Believe it or not, Deadpool is nothing new. Well, it’s completely new and original in almost every way, but it isn’t the first R-Rated comic book film. What makes Deadpool stand out is the Marvel logo at the beginning of the film, which has become an incredibly well-known brand for family-friendly films, but in truth, Deadpool isn’t even the first rated R film that had that logo at the beginning. Punisher and Blade both established themselves as Marvel films in five R-Rated films together (and we’re not even counting the Dolph Lundren early 90s feature), but that was before Marvel had really gotten their brand name solidified with movies like Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. But with everyone freaking about Deadpool being rated R, memes started circulating on social media about other comic book characters who also held their own R-Rated films. So I’ve compiled a list, just so we’re all clear, of the top ten R-Rated Comic Book Films. Why? Well, because list articles are easy and I’m pretty lazy (we’ve gone over this before). I’ve graded this list based on the average opinion of the Internet combining ratings from multiple sites, so this isn’t my pure opinion. I mean, Blade II didn’t even make the cut, and I personally love that film. Anyway, let’s get to it!
10 – Dredd (2012)
This movie based on John Wagner’s seminal comic book character was light years away from what Sylvester Stallone tried to make in the mid-1990s. This movie was dark and violent and much truer to the character than the previous film incarnation. It was a slight rip-off, though, as it was basically a remake of Raid: Redemption just as a futuristic sci-fi film with less police force fodder. Still, this movie was surprisingly well received by not just fans, but also most critics, especially given the extreme and purposeful one-note performance of the faceless main character. This is a great example, like Deadpool, that when filmmakers stay true to popular comic characters, they do translate well. There is a reason these characters have lasted so long in their main medium, after all. If you haven’t seen this one, and you love some good, brutal, futuristic action, do yourself a favor and check it out!
9 – V for Vendetta (2005)
During the same period that Natalie Portman had to emote and move along the stiff and lifeless dialogue and co-stars in the abysmal Star Wars: Attack of the Clones movie, she was given a chance to act alongside a man who can make a stiff and lifeless Guy Fawkes-mask somehow come to life and express more than Hayden Christensen ever has (there’s no nice way to say it, Christensen is just an awful actor). But this film version of Alan Moore’s classic twelve-issue series did an amazing job of, even when not creating a literal translation, staying true to the tone and temper of the source material. This movie is the reason I still give everything the Wachowski siblings do a chance, even after Speed Racer and Jupiter Ascending. They know how to make an amazing and powerful film when they don’t get in their own way, and this movie (along with The Matrix) is a perfect example of that.
8 – The Crow (1994)
There is a certain generation of people who found this movie in their youth and still probably believe it to be the greatest love story of the 1990s. I am part of that generation. I dressed up more often than I care to admit as The Crow and even occasionally went to school like that. Not just for a con or for Halloween, but because I loved this character and this movie so much. The late Brandon Lee (who died during the making of this film, further adding to the legend) truly captured the spirit of a generation with this performance. He was a tragic, rock star, superhero, and in the hyperbole of teenage emotions due to changing hormones, there was some sense that I could relate to this character. Which I don’t think that was a unique sentiment. This was all before Columbine, of course, which changed the image of a kid wearing a trench coat from being an oddball goth to a terrorist. If this list was based purely and completely on my own opinion, this would be the number one R-Rated comic book film of all time. If you have by chance never seen this one, it can be found on Netflix, and in a ton of $5 DVD bins all over.
7 – Road to Perdition (2002)
Before Sam Mendes helped craft some of the greatest James Bond movies, he helped bring to life this graphic novel with the help of two of the greatest actors of all time: Paul Newman and Tom Hanks. Not only does the director and cast bring along a large amount of clout to this film, but the cinematographer that brought Cool Hand Luke, American Beauty, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to life also helped bring this movie gorgeously to life (which led to this film’s only Oscar win, by the way). Some may complain that it is a little slow, but the poignant tale of father and son’s bond even in the face of a son’s realization of the sins his father commits makes this one of the most beautiful and moving films on this list. Though very few people even know that this one is based on a comic book, both versions are well worth checking out, particularly for how exceptionally well done they are.
6 – Sin City (2005)
Robert Rodriguez brought to life a seemingly impossible film fully realized as a perfect adaptation of Frank Miller’s critically acclaimed comic series. The stark black and white’s with the occasional splash of color truly look like Miller’s artwork come to life. Not only is it a great film on its own, but from its success helped bring to life a cavalcade of copycats, from the truly horrendous Frank Miller directed The Spirit to the much more successful and epic 300. It isn’t that it is a perfect film, but it defies critics to try to pick it apart. Each fault can be chalked up to stylistic choices and be argued to be purposeful. Sin City’s vivid originality has left a high bar which no other movie after which attempted to replicate its artistry has ever reached. This was truly a groundbreaking film, and well deserving of a place on this list.
