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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.