These days, comic book movies are all the rage, but most of the ones the public knows about come from either Marvel or DC Comics. While there’s nothing wrong with either publisher, they’re not the only ones putting out amazing content.
For years, fans have unknowingly watched movies based on some of the most notable independent comic books ever made. This list features ten of the best film adaptations of comics most people outside the core fandom haven’t read or heard of before seeing the movie.
1. From Hell (2001)
When most people heard about a new Jack the Ripper film starring Johnny Depp in 2001, comic books were likely the last thing on their minds. After all, most popular comics deal with superheroes and villains, not slasher serial killers from Victorian London.
The movie featured stellar performances by Depp and Heather Graham, who brought the characters to life in a fantastically set motion picture. The story, sets, and high production value place the film fairly high in its genre, but it doesn’t scream “comic book movie” in any way.
From Hell is based on a comic of the same name by legendary scribe Alan Moore of Watchmen fame. It was illustrated by Eddie Campbell, and like most of Moore’s work, it’s a highly praised book many consider his magnum opus. From Hell was published between 1989 and ’98 by Top Shelf Productions.
The compiled series is 572 pages long, which is considerably long for the genre. Moore is notorious for hating film adaptations of his work, and his hatred for the 2001 film is no exception. While the movie received a mostly positive reaction, it deviated enough from the source material to earn Moore’s ire such that he called Depp an “absinthe-swilling dandy.”
2. RED (2010)
In 2010, audiences around the globe gathered in movie theaters to see an all-star cast come together for RED, an action comedy film. The movie stars Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, and many more — it truly is an all-star cast.
The film follows Willis’ Frank Moses, a “Retired Extremely Dangerous” former black-ops agent who reunites with his old team to take down an assassin who’s put a target on his back. It’s a great mix of comedy and action, and it all comes from a comic book series of the same name from WildStorm and Homage Comics.
The entirety of the series consists of only three issues. Still, two films were made from that limited monthly series (a sequel to RED was released in 2013). The books were written by Warren Ellis, with illustrations by Cully Hamner.
The movie deviated from the comics in several areas, but they are thematically very similar. The level of violence and the concept of government overreach in dealing with its trained killers are all there, even if the plot’s events are relatively different. The movie also introduces several characters not seen in the comics.
3. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
Another subject that doesn’t often find itself in comics these days is that of the secret agent. So, when viewers sat down to watch Kingsman: The Secret Service in 2014, they probably didn’t realize they were watching a movie based on a comic book.
The books in question were illustrated by Dave Gibbons and written by Mark Millar, a man whose work has been translated to the silver screen numerous times. He’s the man behind Wanted, Kick-Ass, and many other movies. His 2012 comic book series about a boutique spy agency in London is one of his many properties made into live-action.
The movie stars Taron Egerton as Eggsy, a young man brought into the spy game years after his father died saving an agent named Harry. Once recruited, he goes from small-town thug to a proper butt-kicking gentleman. In the end, he saves the world from Samuel L. Jackson’s version of a crazed billionaire.
The film is a very loose adaptation of the comics, as numerous elements are considerably different. The overall structure is there, but the stories are vastly different, as are the characters, their backstories, and pretty much everything else. At most, the movie is inspired by the books, but it’s still considered an adaptation of the Icon Comics series.
4. The Mask (1994)
The Mask is arguably one of the most important films on Jim Carrey’s CV, as it took a relatively unknown actor and made him a superstar. Granted, it was released a few months after Ace Ventura, and before Dumb & Dumber, so it’s fair to say that 1994 was a good year for Carrey.
The Mask also introduced Cameron Diaz to the world. It smashed records, earning more than $350 million on a budget of around $23 million. It shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that The Mask is based on a comic book series, but the two properties are really different.
Dark Horse Comics published The Mask from 1991 to 1995 as three limited series. The books were created by John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke, but it featured several prominent artists throughout its run.
The biggest difference between the comics and the movie is the tone. While the film is a slapstick comedy, the comics are satirical and ridiculously violent. The Mask is also sentient in the comics and is referred to as “Big Head.” Additionally, wearing the titular artifact in the comics leads the wearer to insanity, while the movie helps teach them a valuable lesson.
5. Road To Perdition (2002)
Tom Hanks doesn’t seem like the kind of actor who would take on a comic book character, but that’s precisely what he did when he starred in 2002’s Road to Perdition. The period crime drama features Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, and Daniel Craig in a tale of vengeance in 1931 Depression-era America.
The movie is based on a graphic novel of the same name written by Max Allan Collins with illustrations by Richard Piers Rayner. Road to Perdition was published by Paradox Press in 1998 and was inspired by The Godfather, The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, real-life gangster John Patrick Looney, and a manga titled Lone Wolf and Cub.
There are four stories in the graphic novel, with only the first one titled “Road to Perdition.” Only the first story was adapted for the film, as the subsequent stories take place after the events of the first.
The book and the movie follow the same story and characters. Regardless, there are some differences in terms of tone. The comics delve deeper into the nature of Catholic sin and redemption. The film focuses more attention on the relationship between father and son. Still, for the most part, it’s a faithful adaptation of the source material.
