?Over the last couple of decades, movies based on comics have become the mainstream. Superhero films have become the fuel that powers the summer box office, stylized war epics and crime stories have made Frank Miller a franchise all to himself and more and more comics miniseries seem more or less written to be film pitches (I’m looking at you, Mark Millar).
But not every movie based on a comic or a graphic novel is so clearly defined by its source material. For whatever reason — maybe the movie’s trying to appeal to an artier crowd or the producers want to sell it as a more straightforward thriller— some comics films don’t get promoted as such, and without the colorful characters and themes most people identify with comics, it’s not obvious that they’re the source material. Like, for instance, these (mostly) recent movies right here.
This flop from last year (it landed at an abysmal number 8 on Moviefone’s ten-worst list of 2009) was adapted from the critically acclaimed 1998 graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber, with some major changes. The plot remains largely intact, but the stakes are different (money replaced with plutonium) and a female character gets turned into a square-jawed tough guy, among other things. In large part, it plays as a shlocky thriller. So in this case, it might be best that the movie wasn’t much promoted as an adaptation, as it seems to have not sullied the GN’s mostly sterling reputation.
A 1999 movie almost everyone forgot (hard to believe with a cast like Jamie Lee Curtis and William Baldwin) based on a Dark Horse comic series almost everyone forgot by Chuck Pfarrer and Howard Cobb. It was about an alien — wait for it — virus that takes over a ship. Let’s move on.
This Bruce Willis vehicle was yet another 2009 flop for which the creators of the attached Top Shelf comic series (Robert Venditti and Brad Weldele) could maybe breathe a sigh or relief for being largely left out of the promotional machine. In short, the movie focuses on a mystery story set in a world where people uses cybernetic avatars rather than their own bodies. Pssssh. They should have known a movie where somebody remotely controls another, scientifically created body would never make money these days.
6) From Hell
Alan Moore fans know From Hell as one of his best-received graphic novels, but for those who only saw the 2001 Hughes Brothers movie featuring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, they wouldn’t know Moore had anything to do with it. He and artist Eddie Campbell’s names aren’t even in the trailer, and — despite the fact that it’s one of the only watchable adaptations of Moore’s comics work — Moore was pretty critical of it, especially the portrayal of Inspector Fred Abberline as an opium addict with a “dandy haircut.” Moore has become even less Hollywood-friendly over the years, vowing off any support for future adaptations of his work. But those – Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen included – have more comics-specific content, while From Hell plays more as a Jack the Ripper story that could have come from any medium.
5) 30 Days of Night
To its credit, 30 Days of Night‘s trailer does tout that it’s “based on the groundbreaking graphic novel,” but it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss it moment. And if you did happen to blink, it probably wouldn’t be your fault if you thought that this fall 2007 adaptation of writer Steve Niles and artist Ben Templesmith’s IDW horror series was just the first volley in the unrelenting barrage of vampire-related pop culture in the past few years.
You read that right; the world-renowned 1968 erotic cult movie starring Jane Fonda as a 40th Century, planet-hopping seductress is based on a comic. The original comic, a French strip by Jean-Claude Forest, was translated into English and made available by Grove Press in 1964, but the strip, widely considered to be one of the first “adult” comics on the market, hasn’t always been the easiest to find in the U.S.
3) A History of Violence
Director David Cronenberg’s 2005 meditation on the bad things men can do led him to the biggest critical success of his career. The movie gained Oscar nods for best screenplay and best supporting actor, a Golden Globe nod for best picture – drama and won all kinds of critics’ awards. But get this — Cronenberg didn’t even know the script was an adaptation of John Wagner and Vince Locke’s graphic novel until he started talking to screenwriter Josh Olson about revisions. Most of the audience that saw the movie, after considerable Oscar buzz, didn’t know, either (and, if the “comic experts” at NOW Magazine are to be believed, it was for the best).
2) Road to Perdition
Director Sam Mendes took yet another little-read crime GN (from, incidentally, the same publisher as A History of Violence) and made it into a prestige picture with 2002’s Road to Perdition. The movie ended up with six Oscar nominations, including best supporting actor and best cinematography. The first Perdition book has gained substantial critical acclaim as well. And, if that wasn’t enough, the GN that inspired the movie is based on a comic itself: The classic manga Lone Wolf and Cub.
Yup. That’s right. A movie with an end twist like Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy (if you haven’t seen it, let’s just say it’s rough) was based on a manga by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobukai Minegishi. That’s right, folks! Start the presses! Bang! Pow! Comics aren’t just for kids anymore!