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Top Ten Movies You Might Not Know Were Based on Comics

2 guns
You’ve probably seen the posters or trailer for the new action-comedy film 2 Guns, starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. It concerns a DEA agent and a Naval Intelligence Officer who each attempt to go undercover with a drug cartel, botch things, then have to team up to get out alive. You may not be aware that this movie was based on a Boom! Studios graphic novel by Steven Grant, but it is. Comics and graphic novels are being adapted left and right into movies and have been for years, and for every Batman, Spider-Man, or Watchmen, there have been just as many that were based on comics you probably haven’t read. Some of these movies even have Oscar nominations! Here is a list of our ten favorite movies you may not have known were based on comic books:

Weird Science

John Hughes made a lot of movies about teenagers trying to be cool and finding their place in the world, so it didn’t seem like much of a stretch for him to tell the story of two nerds (Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith) who create a super hot woman (Kelly LeBrock) using computers. This wasn’t a Hughes original, though; it was actually based on the 1950s EC title of the same name, and specifically the fifth issue featuring a story called “Made of the Future.” It was pre-Comics Code Authority, so all bets were off, you understand.

Road to Perdition

Sam Mendes’ haunting and somber tale of a mob-enforcer father who has to take his eldest son on the lam and seek revenge on his boss following the murder of the rest of his family had amazing visuals, performances, and score, all of which were recognized at the Academy Awards that year, getting six nominations and one win for the great Cinematographer Conrad L. Hall. It was a massive box-office hit and it also happened to be based on a 1998 comic book series by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner. In a further trip down the rabbit hole, the comic was a loose adaptation of the classic manga series Lone Wolf and Cub. The levels, man.

A History of Violence

David Cronenberg’s harrowing and twisty film about a simple man in Indiana (Viggo Mortensen) who, after a freak act of violent heroism, gets assumed to be a notorious gang member is full of pathos, family confrontation, and attempted redemption. It was also based on a comic book. Josh Olson’s Oscar-nominated screenplay left out the bulk of the graphic novel, which detailed the main character’s criminal past at length, and instead focused on the man attempting to put it all behind him, even if he’s got it in his blood.

Ghost World

There are some comics that are actually funny. I know, it’s sort of a shock. Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World was one of these “weird” books that were about people living and thinking. It followed the day-to-day life of two cynical and witty teenage girls, Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer, who wander around aimlessly, criticizing pop culture and people around them. Sounds perfect for director and indie-comics fan Terry Zwigoff, who adapted the book into a film in 2001. And, sensing a theme, Zwigoff and Clowes were nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay.

Oldboy

Comic books, even great ones, still have a stigma in the US as being “kid stuff,” but in Asia, manga is the preferred medium of storytelling. It only seemed natural for there to be an adaptation of Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi’s mid-’90s title, Old Boy. South Korean director Chan-wook Park chose this gritty and utterly twisted story of a man held prisoner for 15 years for seemingly no reason only to be released in order to follow clues as his second film about revenge. And you may have heard, it’s getting an American remake from Spike Lee later this year.

Persepolis

Sometimes, a graphic novel’s style doesn’t lend itself to live action, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done equally well, if not better, as an animated film. Marjane Satrapi’s illustrated autobiography about living in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution had beautiful black-and-white art which added much to the story and so, rather than try to change that, the 2007 film just animated her drawing style. It got an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, too, bee-tee-dubs.

From Hell

Alan Moore’s From Hell is a tome. It’s one of the more dense graphic novels in history, and certainly has more text than you might assume. At 572 pages, it’s longer than the first three Harry Potter novels, which is why it was going to be difficult to adapt it into a film, especially given Moore’s now famous proclivity toward hating movies based on his work. Directed by the Hughes Brothers, the film starred Johnny Depp as a much more attractive version of Inspector Abberline as he investigates the grisly Jack the Ripper murders. If you didn’t know about Moore’s book, you’d probably never know the movie was based on it.

The Rocketeer

The closest title on this list to what generally gets adapted from comic books, Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer books were by no means a household name in 1991 when Disney came a-calling. Taking a bevy of references from classic 1930s and 40s Hollywood movie serials, the comic and the film, directed by Joe Johnston, were a rollicking action-adventure good time. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t do particularly well and another cinematic outing for the speeding hood ornament has never materialized. Though we still think that movie is awesome beyond words.

