Recent years have been good for the comic book and graphic novel to film adaptations such as the hugely popular SPIDER-MAN (2002) and X-MEN (2000) franchises not to mention the more low-key GHOST WORLD (2001) and A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005). Comic books and graphic novels have become a new way to tap into the subculture of today’s audiences. Asian and European cultures have been doing it for years by adapting their most popular manga and graphic novels into various animated and live action series and films (to which we have made our own versions) but because there has been such a stigma in America that comic books “are for kids” Americans have been slow to catch on until now. Below is a list of a few of the highlights over the years.
A violent exercise in war as only comic book artist Frank Miller can deliver. Director Zach Snider’s faithful adaptation is a testament to great filmmaking when it comes to adapting a graphic novel for the big screen. It’s like he just opened up Miller’s novel and brought it to glorious life.
AMERICAN SPLENDER (2003)
The extraordinary story of cartoonist Harvey Pekar as seen through the eyes of actor Paul Giamatti and directors Sheri Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. It’s an amazing visual and live action comic rarely attempted or seen on the big screen.
Tim Burton’s re-imagined DC character is dark and brooding and the complete opposite of the television incarnation. Audiences were shocked and awed and the success of this film paved the way for future comic book films. This film allowed the world of the comic book to become real. Unlike SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1978) where obviously there is a heavy “camp” feeling, BATMAN is played heavy and dark and realistic as Burton tries to make the audience believe that this could happen in the real world.
CROW, THE (1994)
Creator James O’Barr’s personal creation of a wrongfully killed person returning to life to avenge his and his lover’s death is a dark fantasy unlike any other comic book adapted film before it. Many audiences didn’t even know it was based upon a comic until after the fact due to the film’s universal themes which touched audiences in a way not originally intended.
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005)
A loose adaptation of the graphic novel on the nature of evil and the life of a former gangster in hiding. David Cronenberg’s film improves on the source material by making Tom Stall (played by the enigmatic Viggo Mortensen) a “regular” guy with a dark past who wants to preserve the new life he has verses the old one he’s hiding from. Like his NAKED LUNCH (1991), SPIDER (2002), THE DEAD ZONE (1983) and DEAD RINGERS (1988), this is a character study in line with the best of them.
A film divided among the people who know the character from the various incarnations in the comic books and those who fondly remember the ’80s television show that was hampered by a low budget and limited special effects of the time. A beautifully rendered character film from acclaimed director Ang Lee who delivered on the spectacle but audiences thought the film lacked more action. This does not detract from an otherwise flawless film.
MASK, THE (1994)
This Jim Carey comic gem makes you believe a comic book can truly come to life with zany antics and musical numbers to boot. Based on a small press character from Dark Horse Comics, the Mask was a perfect match for the big screen matched only by the charisma Carey brings with it.
ROAD TO PERDITION (2002)
Another gangster graphic novel come big screen film starring Tom Hanks no less. Director Sam Mendes brings beauty to a world of gangsters and violence and Hanks brings humanity to a character whom otherwise doesn’t deserve it. It’s a road trip between a father and son like none other and a rare film derived from a graphic novel that has real heart.
An authentic adaptation of one of Marvel comics most beloved characters. Spear-headed by acclaimed director Sam Raimi, SPIDER-MAN is a testament that a spandex wearing super-hero film can be just a poignant as any other film.
SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1978)
The grandfather of all comic book based films as it set the standard that would be followed for years to come. Although there were many that came after it, this was the bar from which all other films of this genre were judged (until BATMAN redefined the bar) and it was also the first to generate a genuine franchise.
The comic book based genre of cinema is having a resurgence like never before with the new Superman and Batman films as well as with the success of smaller characters like Blade and Ghost Rider and Constantine. Audiences are finally being given films that don’t talk down to the audience or “camp” it up. These are a sign of good things to come.