With so many super-hero movies dominating the silver screen this past decade it can be easy to forget that comic books have a lot more to offer than just a bunch of shredded up, scantily clad men and women running around beating on each other. I’d even argue that the idea of comic books as a genre unto itself is more than misleading as a comic book can be ANY genre it chooses. Westerns, Horror, Romance, you name it. This also applies to cinematic adaptations with Whiteout and The Surrogates currently in theaters being two perfect examples.
With that in mind I thought it might be fun to compile a top five list (because come on, who doesn’t love lists?) of movies that you may or may not know originally found their way into the world through the pages of a comic book.
Ghost World – Adapting the skewed universe of Daniel Clowes for a mainstream audience is a tough task at best, but director Terry Zwigoff (Art School Confidential) made it look easy with his 2001 effort. Based on a series originally printed in the pages of Eightball the film kicked the career of Scarlett Johansson into high gear and features an incredible performance by Steve Buscemi (who feels like a perfect live-action incarnation of Clowe’s artwork). Ultimately a simple tale of friendship and loss, Ghost World is easily one of the most compelling and successful adaptations of a comic book ever made.
American Splendor – I hesitated to include this as I assumed a movie about a comic book creator must OBVIOUSLY be based on one. But I spoke to plenty of people that genuinely had no idea that 2003’s cinematic take on the life of Harvey Pekar – and creation of his auto-biographical American Splendor comic series – was actually a true story (with art chores being handled at times by the legendary R. Crumb). Paul Giamatti (Sideways) plays the lead role with appearances by Pekar himself in an incredibly inventive little indie flick that more than deserves to be given a look.
Wanted – Switching out a world filled with super-heroes and villains for one of super-assassins, 2008’s crack at Mark Millar’s popular mini series proved to be not much more than a potential guilty pleasure. Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman make the odd choice to take the material seriously in an uninspired film that seems to aspire to be nothing more than an exercise in flashy action sequences. It’s really too bad as the critically hailed comic provided more than enough to work with for a proper cinematic take.
A History of Violence – Director David Cronenberg (The Fly, Naked Lunch) throws his more than formidable hat into the ring with his 2005 adaptation of John Wagner’s book. A small town business owner (played by Lord of the Ring’s Viggo Mortensen) fends off an attempted robbery at his cafe’ which sets off a chain of events that eventually finds him wrapped in a tangled web of – you guessed it – violence. Ed Harris co-stars as a white-eyed villain who is more than a bit reminiscent of a certain character found in the pages of Preacher.
Road to Perdition – Sam Mendes’ (American Beauty) follow up to his critically acclaimed cinematic debut finds Tom Hanks tackling the role of a Chicago mob enforcer during the great depression. While certainly a noble attempt to bring the comic book to life, the source material outshines this flick in nearly every way. The comic is definitely worth a look if only to marvel at the mind-bendingly intricate artwork by Richard Piers Rayner, which reportedly took several years to complete.
This is definitely only scratching the surface. Other films in recent years like Men in Black, Judge Dredd, Tank Girl, Time Cop, The Mask and Constantine were all at one point exclusive to the printed page – and with the overall success of these films at the box office, it would seem that these days the inspiration for many of Hollywood’s most high profile films can be found within the walls of your local comic shop.
Special thanks to comic creator Rob Van Brunt over at The Robman Show for his help in compiling this list.