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Best R-Rated Comic Book Movies

Logan Blade The Punisher Hugh Jackman Wesley Snipes Dolph Lundgren

Inspired by the release of Zack Snyder's R-rated director's cut of Justice League on the HBO Max streaming service earlier this year, we here at Arrow in the Head figured we'd take a look back at some of R-rated comic book movies that have come before. Compiled below is our list of the Best R-Rated Comic Book Movies!

 

Road to Perdition Tom Hanks Sam Mendes Best R-Rated Comic Book MoviesROAD TO PERDITION (2002)

Max Allan Collins wrote his graphic novel Road to Perdition as "an unabashed homage" to the manga Lone Wolf and Cub, changing the setting from feudal Japan to 1931 America. Directed by Sam Mendes, the film adaptation casts Tom Hanks in the role of Michael Sullivan, a mob enforcer working for John Rooney (Paul Newman) - until he finds himself on the bad side of Rooney's black sheep son Connor (Daniel Craig). Connor attempts and fails to have Michael killed, but does manage to murder his wife and youngest son. Hitting the road with his surviving son Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin), Michael sets out on a mission of revenge that involves robbing banks Al Capone has money in, and killing a lot of his fellow mobsters while a quirky assassin played by Jude Law follows his trail. A great movie with an incredible cast, Road to Perdition doesn't seem to get as much attention as it deserves. I'd count it not just as one of the best R-rated comic book movies, but also as one of the best films of the 2000s.

 

JOKER (2019)

I have some issues with Todd Phillips' Joker. It's so far removed from any DC Comics source material, it feels like Phillips wanted to make a tribute to the Martin Scorsese films Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy and just slapped the Joker name on there to lure in viewers. It worked, to the tune of a billion dollars at the box office, a lot more money than this movie would have made under any other title. But even though I don't think Joker is really a Joker movie, so I hesitate to call it a "comic book movie", I can't deny that Joaquin Phoenix turns in an awe-inspiring performance as Arthur Fleck, a standup comedian who descends into insanity over the course of the film. Phoenix absolutely deserved the Oscar he won for this, and Phillips - who was known primarily for making straightforward comedies before this - proved that he was capable of making a dramatic Scorsese tribute about a lonely man having a violent mental breakdown.



MY FRIEND DAHMER (2017)

When artist John "Derf" Backderf was in high school, one of his classmates was future serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, at that time just a troubled kid Derf and his friends were drawn to because of his bizarre behavior. Years after Dahmer's arrest and his death in prison, Derf told the story of his teenage friendship with Dahmer in the pages of a graphic novel, then writer/director Marc Meyers adapted the story for the screen. My Friend Dahmer is a captivating look at the early life of someone we know is going to go on to do horrible things, and we watch the mental state of the young Dahmer - played by Ross Lynch - gradually crumble, while Derf (Alex Wolff) and others grow less entertained and more disturbed by the way he acts. This film doesn't dramatize the murders, it's focused on the time when Derf knew Dahmer, and it's very interesting to get this glimpse into his life before the killing began.


DREDD (2012)

In 1995, comic book character Judge Dredd was brought to the screen in an adaptation that got things all wrong. 17 years later, Pete Travis and/or Alex Garland (there's some debate over who actually directed this) brought Dredd back to the screen in an attempt to make things right - and did so while telling the simplest story possible. Set in a dystopian future, Dredd is about the title lawman (Karl Urban) and his psychic rookie partner (Olivia Thirlby) having to battle the many criminals that inhabit a two hundred story tower on their way to apprehending the "queenpin" (Lena Headey) that has put a hit out on them. The odds are stacked against Dredd and his partner, but they put up a hell of a fight that turns this film into a barrage of exciting action sequences. Through all the fights, gunfire, and explosions, Urban never removes his helmet. As it should be.

 

30 Days of Night David Slade Best R-Rated Comic Book Movies
30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007)

Based on a comic book created by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, 30 Days of Night is a vampire tale with a brilliant set-up: it takes place in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States, during a period of time when the sun isn't going to be rising for 30 days. Thus the very appropriate title. A group of monstrous bloodsuckers come into town as soon as darkness falls and begin tearing their way through the 150 remaining residents. Soon there's only a small group of people left to fight for their lives, including the sheriff (Josh Hartnett) and his estranged wife (Melissa George). Directed by David Slade and produced by genre icon Sam Raimi, 30 Days of Night provides a blood-soaked, emotional viewing experience and features one of the best decapitations ever put on film. This isn't just one of the best R-rated comic book movies, I consider it to be one of the best horror movies of the 21st century.


