It often feels difficult to go to the movies or turn on the TV without running into some kind of comic book adaptation. For instance, Marvel isn’t content to dominate the theaters with films like Avengers: Infinity War. They also have a multi-pronged TV attack, with shows cropping up on ABC, Freeform, Netflix, and Hulu. And DC has been no slouch in this regard either. In addition to their failed attempt to create a rival for the MCU, DC continues to dominate television with various shows on the CW network. And with the DC Universe streaming app, they are trying to create a one-stop shop for all the DC adaptations you could want.
Because of all of this, many viewers have comic book fatigue. And even if they are fans of various comic book genres (including horror, supernatural, and superheroic), they are inclined to scratch that particular itch through other movies and other TV shows that exist far away from the tights and flights crowd. We’ve got some bad news, though. Many of your favorite TV shows and movies are based on comic books, even if they play things really close to the vest. And no matter how far you’ve tried to run from the long reach of the longbox, you haven’t run far enough! Don’t believe us? There are stealthy comic adaptations wherever you look, from major Disney motion pictures all the way to your favorite cult classics from yesteryear. Ready to learn all about it? Keep scrolling to check out 20 Hit Shows and Movies You Never Knew Were Based On Comics!
20 COWBOYS AND ALIENS
The movie Cowboys and Aliens went down in cinematic history as “pretty okay.” Despite being a fun romp featuring, you guessed it, cowboys and aliens, this film ended up being both a commercial and a critical disappointment. Maybe they should have stuck a little closer to the original source material?
The graphic novel for Cowboys and Aliens actually came out five years before the movie, back in 2006. Many of the essential ingredients are the same, as the story features some wild west archetypes trying to beat back an alien invasion. But it had different character names, a different plot, and the baggage of weird controversy as creator Platinum Studios tried to manipulate the story into being a top seller.
19 GHOST WORLD
For nerds of a certain age, Ghost World is an amazing coming of age story wrapped in dark humor and bizarre characters. The film revolves around high schooler Enid and her growing fascination and friendship with a lonely man named Seymour and we watch their relationship grow even as we watch their lives fall apart.
The movie ended up being a critical darling, but many of its biggest fans are unaware of the original comics (later collected as a graphic novel) created by the amazing Daniel Clowes. The original comic lacks some of the plot elements added by the movie, but keeps both the cynical characterization of Enid and the hauntingly ambiguous ending for her character.
Dredd was one of those rare films in Hollywood where a franchise got a genuine second chance and man, did they take it. Dredd ended up being everything that the inferior Judge Dredd movie that came before it was not. And while hardcore fans praised Dredd for being closer to the comics it was based on, many casual fans were unaware of the comics at all.
British comics fans can tell you all about 2000 AD, an anthology series of comics that’s been coming out since the late 1970s. Judge Dredd is the longest-running character from this series, and his popularity eventually led to his own comics being released, both across the pond and in America. Love Dredd? You’ve got many comics to catch up on!
While the inevitable sequel was inevitably disappointing, Kingsman: The Secret Service ended up being a surprisingly great movie. It managed to simultaneously take the piss out of franchises like James Bond while creating its own unforgettable action sequences. And, as a kind of hot sauce, the filmmakers added a few dashes of weirdness.
The movie was based on a comic, and the movie was fairly faithful in terms of the general plot (though there were quite a few differences in terms of Eggsy’s training and relationships). Incidentally, the relatively short time between comic release and movie release (only two years) highlights how intensely Hollywood now courts comic book adaptations.
16 THE MASK
For many fans, The Mask was a movie that launched Jim Carrey’s career. The plot seemed custom-made for this rubber-faced comedian, as it concerned a down on his luck bank clerk getting a mask designed to depict chaos god Loki (yup, that Loki). He ends up getting fantastic powers that he uses to fight the mob, get the girl, and do way more singing than anyone imagined.
This light comedy movie, though, is based on a comic series that is much darker. That comic often focused on how putting on the mask (and becoming an entity known as Big Head) was actually disrupting the main character’s life. Along the way, he permanently takes out lots of mobsters, cops, and anyone who gets in his way!
