Comic book fans are spoiled nowadays. We are living in a time where there are movies and TV series coming out all the time based on our favorite comic books. The best part is that most of them are actually pretty good! Who would have thought we would ever see a big screen version of the Avengers? These are truly great times we live in. However, since all the chatter is about the latest, greatest comic book films and TV series, we tend to forget about a lot of awesome movies that predated The Avengers era.
Some of the movies on this list are indie films that flew under the radar that you might not realize are based on comics. A few of these actually have hugely popular superheroes in them, but have been overshadowed by more recent interpretations. There are even several that came out before 2000. Yes, surprisingly there were a few awesome comic book films that came out before the new millennium. Now, let’s take a trip down memory lane and remember 15 comic book films you forgot were awesome!
15. THE LOSERS
Chris Evans has made quite a few comic book films. Obviously, we all know him as Captain America, and it’s still a debate whether we should try to forget him as Johnny Storm. However, perhaps his best comic book role was as Jensen in The Losers. Evans stole the show as the hacker in a group of ex-special forces agents fighting to get their lives back.
Based on the comic series of the same name by Andy Diggle and Jock, The Losers film came out in 2010 but wasn’t nearly as popular as it should have been. While some things were changed from the comic series, the movie actually stayed pretty faithful and was a hell of a lot of fun. Other than Evans, you also have Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Idris Elba, and Zoe Saldana giving really great, charismatic performances. Sure, some of it is cheesy, but The Losers is a pretty awesome action film.
14. 30 DAYS OF NIGHT
30 Days of Night is a comic series that is criminally underrated. Written by Steve Niles with amazing art by Ben Templesmith, the series gives readers a really scary, but new take on vampires, where they try to take over a town in Alaska where the sun doesn’t come out for a month. The film with the same name came out in 2007, and did moderately well for its time, but many folks have completely forgotten about it since.
With so many really bad horror films coming out, fans of scary movies should give 30 Days of Night another look. This is a gruesome vampire film that doesn’t pull any punches, filled to the brim with genuine scares and buckets of blood. The vampires aren’t Twilight-ish sparkly vampires, bur rather look like demons, with gaping maws and blood dripping all over them. 30 Days of Night actually got a decent sequel too, written by Steve Niles himself.
13. BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM
There is a small but fairly vocal group out there that will tell you the best Batman movie isn’t The Dark Knight. No, it’s Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. The animated film has faded into relative obscurity after its release in 1993 because shortly thereafter, the live-action Batman films started to get really bad.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm comes from the brain of Batman: The Animated Series mastermind Bruce Timm. The film tells the story of Batman being hunted by Gotham PD after another masked vigilante starts taking out mob bosses. At a glance, police think Batman is committing the crimes, but it’s actually a new vigilante named Phantasm. The film currently has an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is better than everything else pre-Nolan. Do yourself a favor, check it out!
12. GHOST WORLD
Ghost World is an odd film. It’s far from your typical comic book flick, but trust us, it’s damn good. The film, based on the comic book of the same name by Daniel Clowes, tells the story of two disillusioned, recent high school graduates, who hate the world and everyone in it. Ghost World was released in 2001, but it still holds up really well nowadays based on the strong acting by Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi.
Lots of comic book fans can probably relate to Ghost World, especially if you were a teen in the late-90s and early-00s. Every scene is filled with suitable angst, but not the crappy kind you find on the CW. No, this is real emotion. Oh yeah, and don’t forget that Scarlett Johanson is in the film, way before she eventually becomes Black Widow.
11. PUNISHER: WAR ZONE
Punisher: War Zone gets a bad rep for a variety of reasons. The film was released in 2008, hot off the heels of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe. War Zone also followed up Thomas Jane’s Punisher that wasn’t a huge hit, but found a decent audience in 2004. And now, we have the Netflix Punisher, which is super faithful to the comic and is already a fan favorite.
Punisher: War Zone deserves a place on this list because you have to give it a re-watch understanding a couple things. First, Lexi Alexander had just read the Marvel Max Punisher series and fell in love with the over-the-top violence and action. She then decided to reboot the franchise, with a hard R-rating, and make her version of the old ’80s action films. The campiness and cheese are on purpose! Seriously, watch it again — you’re guaranteed to experience a brutal, fun Punisher film.
10. MYSTERY MEN
The reason the Deadpool film worked as a superhero satire was because audiences now have over 10 years of quality superhero films, and they understand the tropes. When Mystery Men came out in 1999, the world was still reeling from Batman and Robin, and Mystery Men’s satirical elements came off as campy and silly. The film faded away and now is the undue butt of jokes.
However, Mystery Men is actually great! The film is a pretty fun satire of superheroes starring some great comedic actors. Sure, the look and feel of the film is a bit dated because it was made almost 20 years ago, but audiences should give it a shot to revisit what was one of the first major superhero satires of the modern era. Plus, it’s one of the reasons the world fell in love with “All Star” by Smash Mouth. Okay, maybe that’s not so great… but the movie sure was fun!
9. A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE
A History of Violence is one of the most underrated crime films of the last 20 years. The story of a diner owner who easily kills two robbers, and may or may not be a gangster, was a critical success when it was released in 2005, receiving tons of award nominations. However, it seems like over time, it never gets mentioned in lists of great comic book movies (or films in general). Also, people tend to forget it was actually based on a comic series of the same name.
The film was actually directed by David Cronenberg, so you know you’re going to get a film that challenges you in all the right ways. Viggo Mortensen is in rare form as the diner owner and possible gangster. A History of Violence is a film that will stick with you long after you finish watching it. Sure, there are no superheroes, but this is one awesome comic book movie.
