Comics To Film News
From Comic Book to Film The Sequel!
By Patrick Oliver
April 15, 2007 - 17:54

As mentioned in a previous article, the film industry has had a bitter-sweet relationship with big screen comic book adaptations. The following are some more films that will have caused you moments of joy, pain or just plain embarrassment (!) in recent years.

The adaptation of Frank Millers much lauded interpretation of the stand at Thermopylae ‘300’ is box office gold, no doubt about it. Clocking up over $ 321M worldwide in its first month alone, from an initial outlay of $65M, is testament to that. It has captured the imagination of a movie going public starved of a credible ‘swords and sandals’ epic since ‘Gladiator’. The comic book ‘300’ was itself apparently inspired by the film ‘The 300 Spartans’, which Frank Miller is said to have seen as a child.    

Alan Moore, like Frank Miller, is a greatly respected figure in the world of comic book literature. And like Miller, his body of work was always likely to attract studios looking for strong material to adapt. To date, none of these adaptations have pleased Moore, and as a result, his name is rarely directly connected to them. ‘V for Vendetta’, was the latest of his acclaimed works to come to the big screen (2006). Hugely popular and controversial, it raked in $132M worldwide from a budget of $54M under the stewardship of James McTeigue and the Wachowski brothers.

Sin City’ was one of the most eagerly awaited films of 2005. When Robert Rodriguez announced that he was going to be reproducing Frank Millers work, almost frame for frame, you could almost hear fans gasp all around the globe. Falling into the ‘love it or hate it’ bracket mainly because of the graphics, $158M worldwide from a budget $40m, shows that there was a lot more love than hate for this particular film! Visually stunning, brutal, boasting a star studded cast, and faithful to the source material, it can safely be said to have been a triumph for all involved.

When I first saw ‘A History of Violence’ back in 2005, I had no idea that it had been adapted from a comic book. At the time, I thought that it was a good, if brutal thriller with some noir-ish leanings. David Cronenberg did a very good job helming this John Wagner inspired piece. It did sound business at the box office, making $60M worldwide from an estimated budget of $32M.

‘Son of the Mask’ (2005) seems to me to have arrived a touch late, and the fact that it  only pulled in $57M at the box office, having had a budget of around $74M could well support that initial thought.  ‘The Mask’ however, which many may remember as being chaotic, funny and highly enjoyable, raked in $351M world wide, which was a more than handsome return on its $23M budget back in 1994. A suitably manic Jim Carrey and a rather voluptuous Cameron Diaz were both introduced to an appreciative movie going public.

Alan Moore’s’ ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentleman’ is set in an alternative reality in which several characters from fiction actually exist. This hugely popular comic and graphic novel was adapted for the screen (again without his support or blessing) in 2003 and took $179M worldwide from an estimated budget of $78M. Watching this film, the viewer may get the creeping feeling of a great opportunity having been missed. Despite the cast, production and (over-reliance) on special effects, this didn’t quite measure up to the source material, which is a pity.

‘The Road to Perdition’ did very good business when it was released in 2002. Starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, amongst others, it took $181M worldwide, over twice its budget of $80M. With excellent direction, strong performances and a noir-ish feel, this may not have been quite as gritty as the source material, but it was definitely a very satisfying film.  

It’s been established that Alan Moore is a creative tour de force, and as such it is no surprise to find out that another of his works, ‘From Hell’, a highly detailed fictional account of the ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders, was adapted for the screen in 2001. Based on a piece of history that never fails to intrigue the public, and starring Johnny Depp, $74M worldwide from an initial budget of $35M was reasonable business.

‘Spawn’ was very successful upon its release in the late 90’s (1997) it made over $87M worldwide from an estimated budget of $40M. Good business. And the fans were happy too, at the treatment of this admittedly dark tale.

Released in 1996 ‘The Phantom’ featured a young Billy Zane and whilst not perhaps the best comic book adaptation there has ever been, is a good family entertainment and occasionally pops up on the TV schedules. It scores extra marks for some good production values. Unfortunately it didn’t do to well at the box office, not quite recouping the $45M that was spent on its budget.