15 MEN IN BLACK
Though we wish we could get hit with a neuralyzer and only remember the first one, there is no doubt that the Men in Black franchise is iconic. It introduced us to a world of hidden aliens, amazing weaponry, and a secret organization dedicated to protecting the world. But did you know this franchise has strong comic roots?
That’s right, three issues of a comic with the same name came out in 1990 and another three in 1991. While this handful of issues wasn’t enough to do a crazy amount of world-building, a surprising number of important characters were there from the beginning, including Jay, Kay, and the irascible Zed.
On paper, it’s easy to see the appeal of R.I.P.D. because it’s basically a mixture of the buddy cop formula and Ghostbusters. The plot centers around deceased characters like Nick and Roy being recruited to the Rest In Peace Department, charged with bringing in lost souls who cannot or will not move on to the afterlife.
Beyond the general premise, the comic that this film was based on is pretty different. This includes different plot devices, different kinds of tone, and a difference in certain major plot resolutions. Given the terrible critical and commercial response, we feel confident saying you should just stick to the comic on this one.
RED is one of those movies that seemed to come out of nowhere. It’s an action-filled spy romp, but it has a pretty unexpected twist on the genre: all of our protagonists are older, and now they are forced to see if their aging skills can keep them alive.
This wild concept didn’t come out of nowhere, though. Instead, it is based on a three-issue Wildstorm comic series of the same name. While the comic didn’t have many issues, it was enough to launch a franchise: not only did we get a RED movie but a sequel, RED 2, as well as a TV show in the works!
12 THE ROCKETEER
On paper, The Rocketeer is a cult classic movie. It wasn’t a widespread runaway hit, but it has managed to influence Hollywood’s action genre with its blend of retro futurism and vintage setting. The movie had a long and storied production, but it ended up producing a film whose plot, characters, and designs are downright iconic.
Of course, all these iconic things began in the world of comics. The Rocketeer began as a side character in some issues of Starslayer before later getting his own adventure magazine. A few years later, the movie would come out, and nearly two decades after that, the character would be back in comics thanks to IDW. Once he started flying, there was no stopping him!
11 TALES FROM THE CRYPT
For horror movie fans, it didn’t get better than HBO’s Tales From the Crypt. This was a horror anthology show that featured a rotating cast of great actors, writers, and directors. And holding it all together was our skeletal host The Cryptkeeper, whose macabre humor and shrieking laugh are downright unforgettable.
This horror show has deep comics roots, though, as it was based on a comic of the same name that started coming out way back in 1950. This eventually led to an ongoing public debate about aiming horror content at children. The Cryptkeeper ultimately won that debate, though, as the HBO show was eventually adapted into a kid-friendly cartoon!
10 TANK GIRL
Let’s face it, the world is filled with various post-apocalyptic landscapes. Everyone from Mad Max to Finn and Jake patrol futuristic wastelands, but none of them are quite like what we see in Tank Girl. And despite being a box office bomb, this film has some serious fans devoted to its every frame!
Before it was a movie, though, Tank Girl was a comic. This late '80s British comic was very popular, serving as a symbol of an emerging youth counterculture towards what they saw as encroaching political and cultural fascism. In this way, punk rocker Tank Girl embodied the very best of a comic character as she inspired others and became their hero!
9 TIME COP
There are a lot of time travel stories in Hollywood. However, you might need your own time machine to appreciate Time Cop. This movie features Jean-Claude Van Damme as a cop who must travel back in time to solve a mystery that just keeps getting more and more complex.
The concept may sound relatively simplistic and dated, but it was based on a comic that was relatively fresh. It was based on a three-part story from an old anthology of Dark Horse Comics. There was little relation between the comic and movie, though, with many fans of the original preferring to stick with the comic.
Wanted was the kind of movie you get when you felt like The Matrix didn’t already have enough comic book elements. It was about a protagonist who learned he had a rare ability to slow down his perception, bend bullets, and generally serve as a master assassin. However, some questionable dealings surround his training and the fraternity he has joined.
