Opinion: NEWSARAMA And The Infuriating Power of Lists

In this day and age, if you are a form of media that covers another form of media, eventually you will come up with a list. Rolling Stone has put out special, oversized volumes about what songs, albums and guitarists are the best in their eyes. Entertainment Weekly can be counted on at least one issue a year feature a list of some kind, most recently it was the “50 Best Films You’ve Never Seen” and “25 Best Cult TV Shows From the Past 25 years.” And VH1 and E! have made it a staple of their programming.

The reason why they turn to list making is simple–because it’s popular. In a world full of opinionated people, any collated list  that represents the authoritative ranking of anything will get attention. People want their tastes validated. Or, they want to see how wrong these media outlets are. These lists sell copies.  They garner high ratings. They get shared on Facebook. They get linked to. And the more controversial the better, For example, take Sight and Sound‘s yearly poll’s swapping of Citizen Kane with Vertigo and the furor that kicked up.

But sometimes, it appears that there’s more that goes into constructing these lists than just picking the best or worst of a particular medium. Some lists seem to be compiled just to garner controversy. Yes, there will be “no brainer” items on the list, but there will also be notable omissions as well. There will be items included that seems to serve no other purpose than to make people angry. And even if you agree with every item put on and left off, you have the rankings themselves to quarrel over.

A sterling example of this are two lists that have appeared on Newsarama.com, one of the oldest comic book news sites on the Internet, over the last week. One was the “10 Best Comic Book-Based Movie PERFORMANCES Of All Time” and the “10 Worst Comic Book-Based Movie PERFORMANCES of All Time.” Both lists were compiled by the “Newsarama Staff,” and both are controversial in their own right. At best, the lists were sloppily compiled with mind-numbing gaps of logic, at worst, the list were compiled deliberately to anger comic book movie fans and generate controversy.

Here is Newsarama’s 10 Best List:

  1. Heath Ledger, The Joker, The Dark Knight
  2. Robert Downey, Jr, Tony Stark/Iron Man, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, & The Avengers
  3. Gary Oldman, Commissioner Gordon, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises
  4. Hugh Jackman, Wolverine, X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men First Class
  5. J.K. Simmons, J. Jonah Jameson, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3
  6. Tom Hiddleston, Loki, Thor & The Avengers
  7. Chloe Grace Moretz, Hit-Girl, Kick-Ass
  8. Andrew Garfield, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man
  9. Anne Hathaway, Selina Kyle, The Dark Knight Rises
  10. Chris Evans, Jensen, The Losers
And here’s their 10 Worst:
  1. Most Everyone and Anyone in Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies
  2. Halle Berry, Storm, X-Men & Patience Phillips/Catwoman, Catwoman
  3. Billy Zane, The Phantom
  4. Matthew Goode, Ozymandias, Watchmen 
  5. Nicolas Cage, Ghost Rider & Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
  6. Julian McMahon, Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom, Fantastic Four & Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 
  7. Seth Rogen, The Green Hornet, The Green Hornet 
  8. Tobey Maguire, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3
  9. Christopher Reeve/Brandon Routh, Clark Kent/Superman, Superman, Superman II, Superman III, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, Superman Returns 
  10. January Jones, Emma Frost, X-Men: First Class

I have serious problems with these lists, problems that go way beyond differences of opinion (although I’ll have to comment on one glaring disagreement because if I don’t, my head will explode). The problems cause me to question the validity of the lists and Newsarama’s intentions. I’ll create my own list of where Newsarama’s logic went wrong, perhaps deliberately.

The lists are “best comic book-based performances” not “Best SUPERHERO comic book-based performances”: Granted, Newsarama focuses mostly on the mainstream superhero genre, and adding another word to the already gangly title would have made it even ganglier, but we have to take the titles of these articles to heart. That means, this should be the definitive list of ALL performances from ALL movies based an ALL kinds of comic books. Yet, there is no Paul Giamatti from American Splendor on this list. Nor is there Thora Birch or Steve Buscemi from Ghost World or Tom Hanks, Paul Newman or anyone else from Road to Perdition. 

I could go on. But what these titles are doing is advertising one thing and selling us another. And that is a recipe that is custom made to generate the kind of “you left XXX of the list” controversy that builds up links.

The Green Hornet? The Phantom? Comic Book-Based?: You’d think a news website with 10 years of independent coverage of the world of comic books would be able to tell what films were made from comic books and which ones weren’t. Baring that, you’d think they’d be able hire writers with an active connection to the Internet and the ability to access Google from it. Newsarama apparently is able to do neither.

