Who'da Thunk It?1 of 15Marvel announced today that production has officially begun on its big screen adaptation of Doctor Strange. Doctor Strange is just the latest Marvel property to make it to the big screen, with even more obscure characters such as Ant-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy launching successful franchises. It seems like there's never been a better time to be an obscure superhero or comic book property. But believe it or not, there is a long, sort of secret history of comic book movies you may or may not even know exist.
Now, some of these titles are less unlikely for their obscurity - some are even major hits - than for the relative unlikelihood that anyone took a chance on some of these concepts. It's hard to be completely definitive when there have been some real shockers thrown onto the big (and small) screen, but without further ado, here are 10 Unlikely Comic Book Movies That Actually Exist. And before anyone complains, we’re skipping Ghost Rider’s pair of movies, because those happened through Nick Cage’s sheer force of will, and you just can’t stop Nicholas Cage.
ROAD TO PERDITION2 of 15The archetypal "comic book movie that you didn't know was a comic book movie," crime drama Road to Perdition 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.
Road to Perdition 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, A History of Violence, was adapted into a film by director David Cronenberg.
MONKEYBONE3 of 15When 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. Monkeybone, a critically maligned 2001 Brendan Fraser vehicle, was based on the graphic novel Dark Town, a 1995 graphic novel published by Canadian's Mad Monkey Press.
Given the comic's limited run and lack of exposure, a credible argument could be made that Dark Town is the most obscure comic book to ever be adapted into a major feature film. But given that Monkeybone, 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.
TANK GIRL4 of 15Tank Girl 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 Superman: The Animated Series).
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 book form. And indeed, the movie was an unmitigated flop, with both creators displeased by the result.
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.
POWER PACK5 of 15Marvel Studios is currently at top of the comic book movie world and arguably the movie world in general, but it wasn't always so rosy for the publisher.
Case in point: One of their earliest live-action failures was Power Pack, a 1991 adaption of the '80s series teaming up a family of kid superheroes.
It would be higher, but this one is a bit of a cheat: Power Pack 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 Pryde of the X-Men. 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 than it would be now.
ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL6 of 15Following the warm reception to indie darling Ghost World, another go-around with director Terry Zwigoff taking on a story from Daniel Clowes' Eightball series was a natural fit.
The actual story chosen was a bit unconventional, though: Art School Confidential, a four-pager from Eightball #7, and very likely the shortest source material in comic book movie history.
At that length, the 2006 movie needed plenty of embellishment to flesh is out to feature length, though not necessarily to its benefit. Art School Confidential got nearly unanimous poor reviews and was pretty much completely skipped by audiences.
ARCHIE: TO RIVERDALE AND BACK AGAIN7 of 15Archie 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.
1990's Thirtysomething-esque TV movie To Riverdale and Back Again 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 made it into modern comics, though, as the dramatic travails of adult Archie characters were explored in the company's acclaimed magazine format title, Life with Archie.
For its home video release, the movie was retitled Return to Riverdale. That didn't make it any less odd.
MAN-THING8 of 15By 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 Man-Thing film slipped through the cracks that year, premiering on the Sci Fi Channel (as it was called then) and taking several liberties with the history of the lesser-known character.
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.
The film featured Hawaii Five-0 actor Alex O'Loughlin, who starred in another comic book movie based on a lesser-known property, Whiteout.
STEEL9 of 15DC icons like Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman are still years away from starring in their own films, which makes it all the more absurd Steel, one of the four "Supermen" who stepped up in Metropolis after Superman died in battle with Doomsday, already has... Years ago.
The Steel 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.
It did, though, have original Shaft, Richard Roundtree, as Steel's Uncle Joe. So that's something.
WATCHMEN10 of 15The idea of a Watchmen 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.
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.
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.
HOWARD THE DUCK11 of 15For nearly 30 years, Howard the Duck 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.
Howard the Duck 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.
It would, in fact, be until the year 1998 that another Marvel movie made it to cinemas - the first Blade, which in itself is a slightly surprising (though very successful) comic book to film franchise.
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.
Or it was, until Howard showed up again in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as an Easter egg at the end of the blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy.
BLADE12 of 15Speaking of Blade...
