James Gunn has been a busy man lately. Between making the final installment of his Guardians MCU trilogy, the financially successful Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and gearing up to make his first DC Studios project, Superman: Legacy, the popular director certainly has every right to not indulge in such unimportant pastimes such as eating or breathing. (I’m kidding here, but the guy is super-busy!)
Yet, Gunn found time away from selecting which actor would make the best Superman to divulge a revealing secret. In an interview with GQ, Gunn was asked what his 5 favorite comic book movies are and why. Below is a list of Gunn’s choices, which, shockingly, does not include any MCU movie.
5. Deadpool (2016)
It’s not a surprise Gunn picked Tim Miller’s Deadpool, as Gunn’s sarcastic brand of humor meshes well with the Merc with a Mouth’s deadpan, self-referential comedy. What is a surprise is why Gunn picked it, with the director stating that the movie works so well because it combines the breaking-the-fourth-wall humor of the Marvel Comics source material with a little heart and grounded approach to the often zany character.
Gunn, of course, is absolutely right; there’s a reason why Deadpool was a massive hit when it was released in 2016, and why people still love the movie and the character to this day. While the “doesn’t-take-itself-too-seriously” approach has been done to death in the superhero genre, Deadpool never feels stale. That’s due, in large part, to star Ryan Reynolds, who finally found the right role to channel his nervous energy into and become the leading man he always wanted to be.
4. Oldboy (2013)
Wait, Oldboy was a comic book? Kinda. Gunn mixes his formats a bit as Oldboy began as a manga, which isn’t a comic book, but we’ll let it slide. Why? Because Oldboy is fantastic, and I’d use every opportunity to talk about. For example, if this were a list of Sally Field’s top five best movies ever, I’d still include Oldboy, even though the Forrest Gump actress doesn’t appear in the movie at all. (Wouldn’t it be cool if she did though?)
I digress. Gunn claims the movie “reinvented action,” and he’s absolutely right. “Gross, beautiful, and shocking,” Oldboy dared to linger on violence and make the audience see every little detail about a fight. The one-take fight scene in the hallway ranks as one of most memorable scenes ever in modern cinema, and also inspired Harley Quinn’s delirious breakout scene in Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. The story, about a man who seeks revenge on the unseen person who imprisoned him for 15 years, is simple and brutal, while the ending is an all-timer, with a revelation that is both logical and completely out of the blue. If you haven’t seen Oldboy, see it now; if you have seen it, watch it again.
3. A History of Violence (2005)
Yes, it’s another “wait, this was a comic book?” movie, but in A History of Violence‘s case, it was published as a graphic novel by Paradox Press and, later, Vertigo Comics, so it qualifies. The story concerns one Tom Stall, a seemingly ordinary Indiana family man who stops a violent robbery at his restaurant by coldly and efficiently killing the robbers. The incident makes national news, and soon, mysterious men appear in the small town, claiming Tom is actually Joey Cusack, a member of the Irish mob who has a … history of violence.
Gunn points out that he was influenced by the film’s action scenes, which don’t play out as your standard “good guys versus bad guys” story. The beauty of A History of Violence is that is reveals how everyone in the David Cronenberg film is capable of awful things, and it’s only with that realization that Tom can be redeemed. The movie also contains three great performances by Viggo Mortensen as Tom/Joey, Maria Bello as his wife, Edie, and William Hurt (who was nominated for an Oscar for his work) as Joey’s shady gangster brother, Richie.
2. Superman (1978)
Is it any surprise Richard Donner’s 1978 classic Superman, which many consider the first modern superhero movie, is on this list? Even if Gunn weren’t directing the latest Man of Steel reboot, any comic fan worth their salt would include it on a top 5 list. Even though it was made when disco was popular and Burt Reynolds was a sex symbol, the movie hasn’t gone out of style; in fact, its classic moviemaking has made it durable in the four decades after its release.
As for the film itself, what more needs to be said? Gene Hackman is a magnetic Lex Luthor, the practical special effects are still an amazing sight to behold, and no one has ever topped Margot Kidder’s interpretation of Lois Lane. In the GQ interview, Gunn points out that while many people acknowledge how great Christopher Reeve was in the title role, few acknowledge the playfulness he imbues in the character. That element is certain to be in Gunn’s take on Superman, which automatically makes it better than Zack Snyder‘s cynical, violent depiction in the slowly dying DCEU.
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
What can top Superman? How about a movie that’s not even five years old? No, it’s not Morbius, it’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was released to muted fanfare in December 2018, but quickly gained a devoted following and massive critical acclaim that culminated in a Best Animated Film Oscar in 2019. If you’ve seen it, you can understand why it’s so loved: the movie is a visual marvel, one of the few, if only, films to truly capture the dynamism and kinetic energy of a comic book world.
The story in brief: Spider-Man dies, young Miles Morales has to take over, Spideys from other dimensions, appear on the scene, and the young hero must overcome obstacles to come into his own. It’s a classic coming-of-age story, but told with cutting-edge animation that is already proving to be influential. Gunn believes Into the Spider-Verse is the best simply because “there isn’t a bad beat in it,” and that the balance of action, story, and emotion is just about perfect. Who can argue with that?