In the entertainment landscape we live in today, it seems like every character under the sun has been subject to a live-action adaptation and, if they’re lucky, an appearance or three in a “Cinematic Universe”. There’s been Iron Man, The Mummy and even Suicide Squad, but not every character out there can be played by a man named Chris or an older actor looking for a career boost after a bit of a slump.
Sometimes, less popular intellectual properties are subject to the animated treatment. Though this can be a successful form for some characters (after all, who hasn’t heard of Batman: The Animated Series or X-Men: Evolution?), more often than not, it’s used as a dumping ground by studios for concepts they’re unsure about or items that they have no confidence about turning into a live-action performance.
With that in mind, here are our picks for 15 animated comic book and superhero adaptations you probably missed.
15. Batman: Bad Blood
Though the title sounds like a wacky Taylor Swift song parody cooked up by Saturday Night Live, this is actually one of the more recent direct-to-DVD animated tales of the Caped Crusader. Released in the same year as the much-hyped adaptation of eccentric writer Alan Moore’s Joker story The Killing Joke, this entry from the Warner Bros. home video division sees Bruce Wayne’s longtime ward Dick Grayson putting on the cape and cowl when his mentor goes missing. With prominent actresses like Yvonne Strahovski (The Predator) and Morena Baccarin (Deadpool) voicing Batwoman and Talia Al Ghul respectively, you’d think the film would’ve generated a little bit more buzz online.
But alas, that was not to be, as it was completely overshadowed by that other animated adventure starring the Dark Knight. On review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, the piece doesn’t even have a score, though 65 percent of public audiences said that they liked it.
Based on an Image Comics series started in 2003 — one that creator Phil Hester originally worked up as a pitch for Marvel about a Young Avenger who would be revealed to be the son of larger than life villain Fin Fang Foom — the 2010 Cartoon Network TV movie tells the origin story of Duncan, a half-human and half-dragon teenager. It comes complete with the hero struggling with powers, teen angst, and all the other standard tropes you’d expect in an origin story for a younger character.
Like most of the films on this list, it too received divided reviews from critics. IGN gave it a 6/10, while Cinema Crazed praised the visuals, voice acting, and animation, and urged the continuation of the property in the form of a sequel or animated television series. Seven years later, such a follow-up seems unlikely.
Released in 2007 on the festival circuit by Sony Pictures Classics, Persepolis is an adaptation of the 2000 biographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi. The piece depicts the author’s coming of age during the time of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and all the resulting turmoil that came with it. Relatives die, homosexuality is depicted, and other topics like depression and suicide are all put forth for the viewer to take in.
Since its release, the film has not been without its share of controversy. Though critically acclaimed, parents in the United States have attempted to remove it from school curriculum in the state of Washington, and when shown in Tunisia on television in 2011, the station owner was arrested and ordered to pay a fine for “disturbing the public order.”
12. Astonishing X-Men: Gifted
Released in 2009 in the barely-familiar-to-most-people-style that is a motion comic, Astonishing X-Men: Gifted adapts the storyline crafted by Joss Whedon for the famous and “Uncanny” Marvel mutants. (Brett Ratner borrowed elements from the same arc a year later when making the third entry in Fox’s original X-Men trilogy.)
Though the cure featured in the film is present, notable differences from the live-action version include a warrior alien named Ord, popular team leader Cyclops A.K.A. Scott Summers actually living through the story (decade old movie spoiler alert), and several mutants getting their time to shine in the tale. Because, let’s be honest, as much as we all love Hugh Jackman, his time in the X-Men universe often turned it into the Wolverine show, at the expense of countless other characters. If X-Men: Dark Phoenix turns out to be bad, give this piece a watch to cleanse your pallet.
11. The Batman vs. Dracula
While Justice League Unlimited in the DCAU was airing and Universal Pictures was weighing what to do after their adaptation of Van Helsing clunked with critics, Warner Bros. was taking the public domain character of Dracula and crossing him over with their own Gothic hero.
This 2005 entry, based on the generally more lighthearted The Batman television series, featured the Dark Knight facing off against the Transylvanian Count voiced by Peter Stormare. With dark moments including the Joker being electrocuted and Batman actually incinerating some vampires, the film surprised many who assumed that it would have a tone similar to the show. As a result of this grave misconception, the film was re-classified on later broadcasts to a PG rating from its former Y7 classification.
10. Lady Death: The Movie
Yet another comic book based movie with a colon in the title, this 2004 production made its world premiere at San Diego Comic-Con before making its way onto DVD and the Anime Network. For those unfamiliar with the character, Lady Death was originally a young woman in medieval Sweden who made a deal with a demon to serve Hell (sort of a gender-swapped Spawn, in a way).
Created by Brian Pulido, the character is currently published under his Coffin Comics imprint, and there are no plans to adapt her to other forms of media anytime soon, as the 2004 film was not well-liked and she is relatively obscure. On Rotten Tomatoes, only 33 percent of the sites users had positive things to say about it, based on more than 500 reviews.
9. Tales of the Black Freighter
Though Zack Snyder often gets a lot of flak from critics and some fans over how he crafts his films, his 2009 adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons acclaimed graphic novel Watchmen was clearly a labor of love. Where most directors would be content to cut massive amounts of important material from the story, collect a paycheck and call it a day, the Justice League director went so far as to film the Tales of the Black Freighter story within a story that is a key part of the original piece.
