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The 15 Strangest Comic Book Movies Ever

by  in Lists, Comic News, Movie News Comment
The 15 Strangest Comic Book Movies Ever

After years of anticipation, “Doctor Strange” has finally hit theaters. And yet, as weird as the dimension-traveling saga of the Sorcerer Supreme is, when it comes to movies based on comics, it’s not even close to the strangest. Just as comics from The Big Two can sometimes overshadow what lesser-known creators and publishers have to offer, the box office dominance of superheroes makes it easy to forget about the other kinds of comics imaginative filmmakers have adapted to the big screen over the years.

RELATED: 15 Comic Book Movies You Want To Forget

Don’t worry, though, because we have not forgotten. Whether they are ’60s underground comix, newspaper strips from the ’30s or even manga from the 2000s, there’s a whole world of movies that have used comics as the basis for some of the most narratively and visually unique works of cinema ever made. Now, does that mean they’re all good? Not necessarily, but they’re certainly always interesting, at very least. For better or worse, here are the 15 Strangest Comic Movies Ever.

15. Tank Girl

tank-girl

Many know Jamie Hewlett’s work from the animated band Gorillaz, but the cartoonist first came to prominence in 1988 when he created “Tank Girl” with writer Alan Martin. The title character — an outlaw who lives in a tank in a post apocalyptic desert — quickly became a counterculture icon thanks to the comic’s inventively anarchic stories and art. In 1995, Rachel Talalay was tapped to direct the film adaptation starring Lori Petty, Naomi Watts and Ice-T, and while it’s not perfect, it is equally nuts.

Petty’s performance channels Bugs Bunny via ’90s MTV, which can easily grate on modern viewers, but it’s all part of a movie that has no problem with randomly lapsing into incredible animated sequences (worked on by Hewlett), or having a sex scene occur between a human and a talking kangaroo. While studio interference kept “Tank Girl” from fulfilling its potential and caused it to flop, it’s still worth watching just for the arc of Rocket Girl (Watts), who goes from oppressed worker to rebellious hero thanks to the inspiration from Tank Girl, her new BFF. Also, what other movie features both production design from future “Twilight” director Catherine Hardwicke and Ice-T as a Kangaroo warrior? None!

14. Doctor Strange (1978)

doctor-strange-original

That’s right, Cumerbatch, you’re actually in a reboot! Well, maybe not technically, but this year’s “Doctor Strange” isn’t the first live action movie of the Sorcerer Supreme. While the budget of the 1978 TV movie from filmmaker Philip DeGuere, titled “Dr. Strange,” is probably less than a hundredth of today’s blockbuster extravaganza, it’s the absence of today’s well-funded, comics-faithful adaptation protocol that makes it so… well… strange.

Starring an impeccably moustachioed Peter Wooten as a Stephen Strange, who, to show how hip he is, refers to alcohol as “sauce,” the movie makes a series of alterations to Steve Ditko‘s character that are difficult to comprehend today. Like, why make Strange a psychiatrist instead of a surgeon? We may never truly understand the movie, which doubled as a pilot to a series that wasn’t picked up. It may still be worth tracking down both, simply for the campy special effects quotient, and to see “Arrested Development” and “Archer” star Jessica Walter honing her evil chops early as antagonist Morgan le Fay.

13. Hentai Kamen: Forbidden Superhero

hentai-kamen

You probably haven never heard of “Hentai Kamen,” and that’s probably a good thing. Originally a comedy manga by Keishu Ando that ran from 1992 to 1993, “Hentai Kamen,” which translates to “Pervert Mask,” told the fairly ridiculous story of a high school student who accidentally discovers that putting women’s underwear over his head gives him superpowers. Yup. That’s a thing.

In 2013, it was adapted by Yūichi Fukuda into a superhero movie that, whatever you think of it, will at least never be accused of ripping off Christopher Nolan. High schooler Kyosuke Shikijo, the child of a police detective and dominatrix, discovers his powers while trying to rescue his crush from a hostage situation. Fighting through ridiculous poses, genital proximity and general perverted grossness, the coming-of-age origin story plays out like the weirdest variation of Spider-Man ever imagined. But while the movie’s combination of unhinged humor and unexpected earnestness makes for a surprisingly enjoyable watch, the strangest part of all is that somehow, it did well enough to get a sequel.

