Stan Lee is one of the most celebrated comic book writers in history, but what people don’t realize is that he’s also the most financially successful film producer of all time!
Certainly, there have been many film franchises inspired by the characters he had a hand in creating – some better than others. Here’s a look at the ten most notable film adaptations of
Stan Lee’s Comic Book Characters!
10. Fantastic Four (1994)
This never-officially released film from B-movie icon Roger Corman might seem like an odd addition to this list. Nevertheless, it’s been included on the grounds that it was more stylized and cunning than many people are willing to give it credit for. It’s an unsung camp classic which successfully evokes the Fantastic Four animated series from the sixties, and is infinitely more enjoyable than the over-budgeted Tim Story films from the mid 2000s.
This film attempts to flesh out the backstory of the X-Men, with particular attention paid to the relationship between Professor X (James McAvoy) and, one of Lee’s best characters, Magneto (Michael Fassbender). The story begins with Magneto demonstrating telekinetic abilities as a child in a concentration camp in Poland in the forties. Around the same time, a young Xavier is in New York, learning to harness his own strange powers. The film is a fairly serious one, and however heavy-handed it may get, it’s an excellent attempt to integrate the characters’ mythology into real world events.
8. Hulk (2003)
If you’ll remember the The Incredible Hulk TV show from the seventies, the difference between the Hulk and his counterpart, the amiable Bruce Banner, used to literally be the difference between actor Bill Bixby and pro weight-lifter Lou Ferrigno. Nowadays, it’s the difference between Eric Bana and a five thousand pound cartoon. Anyway, two of the things that distinguish this film from its contemporaries is the script from writer Ang Lee (a distinguished writer who also penned the scripts for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain) and the music by Danny Elfman. The run time is a little obtuse, but it evokes the comic books effectively while introducing a new depth in the writing itself.
The news that Ben Affleck was being considered for a role as the Caped Crusader in an upcoming Batman reboot sent ripples throughout online comic fan forums. Whether or not Mr. Affleck is qualified to helm the Batmobile is another discussions entirely. What we can say, with confidence, is that he did pretty well as Daredevil, whose alter ego is Matt Murdock, the blind and benevolent humanitarian/lawyer who works in New York City. The script is based largely on Frank Miller’s Daredevil comics. And, although you’ve come to expect cameos from Stan Lee himself in all of these films, watch for cameos from both Frank Miller and Kevin Smith!
Sam Raimi (famous for cult classics like the original Evil Dead trilogy) offered this flawed, but never-the-less spectacular Spider-Man film. It featured memorable performances from Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man and Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin. One of the things that was troubling for fans of the comics is that the Sam Raimi Spider-Man series completely omitted everything about the death of Gwen Stacy (and later, her father Captain Stacy). The main problem here, comic fans would argue, is that the Green Goblin killing Gwen Stacy in the comics fueled the rivalry between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. In any event, the film is enjoyable on the whole. Raimi, who has always been a visual filmmaker primarily, and his style suited these films well.
In this film, Robert Downey Jr. stars as Tony Stark, a wealthy playboy and heir to the fictional Stark Weapons manufacturing company. While ridi
ng in a hummer in Afghanistan with American military personnel, Stark is critically injured by a missile, and is ultimately detained in a prison camp where, with the help of fellow prisoners, he covertly builds his militarized, super-strong suit, effectively making him Iron Man. It reads somewhat like a conceptually half-baked comment about the military industrial complex, but it’s a fun movie regardless, and successfully evokes the comic books.
This was the first film to feature the ensemble which consisted of Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Romijn, and company. This first installment offers a slightly incredulous, although nevertheless entertaining, backstory which examines how the lives of the X-Men originally converge. The film also features a subplot revolving around a proposed law which would mandate that genetic mutants file special paperwork with the government (remember also, of course, that these genetic mutations occurred largely in the concentration camps during World War II). Ham-fisted xenophobia allegories and all, it’s a terrific superhero film, one which basically set the template for every superhero franchise that’s followed.
3. Thor (2011)
The film featured ripped Aussie Chris Hemsworth as the titular space Viking, and it was met favorably, not only by fans of the Marvel comics, but also by the public at large. Hemsworth brought the character to life in a way that was believable, regardless of how difficult it can be to suspend disbelief when you’ve got a movie about an outer space Viking. It was one of the highest-grossing films of 2011, and it was also one of the most successful Marvel film adaptations of all time in terms of both critical response and box-office receipts, bringing in $449,326,618 globally through box-office sales alone. DVDs of the film have also sold well, and it’s also a popular digital streaming and “Video on Demand” choice through various websites, and was even streamable through Netflix for a while.
The second installment of Raimi’s Spider-Man series offers more of what made the first one great. The real show stealer in this film, however, is Alfred Molina in the role of Doctor Octopus, who was, in this writer’s opinion, the most compelling villain Spider-Man ever squared off against. Roger Ebert even gave the film four stars, and called it “the best superhero movie” since the inception of the subgenre in 1978 with the first feature length Superman film starring Christopher Reeve.
The film delivers everything it promises: a star studded cast, including Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Chris Hemsworth, and it conveniently groups everyone’s favorite Marvel heroes into one film. Thor’s evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) makes a pact with an alien race to overthrow the earth. It’s up to the combined efforts of Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Nick Fury, and the Black Widow to save the world. Spoiler alert: they save the world. The Avengers is dually a composite of everything that makes superhero films tacky, and everything that makes them wonderful — and suffice it to say, the two aren’t always mutually exclusive when it comes to comic books. Or movies, for that matter.