10 Unlikely Comic Book Movies (That Actually Exist)

<p>If say, five or six years ago, someone were to offer to bet you a hundred bucks that Marvel Studios would not only be embarking on turning <b>The Guardians of the Galaxy</b> into a live-action theatrical film, but one with a top-dollar budget, for a prominent summer (2014) wide release, <i>and</i> it would co-star Rocket Raccoon and Groot, would you have taken that action? <p>Let's put that in perspective: Groot and Rocket Raccoon will beat Wonder Woman, The Flash and Aquaman (not to mention Marvel characters like Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and many prominent members of the X-Men) onto the big screen. <p>And that’s to say nothing of the many comics <i>not</i> from Marvel or DC that are in various stages of development for film adaptation. We’ll at least have a second <i>Sin City</i>, Mark Millar’s <i>Secret Service</i>, and maybe more before Wonder Woman hits the live action movie world in the sequel to <i>Man of Steel</i> in May, 2016. <p>Yet <b>The Guardians</b> aren't the only unlikely comic book film adaptation... not by a long shot. The last couple decades have seen multiple productions that, good or bad, didn't seem like probable choices when so much other seemingly commercially viable properties go unfilmed. <p>So with that in mind, Newsarama reached deep into the archives to find comic book movies that beat the odds simply by being produced. And before anyone complains, we’re skipping <i>Ghost Rider</i>’s pair of movies, because those happened through Nick Cage’s sheer force of will, and you just can’t stop Nicholas Cage.


The archetypal "comic book movie that you didn't know was a comic book movie," crime drama <i>Road to Perdition</i> definitively proved that comic books of any genre could be made into movies, and with a worldwide take of $180 million and six Oscar nominations be commercially and critically successful. <p><i>Road to Perdition</i> also stands as the most notable legacy of DC's Paradox Press imprint (remember the "Big Book of" series?), which was defunct by the time the move was released in 2002. In 2005, another Paradox Press title, <i>A History of Violence</i>, was adapted into a film by director David Cronenberg.


When you consider how many major comic book series have never gotten movies, it's kind of odd to think about some of the ones who have. <i>Monkeybone</i>, a critically maligned 2001 Brendan Fraser vehicle, was based on the graphic novel <i>Dark Town</i>, a 1995 graphic novel published by Canadian's Mad Monkey Press. <p>Given the comic's limited run and lack of exposure, a credible argument could be made that <i>Dark Town</i> is the most obscure comic book to ever be adapted into a major feature film. But given that <i>Monkeybone</i>, with the unfortunate tagline of "Get Boned," made less than $8 million in worldwide box office, not a whole lot of people experienced the story either way.


<i>Tank Girl</i> was a British cult sensation in the early '90s, with color reprints published stateside by Dark Horse Comics. So in that regard, it's not especially surprising that it would be adapted into a 1995 live-action movie starring Lori Petty (also known to comic book fans as the voice of Livewire in <i>Superman: The Animated Series</i>). <p>Yet the chaotic, psychedelic nature of the strips by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin certainly suggested the kind of storytelling that would only truly work in comic form. And indeed, the movie was an unmitigated flop, with both creators displeased by the result. <p>Don't feel too bad for Hewlett, though, who would go on to international fame as one of the two main creative forces behind cartoon band Gorillaz, along with Blur's Damon Albarn.


With the third biggest international box office moneymaker of all time now under their belts, Marvel Studios is currently at top of the comic book movie world. But it wasn't always so rosy for the publisher. <p>Case in point: One of their earliest live-action failures was <i>Power Pack</i>, a 1991 adaption of the '80s series teaming up a family of kid superheroes. <p>It would be higher, but this one is a bit of a cheat: <i>Power Pack</i> was actually produced as a pilot to a Saturday morning TV series that didn't end up getting picked up, but was aired as its own entity several times, a la <i>Pryde of the X-Men</i>. And given that the Power Pack comic was actually pretty popular in its day, the idea of a TV show based on the comic was a lot less befuddling 20 years ago then it would be now.