‘Tank Girl’ released one year prior (1995), deserves a mention. Although it only took $6M from cinema attendances worldwide and had an estimated budget of $25M, it is fondly remembered by fans and is probably considered more a ‘cult’ film than an outright success. Its grunge feel, sprightly acting and scarily plausible plot all reward the open-minded viewer. Naomi Watts is almost unrecognisable as Jet Girl.

Judge Dredd is another John Wagner creation; there was a serious buzz amongst the fans prior to its release in 1995. Fans mentioned actors ranging from Clint Eastwood to William Smith for the role. When Sylvester Stallone was announced there was palpable doubt that he could pull off the role, but people were prepared to give him a break. The film was reasonably good fun as far as science fiction action movies go. The production and direction was good. The acting was okay, but there was still something missing. Perhaps it was too ‘glossy’ a production? Or perhaps it was the introduction of a comedic character in the shape of ‘Fergie’. Getting to see Dredd’s face, something that never happened in the comic - for good reason, it leant credence to his being a personification of the law - was also something the fans could never forgive. Making $113M worldwide from a budget of $90M, meant it did reasonably well, but not as well as it could have done. All-in-all, it was a missed chance.

The big screen adaptation of ‘Casper’ seemed to capture the charm of the comic and cartoon series when it debuted in 1995. Immensely popular family entertainment, it brought in a staggering $287M worldwide and more than recouped its estimated budget of $55M.

Released in 1994, ‘The Crow’ was a very successful, dark addition to the genre and would have been a good vehicle for its star, the late Brandon Lee. It’s debatable whether he would have been able to shake off action hero status and broaden his acting roles, but the signs seemed to indicate that he could have done. Unfortunately a tragic accident whilst filming prematurely ended his life. ‘The Crow’ grossed a very respectable $94M worldwide from a small but perfectly formed budget of $15M.

The less successful sequel ‘The Crow: City of Angels’ (1996) had a budget of $13M and may have struggled to break even because it was not a continuation of the first story. This film featured a new Crow dishing out retribution to criminals.   

When ‘The Shadow’ came to the screens in 1994 few (including myself) may have known that the character had been a comic strip, radio series and had several films already made about him! It is thought that the character of The Shadow may have been instrumental in the development of other characters such as Batman, The Green Hornet and, more recently the character of ‘V’ in ‘V for Vendetta’. Unfortunately, the film starring Alec Baldwin, did poorly at the box office earning just $8M more than its $40M budget.

Between them, the first three ‘Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles’ films have grossed well in excess of $320M worldwide, though principally aimed at the younger members of the family, the films nevertheless provided light, fun entertainment for all.

Set in the late 1930’ ‘The Rocketeer’ was a wholesome, well made and engaging romp of a movie that would, I think, was a pleasure to watch for the whole family. Released in 1991 it made $46M worldwide, and featured a post-Bond Timothy Dalton as a morally corrupt character. It has a similar feel-good air about it as ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’.

‘Dick Tracy’ was a successful movie with an all star cast that (in the main) delivered the goods; entertainment. Its use of bright colours, unobtrusive makeup and actors, who seemed to be enjoying themselves thoroughly, helped it to become a big hit. Released in 1990 it grossed $162M worldwide from an initial outlay of $47M. Excellent.

‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ chronicles the story of a Shogun's executioner who is disgraced by false accusations from the Yagyū clan, forcing him to become an assassin. He seeks revenge on the Yagyū clan with his three-year-old son. The manga has been the inspiration for six ‘Lone Wolf’ films, one loose adaptation called ‘Shogun Assassin’, four plays and a television series. It has also influenced the ’Road to Perdition’, hip hop albums, Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill II), various cartoons, comics and there have been nods to the original manga in another cult television series; ‘Monkey’.

With new weird wonderful and downright brilliant material being produced, and the attitude to the production and direction of the films improving all the time, it looks as though comic book adaptations may be a safe bet for a few years to come.

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