Despite popular belief, comic books are not a genre (I should know, I read far too much of them). Comic books are in fact an entertainment medium composed of different genres. So while tales about super strong guys in capes with their underwear on the outside is by far the most popular of these genres, comic books can be as varied as… well, movies. And while some may think that we’re currently seeing a boom in comic book movie adaptations, it’s actually just a boom specifically in superhero comic book adaptations; filmmakers have been turning to comic books for years for inspiration, you probably just didn’t notice due to the lack of spandex and eye-lasers. Here are 10 of those movies that you (probably) didn’t know find their roots in some drawings on a page.
Yes, Annie, she of the hard knock life and the solar procrastination. Before being turned into the musical loved around the world in various on-screen and on-stage incarnations, the little orphan girl with the red curly hair first began life in the 1920’s comic book “Little Orphan Annie”. By 1930’s, Annie was on the radio, and after hitting the big screen first in 1932, there’s been no stopping her with a new version starring Quevenzhane Wallis in the title role n the way later this year.
One of Jean Claude Van Damme’s best 90’s efforts – and which features arguably the greatest mullet of his entire career – Timecop actually began life as an early 90’s Dark Horse comic book by Mark Verheiden. Yes, it only ran for 3 issues, but those were enough to convince Hollywood to produce a sci-fi action romp feature film – off a pretty faithful screenplay also penned by Verheiden – which featured one of Van Damme’s more solid performances, ridiculous theoretical time travel physics and kitchen counter splits.
- The Mask
Cameron Diaz’s breakout role came in this zany 1994 Jim Carrey vehicle that saw the rubber faced funnyman perfectly cast as a canary yellow suit wearing cartoon god of mischief brought to life. Carrey’s unhinged antics were a massive hit with audiences, particularly families and young kids. All of whom may have looked at things a bit differently had they known the movie was based on a late 80’s Dark Horse comic book that kept the same basic premise – socially inept loser finds a magical mask that grants him crazy powers – but had way, WAY more excessive violence and mass murder, coupled with a pitch black tone darker than Darryn’s shrivelled heart.
- Weird Science
John Hughes’ cult classic 1985 sci-fi comedy has all the trappings and tropes of classic golden age comics, and yet most people don’t know that that’s exactly where it all began. Hughes’ tale about two high school nerds who use ridiculous science and accidental lightning bolts to create their perfect woman, who just so happens to end up having superhuman abilities, was actually based on a story titled ” Made of the Future” found in an issue of a very old sci-fi anthology comic book series called “Weird Science”.
- The Addams Family
A few of you may know that the macabre, finger-snapping 1991 Addams Family movie starring the late, great Raul Julia was based on a cult classic 1960’s TV series. But Gomez and the gang actually began their lives (deaths?) nearly three decades earlier in a small comic strip by artist Charles Addams that ran regularly in The New Yorker for half a century, from 1938 to 1988. Addams – that’s the creator not the character – used a single panel format that worked best with small jokes and but didn’t leave much room for world building (the characters only got names for the first time in the TV series), but the basis of the kooky offbeat humour and ghoulish gags found in the movie was all there from the start.
And now you’re all humming that theme song aren’t you? Duh-duh-duh-duhn *snap* *snap*
- Road To Perdition
Sam Mendes’ Oscar-winning Depression era drama is probably the exact opposite of what many people consider a comic book movie, but that’s exactly what it is. The Tom Hanks starring Road To Perdition is based on Max Allan Collins’ Vertigo Crime comic series from the late 1990’s, which in turn is based on acclaimed 1970’s manga series “Lone Wolf and Cub” (which actually inspired several other direct movie adaptations over the years). The crime-thriller is notable not just for being the last film to star the late, great Paul Newman, but also due Conrad Hall’s posthumous Oscar win for cinematography. Mendes and Hall capture the comics use of stark imagery over dialogue to convey the film’s message, resulting in the rain-soaked, shadowy visuals that netted Hall his golden statue.
- Ghost World
The last movie the talented, at the time up and coming Thora Birch starred in before her crazy family relegated her to a life of bit roles and Hollywood obscurity (that’s a story for another day), Ghost World is a witty, touching, heartfelt Oscar and Golden Globe nominated coming-of-age dramedy. The critically lauded 2001 film – which also co-starred a teenage Scarlett Johansson – also happens to be based on a just as tender, visually stark comic book created by Daniel Clowes. The film changed up a few details, like combining two characters to form new ones, but it’s thematically very faithful and very good.
- Blue Is The Warmest Colour
And yet another, tender award-winning (this time, it’s Cannes’ Palm d’Or) film about girls on a journey of self-discovery, Blue Is the Warmest Colour is a moving, emotionally powerful drama, featuring great performances. All of which it drew from Julie Maroh’s just as dramatic French graphic novel. The movie also happens to feature crazy long, very explicit lesbian sex scenes, which is unfortunately one of the main reasons people want to see it, and which was also nowhere near as explicit in the comic book, much to the dismay of Maroh. She wasn’t the only one who had a few choice words to say about director Abdellatif Kechiche’s hyper-sexualized approach, with stars Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, as well as members of the crew heavily criticizing him for his “moral harassment” on set. Seydoux and Exarchopoulus both also spoke out about his almost exploitative nature during their very revealing sex scenes, and publicly stated they would never work with him again.
This one’s comic book roots may be a bit more well-known thanks to Spike Lee’s recent English language remake of Chan-wook Park’s 2003 Korean hit, which Lee claimed was actually not a remake at all but actually a new adaptation of the original Japanese manga comic on Park’s film was based. Both films though were far more violent than their source, and also didn’t delve into the manga’s more trippy ending.
Yes, I know that Snowpiercer hasn’t been released locally yet (it’s out in October) and currently the only way to see it is via VOD like iTunes, but as somebody who has done just that, I cannot recommend it enough that you go see this one on the biggest screen possible when it does release. Bong-joon Ho’s dystopian sci-fi masterpiece has the big budget spectacle of many Hollywood blockbusters, but it’s filled with morally complex characters and situations, crazy creative world building, edgy social commentary and an unflinching, pitch black tone. A lot of which it picked up from the long-running 1980’s French comic “Le Transperceneige”, which non-Francophiles will now finally get a chance to read for themselves as an English version was released earlier this year.
- A History of Violence
If you didn’t know about the comic book origins of director David Cronenberg’s critically acclaimed 2005 thriller, about how a troublesome past captures up to and shatters the life of a small town family man, then don’t feel bad: Neither did David Cronenberg. At least not until after he had read the second draft of Josh Olson’s Oscar-winning screenplay.
Said screenplay was actually an adaptation of legendary “2000AD” writer/artist and Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner’s comic book from the late 1990’s, and while it featured sequences copied wholesale from the source, it differs more and more from the comic book as the movie goes on (like how the mobsters were made Irish because Cronenberg didn’t think that Ed Harris and William Hurt could play convincing Italians). The comic was also a lot more explicitly violent while the movie boasted a “69” sex scene between Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello. Fair trade, if you ask me.
Honorable mentions: The Rocketeer, Barbarella, Men In Black, From Hell, 2 Guns, The Fountain
Last Updated: August 28, 2014