A look at the most ultimate old-school comic action adaptions!
Before comic book films became slick family entertainment, a good comic book adaptation needed to hit just as hard as any other action movie! The best of them skipped on all the drama, and went straight for the bull’s eye of total cinematic excess! In this article, we present you the ten most kick-ass old-school comic book films and film franchises ever created!
Bonus Round: Darkman (1990)
Darkman is not based on a comic book, but Sam Raimi’s take on the genre feels like a comic book come alive. Scientist Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is left horribly disfigured after mobsters destroy his lab. His synthetic-skin technology enables him to re-create and wear the faces of his attackers, and he goes out to get his revenge.
The excitement Raimi puts on the screen is simply infectious. There’s quirky characters, a couple of dark and touching moments, goofy humor, and relentless action featuring the classic RaimiCamTM totally spiraling out of control. Liam Neeson is intense as Westlake, oscillating between tormented victim (with a terrifying face) and unhinged killer. The action sequences go so much over the top, they are the best maestro Raimi ever created, and Darkman became the greatest comic book flick not based on a comic book!
10) Barb Wire (1996)
Barb Wire was supposed to be Pamela Anderson’s breakthrough on the big screen. It didn’t happen, but at least she gave us a wild and sexy actioner! In a dystopic future, bounty hunter and bar owner Barb Wire gets a visit from her ex-lover with secret information about a devastating bio-weapon. She soon is caught in a crossfire between criminal gangs, the police and a government torture squad. Anderson is doing a pretty good job at being a tough and sexy action hero, spewing out cheesy one-liners while kicking ass.
The action comes in good doses and goes completely off the rails in the finale with a nice display of vehicular carnage, explosions and crazy fight on a forklift that is dangling on a crane 300 feet above ground. It’s a guilty pleasure of sorts for sure, but this actioner never fails to entertain for even a single minute!
9) Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)
Spirit of Vengeance was the sequel to the rather mundane Ghost Rider, and got a lot more interesting due to the involvement of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor of Crank fame as directors. Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) is the Ghost Rider, a former stuntman who is sometimes possessed by a vengeful spirit. Johnny is tasked with protecting the boy Danny from the devil who thinks Danny would be the perfect vessel for him to walk the earth.
The script has Cage frequently going into full lunacy mode, and the film has a unique atmosphere that is sometimes eerie, and often total cheese. The action scenes are pleasantly old-school for the most part, and are guaranteed to give you an adrenaline rush, also thanks to the crazy camerawork of Neveldine and Taylor. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is one of the weirdest manifestations of a Marvel franchise on celluloid, and kicks some serious ass!
8) The Rocketeer (1991)
The early 1990s saw a short-lived streak of colorful movies inspired by pulp and superhero comics from the 1930s and 1940s, and The Rocketeer is the best of the pack. A secret prototype for a jet pack falls into the hands of stunt pilot Cliff (Bill Campbell). He becomes The Rocketeer, a show attraction, but soon needs to put his new gadget to use for fending off a conspiracy involving mafia mobsters and Nazi spies.
The movie is a big spectacle with a cheerful vibe, and we get a load of awesome hand-crafted action sequences such as the chaotic flight sequences of the Rocketeer, old timer car chases, and the showdown in a Nazi Zeppelin. The entire cast (among them Alan Arkin and ex-James Bond Timothy Dalton) contributes to the fun with a perfect balance of portraying believable characters and just the right amount of campiness. The Rocketeer is exciting and charming, a perfect action-adventure!
7) Constantine (2005)
2005 saw Keanu Reeves in another bad-ass role as the disillusioned and cursed demon hunter John Constantine. He stumbles upon an apparent suicide case, but when he is repeatedly attacked by hordes of monsters, Constantine discovers the devil’s entire army is on the verge of entering the human world. Constantine is more than just The Exorcist as an action flick, and the most insane exorcism in movie history just marks the start of a film that never relents.
John Constantine has an impressive arsenal of biblical weapons at his disposal: blessed knuckles, a holy shotgun and a flamethrower with dragon fire. But the film has a lot more offer than goofy gadgets. The pacing is perfect, the neo-noir visuals create a grim ambiance, and the many spectacular action sequences hit like a train. Constantine is an ultimate fantasy horror classic that still holds up perfectly today.
6) Hellboy/Hellboy: The Golden Army (2004/2008)
Director Guillermo del Toro and his star Ron Perlman took on the fun task to cast the adventures of a foul-mouthed but good-hearted demon into a movie. Hellboy (Perlman) is summoned by Nazis during World War II to destroy the world, but instead is rescued and adopted by Bruttenholm, a professor for occult studies. Years later, Hellboy works for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, and needs to face the same evil that brought him into the world.
