When you're thinking about comic book movies, the films hailing from either the Marvel or DC Comics library usually come to mind. After all, these are the big budget blockbusters starring some of the most well-known comic book characters of all time. Many of us have been reading these series for decades, so it's only natural that they're also the ones raking in the big bucks at the box office. Still, even some of the smaller, less popular titles published by indie companies, or under imprints of the comic book industry giants, have seen movie adaptations.
While films like American Splendor and V for Vendetta certainly qualify as excellent comic book movies, they're immediately disqualified from this particular list because of their publication with Vertigo, which is owned by DC. Kingsman: The Secret Service would have also definitely made this list, but unfortunately, it's published by Icon, which is an imprint of Marvel. Even the most recent Judge Dredd film, 2012's Dredd with Karl Urban and Lena Headey, was an 'almost,' but Judge Dredd has had a variety of DC titles. Nevertheless, there are still a bunch of great comic book movies that aren't Marvel or DC owned properties. Dark Horse, in particular, has some great titles with film adaptations, and there are a number of smaller publishers and Japanese manga titles that are also well worth a watch.
We've collected the 15 Best Comic Book Movies That AREN'T Marvel Or DC so you don't have to comb through them all and try to figure out what's what all on your own. Enjoy, nerds!
15 Dick Tracy
Predating even the most famous comic book detective, Batman, Dick Tracy was a comic strip character introduced to the world via the Detroit Mirror newspaper. Following a police procedural format, Dick Tracy became a popular character for his crime fighting skills, forensic abilities, and high tech gadgets. We're pretty sure the Apple Watch is a direct evolution of Dick's 2-Way Wrist Radio.
Although the series hit its prime in the mid-20th-Century, Disney bought the film rights and came out with a movie adaptation in 1990. Despite the simple storyline and wacky villains, Dick Tracy was a hit with audiences, who had ever seen anything quite like it. Warren Beatty plays the detective perfectly, alongside memorable performances by Al Pacino as Big Boy Caprice and Madonna as lounge singer Breathless Mahoney. The amount of hilarious cameos in this film that you may not catch the first time around will blow you away, because so many of the actors have prosthetic pieces hiding their normal faces. It’s a colorful adaptation that really stays true to the comic book’s larger-than-life spirit.
14 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
If you grew up in the '80s or early '90s, chances are you were a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. However, many fans or the heroes in a half shell never realized that TMNT started out as a comic book in the 1980s. The popularity of the series went on to inspire many adaptations in other media, including the recent Michael Bay-produced movies. But, since we're only talking about the best comic book films that aren't Marvel or DC, the only one really worth mentioning is the crazy campy live action version from 1990.
In this movie adaptation, we get to see the origin stories of both the Turtles and Master Splinter, plus all the best side characters—April O'Neil, Casey Jones, Shredder and his Foot Clan. It keeps a lot of the same silly humor from the animated TV shows, in addition to lots of Three Stooges style physical comedy and memorable catchphrases like "Cowabunga!" and "Tubular!" Plus, as is always the case with the Turtles, you'll want to keep a pizza nearby because they always manage to make it look like the best food in the world (which it undoubtedly is, anyway).
13 The Mask
The Mask was a comic book series in the late 1980s, created for Dark Horse Comics. In its original incarnation, anyone who put on the magical title object would be come The Mask, but it became synonymous with the Stanley Ipkiss character after the 1994 film adaptation starring Jim Carrey. An unassuming bank teller finds The Mask near a harbor and turns into a mischievous, and often lascivious wacko when he puts it on. Cameron Diaz also starred in her debut feature film role (and one of her sexiest roles to date), as Tina Carlyle, Stanley's love interest.
The Mask showcases Jim Carrey at his rubbery-faced best, full of energy and witty zingers. Fans of the comic will appreciate the colorful visuals and SFX that really pay homage to its source material. Plus, you can't deny that Jim Carrey was in his prime here, utilizing his cartoonish brand of comedy to bring to life an appropriately cartoonish character.
Frank Miller's 300 series was a five-issue comic book that won three Eisner Awards in 1999. It tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae during the Greco-Persian Wars, over two thousand years ago. Because Miller oversaw the production of the film adaptation, it managed to stay true to the comics through both the writing and graphic illustrated style. In fact, the film was a huge success because of the unique way it tackled the visual world of 300, truly bringing a comic book to life on screen.