12. Dick Tracy

dick-tracy

One of the earliest comics heroes, the adventures of police detective Dick Tracy first took newspapers by storm in 1931. Creator Chester Gould wrote and drew the strip from 1931 to 1977, and though its height may have come before the more recent comics movie boom, a series of film serials starring Ralph Byrd in the 1930s laid some very early groundwork. It wasn’t until 1990, though, that the film received the modern blockbuster treatment, from an all star cast and crew led by Warren Beatty.

Beatty, who both directed the movie and starred as Tracy, went all in. Drafting Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman and, naturally, Madonna (as witness/seductress Breathless Mahoney), the star doubled his budget thanks to cost overruns. No wonder: collaborating with “Apocalypse Now” cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Beatty limited the film’s palette to seven colors in order to evoke the comic feel. Combined with its stylized, ’30s comics dialogue, the troubled production may just have been too much for 1990 to handle, and is considered one of Hollywood’s most infamous flops.

11. Popeye

popeye

Popeye, in his original iteration, is already extremely weird. Begun as a comic strip by E.C. Segar in 1929, and popularized via Max Fleischer’s cartoons, the adventures of a bizarrely-shaped sailor who eats spinach in order to effectively go Super Saiyan have never seemed like a possible candidate for live action adaptation, let alone a good one… except, apparently to Robert Altman. From a script by cartoonist (and illustrator of the classic children’s book “The Phantom Tollboth”) Jules Feiffer, Altman somehow did the impossible, creating a feature length, live action cartoon.

Taking place in town of Sweethaven, which the production brought to life by building an actual village of cartoonishly angled roads and squished together buildings, the unusual tone and content didn’t lead the 1980 film to box office success. At this point, it may be best known for its Harry Nilsson soundtrack (it’s a musical too!), which Paul Thomas Anderson sampled in “Punch Drunk Love.” Anchoring it all is the fact that Altman found an actor who could make the sailor man’s combination of gruff, incomprehensible mumbling and mushy heart feel real, by casting an actor named Robin Willliams in his first ever lead role.

10. The Spirit

the-spirit

Of all the early comics to have been adapted into films, “The Spirit” is the most important. Created by legendary cartoonist Will Eisner in 1940, the masked crime fighting vigilante helped make Eisner one of the most influential comics artists ever. One of his students was more recent comics legend Frank Miller, the writer and artist behind “The Dark Knight Returns” and “300.” Fresh off co-directing “Sin City” with Robert Rodriguez, he made his solo filmmaking debut with “The Spirit” in 2008; as we’ve come to expect from latter day Miller, it’s a doozy.

To begin with, Miller wasn’t exactly faithful to the source material. From giving The Spirit a supernatural healing power, to depicting his previously unseen nemesis, the Octopus, as Samuel L. Jackson in a series of increasingly flamboyant costumes, it’s clear Miller had his own ideas. But it’s not just what he does, it’s the way he does it: pushing the stylized look of “Sin City” towards more photorealism only makes things look weirder, and calling the performances “over the top” seems too weak a description. “The Spirit” may have bombed, but it’s still pure, uncut Frank Miller, which is certainly… well, it’s an experience, at least.

9. Barbarella

barbarella

“Barbarella” got its best press in years when it was announced that Kelly Sue DeConnick would re-adapt the French sci-fi comic with an updated translation. Created by Jean-Claude Forest in the early ’60s, the controversial series was considered an early “adult” comic book. It being the ’60s, a movie soon followed. The 1968 film starred Jane Fonda and was directed by her then-husband, french filmmaker Roger Vadim. Over the ensuing years, it’s become one of those movies whose imagery you’re probably familiar with, even if you haven’t watched it.

Taking place in the future, the film’s titular hero, Barbarella, is an astronaut who crash lands on a foreign planet while searching for a scientist on orders from the President of Earth. While it’s hard to adequately describe what happens next in words, we can say that Barbarella meets a variety of beings, from “Mark Hand, The Catchman,” to a literal angel… and then has sex with a lot of them. Culminating in a revolution against the “Great Tyrant,” which sees Barbarella nearly dying with pleasure at the hands of a machine called…. yeah it’s called the Ogasmotron… it’s not too hard to guess why this fever dream of a film caught on.

