years the trend has definitely been towards sticking closer to the source comic books, while the style of 15 years ago favored a much looser sort of adaptation. I’m now feeling like it’s time to tone down the faithfulness and let a little more creativity back into the mix. But this may not happen much anymore, as the highly vocal core geek audience is making it abundantly clear that they prefer the literal-minded interpretations, even if that means making the characters look like cosplayers.
Nowadays I’ve become more interested in seeing what comes from independent sources than I am in keeping up with the latest offerings of the big franchises — I don’t bother with seeing many of those big ones in the theater anymore, and can easily get a few years behind on them. I had more fun with it back when a lot of these were cheap B movies. So I don’t know what the future of this site will be.
But while it lasts, come along with me as we put on our long-johns and join the battle against Communism! I mean, against crime.
On the left side of each page, you will see links to indexes listing the movies. You have a choice of four, depending on how you want the titles ordered. In the default index, I have ranked the titles roughly in order from best to worst. Alternately, you can choose an alphabetical list of titles, or a list organized by year of release, or one grouped in categories based on the type of comic the movie was made from. I have put in placeholders for those films I haven’t seen yet (which are usually either pointless sequels, or recent films I haven’t gotten around to yet). Unseen film titles are in italics. Each title has a little popup quote from the accompanying review that displays itself when you move the mouse over it.
Certain measures have been taken to keep the list down to a manageable size. I disregard stuff over 50 years old, namely the serials popular in the nineteen thirties and forties. I summarize what I know of this old stuff in a special section. I will include some newspaper comic strips that encroach near a superhero-like form, but ignore most newspaper strips — no Blondie or Garfield films. I disregard most hero characters who have a presence in comics but originated elsewhere, like Tarzan. (But The Shadow slipped through as an exception. The Green Hornet will probably end up being another.) I will also disregard TV movies, except for mentioning their existence in passing in another special section, and most animated films, especially if they’re not major theatrical releases. (Most superhero animation was made for TV, though recently the two major comic book companies have made a number of direct-to-DVD offerings.) And I can’t cover manga films such as the blood-drenched Lone Wolf and Cub (Kozure Okami) series (which I had heard was going to be remade by, of all people, Darren Aronofsky) — or, in general, films made in languages other than English. (This is another area where I had to make an exception or two.)
I especially do not include serious non-genre dramas based on graphic novels. For instance, I don’t include the marvelous films Ghost World or Persepolis — they really have nothing to do with the others I’m reviewing. In the former case especially, there is nothing in the film that indicates a comic-book origin. The same applies to Road to Perdition or A History of Violence, and for that matter, I’ll say it also applies to Tales From the Crypt, though I have less justification there. American Splendor is even farther outside this site’s territory. For a note on how I would grade those films if they were here, see the The Rating System page.
(Tiny personal connection to Ghost World: when this site was young, Daniel Clowes (the author of the Ghost World graphic novel) and I lived in the same neighborhood.)
Within this realm, I will try to include most everything that you’d have any chance of finding in a video shop. And I certainly do include some films about superhero-like characters which are not derived from any actual comic. Parodies, for instance.