The Green Hornet was based on a radio program that began in January1936. The Phantom was based on a comic strip that began in newspapers a few weeks after the Hornet made his first broadcast. . While both were adapted into comic books, neither originated there nor were their comics their most remembered incarnations. Calling The Green Hornet and The Phantom “comic book-based” would be like calling Star Wars and Star Trek comic book-based. And you can find far worse actors than Seth Rogen and Billy Zane in those franchises.

This might seem to be just a matter of semantics. But I believe it is indicative of the hap-hazard way these lists were constructed. Because you don’t have to look too hard to find two more bad performances in a film that was actually based on a comic book.

To Newsarama, “all time” means “within the last 12 years”: With the exception of The Phantom, the Schumacher Batman films, and the early Superman movies, all the films on the list were made after 2000. That means out of over 70 years of comic books being made into films, only a little over a decade of films were being seriously considered.

Yes, there have been a whole lot more comic book films to chose from in the last 12 years. But, as I realized doing my History of the Comic Book Film feature, the comic book film did not begin with X-Men. What? Newsarama couldn’t find a top ten worthy bad performance in SheenaRed Sonja, Howard the Duck or in Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher? And on the good side, what about Brandon Lee’s Crow, Jack Nicholson’s Joker or Wesley Snipes’ Blade? The fact that there wasn’t one performance from the above that made either list is a disservice to what Newsarama was trying to create. It shows tunnel vision, something that handicaps any attempt at creating a comprehensive list.

Their selection process is dubious and abitrary at best:  They pay lip service to the quality work Chris Evans has done in a number of comic book films, yet make a point of telling us that they can pick only one performance of his for the list (and the pick his least well-known role at that). Yet, Hallie Berry gets slammed for playing both Storm and Catwoman. They lump the combined casts of two films as one entry, and two actors who had played the same role almost 20 years apart as another selection.

You get the feeling they were making up the rules as they went along. Or, rather, constructing the rules of selection so that it suited them best.

Take, for instance, this “ground rule” from the introduction to the worst list.

…it would be way too easy and frankly not all that much fun to pick-on a lower class of Hollywood actor in barely feature-quality train wrecks like Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four or the 1980s Captain America. So yes, Shaquille O’Neal, you get immunity this day.

Okay, I’m no fan of Shaquille O’Neal, and I’m sure he would want his being left off a list of bad actors argued, but the reason Newsarama left him of the list just doesn’t make sense. When Shaq made Steel, he had already made two feature films (Blue Chips and Kazaam). And Steel was a $16 million dollar film made by Warner Brothers, not some film made for $200 and a bag of potato chips in someone’s basement. Could Shaq be considered a “lower class of actor”? Probably. But so could Billy Zane, king of the B-movie. Maybe if Shaq had a small part in Titanic, then Newsarama would have considered him worthy of inclusion.

This is how they defend their position:

Well, Tobey’s Peter Parker was naive and earnest enough, but he just didn’t have Parker’s inner beauty.

Yes. Really.

Putting Christopher Reeve on the list of worst actors might have been done just to anger people: I’m trying not to believe that they’d do something so wrong just to generate site hits, but Newsarama is not making it easy by how they open their defense of their opinion:

Yes, we’re going there, and in advance, we’re genuinely sorry you’re upset.

Yes, they went there, but did they go there thinking their opinion would be controversial, or knowing it would be controversial and get a lot of reaction?

Listen, whenever you have a list like this, there will be items on it that butt up against conventional wisdom. But seldom has there ever been a case where something flew in the face of overwhelming public opinion like Newsarama is is doing here.

If you are going to “go there,” then you’d better have an incredibly strong argument to back up your position. Unfortunately, Newsarama doesn’t.

…Reeve just wasn’t that accomplished a film actor.

In defense of this position we could point to his lack of much of a post-Superman resume, but the truth is now 30-plus years later with a more critical eye we simply don’t find his portrayal of Superman and Clark Kent very much like any Superman or Clark Kent we know… or like, for that matter.

His Clark wasn’t mild-mannered, he was a cartoonish buffoon. His Superman far too earnest and eager-to-please for someone with the power of a god. In short, he was a mild-mannered Superman, frankly lacking in the charisma you’d expect from an actor playing a cultural icon. A more theatrical rather than natural actor, Reeve’s Superman was a caricature of a comic book Boy Scout superhero and not a fully developed character.

