Right now, comic books are ubiquitous in pop culture, but believe it or not there was a time when just seeing comics acknowledged in a movie was a cool moment of validation for obsessive fans. That’s why we’re paying tribute to the greatest cameo appearances by physical issues (either real or fictitious) in major motion pictures.
It’s cool to see big stars like Ben Affleck and Tom Hanks holding these fabulous funny books in their hands, and even occasionally ironic considering that a lot of these actors played superheroes and supervillains at other points in their careers.
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The 15 Best Comic Books in Movies
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Director Joe Johnston had already nailed another nostalgic WWII-era comic book adaptation with 1991's
The Rocketeer, but on this one he was actually able to sneak in the original Captain America #1 with that great Joe Simon and Jack Kirby cover. Now THAT'S authenticity! The iconic image of Cap socking Adolph Hitler in the kisser is parodied in the traveling show Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is forced to perform to sell war bonds, but true fans were giddy to see the original iteration of the character acknowledged in a big budget feature.
The Mist (2007)
While fighting off a horde of killer spiders from another dimension in a pharmacy, hero David Drayton (Thomas Jane) grabs his young son an issue of "Hellboy" off a quaint old comic book rack. We're just glad that in a serious survival situation noted comics fan Tom Jane has his priorities straight. Visible below the "Hellboy" is another Dark Horse title, "The Goon," which director Frank Darabont is an avowed fan of, even penning
an introduction to the third graphic novel for his pal Eric Powell (who, incidentally, visited the set of The Mist during shooting).
The Departed (2006)
How about that? A Best Picture winner with comic books in it! Martin Scorsese's gritty tale of Irish mobsters vs. 5-0 informants starts out with The Joker himself Jack Nicholson taking a stroll to shake down a local corner bodega in Boston for protection money. In his thickest Beantown accent he winds up showing little Matt Damon (Conor Donovan) some generosity by buying him some groceries and a stack of comic books, including "Wolverine" Vol. 2 #11, dating the scene precisely to September, 1989. This act of charity ultimately helps draw the kid to Nicholson's mob boss, who becomes a twisted father figure to him.
In the world of Guillermo del Toro's film version of Mike Mignola's "Hellboy," the title supernatural detective is enough of an urban legend to have spawned his own comic book, which incidentally the real Hellboy (Ron Perlman) doesn't care for. The cover shown is pure Mignola channeled through a Jack Kirby sensibility, right down to the mid-'60s Marvel-style corner box. "I hate those comic books. They never get the eyes right."
American Splendor (2003)
Since this is a biopic of a man who became famous as both the writer and star of his own autobiographical comic book, it goes without saying there's some great scenes here. Paul Giamatti plays Cleveland's own bard of jazzy misanthropy Harvey Pekar, with the real Pekar popping up occasionally to comment on the action. Meta enough for ya? A scene of Pekar and his adopted daughter looking through past issues is terrific, but sorely underrated is James Urbaniak's dead-on impression of famed underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, whose artistic contributions to the early issues of "American Splendor" helped put Pekar on the map.
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
The appearance of Silver Age issues of "The Flash" in Steven Spielberg's true-life caper film isn't just to add period color, the issues play a crucial role in the plot. You see, up until a certain point in the film, FBI bank fraud agent Tom Hanks is convinced that Leonardo DiCaprio's "paper hanger" is some elusive criminal mastermind until he realizes something about the alias he's using:
(*spoiler*) Later on in the film when DiCaprio is caught, Hanks brings a stack of "Flash" back issues to him in prison as a sign of friendship. "Now get this, he reads comic books. Comic books! Barry Allen is The Flash! He's a kid."
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (2002)
One of the industry's most prominent comic book creators, Todd McFarlane of "Spawn" fame, lent his artistic sensibilities to the animated segments in this coming-of-age drama. The animation depicts the imaginative worlds within the crude "Atomic Trinity" comics drawn by Catholic school friends Francis Doyle (Emile Hirsch) and Tim Sullivan (Kieran Culkin) as they cope with their own adolescent difficulties understanding girls, family and spirituality. They also play some pretty gnarly pranks on a peg-legged nun played by Jodie Foster.
