You might think to yourself that comic book films have dominated the movie industry in the past decade, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Of course, the mega-popular Marvel Cinematic Universe boasting over 20 films and billions of dollars is no small thing. It now behooves filmmakers to look toward the comic book medium for inspiration as fans flock to the theaters for these adaptations of a medium seeing a surge in popularity.
The discovery of cinematic gold behind the pages of colorful character art didn’t occur in 2008 at the start of the MCU. It didn’t begin in 2005 with Batman Begins or in 2000 with X-Men. In fact, many comic books not featuring superheroes have gained widespread appeal from both audiences and movie production studios alike. Whether they succeed or fail, there are many films that audiences might not realize were based on comic books.
10 Road to Perdition (2002)
That’s right, the Oscar-winning Tom Hanks-led film was based on a graphic novel by Max Allan Collins. The cinematic adaptation of Road to Perdition would go to win an academy award for best cinematography.
The movie focused on imagery to convey the story of a mob enforcer seeking revenge for the murder of his family. The captivating performances eloquently told a tragic tale of sin and redemption. Emotions run high in this timeless drama.
9 Men in Black (1997)
The inspiration for Agent J and the team at MIB headquarters came from a comic book miniseries called The Men in Black, written by Lowell Cunningham. The original publication began in 1990 and would be the basis for the ongoing film series as we know it.
While the films focused on extraterrestrials, the comics also involved supernatural entities, including demonic and mythological creatures. In stark contrast to the comedic tone of the films, the comics actually took a grittier, darker approach to the business of the MIB.
8 2 Guns (2013)
The Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg semi-buddy cop action flick was developed from the graphic novel of the same name written by Steven Grant. The film follows an undercover DEA agent and an undercover military intelligence specialist who are working together as criminals.
Initially, they both believe the other is an actual criminal while they continue their undercover work. Eventually, other forces at work push the duo into the middle of a drug war that becomes the film's primary conflict.
7 Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
The all-female rock band The Pussycats first caught their big break in the pages of the Archie comic series. In the film, the band is set for stardom but quickly discovers that those behind their new-found record label have sinister intentions as they plan to use subliminal messaging to manipulate the market.
The themes behind the narrative involve a harsh critique of commercialism and the power of greed. At the time of its release, the film was not a commercial success. Over time, however, the film managed to gain a cult following.
6 Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
Cowboys & Aliens was an adaptation of the western sci-fi graphic novel of the same name by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. Daniel Craig plays the role of an individual suffering from amnesia alone in the New Mexico desert in 1873. During his journey to discover himself, he allies himself with a cattle rancher (Harrison Ford), as they embark on a mission to save people from being abducted by aliens.
The idea for this narrative was wild and it was expected that it would garner interest from the general public. In reality, however, the film was considered a major commercial failure.
5 Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
At first blush, it may not seem like a comic book adapted film. But when you really start to look at the big picture, it only makes sense. Kingsman: The Secret Service was adapted from Mark Millar’s comic book series, The Secret Service.
The film, like the comic book series, follows the exploits of Eggsy, a down-on-his-luck young buck with big ambitions. His training as an agent of the English clandestine unit was an over-the-top affair that put Eggsy in a position to save the world from Bondesque villains. The surreal quality of the action scenes and the colorful characters add credence to the film’s comic book heritage.
4 Hercules (2014)
The 2014 adventure of everyone’s favorite Greek demigod actually took its premise from a graphic novel – Hercules: The Thracian Wars. The film puts Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the armor of the legendary Greek hero and calls his power into question on many occasions.
In fact, the movie bounces between “man” or “myth” frequently. The stories of Hercules and the Twelve Labors are in full force, but the exact accuracy of the story is called into question. Was Hercules merely a mortal man buffed only by tales and fabricated hearsay of a divine nature? Or was he truly the son of Zeus?
3 Oblivion (2013)
Tom Cruise is no stranger to sci-fi. When Oblivion was released, this post-apocalyptic tale felt right at home for the actor. Furthermore, many would never know that the film was based on a graphic novel as the book wasn’t actually ever published. Yet still it stands, Oblivion was based on an in-development graphic novel written by Joseph Kosinski, who also directed the film. The novel was left unfinished, making Oblivion an adaptation based on a source that was never published.
The movie follows Jack Harper, a technician who repairs drones meant to repel alien attackers in the wake of an alien war that largely wiped out the inhabitants of Earth. But there’s more to the story and Jack’s connection with survivors than the surface-level sci-fi atmosphere might infer.
2 From Hell (2001)
Directed by the Hughes brothers, this film is an adaptation of the graphic novel From Hell created by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. Johnny Depp takes the lead role of police inspector Frederick Aberline who is investigating serial murders committed by Jack the Ripper during the latter portion of the 19th century.
Fans of the original comic book may agree with its writer, Alan Moore, that Aberline wasn't portrayed on screen as he had intended in the pages of the graphic novel. This, however, is one of many critiques that Moore has made towards films adapted from his work.
1 Surrogates (2009)
Bruce Willis leads this sci-fi thriller based on The Surrogates comic series written by Robert Venditti. The movie follows FBI agent, Tom Greer, as he investigates the murders of surrogates, remotely-controlled robots that resemble their operators.
Those piloting these robots experience life through this technology from the safety and comfort of their homes. At a certain point, the landscape paints a sad portrait of society devolving with the advancement of technology and limited human interaction. Greer is forced to hit the streets in the flesh to chase a surrogate killer who not only destroys the machines but causes the deaths of the operators due to a system overload.