There are a lot of movies out there. There are a lot of comic books out there too. Both have been made for over 80 years now, so it’s no surprise when a popular comic book is adapted into feature-film form (and on occasion, vice versa). We’re currently living through what is easily the high point of cinematic comic adaptations (at least in terms of sheer volume), and superheroes are all over the big screen – but comic books contain so much more than spandex-clad do-gooders! In fact, there’s been a crap-ton (very scientific term there) of movies to hit the theaters that you probably never even realized were based on comics.
This list is by no means all-inclusive, but I’ve rounded up 15 of the biggest and most intriguing movies that you might not have known started out in art-book form. Let’s take a look, shall we – and no, this isn’t one of those annoying sites where you have to click NEXT after every entry to visit a new page to help us build our site-view count! You’re welcome!
Big Hero 6
Comic Premiered in: 1998
Movie Premiered in: 2014
Believe it or not, this is another movie based off of a Marvel comic! That’s right, the House that Stan Built owns the intellectual rights to Baymax & Co. – which might help explain a little bit why we get an easter-egg post-credits cameo from Mr. Stan Lee himself. As you might imagine, the comic-book version of ‘BH6‘ is slightly different: it’s not as kid-friendly, with the team essentially serving as an X-Men: Japan Edition. Titled Sunfire & Big Hero 6, the Japanese government hires the titular sometimes-X-Man to create/recruit the team and help the country battle its bad guys. With only 10 issues created across a span of 13 years, the book certainly wasn’t Marvel’s most popular title by any stretch, but it had enough elements to make Disney select it as their first production after acquiring the comic book company.
Men in Black
Comic Premiered in: 1990
Movie Premiered in: 1997
As is the case with many comic books that are turned into family-oriented or all-ages films, ‘MiB‘ is considerably darker in tone in print form than what ended up on screen. They do share the same basic premise – a team of secret government agents work to protect the planet from alien activity, and the comic was originally published by Aircel… who were bought out by Malibu Comics… who were bought out by Marvel. Although not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (at least, not that we’ve been told about…YET), we do have “the big M” to thank for the movie version, as Marvel has owned the franchise since 1994.
Comic Premiered in: 1982 (titled “Le Transperceneige”)
Movie Premiered in: 2013 (limited) – 2014 (wide)
One of my personal favorite movies to come in the last 5 years, ‘Snowpiercer’ is such a break from the “normal” Hollywood fare, it’s insanely refreshing, and has great re-watching value. The original comic book came over 30 years before the film, and was produced only in French by its publisher, Casterman (now that the film is out, the story has received an English translation and reprint). The post-apocalyptic film is fairly faithful to the original, with both telling the class-warfare tale of the last living human group in a futuristic Ice Age aboard a perpetual-motion locomotive. The star of the film version, Chris Evans, was 1 year old when the comic was first released.
Road to Perdition
Comic Premiered in: 1998
Movie Premiered in: 2002
This is likely the most surprising entry on this list for many readers, due to the high profile of the movie’s cast and the plot, in general terms, not being what one would think of as very “comic book-ish.” Published by DC Comic’s side imprint Paradox Press, ‘Road to Perdition’ is set in the Great Depression era and tells the tale of a mob enforcer who is betrayed by mafia higher-ups and is forced into a quest for revenge while on the run with his son. The film, starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, and Daniel Craig, stays true to the book’s plot, which makes sense, as the writer of the graphic novel, Max Allan Collins, had input on the screenplay and also wrote the movie’s novelization.
Comic Premiered in: 1992
Movie Premiered in: 1994
In the 1990s, Dark Horse Comics was ALL OVER the superhero movie movement. They were essentially the Marvel of the last millennium, albeit on a vastly smaller scale. Their properties are featured a few times on this list, and ‘Timecop’ is another one of their tales that was fast-tracked from the written page to the big screen by company founder Mike Richardson, who also created the concept AND wrote the story for the film. He’s a do-it-all kinda guy, that Mike. In the original comic story, which ran as a 3-part tale in concurrent issues of the Dark Horse Comics anthology series, the “Time Enforcement Officer” tracked a criminal and robot bodyguard through the temporal stream; if the cinematic version, Jean-Claude Van Damme spends his time action-ing it up as a federal agent with the Time Enforcement Commission tasked with bringing down a corrupt, time-hopping politician. ‘Timecop’ is JCVD’s highest-grossing film of all time.