With a budget of $65 million -- which seems awfully small considered how much CGI and green screen work was utilized -- 300 raked in over $450 million worldwide, a pretty significant amount for a non-Marvel or DC film. It also put Gerard Butler on the map as a leading man and action hero (although he hasn't really matched the success of 300 in the years since) and it even co-stars Game of Thrones actress Lena Headey as his wife, Queen Gorgo.
11 The Crow
Goths in the '90s reveled in a comic book seemingly created just for them. James O'Barr's comic book series The Crow tells the story of a magical crow that resurrects people from the dead after they're brutally murdered. Aside from the comics, there was also a television series, a bunch of novels, and a film that came out and expanded on the dark world created in the source material.
The (first) film adaptation follows Eric Draven, a musician who's killed along with his fiancee, and is then brought back so he can hunt down their murderers in order to enact vengeance. Brutally violent, the film has some pretty creative death scenes, including one where Eric stabs one of the thugs in each organ—in alphabetical order. Draven is played by Bruce Lee's son, Brandon Lee, who was only just starting to break into Hollywood on his own. Unfortunately, his life was cut short in a freak accident on set involving a prop gun, which only makes his performance as an undead superhero all the more haunting.
10 Mystery Men
A highly underrated comic book film, Mystery Men features an all-star cast of prolific comedic actors, including Ben Stiller, Eddie Izzard, William H. Macy, and Paul Reubens (aka Pee-Wee Herman). Like the rejects who didn't make it into DC's Legion of Super-heroes, the Mystery Men are a team of superheroes with unimpressive powers. Unlike most superhero or comic book movies, however, the film wasn't based on a comic book series of the same name. Instead, it's based on a series called Flaming Carrot Comics, which parodies superheroes, giving them ridiculous backstories and superpowers.
The Flaming Carrot was a founding member of the Mystery Men, but unfortunately, doesn't appear in the film. (It probably would have been difficult for someone to walk around with a giant flaming carrot mask on that reaches clear past his crotch.) Even though Mystery Men wasn't a box office success, it's still generally regarded as a funny parody that's worth a watch, especially now considering how serious comic book movies seem to take themselves (*Cough* DC and Marvel *Cough*).
While not a typical comic book movie, Persepolis deserves a spot on this list because it's an incredibly powerful and moving story about one girl's experience living in and out of Iran, during and after the Islamic Revolution. What basically started out as an illustrated autobiography, turned into two graphic novels and an animated film adaptation released in 2007.
Since the film was directed by the author, Marjane Satrapi, it keeps to the comic's bold black and white ink style and specific character design. Because of its unique visual style and brilliant writing, the film was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, although it lost out to Ratatouille. Nevertheless, it's an engaging and personal look into what life can be like under an oppressive regime. Even though Satrapi was just an ordinary person, her acts of rebellion almost seem like superpowers considering what she was facing on a day to day basis.
Snowpiercer may not have been one of the first films that came to mind when you came wandering our way, but it too was adapted from a comic. Originally published as a French graphic novel called Le Transperceneige (The Snow-Piercer) in 1982, three more volumes followed over the course of three years. Chris Evans stars in the movie adaptation, which was directed by Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho—best known for his brilliant monster movie, The Host.
A dystopian tale of the dangers of climate change, Snowpiercer's premise revolves around a train that holds the world's last survivors after another Ice Age wiped almost everyone out. The train is separated into a caste-like structure, with the back housing the poor and the front holding the elite. As you might expect, traveling perpetually on a train begins to make its occupants a little stir crazy, especially when they find out what they've been eating for the last few years.
7 Ghost World
Before she was cast as Black Widow in the MCU, or had much of a career at all, Scarlett Johansson co-starred in another comic book movie: Ghost World. The original graphic novel came from the mind of indie cartoonist Daniel Clowes, previously known for his counter-culture comic, Eightball. While Eightball delved into some pretty depraved stuff, Ghost World was more about teenage angst.
The two protagonists of both the comic and the film, Enid and Rebecca, have just graduated high school and are trying to figuring out what to do with their lives. Both are quick to criticize their town, and the people in it, but gradually, the two start drifting apart and begin to discover their paths are no longer running parallel to one another. Steve Buscemi also has a fun role as the sad, vinyl collecting nerd, Seymour, that Enid eventually begins to have a weird infatuation with.
