Okay. So no one who sets out to make a “Top 100” list on any subject is going to be is going to be 100% lauded and praised for their work unless that list is based on factual evidence like the amount of money it made or the aggregate critical response or something like that. Throw in a genre that has amassed enough poorly made schlock to fill an entire WalMart with only $5 DVD bins and fans so sensitive that a 140-character opinion can ignite a flame war with a literal body count, you’ve got yourself a Herculean task with successful-asteroid-field-navigation probability of positive response. But I’m not here to tell you the odds.
I’m the goddamn asteroid.
Gary Gerani, perhaps best known as screenwriter for 1988’s Pumpkinhead and 1996’s Vampirella, admits in his book Top 100 Comic Book Movies that “ranking is a subjective party game”, and it is here that he specifies that he is listing “cinema’s most significant live-action comic book adaptations”, which gets him off the hook for not including Mask of the Phantasm. However, while he assures readers that all of the films in his list are “worth experiencing”, it begs the question- exactly how did he come up with these rankings?
Perhaps “significant” is the key word, because it adds another layer of subjectivity. Sure, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen isn’t a cinematic masterpiece, but its significance can be argued. Did it set the groundwork for another movie? Was it an instance of a specific writer’s work being brought closer to the mainstream? Gerani attempts to argue each film’s significance in a portion of its entry entitled Why Is It Important? While providing passably interesting recaps and critical reviews of each movie, Gerani frequently doesn’t make a compelling argument for why he included the movies he did.
For example, he lists Ang Lee’s Hulk at Number 66, weakly suggesting that it was an attempt to “transcend the limitations of its genre and emerge as a work of cinematic art.” However, Gerani himself hasn’t defined the comic book genre, including films like Annie and Prince Valiant alongside RED and Kingsmen. While all of these are certainly movie adaptations of comics, they beg the question- what is Hulk transcending, exactly? He also gives a brief nod to the Ed Norton version that came a few years later, but says only that it “must be counted as another creative failure.” But he doesn’t say WHY, or why Hulk was more “significant” as a comic book adaptation.
One can admire Gerani’s commitment to including older movies like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, as well as movies that the mainstream doesn’t typically acknowledge as coming from comics, like The Mask and Men in Black. This makes sense if we’re talking significance; it’s within reason that older adaptations paved the way for modern ones, and that more obscure source material producing a blockbuster hit brought comics as a whole closer to its current day standing in pop culture.
And yet, nearly every Marvel Studios feature has made it onto this list. While their success is clearly laudable from an industry standpoint, and their ability to create a cohesive cinematic universe has had an enormous impact on science-fiction/fantasy films as a whole, it seems implausible that they should take up so many slots considering the SEVENTY honorable mentions at the end of the list!
Let me be frank, if Gerani had straight up said, “These are my Top 100 Favorites”, I wouldn’t really have anything to say other than “What a different sense of taste you have to mine, sir.” But it’s “significance”, something that should have some kind of logical basis behind it.
And honestly, once you get to the Top Ten, there aren’t a lot of surprises. American Splendor is a nice touch, but most of the choices are high-grossing, well-received films that are mostly part of the MCU.
I can’t help but feel that Gerani has the idea that if a movie is a comic book adaptation, it has to go through some fantastical process to become legitimate cinema, like the teachers who told kids not to read comic books because they weren’t real literature. This is compacted by his choice of individual to write the introduction. You’d think Kenneth Johnson, producer of The Six-Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, and The Incredible Hulk series with Lou Ferrigno would be a sci-fi fan- the relaxed, Joss Whedon style nerd that made it big in TV. He does not come across that way in his introduction. In fact, he’s so condescending about Stan Lee’s collaboration on The Incredible Hulk I want to punch something.
I held my ground when Stan suggested that when the Creature [that’s right, he refuses to call it The Hulk] had a fight with a bear, it should be a robot bear…Bless Stan’s heart, he understood.
More like he understood you were so far up your own ass you stopped believing in the sun.
In fact, Johnson implies that unlike Six-Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman which took place in “that alternate universe”, The Incredible Hulk was taking place in the real world, and the audience needed to be persuaded to buy into it.
You can’t talk about the significance of comic adaptations to cinema as a whole when you’re spending the whole time pretending that the source material is a vague suggestion, or something to be covered up and hidden as much as possible. THAT’S WHY THERE ARE SO MANY BAD COMIC BOOK ADAPTATIONS.
I could list a lot of personal opinions I have about the placement of things on this list and Gerani’s vague and faulty reasoning, but that’s not really my point here. Unless you, a fan of comics and an enjoyer of movies want to feel patronized and belittled for being entertained by movies that were once pictures and words on a page, skip Top 100 Comic Book Movies. The exception being if you need something to be pissed about.