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In the current ongoing stream of DC and Marvel superhero movies, we tend to forget about the comic book movies that stand alone, away from the superhero sensation. These movies, while much smaller in size, still complete incredible feats in bringing graphic novels and comic books to the big screen for their fans and new viewers. Ranging in style and visual adaptations, these comic book movies take a story that once had visual aid and bring it even further to life.
While some films attempt to recreate a comic book as a feature length film, it comes as somewhat of an art. There’s no simple way of pulling one from another, but there are examples of this impressive transition. Whether it be a complete reproduction of the comic book, or a more loose translation, comic books have inspired a number of different filmmakers, and have gained entirely new audiences through their adaptation to film. So here we praise the 10 greatest comic book movies, not about superheroes.
American SplendorBased partly off of Harvey Pekar’s comic book series American Splendor, the film of the same name takes a look into the life of the comic book writer portrayed by Paul Giamatti. Pekar’s American Splendor comic book series is a visual representation of himself and his own life. It explores what he thinks in common day-to-day tasks, and even brings mention of many of the people in his normal life.
What American Splendor the film did so successfully was bring aspects of the comic book into the storytelling of the movie combined with appearances from Harvey Pekar himself and the characters his stories include. It shows the struggles of becoming and maintaining a life as a comic book writer. The film even received a deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Ghost WorldNever has a teen been quite as angsty as young Scarlett Johansson Rebecca and Thora Birch’s Enid. Daniel Clowes Ghost World comic book followed the day-to-day lives of two best friends, Enid and Rebecca. Both cynical and witty teenagers recently graduated from high school, the two spend their days criticizing popular culture and wandering around town, all in a sort of coming-of-age story.
What the film version of Ghost World did so well was how seamlessly it translated these two high school comic book characters into live-action. The casting was perfection, not only would we see Scarlett Johansson go on to uber success, but Thora Birch embodied Enid’s angsty, bitter and impulsive nature perfectly. Both comic, and film have reached cult status, and the movie also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Sin CityBased off of Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, Sin City remains one of the greatest comic book crime movies of all time. Miller’s original comic book series has been serialized into thirteen parts following their first appearances. Famous for its artwork, influenced heavily from film noir, the Sin City movie adaptation used this style to its cinematic benefit. The film which Frank Miller co-directed with Desperado’s Robert Rodríguez was based mostly on the first, third and fourth books of Miller’s original series.
With a stellar cast, and a unique and cinematic style, Sin City opened to wide commercial and critical success. The film won the Technical Grand Prize at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival for its "visual shaping", but it wasn’t just how gorgeously the pages of Miller’s graphic novel were adapted that Sin City so special. Miller’s voice and violence was captured on the big screen, not just visually, but emotionally. And since previously having a negative experience with Hollywood, Miller may have never let his comic books continue to be adapted not had for his positive experience on this masterpiece.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the WorldScott Pilgrim was defeating evil exes while ink on a page years before he took the big screen in the film adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. And when you’ve got a seasoned director with experience in the badass quirk such as Edgar Wright, no comic seems more fitting to the Shaun of the Dead helmer. Placing Michael Cera in the lead role was also a perfect move in bringing Scott Pilgrim to life.
Wright spent years on the film, and it was released later than expected, but each member of their team seemed entirely dedicated. When the studio signed Michael Bacall on to write the screenplay adaptation, the writer came aboard because of how much he empathized with the characters in the books. Even the creator of the original comics, Bryan Lee O’Malley was a voice in the adaptation. Overall, the film did a stunning job of combining animation and live-action in the similarly colorful ways the comic book emulated.
V For VendettaAlan Moore is one talented comic book writer. From V For Vendetta to From Hell to Watchmen, not all of his masterfully written works are brought to life properly on the big screen, but V For Vendetta stands as the best example. With the screenplay written by the Wachowski siblings, V For Vendetta was the directorial debut to their own assistant director on the Matrix trilogy, James McTeigue.
