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Wikimedia Commons/Bryan Dugan

11 Movies You Might Not Know Were Based On Comic Books

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Wikimedia Commons/Bryan Dugan

Sure, everyone knows Iron Man and Superman were comic-book heroes well before they made the jump to the big screen, but there's no shortage of movies out there with secret origins in the world of comics. Whether those movies are cult classics or Oscar nominees, they all share one thing in common: they wouldn't exist without the comics that inspired them. Here are 11 films you might not know were based on comics.

1. A History of Violence

Even director David Cronenberg didn't know his 2005 film about a family man whose secret past comes back to terrorize him was an adaptation of a graphic novel until the filmmaker was already discussing the second draft of the script. Screenwriter Josh Olson received an Oscar nomination for his adaptation of John Wagner and Vince Locke's original comic, which was published in 1997 by Paradox Press. While certain scenes were lifted directly from the graphic novel, much of the movie differs significantly from the source material, with Olson's screenplay putting a greater focus on how the main character's violent past affects his family.

2. Alien Vs. Predator

While the two movie monsters pitted against each other in this 2004 film were already Hollywood horror stars in their own rights, it was a 1989 comic that spawned the idea of bringing them together for a showdown. Originally published in the Dark Horse Presents anthology series, the brawl between the chest-bursting xenomorphs of the Alien films and the creatures from the Predator movies came about due to Dark Horse Comics' deal with 20th Century Fox for the license to both franchises. The popularity of the comics then helped the crossover make the leap to the screen with a brief scene in Predator 2 that featured one of the aliens' skulls in a Predator's trophy room.

3. From Hell

The gory, surreal story of a London police inspector on the trail of Jack the Ripper that was the centerpiece of this 2001 film originated as a serialized comic that concluded in 1996. Authored by celebrated Watchmen and V For Vendetta writer Alan Moore with art by Eddie Campbell, From Hell won several major awards during its seven-year run, including the prestigious Eisner Award for “Best Serialized Story.” The big-screen adaptation of the comic that starred Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, however, wasn't nearly as celebrated.

4. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Widely regarded as the film that was so bad it made Sean Connery retire from acting, this 2003 movie was also a loose (as in, very loose) adaptation of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's multi-volume series that first hit shelves in 1999. Where the original comic offered a cerebral, edgy adventure that wove together some of history's greatest literary figures into a single narrative timeline, the movie was, well ... not quite the film that Moore and most of the comic's fans (and movie critics) hoped it would be. In fact, Moore disliked the adaptation so much that he included a character resembling Connery's version of James Bond in subsequent volumes of the series, and portrayed him in extremely negative fashion.

5. The Mask

Not only did this blockbuster 1994 comedy help make stars out of Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz, but it also played a big role in securing the future of Dark Horse Entertainment, the movie-production arm of Dark Horse Comics. The Mask was the first original comic from Dark Horse to make it big in theaters (and their second movie project after Dr. Giggles), and the ongoing comics and spin-off stories featured a long list of different characters donning the magical mask that imbued its wearer with all sorts of wild powers. The original series, which was based on a concept by Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson, was written by John Arcudi and illustrated by Doug Mahnke, and features a few scenes that were directly adapted for the movie.

6. Men In Black

Independent Canadian comic publisher Aircel Comics first brought The Men In Black to shelves in 1990 with a short series by Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers. By the time the comic found its way to the screen, Aircel had been bought out by multiple publishers, with the series finally landing at Marvel Comics in 1994. That was a lot of travel—and attention—for a series that only amounted to a pair of three-issue stories at the time, though Marvel was quick to release several additional spin-offs and a prequel comic when it was clear the movie had blockbuster potential. The original Men In Black concept also received a bit of a makeover on its way to the screen, with the studio toning down the violence of the source material and eliminating paranormal elements from the story. 

7. Red

Both the 2010 action film and the 2003 comic that inspired it were well-received by their respective audiences, but that's where most of the similarities between these projects end. Where the original comic by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner was a gritty, bloody thriller that unfolded over just three issues and featured a solo protagonist, the movie based on the book featured quite a bit of humor and expanded the cast to showcase an impressive ensemble of A-list actors. Ellis himself has acknowledged the vast differences between the two projects, and insisted that there just wasn't enough material in his original comic for a true page-to-screen translation anyway.

