Ah yes, a splendid question indeed! It is however a question that cannot be answered quickly or with little thought! To be considered the best film an any genre, a movie must have good story, acting directing, music, and it must touch the heart. Comic book movies however must have more. These films must portray the character perfectly as seen in the comic, it must include sweat-inducing action sequences and it must make everyone feel like they should throw on some tights and save the world.
Now, thirty years ago, the answer to this question was easy. Superman. Why? Because there was truly no other options. While there were of course earlier attempts at tackle this genre, none could truly compare to 1978's Superman starring Christopher Reeve as the iconic hero. When you have The Godfather's author Mario Puzo writing your story, John Williams composing your score, and Marlon Brando thrown in just for kicks and giggles, you can't fail. The story was a solid retelling of Superman's Origin, (With a few liberties taken) that struck a chord with young and old. Its made over $300 million in theaters, which while today may sound like chump change, then was a blockbuster. It made people believe not only in truth, justice, and the American way, it made them feel like kids again. Maybe even more important it made people believe in comic book movies.
While many still hold that Superman is the definitive comic book movie, It would be foolish to believe that it would be the only quality film of its genre. That's like thinking that the first good looking girl you see at a party is the best looking one there. It might be the case, but its very unlikely (Depending on which parties frequent).
After Superman's success, sequels followed, the only one worthy of note being Superman II. The others are so painfully bad that they would besmirch this article and possibly cause a few of your brain cells to implode. The 80s saw many more superheroes emerge, The most important of which was the caped crusader himself Batman. Director Tim Burton's dark and twisted Gotham City was the perfect setting for Batman's first foray onto the silver screen. It was another origin story, but it was a far cry from Superman's squeaky clean, boy scout image.
This was a brutal film in which the sociopathic antagonist, the Joker, a poster-boy for cosmetic surgery gone wrong, not only kills Bruce Wayne's parents, but does so with a ear-to-ear smile. Jack Nicholson's Joker stole the show from Batman, played by Michael Keaton. A beautiful Kim Basinger and Music by Prince and Danny Elfman rounded out the stellar film. It was a film that showed a blockbuster comic book film could be dark and gritty. Again sequels followed (the best of which was 1993's animated feature film Batman: Mask of The Phantasm), but none topped the critical and commercial success of the original . Well, not until 2005 that is, but we'll get to that! Keep your pants on!
The 90s saw more sequels of Comic book film adaptations, the majority of which are famous for all the wrong reasons and not. Many new heroes appeared from all over though. From intergalactic peacekeepers to NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal's as Superman's friend Steel, and even some overgrown turtles from the sewers. Each attempting to find the success that Batman and Superman had gained. Each failed. Even 1930s serials The Phantom and The Shadow made film appearances.
In the 90s Marvel Comics began to truly get a foothold into the film industry by releasing 1998's Blade. The gory R-rated comic adaptation was a hit. Glorified by fans as a true adaptation of the vampire hunter's exploits. Critics weren’t as please with Wesley's snipes portrayal of the Character, or the story, or anyone's acting for that matter. Yet the film is now revered by some as the father of the current strand of comic book films. The film itself could be considered as one of the Greatest if not for poor pacing, storytelling, and directing.
With Blade's success Marvel Comics were now a viable comic-to-film option. The company felt the were ready to take on the elite status once held by Batman and Superman creators, DC Comics. In 1999 the began production on X-Men, another huge leap forward for the comic book film genre. This movie proved to be a blockbuster, filled with a talent cast, superior special effects and solid directing. Even tough the talent cast does their best (with the exception of Halle Berry, who didn't seem to understand her character, Storm) it garnered mixed reviews.
The show is stolen by the anti-hero/main character Wolverine, played by the then unknown Hugh Jackman. Jackman's career quickly blossomed thereafter. As a blockbuster, it too spawned sequels, The best of which proved to be 2003's X2 (X2: X-Men United) It too was a smash hit making tons of money, but also proving to be a critical success. The movie was paced perfectly, starting with the taut opening sequence to the final climatic showdown. But the beauty of the film is its script. David Hayter and Zack Penn compose a splendid masterpiece that is executed well by everyone one involved (again with the exception of Berry). It is hailed by a few today as one of the best comic films of all time. While it is a favorite of many die hard fans, it is not the answer to the question: What is the best comic book movie ever? You want the answer, I want to tell it to you, but you be glad you waited. Trust me.