Del Toro’s adaptation of Mike Mignola’s stories nails the look of the comic books, and he pours his passion into every frame. The action sequences are explosive, and Hellboy’s giant fist smashes into plenty of monster heads. Del Toro also helmed the sequel, Hellboy: The Golden Army. The film is even more of a visual spectacle, beautifully blending superhero action with a colorful fairy tale. With both films, Del Toro cemented his status as a grand master for top-of-the-shelf comic book adaptations.
5) Judge Dredd/Dredd (1995/2012)
The two films about Judge Dredd and his uncompromising duty in the futuristic dystopia of Mega-City One belong to the best the genre has to offer. In the first iteration of the character, Sylvester Stallone delivered his familiar performance as ultra-tough macho hero that spews out cynical one-liners by the minute. Street Judge Dredd is framed for murder, and goes on a violent crusade to prove his innocence and uncover a conspiracy that seeks to bring chaos upon Mega-City One.
The film convincingly recreates the bizarre world of Mega-City One in all its dystopic glory. The action is intense, with Dredd’s over-sized and supercharged Lawgiver shredding enemies by the dozen. In 2012 Judge Dredd returned, and Karl Urban took the helm from Stallone. This time he goes up against a drug lord and her army in a sealed-off skyscraper. The film gives us non-stop brutal action with relentless chases and firefights, and Dredd became one of the ultimate masterpieces of 21st Century action cinema.
4) The Punisher Trilogy (1989 – 2008)
One of the darkest Marvel characters gave movie fans three killer action flicks. The first one was still very much infused with that goofy flair typical for 1980s comic book flicks. Frank Castle (Dolph Lundgren) is the Punisher, an ex-cop who lives underground (literally), and spends his time killing mafia members. The Yakuza take the opportunity to fill the power vacuum created by Castle, and he finds himself in the middle of a bloody turf war. Lundgren in top form is at the center of all sorts of mayhem, like throwing grenades at an endless stream of ninjas coming down slides in an arcade hall.
The second film from 2004 is a tad more serious with lots of bloody action, and gives gives us the origin story of the Punisher (Thomas Jane) who seeks to take out crime boss Howard Saint (John Travolta). And 2008’s Punisher: Warzone is the most brutal film that ever wore the Marvel logo with shotguns to the face and knives through the brain. All three films deliver high-octane comic-book violence of the best kind!
3) The Crow (1994)
The film that will be linked forever to the tragic death of Brandon Lee on the film set is also a masterpiece of atmosphere, storytelling and spectacular action. Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and his fiance are murdered by a gang of thugs. One year later, Eric is brought back to life by the mystic power of The Crow to avenge the loss of his love.
Lee totally owns his role as melancholic angel of death, who delivers a bunch of bloody killings during his gloomy journey through the night. There are many exciting action sequences, and the design of each frame is spectacular, all of them could easily become panels of a comic book. The Crow influenced many films in the decades to come, and rightfully has become a cult classic of action cinema.
2) Timecop (1994)
Timecop showed Jean-Claude Van Damme at the top of his game. US senator McComb (Ron Silver) uses time travel for robberies in the past to fund his presidential campaign in in the present. Only agent Max Walker (Van Damme) from the time enforcement commission (TEC) can stop him. There are so many ultimate moments: Van Damme’s emergency split on the kitchen counter before the floor is electrocuted, Ron Silver’s razor-sharp one-liners, and wonky future cars that look as if they were made from 100 pieces of plastic glued together.
Director Peter Hyams went all in to give Timecop that classic Sc-Fi actioner vibe with unidentifiable cyber-technology everywhere and an overkill of back-lighting. There’s tons of great shootouts and fights that are also not skimpy on bloody violence. Timecop is an epitome of 1990s action, and arguably Van Damme’s best film.
No one ever played a stone-cold killing machine for the forces of good better than Wesley Snipes. Vampire hunter Blade (Snipes) – a half-vampire himself – gets into a deadly feud with vampire yuppie Deacon Frost who is seeking to fulfill an ancient prophecy that promises infinite power. Infused with techno music, martial arts and an overkill of 1990s party fashion, director Stephen Norrington created a deep immersion into this strange world, and also delivered an engaging story. The action is fast and violent with some of the most spectacular fights ever put into a comic book film.
In Blade 2 (helmed by Guillermo Del Toro), darkness and shadows replace the glossy and sometimes glaring visuals of the first part. The martial arts sequences are even better than in the first part, and there’s vampire ninjas and Lovecraftian monsters everywhere! Both films are ultimate masterpieces of action cinema, and take the top spot in our ranking as the greatest superhero flicks ever made!