We all know the Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, and Jonah Hexs of the world, comic book movies which loudly trumpet their origins, because suddenly they’re cool. However, there are a slew of movies out there that almost no one knew came from comics. Some are more obscure than others, but all had their origins from funny books. Some came out better than the original, many worse, but all were interesting.
14. When the Wind Blows
While it may seem self evident that this cartoon is based on a near-identical comic by the same artist, a number of people have never seen Raymond Briggs’ paper work. Check out Fungus the Bogeyman, it’s awesome. Many of you probably know When The Wind Blows as a source of horror and tears as a child, as your parents blindly thought that any cartoon was kid friendly, and rented it for you. Little did they know it chronicled a middle-aged working class couple dying of radiation poisoning after bombs were dropped. As the they struggle to survive in the destruction, they reminisce over WWII, their hair and teeth fall out, and they slowly die from radiation sickness. It’s beautiful, touching, and deeply traumatising for kids.
We have Blade to thank for the current success of comic book movies â€” even though many people didn’t realise it was based on one to begin with. The movie didn’t make any campy catcalls to its origins, instead playing the vampire action film as straight as possible, which resulted in it performing admirably. Blade wasn’t exactly an A list hero, and in the wake of Batman & Robin, this was a good thing. Wesley Snipes as an ass-kicking vampire killer? What’s not to love? Frankly, keeping the comic connection to a minimum was probably wise, given the bad taste that Batman & Robin left in many mouths. Due to its success, the X-Men films were ordered, and then Spider-Man, which led on to the likes of Iron Man and Batman Begins.
A generation of kids spontaneously became goths due to this film. Brandon Lee’s haunted portrayal of a lover brought back from the dead for revenge, coupled with his tragic death during the film made this instant gothbait. Combine with a soundtrack filled with NIN and The Cure, and black lacy panties were dropping left and center, and everyone was painting their face white for Halloween. The Crow was originally a comic from 1989, and while the hairstyles may seem a bit dated, the book is absolutely fantastic. James O’Barr created it to deal with the death of his girlfriend, and his blinding grief seeps into each and every page. From the gorgeous pencil work of the flashbacks to the dark inks of the action scenes, the comic cuts harder and deeper than the movie did, which is saying something.
This pulpy Disney flick debuted in 1991, carrying a look that hearkened back to the action serials of the 30s and 40s. Rayguns and rocketpacks, Flash Gordon and evil aliens. All that kind of jazz. The film was a moderate success, and was one of Jennifer Connelly’s early roles. The film was more fun that it was good, and lead to thousands of kids run around their house with pots on their heads, and vacuum cleaners on their backs. The original comic was actually pretty similar in tone, but packed with luscious art. The creator was Dave Stevens, who was a notorious perfectionist. All told, there are probably only 12 issues focused on the character, because Stevens was so meticulous in his work. He tragically passed on in 2008, without finishing the story. Pick up the collected edition if you ever see it, because it’s filled with adventure, amazing art, and stunning pin-ups.
10. The Surrogates
This 2009 action flick dropped many of the comic book trappings, and was instantly classified as being too slick, and failing to live up to the excellent premise from which it sprang. Yup, those are the bits that were included in the original, fairly obscure, comic. While the book had one or two bits which wouldn’t translate well on screen â€” most notably the dark figure of Steeplejack jumping from roof to roof, killing surrogates, it also had a much more nuanced plot, and bleaker ending. Plus you didn’t have Bruce Willis in a floppy blond toupee.
Remember when JVCD was a legit badass? His Belgian high kicks made this his highest grossing film of all time, plus he sported a sweet mullet for a chunk of the movie. It was generally regarded as one of his better films, and he almost acted in a few scenes. The movie was co-written by Mike Richardson and Mark Verheiden, based on a comic by the latter. Verheiden later went on to write a big chunk of Battlestar Galactica and Caprica, if that gives you an idea of his writing chops. It was drawn by Phil Hester, who is one of the most distinctive (and all around excellent) artists in the biz. Quite a pedigree, for a mediocre scifi action flick.
8. Weird Science
Weird Science â€” both the 80s movie and the 90s TV show â€” took their name from a classic science fiction comic story run by EC Comics in the early 50s. It was in the same vein as Tales from the Crypt, presenting a new story or stories with each issue. The rights to the title were picked up in the mid 80s, along with all other EC titles. The film (and subsequent show) were an expansion of a single story from a single issue: Al Feldstein’s story “Made of the Future” from issue 5. Not exactly an epic, decades long saga like some other stories that have been adapted from comics for film, but they managed to get a cult classic 80s movie, a TV show, and a kickass Oingo Boingo song out of a short story â€” you can’t complain about that.
