Hugh Jackman as Wolverine
With last year's box office success of The Dark Knight and Iron Man,
2008 was labeled by many as the year of the comic book movie. But 2009
may turn out to be just as influenced by the world of comics, only this
time, it won't be dominated by well-known superheroes.
"I would argue that 'comic book movies' is its own genre now. And I'm
not just talking about superheroes," said Jeff Katz, the former 20th
Century Fox executive and comics writer who was a producer on this
year's X-Men Origins: Wolverine . "For a decade, we had to educate the audience and Hollywood about the difference. They get the difference now. 300 was a comic book movie, but it wasn't a superhero movie. Men in Black, Ghost World, Sin City
-- comic book movies, but not superhero movies. Look where we are
versus where we were 15 years ago in terms of respect and even lip
service. There's an applied respect for this medium and this form now.
People get it."
Although in the past, many film-goers didn't realize non-superhero movies like Road to Perdition and A History of Violence
(famously, on the latter, director David Cronenberg didn’t even know it
was a graphic novel first) were based on comic books, that's starting
to change as studios are more willing to use the comic connection in
their marketing, as Universal did with Wanted last year.
"I think that used to be the case, but 300 seemed to be a
watershed moment where studios realized that tying a film in with its
source material is a good marketing idea, even if the source material
isn't one of the more recognizable Marvel or DC properties," said
Robert Venditti, the author of Surrogates, the graphic novel on which this year's Surrogates
movie starring Bruce Willis is based. "So I think, generally speaking,
moviegoers are now much more aware of the alternative comics and
graphic novels that find their way to the screen."
As audiences are educated on the comic book origin behind their
favorite films, the hope of publishers is that they'll seek out the
"Hopefully once there are enough non-superhero movies out there, and
they've been promoted as being based on comics/graphic novels, it will
help educate the public at large that there is a wider variety of
stories and characters available in our medium," said Oni Press
Publisher Joe Nozemack, whose Greg Rucka-penned graphic novel Whiteout
is being released as a crime thriller film later this year. "The
challenge then becomes to be sure they're introduced to books that meet
their interests and tastes, instead of forcing superheroes or
sci-fi/fantasy books on them."
In 2009, the variety of stories and genres in film that originated in
comic book form are many, including the following comic-related movies
set to hit theaters this year:
Astro Boy: With a voice cast that includes superhero fan favorites like Ghost Rider
star Nicolas Cage and Heroes villain Kristen Bell, Astro Boy will bring
the star of manga and anime television to modern audiences through CGI
animation. Originating as a manga comic book in 1952 by Osamu Tezuka,
Astro Boy became a popular television show that first found success in
Japan and later other countries. The film version, set to be released
in October, stars Spiderwick Chronicles actor Freddie Highmore as the
voice of Astro Boy, the young robot with amazing powers whose
adventures require him to save his futuristic hometown of Metro City.
Coraline: While the story was first a novella, Coraline makes our list
because it's written by comics scribe Neil Gaiman and was just adapted
by artist P. Craig Russell as a graphic novel last year. With a February 6th
release, Coraline tells the story of a young girl who moves to a new
home and unlocks a mysterious door that leads to a parallel reality.
Shot as stop-motion animation, the movie will have Dakota Fanning
voicing the lead role and Lois and Clark/Desperate Housewives star Teri
Hatcher as her mother.
Kick-Ass: Tentatively slated for late 2009, Kick-Ass is the comic book
movie that was being filmed before the comic series was even finished
by writer Mark Millar (Wanted) and artist John Romita Jr. With on-set photos
hitting Newsarama in November, the movie looks to be sticking close to
the comic book, which tells a modern and brutally realistic story of
what would really happen to a teen who wants to fight crime like the
superheroes in his beloved comic books. With young actor Aaron Johnson
in the lead role and the aforementioned Nick Cage as an ex-cop, the
story centers on a high school nerd who decides to try his hand at
fighting crime in spandex, despite the fact he has no powers nor any of
the basic physical attributes necessary to live up to the label crowds
give him, "Kick-Ass."
Sherlock Holmes: This one shows up on our list of comic book films only
because of how the film was developed in the first place. Yes, the
books and the character are legendary without the help of comic books.
But Lionel Wigram's still-unpublished comic book was the spec script
for the film, meaning that graphic novels are not only rumored to be
effective in lieu of a speculative script, but are now proven as having
"I think when you put illustrations on paper -- essentially
storyboards, for people who think in movie terms -- and they can
envision how this will look on the screen, it does help sell the
product," writer B. Clay Moore told Newsarama last year.
"In fact, I know there are more and more people in Hollywood that are
putting together sort of graphic novels in an attempt to elevate the
pitch so the people can see it visually, which I don't think is a bad
idea at all."