Timecop

What? Timecop? That early-’90s Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle that inexplicably spun off into a short-lived TV series? It was a comic book? Yes. It ran for three issues in 1992 in Dark Horse Comics when it was just an anthology book. It was written by Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson, who also wrote the movie and its sequel. Whether or not he had the Muscles From Brussels in mind when he was writing is anybody’s guess.

The Crow

Before he gave us Dark City or I, Robot, director Alex Proyas made an adaptation of James O’Barr’s incredibly popular 1989 comic about a murdered man resurrected by the mystical entity of a crow to seek revenge on those who did him wrong. The movie is, sadly, best remembered for containing the final work of actor Brandon Lee, who was tragically shot with a supposedly unloaded prop gun during filming.

Comments

  1. Brian Walton says:

    Hey John, what nerds don’t like to have these conversations?

  2. I had never heard of oldboy, but knew the rest… I would have perhaps substituted Men In Black instead.

  3. ash says:

    Persepolis is an awesome comic! Then when I saw the movie in the theater, I was so happy how it came out! I was just a lovely way to keep the feel of Marjane Satrapi’s story. If you haven’t seen it, people, you MUST!

  4. pk says:

    I would think most people knew about the crow

  5. John Belden says:

    Methinks the Nerdist has forgotten his audience here. Who *didin’t* know these films (or at least most of them) were in graphic novel form first?

  6. Peter Whitney says:

    I was thinking Men In Black also. And I agree with Wanted, it’s strayed from the comic just as Cowboys and Aliens did. But where’s the love for Mystery Men?

  7. Adam, have no fear. “The Rocketeer” is one of those films that holds up VERY well. It didn’t do well, I think, because people just didn’t know what it was. Marketing then wasn’t what it is now. It was in many ways the reason that Joe Johnston was given “Captain America – The First Avenger” to direct.

  8. Mellissalynn says:

    Um…wait…how did Men In Black not make this list? Heck, for that matter, how many people remember that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started as a black-and-white comic book? An argument could also be made for V For Vendetta replacing From Hell, but I can let that go if you can. :P

  9. Mark S. says:

    It might be argued that Wanted strays so far from the book that it stopped being based on it by the final re-write. That said, I much preferred the movie’s far more human story to Millar’s juvenile rape and excretia fantasy anyway.

    Road to Perdition and History of Violence are two of my primary arguing points for the fact that comics aren’t just superhero stories for kids (and that there’s a much better host of adaptations available there than in 70’s television). Though it still seems an uphill battle.

  10. Eddie says:

    Chad- To say ‘Wanted’ was based on a comic is like saying Abraham Lincold, Vampire Hunter was based on real historical figures- yeah, technically there was a comic called Wanted that had some characters with the same names in it, but other than that, almost nothing of the comic was retained- no Supervillains (the whole damn point of the story), ‘Kill one, save a thousand’ (utter horseshit, seeing as how the main character in Wanted was an unapologetic rapist and murderer looking to wreak vengeance on the world for the pathetic life he’d had so far), BULLET BENDING (I give up). The movie ‘Wanted’ was a perfect example of what can go horribly, horribly wrong when a studio gets too much control over a comic property. They took a unique idea and focus-grouped it into PC hell.

  11. Adam says:

    I’m just gratified to know that other people think “The Rocketeer” is as awesome as I thought it was as a kid, although I’m wondering if it’s actually as good as I remember!

  12. Chad says:

    We actually just covered this on a show we do called Instant Film Review! That is awesome. We covered Perdition, HIstory of Violence, The Losers, and Wanted. Very cool to see this today. If you want an awesome read, check out the other books in the Road to Perdition series. It will make you upset that they didn’t make the sequels.

  13. Jason G says:

    “From Hell” is also basically Ripped (!) off from “Murder by Decree.”

  14. With the exception of “Weird Science”(even though it makes sense now that it’s based off an “EC” Comic) I knew about the other movies being based on comics. Proof positive not all “Comic Book” movies are about “SuperHero’s”. I get the feeling the general public knows that.