In the early 2000s Marvel continued to secure its spot at the top of the Comic book movie industry by releasing several films. Adaptations of the comic books: Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider , Elektra (DO NOT WATCH. EVER.) and Blade sequels. None of these are even close to being in consideration as the best comic book movie, but most are worth a peek. I seem to be forgetting someone however...what was his name? Hmm...he wears blue and red, he shoots webs out of his hands and he made a lot of money.
Oh yeah, Spider-Man! Sam Raimi's film was godsend for Spider-Man fans the world over. Tobey Maguire's portrayal of the geeky high school student who learn the importance of responsibility through adversity, friendship, and a genetically altered spider bit is pitch-perfect. The movie was a technical marvel for the time and a cash cow for the Sony and Marvel Comics. Grossing over 800 Million worldwide. It received great reviews but failed to receive any Oscars. Its Sequel, Spider-Man 2 proved to be an improvement in every sense. It too is considered by millions to be the best comic book movie of all time. Both Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 are worthy of being called great films, but, they are not the best ever.
In 2005 DC Comics rebooted the Batman franchise. After years of die hard Bat-fans languishing in the agony that was 1997's Batman and Robin, Christopher Nolan presented fans with a new more sophisticated, gritty, and realistic take on the Dark Knight. A fantastic story and an even better cast brought Bruce Wayne, Gotham City, and the Caped crusader into our world. Music by Hans Zimmer and realistic action sequences accentuated the character development and adaptation of the Batman: Year One story-arc. Acting vets Liam Neeson, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are splendid. Some missteps, however keep this movie from being the best. Katie Holmes lackluster acting feels out of place, (as it should) some storytelling gaffes, and a less than imposing villain restrain it's true potential.
After DC Comics tried (and failed) to bring Superman back to his previous big screen glory, with it's 2006 farce Superman Returns, the year 2008 proved to be a landmark year for Comic book films. And no, I am not talking about The Incredible Hulk (which isn't that bad) or Punisher: War Zone (which is). 2008 was a banner year because of DC Comic's Batman Begin's sequel, The Dark Knight and Marvel Comic's Iron Man being released. Both received fantastic review and became instant classics. Each proved to be critical and commercial success, with The Dark Knight grossing over 1 billion dollars. Both films succeed in acting, directing, story.
But where these two film compete boils down to two men, Heath Ledger's Joker versus Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark. While each of these characters will be consider as the top two comic book film portrayals ever, the edge goes to Ledger. His final performance is menacing, terrifying, funny, twisted, and perfect. While actually only killing few people on screen he proves to be the villain that rivals Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter. The film itself is a character study, an emotional roller-coaster, that forces each person to answers the question: “Am I truly good?”
The Dark Knight went on to receive the most Oscar nominations of any Comic book film and Ledger won posthumously for his role of a lifetime. Surely this must be the best comic book film of all time, right? For a couple years Indeed it was the best comic-to-film adaptation we have ever seen. However in 2012, the it's reign has been legitimately been threatened. Marvel's The Avengers, a culmination of five comic book films provided audiences with something they have never seen before, a Team of individual superheroes. Household names: Hulk, Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man appeared on the same screen, directed by a comic writer and cult icon, Joss Whedon.
The storyline is flawless, but unlike The Dark Knight, Avengers uses comedy, where the grit would be creating a dynamic never before seen. Audiences ooh and ahh at the action, which was delivered with elite computer graphics and stunt work. The acting proves to be just as enthralling as the CGI, with Robert Downey Jr. not stealing the show, but sharing the screen well with his team. The movie provides comic book fans with satisfaction and joy, but also gives the casual movie goer the feeling of being thirteen again.
So, what is the best comic book movie ever?
For me as a longtime comic book reader and movie goer, the answer is simple. The Avengers. Action, comedy, acting, storytelling, villain, heroes, and great quotes. As a film The Dark Knight may be better, however, the question was what is the best comic book movie of all time. The Dark Knight is a film on the same level as The Godfather, however it doesn't take the audience back to the time to the time they were kids. At no point is The Dark Knight fun. That is the one reason why The Avengers is the best comic book movie ever.
Thanks for bearing with me,but hey, as the Joker once said, "You can't make an omelet without breakin' some eggs."