Since the release of Deadpool earlier this year, there’s been a number of reports hinting at the possibility that its unprecedented success at the box-office, paired with widespread critical acclaim and overwhelmingly positive fan reception have inspired studios to develop more comic book adaptations that lean more towards an older audience. It’s widely been confirmed that the next stand-alone Wolverine movie will have an R-rating and will be much more violent and geared towards adults than any of the previous X-Men or Wolverine films ever have. With all the buzz surrounding Deadpool and “The Age of the R-Rated Comic Book Movie” supposedly upon us, it’s time to remind ourselves that violent mainstream comic book movies made for an older audience are nothing new. In fact, there’s been a bunch of them – some better than others, of course – that, much like Deadpool, have garnered their fair share of critical and financial success.
Keeping in mind that Deadpool’s overwhelmingly positive reception will undoubtedly bring about a floury of films trying to repeat its success at the worldwide box-office, here are the 12 best violent comic book movies to date.
12 A History of Violence (2005)
It’s right there in the title – David Cronenberg’s adaptation of the John Wagner and Vince Locke graphic novel from the late 90s is very, very violent. Viggo Mortensen stars as Tom Stall, a small town restaurant owner who kills two men in self-defense when they try to rob his place. This garners the attention of Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), and Irish mobster who claims that Tom isn't who he says he is. The film is an extreme, gut-wrenching thriller that was in contention for the 2005 Palme d'Or, the award given to the best film at the Cannes film festival.
11 Watchmen (2009)
Director Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic graphic novel Watchmen, was a faithful yet flawed adaptation of the source material that split movie-goers down the middle in terms of reception. For years, the film was trapped in development hell and seemed as though it would never see the light of day. That is until Snyder was attached to the project, and created what was often considered to be an unfilmable adaptation. The film features some extremely graphic moments, particularly any time Dr. Manhattan makes people spontaneously combust. The project was an ambitious one, and it is probably one of the best films Zack Snyder has ever put out into the world.
10 V For Vendetta (2006)
While the film diverged from the source material, James McTeigue’s adaptations of Alan Moore’s seminal work V For Vendetta broke new ground in terms of mainstream comic book adaptations. It was violent, brutal, and featured an exceptional cast including Hugo Weaving as the titular V and Natalie Portman as Evey. Like many of the films on this list, V For Vendetta has grown a loyal cult following, and the iconic Guy Fawkes mask worn by V in the film has gone on to be a symbol of rebellion and protest, most notably used in the iconography of the hacker group Anonymous.
9 300 (2007)
When it was announced that Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300, was being adapted to the big screen, many fans of the source material were concerned that the film would be unable to capture the visual style that had made the comic so memorable. Fortunately, Zack Snyder was up for the challenge, directing a film that was visually true to its source. Gerard Butler stars as Leonidas, king of the Spartans and fearsome warrior determined to protect his home and kingdom from invaders. 300 marked the first in many comic book adaptations from director Zack Snyder and demonstrated to Hollywood the financial benefits of satisfying a fanbase.
8 Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
A clever take on the traditional British espionage thrillers in the vain of James Bond and the like, Mark Millar’s The Secret Service was begging to be adapted to the big screen. As a clever criticism of Britain’s class system, Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman: The Secret Service stars Taron Egerton as Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, the son of a spy who was raised by his single mother, destined for greatness under the tutelage of Galahad (Colin Firth). The film was a hit both critically and financially, and a sequel is currently in the works titled Kingsman: The Golden Circle, scheduled for release in 2017.
7 The Crow (1994)
Best known due to the tragic on-set death of its star and son of Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee plays The Crow, a musician who’s raised from the dead to seek vengeance for the death of his fiancee. Based on the comic of the same name by James O’Barr, director Alex Proyas’ dark, gritty neo-noir left a strong impression on fans and is often considered a cult classic because of its originality and innovative style. For years, there have been hints and rumors regarding a modern reimagining of The Crow, but the original will continue to capture the imagination of audiences for years to come.
6 Kick-Ass (2010)
A film that features an 11-year-old girl killing mobsters with a spear pretty much has to be on a list ranking violent comic book movies. A black comedy that examines many of the tropes common to the superhero genre, the film stars Aaron Johnson as Dave, an average teenager and avid comic book readers who one day decides to become the crime-fighting vigilante Kick-Ass, who teams up with father-daughter duo Big Daddy (Nic Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) to take down the mob.
The film caused quite a controversy, with many critics making the argument that having little girls swear and kill people on-screen is morally reprehensible. Nevertheless, this adaptation of Mark Millar’s comic has found a cult following, and eventually had a mediocre sequel made a few years after its initial release.
5 Blade (1998)
The first film in the Blade trilogy is often and rightly considered the best. Based on the Marvel Comics character, Wesley Snipes plays the half-human, half-vampire Blade. While the film was commercially successful at the box-office, it's the loyal cult following and large fanbase that made the film the cultural phenomenon that it became. The film is action packed and mixes elements of the horror genre with the superhero action genre. In a lot of ways, the profitability of Blade is what convinced studios to invest in comic book and superhero movies, and deserves a ton of praise for setting in motion the superhero-filled culture we live in today.
4 Ichi The Killer (2001)
Based on the manga series of the same name by Hideo Yamamoto, director Takashi Miike’s masterpiece follows Tadanobu Asano as Ichi, a deranged psycho killer who’s sent to assassinate Yakuza members during an all-out gang war. When the film played at the Toronto International Film Festival, vomit bags were handed out to audience members at the midnight screening as a publicity stunt. The film has quite a reputation, causing a number of controversies and being banned in countries such as Norway, Malaysia and Germany, due in large part to its graphic over-the-top portrayals of violence and gore, and has garnered a cult following as a result.
3 Sin City (2005)
Co-directed by the man who wrote and drew the original comic book series, Frank Miller, along with director Robert Rodriguez, this film brings the comic book to life. It’s an excellent and faithful adaptation that introduced audiences to the work and visual eye of Frank Miller, who’s long been considered one of the most distinct voices working in comics. It may stand as the best example of a comic book adaptation that both looks and feels like the original source material, but not in a way that feels repetitive or unnecessary. Bruce Willis stars alongside an enormous cast of characters, but as great as many of the performances are, they play second fiddle to the visual style of the film.
2 Deadpool (2016)
Deadpool is a capital-p Phenomenon. Both critically praised and widely adored by fans, Ryan Reynolds' commitment to the character over many years finally paid off and made a big splash at the box-office. A deconstruction of the superhero genre and an entertaining action comedy, it should be no surprise to long-time fans of the character that Deadpool managed to secure a large audience, despite his foul mouth and love of grotesque and graphic violence. It’s still early to tell, but Deadpool’s success may be seen as a major turning point for the superhero genre as more and more films will be created to replicate the success garnered by the Merc with the Mouth.
1 Oldboy (2003)
Oldboy is more than just a comic book adaptation – it’s masterful film-making from an overwhelmingly talented director, plain and simple. Based on the manga by Nobuaki Minegishi and Garon Tsuchiya, director Park Chan-wook takes audiences on a revenge-fueled journey following the mysterious 15-year imprisonment of Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), who upon his release, sets off on a mission to make his captors pay for stealing his life from him. What follows is a Shakespearean tragedy filled with incredibly memorable and brilliantly choreographed fight scenes which have been ripped-off and referenced countless times since the film's release. The film took home the Grand Prix award at Cannes in 2004, awarded as a second-place trophy behind the Palme d’Or. Not bad for a comic book movie.