Believe it or not, the superhero film that broke the mold, that did away with the campiness into which the floundering Batman franchise had devolved, and shook loose the stigma that comic book movies couldn't succeed, wasn't X-Men or Spider-Man, but Blade, a weird, action-horror mash-up based on an obscure Marvel hero from the '70's.
Before the Wesley Snipes vehicle made it to theaters - and the bank - Blade was hardly a household name. Despite attempts to revive him in the early '90's, he remained a supporting character in C-list titles at best. While his profile in comic books has only increased somewhat, his rep as an action hero is bigger than just about anybody would have guessed, with three films, and a short lived TV series - co-written by none other than Geoff Johns - under his belt.
Granted, the Blade films quickly reached a point of diminishing returns, with the second suffering from a lawsuit by White Wolf, makers of the game Vampire: The Masquerade, who successfully argued that Blade II stole ideas from their RPG's, and the 3rd film, Blade: Trinity, crumbling under the weight of Snipes's erratic diva-attitude, and a first time director, David Goyer. But the movies helped launch Goyer's much more successful writing career, leading him to co-write some of the biggest superhero blockbusters of all time, and find a place as one of the people steering DC's cinematic ship. And it brought Guillermo del Toro into the world of the comic book macabre, a move that undoubtedly lead to del Toro's involvement with Hellboy, among other films.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA13 of 15In the mid '90's, after the success of the Batman films and the demise of the Superman franchise, there was a point where, despite almost unprecedented comic book sales, films based on superheroes were not considered bankable for the big screen. This time saw small screen endeavors for such unlikely characters as an unrecognizable version of Generation X, and an extra-hammy take on Nick Fury, both of which actually made it to air. But most unlikely was the Justice League of America movie.
In the annals of fandom, the JLA movie is something of a legend, both for its scarcity - it was never aired in the U.S., so access to the film has been relegated to back room screenings and bootleg transfers of foreign showings - and for its unmitigated awfulness.
Coming on the heels of the Giffen/DeMatteis "Bwahaha" era of the League, and predating Grant Morrison's legendary return to the team's roots, JLA attempts to split the difference, framing a League consisting of Guy Gardner (who is portrayed more like Hal Jordan in both appearance and attitude), Barry Allen (himself more like Wally West), the Atom, Fire, secret leader Martian Manhunter (played by M*A*S*H’s David Ogden Stiers), and new recruit Ice as they battle Miguel Ferrer's weather manipulating bad guy.
The cast - mostly consisting of unknowns, some of whom have found relative subsequent success on TV - and the format, which attempts to blend some mockumentary elements with a kind of humorous, campy superhero adventure just do not gel, making it clear why the film never made it to air. Still, it is hard to imagine living in a time when one of the most demanded big screen superhero franchises was relegated to an unreleased telefilm.
But hey, there's no better place to find Green Lantern summoning constructs that would make Ryan Reynolds groan, or to see Ray Palmer do battle with a house cat.
DOCTOR STRANGE14 of 15By now, Benedict Cumberbatch is well underway filming as the Sorcerer Supreme in 2016's upcoming Doctor Strange film from Marvel Studios. But how many of us knew that there is already a Dr. Strange film you can watch right now - if you can find it, and you have the endurance.
Back in the magical time of the '70's, CBS was working its way through numerous Marvel properties, banking on the success of its Hulk TV series - a show which itself spawned telefilms guest-starring Thor and Daredevil - and the less successful Spider-Man show to launch an entire line of Marvel based television properties. And after Hulk and Spidey got their due, Dr. Strange was next on the list.
The result of CBS's experiment was an instantly dated, nearly unwatchable TV movie that was meant to function as a pilot for a possible series starring Peter Hooten as the good Doctor. The film had many of the trappings of Dr. Strange including an Earthbound version of Clea, Wong, and longtime Marvel villainess Morgan LeFay, played by none other than Jessica Walter of Arrested Development and Archer fame.
Needless to say, the Dr. Strange movie of the '70's did not launch a franchise. For a while, it was available on home video, though the proliferation of DVD's in the late '90's has made it nearly impossible to find outside of the convention circuit. Here's hoping 2016's entry does right by Stephen Strange.
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