Comic Premiered in: 1987
Movie Premiered in: 1994
Jim Carrey at his prime… I know it’s hard to admit now, but back in the mid-1990s we were all bonkers for the guy! The movie version of ‘The Mask’ is just about as wild as Carrey has ever been on-screen, playing the hapless Stanley Ipkiss to perfection when he puts on an ancient wooden mask that transforms its wearer into a maniacal, magical trickster. The comic version is a long-running string of mini-series that has seen the mask fall into many different hands – including, believe it or not, Batman’s arch-nemesis The Joker. ‘The Mask’ began its life not as a character but simply as a tool that was passed from person to person until eventually, comic writers gave the green “Big Head” more of a personality of his own.
A History of Violence
Comic Premiered in: 1997
Movie Premiered in: 2005
When a film is so prestigious, and the A-list talent and award accolades are piled so high, the general public can be legitimately shocked to learn that the movie is – gasp! the horror! – adapted from a comic book. But that is exactly what happened with ‘A History of Violence;’ directed by David Cronenberg, the movie was a hit with both critics and audiences, putting it in competition for the Palm d’Or and earning it multiple Academy Award nominations. The graphic novel is no slouch either: written by John Wagner and illustrated by Vincent Locke, it was nominated for the Angoulême International Comics Festival Prize. A story about a small-town diner owner whose past gets called into question when he kills two men in self-defense, there are a few extra fun facts about the film: it was reportedly the final movie ever to be produced on VHS, and it was the first adaptation of one of Wagner’s stories since 1995’s ‘Judge Dredd.’ Any film that has a legitimate Judge Dredd tie-in has GOT to be good…right?
Comic Premiered in: 2005
Movie Premiered in: 2006
This one might feel a little backward: the graphic novel is actually based on the original script of writer-director Darren Aronofsky’s film of the same name, whose first production was actually cancelled. The first iteration of the film was set to star Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, and had a budget of $70 million; after Warner Brothers shut it down, Aronofsky handed the script off to illustrator Kent Williams, who created the visuals of the book while Aronofsky gave the cinematic version a second go. With a sparser script and $35 million as the budget, the story about multiple characters who may or may not be the same people across three past-present-and-future storylines (played by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz instead of Pitt and Blanchett) was told and has gained quite a cult following these days. It’s definitely one of the trippiest films I’ve ever seen, and I recommend it as a definite “thinker” film.
Alien vs. Predator
Comic Premiered in: 1989
Movie Premiered in: 2004
Yes, both of these franchises did start their lives as films – but it was on the printed page that they first crossed over! You can thank Dark Horse Comics’ licensing team for this one: since both the Alien and Predator franchises are 20th Century Fox properties, when Dark Horse attained the comic rights to Fox’s library of material, they smashed the two universes together in a comic anthology, and the rest is future history. 20th Century Fox tested the waters for big-screen viability crossover when they showed an Alien skull in a Predator trophy room in ‘Predator 2;’ the fan response was so positive that Fox decided to go ahead and ruin everything with two very poor films about the matter.
Comic Premiered in: 1993
Movie Premiered in: 2001
If you didn’t think that an emotional and cerebral film such as ‘Ghost World’ would ever be translated from a comic book… well, you’d be half-right. The graphic novel of the same name had a much darker tone and was extremely sparse in its illustrated approach. Somehow, though, both iterations of the story work extremely well and each are celebrated in their own right. The film was a starring vehicle for a young Scarlett Johansson, and although the movie didn’t initially resonate with audiences, it was well-received by critics and has seen above-average interest in the home video market. The comic, written by Daniel Clowes, took a much more somber tact to the themes of adolescence and modern life and was actually nominated for an Academy Award for the adapted screenplay.