Whiteout remains possibly my greatest disappointment when it comes to movies based on comics. The original story was by Greg Rucka, who is one of the finest crime writers in comics, rivaled only by Ed Brubaker. His 1999 miniseries about a string of murders at McMurdo Station was tense and claustrophobic, set against the oppressive conditions of winter in Antarctica. It won Eisner Awards for “Best Writer”, “Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team” and “Best Limited Series” in 1999, and “Best Graphic Album” in 2000. And then it sat it development hell for a decade, until an utterly shit thriller starring Kate Beckinsale was produced. Universally panned, it only brought in $12 million from a budget of $35 million. It’s always saddening when an absolutely amazing story, which would be perfect if filmed the right way, gets turned into utter dreck like this.
6. A History of Violence
When I heard Cronenberg was going to be directing this adaptation, I was overjoyed. Nobody does dark and horrific violence like Cronenberg, and I was right. Except, it was disappointing to discover that one of the most heart-rending and fucked up moments of the original comic got completely removed. If you’ve read the book, you know the bit I’m talking about, the gut-wrenching twist that happens just before the final act. However, by removing that scene, Cronenberg changed the story into one that was much more focused on the protagonist’s family and their relationship, as well as the effect that violence can have on people. It’s a much more personal tale for it, and ended up being nominated for three Academy Awards.
5. The Losers
There’s something to be said for a dumb action movie, only it’s a shame when it loses the smarts of its source material. The Losers on film was a great flick, if you walked in wanting an ensemble action movie, replete with explosions and heists. The only real downside to it was the absolutely retarded MacGuffin they gave the villain, which made no sense. It was a great popcorn film. The comic, however, was something much, much greater. There were no stupid weapons of mass destruction, instead it was all about revenge. Immaculately planned, heist-like revenge. The comic’s now available in two collected volumes, and are worth picking up. The title catapulted the UK duo of Andy Diggle and Jock in the US spotlight, and the pair have been doing very well for themselves ever since.
4. Road to Perdition
This is the one almost no one knows about. It was directed by Sam Mendes, produced by Spielberg, starred Tom Hanks, Paul Newman (in his last role) and Jude Law. It was critically extremely well received, earned more than $180 million, and was nominated for 6 Oscars. The cinematography was absolutely stunning, and the film was packed with symbolism. It’s remarkably close to its source material, about Irish American mob enforcer trying to escape with his son from a hit put out on him. It’s one of the least comicy comic movies, and instead of tights, superheroics, or unbelievable stunts, you have a painstakingly researched historical drama â€” which was ripe for adaptation.
3. Mystery Men
I never understood how this film didn’t get a ton more attention than it received. Hank Azaria, William H. Macy and Ben Stiller in a movie about b-list superheroes, with most of the dialogue improvised? It was comedy gold, but went widely unrecognized. Everyone assumed the pastiche on superheroes was poking fun at comics â€” and it was â€” but it was also loosely based on one: Flaming Carrot. A guy, with a giant carrot on his head, which was perpetually on fire. It was a completely nonsensical book, and all the better for it. When I watched Mystery Men, my two greatest disappointments were that Carrot never showed up, and the Shoveller no longer gained his powers by finding the legendary shovel of King Arthur.
2. Men in Black
It’s not often that I’ll call a film better than the source material, but Men in Black was. In fact, it was much, much better. Astonishingly so. The comic was originally published by Aircel comics, which was bought by Malibu, which was then picked up by Marvel. The comic Men in Black was a violent, thuggish series. The characters were boorish, ultra-violent louts, who happily slaughtered anything that came in their way. The Men in Black themselves were attempting to ruthlessly control the world, in a humorless and 90s X-TREME kinda way. When the movie was made, the tone was lightened, and lo and behold, humor was added! And it was good! Shocking, I know, but sometimes you have to push past the source material.
1. Ghost World
Arguably the finest example of an underground comic going to film, Ghost World was critically admired, though didn’t exactly bust the blocks. You probably remember it as the first time you noticed Scarlett Johansson. While some details from the books are changed, and Steve Buscemi’s character gets a much, much larger part, the overall themes of teen alienation and attempted rebellion remain remarkably true to their origin. We all remember how crappy it was to be a teenager, and have no idea what or where you wanted to go with your life, stuck in limbo with people you really had nothing in common with. Ah, the ennui of being a teenager! Seriously, though, it’s a fantastic movie based on an absolutely amazing comic.