Before Hollywood started raiding comic book shelves looking for inspiration to make over forty superhero films, studios were using graphic novels and indie comics as the source material for several films – some good, others downright bad.
We’ve already discussed 20 Movies You May Not Know Were Based on Comics, and now we’re back with a dozen more entries that you probably didn’t know are based on various graphic novels and comic books.
See how many on this list are new to you.
Tales from the Crypt
Year Movie Released: 1972
Year Comic Published: 1950
Publisher: EC Comics
Before two films were made, before it was an award-winning television show on HBO, and before it was a Saturday morning cartoon (yes that really HAPPENED), Tales from the Crypt was a titillating comic book series featuring scantily-clad women in scary, often gruesome, situations. It ran for 44 issues until the a series of government hearings forced the comic industry to preemptively create the self-regulating Comics Code in the mid-50s – at which time EC Comics publisher Bill Gaines canceled the series.
The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik Yak
Year Movie Released: 1984
Year Comic Published: 1960
Publisher: John Willie
In our post about 12 Comics That Should Never Become Live-Action Movies we list the 1973 adult comic Tales from the Leather Nun as number twelve – mainly because of its BDSM-centric storylines. However, before those nuns ever developed the disciplining habit, BDSM artist and writer John Willie was tying up a girl by the name of Gwendoline in the pages of The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline.
The movie was (very) loosely based on Willie’s work and sexpot actress Tawny Kitaen (who famously rolled around the hood of a car while wearing white lingerie in the music video for Whitesnake’s Here We Go Again) portrays the title character in the French sexploitation film.
Sheena, Queen of the Jungle
Year Movie Released: 1984
Year Comic Published: 1937
Publisher: Fiction House
Before it was a hot topic (see: Thor becoming female), Sheena, Queen of the Jungle was spearheading gender equality in comics way back in 1937 as the first female heroine to headline her own comic book title.
The series ran for 18 years and spawned a 26-episode TV series starring Irish McCalla in 1955. Columbia Pictures would eventually revive the character by producing a movie with Tanya Roberts portraying the orphaned girl who grew up in the jungle and possessed the ability to communicate with animals.
Year Movie Released: 1995
Year Comic Published: 1988
Publisher: Deadline Publications
Alan Martin and artist Jamie Hewlett created the rude, crude, and over-sexed punk girl outlaw known as Rebecca Buck (a.k.a., Tank Girl) as a reoccurring strip for Deadline Magazine – a publication that provided “a forum for the wild, wacky and hitherto unpublishable“. It never blossomed into its own comic series but had a successful run in the magazine until it shut down in 1995.
Lori Petty portrayed the futuristic tank driver in the mid-90s film, which was very loosely based on the comic strip. The film never found financial success but is often considered a cult classic to many cinephiles. As most film adaptation are wont to do, many things were changed – the greatest being that of Booga, TG’s best friend. In the comic, he’s TG’s mutated kangaroo lover but in the film he only became her bedmate in deleted scene you can watch HERE.
Year Movie Released: 1996
Year Comic Published: 1994
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Barb Wire wasn’t a very popular comic (it only ran for nine issues and a short mini-series) but it had a loyal cult following. Those readers followed the exploits of part-time bounty hunter Barbara “Barb Wire” Kopetski as she hunted down wanted criminals to help subsidize her bar “The Hammerhead”.
The 1996 movie starred Pamela Anderson in the title role wearing mostly black leather, sporting long blonde hair, and showing ample amounts of cleavage – a sure-fire combination for a blockbuster, right? Not so much. The movie was a critical and financial failure, even drawing a Razzie for Worst Picture that year.
Year Movie Released: 1999
Year Comic Published: 1992
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Back in the early nineties, Chuck Pfarrer wrote a script involving an alien life form infiltrating a Chinese research vessel, killing all of its inhabitants, then building new life forms using parts from the ship’s crew and onboard electronics. When Pfarrer realized the special effects necessary to pull off Virus weren’t practical he sold it to Dark Horse Comics – who turned it into a one-off comic series.
When the film was eventually made, it starred Jamie Lee Curtis as the navigator of a tugboat, the Sea Star, who happens upon a Russian research ship in the South Pacific during a typhoon. As with the comic, it wasn’t very well received by audiences.
Year Movie Released: 2001
Year Comic Published: 1989
Publisher: Eddie Campbell Comics
Originally, comic creator Alan Moore teamed up with brilliant artist Eddie Campbell to create From Hell as a 10-volume serial graphic novel, published from 1989 to 1996. The complete series would later be released as one graphic novel in 1999. Moore took his basis for the Jack the Ripper story from a (since disproven) Stephen Knight conspiracy theory – which hypothesized that all the murders were committed to hide the bastard child of Prince Albert.
