As an adjunct to our Best of the Year Awards, Comicon would like to also recognize the best in films based on comic books. Of course, “best of” is something of a misnomer as only five comic book movies came out in the strange calendar year which was 2020. But putting them into an order of relative quality reveals how much potential still exists in the genre while also highlighting some of its unfortunate pitfalls. And with studios ever hungry to convert comics into films, they’d do well to pay attention what these five films did and how they fared at the box office and in public opinion.
5. Bloodshot, directed by Dave Wilson, screenplay by Jeff Wadlow and Eric Heisserer, starring Vin Diesel, Eiza González, Sam Heughan, Toby Kebbell, and Guy Pearce, released by Sony Pictures
Bloodshot defines the term “generic.” There are occasional flashes of character from Diesel and Gonzalez, but not enough to sustain the routine plot of an amnesiac mercenary trying to recall who he used to be. As tends to happen with movies in this budget range, it trades more on the easy-to-realize military action of Bloodshot comics than any of the things which actually make the central character distinct.
4. Wonder Woman 1984, directed by Patty Jenkins, screenplay by Patty Jenkins & Geoff Johns & David Callaham, starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, and Pedro Pascal, released by Warner Bros. Pictures
Despite bright colors, the winning duo of Gadot and Pine, and Jenkins’ knack for action, the film is surprisingly disappointing thanks to an underbaked plot, obscures rules surrounding its magical MacGuffin, and a bucket full of problematic ideas and scenes made all the starker by delaying the film over a year. We can’t help but wonder if the thud wouldn’t be so loud if it had come out in November 2019, but no amount of pre-pandemic context would excuse the way Pascal and Wiig are underused or the film’s unwillingness to commit to tone.
3. The New Mutants, directed by Josh Boone, screenplay by Josh Boone & Knate Lee, starring Blu Hunt, Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Henry Zaga, and Alice Braga, released by 20th Century Studios
A glimpse at a smaller-stakes, lower-budget X-Men movie series which almost pulls it off. It’s easy to see why Fox wanted extensive reshoots to add an additional character — and why some viewers might not respond to it — but it ends up a solid, if small, film. In fact, we imagine this is what an X-Men film would’ve looked like in the early 1990s — minus the CGI, of course. Taylor-Joy and Hunt are the standouts while Zaga’s take on Sunspot will leave many, well, lukewarm for a variety of reasons. It’s one real nod to the larger X-Men film world is intriguing even if it something Marvel Studios will never follow up on.
2. The Old Guard, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, screenplay by Greg Rucka, starring Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Harry Melling, released by Netflix
Distinguished by Prince-Bythwood’s direction, Rucka’s writing, and Theron as an undeniable draw. Though still a generic military action movie in places, the close-quarters fight on the plane, Melling’s petulant villain, and Joe’s (Kenzari) declaration of love set it apart from something like Bloodshot. In fact, it might be worth watching them back-to-back just to see how a more military-oriented comic property can break out of the sub-genre’s confines. That said, the film can’t help but feel like a pilot episode — which could definitely be a problem for some viewers — and its reluctance to commit to Theron’s status for a potential sequel mar what is an otherwise good comic book adaptation.
1. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), directed by Cathy Yan, screenplay by Christina Hodson, starring Margot Robbie, Jurnee Smollett, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina and Ewan McGregor, released by Warner Bros. Pictures
In a year that was supposed to be big for Wonder Woman, Black Widow, and, bizarrely, the Eternals, Harley Quinn (Robbie) reigns supreme as the lead character in 2020’s best film based on a comic book. Sure, it can’t decide what reality it is in and its Cassandra Cain (Basco) is so off-book she’d be better off being called “Jaina Todd,” it nevertheless hit the right notes with Harley’s mania, Huntress’s (Winstead) inability to socialize, and Black Canary’s (Smollett) knack for becoming a team leader. Its PG-13 rating meant action scenes became more intense by the lack of blood and its screwy tale of emancipation from crummy jobs, crummy ex-boyfriends, or what you expected life to be ended up all the more charming. It may not fit anyone’s overall design for a DC film universe, but it accomplishes enough of what it set out to do to be the best of 2020.