Comic Book Movies That Aren't Comic Book Movies

Superheroes and movies based on comic books are proving to be some of the most successful films of all time, with flicks like Spider-Man and Iron Man raking in tons of money at the box office and on home video. The most recent superhero movie, Hancock—starring Will smith as a reluctant alcoholic with super powers—is the latest film featuring a crime fighter with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. But the key with Hancock, as opposed to films like the upcoming Hellboy II and The Dark Knight, is that the film is not based on an existing comic book.

While Hancock draws much of its inspiration from the world of comics, it does not completely succeed as a film. There have been plenty of other films that have featured superheroes, or have been heavily influenced by comics, without actually being based on comics. Here is a quick look at several films that could be comic book movies, but are not comic book movies.

Blade Runner – Sure, it was based on a book (Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), and Marvel Comics did do an adaptation, but director Ridley Scott’s futuristic detective thriller was not a comic book first—it just seems like it should have been. Incredibly stylish in its visuals, Blade Runner simply “looks” like it came from some place else, namely comic books, and specifically, the gritty tales chronicled in Heavy Metal.

Brotherhood of the Wolf – Directed by Christophe Gans, this often over-looked classic from 2001 is a mash-up of so many different genres it can be hard to keep track. Set in France during the 1700s, it is equal parts horror and political thriller, infused with martial arts and spaghetti western sensibilities, with just a dash of blaxploitation attitude. The result is an incredibly cool film with some amazing fight sequences that manages to pay homage to Jaws, the seminal spaghetti western film Django, and Shaw Brothers kung fu flicks all within the first ten minutes. This movie is so cool it seems like it must have come from some other source material, like comic books, but the truth is it is just the sum total of Gans’ love of grindhouse cinema.

The Incredibles – Because Marvel Comics had its thumb up its ass when it came to making a Fantastic Four movie (and even when it did make FF films, they sucked), Pixar decided to do it for them. Sure, some people argue that this animated film is a bit too much of a rip-off of the Fantastic Four, but they are, quite simply, wrong (and most likely stupid as well). This is arguably the best film Pixar has done to date, and it is also one of the best superhero movies ever made. Most important, it proves that the superheroes can exist on screen without having lived first on pulp pages.

The Matrix – Forget the fact that the sequels sucked, the first film in the series was great, and it, like the original Star Wars, drew heavily upon past science fiction films and the world of comic books for inspiration.

RoboCop – There have been plenty of films that have been clearly inspired by comic books, but RoboCop was one of the first to come along that really felt like it was directly based on a comic (and some would argue the character was a rip-off of Marvel’s Deathlok the Demolisher. Brimming with dark, subversive humor, outrageous characters and extreme violence, director Paul Verhoeven’s near-masterpiece, like many other successful films, would go on to inspire a series of comic books.

Special – Chances are you’ve never heard of this film, and that’s because it has yet to be released. Having premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, and played at several other festivals, this movie remains unreleased. And that’s a true shame, because co-directors/writers Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore have made one of the best non-comic book comic book movies you’re likely to see. Michael Rappaport stars as a comic book fan who agrees to participate in a pharmaceutical test, and becomes convinced he has developed super powers. Of course, everyone around him is simply convinced he’s going crazy. Hopefully this will get released sooner rather than later.

Spirited Away – Maybe because it is animated, and so many animated films from Japan are based on comics anyway, a lot of people thought Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away had its origins on the printed page. The fact of the matter is that most Miyazaki’s films seem like they must have been comic books before they were film, but they weren’t. The other fact is that most comic books (as well as books) are seldom this good.

Unbreakable – For a brief moment or two it looked like writer/director M. Night Shyamalan actually had some talent. His follow-up to the smash hit The Sixth Sense was this flawed, yet compelling deconstruction of superhero mythology. Without outlandish costumes or elaborate special effects, it was easy for some people to not even notice right away that Unbreakable was about an unassuming man (Bruce Willis) coming to grips with the fact that he has incredible powers.

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