SIN CITY (2005)

Robert Rodriguez describes Sin City as a "translation" of the comic books created by co-director Frank Miller, since the stunning black and white (with some color here and there) visuals in the film are living versions of the panels that were in Miller's books. This movie wouldn't have been possible before the digital age. A neo-noir anthology, the film introduces us to fascinating characters played by the likes of Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, and Mickey Rourke as they make their ways through a dangerous city, dealing with corrupt authority figures, a cannibal, warrior prostitutes, and a deformed killer with bright yellow skin. There are several entertaining stories told over the course of this film, and it's made all the more interesting by the fact that it was also a great technical achievement. Plus, Quentin Tarantino stepped in to "guest direct" one scene, and he paid tribute to Dario Argento's Suspiria with the lighting.


THE PUNISHER (1989)

I love all three of the Punisher feature films we've gotten to date, but each one has its issues. The 2004 film with Thomas Jane is great, but the way it presents the title character is more restrained than the Punisher I want to see on the screen. I feel Ray Stevenson is the perfect version of the character in Punisher: War Zone, which features some glorious violence, but the film's villains are too goofy for my taste. So I end up with the 1989 film being my favorite of the bunch, even though Dolph Lundgren's Punisher doesn't wear that iconic skull on his clothes. Directed by Mark Goldblatt, The Punisher '89 is a really fun action flick that takes some liberties with the source material, but the story of the Punisher taking on the combined forces of the mafia and the Yakuza is definitely like something you would find in the Marvel comics. Plus you get to see Lundgren battle ninjas wielding swords and Uzis!


BLADE (1998)

2000's X-Men and 2002's Spider-Man are credited with bringing Marvel comic book movies up to a whole new level, but those icons reached that level with a helpful boost from an awesome movie starring a more obscure character: the half-human / half-vampire Blade (played here by Wesley Snipes), who has dedicated his life to eradicating vampires. Directed by Stephen Norrington, Blade's film has great style and energy, and is packed with exciting martial arts action sequences that show our hero slashing his way through an army of bloodsuckers. Blade was in a lot of comics I read in the '90s, but he wasn't exactly likeable; he was so obsessed with wiping out supernatural beings that he even turned against his allies. Thankfully, the movie version is less of a douche - it's rare when a movie improves a character! Wesley Snipes would reprise the role for a sequel that is also great, and a third film that's not so great.


LOGAN (2017)

Hugh Jackman sounds like the wrong choice to play Marvel's Wolverine. A 6'2" Australian with stage musical experience as a rough-edged, 5'3" Canadian? It doesn't seem like a match, but over 17 years and multiple films Jackman proved to be the perfect Wolverine, and he earned the swan song he got with director James Mangold's Logan. Not only does the film sport an R rating that allowed it to be nice and brutal, it also has an Oscar-nominated screenplay that tells a heartstring-tugging story, following an aging Wolverine and an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart) as they try to protect a young mutant girl (Dafne Keen) from shady characters with bad intentions. Watching Wolverine spill blood and drop F-bombs is great, but the best thing about Logan is the emotional content, which leaves me with tears in my eyes every time. This is the best ending Jackman's run as this iconic character could have possibly gotten.


THE CROW (1994)

The Crow was born out of pain, as James O'Barr created the comic book source material while grieving the tragic death of his girlfriend. Alex Proyas's film adaptation is shrouded in even more pain and grief, since star Brandon Lee was killed in an on-set accident. It's impossible to watch the film without feeling those heavy emotions, and it tells a deeply emotional story to begin with: a year after he and his fiancee were murdered by a gang of criminals, young musician Eric Draven rises from the grave to avenge their deaths. The story is beautifully told, with strong dramatic scenes being mixed with some fantastic action scenes. Lee turned in an incredible performance, and surely would have been destined for major stardom after this, if only more safety precautions been taken on the set. One could resent The Crow for taking Lee too soon, but he put so much soul into his performance that the film endures as a tribute to him. It's definitely one of the best R-Rated comic book movies ever made, if not the best.

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