With movies based on comics producing more than $1 billion last year,
it's not surprising that studios are wooed by the medium even when the
source was never published. Besides, Sherlock Holmes has Iron Man star
Robert Downey Jr. taking on the lead role in the film, further linking
it to the comic book movie genre when it comes out in November.
The Surrogates: Starring Bruce Willis, the September 25 film The Surrogates
is based on the comic series by writer Robert Venditti and artist Brett
Weldele and published by Top Shelf. The sci-fi story takes place in 2054, when advancements in
virtual reality and cybernetics have led to an era where "surrogates"
let people interact with the real world without leaving their own
homes. When someone starts to "kill" surrogates, a copy played by
Willis is forced to leave his home to investigate.
The Surrogates, which is being brought to theaters by the filmmaking trio
behind Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, is one of those
non-superhero movies that has the potential to further educate a
mainstream audience on the wide variety of fiction genres available in
comics. And publisher Top Shelf Productions is preparing for the kind
of interest in the source material that publishers saw after the
release of other comic book movies like Sin City and Wanted.
"Top Shelf will be ready by summer to support the frenzy of interest
with not only a large run of the new edition of The Surrogates graphic
novel, but also the brand new prequel, The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone
-- another amazing graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele,"
said Chris Staros, Top Shelf publisher.
JACKIE EARLE HALEY as Rorschach in Warner Bros. Pictures
Watchmen: Probably the most anticipated by comics fans, the March
release of Watchmen will bring the acclaimed graphic novel to the
screen now that its legal problems have been settled by Warner Bros. and Fox. Originally
published as a 12-issue comic series by writer Alan Moore and artist
Dave Gibbons in 1986/87, Watchmen is still among the best-selling
graphic novels for DC Comics even 20 years later.
The story's premise -- the deconstruction of the superhero -- is what
made it such a pivotal work for the comic book industry, but it's also
behind the film taking two decades to hit the screen. "I'm not sure
that a deconstruction of the genre like the Watchmen would have been
possible without all these other archetypical superhero origin movies
out in the marketplace providing the right language first, so the
audience could get the shorthand down," Katz said.
Although Watchmen may not generate the box office numbers of The Dark
Knight, the benefit for the publishing industry is potentially more
significant because this film leads movie fans back to the source
material more readily than a movie about iconic characters like Batman
or Superman. Because Watchmen is about characters unfamiliar to
mainstream audiences, and because the film is based on a self-contained
story that can be purchased in one volume, interest in the Watchmen
book is already skyrocketing, just from the word-of-mouth caused by the
"Clearly, it’s worked beyond any recognition in history," DC Publisher and Presidnet Paul Levitz told Newsarama last year just before it was announced that 1 million copies of Watchmen
had been sold in 2008. "We had a dinner of the buying teams from all
the major bookstore franchises, and no one there or on our Random House
sales side could remember a trailer from any film having the kind of
mathematical effect on book sales that we’re experiencing with
Whiteout: Starring genre movie favorite Kate Beckinsale (Underworld/Van
Helsing), Whiteout is based on the graphic novel by writer Greg Rucka
and artist Steve Lieber. A crime thriller with Beckinsale playing a
U.S. Marshal, Whiteout is about murder and intrigue in Antarctica,
where the brutal white landscape plays as much of a role in the story
as the characters.
Nozemack said the film, which is set to come out on September 11, has
already generated an interest in the Whiteout book and its sequel,
"We've already seen an increase in sales and interest in the books just
from the publicity that's been done up to this point," the publisher
said. "We expect to see two more surges, one when the trailer is
officially released and then when the full marketing campaign is in
effect just before the film's release."
Whiteout is another film that promises to further break the stereotype
of comics being all about superheroes, as the parkas and real-world
investigating tools used by the characters in this movie are about as
far removed from superheroes as possible.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine: With a May 1st release, X-Men Origins:
Wolverine will have Hugh Jackman back as the lead character in a story
set 20 years before the original X-Men movie. Focusing on Wolverine's
origins as part of the Weapon X program and his vendetta against
arch-enemy Victor Creed, the film has generated a lot of buzz,
particularly when Jackman publicly thanked Wolverine creator Len Wein
at San Diego Comic-Con. While the film has recently been reported as
needing reshoots, the number of X-Men guest stars -- including Gambit,
Deadpool and the Blob -- gives this movie a lot of cred with comics
fans, and with People's "Sexist Man Alive" in the lead role, it's got a
built-in attraction for mainstream fans as well.
With such a wide array of movies based on stories from comic books,
2009 could again claim the title of the year of the comic book movie.
But with dozens more comic book movies in production and optioned for
film, Hollywood's love affair with comics doesn't look to be ending
9 to Watch in 2009: The Movies9 to Watch in 2009: The ComicsP. Craig Russell: Catching up - Coraline and More