The most well-known comic book movie subgenre is the superhero movie, but there was a time when comic book movies were often about a different sort of character than those with superpowers who ran around saving the planet time and time again. With the exception of 1978's Superman and a few others, these movies were different from the epics that are now released on almost a yearly basis.
The press surrounding the movies wasn't focused on the movies' origins to the extent that it is today. Again, there were a couple of exceptions, and Tim Burton's Batman may be the best example. So maybe the “old” way was better, since it gave each film a chance to make it big without complaints from a hardcore fan-base about casting decisions or alterations to the source material.
Sure, some of the movies failed miserably with both critics and audience. Nevertheless, they developed a cult following. Which comic book movies are we talking about? Well, here are ten films we almost always forget about, even though they deserve to be remembered.
Flash Gordon (1980)
First published in 1934, Flash Gordon was actually why we now have Star Wars. When George Lucas couldn't acquire the rights to the character in the 1970s, he decided to create his own space-opera. But the Flash Gordon movie we’re talking about here was made in 1980, with Flash as a quarterback, rather than a polo player.
Starring Sam J. Jones as the titular character and Max von Sydow as villain Emperor Ming, the movie is as goofy as you’d expect, with a plot that places a rather usual human in a highly unusual situation. But the goofiness, accompanied by a soundtrack composed and performed by Queen, is exactly what makes the movie so charming.
The movie’s earnings topped its budget by quite a bit, but critics had no love for it. Their main complaint was that it was a gross attempt to parody better-known films, including Star Wars. But Flash Gordon has been recognized as a game-changer in more recent years.
Edgar Wright said it was a favorite movie that influenced his own work, and Alex Ross actually said that it was his all-time favorite film.
Red Sonja (1985)
Red Sonja is another campy movie from the same time period. Critics bashed it for the most obvious reasons: bad casting, bad acting, even worse writing, and more. However, the Brigitte Nielsen vehicle still holds a place in our hearts, and for the same reason Flash Gordon did. It's not a serious film, although you might wonder at times whether the actors were aware of that or not!
So even if Arnold Schwarzenegger regards it as one of the worst movies of his career, you can’t not enjoy the wooden acting and poorly conceived action sequences as you wonder whether this is an intentional spoof of the Conan films.
Some time ago, Robert Rodriguez announced that he planned to make a Red Sonja reboot with Rose McGowan in the lead role. Since then, the property has changed hands and the reboot has been stuck in limbo, with no real chance of being picked up again.
Seeing how poorly certain sword and sorcery epics have performed, this is understandable. But Wonder Woman broke records, so who knows?
Dick Tracy (1990)
Without a doubt, Dick Tracy is one of the most stylish movies on this list. Based on the comic strip character from 1931, the movie had an all-star cast that included Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, and Dustin Hoffman, to name just a few. It garnered seven Academy Award nominations, and managed to win three Oscars. It was also a box-office hit, although Disney had said that it was too expensive to make.
But at the same time, critics didn't unanimously love it. Since we’re talking comic book films, Dick Tracy was compared to Batman (released one year prior), and the conclusion was that it lacked the psychological depth of the latter movie.
Nonetheless, Dick Tracy was an achievement, and not just from a visual point of view. The movie had an intelligent script that called for over-the-top acting without straying into spoof territory. Visually like nothing that came before it, Dick Tracy still managed to stay true to its source material.
The Rocketeer (1991)
The Rocketeer was created in 1982 as an homage to the heroes of World War I. It wasn't a hit with the fans, and its special effects haven’t aged well, but it’s effective as a throwback to early comic books. And yes, it involved Nazis!
Directed by Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger), it was a family-friendly movie in the sense that everyone could watch it without a barrage of questions from the kids.
In 2016, Disney announced that they planned to reboot the property with a different character taking on the Rocketeer’s mantle (or jetpack). However, aside from various rumors about directors, the studio hasn’t made an official announcement.
We guess Disney’s too busy with its other franchises.
Tank Girl (1995)
Production for Tank Girl was plagued with all sorts of problems, including massive studio interference as the movie was cut prior to its release. Although the final product was watered down and a box office dud, Tank Girl still embodies the "˜90s, offering craziness and a bit of music sprinkled in, though not necessarily where it was needed.