Although he's since bad-movied his name into a punchline, it was pretty courageous of M. Night Shyamalan to follow up his sleeper smash
The Sixth Sense with a deconstruction of comic book folklore. Bruce Willis plays an average Joe security guard who discovers he's essentially Superman after surviving a train wreck. Sam Jackson plays an extremely fragile man nicknamed "Mr. Glass" who owns a comic book gallery and serves as a deranged mentor to Willis as he begins to accept his powers. There's even a scene in a comic book store where an issue of "The Avengers" is prominent in the foreground in front of the future Nick Fury. This film was meant to serve as an origin story to kick off a superhero trilogy, but its disappointing ending and box office killed that plan.
Chasing Amy (1997)
With this low-budget indie, Kevin Smith made what may be one of the most nerd-core movies about comic books ever made. Jason Lee and Ben Affleck (of future Daredevil and Batman fame) play the artistic force behind "Bluntman and Chronic," the actual pages of which are drawn by "Madman" creator Mike Allred, who makes a cameo appearance. Future Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada also appears during the end comic book convention scene alongside frequent collaborator and inker Jimmy Palmiotti. Smith nails how small-but-devoted the comic creator and fan community was in the mid-nineties, right down to the emergence of autobiographical self-published works.
The Ice Storm (1997)
Hulk director Ang Lee's drama starts with future Spider-Man Tobey Maguire aboard a Metro-North train on his way from a get-together with future Batman girlfriend Katie Holmes in Manhattan to his home in New Canaan reading issue #141 of "The Fantastic Four." Loaded with enough significance for ya? Maguire's introspective narration sets the movie's tone of familial discontent with his description of the FF's own family dynamic: "The more power they had the more harm they could do to each other without even knowing it."
True Romance (1993)
Any movie where
passes for flirting is A-OK. Christian Slater plays Clarence, a movie-crazy, Elvis-obsessed comic book store clerk who meets hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Alabama (recent Oscar-winner Patricia Arquette). They get married, he kills her pimp, then steals a suitcase full of cocaine and they're off to Hollywood. The scene of Alabama truly falling for Clarence as he describes pages from an issue of Marvel's "Sleepwalker" is divine in a way that only Quentin Tarantino could write it. "You wanna see what 'Spider-Man' #1 looks like?"
Cool World (1992)
The idea of a comic book author getting sucked,
TRON-like, into the world of his own creation might have sounded cool in the post- Roger Rabbit era, but the reality is Cool World is anything but. Despised by everyone, including director Ralph Bakshi (whose own screenplay was scrapped by Paramount), it's nevertheless a stylistic marvel, with animated characters inspired by old Fleisher Bros. cartoons, including the sexy Holli Would (Kim Basinger) who wants to enter the real world. A scene where ex-con cartoonist Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne) goes into a comic shop only to encounter a horde of fans is very accurate to the kind of people you would encounter in a dingy store like that at the time. The comic covers were executed by underground legend Spain Rodriguez.
The Lost Boys (1987)
When Sam (Corey Haim) moves with his brother and recently divorced mom to the beach community of Santa Carla, California he notices some strange goings on around town. Luckily local boardwalk comic book shop proprietors/vampire hunters the Frog Brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) are there to warn him by not-so-subtly pushing an issue of "Destroy All Vampires" on him. Together they're able to kick some bloodsucker ass with some super soakers full of holy water. Directed by future Batman desecrator Joel Schumacher.
Here's an anthology movie that's actually structured, both tonally and visually, to ape the great 1950's EC horror titles like "Tales From the Crypt," the same ones that inspired director George Romero and screenwriter Stephen King during their ghoulish formative years. That's not the only kid horror comics inspired: A 9-year-old Joe King (AKA Joe Hill of "Horns" and "Locke & Key" fame) plays the little boy in the wraparound segments who kills his dad (Tom Atkins) with a voodoo doll for throwing away his comic books. Poetic justice!
Artists and Models (1955)
So says Jerry Lewis as a nitwit (natch) whose obsession with a fictitious comic character called "Bat Lady" leads him to unwittingly fall in love with the girl who models her (Shirley MacLaine). Along the way his friend played by Dean Martin sells a comic book idea to a publisher of lurid stories, while Lewis becomes a spokesperson against comic books. The film is directed by former Looney Tunes animator Frank Tashlin, who cleverly satirizes the then-current Kefauver hearings on violent comic books and their terrible influence on society. "I almost became a dope reading comic books, and I realized that is why I am now a little retarded."