8. Road to Perdition

Max Allan Collins wrote both the original comic that inspired this 2002 film about a mafia assassin on the run from his former employers and the novelization of the film itself, which differs slightly from the source material but carries over many of the 1998 series' themes. While the movie toned down quite a bit of the violence in the comic (especially where it concerned Tom Hanks' character), Collins praised some of the biggest changes made by the studio—namely, the addition of Jude Law's character in the film. The success of the series prompted Collins to write several more books in the Road To Perdition series, each focusing on a different character caught up in the criminal underworld.

9. Timecop

A short story that appeared in three issues of the Dark Horse Presents comics anthology provided the source material for this 1994 film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as a time-jumping action hero, and eventually led to both a television series and a video game based on the comic's concept. Writer Mark Verheiden penned the comic and co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Dark Horse founder and publisher Mike Richardson, and the movie remains one of Van Damme's most successful films to date. Sadly, the comic-book side of Timecop didn't amount to more than an adaptation of the film and the original, three-part series titled Time Cop: A Man Out Of Time.

10. Virus

Jamie Lee Curtis has made no secret of her distaste for this 1999 sci-fi horror film in which she played the leader of a salvage crew that discovers a terrifying creature aboard an abandoned Russian research ship, so it's no surprise that the comic that inspired the movie has kept a relatively low profile. Chuck Pfarrer originally penned the story as a movie script, but he sold the project to Dark Horse Comics after deciding that special-effects technology at the time couldn't facilitate a jump from page to screen. Dark Horse published the first issue of the Virus comic in December 1992.

11. Wanted

This 2008 film made heroes out of supervillains and was a surprise hit at the box office, but it never quite matched the subversive, graphic excesses of the hit comic that inspired it. Kick-Ass writer Mark Millar penned the original six-issue series that first hit shelves in 2003 and explored a world where the bad guys won and villains rule the world in secret. While the movie has little in common with its source material beyond some general themes and characters (and one or two early scenes lifted from the comic), the most noticeable difference could be the film's main character, whose look in the comic was clearly—and admittedly—based on rapper Eminem. Similarly, Angelina Jolie's character in the movie, Fox, shared few visual similarities with her comics counterpart, as artist J.G. Jones based the character's look on actress Halle Berry.

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The Night the Brat Pack Was Born
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If Emilio Estevez had opted to pay for his movie ticket, the Brat Pack might never have been born. It was spring 1985, and Estevez—then the 23-year-old co-star of St. Elmo’s Fire—was being profiled in New York Magazine. The angle was that Estevez had just signed a deal to write, direct, and star in his own feature, That Was Then... This is Now, an opportunity that was rarely afforded to young Hollywood talent. Estevez was two years younger than Orson Welles was when he performed similar duties for 1941’s Citizen Kane.

That youthful exuberance was on display as New York writer David Blum followed Estevez in and around Los Angeles for several days gathering material for the story. With Blum in tow, Estevez decided that he wanted to catch a screening of Ladyhawke, a fantasy film starring Matthew Broderick. For reasons not made entirely clear, he preferred not to have to pay for a ticket. According to Blum, Estevez called the theater and politely asked for free admission before entering an 8 p.m. screening.

It's likely Estevez was just having a little fun with his celebrity. But to Blum, it was indicative of a mischievous, slightly grating sense of entitlement. Blum’s assessment was that Estevez was acting “bratty,” an impression he felt was reinforced when he witnessed a gathering of other young actors at LA’s Hard Rock Cafe for the same story.

What was supposed to be a modest profile of Estevez turned into a cover story declaration: Hollywood’s “Brat Pack” was here, and they had decided to forego the earnest acting study preferred by their predecessors to spend their nights partying instead.

The day the story hit newsstands, Blum received a call from Estevez. “You’ve ruined my life,” he said.

The June 1985 cover of New York magazine
New York, Google Books

Blum’s label had its roots in the Rat Pack of the 1960s, so named for the carousing boys' club led by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. Whether it was accurate or not, the performers developed reputations for squeezing every last drink, perk, and joke they could out of their celebrity well into middle age.

That dynamic was on Blum’s mind when New York dispatched him to cover Estevez. After he arrived in California, Blum took note of the fact that a tight cluster of actors seemed to have formed a group, both on- and off-screen. Estevez was close friends with Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise, and all of them appeared in 1983’s The Outsiders; Lowe and Estevez were co-starring in St. Elmo’s Fire, a coming-of-age drama that also featured Andrew McCarthy and Judd Nelson; Estevez and Nelson gained a lot of attention for 1984’s The Breakfast Club.

