With so much source material and (oftentimes) a built-in fanbase to draw from, it’s no wonder that films based on comic books often end up sparking their own franchises or, in the case of recent efforts from Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment, an extensive shared universe of related stories. However, sometimes a single comic book film endeavors to translate an individual tale from the page to the big screen with little to no eye on necessarily sparking off a franchise. Here are five of the best “one-off” comic book films that have yet to spawn a series of releases.
V for Vendetta (2006)
Inspired by the 1988 graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, this film centers on a masked revolutionary determined to ignite an uprising in a dystopian version of the United Kingdom. Hugo Weaving stars as the mysterious V, with Natalie Portman along for the ride as a young woman named Evey who gets swept up in his mission. The film marked the directorial debut of James McTeigue, but credit for its success - both at the box office and with fans - often goes to the Wachowskis (The Matrix). Thematically rich and strikingly visceral in nature, V for Vendetta features a standout script (by the Wachowskis, natch) and a lush score by Oscar-winning composer Dario Marianelli. It also stands as one of the best non-franchise comic book films ever made, despite Moore’s refusal to be credited on it or any other adaptations of his works following the disappointing 2003 release The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Another adaptation of one of Moore’s work, this film - based on the limited series published by DC Comics in 1986-87 - tells the complex tale of the titular superhero team as they band together to solve a killing spree in the face of nuclear war. Set in an alternate history, the story is a deconstruction of the superhero genre, often satirizing many of its tropes along the way. Director Zack Snyder (300) reverently brought Moore’s words - and Dave Gibbons’ illustrations - to life after the project languished in development for many years. Even so, Watchmen received more than its fair share of criticism due to a pivotal change in the film’s climax that stirred up controversy among fans. That being said, the story is so compelling and Snyder’s signature style so befitting of its epic scope that the film may be due for a revisit for some viewers, if only for impressive performances by Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the two most fascinating figures in its ensemble cast.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
This zippy film version of the Bryan Lee O’Malley graphic novel series stars Michael Cera as the bassist-slacker who falls in love with enigmatic new girl in town Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) before realizing he must now face off with The League of Evil Exes, a collection of past loves who govern her romantic future. As directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), the film is a brilliant amalgam of comedy, action and fantasy that draws upon retro video games and the Toronto indie rock scene for its distinct aesthetic, and its supporting cast features a who’s-who of young talent, including Anna Kendrick, Chris Evans, Aubrey Plaza, Brandon Routh and Brie Larson. Given its hyperactive, frenetic style, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World may not be everyone’s taste. Still, it has already amassed an impressive cult following since its poor theatrical run.
Few comic book films in recent memory have as strong a cult following as this second attempt to bring the 2000 AD comic Judge Dredd to the screen, following the 1995 flop that starred Sylvester Stallone. Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) is absolutely perfect for the role - and, much to fans’ delight, keeps his helmet on throughout the runtime - while the bleak, ultraviolent tone captures the dystopian world in which the character enforces the law. In short, this is the world where John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s character belongs, and although fans adored the film, it failed to become a box office hit, earning only $35 million worldwide against a production budget of $50 million. Regardless, fans continue to campaign for director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland to reunite Urban and co-star Olivia Thirlby in a sequel that very well may never happen.
Big Hero 6 (2014)
When Disney bought Marvel back in 2009, some fans wondered how long it would take for the inevitable Pixar film based on a Marvel Comics title to see the light of day. Although that hasn’t happened (yet), the Mouse House did adapt this superhero title - first published in 1998 - as its 54th animated feature. Ryan Potter voices Hiro Hamada, a teen with a knack for robotics and an adorably huggable helper in the shape of Baymax (Scott Adsit). When tragedy strikes, Hiro and his friends leap into action to save the day, and yet another fan-favorite team of Marvel heroes is born. These characters may never meet up with their live-action counterparts over at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but a sequel to Big Hero 6 is still a possibility, since the film proved to be a worthy successor to the enormous success Disney found with Frozen.
What are your favorite one-off comic book films? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.