6. Oldboy (2003)
Oldboy is arguably one of the most well-known neo-noir action thrillers to come out of South Korean cinema in the past several decades. According to Roger Ebert, Oldboy is a “powerful film not because of what it depicts, but because of the depths of the human heart which it strips bare.”
The movie is centered on Oh Dae-Su, a man imprisoned in a hotel room-style cell for 15 years without explanation. He doesn’t know who his jailers are or why after 15 years, he’s inexplicably released. After this, he goes on a full-on vengeance tour, taking the fight to the people who destroyed his life.
Oldboy is based on a Japanese manga series of the same name serialized in Weekly Manga Action. The books were written by Garon Tsuchiya with illustrations by Nobuaki Minegishi. The comics were published between 1996 and ’98, consisting of 79 chapters collected into eight volumes, and are an exceptional read.
The movie and comics differ in some respects, though unlike the other films on this list, the movie version is far more violent than the comics. It’s also much lewder and harsher on the protagonist, who is imprisoned for ten years (not 15) in the comics.
7. The Crow (1994)
As discussed yesterday in Top 10 Eerie Predictions That Foreshadowed Celebrity Tragedy, just as Brandon Lee’s film career was getting off the ground, he was tragically killed in an on-set accident while filming The Crow. This is what the movie is most remembered for, as it indeed was a tragedy, but the released film was far more than that. It was a fantastic story of violence met with love and vengeance.
The Crow is centered around Eric Draven, a murdered musician resurrected from the grave via the power of a crow to avenge the deaths of himself and his fiancée. The film is dark and features an incredible soundtrack that perfectly pairs with the on-screen action. When it was released, it was dedicated to Lee and his fiancée, Aliza Hutton.
The film is based on James O’Barr’s comic book of the same name, which was published by Caliber Comics in 1989. He wrote the books as a sort of therapy to help him deal with the death of his own fiancée at the hands of a drunk driver. The comic was a massive underground success.
The 1994 movie is a close adaptation of the books that keeps much of the darker, brooding dialogue of the protagonist intact. There are several character differences (Eric doesn’t have a surname in the books and isn’t a musician), and some of the violent deaths are also different.
8. A History Of Violence (2005)
David Cronenberg stepped away from his usual fare of body horror films to direct an action-thriller in 2005. A History of Violence stars Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall, a diner owner in a small town. When two robbers come into the store and begin threatening his employees and customers, things turn… well, violent.
He quickly and easily kills the two men, which thrusts him into the spotlight, which is a problem. He’s soon confronted by a hitman from the Philadelphia-based Irish Mob, who claims Tom is actually Joey Cusack, a hitman for the Mob who disappeared some time ago.
A History of Violence is another movie most people could have gone their entire lives without knowing it was based on a comic book. A History of Violence was published by Paradox Press in 1997 and was written by John Wagner with illustrations by Vince Locke.
The graphic novel and the movie are almost identical up to a point. The first half of the film matches that of the comic, but it deviates from there. While the movie follows the central theme of the book, the plot changes considerably. Regardless, both the film and the movie are exceptional despite the differences.
9. Men In Black (1997)
In 1997, a major film franchise was launched with the release of Men in Black. The film was a phenomenal success, earning almost $600 million on a $90 million budget. It elevated Will Smith to superstardom following his past performances in mega-hits, Bad Boys and Independence Day.
Given the film’s subject, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that it’s based on a comic book. The Men in Black was published by Aircel Comics from 1990 to ’91 and was written by Lowell Cunningham with illustrations by Sandy Carruthers.
There were six issues published for the series (broken into two runs of three). When Aircel was acquired by Malibu Comics and subsequently Marvel Comics, additional books were published to coincide with the film, including a prequel, a sequel, and a movie adaptation.
The comics weren’t successful in the underground market, but they gained enough attention for the adaptation, which is very different. The books are dark and have no comedic elements, while the film is most definitely a comedy.
The MiB in the books are more of an extermination force than border patrol agents, and nobody cares about collateral damage. Ultimately, the film is far superior to the comics it’s based on.
10. Ghost World (2001)
2001’s Ghost World is an Academy Award-winning black comedy starring Scarlett Johansson, Thora Birch, and Steve Buscemi. It was a massive critical success, which earned cult film status almost immediately. It took home the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff.
Ghost World is centered around the lives of Enid and Rebecca, both of whom are teenage outsiders in an American city. Ultimately, Their relationship begins to sour as an older man named Seymour comes into their lives. The film focuses on the nature of relationships, loneliness, and an analysis of modern life in America.
The movie is based on a comic book series of the same name, published by Fantagraphics Books from 1993 to 1997. The comics were a commercial and critical success, becoming a cult status in the underground comic book scene. The books were created by Daniel Clowes, who wrote and illustrated them. He helped adapt his work into the screenplay.
The movie and comics are different in various ways, but these are relatively minor. Of course, the existence of Seymour offers the most significant difference, as he isn’t in the books. Despite this, the theme and structure of the story remain mostly true, which is largely due to the involvement of Clowes.