With the cinematic medium having become one of the most prominent platforms of the storytelling world, it’s no surprise that movie adaptations are now a staple within the comic book community – sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. For this list, though, we’re looking at some of our best comic to screen adaptations that really hit the nail on the head!
Everyone knows this epic historical throwdown between King Leonidas of the Spartans and the vast power of Xerxes’ Persian army. But did you know this grand-scale epic was actually based on a comic book? Written and illustrated by Frank Miller, 300 first came to light as a mini-series published by Dark Horse Comics in 1998. Then, in 2006, with Zack Snyder in the Director’s chair, Warner Brothers adapted Miller’s mini-series into this lavish production with a healthy budget of $60 – $65 million. And boy oh boy, was it worth every cent! With its incredible cinematography, soundtrack and scenery, backed by an impeccable cast, this movie captures the spirit of history just as much as it does Miller’s original comic.
If there was ever a live-action adaptation that really leaned into the silliness of superheroes, it’s this one. A fantastically camp hangover from the 1970s glam era, this adaptation of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon couldn’t be more fitting. Making his first appearance with King Features Syndicate in 1934, Flash was way overdue for some screentime when director, Mike Hodges, released his live-action adaptation in 1980. Imagine Star Wars but with an overlay of glitz, accompanied by an epic theme from Queen, aka THE glam rockers themselves. Honestly, what more could you need?
In a world of lavish CGI, spectacle-based battles, Joker, with its minimalist sardonic tone, was a breath of fresh air for everybody. Drawing inspiration from the Batman comic, The Killing Joke, Joker was directed by Todd Philips, with Joaquin Pheonix starring as the iconic Clown Prince Of Crime. With a significantly lower budget than the average DC movie adaptation, Joker really had to strip back to the bare bones of movie making and honestly, it was such a blessing. Focusing much more on character building, compelling script work and clever cinematography, Joker reignited the comic community’s interest in DC’s most beloved villain, reminding us all of why we fell in love with him in the first place.
Speaking of the Clown Prince, we couldn’t not give The Dark Knight a spot on our list. Directed by Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight boasts one of the most iconic portrayals of The Joker in DC history, compliments of the one and only Heath Ledger. Once again, the Joker-fuelled Batman flick is based heavily on Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, yet remains unique in its own right. When James Gordon leads a major crackdown on Gotham’s crime scene, the mobs clap back by hiring our favourite psychopathic Joker, a rival more than worthy of the Caped Crusader himself. Thus begins an explosive tug-of-war between two of DC’s most infamous enemies. With its outstanding script, grade A performances, and epic cinematography, all topped with a mind-blowing soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, The Dark Knight has earned its place in comic movie history as a true cinematic classic.
Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore, the live-action adaptation of V For Vendetta was an instant hit. Now considered a cult classic, the film remains faithful to Moore’s source material, centring around a mysterious, masked freedom fighter railing for justice against the backdrop of a totalitarian Britain. This Guy Fawkes copycat known as ‘V’ is out for blood, seeking revenge as he attempts to bring down the government that tore his life to shreds. A gripping depiction of a dystopian London, this lyrical, futuristic tale is packed with pleasing historical parallels. It’s an absolute must-watch for any film or comic fan!
Funny how one of the earliest Spider-Man films ends up being one of the most memorable. Based on Marvel’s 1960s comic series, Amazing Fantasy, this first-ever cinematic depiction of Spider-Man is held in high regard by numerous fans today. Directed by Sam Raimi and starring Toby Maguire as Peter Parker, the film explores the beloved origin story of Spider-Man. When Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically engineered spider, he gains a host of spider-like superpowers. And things only get weirder for the unsuspecting teen when he finds himself facing off against none other than the notorious Green Goblin! Not only is this movie a wonderful nostalgia trip for many, but also a great place to start for new fans. Sometimes, you’ve just got to go back to basics.
On the subject of superheroes, I think we should throw some animation into the mix! Western society often sneers at animation, looking down at it purely as ‘a kids’ thing’. In response to this, I offer Harley Quinn. An animated series that draws from various DC comic sources, it centres around the Joker’s doting sidekick. Except this time, Harley finally takes the plunge and strikes out on her own. Done with the Joker and all of his abuse, Harley is ready to make a name for herself as one of Gotham’s most notorious supervillains. But, of course, it’s never quite that simple. An adult-aimed animation, Harley Quinn sticks to the spirit of comic book wackiness while also exploring in-depth character arcs involving subjects such as identity, self-worth and abuse, all laced with a surprising amount of humour. As fun as it is thought-provoking, it makes a welcome change in pace from all the grand-scale, super-serious movie productions.
Here’s an interesting one. Tear Along The Dotted Line wasn’t widely known outside its home country of Italy before 2021. However, the attention of international audiences was quickly captured when Netflix released this animated mini-series based on the autobiographical webcomics by Zerocalare. A witty, slice-of-life drama, Tear Along The Dotted follows the life of an Italian comic artist as he battles his conscience – a conscience that happens to take the shape of a giant armadillo. Because why not? Made up of six twenty-minute episodes, it follows an anecdotal format throughout, with an overarching plotline that carries through the entirety of the series. A miscellaneous collection of thoughts and fears, it delves into minor everyday struggles as much as it does larger, more monumental life issues. From anxiety and regret over which pizza to order to abusive relationships, self-hatred and existentialism, it leaves few stones of everyday life unturned.
Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Raymond Briggs, When The Wind Blows is a profoundly harrowing experience. It follows an elderly couple named Hilda and Jim Bloggs, who live a quiet life in the English countryside. However, their lives are interrupted when they are warned of an impending nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. Completely uneducated on the matter, the couple fails to understand the gravity of their situation, taking meagre and ultimately insufficient precautions. Sure enough, things take a progressively dark turn when the radiation starts leaking through. Animated in the iconic art style of Raymond Briggs, this innocent-looking cartoon really throws you with how grim it’s willing to get. As disturbing as it is saddening, When The Wind Blows is a one-of-a-kind cautionary tale and not one you’re likely ever to forget.
What’s your favourite comic-to-screen adaptation? Let us know your suggestions in the comments below, or drop a post on the Wild River Comics Discussion Club!