10 Movies You Didn’t Know Were Based on Comic Books
When audiences show up to see Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges police the ghost world in ‘R.I.P.D.’ this weekend, you can all but guarantee that 99% of them will be completely unfamiliar with the movie’s origin. After all, did you know that the movie is based on a comic book? Don’t worry. We won’t hold it against you.
Many comic book movies wear their origins on their sleeve. After all, it’s difficult to make a ‘Spider-Man’ movie and ignore its comic origins. However, not every comic adaptation has the luxury of being as instantly recognizable as ‘The Avengers’ or ‘X-Men.’ Some comic book movies don’t even sell themselves as comic book movies. Others are simply based on comics that only real aficionados have heard about. Well, prepare yourself for an education in comic book movies that you didn’t know where comic book movies.
Before ‘R.I.P.D.’ was a major motion picture starring the likes of Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges, it was an on-and-off-again comic series created by writer Peter Lenkov and artist Lucas Marangon. Although the basic premise is identical (undead lawmen from across time work to track down dangerous souls who just won’t die), the comic is a sillier affair. The movie looks to tone down the series’ goofy, cartoonish art, emulating the ‘Men in Black’ template more than its source material.
‘Road to Perdition’
Did you know that director Sam Mendes and actors Tom Hanks and Paul Newman made a comic book movie? Their superb gangster drama ‘Road to Perdition’ isn’t just Oscar bait — it’s Oscar bait based on a graphic novel by Max Collins and Richard Rayner. Published by DC Comics’ Paradox Press imprint, the ‘Road to Perdition’ series tracks the O’Sullivan family and its various brushes with the criminal underworld, stretching from the Great Depression all the way through the ’70s. The movie draws its inspiration from the first graphic novel and is generally faithful to its source material, even if Tom Hanks initially feels like weird casting as a cold-blooded killer. (Fun fact: ‘Road to Perdition’ is itself a take on another graphic novel series — the classic manga ‘Lone Wolf and Cub.’)
Now this is a weird one. The team at the heart of the 1999 superhero comedy ‘Mystery Men’ did originate in the pages of a comic book, but they not in their own title. This motley crew of sub-par heroes were actually the supporting cast of an indie comic called ‘The Flaming Carrot,’ which was about a superhero with the head of a, uh, carrot. A parody of superhero comics in general, the title proved indelible to movie studios and it was snatched up … even though everyone involved later agreed that the title character was far too weird to ever make it to the screen.
Instead, a film was built around characters like The Shoveler and Mr. Furious, creating a spot-on riff on superhero movies before superhero movies were ever really a thing.
Although most people will remember ‘The Mask’ as a goofy, kid-friendly Jim Carrey comedy, many people remain unfamiliar with the twisted comic that inspired it. Both the movie and the series have the same central idea: a man discovers a magical mask that, when worn, transforms a person into an unstoppable creature powered by their own id. In the film, that was an excuse for Carrey to make all kinds of silly faces and act like a cartoon character. In the Dark Horse comics series, the wearer of the mask became a violent and terrifying vigilante who dealt his own brand of cruel justice. In fact, New Line strongly considered making ‘The Mask’ as a straightforward horror film for quite some time before deciding to play up the comedy.
‘A History of Violence’
Like ‘Road to Perdition,’ ‘A History of Violence’ is a prestige thriller that doesn’t scream “comic book!” at first glance. Both tell the story of a small-town man whose past as a violent criminal is suddenly outed, but the film diverges from its source material in many key ways. On the page, it’s a far more straightforward crime story, with much of the plot dedicated to explaining the exact details of what went down in our hero’s troubled past. The film is weirder and more ambiguous, with director David Cronenberg leaving much to the imagination and leaning heavily on surreal moments and brutal violence. They may share the same title and premise, but you couldn’t imagine more different results.
‘Men in Black’
Before it was a trilogy of blockbuster films, ‘Men in Black’ was a relatively unknown comic book series, bouncing from publisher to publisher before ending up at Marvel in the mid-’90s. Like the movie, the comic followed members of a top-secret organization (namely agents Jay and Kay) as they fought against extraterrestrial threats facing the planet. Unlike the movie, aliens were only the tip of the MiB’s jurisdiction in the comic version. Not only did they protect the Earth from the scum of the universe, they protected Earth from every supernatural threat imaginable, including demons, zombies and werewolves. The comic was also less comedic, ultimately revealing that the Men in Black organization had nefarious plans of its own for the world. Also, Agent Jay is a white blonde dude in the comics.
‘Cowboys and Aliens’
‘Cowboys and Aliens’ had a long, bizarre road to the screen. Unlike many of the comics on this list, it wasn’t an existing series whose rights were picked up by a movie studio. Rather, it was a comic specifically created to attract the attention of Hollywood, only written and drawn to help sell a pitch in an age where comic book properties were making a pretty penny. This becomes more obvious when you directly compare the two: other than the title and basic premise, the film and comic have virtually nothing in common with each other.
Jon Favreau’s not-particulary-good movie attempts to be a serious sci-fi adventure while the not-particularly-good comic attempts to be a goofy, frequently silly genre riff. In both cases, the only thing ‘Cowboys and Aliens’ has going for it is its title.
‘Dylan Dog: Dead of Night’
It’s okay if you didn’t realize ‘Dylan Dog: Dead of Night’ was based on a comic. Heck, it’s okay if you completely forgot that ‘Dylan Dog: Dead of Night’ actually existed. We did for awhile, too. Like Tintin, Dylan Dog is a character who never really took off in the United States despite being relatively well-known in his native Europe.
The central character in a long-running horror series, Dylan Dog is a paranormal investigator with all kinds of personal tics, including the fact that he always wears the same outfit, which he bought after the death of his lover. The series is surreal and very, very European, but this flavor was completely lost in the Brandon Routh-starring movie, which is about as generic as horror movies can get. For a better take on the work of Italian comics great Tiziano Sclavi, see ‘Cemetery Man,’ starring Rupert Everett as a Dylan Dog-esque character who starred in one of Sclavi’s novels.
If you tell your cinephile friends that director Stephen Frears made a comic book movie, they’d probably spit-take and call you a liar. But he did! Yes, the director of ‘The Queen’ made a movie based on a comic.
Granted, it’s difficult to look at ‘Tamara Drewe’ and immediately realize that it’s based on a funnybook. After all, there aren’t too many English comic strips published in The Guardian that are loose adaptations of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far From the Madding Crowd.’ All of writer/artist Posy Simmonds’ work has been compiled into a single book, letting you enjoy a very different kind of comic … and letting you shock your movie snob friends.
‘Howard the Duck’
One of the most infamous bombs of the ’80s, ‘Howard the Duck‘ has long been a classic example of Hollywood hubris. For many people, the character has become synonymous with box office disasters and awful filmmaking … and that’s not quite fair.
Before he became the subject of a widely panned movie, Howard the Duck was a minor but beloved character in the Marvel comic book universe, sharing the same pages as the Avengers and Spider-Man. Like in the movie, he was (and is) a duck-like alien stranded on Earth, but unlike the movie, his existential, satire-fueled adventures (scripted by the late, great Steve Gerber) are funny, fascinating and wildly entertaining. The comic not only explored the awful/bizarre/hilarious ramifications of being an alien who looked like an adorable talking duck, it allowed readers to view the Marvel world from a unique perspective. Howard’s contributions to his comic universe have been minor, but they’ve been frequently great. It’s a shame that everyone only remembers the awful movie.