This wild ride of a movie was adapted from a Mark Millar comic of the same name. This is another instance of the film being quite different from the original source material, though the generally amoral nature of our protagonist remains the same. And, for better or for worse, both the comic and the film are poster children for a new kind of edginess.
iZombie ended up being one of the most surprising shows to pop up on the typically clean and friendly CW. This show features a medical resident who becomes a zombie and then uses her ability to learn about the dead by ingesting them to help the police solve crimes. Ultimately, the show is a mishmash of different genres that ends up feeling very unique.
Before it was one of CW’s weirder shows, though, iZombie was a comic book produced by Vertigo. There are some differences in the adaptation, of course, including the main character being a gravedigger in the comic. And the comic ended up being a much more cerebral experience, challenging readers to use their brains instead of watching characters eat the brains of others.
After many years of failed movie and TV translations, AMC brought Preacher to life as a TV show. It features the adventures of a maverick preacher named Jesse Custer who is able to command others to do his bidding thanks to something in his head called “Genesis.” Along the way, he’s helped by his gun-toting girlfriend and his Irish vampire friend.
The series is based (sometimes loosely, sometimes more strictly) on the comic of the same name from Vertigo. The characters are essentially the same from book to show, though the TV version changes up some plot elements and even adds an entire season of exposition before things really get started. Despite the changes, the series manages to be a rollicking good time.
As a show, Legion seemed to do the impossible: to create a superhero show that doesn’t feel like a superhero show. Despite being filled with mutants, psychics, and supervillains, this show focuses on psychological thrills and slow burn plot development instead of tights and flights. And all of it centers around our protagonist, the mysterious David Haller.
This series is based on one of the most famous comics of all as it's based on the X-Men. David is actually the schizophrenic son of Professor Charles Xavier. The series actually plays it cool, only occasionally alluding to Xavier and never saving the name of him or his merry band of mutants. This helps the series feel like it’s doing his own thing.
4 PAINKILLER JANE
Painkiller Jane is a nice and simple TV show. In fact, the basic premise is right there in the name! The titular character is a DEA agent who discovers that she has the ability to heal from just about anything, including injuries that should have been fatal. With a new team and new powers, she helps track down “neuros”-- dangerous humans with mutant abilities.
The show is based on a comic that has had a number of different publishers over the years. The essential concept remains the same, though, with Jane as an unstoppable vigilante who uses her abilities to fight crime and stop evildoers. Bottom line? If you enjoy strong female characters, this is a great show and comic!
3 BIG HERO 6
Big Hero 6 ended up being another major hit for Disney and Pixar. Audiences fell in love with cute characters like Baymax, and along the way, they watched a really great superhero story evolve. The heroism came pretty naturally, though, as this movie was based on an old Marvel comic!
Of course, this is one of those instances where “based on” means “really loosely based on.” If you go find the classic 1998 comic, you’ll see characters like Baymax and his creator Hiro, but they are very different: comic Baymax is much more of a serious bodyguard than a big and cuddly robot. Nonetheless, fans of the movie should definitely check this classic comic out.
2 WEIRD SCIENCE
No one can deny that the premise of the Weird Science movie is geeky. Heck, it involves two ultra-nerds literally creating the woman of their dreams. And while the movie would go on to spawn a TV show, it has much deeper roots. In fact, this is another franchise that dates back to 1950.
Weird Science was the name of an anthology comic series that featured a variety of strange tales. One of those tales was “Made of the Future,” which the movie gave a snazzy and crowd-friendly '80s makeover. The movie is great evidence of what we’ve always said: comics are a great source of inspiration for telling truly unique stories.
1 WYNONNA EARP
Fans searching for a kind of modern day Buffy the Vampire Slayer found it in the form of Wynonna Earp. This show follows Wynonna, the heir of Wyatt Earp, as she tries to put down revenants who were created by an inventive curse placed on Wyatt himself. Along with her team, Doc Holliday, and her ever-present whiskey, she keeps the Ghost River Triangle safe.
Like the others on this list, Wynonna Earp was adapted from a comic by the same name. The general arc of the plot has been similar, although the comic ended up stretching its toes into even more paranormal deep ends than the show has. However, the show is going strong, so we can only imagine (and hope) it’ll get even weirder.