6 Sin City
Frank Miller has a very distinct style of illustration, especially in regard to the Sin City comics. The black and white inking acts as the perfect visual accompaniment to the noir-style crime stories he was weaving. That's why it was pretty much a no-brainer for him to adapt that look into a film version of the series. Miller, along with Robert Rodriguez, co-directed the film, creating a unique look that was almost entirely shot on a green screen and digitally altered in post-production.
Like the comics, the Sin City movie was primarily in black and white, with only a select few things shown in color. Although the technique made the film something of a novelty, it was nevertheless a courageous work of art, winning the filmmakers the Technical Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and major accolades all around.
5 The Rocketeer
In the 1980s, California based Pacific Comics put out a period superhero comic set during the 1930s. The Rocketeer was a tribute to pulpy movie serials that was packed with nostalgia of a simpler time (albeit one where the world was at war). While it was pretty cool that some guy finds a random jetpack, the Nazis were actually planning on using them to take over America. There's even a really interesting animated newsreel, in the Disney style, that evokes a similar feeling to moments from The Man in the High Castle.
Despite having some pretty risqué content in the original source material—including pin-up model Bettie Page posing in lingerie—for some reason, Disney decided to adapt it into a film. While they picked a relative newcomer for the starring role of Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell), it's got a great supporting cast, featuring Timothy Dalton as the movie star Neville Sinclair and Terry O'Quinn as Howard Hughes. Looking back on it now, The Rocketeer was a pretty innovative story, both in its comic and film forms. Some might even call it early age steampunk.
4 Hellboy/Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Mike Mignola's Hellboy series has been adapted into two films thus far, Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, with a third reboot film currently in pre-production. Although they didn't do as well domestically as as some other comic book films on this list, it was more to do with the fact that mainstream audiences just weren't as familiar with Big Red, rather than the quality of the films.
With Guillermo del Toro at the helm, both films were full of fantastic visuals and SFX, creating a fantastical world of paranormal superheroes. Ron Perlman's wit and swagger make him the perfect Hellboy, but even more so because he's also capable of portraying Hellboy's inner-conflict and emotional depth—two things that make him such a fascinating character in the first place.
3 Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Talk about creativity. Bryan Lee O'Malley brought together comics, video games, and even music in his graphic novel series, Scott Pilgrim. After Scott falls in love with a manic pixie dream girl named Ramona Flowers, he has to fight her seven evil exes before she can truly be his. Once they're defeated, they even leave behind coins or sometimes give Scott a 1-UP so he can continue his mission despite any injuries.
As comic book movies go, the 2010 adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was a pretty awesome ride, staying true to the comics and their nerdy, hipster vibe. All the actual Toronto locations mentioned in the series were used in the films, and the musician Beck even created songs for Scott's band Sex Bob-omb, using the lyrics O’Malley wrote in the comics.
2 Old Boy
In case you were under the impression that all great comic book movies come from traditional Western comics, the top two entries on our list are here to set you straight. Japanese manga has some pretty amazing stories that have been periodically made into movies over the years.
The 2003 film Old Boy was adapted from a manga serial of the same name—found in the magazine Weekly Manga Action—and was later collected by Dark Horse Comics. It's a pretty dreary scenario where a guy gets kidnapped and is subsequently imprisoned for ten years, in complete isolation. But although the basic premise remains the same, the film takes some pretty dark creative license with the plot. Park Chan-Wook's film manages to become a completely separate work of art, full of violence and sickening plot twists that will absolutely blow your mind. Oh, and there's this pretty cool fight sequence, too.
Okay, so we cheated a little bit here, because Akira did have an early English language release by Epic Comics, which was an imprint of Marvel, but it's now defunct, so we think it's safe to include it anyway. Besides, no other manga has had the kind of long-standing influence on both creators and comic lovers equally. Akira's cyberpunk setting has inspired countless sci-fi films like The Matrix and Chronicle, where the main characters also suddenly find themselves with newfound abilities like young Tetsuo does.
One of the qualities of the Akira film that makes it so noteworthy is how intensely detailed the animation is. You almost forget you're watching an animated feature at times. Even when something particularly gross or disturbing is happening, you can't help feeling a sense of awe at how beautiful it all is. Here’s hoping the live action film eventually crawls out of development hell, but even if it does, there’s no telling if it could ever really reach the kind of legendary status the 1988 animated film enjoys.
Did we forget your favorite comic book film that doesn't hail from Marvel or DC? Let us know in the comments.
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