The movie starred Ice-T as a mutant kangaroo-like super soldier. What could you possibly expect from that?
Again, the movie bombed from any point of view. Even the stars of the film bashed it. Nonetheless, it gathered a cult following, since nothing like it was out at that time. After all, it featured a heroine driving a tank, a female jet pilot, and an evil man who wanted all of the world’s remaining water for himself.
Released in 1995, Tank Girl was way ahead of its time. But seeing the success of some of today’s over-the-top movies (including Kick-Ass and Kingsman), maybe it’s high time for a reboot.
The Phantom (1996)
Based on a comic book character from 1936, The Phantom starred Billy Zane and was the perfect mix of Batman and Raiders of the Lost Ark, as long as you kept in mind that it didn't take itself too seriously. Of course, that was when Schumacher had control over the Batman films. So now you understand the comparison.
The Phantom was a light movie. Billy Zane received praise for his lead role, which impressed James Cameron enough to cast him in Titanic. Other cast members included Catherine Zeta Jones, James Remar, Treat Williams, and Kristy Swanson. The plot stayed true to the comics, particularly in the first three stories.
But even with a strong marketing campaign, the movie was a flop. Nonetheless, it’s found new life in home media, and talks about sequels and reboots have taken place.
Mystery Men (1999)
Mystery Men is one of our favorite movies on this list. Based on the Flaming Carrot Comics, which parodied the seriousness of certain comic book characters, the Mystery Men are unimpressive superheroes (one of them farts with precision, for example) with even more unimpressive backstories. But still, superheroes they are!
The Flaming Carrot doesn't appear in the film, but Mr. Furious, the Shoveler, and Blue Raja more than make up for his absence. The stellar cast includes Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, Paul Reubens, Janeane Garofalo, and Geoffrey Rush (as a very delightful villain).
Even with all of that going for it, the movie, like so many others on this list, bombed and received mixed reviews. That may have happened because of the era during which it was released. But check this movie out if you want to forget about the seriousness of today’s Marvel and DC movies, and have a blast doing it!
Road to Perdition (2002)
When Road to Perdition came out, someone said that each frame was a painting, so it didn't win an Oscar for its cinematography for nothing. Directed by Sam Mendes (Skyfall), and starring Tom Hanks as a mob enforcer, Road to Perdition offers very little of what you might expect from a comic book movie, besides the visuals.
Nonetheless, many people empathized with the characters in the story, which is about the lengths a father will go to to protect his child from a violent way of life.
Other cast members included Paul Newman (nominated for an Academy Award), Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and CiarÃ¡n Hinds. If you haven't seen this one, check it out; it’s more than worth your while!
A History of Violence (2005)
Like Road to Perdition, A History of Violence didn't scream that it was a comic book movie, although it was based on Judge Dredd creator John Wagner’s similarly titled graphic novel. The Dredd connection should give you some idea of what you can expect from A History of Violence.
Directed by David Cronenberg and starring Viggo Mortensen at the height of his game, A History of Violence trod the same path as Road to Perdition. However, unlike Tom Hanks' character, Mortensen's was caught up in the past he left behind years ago. As the title indicates, violence ensued.
Maria Bello, Ed Harris, and William Hurt (who was nominated for an Oscar) complete the main cast of this exceptional movie, which enjoyed stellar reviews and doubled its budget at the box office.
Sin City (2005)
You might say that nobody could forget Sin City, but we beg to differ! Directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez were actually the first to forget about it and what it actually was. If they hadn't forgotten, they would have made a proper sequel, rather than the disappointing Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.
Sin City was unique in the sense that it brought to life a graphic novel. The movie was done in black and white, although a few select aspects were in color. The visual style was perfectly suited to the atmosphere of a neo-noir crime movie, and had a tremendous impact. The loosely connected stories included in the film just added to its appeal.
This was Sin City, which might have been Bruce Willis’ last decent performance. Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, and Clive Owen, and a number of other actors rounded out the excellent cast. Fans screamed for a sequel for years, but when it came out, it was already too late.
Do you remember Sin City’s impact when it was released in 2005?