Comic book movies are all the rage these days. If you needed any proof, all you have to do is look at how hard DC is trying to catch up with the trend that Marvel started with their Marvel Universe series of blockbuster films. But it wasn’t always this way. Comic books were and often still are the stuff of Saturday morning serials, campy B-movies, and basement dwelling nerds. That, of course, doesn’t mean that there aren’t some hidden gems to be found, even if it’s just a single shining moment in a single terrible movie. Here is a list of some old and some not so old cheesy comic book adaptations with a silver lining.
Awesomely Corny Comic Book Adaptations
6. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
I don’t remember much about Spider-man 3 other than the Saturday Night Fever street scene featuring an awkwardly emo Tobey Maguire, and that’s really all I need to remember about this movie. I do, however, still vividly remember seeing the Venom episode from Spiderman the Animated Series (1994) when I was seven years old, so on the grand scale of memorability, Spider-man 3 is pretty low. But still, there’s that weird dance scene.
5. Batman (1943)
This adaptation is a Columbia produced serialized adventure – like the ones that used to play before Saturday matinees at the cinema. A new 15 minute installment would be screened every week, eventually making up the entire story. This Batman had everything you could want in an early adaptation – chintzy costumes, bad dialogue, stilted acting, location shooting, racism, and EXPOSITION – lots and lots of exposition. The racism thing probably grabbed your attention. Well, this was obviously filmed and released during WWII, so it may come as no surprise that the main villain is Japanese and that the series is filled with the kind of casual racism you might expect for the time. While this is terrible, it also adds to the overall intriguing terribleness of the series itself.
4. The Spirit (2008)
I will freely admit that this was a pretty terrible movie, but that does not diminish the immense fun I had in watching it. I was a particular fan of Samuel L. Jackson’s Octopus, who is so incredibly over the top that you at once assume that this movie is a parody. In fact, there’s something so delightfully tongue in cheek about the whole thing that it’s extremely difficult not to take it all in like faith. The mash-up of genres in the film likely goes back to the original comics, which often blended genres to challenge reader expectations. It is also an incredibly cool looking movie, of the kind of style that was very in vogue at that time after the popularity of other Frank Miller productions, like Sin City and 300.
3. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993)
This, along with The Flash, is a show that I grew up watching and never realized until much later just how ridiculously campy it could all be. While for the most part it was an interesting series focused mainly on the relationship between Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane, it definitely had its jump-the-shark moments. Consider, for example, that H.G. Wells (who was played by two different actors who were inexplicably not Ian Holm but who I will always remember as being Ian Holm) has a real time machine and travels to the future to enlist the help of Superman in order to catch the smarmy time criminal Tempus – twice. Or the whole Lois Lane amnesia story arc, where on her wedding day she is replaced with a frog eating clone, then confuses her identity with the fictional heroine of her unpublished novel, and then remembers her identity but forgets who Clark/her fiancée is. Or that episode where Drew Carey and Kathy Kinney play bickering ghosts. Yeah, it got weird toward the end.
2. The Flash (1990)
The Flash actually ages surprisingly well for a short lived 90s comic book inspired television series, but the costume is where the real cheese comes into play. While John Wesley Shipp is the perfect choice to play the wise-cracking, crime fighting, lady-charming Barry Allen – and the writers came up with a pretty good explanation for the Flash outfit as well – there is nothing you can say to make the molded, contoured muscle suit and lightning ears any less ridiculous. The show itself, however, is downright entertaining and often displays excellent writing and advanced cinematography. And who can beat a show with a theme song written by Danny Elfman?
1. The Shadow (1994)
The Shadow is the superhero from which many great superheroes were born. When Batman was being conceived, creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger intentionally pulled inspiration from the Shadow. And while technically the Shadow started as a radio show and spread into dime novels and comics, I think we can make an exception here and say that The Shadow is a comic book adaptation. The movie is a fun mix of 1930s period glamour, 40s film noir, and comic book camp. Alec Baldwin plays the Shadow, while some of his co-stars include names like Ian McKellen, Tim Curry, Jonathan Winters, Peter Boyle, and Penelope Ann Miller. While the story and acting are intentionally over-the-top in a lot of ways, Baldwin has a special gift for a dry delivery that makes many potentially throwaway moments the comedic highlight of the film. That being said, Jonathan Winters beats him in this category by a mile. Check out our review of the new The Shadow Collectors Edition Blu-ray from Shout Factory.