10 Movies You Didn’t Know Were Based on Comics

men in black

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By Sara Franks-Allen

When we hear the term “comic book movie,” we usually think of caped superheroes taking on powered-up villains to save humanity. But comics have been the inspiration for all kinds of movies that don’t wrap their characters in capes and spandex. Here are 10 films that you may not know were comics before they were movies; from lesser-known superhero stories to crime dramas to tales of nuclear war.

10. Ghost World (2001)

Ghost World began life as a feature in Daniel Clowes’ one-man anthology comic, Eightball. Because of the serialized nature of the stories, the original tale is more of a string of slice-of-life incidents that gradually build to the end of the two main characters’ friendship. The Terry Zwigoff film has a stronger overarching plot with a new character: sad sack blues nerd Seymour, played by living Daniel Clowes drawing Steve Buscemi.

9. American Splendor (2003)

It’s no surprise that American Splendor is based on the autobiographical comics of the same name. Even a quick glance at the movie poster tells you that this is a comic book movie, though not the superhero kind. The film, like the comics, is a mostly accurate account of the life of comics scribe, jazz critic, and would-be record thief Harvey Pekar. Many of the early American Splendor stories were drawn by Pekar’s friend, the legendary underground comics artist R. Crumb. The lists of other artists who have drawn for the comic reads like a “who’s who” of modern comics greats.

8. Road to Perdition (2002)

The original Road to Perdition was a little-known graphic novel about an ex-mob enforcer and his son seeking revenge against John Looney, a real life early 20th century crime boss. The comic’s profile shot up when it was adapted into a movie with a star-studded cast headed up by Tom Hanks and Paul Newman. Max Allan Collins, the book’s author and a prolific mystery writer who once wrote the Dick Tracy newspaper strip, has said that the story is “an unabashed homage” to the famous manga series Lone Wolf and Cub.

7. From Hell (2001)

Though they share characters, a conspiracy theory, and a title in common, the book and movie versions of From Hell are very different animals. The comic is an exhaustively researched tome by Alan Moore (Watchmen) and Eddie Campbell exploring a theory on the killer and motives behind the infamous Jack the Ripper murders. The film is more a traditional mystery that mashes together numerous characters, inexplicably alters names, and swaps a realistic portrayal of Victorian-era prostitution for a romance between Johnny Depp and Heather Graham. Moore disliked the adaptation and has distanced himself from movie versions of his comics work.

6. A History of Violence (2005)

Before it was an acclaimed film directed by David Cronenberg with Viggo Mortensen in the lead role, A History of Violence was a graphic novel by writer John Wagner (co-creator of Judge Dredd) and artist Vince Locke, who drew the zombie comic Deadworld. The movie’s first half stays very close to the source material; the famously brutal diner scene is all but identical to the one in the comic. But the latter half begins to diverge. The comic deals with the heist that lead to main character Tom starting a new life under an assumed name and Richie, Tom’s childhood friend who suffered the consequences that Tom escaped. The film focuses more on the effects on Tom’s family when his past is revealed. The details of his old life are kept vague and Richie becomes his mobster brother.

5. Men in Black (1997)

The Men in Black comics were created by writer Lowell Cunningham and artist Sandy Carruthers. The series went through a pair of three issue miniseries and three different publishers (technically the comics are owned by Marvel today) before becoming the more widely known movie franchise. The movies only use the most basic elements of the comics. There’s a secret organization shielding the world from the weird stuff, agents named Jay, Kay, and Zed, and the neuralyzer (“flashy thing”). But the comics had a broader scope — the agents battled mutants, demons, and various legendary monsters as well as aliens — and a darker tone. The agency’s aims were not as benign as they are in the movies and agents would go as far as murdering people in order to protect the secrecy of their group and its operations.

4. The Crow (1994)

The Crow started out as a four-issue miniseries by James O’Barr published in 1989. The film sticks to the story from the comics, telling how Eric Draven is resurrected by a mystical crow to take vengeance on the thugs who murdered him and his fiancee. Sequels to both the movie and the comic have alternately focused on Eric and other human avatars for the crow spirit. The film’s release was partly overshadowed by the accidental on-set death of 28-year-old star Brandon Lee.

3. Monkeybone (2001)

Monkeybone has its roots in a 1995 comic called Dark Town, written by Kaja Blackley and drawn by Vanessa Chong. Both star a man in a coma who ends up in a strange world of puppets and has to keep the residents from taking control of his comatose body while he works to escape before he’s taken off life support. Director Henry Selick thought the comic was a perfect fit with his sensibilities and stop-motion animation directing prowess. He initially planned to stick to the comic’s look and story, but the film evolved into the story of a cartoonist who meets and clashes with his most famous creation. Monkeybone was a critical and commercial flop, while Dark Town ended on a cliffhanger and never got a second issue.

2. Mystery Men (1999)

We doubt you’ll be shocked to learn that this team of second-string superheroes had their origins in comics, but you may be surprised to learn exactly where. Rather than headlining their own book the team got their start in the pages of “Flaming Carrot” Comics. The Flaming Carrot is himself a B-list superhero, an ordinary guy who read too many comics, went bonkers, and put on a giant carrot mask to fight crime. Due to the difficulties of making a man wearing a carrot mask with fire coming out of the top look convincing on film, the Carrot has yet to make his cinematic debut. But Mr. Furious, the Shoveler, and Dr. Heller all came from his comic.

1. Tamara Drewe (2010)

This cheeky British comedy (directed by Stephen Frears of Dangerous Liasions and The Queen fame) began life as a newspaper comic strip and graphic novel by Posy Simmonds. A modern retelling of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Maddening Crowd, Tamara Drewe tells the whimsical tale of a young woman (Gemma Arterton) whose new nose job and blossoming womanhood drives her hometown village simply batty. A critical hit upon its release, Tamara Drewe is likely one of the few comic adaptations that your grandmother has seen.

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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