The movie was so loosely based on Moore’s graphic novel that he spoke very publicly about his disdain for the changes – specifically turning Detective Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp) into a “absinthe-swigging dandy”. He also took issue with how the film was turned into more of a by-the-numbers “whodunit”, instead of the intricate conspiracy from the book.
Year Movie Released: 2001
Year Comic Published: 1993
Graphic novelist Daniel Clowes began writing Ghost World as an 8-part serial in 1993 but after the final chapter was published in 1997, Fantagraphics Books released the entire series as one book. The story followed two girls, Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer, who recently graduated high school. They have a cynical and witty outlook on the world around them, often criticizing everything in their small town.
In 2001, Ghost World would star a young Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson as Enid and Becky, eventually becoming an award-winning film – which earned Clowes an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Even though it received high praise from critics, it failed to find an audience at the box office, but ultimately found a cult following. It’s still considered to be one of the best comic book movie adaptations of all-time.
Year Movie Released: 2001
Year Comic Published: 1995
Publisher: Mad Monkey Press
Dark Town is a graphic novel by Canadian cartoonist Kaja Blackley and has a very interesting story revolving around a man, Jacques De Bergerac, in a coma after a car accident. The book follows him as he tries to escape Dark Town – a world filled with living puppets – and back to the land of the living.
The movie Monkeybone was supposed to stay close to the source material, but as the film developed it strayed heavily from the original story. The only recognizable part from the graphic novel is the car wreck-induced coma of Stu (Brendan Fraser). The movie’s tone and story more closely resemble Cool World than Dark Town – which is probably why it bombed horribly with audiences.
Year Movie Released: 2003
Year Comic Published: 1976
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics/DC Comics
Harvey Pekar, an underground comic writer in the 60s and 70s, tired of the “formulaic comics of the 40s” he grew up on and so, produced a series of autobiographical comics called American Splendor. The stories in each of the 39 issues typically revolved around his life living in Cleveland, Ohio, but occasionally he would cover other topics – including a three-issue miniseries (Unsung Hero) documenting the Vietnam experience of his African-American friend Robert McNeill.
The critically acclaimed movie adaptation starred Paul Giamatti as Pekar and won multiple awards, including a Best Adapted Screenplay nod from the Academy for writers Shari Berman and Robert Pulcini. Soon after the movie released, Pekar (true to form) published a comic documenting the event in his life – American Splendor: Our Movie Year.
30 Days of Night
Year Movie Released: 2007
Year Comic Published: 2002
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer Steve Niles collaborated with illustrator Ben Templesmith to create the horror comic mini-series 30 Days of Night. The story involved vampires descending upon Barrow, Alaska during a period of time where the city has no sunlight for 30 days – no sun = 24-hour vampire buffet. This doesn’t sit well with vampire elder Vicente, leading to a lethal showdown between him and the town’s sheriff, Eben Olemaun.
While a film adaptation directed by David Slade (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) and starring Josh Hartnett finally made it to the box office, it wasn’t Niles’ first attempt to bring his graphic novel series to theaters. He pitched a film version of the comic in the early-2000s, which was initially rejected. However, after the comic became a success for publisher IDW, it was bought, then subsequently greenlit, by Columbia Pictures and Ghost House Pictures.
Year Movie Released: 2009
Year Comic Published: 1998
Publisher: Oni Press
Whiteout is a four-part mini-series comic written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Steve Lieber. The story revolves around Deputy U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko as she investigates a series of murders at various scientific stations in Antarctica. The comic series was successful enough that it spawned a sequel story, Whiteout: Melt.
The movie adaptation of the mystery/thriller comic starring Kate Beckinsale (Underworld), was fairly faithful to the Rucka’s original story, but that just wasn’t enough to keep it from being one of the biggest box office disasters that year.
A lot of these films – such as Tank Girl, Perils of Gwendoline, and Ghost World – are considered to be cult classics in certain circles. They can still be found on select movie streaming services – so interested viewers can still give them a look!
We here at Screen Rant love a good superhero movie as much as the next person, but it’s nice to know that as long as stand-alone graphic novels and comics continue to exist, we will always have non-superhero-based movies to break up all that spandex in theaters.
As usual, our list isn’t all-inclusive, so make sure to check out our 20 Movies You May Not Know Were Based on Comics list, and share your own picks in the comments.