10 Best Non-Superhero Comic-Book Movies of the 2010s, From ‘Atomic Blonde’ to ‘Snowpiercer’ (Photos)

William Bibbiani

Superhero movies, it has been (accurately) said, rule the box office. But although billions of dollars are made every year adapting comic books about costumed vigilantes, there is a whole universe of comic-book storytelling that frequently goes unexplored. Human dramas, light comedies, sci-fi and action comics alike, these works are frequently brought to the screen but sometimes overlooked by mainstream audiences who equate comics with the superhero genre. We were paying attention. These are the non-superhero comic book films that moved us and thrilled us this decade.

10. “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (2017)

Audiences are bizarrely unkind to space operas that aren’t called “Star Wars,” which is a shame, because “Valerian” is one of the best in the genre. Based on the French comic book series “Valérian and Laureline,” which helped inspire “Star Wars” in the first place, “City of a Thousand Planets” begins with a phenomenal, almost completely non-verbal history of human contact with alien species, as a space station grows into an unthinkable collection of creatures and habitats. Within that “city” lies a conspiracy and a mystery that can be solved only by our two heroes. Cara Delevingne is fascinating and distinctive, while DeHaan is — tragically — miscast as a charismatic charmer, but even that can’t get in the way of a sprawling, unbelievable narrative filled with unique ideas, never-before-attempted action sequences and some of the most gorgeous visual effects in history.

9. “Tamara Drewe” (2010)

Wit and romance and crime and infidelity collide in Stephen Frears’ spry comedy “Tamara Drewe,” an adaptation of Posy Simmons’ comic strip, which was itself a loose updating of Thomas Hardy’s “Far from the Madding Crowd.” Gemma Arterton plays a woman who inherits a house in her small town but finds herself suddenly the object of affection and obsession by practically everyone she meets. As she romances a famous musician, dodges the affections of a high-school classmate and comes face-to-face with the famous author with whom she had her first crush, Frears’ light touch brings the humanity out of all the playful characters, to the point that, when the drama finally kicks in hard, it feels natural and significant. “Tamara Drewe” is an overlooked gem of a film.

8. “Atomic Blonde” (2017)

Stunt-coordinator-turned-filmmaker David Leitch followed up his (uncredited) directorial debut on “John Wick” with another ambitious, arch and impeccably choreographed action thriller. Charlize Theron stars as a Cold War spy on a mission in Berlin, to retrieve a list of double agents and investigate the murder of a colleague. Her mission, though at times familiar to fans of the spy genre, is punctuated by sensual camerawork and fight scenes which are, frankly, among the best in western cinema. Adapted from the graphic novel series “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, the script is unnecessarily convoluted, and the protagonist is kept a mystery for a little too long, but the visceral impact of the film’s erotic cinematography and hard-hitting action more than compensates.

7. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010)

Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” comic-book series is a masterpiece of style, using movie, videogame and comic-book tropes to illustrate the way an entire generation views their struggles. Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) can’t just meet a girl he likes and date her; he has to prove that he’s better than everyone else she ever dated by fighting them in epic battles. Along the way, he comes to terms with the fact that he’s kind of a selfish jerk. The impeccable aesthetics and soundtrack and cast of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” go a long way towards making up for the tricky adaptation, which truncates the timeline and, as such, makes the characters’ journeys appear more superficial than need be. But it’s still an incredible achievement in every other way.

6. “Dredd” (2012)

Sometimes lumped together with superheroes, “Dredd” is actually the story of a fascist super-cop trying to keep order in a dystopian future through the use of deadly force. “Hero” he ain’t. Written by Alex Garland (“Ex Machina”) and directed by Pete Travis (“Vantage Point”), the film follows the title character on a single day of work, as he tests out a young rookie, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). When they find themselves trapped in a skyscraper with criminals who all want to murder them, they’ll have do whatever they can to survive. High-stakes action, with a subversive political undercurrent that ripples under every scene, “Dredd” is one of the best action movies of the decade.

5. “Snowpiercer” (2013)

The world has been covered in ice after a disastrous attempt to stop global warming, and now all of human civilization lives on a massive, perpetually moving train. The poor live in the back and eat god-knows-what, the rich live in the front, and every car between them represents one of the great ironies and failings of human civilization. Bong Joon-ho’s adaptation of the French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige” is not subtle in its storytelling or its metaphors, but it’s also not arguing that society’s ills are complicated. It’s a vicious condensation of humanity’s worst mistakes and philosophical excuses, in which the fight for a more moral world might just break the whole system and get everybody killed. Impeccably produced, excitingly filmed, with a great ensemble cast that includes Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Alison Pill and Octavia Spencer.

4. “Blue is the Warmest Color” (2013)

Julie Maroh’s graphic novel comes to sweeping life in “Blue is the Warmest Color,” a tragic love story about a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality, falling in love, and possibly throwing it all away. Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos star as the young lovers, who over the course of a nearly three-hour film run the gamut of romantic emotion, culminating in one of the most intense reconciliations — or attempted reconciliations — one can imagine. Seydoux and Exarchopoulos give absolutely stunning performances, from which not even the film’s frustratingly male gaze and controversial direction can detract. The hours fly by thanks to their sensitive portrayals and the film’s patience with the material, letting us inhabit their lives as fully as possible, until they take on monumental significance.

3. “The Wind Rises” (2013)

Celebrated animator Hayao Miyazaki’s final feature film — unless he comes out of retirement, again — is an adaptation of his own manga series, about Jiro Horikoshi, the aviation specialist who designed the Zero fighters which Japan used in World War II. The filmmaker’s famous obsession with flight comes to a natural fruition with a serious drama about the craft, but Miyazaki’s controversial choice of subject takes “The Wind Rises” into complex territory. After all, is it worth celebrating somebody’s genius if their creations were used exclusively as instruments of war? “The Wind Rises” confronts these questions directly and emerges with complicated answers, as it simultaneously tells a sweet love story about a mild-mannered man finding a connection and his purpose in life.

2. “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” (2015)

Phoeobe Gloeckner’s hybrid novel, based on her own complicated experiences coming of age and exploring her sexuality in the 1970s, becomes an astoundingly frank and impeccably realized drama from director Marielle Heller. Bel Powley stars as a 15-year-old girl who is engaged in a sexual relationship with her mother’s boyfriend and uses her art to help process her confusion as she struggles to reach maturity. Powley explores every facet of her complex character, Heller never flinches from the most difficult chapters in Gloeckner’s life, and by the end, the audience has been privy to an exhaustingly complete and transformative human experience.

1. “We Are the Best!” (2013)

Coco Moodysson’s graphic novel “Never Goodnight” was adapted by her husband, Lukas Moodysson, into an absolutely luminous and earnest and life-affirming motion picture. “We Are the Best!” tells the story of three young girls who, in the early 1980s, decide to start a punk band. Never mind that two of them have no musical talent, and never mind that they have nothing to rebel against other than gym class. As their attempts to have jam sessions devolve into yarn fights, we witness the absolute joy of youth. And as they finally perform, we appreciate the importance and malleability of the rebel spirit. Honest, wonderful, funny, and damn near perfect filmmaking.

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