Comic Premiered in: 1993
Movie Premiered in: 1997
Oh my. Where to begin with this one. While many people may already know that this movie does have comic origins, they may not know exactly where in the DC Comics mythos the character came from. While Steel isn’t too shabby in the comic books – he was one of four heroes to attempt to take up Superman’s mantle after the Man of (ahem) Steel was “killed” by Doomsday, the movie version of ‘Steel’ is just downright hideous. The use of NBA big-man Shaquille O’Neal as the lead character just screams “stunt casting” and the action and storyline are just one cartoonish cliché after another. It’s no wonder that the film made a scant $1.7 million at the box office – and with a budget of $16 million, it easily goes down in history as one of the biggest comic-book movie flops of all time.
Comic Premiered in: 1979
Movie Premiered in: 1999
Sometimes when you’re a trend-setter, people just don’t understand your genius. The film version of ‘Mystery Men’ came out years before the explosion of superheroes on the big screen, and quite frankly skewered the genre to a T. The comic-book version of the group features a largely different lineup of characters, including one of my all-time favorite comic creations, The Flaming Carrot: sporting SCUBA flippers and a four-foot-long carrot mask with a perpetually-burning flame at the top, his origin story is described as thus: “having read 5,000 comics in a single sitting to win a bet, this poor man suffered brain damage and appeared directly thereafter as—the Flaming Carrot!” Both comic and film are absurdly entertaining, and definitely worthy of ownership in any eccentric nerd’s collection.
Comic Premiered in: 1973
Movie Premiered in: 1998
That this entry is based on a comic may not necessarily shock you, but until this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, most folks may not have even known that Blade is a member of the Marvel Universe. The enigmatic vampire hunter has featured in many different comic series (as well as his own, of course), including Nightstalkers, multiple Spider-Man titles, and he even featured fairly prominently in the recent Civil War storyline. On the film side, Wesley Snipes is most famous for portraying Blade across three movies; the biggest questions from fans of “is Blade part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?” and if so, “when and how will he appear?” seem to have been answered with the announcement of a Blade film coming in the MCU’s Phase 4, with Mahershala Ali taking over the lead role.
Comic Premiered in: 1950
Movie Premiered in: 1985
Yes, even the most successful directors need inspiration from other people’s works from time to time, so when comedy superstar John Hughes was looking for his next big hit in the mid-‘80s, he turned to the pulpy pages of classic EC Horror comic Weird Science. In issue #5, the story “Made of the Future” outlined the tale of two nerds attempting to create the perfect woman; the situation in and of itself has enough elements to lend to laughs with a convenient geeky overlay, so several script re-writes and one big heaping of Kelly LeBrock later, an iconic cult comedy was born.
Comic Premiered in: 1982
Movie Premiered in: 1991
One of the all-around coolest retro-style characters ever, I immediately fell in love with the 1930s-set story of stunt pilot Cliff Secord and his heroic misadventures after stumbling onto a prototype jetpack. Both the comics and the Disney film managed to capture the great mix of action, comedy, and nostalgic appreciation without being too “campy.” Writer-illustrator Dave Stevens actually sold the rights to the film version of the story in 1983, but the project languished in “development hell” until Michael Eisner and Disney pushed it into existence. The movie was well-received by critics but, for whatever reason, never became a smash hit with audiences. It’s definitely worth a re-watch if you haven’t seen it in a while (or a what-the-Hell-have-you-been-doing-with-your-life first watch, if necessary), and the original comic run has been beautifully collected, recolored, and reprinted by IDW for your reading pleasure.
There you are, friends: more than a dozen films that came right off the illustrated page (more or less). Now it’s your turn: know of any other movies that we might not realize are based on comics? Which movie on this list surprised you the most? Sound off in the comments below!