2016 has seen the release of no less than seven movies based on superhero comic books. The likes of Suicide Squad and Captain America: Civil War wear their comic book origins proudly on their sleeves. Superheroes are big business today, so studios see no reason to disguise that their films are based on comics. It’s why the X-Men no longer wear black leather uniforms.
But what of the movies that were based on comics of the non-superhero variety? Several of these works have been adapted into movies over the years.
10. 30 Days Of Night (2007)
30 Days Of Night was a grisly and terrifying horror film that starred Josh Hartnett and Melissa George. It features one of the best ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ plots in horror fiction. A small Alaskan town named Barrow is beset by a horde of bloodthirsty vampires during its annual 30-day polar night; an entire month in which there is no sunlight.
The movie, based on the comic by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, was a success. It took $75 million worldwide on a budget of $30 million. It spawned one Direct-to-DVD sequel. The movie generally looked upon fondly by horror fans as a pleasingly nasty and bloody interpretation of the vampire myth.
9. From Hell (2001)
Johnny Depp’s 2001 Jack The Ripper mystery is based on a classic comic by writer Alan Moore and artist Eddie Campbell. The story was originally serialized between 1989 and 1996. The graphic novel collection became a massive seller for many years afterward.
From Hell's story plays with the idea that the Ripper murders were all part of a conspiracy involving the Royal Family. It posits that the physician to Queen Victoria, Sir William Gull, had killed the prostitutes. They were witnesses to the fact that the Queen’s son, Prince Albert, had fathered an illegitimate child.
8. 2 Guns (2013)
Despite a powerhouse cast headlined by two of the biggest male stars in Hollywood (Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg) 2 Guns was a fairly forgettable affair. It received middling reviews. Though it did decent numbers at the box office ($131 million worldwide on a budget of $61 million), it's not exactly a movie that many people remember. The source material, published by Boom Studios, is hardly a classic either.
The movie was an entertaining diversion; a crime caper action comedy that coasted by on the charisma and interplay of its two leads.
7. Oblivion (2013)
This 2013 science-fiction film starring Tom Cruise is a strange case within the realm of comic book adaptations. Can it still be considered an adaptation if the comic book source material was never released? Perhaps.
The whole case is somewhat controversial in comic book circles. Director Joseph Kosinski told Empire Magazine that, in 2007, he had written a treatment for Oblivion as a movie. However, when the Writer’s Strike occurred, he had no way to actually write the script. Seeking a workaround, Kosinski partnered with comic book publisher Radical Comics in order to keep the project alive. He developed a series of images and refined the story over a period of years.
He put all this material together in a pitch-kit for movie studios and received the green light. Kosinski freely admitted this was always his intent. Asked whether the world would ever see a printed version, an honest Kosinski said he had no plans to actually produce it as a graphic novel!
6. A History Of Violence (2005)
Perhaps the most critically-acclaimed film on this list, A History Of Violence is widely seen as one of David Cronenberg’s very best directorial efforts. Nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Adapted Screenplay for writer Josh Olson and Best Supporting Actor for William Hurt), the film was a success. It appeared in many critics’ Best Of 2005 lists and was a success at the box office to boot. Star Viggo Mortensen speaks glowingly of the film. He believes it's as close to a perfect film noir as he has ever seen.
Written by John Wagner (co-creator of Judge Dredd) and with art by Vince Locke, the original graphic novel was well-received within the comic book arena. Most observers maintain, however, that Cronenberg elevated the material on its journey to the big screen.
5. The Losers (2010)
This action comedy is probably best remembered nowadays for featuring a cast filled with actors from other comic book movies. Headline star Jeffrey Dean Morgan had previously starred as The Comedian in Watchmen, while supporting cast members Chris Evans, Idris Elba and Zoe Saldana all went on to become members of the all-conquering Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Losers was published by Vertigo Comics between 2003 and 2006 and was written by Andy Diggle, with art by Jock. Maybe audiences felt that it was a familiar proposition though, with the plot bearing a few striking resemblances to classic 80’s TV show The A-Team. Coincidentally, the movie adaptation of that had its big-screen outing only a few months after The Losers hit cinema screens.
4. Whiteout (2009)
This Kate Beckinsale thriller has one of the biggest chasms between quality of the film versus quality of the comic. With a 7% rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it has an average review score of 3.5/10. It was also a significant failure at the box office (a return of $17 million dollars on a budget of $35 million ). Whiteout took a beating from all corners.
This is a stark contrast to the superlative comic book miniseries published by Oni Press in 1998. Nominated for three Eisner Awards (the comic book equivalent of the Oscars), the comic was lauded by critics and fans alike. It spawned a sequel, Whiteout: Melt. The movie adaptation, however, wasn't so lucky.
3. Road To Perdition (2002)
This 2002 crime drama starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman was a massive success both commercially and critically. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards (winning one, a posthumous award for Cinematographer Conrad L Hall). It deftly explored the consequences of violence, as well as the difficulties of father-son relationships.
Road To Perdition was actually based on a lurid and excessively violent graphic novel. And if this reminds anyone of the backstory of A History Of Violence, it should. That film was also an Oscar nominated crime drama that wowed critics and audiences, but was based on pulpy source material. Paradox Press, an imprint of DC Comics, published both graphic novels.
2. Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
Cowboys & Aliens is, similarly to Oblivion, a bizarre case in the history of comics to film. The eventual 2011 film, starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, began its development a full 14 years previously. Universal Pictures and Dreamworks Pictures bought the film rights to a pitch by former Malibu Comics President Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. At this time, the concept was described as a graphic novel in development, but it wasn’t until 2006 that a Cowboys & Aliens graphic novel was finally published by Platinum Studios.
A lot of filmgoers were confused at how straight and humourless director Jon Favreau chose to play the undoubtedly silly concept so, consequently, the movie adaptation underperformed at the box office.
1. Ghost World (2001)
In 2001, a young Scarlett Johansson starred in Ghost World, an off-kilter indie comedy-drama directed by Terry Zwigoff. It co-starred Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi. Based on the 1997 graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, it is the story of two pseudo-intellectual, misanthropic and cynical teenage girls who spend their days wandering aimlessly around their unnamed American town. It has developed into something of a cult-classic over the years.
Ghost World was about as far away from men in tights punching each other as it was possible to get, which is a good example of how the medium of comics can offer so much more than what many may realize.