Comics to Film: Beyond the Superhero Genre

With the recent and ongoing popularity of the Marvel cinematic universe and the DC inspired films dominating the box office, many movie goers don’t realize how many films are based on lesser known graphic novels.

Here are my top movies based on graphic novels that you may not know about:

I Kill Giants (dir. Anders Winter)

Based on the seven issue series published by Image comics, I Kill Giants is about a socially awkward young girl who believes that she is the soul protector of her small Long Island beach town from giants. To the people around her she seems lost in her imaginary world but when she is alone, we get an in-depth look into her fairytale world. The film adaptation is relatively faithful to the comic series, but the masterful artwork of the comic is worth looking at first.

Akira (dir. Katsuhiro Ôtomo)

Taking us into the futuristic dystopia of Neo Tokyo where biker gangs rule the streets, a psychic phenomena controlled by the government is about to be unleashed. Some people don’t realize one of the most masterfully crafted works of Japanese animation was actually based on an epic Japanese comic by the director of the film. Ôtomo manages to take his over 2000 page literary vision and bring it to life himself with multiple layers of cell animation creating new colors that were never seen on film before. My recommendation is to watch the film, then read the enthralling saga.

A History of Violence (dir. David Cronenberg)

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Based on the graphic novel of the same name by John Wagner, this film tells the story of the owner of a diner in a small town who becomes a hero over night after fighting off violent robbers. With the most recent popularity with stopping the robbery, the diner owner begins to attract the attention of some gangsters who swear he’s the man they are looking for. Is it a case of mistaken identity or did the mafia find the man they’ve been looking for? The film took some liberties with the source material but both are enjoyable.

Oldboy (dir. Chan-work Park)

A big part of the cultural phenomenon of comics comes from the Japanese style known as manga. While Oldboy is now a Japanese film staple, it began as a manga. The film centers on a man who has been mysteriously imprisoned for an excessive amount of time and released only to try and figure out why. The film is very stylish and has a memorable fight scene in one long shot. Definitely check out the 8 volume manga for an elaborate psychological thriller that differs completely from the twist ending of both films. Spike Lee remade the film for American audiences in 2013.

Road to Perdition (dir. Sam Mendes)

Right after director Sam Mendes won the Oscar for his debut film, American Beauty, he went to work on Road to Perdition. It is based on the first chapter of the comic saga. The film centers around a hit man for the mob who has to flee from the gangsters he used to work for. The most notable variant from page to film was the addition of the eccentric hit man looking for the protagonist named Maguire, portrayed by Jude Law. The comic also features Al Capone as a reoccurring character, who is absent for the film.

Blue is the Warmest Color (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche)

The Palme d’Or winning film shows us the inside look of a same sex couple finding each other, falling in love, fighting with each other and ending it all. The two female leads give sensational performances. The film tends to go in a completely different direction from the comic. It’s lengthier and it makes it into its own piece of art. Ultimately, the film and the comic tell different stories, but both are worth taking a look at.

Ghost World (dir. Terry Zwigoff)

After graduating high school, two teenage girls spend their summer disassociated from the locals while trying to figure out which direction to take their lives – ideally one that meanders from conventional society. Daniel Clowes beloved graphic novel comes to life with the help of Terry Zwigoff in this excellent, Oscar nominated adaptation. If anyone understands adult comics, it’s Zwigoff after filming the documentary, Crumb. An all-star cast including Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansen, and Steve Buschemi play memorable characters from the original source material. Both film and comic are masterpieces.

From Hell (dir. The Hughes Brothers)

A detective tries to find the notorious Jack the Ripper using unconventional techniques. From Hell is based on a graphic novel by best selling comic book writer, Alan Moore, and allegedly true events in the Jack the Ripper case. The attention to detail in both the film and the graphic novel are remarkable, playing on a feasible conspiracy with the Ripper murders. The movie has a strong core cast led by Johnny Depp and Ian Holm.


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