Where to begin. Hmmm.

I wonder who this editorial “we” is? Perhaps it is someone who  is 12 and has only known the John Byrne interpretation of Superman. But, the character was around for 50 years before Byrne revamped him. Back when the film was made, the comic book Superman was a more staid version of the one found in the film. The mental image the editorial “we” has of Superman is so contrary to what the character’s image really is that it makes it seem that this entry came from a website that wouldn’t know a comic book if it fell in their lap, not a “respected” comic book news site.

I’m so glad they didn’t use Reeve’s lack of a post-Superman career as their only defense for their position, because is a defense that could be swatted away with one word–typecasting. Typecasting is the reason why Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher had less than stellar careers after Star Wars, and why Harrison Ford’s post-Star Wars career is so extraordinary. It is what the cast of the Harry Potter films are struggling with now, and what the cast of Twilight is working hard to avoid. Once you become so associated with such an iconic character, it’s hard for Hollywood to see you in any other role. This was the reason for Reeve’s lackluster post-Superman career, not lack of talent.

But Reeve’s performance was pitch perfect as Superman. I don’t know what the editorial “we” was thinking, but Superman doesn’t stand “Sarcasm, Bullying and Badassery”, he stands for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” Yes, Reeve’s Superman was earnest–and honest and forthright–but that IS Superman. And Reeve played him in such a way that he never was hokey or corny.

As for Clark Kent, Reeve played Kent as a role Superman was himself playing. Superman portrayed Kent as an awkward and bumbling fool so no one would see through the flimsy disguise and put two and two together. It’s a brilliant piece of acting, and if you aren’t able to pick that up, then you have no business talking about acting performances whatsoever.

I have to laugh at the  “30-plus years later with a more critical eye” part. Like that is supposed to win us over, that they’re looking at the performance in a serious manner as an adult, and therefore, he is right. That might have held more water if Chris Sims and David Uzumeri didn’t take a similar look back on the first Superman back in March for rival comic book news site Comics Alliance.  They ripped the film to shreds, but still called Reeve’s performance, and these are direct quotes, “amazing” and “darn near perfect.” So much for that argument.

Taking this into consideration, it’s hard to not believe the trashing of Reeve was done purely to garner controversy. If so, at least it worked. Not only am I talking about it, but also many comic book professionals, the people Newsarama make a living covering, took umbrage with the list as well.

Creators like Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott:

Marvel Comics editor Steve Wacker:

And legendary comic writer Mark Waid:

That tweet set off a Twitter war between Waid and Newsarama editor Lucas Siegel,which is not the behavior you expect from an editor who should be keeping a journalistic distance from one of people he would be covering, but it is the kind of behavior you’d expect if you want add more controversy to the already controversial matter.

Another sign that this whole thing might be hit bait is that they spun of the controversy to another article on the site, an OP/ED piece by frequent Newsarama contributor Vaneta Rogers , glorifying Reeve’s performance and giving yet another page full of ads for Newsarama from the controversial list.

I hope this isn’t the case, that Newsarama is manipulating the popularity of lists to gain hits for itself. Presenting honest, well-formed and well-thought out opinions is always something that should be striven for. But putting out incendiary opinions in a clumsy and hap hazard manner isn’t. And it looks like Newsarama did the latter and is trying to pass it off as the former.

About William Gatevackes 1670 Articles

William is cursed with the shared love of comic books and of films. Luckily, this is a great time for him to be alive. His writing has been featured on Broken Frontier.com, PopMatters.com and in Comics Foundry magazine.

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2 Comments on "Opinion: NEWSARAMA And The Infuriating Power of Lists"

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Jen
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I just wanted to say that I am so happy that you mentioned the whole “superhero” vs. “comic book movie” thing. By the time I got to the end of their list I, too, thought my head would explode. No Road to Perdition? Really?! How many Oscar winners were in that one? They clearly have no idea what they are talking about…

Vaneta Rogers
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I wish we were that organized at Newsarama to “plan” reader reaction, but our “lists” are usually just a group of editors and writers sitting around and doing what any group of geeks tend to do — arguing/discussing what character is better, or who would beat whom in a fight, or what we liked most/least in a comic. I’m not a staff writer (and I’m usually too busy interviewing folks to participate), so I’m usually not included in the “list” discussions — only every once in awhile. In the case of the NOW INFAMOUS REEVE RIDICULOUSNESS, I honestly read their… Read more »
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