Following the warm reception to indie darling <i>Ghost World</i>, another go-around with director Terry Zwigoff taking on a story from Daniel Clowes' <i>Eightball</i> series was a natural fit. <p>The actual story chosen was a bit unconventional, though: <i>Art School Confidential</i>, a four-pager from <i>Eightball #7</i>, and very likely the shortest source material in comic book movie history. <p>At that length, the 2006 movie needed plenty of embellishment to flesh is out to feature length, though not necessarily to its benefit. <i>Art School Confidential</i> got nearly unanimous poor reviews and was pretty much completely skipped by audiences.


Archie Comics have been a staple of American pop culture since 1941, so it was bound to get the live-action treatment at some point. When it finally did, the actual product was a little weird. OK, a lot weird. <p>1990's <i>Thirtysomething</i>-esque TV movie <i>To Riverdale and Back Again</i> took place 15 years after Archie and the gang graduated from high school, and they're all losers with dysfunctions of some variety: Jughead's once-endearing aversion to girls has resulted in him being a sad-sack divorced single dad, and Reggie and Mr. Lodge are both straight-up evil instead of being spirited foils. Some of the film's themes can be seen in current comics, though, as the dramatic travails of adult Archie characters are explored in the company's acclaimed magazine format title, <i>Life with Archie</i>. <p>For its home video release, the movie was retitled <i>Return to Riverdale</i>. That didn't make it any less odd.


By 2005, Marvel had a number of high-profile victories at the box office, most notably two X-Men and two Spider-Man movies. Yet somehow a micro-budget <i>Man-Thing</i> film slipped through the cracks that year, premiering on the Sci Fi Channel and taking several liberties with the history of the lesser-known character. <p>Aside from an influential run in the '70s by writer Steve Gerber (and a uniquely suggestive title), Man-Thing makes an unexpected choice for a movie: a mute monster who guards the Nexus of All Realities. <p>The film featured current <i>Hawaii Five-0</i> actor Alex O'Loughlin, who starred in another comic book movie based on a lesser-known property, <i>Whiteout</i>.


DC icons like Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman have yet to star in a movie, but you know who has? Steel, one of the four "Supermen" who stepped up in Metropolis after Superman died in battle with Doomsday. <p>The <i>Steel</i> movie didn't have anything to do with Superman or anything to do with DC comic books at all, other than the name of the main character and the fact that they both wore suits of armor. Mainly, the famously reviled movie served as a starring vehicle for the then-burgeoning, always-misguided film career of now-retired NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal. <p>It did, though, have original Shaft, Richard Roundtree, as Steel's Uncle Joe. So that's something.


The idea of a <i>Watchmen</i> movie is not in itself unlikely; it's one of the most celebrated comic book series of all time (a distinction the film's advertising frequently pointed out). But at one point it didn't seem like it was ever going to happen. <p>The project was stuck in developmental hell for about 20 years, with studios playing hot potato with the license and directors from Terry Gilliam to Darren Aronofsky to Paul Greengrass attached. <p>Finally, it came to Zack Snyder, and debuted on screens in 2009. The movie got mixed reviews from critics and fans, but no matter how you feel about the end result, the fact that it actually came out at all is something of an achievement.


For more than 25 years, <i>Howard the Duck</i> has been a go-to reference for not only bad comic book movies, but bad movies and general, in no small part due to his lack of resemblance to the beloved comics that inspired it. But let's examine the historical context. <p><i>Howard the Duck</i> came out in 1986, making it the first theatrically released movie based on a Marvel comic in history. Let that swish around in your head a bit. Howard the Duck, the cult-favorite satirical character created in the '70s by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik, beat Spider-Man, the X-Men, Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Iron Man, Thor and the Avengers to the big screen by well over a decade. <p>It would, in fact, be until the year 1998 that another Marvel movie made it to cinemas the first <i>Blade</i>, which in itself is a slightly surprising (though very successful) comic to film franchise. <p>That's right: it took 12 years for the world to recover from the scene where Lea Thompson finds a duck-sized contraceptive in Howard's wallet. And the rest is history.

10 Unlikely Comic Book Movies (That Actually Exist)

Date: 21 March 2014 Time: 06:00 PM ET