8. The Crow

crow

With every passing year, it becomes clearer how much “The Crow” is truly a product of its time: the ’90s. Based on James O’Barrs hit underground comic, the 1994 film adaptation from director Alex Proyas brought a dark fantasy grit to the still-early era of modern superhero flicks. In it, dead rock musician Eric Draven emerges from his grave, seeking to avenge the murders of both his girlfriend and himself, which he does thanks to a magic crow granting both the power to instantly heal wounds, and the ability to rock tons of leather, white facepaint and eye makeup.

With its arresting, neo-noir visuals, classically ’90s “edgy” themes and a soundtrack featuring Nine Inch Nails and The Cure, “The Crow” crystallizes a sensibility since stricken from screens. What was the last movie to feature a live appearance from a band playing the big-for-about-a-minute genre of shoegaze, let alone it being Medicine, the most underrated shoegazers of all? Sadly, “The Crow” isn’t just one of the strangest comics movies, it’s also the most tragic: lead Brandon Lee (son of Bruce) died in an on-set accident eight days before the film was supposed to finish shooting.

7. Tokyo Tribe

tokyo

The source material of “Tokyo Tribe” must be pretty out there. The manga by Santa Inoue ran from 1997 to 2005, but it’s the 2008 sequel from which the movie takes its plot — though it’s hard to imagine drawings could ever match director Sion Sono’s utterly mad vision. Set in a near-future, dystopian Tokyo, the film opens with a lengthy tracking shot introducing you to two facts. First, this movie’s Tokyo is divided up by warring, ’90s street fashion-inspired gangs following a devastating Earthquake. Secondly, this movie is basically a hip hop musical.

But “Hamilton” it ain’t. Sono — the mind behind everything from hyperviolent yakuza comedy “Why Don’t You Play In Hell?” to hyperviolent serial killer drama “Cold Fish” — is not subtle in depicting how brutal this world has become. With heaping helpings of naked people posed as furniture and casual sexual violence, the extremely colorful movie is definitely not for everyone. But if you’re feeling adventurous, it’s about the strangest comic movie on Netflix right now.

6. I, Frankenstein

i-frankenstein

While it may have looked generic on the surface, a viewing of “I, Frankenstein” leaves you with one burning question: how on earth did this movie get a $65 million budget? The more you learn, the weirder it gets. First, it’s based on a graphic novel by actor Kevin Grevioux, best known or his role as Raze in the “Underworld” film series. But did you also know that he co-created and co-wrote “Underworld,” based on (get this) his experiences dating outside of his own ethnicity?

As nerdy as “Underworld” is though, it’s got nothing on 2014’s “I, Frankenstein.” Starring Aaron Eckhart and “Chuck” star Yvonne Strahovski, the plot follows Frankenstein’s monster, who has survived to the modern day, and is caught up in a fantastical cosmic battle. On one side is angels — so you’ve already got both zombies and angels — and on the other? No, not demons; the foes of these angels are gargoyles. Crazier still, where “Doctor Strange” peppered its fantasy mashup with self aware humor, “I, Frankenstein” plays its expository dialogue completely straight. It may not make for the best movie, but it’s about as close to watching someone’s over-detailed D&D campaign unfold onscreen as you can see (for now).

5. Josie And The Pussycats

josie-and-the-pussycats

Adapted from the classic Archie Comics series, the 2001 “Josie And The Pussycats” movie isn’t just one of the oddest comics adaptations ever made, it’s actually one of the best. Written and directed by “Can’t Hardly Wait” team Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, it takes the classic costumed band created by Dan Decarlo in 1963 and spins a subversive, hilarious satire of consumerist culture. And it’s not just subtext. Opening with a boy band being murdered by a record executive (Alan Cumming) in a plane crash, it’s immediately clear that this isn’t your everyday Archie yarn.

The Riverdale rock trio of Josie McCoy (Rachael Leigh Cook), Melody Valentine (Tara Reid) and Valerie Brown (Rosario Dawson in the first of her many comics-based roles) are soon offered a deal by the same label, MegaRecords. However, in addition to being pressured into selling out, the band soon learns that MegaRecords is using their music to brainwash people via secret messages. With a “TRL” appearance, and images of Seth Green being attacked by Metallica fans, “Josie And The Pussycats” takes what could have been an easy money grab and turns it completely on its head.

