The Dark Knight is often considered the best superhero movie of all-time. It’s tightly-constructed, as smart as it is entertaining, and has the most interesting supervillain.
But what it isn’t is a close resemblance to any of the comics, as the Nolan brothers took more creative liberties than most. While no superhero movie could ever take an issue of a comic and go beat-by-beat through it, there have been several movies that’ve served in demonstrating key connections to the comics.
Whether this be from specific issues, a series, or the comics as a whole, these films stuck the closest to the source material and gave a truthful look into the characters created by them.
It’s hard to find a director more committed to the origins of a story than Guillermo del Toro when it came to Hellboy.
The director loves his monsters. Think Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Strain, Blade II, and so on. He’s also the ultimate geek, most of all when it comes to comics. Knowing he was the biggest Hellboy fan he knew, he decided he would write the script as well.
He wasn’t Zack Snyder seemingly skimming through Wikipedia for Superman material or Bryan Singer banning (per Hugh Jackman) X-Men comics on-set. No, del Toro embraced the richness of this modestly popular Dark Horse comic, and gave a faithful adaptation that developed into a superhero version of a cult hit.
Ron Perlman wasn’t the most glamorous casting choice as the son of Satan, but he was an ideal casting choice in the realm of Downey Jr. as Stark. He brought an edge akin to the comics and delivered a role that fit directly with a movie not taking itself too seriously.
As in any adaptation of a book, the condensing, shifting, and enhancing of elements in the film altered it slightly from its source material. The addition of detective John Myers, for example, wasn’t originally in the comics. It may’ve also proved to be unneeded.
But del Toro kept his changes to a minimum, drawing much of the meat of his story from the “Seed of Destruction” origin mini-series.
2. Iron Man
There may not be a better casting choice in superhero history than Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. He was born to play this role, but director Jon Favreau still had to do a lot of convincing to bring him on-board.
It’s hard to believe now, but Favreau had quite a fight before Marvel finally agreed to hand Downey Jr. the lead role. From personal parallels to the character, an attitude to brilliantly match him, and a look not so different from Stark, it was the perfect fit.
Beyond the lead, the other characters were fairly represented as well. Even Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts was surprisingly accurate, though her character and Stark weren’t as intimate in the comics as they were in the movie. But after all, it had to have a little added Hollywood intrigue.
Besides that, Favreau stuck rather close to the origins of Stark in “Tales of Suspense #39”, including the background of his suit-building. And as the story went on, plenty of elements from “Iron Man #200” were also wonderfully adapted.
They had to speed up the Obadiah Stane storyline up quite a bit, but they wavered very little from the character. Especially compared to what they did to future villains, like the Mandarin.
3. Batman Begins
Christopher Nolan didn’t exactly make the Batman movies fans expected, but the first two were too good to complain about. With that said, Batman Begins is the only one that comes close to really capturing the heart of the comics.
While the tone never matched the source material Batman began as, much of the noir crime-fighting style of this trilogy gets inspiration from 1990’s “The Long Halloween.” While Nolan took major creative liberties with the last two installments of the trilogy, the first at least brought to the creative table a smorgasbord of content from the origins.
Nolan used “The Man Who Falls” as his focus early in the development of Bruce Wayne, then shifts into many themes from “Batman: Year One”. It also incorporates Jim Gordon’s fight against the Falcone family, only he and Batman have closer ties in the movie than they do in the comic at this point.
Gordon, played by the vastly underrated and versatile Gary Oldman, made for the perfect Gordon, as did Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth. Really, there wasn’t a single casting failure in any of these movies, except probably Katie Holmes.
And as far as the characters themselves, the only one that seemed to stray from original design was Ra’s Al Ghul. But Nolan wasn’t going to have a man hundreds of years old that regenerates himself in a pit of liquid as part of his realistic take on the superhero.
4. Batman: The Movie
Ok, so this one may seem more like of a parody than an actual Batman film. But the 1966 version that ran alongside the first TV season is actually tied close to early comics of the Caped Crusader.
There couldn’t be more of a difference between hardcore Christian Bale of Batman Begins and Adam West’s campy version of the same character. But the serials in decades prior weren’t the same as the Batman comics we know today.
The sets and some of the characters now were much the same as in the 1960’s, but the tone had not yet shifted to new improvements made on the Dynamic Duo in that era. Instead, ABC producer William Dozier decided he wanted the show and movie to reflect the few older comics he had actually read.
Much of these movies were adapted from such styles as “Batman and Robin’s Most Fantastic Foes”, a story from the decade before which had just been re-released when Dozier saw it. That era of Batman was stuff of pure absurdity, with everything from Merman Batman and Zebra Batman.
And that’s the kind of absurdity that they used throughout the show and movie. This was not the legendary Carmine Infantino work everyone would come to know and love during the 60’s and beyond. This was a Batman of a different age, and as weird as it was, it was rather accurate.
This is considered by many to be the most faithful adaptation of a superhero. The franchise would also do well with 2006’s Brandon Routh, but that version was so boring they felt the need to unleash Snyder and all his mayhem during the next reboot.
But for the original 1978 film, Superman was brought to life with such precision from Christopher Reeve. Sure, he was the perfect role model the character had been intended to be, the Jesus-like figure of sorts. But beyond that, he almost seemed otherworldly himself, with his 6’4” stature, piercing blue eyes, and chiseled features.
What truly made him such a great depiction though was all the many essentials of the character he was able to convey. The compassion, hope, gentle nature, and even moments of vulnerability made him a much more well-rounded character that not only gave Kal-El a proper representation, but also expanded the character.
From the features, the alter ego, and the suit itself, Reeve was the ideal Superman. Though many other story elements, like Lux Luthor’s Smallville background and Lois Lane’s martial arts skills, weren’t added, the heart of the story and overarching themes are what made Superman well-adapted.