Most filmgoers are aware of the many Marvel and D.C. comic book stories that have made their way to the big screen, from Superman to Spiderman, Thor to Deadpool, the X-Men to the Justice League.
But what about the other, lesser-known but still equally influential comics that talented devotees have brought to wider audiences? The below works have contributed just as much to the world of comics that transitioned to the big screen as their blockbuster counterparts.
Creators: Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Len Wein & Barbara Kesel
In this revolutionary graphic novel’s harsh and gritty alternate version of the mid-’80s, the government has cracked down on masked and costumed crusaders, causing its veterans to go underground. When one of their ilk is brutally killed, however, they have a rocky reunion to save themselves from being next. In the process, they discover that humanity itself is the killer’s actual target.
The cinematic retelling of this complex, apocalyptic graphic novel, directed by Zach Snyder (responsible for vivid cult classics like "Dawn of the Dead" and "300") maintained a meticulous authenticity and devotion to the source material.
You can catch "Watchmen" on Max.
2. Ghost World
Creator: Daniel Clowes
Teen angst has never looked smarter than in this darkly comic masterpiece. The story revolves around two cynical, quirky besties whose friendship is threatened when one forms a friendship with a middle-aged eccentric on whom the girls played a prank.
With Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson as the two outcast teens and Steve Buscemi as the weird wedge between them, the unyielding humanity of the story comes alive in the movie version. And, under the direction of intelligent comic book movie master Terry Zwigoff (of "Crumb" and "Art School Confidential" fame), they and their escapades pierce deeply beneath the skin.
Stream "Ghost World" on Fubo.
3. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Creator: Bryan Lee O'Malley
It’s a love story. It’s a coming-of-age story. It’s a commentary on teen angst. It’s a tongue-in-cheek homage to the tale of the reluctant young everyman discovering his (literal) power. This comic throws a little bit of every subgenre and trope from the medium’s touchstones at the wall and it all sticks like chewing gum on a sneaker.
The story is simple. A dweebish young geek falls in love at first sight with a mysterious, prematurely corrupted young naif and finds that, in order to win her affections, he must defeat her six supercharged exes in battle.
The film adaptation of this modern teenage fool’s journey notably maintains some of the qualities of the comic book medium such as thought bubbles, visualized onomatopoetic exclamation (eg. pow, boom) and the use of slow-mo, freeze frames, color filters and impossible camera angles and movements to the silver screen. You can stream the movie on Peacock.
Creators: Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.
A dash of a superhero origin story with a double heaping of hilarity and gore, this unique vision is one part manifestation of comic book fandom and one part cautionary tale.
A true ensemble piece boasting a singularly distinctive cast of losers, it tells of a high school reject whose love of comic books inspires him to form his own superhero squad, even though none of them have any actual powers or meaningful motives. Instead, all they have are cool costumes and the desire to belong to something bigger and more real than the vapid version of normalcy from which they’ve been unceremoniously exiled.
Helmed by a director with "The X-men" and "Fantastic Four" adaptations to his credit, the film version of this comic is a wry and self-aware tribute to the work, delivering fully on the title’s promise. Watch it on Netflix, Prime Video, DIRECTV STREAM and Hulu.
5. Sin City
Creator: Frank Miller
Iconic comic book creator Miller, perhaps best known for his gritty depiction of The Batman as the vivid, tormented Dark Knight, brings his trademark style of unflinching, neo-noir violence to this story of a dark, urban crucible of all the worst in hidden society: the broken, corrupt, sex-crazed, desperate, tough-as-nails and, of course, vigilante.
Multiple morbid, doomed and hopelessly hopeful lives interweave in this anthology meeting in a relentless and apathetic world. Bringing a vivid comic realism to the four stories in this collection are notorious directors of the violent and macabre: Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and, of course, Miller himself.
You can catch this movie on Max and DIRECTV STREAM.
6. The Crow
Creator: James O'Barr
The comic book trope of the brooding hero owes much of its genesis to this gruesome rock-and-roll revenge story. In it, a rock star and his wife-to-be are brutally murdered by a ruthless criminal gang. As a mysterious crow watches over him, the former superstar returns from the grave teeming with an unrelenting thirst for vengeance.
Billed as an action-packed fantasy-cum-horror, the film series that arose from these pages stays true to its lurid, macabre atmospheric tone. Brandon Lee embodies the embittered hero with a fully-realized Gothic moodiness. And, the world of the story envelops the viewer and won’t let go until every last member of the murderous crew is brought to the duly tortured end.
You can stream the movie on Fubo.
Other Comics Turned Into Movies
From the politically satirical "V for Vendetta" (2006) to the brashly irreverent "Tank Girl" (1995), film archives are replete with classic and cult comic books alike retold in authentic live action.