Top 10 Comic Book Movies (Without Superheroes)
When someone mentions a comic book movie one thing springs to mind: spandex. Superheroes have long been associated with the comic genre but as The Walking Dead has shown on television that is not all comics have to offer. Cinema has delivered dozens of comic adaptations without a cape or super-power in sight. In picking out the best we even trimmed out the less conventional heroes like Scott Pilgrim, Constantine and The Crow for their super-powers, and vigilantes. We also crossed out movies that were inspired by a comic but didn’t necessarily adapt it, like Weird Science.
V FOR VENDETTA
Of all the films on the list this is the one that skirts closest to the superhero archetype. He differs in that he’s not a vigilante seeking truth and justice and whatnot but a deranged political activist and terrorist. V and Every were created by legendary comic writer and first class lunatic Alan Moore as a response to Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. Starting out in the short lived anthology comic ‘Warrior’ is was later picked up and reprinted in color by DC who finished the run. It was more than two decades before a cinema adaptation was produced with the message of the movie now reflecting the modern fear of terrorism and government control. Opinion was very divided between fans on how well the comic was adapted, but there’s not criticizing Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman as V and Evey.
On the surface RED looks like any big budget action movie churned out by the Hollywood sausage maker, but it has it’s origins on the printed page. Ellis, who also wrote ‘Planetary’ and ‘Transmetroplitan’, crafted this short running series about a group of retired secret agents and assassins who take up arms again following attempts to wipe them out. The agents tasked with taking out these RED’s (Retired: Extremely Dangerous) find that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew when the retirees not only fight back but take them to school. The movie version padded out the story to fill out the running time, but even Ellis enjoyed the new material. We’re looking forward to RED 2 more than A Good Day to Die Hard.
Road to Perdition
Otherwise known as the movie in which Tom Hanks played a hitman sporting a tommy gun, this under-rated gem is a brilliantly dark and grimy recreation of a similarly dark and grimy graphic novel. The story follows a family man whose work for the mob see his family gunned down, save for his young son. The two head out to find safety, even if it means killing those that controlled their lives. The movie also features director Sam Mendes creating some of his most striking visuals and a bulldog-faced murderer.
The unorthodox way this movie is put together reflects the unorthodox way the comics came about. Harold Pekar was a grumpy sod to say the least. As a child in the 40s Pekar was frustrated that comics were so formulaic, and the medium could be put to better use. Several decades and two divorces later he crosses paths with famed illustrator Robert Crumb and puts forward the idea that comics could tell stories about his every day life and the things that annoy him. The collaboration was not just a success but it opened the doors for a new perspective on the medium. The movie blends the visuals of the comics with a perfect performance from Paul Giamatti to create a unique experience.
For this list we tried to match great movies with great comics. This one is breaks the pattern by having a mediocre movie out weighted by a phenomenal graphic novel. If you haven’t encountered either than it’s recommended that you see the movie first. Johnny Depp puts in a spirited performance as an opium addled psychic detective on the trail of Jack the Ripper. The graphic novel is a very realistic, very dark and very, very, very long historical epic. Writer Alan Moore put in his usual insane amounts of research into the era and builds a historically accurate tale drawn in charcoal to recreate the soot covered streets of London. Put aside a month and dwell on it.
A direct descendant of the comic genre birthed by American Splendor, but for the Daria generation. From the get-go ‘Ghost World’ was a hit with teenage readers and turned into a cult classic, detailed the day to day lives of two Gen X youths fresh out of high school. The movie brought together Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson and Steve Buscemi in a perfect bit of casting to bring the characters to life. Whenever you get nostalgic for the 90s this is the instant cure.
A History of Violence
One day David Cronenberg woke up and decided that he wasn’t going to make body horror movies but gritty crime thrillers with Viggo Mortensen. To begin with they adapted John Wagner (legendary writer of ‘Judge Dredd’ and a gajillion other classic titles) about a small town diner owner and family man whose dark and violent past comes to light when he dispatches of a pair of robbers. The graphic novel is a unique take on the crime genre, and the film version does it a solid service. Mortensen’s performance in particular makes it a must-see.
Frank Miller had an interesting notion when he started to put pen to paper with ‘300’ – he wished to take a historical events and turn it into mythology. Working from the Battle of Thermopylae during which 300 Spartan warriors held back an army of a million Persian soldiers for three days the tale is a fantastical epic of blood and mayhem. Zack Snyder took to the film version with the same attitude and used heavy amounts of slowed and sped up footage to emphasis the larger than life situation to good effect.
Men in Black
Looking at the above composite you may be able to detect a slight change in the character of Jay in adapting ‘Men in Black’ to the big screen. Will Smith really was the perfect man to bring this role to life though, and the truth is the comics may have slipped out of all public consciousness if it were not for the mega-hit film franchise. The comics themselves only consisted of a small number of issues and occasional one-shots, and never capitalised on the popularity of the brand after the film.
Sin City started a tend in comic book movies where the director would do their best to perfectly recreate the panels of the comic. A rather perplexing idea, and quite against the notion of turning a still image into a movie narrative, but in this case it worked to a tee and the fad faded. Frank Miller turned the crime genre on it’s head with his monochromatic, ultra-violent world of sleaze. With a brilliant ensemble cast and Tarantino pitching in Rodriguez made a movie almost as memorable as the graphic novels.