Red is a classic case of a quality movie getting forgotten about after the sequel disappoints. Released in 2010, the film was a surprising success at the box office. Based on a relatively obscure comic by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, Red was a great mixture of action and humor starring some of the best aging actors in Hollywood.
Red tells the story of a retired Special Forces agent, who is attacked by an assassin. He then turns to his old, Special Forces buddies and teams up to take down the people responsible. Bruce Willis is great in the film, but its John Malkovich and Helen Mirren that steal the show. The film was so successful, the studio quickly made a sequel, but that did much worse critically and financially. Now, people tend to forget that the original is an awesome movie (and while vastly different, a great comic).
7. AMERICAN SPLENDOR
Harvey Pekar was one of the greatest comic book creators to ever live. However, since he never wrote any major superhero comics, his work tends to be forgotten by the mainstream readership today. That shouldn’t stop you from experiencing his life and work in the truly great film, American Splendor. Based on Pekar’s comic of the same name and Our Cancer Year, American Splendor goes over the life and career of Pekar, with a lot of incredible visual style.
When the film was released in 2003, it got a lot of critical attention and award nominations, but it didn’t make a lot of money at the box office. American Splendor sort of faded away over time, but it’s a really great film. Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis do amazing jobs portraying Harvey and Joyce. Plus, there are bits and pieces where the actual Harvey Pekar shows up.
6. SWAMP THING
When people think of the pre-Nightmare on Elm Street career of director Wes Craven, they think of The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. What they don’t think about is Swamp Thing. Yep, Wes Craven, the master of horror, directed a live-action Swamp Thing film in 1982. And guess what? It’s pretty darn awesome!
Following the comics fairly closely, Swamp Thing is about Doctor Alec Holland who turns into the Swamp Thing after his lab is sabotaged by his enemy, Anton Arcane. The movie is definitely low budget, but you can see Wes Craven really trying to make something special. The practical effects are good, and the acting isn’t bad. The film isn’t the campy version of the character that people remember from the sequel and eventual short-lived cartoon. This is the dark, scary Swamp Thing!
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have gone through many different variations over the years. From the live-action trilogy in the ’90s to the recent big budget CGI-fest reboot films, the Turtles have had plenty of ups and downs on the big screen. While nostalgia might tell you differently, the best of all the Turtles films is 2007’s TMNT.
TMNT is the first animated film for the characters, and was an attempt to take the popular kids cartoon and mix it with more influences from the comic book. While critics didn’t really care for the film, TMNT went on to be pretty successful at the box office, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans love it. The animation is smooth and lively, and while the story is relatively formulaic, it does remind viewers of what used to make the characters so awesome when they were first introduced. Plus, there’s 100% less Michael Bay involvement.
Wanted is a film that took most of the elements of the popular comic series and threw them away, in favor of a much more mainstream-friendly action flick. Seriously, if you’ve read the comic and then seen the film, you’d swear they were two different things. However, that doesn’t make the movie bad at all. In fact, it’s really good!
Wanted succeeds because of the actors led by James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie and the amazing, stylized action scenes. Dumping the supervillain angle from the comic books, and getting rid of characters like Shithead, a walking pile of literal poop, the movie focuses on the action and adds a much simpler backstory, with just a hint of fantasy. If you’re a fan of highly skilled assassins shooting at each other, with twists and turns in the story, Wanted is perfect for you.
3. THE ROCKETEER
If you loved Captain America: The First Avenger, then you have to watch The Rocketeer. It’s like a mixture of Iron Man and Captain America. Directed by Joe Johnston, who went on to direct The First Avenger, the film tells the story of a stunt pilot who finds a jetpack and uses it to fight Nazis. How awesome is that?
The film was way ahead of its time. Released in 1991, The Rocketeer barely made its budget back at the box office, and it wasn’t until years later that the film found its cult status among genre film fans. The acting is highlighted by Billy Campbell as The Rocketeer, who the creator of the comic series said was born to play the part. Unfortunately, due to its low box office, Disney never made the planned trilogy, but recent reports say that they want to do a reboot/sequel in the future.
Of all the films on the list, Persepolis is the one that most closely resembles the comic it was based on. Marjane Satrapi, the creator behind the graphic novel, actually co-directed and co-wrote the film based on her own autobiographical story. For that alone, it’s worth watching, just to see an artist fully realize her vision from the printed page to the big screen. Oh yeah, and it was nominated for tons of awards, including Best Animated Film at the Academy Awards.
Persepolis is a coming-of-age story of a young girl that takes place during the Iranian Revolution. Even with the film finishing in multiple Top 10 lists in 2007, it seems like in the last 10 years, people just have forgotten all about it. When people talk about the best films based on comics, Persepolis never gets its due. However, if you want to watch a film that’s an honest work of art, you can’t go wrong with Persepolis.
1. TANK GIRL
No, Tank Girl isn’t the greatest film of all time. It is, however, awesome. When Tank Girl was released in 1995, critics tore it up, and the film bombed at the box office. That didn’t stop fans from loving the character and the film. The cult following surrounding this flick is still growing, with tons of movie-centric Tank Girl cosplays showing up at cons every year.
The story in Tank Girl is almost inconsequential. The reason the film is so awesome is Lori Petty’s performance and the overall punk rock/feminist themes throughout. From the incredible soundtrack that was cultivated by Courtney Love to the cast that has Ice-T, Malcolm McDowell, and even Naomi Watts, Tank Girl is a fun movie to watch with friends and just a blast overall, and a pretty cool look back into the singular cinematic style of a decade.
Which comic book film do you think should get more love? Let us know in the comments!
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