Wayne Rock, Comic to Screen Head Writer
These days comic book adaptations are everywhere. On the big screen, on the small screen, on YouTube as fan films and, yes, there are even comic book adaptations of films that originally started as comic books. Yes, it’s as complicated as it sounds. Most of these are easily recognised by their brightly-coloured, usually super-powered protagonists and equally flambouyant villains, but there are a few films out there where it may not be as obvious that they began life as comics (or “graphic novels” for those living in more privileged areas).
Whether the film adaptation butchered the source material so horribly that it was more unrecognisable than Renee Zellweger at the 2014 Elle Awards, or the source material was so obscure that you’d never think to link the film to the page, here are five films I bet you didn’t know were based on comic books.
Trust me, this one was a surprise to me as well. Before I get into the synopsis, there’s really no excuse for you to not have seen this movie. This is a must-see film. So, if you’re reading this, stop, and go watch Oldboy (the original 2003 South Korean version and not the 2013 atrocity starring Thanos, Scarlet Witch and the guy from District 9).
After a drunken night Oh Dae-Su finds himself imprisoned in a room with no explanation why he is there. He is fed and periodically a gas fills the room, renders him unconscious, and his room is cleaned. Fifteen years later he is suddenly released, given a cell phone, some money and clothes and immediately begins a quest of vengeance that leads him down a path of mystery, conspiracies, violence and romance with a young sushi chef.
Oldboy is regarded as one of the best neo-noir films of all time and has some grounded, gritty action sequences, with a single-shot corridor fight scene being a standout. But what you may not have known is that Oldboy began life as a manga series written by Garon Tsuchiya and illustrated by Nobuaki Minegashi. Though the protagonist and many other characters’ names are changed due to the difference in setting (Japan vs South Korea) the overall plot of the story is similar: a protagonist is suddenly imprisoned and then released years later and must solve a mystery. Where the stories diverge is in their themes. The film is very much an exploration of the consequences of vengeance when it is allowed to fester and ends up controlling you, while the manga is more concerned with the impact that a changed society has on someone who has been in isolation for an extended period. They are both engaging, but very different tonally. If I had to choose just one, I’d go for the film.
4. Road to Perdition
When I discovered that Road to Perdition was originally a series of comics my first reaction was “Huh?” Then when I found out that the comics were inspired by a popular manga called “Lone Wolf and Cub” I was like “Wow. Comic-ception”, because my sense of humour is stuck in 2010.
At first glance to the casual viewer this grounded, realistic crime drama couldn’t possibly be adapted from a comic book, but it is. It’s a pretty faithful adaptation as well, despite the comic having way more stylised violence and the film having an added character played by Jude Law, but the themes of father-son relationships and the cycle of violence remains mostly intact. Even author Max Collins himself is quoted as saying that the film is about “two thirds directly from the comic”. The film itself was a critical and commercial success, with an ensemble cast and bonus fun fact, Tom Hanks’ character Sullivan’s son in the movie is portrayed by non-other than a young CW Superman himself, Tyler Hoechlin, providing another, albeit cursory link to a comic book.
Snowpiercer is just an amazing film. For one, it’s helmed by one of my all-time favourite directors, Bong Joon-ho, whose filmography you should definitely exhaust (he most recently directed the amazing film Parasite which became the first foreign film to win the coveted Best Picture Academy Award). The cinematography is astounding, the acting, pacing and plot are all stellar, and tonally the film really sells this bleak, cold, post-apocalyptic world, where in any other case the entirety of humanity living on a train would just seem absurd.
What you may not know is that Snowpiercer is based on a French graphic novel called “Le Transperceneige” co-created by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette. Unlike our previous entry though, Snowpiercer and Le Transperceneige only share a basic premise and might as well be two separate entities. For instance, the reason behind the eternal winter is drastically different. In the film it is due to a deliberate attempt to deter global warming while in the book it’s because of a climate weapon gone awry. The characters are also totally different, as is the layout of the train. Perhaps the biggest difference are the endings, which I won’t spoil here (even though you should have seen Snowpiercer by now), but I will say that tonally they’re on the opposite end of the spectrum. The movie’s ending is a bit hopeful, while the comic ends on the bleakest note possible.
2. Hercules (2014)
I think we all know that any story featuring Hercules is based on Roman mythology. Yes, Roman, not Greek, as his Grecian name is actually Heracles. Look at that, you guys are getting so much extra knowledge for free. However, the 2014 Hercules movie starring my nemesis, Dwayne “The Fake Rock” Johnson, is actually based on a series of comics called “Hercules: The Thracian Wars”. The author of the comic, Steve Moore, was reportedly unhappy with how Hollywood adapted his original work. What is it with guys with the surname Moore hating film adaptations of their comics anyway? In fact, it was famed Rasputin-impersonator, warlock, and film-adaptation hater Alan Moore (he’s also a genius writer) who spoke on Steve’s behalf about the butchering of the comic in an interview. Go figure. I guess the Moores gotta stick together.
Anyway, the source material is extremely “meh”. Despite the endorsement from Alan Moore and some stellar artwork, it’s nowhere near the level of something like Watchmen or The Killing Joke. The plot is very substandard and the dialogue is borderline cringey at times. As much as the film is fluff and filler and really adds nothing to the Hercules mythos, it’s at the very least an entertaining time with Dwayne’s charismatic take on the muscle-bound demigod. I also found the speculation and skepticism throughout the film of Hercules’ feats and demigod status to be interesting, but ultimately I wish they did more with it. Speaking of Alan Moore…
1. From Hell
This one was totally unplanned but, hey, it made for a nice transition from our #2 entry to our #1 entry, so I’ll take it. This Johnny Depp vehicle surrounding the Jack the Ripper murders is actually one of the better Alan Moore comic adaptations (although Moore still hates it), but it’s still a mediocre film at best, and is a pale imitation of its source material. The film and comic share a name and basic plot, but that’s about it. The movie lacks the exploration of Moore’s rich themes of the nature and perception of time, society, crime, and the entire Victorian age. The film also lacks the graphic novel’s genuinely terrifying feel, enhanced by artist’s Eddie Campbell’s amazing artwork, which is rough and scratchy, adding to the gothic, frantic, Victorian horror-esque realism of the story being told.
The movie has some decent performances from Depp and co-star Heather Graham and the production quality, costume design, lighting, and cinematography help to sell the atmosphere of the film. But I’m sorry, the film is so boring. I can’t even remember half of what happened in it, and the romance teased between Depp and Graham’s characters is totally misplaced and ultimately goes nowhere. You’re really better off checking out the original graphic novel.
So, those are five films you might not have known were based on comics. Let us know in the comments if you knew any of these, or if you know of any we might have missed. And you can check out more comic book-related content below:
Wayne loves to complain, and that was an unintentional rhyme. When I’m not watching movies, TV, anime or trophy hunting on PS4, you can usually find me deep in my thoughts preparing my next scathing review of a bad movie. I think Zack Snyder’s take on superheroes is terrible and that The Quick and the Dead is actually a decent movie. I re-watch Death Note every year. Unlike the other fine writers on this site, I’m not a critic, but I can definitely Rock a review…(Read More)