Some films that don’t find success initially are ahead of their time, just beloved by a rabid few. These films aren’t yet considered classics, but all of these films based on comics are worth (re)visiting.
1. Speed Racer (2008)
The Wachowskis have a consistent filmography, but even for siblings so obsessed with comics, cartoons, anime, and video games, Speed Racer is their only film adaptation of such “low” source material. That is no slight against the film, however, as the Wachowskis create a film that is at once a cartoon come to life, and has a powerful message about corporate greed. It’s kinetic and bold, and the visual style is like no other film.
2. Josie & the Pussycats (2001)
While many might remember the cartoon, Josie & the Pussycats are Archie characters, often crossing paths with the Riverdale gang before and after their Scooby-Doo-ized Hannah-Barbera days. Like Speed Racer, Josie is a subversive cartoon/comics adaptation about corporate greed and those in power manipulating those further down the economic ladder. Josie and the Pussycats has a great bent to it, satirizing the early 2000s MTV, boy bands, and presages the 30 Rock and Arrested Development take on product placement. It also features Tara Reid’s best performance, and a truly kickass soundtrack. Everything satirized in this film 14 years ago is equally or even more relevant today (except TRL).
3. Mystery Men (1999)
A superhero film based on an acclaimed comic book, Mystery Men parodies the genre with heroes with laughable superpowers (PMS Avenger!) and stars an ensemble cast that features Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, Eddie Izzard, Janeane Garofalo, Ben Stiller, Tom Waits, Geoffrey Rush, and Paul Reubens. A surefire hit, right? Not so much in 1999. While the film has a cult following, it easily could have been a much bigger success during this superheroic time.
4. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
Tintin is a fixture of European comics, and one of the best adventure series ever written. While the film was more than a modest success, it still amazes me that a film directed by Stephen Spielberg, and written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish, didn’t connect with American audiences. Between the masterful playfulness of Spielberg’s first animated film and the . It’s the one sequel I will never give up on waiting for.
5. Dredd (2012)
The second film based on the UK comic 2000 AD featuring Judge Dredd is a delight in that it is an unabashed sci-fi action film with an R rating. Karl Urban is great in the title role, proving how miscast Sylvester Stallone was the first time around. Covering similar ground to The Raid, it mostly takes place in one building, and is full of harsh violence, lavishly shot. While it did not make back its budget, it is quickly earning cult status. It also features some of the best uses of 3D this side of James Cameron.
6-7. Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008)
Based on Mike Mignola’s long-running comics Hellboy and B.P.R.D. these films did well enough, but sadly Guillermo del Toro’s best work seems to be a bit forgotten these days. Ron Pearlman’s take on the main character, a demon child from Hell raised by a gentle academic, who works as a US government-sponsored vigilante working in secret to snuff out paranormal threats, feels organic and natural, as if he weren’t covered in red makeup and wearing a giant stone hand. Both films excel upon del Toro’s eye for visually interesting creature effects, from small pieces of clockwork and six-limbed fairies to horror creatures of Lovecraftian proportions. Holding it all together is a strong sense of family among the ensemble cast, which gives this pair of films the kind of immediate stakes absent from many other comic blockbusters.
8. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
This is one of my all-time favorite films, and while I definitely understand why it didn’t connect for people, it is truly one of the funniest, complex, and interesting comic adaptations ever. A great adaptation by Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World combines the sensibilities of comic books and video games, using the conventions of those other media to advance the storytelling, creating a very different kind of film. It is also the kind of film that rewards rewatching, with small (numerical) cues and foreshadowing waiting to be discovered by fans.