Ever since the first comic book movie was released, people have been complaining of comic book movie fatigue. There are too many of them in the marketplace, they argue, and no one cares anymore. Yet, 2022 saw five of the top 10 highest-grossing movies being based on comic books, suggesting the genre still has plenty of life left in it.
This year is no different, as there are over a dozen comic book movies and shows set to hit screens big and small. These five films stand out from the crowd for both their potential to be great (The Flash) and their promise to honor what has come before them (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3).
A decade ago, if I had predicted that a movie based on the Marvel Comics hero Ant-Man would be such a success that he would have his own film trilogy, I would’ve lost a lot of my friends and maybe even my job. Yet, here we are in 2023, and the third Ant-Man movie is about to be released. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania sees our favorite shrinking heroes ditch their low-stakes adventures and San Francisco stomping grounds to travel to the Quantumverse, a mostly CG dimension that exists between atoms and served as the deus ex machina in Avengers: Endgame. In this microverse, various Ant-Men, Wasps, and Statures (those who know, know) all battle Kang, a time-traveling villain first seen in the Disney+ series Loki.
Unlike the first two Ant-Man movies, Quantumania has plenty of high-stakes, both in the story and for the MCU as a whole. As the first film in Phase Five, the movie hopes to establish Jonathan Majors’ Kang as a Thanos-level threat who will pop up in future movies, including the next two Avengers movies. If the two trailers are any indication, Quantumania also promises to wrap up Paul Rudd’s sarcastic take on the character, who doesn’t appear to make it out intact. We’ve been fooled before by misleading trailers, so we’ll just have to see, and that’s the point: Marvel has somehow made Ant-Man 3 a must-see blockbuster event … in February. The last time that happened, Black Panther was unleashed and became a cultural phenomenon. Quantumania won’t reach those heights, but it’s sure to shake away the slightly bad taste Phase Four left in fans’ mouths.
Take a guess as to what is the highest-grossing DC movie of all time is. Batman? Nope. The Dark Knight Rises? Close, but not right. How about Joker? That movie made over a billion dollars, and still, the answer is no. It’s 2018’s Aquaman, which surprised everyone with not only how much money it made, but that it was actually good. How did the one funny joke from Entourage turn into DC’s biggest hit? Thank star Jason Momoa and director James Wan, who took the character and story seriously enough to lighten the hell up and have some fun in the ultraserious, ultraviolent DC Extended Universe.
That’s why the long-awaited sequel, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, is on this list, as it promises more of the same, but bigger and with more talking fish. Momoa has only increased his star wattage with movies like Dune, and the rest of the cast, which includes (take a breath) Nicole Kidman, Patrick Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Dolph Lundgren, and Willem Dafoe, are all returning to flesh out the world of Atlantis. Details are scare about the plot, but rest assured we will see more of Momoa’s bro-isms, more awesome Black Manta villain action, and more scenery chewing from, well, everyone else. I can’t wait.
The Killer is a casual reminder that not every comic book movie needs to have superheroes. Based on a French graphic novel by Alexis Nolent, the Netflix movie is about, well, a killer who is having a spiritual crisis as he questions the morality of his profession. After botching a hit, the killer goes on the run, chased by a determined policeman hell-bent on bringing him in.
We’ve seen this type of assassin movie before, but what makes this so special is the talent involved in the movie. First and foremost, the movie is directed by David Fincher, the genius behind The Social Network, Zodiac, and Mank. Second, the cast includes Michael Fassbender (as the titular assassin) and Tilda Swinton, both of whom always chose interesting projects to star in. Finally, the screenplay is by Andrew Kevin Walker, who partnered with Fincher for 1995’s crime classic Se7en. All of these elements combine to make a can’t-miss comic book adaptation that promises to be unlike anything else on this list.
All good things come to an end, and as the first trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 indicates, it’s that time for Marvel’s pop culture-loving space rangers. It makes sense, as the trilogy’s writer/director, James Gunn, is moving to head studio rival DC Films, and most of the stars have indicated this is their last time playing these fan-favorite characters.
The recent Disney+ Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special was a good reminder at how excellent Gunn and company can be with the right material, and Vol. 3 promises to end the series on a high note. With new characters like the golden-skinned warrior Adam Warlock, the psychic pooch Cosmo, and the villainous High Evolutionary in the mix, the movie promises to be just as fun as the original Guardians was a decade ago. An added bonus: fans finally get to witness a fully regrown Groot and Rocket Raccoon’s tragic origin story.
How do you solve a problem like The Flash? On the one hand, you have a movie that has all the trappings of a failure. It’s been mired in development hell for nearly a decade. It’s had multiple directors (Seth Grahame-Smith, Rick Famuyiwa, and the duo of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein) and over a dozen writers. Both WB and DC went through endless rounds of creative executive changes, resulting in the tone, vision, and story for The Flash changing constantly. Worst of all, the lead star, Ezra Miller, went through a very public mental health crisis, which included the actor allegedly committing multiple crimes.
Why is this still the most anticipated comic movie of 2023? Like so many others, it has the potential to be very, very good. The current (and final) director is Andy Muschietti, who made the excellent big-screen versions of Stephen King’s It in 2017 and 2019. Scattered reports indicate that early test screening opinions of the film compared it to The Dark Knight, and we all know how great that movie turned out be. And Miller, who has recently answered and atoned for all the trouble he has caused for himself and others, is still one of the best actors of his generation, and his take on the Scarlet Speedster is bound to be as fun and interesting as it was in the flawed Justice League movies. Yes, The Flash could be a resounding failure, but it could also be the first, and only, truly great DCEU movie.