4. The Smurfs

smurfs

The Smurfs have been around for so long, we’re just used to them. When you think about it, that’s very weird, but not nearly as weird as The Smurfs themselves. Debuting in 1958 from Belgian cartoonist Peyo as the much catchier “Les Schtroumpfs,” the series was actually spun off from another of Peyo’s comics, the medieval fantasy adventure “Johan and Pewit.”

The strange little blue people who live in mushroom-shaped forest houses and are mostly 100 years old have had numerous film adaptations, so it’s hard to pick which is the most out there. Is it the 1965 Belgian animated movie, “Les Aventures des Schtoumpfs,” which compiled multiple Smurfs shorts, but lacked their trademark blue, as they were all in black and white? Or was it “The Smurfs and the Magic Flute,” a 1983 musical scored by legendary French composer Michel Legrand, in which the Smurfs don’t appear for 35 minutes? While it was critically panned, we think the answer has to be the 2011 live action/CGI hybrid, “The Smurfs,” which sees the blue-hued crew sucked into New York City by an inter-dimensional vortex, and teaming up with Neil Patrick Harris to defeat the evil wizard Gargamel.

3. Oldboy

oldboy

What’s more frustrating for people who haven’t seen “Oldboy,” the mad imploring that you just have to watch it, or their refusal to tell you anything about the unpredictable plot? While they’re still right, it’s easy for even the most ardent fans of the film to forget that the cult Korean thriller is actually based on a Japanese manga series. Written by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi, all we’ll tell you is that it’s about a man who is kidnapped and imprisoned until he’s released years later, with no indication of why.

However strange the comic’s premise is, director Park Chan-Wook took things to a whole new level, and then another, and another. Incorporating Greek tragedy, live octopus eating and camera moves and angles you will never see from anyone else, Park turned a comic where almost no one dies into a film best known for a single, uninterrupted shot in which actor Choi Min-Sik takes down 50 people with a hammer. Just be warned that this one’s gonna leave you needing to take a long walk when it’s done. There was an American remake, but the only strange thing about that is why they even bothered.

2. Snowpiercer

snowpiercer

Let’s put it this way: “Snowpiercer” stars Captain America, only in “Snowpiercer,” his country is a train. Korean director Bong Joon-Ho was best known for 21st century giant monster classic “The Host” (not to be confused with Stephanie Meyer’s) when he made his 2013 English language debut, but instead of tamping down his unique brand of weirdness, he took it even further. Adapted from the French comic “Le Transperceneige,” the sci-fi story takes place in a future left frozen and barren outside of a single train called Snowpiercer, which carries the remains of humanity. It’s divided, with the lower classes starving in the back while the rich live up at the front; but that bare premise is the only thing Bong kept from the comic when coming up with its story.

What makes “Snowpiercer” so strange isn’t just its politically charged allegory, but Bong’s constantly shifting style. At one point, the rear train rebels face hundreds of masked, axe-bearing guards. For what feels like minutes, the guards pass something around, until we finally see that it’s… a giant fish? Sliding between horror and hilarity, “Snowpiercer” is truly like nothing else, ever.

1. Ichi the Killer

ichi-the-killer

Prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike has directed over 90 movies, including 15 between 2001 and 2002 alone, so a few comics adaptations have certainly made their way in there. The one he’s most famous — or indeed infamous — for is the crime/horror movie, “Ichi the Killer.” Adapted from Hideo Yamamoto’s 10 volume manga, the 2001 film took its content so far that it’s now regularly cited as one of the most disturbing movies of all time.

We’ll spare you the details, but the movie’s escalating violence is built around a Yakuza enforcer trying to hunt down his boss while a repressed, psychotic man named Ichi is manipulated into killing gang members in increasingly horrifying ways. And while you may like lead Tadanobu Asano from his role as Hogun in “Thor,” whether you want to see him in this one is really a decision you have to make for yourself… unless, of course, you’re in Norway, where “Ichi The Killer” is illegal to screen or sell.

Got some strange favorites we missed? Let us know in the comments!

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