To Blum, Estevez was more than just a multi-hyphenate; he appeared to be the nucleus of a group that spent a lot of time working and playing together. And in fairness to Blum, Estevez didn’t dissuade the writer from that take: Fearing he was coming off as too serious in the profile, Estevez asked Lowe and Nelson to hang out with him at Los Angeles’s Hard Rock Cafe so Blum could see the actor's lighter side.

Nelson would later recall that he felt uneasy around Blum. “Why is this guy having dinner with us?” he asked Estevez. Lowe, meanwhile, was busy flirting with women approaching their table. The group later went to a "punk rock" club, with a Playboy Playmate tagging along.

As celebrity hedonism goes, it was a tame evening. But Blum walked away with the idea that Estevez was the unofficial president of an exclusive club—attractive actors who were soaking up success while idling late into the night.

Blum returned to New York with a different angle for his editors. He wanted to capture this “Brat Pack,” a “roving band” of performers “on the prowl” for good times. Although the magazine had just run a cover story about a teenage gang dubbed “the wolf pack” and feared repetition, they agreed.

As far as Estevez and the others were concerned, Blum was busy executing a piece on Estevez’s ambitions as a writer and director. When Estevez, Nelson, and Lowe appeared on the cover—taken from a publicity still for St. Elmo’s Fire—with his newly-coined phrase, they were horrified.

Blum began getting calls from angry publicists from each of the actors mentioned in the article—and there had been a lot of them. In addition to Estevez, the de facto leader, and lieutenants Lowe and Nelson, Blum had dubbed go-to John Hughes geek Anthony Michael Hall the “mascot”; Timothy Hutton was said to be on the verge of excommunication for his film “bombs”; Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, and Matt Dillon were also mentioned.

To the actors, the effect was devastating. Independent of how they spent their free time, all of them were pursuing serious careers as performers, with producers, directors, and casting agents mindful of their portrayal in the media. Being a Brat Packer was synonymous with being listless, or not taking their craft seriously.

Nelson recalled the blowback was immediate: Managers told him to stop socializing with his friends for fear he’d be stigmatized as unreliable. “These were people I worked with, who I really liked as people, funny, smart, committed to the work,” he said in 2013. “I mean, no one was professionally irresponsible. And after that article, not only [were] we strongly encouraged not to work with each other again, and for the most part we haven’t, but it was insinuated we might not want to be hanging out with these people.”

Universal Pictures

Some of the actors went on The Phil Donahue Show to criticize the profile, asserting that their remarks to Blum had been off-the-record. (Blum denied this.) Lowe told the media that Blum had “burned bridges” and that he was “no Hunter S. Thompson.” Andrew McCarthy called Blum a “lazy … journalist” and found the idea of an actor “tribe” absurd—he had never even met Anthony Michael Hall.

Unfortunately, the name stuck. “Brat Pack” was infectious—a catch-all for the kind of young performer emerging in the ‘80s who could be seen in multiple ensemble movies. While Blum would later express regret over the label, it’s never quite left the public consciousness. In 2005, Universal released a DVD boxed set—The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Sixteen Candles—as The Brat Pack Collection.

Nelson, Estevez, and Lowe never again appeared in a movie together. “Personally, the biggest disappointment about it is that ‘Brat Pack’ will somehow figure in my obituary at [the] hands of every lazy and unoriginal journalist,” Estevez told a reporter in 2011. “Warning: My ghost will come back and haunt them.”

Nelson was slightly less forgiving. In a 2013 podcast, he chastised Blum for his mischaracterization of the group of young actors. “I would have been better served following my gut feeling and knocking him unconscious.”

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Pop Chart Lab
Keep Tabs on 100 Classic Films With This Scratch-Off Poster
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Pop Chart Lab

Do you get a weird kind of buzz from scratching off the silver foil coating on instant lotto tickets? Do you like watching movies? Then Pop Chart Lab has something for you. The company is set to release a 100 Essential Films Scratch-Off Chart, an 18-inch by 24-inch wall hanging that lets you keep track of which classic films you’ve seen and which are still in the queue.

A look at a scratch-off poster featuring 100 classic films

The curated films are arranged in chronological order, from the works of Buster Keaton all the way to 2017’s Get Out. The silver foil obscures a portion of the artwork, which reveals more iconography from the movie when etched away with a coin. The $35 poster is due to begin shipping in September; you can purchase your copy now.


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