5 – Deadpool (2016)
The inspiration, and indeed entire reason for this list: Deadpool.
This movie, probably much like Sin City, is being praised for its originality but most likely is going to spawn a series of derivative offspring that will be compared to Jonah Hex in the history of comic book films. The reason for this is the film isn’t great because it is rated-R. That’s a secondary effect of the fact that it is honest to the character. And some of the more explicit and coarse humor isn’t even necessarily that true to the comic character (it depends on your favorite reads containing the character), but there is still an authenticity surrounding the entire film. But what will be gleaned from this (and we already see this due to an R-Rated Batman vs Superman cut announced for BluRay) is that people want vulgar humor and excessive violence with their superhero films. And, yes, sure, sometimes. But the main point is to have authenticity, if nothing else than in spirit, to the character(s) featured. I mean, there is a reason why people love these characters in the comics, and there is no reason that people who don’t read comics won’t love them as well. If you want to see our own full review of Deadpool right here at Nerd Nation: YOU CAN READ IT HERE.
4 – Oldboy (2003)
Okay, so this one is a bit of a stretch here as this is technically based on a series of Manga. I’ve never personally read them, so I have no idea how accurate the film is to those. But that doesn’t matter because this is, in my generally correct opinion, one of the single greatest films ever made. Get over the subtitles and don’t watch the utterly awful snore-fest of the Spike Lee remake to this film. The original Korean version of this movie is amazing. Do yourself a favor and give Korean cinema a chance. Start with this movie and keep going out from there. You can even just stick with the director, Chan-Wook Park, and work through his films. I can’t tell you how many people I recommend this movie to on a regular basis. And to not spoil anything, there is a hallway fight scene that may be one of the greatest fights ever captured on film. But this isn’t a martial arts or action film. It’s like if Seven and Fight Club adopted an Asian baby. It’s just that good. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, just stop reading this article right now and go watch it. You’ll be glad you did.
3 – A History of Violence (2005)
Did you ever wonder what David Cronenberg, the legendary director of The Fly, Videodrome, and Scanners (some of the greatest films of the 1980s, by the way) would do with a graphic novel?
Now imagine he picks a graphic novel that was written by John Wagner, the creator of the character of Judge Dredd. How do you think that would look?
It turns out that is A History of Violence, a gorgeous, twice Oscar nominated film starring Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, William Hurt, and Ed Harris. This is one of those great films, like Road to Perdition, that was so fun to let snobby comic book haters know was based on a comic, because it showed that with all the borderline soap opera and fantastical escapades of the Superheroes this medium depicts, there is still room for deep, solemn meditations on violence and the effect that has on those around you. If you ever hear a film snob going on and on about this one, understand that they’re not wrong, this is an amazing film… just be sure to remind them where it came from!
2 – Ghost World (2001)
Before she ever thought about playing Black Widow, and long before she was anywhere close to an A-lister, a frumpy and nerdy Scarlett Johansson starred in one of the most critically acclaimed comic book films ever. Based on Daniel Clowes’ indie series about two cynical teenagers whose hobby is basically just crapping on everything everyone else likes, this movie became one of the first cult classics of the new millennium. Also starring Thora Birch as Johansson’s best friend and Steve Buscemi this film gained multiple awards and multiple nominations for the work Clowes did adapting his own work alongside director Terry Zwigoff. The two would several years later reunite and make another excellent-yet-underrated cult classic: Art School Confidential. If you’re a fan of indie films or indie comics and have never watched this, you are in for a true treat.
1 – American Splendor (2003)
Part biographical drama, part autobiographical drama, and part dark comedy, this film based on the work of renowned indie comic creator Harvey Pekar is not just the number one film on this list, but also definitely the strangest.
While it definitely isn’t for everyone, this Paul Giamatti lead mishmash of genres and storytelling techniques is a high mark for the quality of not just comic book movie, but movies in general. If you are a comic fan and know nothing about Harvey Pekar you are doing a great disservice to yourself and to him, and this should be the next movie you watch. Rarely do artists of this caliber and brilliance discover the credit and acclaim they deserve in their lifetime, but thankfully prior to his death in 2010, Pekar was able to finally get the attention and accolades he so earnestly earned through his art. But if you’re favorite Giamatti film is The Lady in the Water or Amazing Spider-Man 2, I’m going to recommend you pass on this one. For everyone else who truly loves and appreciates great comics, this one is absolutely worth checking out!
So there you have it!
What did you think? Agree? Disagree? Don’t care either way? Sound off in the comments section below and let us all know about it! Stay tuned next month for a brand new issue of “Comics Corner” right here at Nerd Nation. Same Nerd Time. Same Nerd Channel.
Staff Writer/Columnist: Nerd Nation Magazine