Originally intended to be filmed in live-action but changed to save money, this swashbuckling tale features the vocal talents of Gerard Butler and Jared Harris. If you want to see it, pick up Watchmen on DVD or spring for the Ultimate Cut. It’s not half bad.
8. Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues
Essentially the female version of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja made her comic debut in the 1970s before being portrayed by supermodel and actress Brigitte Nielsen in a critically derided film in the ’80s. Though attempts have been made to reintroduce the character in live-action form in the years since, nothing has gotten off the ground to date.
In the turbulent year that was 2016, however, an animated depiction of the character was released. In Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues, the titular “she-devil with a sword” goes on a journey to repay a debt owed to another. If you’ve never seen a motion-comic style piece before, we recommend checking this one out. The story is adapted from one written by acclaimed comic writer Gail Simone, and the format is quite unique.
7. Green Lantern: Emerald Knights
Released in 2011, this animated film about the space cops of the DC Universe differs from the more successful Green Lantern: First Flight in a number of ways. For starters, in contrast to the earlier 2009 effort, this outing doesn’t tell a tale focused on one of the more well-known Green Lantern members like Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, Alan Scott, or John Stewart. Instead, viewers are presented with an anthology, highlighting lesser-known characters like Mogo, Abin Sur, and Kilowog. (If you knew those characters without having to look them up, you, dear reader, are a super-fan.)
6. Astro Boy
If you remember Fox’s adaptation of the acclaimed Dragon Ball anime series, you’ll likely be of the mindset that live-action adaptations of manga don’t work and shouldn’t be attempted. Ever. Maybe that’s how the team at Summit Entertainment was feeling when they scooped up this animated piece based on Osamu Tezuka’s original work.
With voice actors like Nicholas Cage, Kristen Bell, and Bates Motel‘s Freddie Highmore stepping in to headline the cast, one would think the piece would do respectably. But alas, it divided critics (garnering a near-even split at 49% over on Rotten Tomatoes) and ended up bombing at the box office, grossing $42 million against a budget of $65 million. If you want to see it, feel free, for it’s a pretty decent animated adventure, all things considered.
5. Turok: Son of Stone
When most people think of Turok, they think of the games released on the Nintendo 64 and the attempted revitalization of the property for the Xbox 360 console in 2008. What most people don’t know is that the character is actually one who originated in comics. Making his debut in the 1950’s, the Native American dinosaur hunter has continued on in the public consciousness in the decades since, and was even the star of his own animated film around the time the rebooted game was released in 2008.
Receiving divided views like most the other films on this list, the piece does deserve plaudits for its casting. Unlike other programs that will cast white actors to play the roles of minorities (looking at you, Bojack Horseman), an actual Native American was hired to voice Turok — Canadian actor Adam Beach, of Suicide Squad fame.
Let’s be real here, the items that Stan Lee has crafted since his landmark tenure with Jack Kirby at Marvel came to an end have been…let’s say “fine” to be generous. There was Stripperella, the weird characters he created for the NHL, and several direct-to-video films put out by POW Entertainment. Though they’re not all bad.
In Mosaic, the titular character voiced by X-Men actress Anna Paquin is a nice example of a female superhero being treated seriously and respectfully at a time when Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman were but fantastical film thoughts in the eyes of fanboys across the globe. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not winning any Oscars anytime soon, either. If you’ve got a lazy day to kill, go give this piece a watch.
3. The Invincible Iron Man
Before Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau came along and started off a franchise that has made everyone in leadership at Marvel and Disney enough money to buy gold plated hummer-copters, the “House of Ideas” introduced the then third-tier character to audiences in 2007 in the form of an animated film. Though no big names worked on the piece, and the film wasn’t promoted on the scale of the adaptation of The Killing Joke, it does do one thing better than the films with Downey have managed to do thus far: it takes Iron Man’s arch foe The Mandarin seriously.
2. Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman
The third straight-to-video film to take place in the beloved world of Batman: The Animated Series, this 2003 movie tells the story of Batman and his allies trying to unravel the secrets behind a new female vigilante who also adorns herself in a bat-styled outfit.
There isn’t much notable about this film apart from an eyebrow-raising twist towards the end, and that it was the last film where gangster Rupert Thorne (whose original appearance in the comics was based on Archie Bunker from All in the Family) was voiced by his long-time DCAU voice actor John Vernon, before his death in 2005. If you want to see one of the rare times where the usually second or third-tier Batman supporting character Batwoman is depicted reasonably well, give this a watch.
Gen13 is based on the comic series published by then independent company Wildstorm Entertainment, but it was never released in the United States due to some business decisions that transpired as the film was being made. (In short, Disney didn’t want to end up promoting a rival company which ended up acquiring the IP.)
The plot is a bit heavy to get into, but essentially, there’s experimentation, evil scientists, an attempted uprising against the government, and some kids coming into their own with all sorts of unique powers. You won’t be seeing this one on television or any streaming services any time soon in our estimation, but if you can find it, you’ll be treated to an interesting look at what some of the properties outside the reach of the DC and Marvel juggernauts can do if given the chance in the entertainment industry. Hollywood, take note!
What are some other comic or superhero animated adaptations that people have forgotten or overlooked? Let us know in the comments.
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