Following an anarchist freedom fighter on the verge of igniting a revolution, V For Vendetta not only spoke on a visually impressive level, but also politically. The film has even gone so far to help certain libertarians and anarchists promote their own beliefs. Along with a generally positive critical reception, the film was filled with talented acting, an engaging plot, and impressive depth. There are notable differences between the film and original comic books, which have often been chalked up to the Wachowskis fitting the story into a more modern political context. With that, many of the characters were also changed. But, the film still demonstrated similar themes exposed in Moore’s classic piece.
PersepolisAs an autobiographical graphic novel, Persepolis told a truly powerful coming-of-age story of a girl experiencing life surrounded by the Iranian Revolution. Marjane’s Satrapi’s Persepolis was originally published in French but was translated to several languages and made popular around the world As Marjane grew up to her early adult years she saw her home country of Iran completely change during the Islamic revolution.
The animated film was co-written and directed with Marjane Satrapi along with Vincent Paronnaud. It was a co-winner for the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated feature. What the film did so well though was that it was presented in the original black-and-white style of the graphic novels, and especially stayed true to story considering the writer was such a big part of the production. Like the graphic novel itself, the film caused controversy, but was a real life experience of the shifting social environment in Iran.
A History Of ViolenceDavid Cronenberg’s A History of Violence combined the story adapted from the 1997 graphic novel of the same name along with the director’s penchant for realistic depictions of extreme violence. Screenwriter of the film Josh Olsen based his screenplay loosely on the graphic novel but with exploration of particular themes that the story explored. After the first the version of the script, it was extensively reworked by Cronenberg, who had most say in the outcome.
While many of the character’s names and relationships were changed in the film, as well as much of the story progressions, the themes for the most part remained the same. Though the relationship between graphic novel and film may be different, it was the way that Cronenberg translated his style. At its core, it was a Cronenberg movie, and while some of these comic book movies relate closely to the texts they are based on, this was a success in its own way, inspired by the violent themes and character studies explored on the pages.
Road to PerditionAdapted from Max Allen Collins’ graphic novel Road to Perdition the film of the same name put known faces to the crime thriller set during the Great Depression. The comic book itself is loosely based on a Japanese manga series called Lone Wolf and Cub which the film also used in adapting its screenplay. The film, while deep in story, mostly focused on the cinematography and lead performances by Tom Hanks and Paul Newman.
Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), Road to Perdition tells the story of a Irish mob boss and his enforcer. Steven Spielberg was actually one of the first to set eyes on the original graphic novel and see the opportunity to take it to the big screen. While he did not pursue directing the new project, it went to Mendes after completing American Beauty. While the narrative was seen as simple, it was the themes of the graphic novel that stuck out, and how the character’s deal with the violence that appealed in the direction of the movie.
300Another Frank Miller comic book makes the list as the 2006 fantasy war film 300 based on the comic book of the same name. One of Zack Snyder’s most well-known directorial features, 300 did not come without plenty of controversy surrounding it. Though Snyder stands by the accuracy of many of the explored themes and stories, Miller has previously stated that his inaccuracies in story were intentional. But regardless of the controversy surrounding it, 300 is a stunning depiction of the graphic novel it adapts.
The visuals and style were very true to the comic, and it was even filmed in a special technique called super-imposition chroma key, to help replicate the imagery from Miller’s pages. The film saw a huge box office opening, and while the characterization is not as in depth as Miller’s story, the reality of bringing his story to live-action to such a visually stunning composition was truly impressive. Both fictional tellings of the Battle of Thermopylae, like Miller’s style of writing, the stories were both dark, graphic, and violent, but somehow still gorgeous.
SnowpiercerAn intense and unique story Bong Joon-ho’s South Korean science fiction action film Snowpiercer was actually based off the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige (translated The Snow-Piercer). The 1982 graphic novel later retitled The Escape was found by director Bong Joon-hoo in 2004 and he was completely hooked. Taking the ideas of people struggling for survival while riding on a train segregated in social stratification, he soon realized the story needed to be brought to the screen.
While Bong Joon-ho came up with a new story and characters, he still instilled the same dystopian themes and struggles explored in the graphic novel. With stars attached from Chris Evans to Tilda Swinton to Jamie Bell, it marked the director’s debut into English-language filmmaking and was an incredible success among critics. It received such high acclaim that its initial limited showing expanded to more theaters, and even to digital streaming services.