As an adjunct to our Best of the Year Awards, Comicon would like to also recognize the best in films based on comic books in the past year. Of course, fewer than ten were released in 2021, but putting them into a top 5 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.
The following are Comicon’s 5 Best Comic Book Films of 2021.
5. Black Widow, directed by Cate Shortland, screenplay by Eric Pearson, story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson; starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, and Rachel Weisz, released by Walt Disney Studios
While one of the slighter comic book movies of 2021 — and we’re still convinced it suffered by not being made and released just after Captain American: Civil War — it becomes better on reflection (and a repeated viewing on Disney+) thanks to some great actions sequences, Pugh’s scene-stealing, and the introduction of Natasha’s (Johansson) “family.” Harbour and Weisz are nearly as successful at scene-stealing at Pugh, and the quartet make this a fairly charming film despite a vapor-thin antagonist and a baffling placement in the Marvel film sequence.
4. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, screenplay by Dave Callaham & Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham, screen story by Dave Callaham & Destin Daniel Cretton; starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung, released by Walt Disney Studios
The funniest superhero movie of the year ends up at number four on our list, but don’t assume that’s for a lack of quality. Shang-Chi is a delightful adventure with a nice undercurrent of second generation immigrant anxiety. Add to that one of the most successful film dragons ever put on screen and you get a film worth watching again and again on the Disney streaming service. Also, Leung brings a an unexpected depth to Wenwu, making him one of the most compelling Marvel Cinematic antagonists so far. In any other year, the film might be in the top spot, but 2021 proved to be a good year for superhero movies.
3. Spider-Man: No Way Home, directed by Jon Watts, written by Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers; starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, and Benedict Cumberbatch, released by Sony Pictures
As we said in our review a few weeks ago, the film is like watching the impossible happen, but still lands in third as its epic-ness makes it a daunting proposition to revisit. Nevertheless, just the memory of some of its twists, cameos, and incredible integration of previous ideas brings smiles to our faces. It’s full of fun performances, great action set-pieces, and it features one of the most amazing acts of redemption ever committed to screen. We’re sure when we clear the afternoon to watch it again, we’ll continue to love it.
2. The Suicide Squad, directed and written by James Gunn; starring Edris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, and Joel Kinnaman, released by Warner Bros. Pictures
But if you want to talk about the impossible, making a genuinely delightful Suicide Squad movie should be against the laws of physics. And yet, Gunn does it again by making some of the slightest DC comic book characters worthy of leading a film. Thanks to him, and Elba’s performance, Bloodsport becomes someone you not only want to watch, but care about — and it is nothing short of amazing. More incredible, Gunn and his collaborators do that six times over while Robbie once again proves she was the only person who could embody Harley Quinn in live action. Also, there’s a giddiness in seeing Starro realized on screen with little change from the comics that helps vault this film just above the impossible things No Way Home accomplishes.
1. Eternals, directed by Chloé Zhao, screenplay by Chloé Zhao and Chloé Zhao & Patrick Burleigh and Ryan Firpo & Kaz Firpo, screen story by Ryan Firpo & Kaz Firpo; starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Joile, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, and Kit Harington, released by Walt Disney Studios
But for all the joy and giddiness of the previous two entries on this list, Eternals‘s shift in tone toward something more serious wins it the top spot. This is a movie we keep thinking about thanks to all its cosmic implications. It re-contextualizes the Ancient Astronaut hooey from the 1970s into something oddly compelling thanks to themes of free will, found families, and love in its many forms. It’s also the most beautiful looking movie of the bunch even as it maintains a couple of footholds in the Marvel house style. Chan proves to be a compelling lead in a cast filled with people who could easily anchor the film. But that’s part of the its secret charm: it gives you heavyweights like Joile, Nanjiani, and Henry to balance out the limited time you have with their characters. That feeling of wanting more with them is the exact right sensation one should get from an Eternals film. It is based on a relatively short-lived Jack Kirby comic subsequent Marvel writers couldn’t help but poach characters from, after all. While maybe not the most crowd-pleasing entry this year, Eternals proves the formula can swing to heavier topics while still delivering what the studio’s fans enjoy.