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There’s a line of thinking among certain comic-book aficionados that the era of great comic-book movies didn’t blossom until 2005’s Batman Begins, in which Christopher Nolan took the pulp superhero created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in the early 1940s and expanded on his brooding, gloomy nature for the modern age. With the two movies that followed—The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012)—Nolan further embroidered the legend of the chronically depressed, pointy-eared one, though in all three movies, the seriousness he lavished on the character was the most facile kind. Tim Burton’s earlier Batman movies may have seemed lighter on the surface, but they were more deeply infused with sadness, of an almost unnamable kind. (And never mind that Nolan borrowed more than a few pages from comic book writer—or, if you prefer, graphic novelist—Frank Miller, who was the first to refer to Batman as The Dark Knight, and who had already explored the superhero’s darker side in a beautifully executed DC comic-book series of the late 1980s.)

Thanks in part to the success of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and of subsequent movies adapted from the DC and Marvel universes, comic-book movies have practically become the backbone of the Hollywood movie industry. One after another, they’ll be barreling toward us for years to come. But comic-book movies were hardly invented in 2005. There’s a long history, stretching back to the 1930s, of movie serials and TV shows based on comic-book or comic-strip characters, and you might say that the tadpole version of the modern comic-book movie really appeared sometime in the 1960s, coinciding with the mainstream acceptance of pop art. There are marvelous comic-book movies from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s that few people think about anymore, and more recent examples that have either been unjustly underappreciated or that just don’t fit the DC/Marvel mold.

As a way of goosing the conversation about what comic book movies can and can’t be—or should or shouldn’t be—here are 10 underrated comic book films you should watch. I’ll admit that a few are idiosyncratic, pictures that may not be perfect but that somehow capture the disreputable thrills of the now-vanished era of comic books—that is, the days when comic books, in spite of their adventurous spirit and bounteous creativity, were a kind of outsider art frowned upon by the mainstream, as opposed to a multi-billion-dollar salmon farm for movies that cater to it.

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