Top 16 Most Overlooked Comics-Inspired Films
For this list, I decided to take a different tack on comics-inspired films, focusing both on films that are lesser-known, as well as films some of you might not know were comics-inspired in the first place. To that end, don’t expect super well-known- and super-popular- flicks like “The Avengers” and “Iron Man” and the like. It’s not that kind of list.
It’s also not a popularity contest. My goal is to illuminate, not rank. So please do enjoy this list of films comic lovers might have let slip by, as well as some of the more overwhelmingly underrated ones out there.
Arguably the most well-known film on this list, it also has one of the most well-known casts, including Warren Beatty (who also directed) in the title role, plus Madonna as a femme fatale type and Al Pacino as the main villain. There’s also a virtual feast of great character actors too numerous to name here. Yet the film was a big disappointment at the box office, despite a successful soundtrack by Madonna, which featured on of her biggest hits ever, “Vogue.” The critics weren’t too kind either- and its reputation hasn’t exactly grown over the years. Yet.there’s something about the film that sticks with you, not in the least the fantastic sets, the brilliant color scheme, outlandish make-up, and gorgeous cinematography. So, why the hate? I can only guess that a lot of it had to do with the negative press the affair between Madonna & Beatty incurred, added to the fact that few young people then- much less now- know who the hell Dick Tracy is. Myself, I like it just fine, and I think it deserves a second look.
I was hesitant to include this one as well, but then “Pretty Little Liars” had Shay Mitchell dress as her on a recent Halloween episode- and promptly was met with a resounding collective WTF from the internet. “What is she, like a sexy astronaut?” Heart be still. Therefore, clearly this generation needs a refresher course in the awesomeness that is “Barbarella.” Based on a French comic and starring, of all people, activist and Oscar-winning actress Jane Fonda in the titular role (emphasis on the.you know), this is a period piece in the best sense. It pretty much encapsulates everything awesome about the 60s: hip soundtrack, catchy songs; great, trippy sets; wacky costumes, and a completely mental storyline that features an angel, sex pills, a musical orgasm machine (which totally should have been called the “orgasmatron”), and creepy killer dolls. All this, plus hipsters like David Hemmings (check out his costume!), John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg (who used to date Keith Richards), and freaking Marcel Marceau. Plus, the band Duran Duran got its name from it- what more do you need? See it today!
Kind of the 80s equivalent to the last entry, this one got a boost from a recent plug in the movie “Ted,” in which the man himself, Sam Jones, appeared in a great cameo. Normally, I would consider such casting some sort of post-ironic hipster move, but damned if writer/director Seth MacFarlane didn’t seem to actually mean it. If so, good on him, because “Flash” rocks, figuratively and literally, thanks to that sweet soundtrack by Queen. Yet at the time, the pricey flick, produced by uber-producer Dino De Laurentiis, was seen as an utter failure and a critical disaster. I myself adored the movie as a kid, and I couldn’t have been less clueless that it was based on a comic. Oh, it’s campy, to be sure, and the acting can be seen as, ahem, “colorful” at best, but who cares when it’s so much fun? Love the costumes, the sets, and the various set pieces, especially the creepy tree but and the revolving spiked fighting circle. And how hot was Ornella Muti? It’s a wonder I didn’t hit puberty just looking at her. I freaking love this movie, and I don’t care what anyone thinks about it. Bravo, MacFarlane!
Although the HBO animated series is even better, I thought the film was pretty good, too, though audiences clearly didn’t know what to make of a “superhero” from.Hell? (Much less the whole creepy clown thing.) Critics hated it as well- take a gander at the weak reviews on “Rotten Tomatoes”- but you know what? I really dig it. It’s different from most comic adaptations, tonally and otherwise, and if you think about it, it really paved the way for some of the “darker” films that came along after, including, yes, Nolan’s take on “Batman” and “Watchmen.” No, it’s nowhere near as good as those films, but you’ve got to give it points for originality, not to mention it’s the rare comic book flick to feature a black lead. If that’s not enough for you, star Michael Jai White went on to co-create the hilarious “Black Dynamite” movie and animated series, likely in part due to this role, so it can’t all be bad.
Besides a couple of the “Catwomen” and “Storm”- two of which are played by Halle Berry!- black super-heroines are in sadly short supply. This doesn’t qualify technically, as our gal Friday has no super-powers to speak of.besides being played by the crazy-awesome Pam Grier in her heyday. Okay, it’s no “Foxy Brown”-or even “Coffy” or “Sheba Baby”- but it is based on a comic, and if you’re a Grier fan, you should definitely see it. It’s also chockfull of 70s African-American royalty- I mean, Scatman Crothers, Yaphet Kotto, Carl Weathers, Ted Lange, and Eartha Kitt (the “other” AA-“Catwoman”) all in the same movie? It doesn’t get much sweeter than that in the 70s. And if those names don’t ring a bell, it’s time to IMDB yourself with some knowledge, son.
You know that song featured in that Heineken commercial that looks like the most bitchin’ date night ever? (If not, here, I’ll wait:) They pilfered it from the beginning of this movie, which in turn pilfered it from a Bollywood movie called Gumnaam. It’s based on a critically-acclaimed graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, and it prefigures a certain type of wry protagonist that will be instantly familiar to fans of the ever-popular snarky “sidechicks” like Zooey Descahnel, Aubrey Plaza, Krysten Ritter, Ksenia Solo, and many, many others. In other words, it’s sort of ground zero for hipster chicks, and I actually mean that as a compliment. Thora Birch does the honors here, with a deft supporting turn by a young Scarlett Johansson, plus Steve Buscemi is the main love interest for Birch in the film! (And of course he plays a very specific type of aging hipster as well, so there’s that to boot.) Fab retro soundtrack and great performances make this one of my all-time fave teen flicks ever.
Speaking of overlooked teen flicks, they don’t get much more overlooked than this, a failed attempt to revive the long-dormant comic for a new generation. The film revolves around the titular girl group and features some super-catchy pop songs, plus, as an added bonus, a hilariously accurate boy-band spoof group featuring the likes of Seth Green, Donald Faison and Breckin Meyer. It also features a great cast featuring Rosario Dawson, Rachael Leigh Cook (who should have been a bigger star), plus Alan Cumming & Parker Posey as the villains and current “Revenge” star Gabriel Mann in an early role. And okay, Tara Reid. Still, it’s arguably Reid’s finest hour as an actress (just thinking of her singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in the shower makes me smile), so there’s that and even Carson Daly as a robot- yes, I know, how could I tell the difference? It’s written by the team behind “Can’t Hardly Wait,” another teen-directed film that should have been a bigger hit. Call me crazy, but I love this flick.
Yep, you read that title right, and yes, the film does feature an actual man-eating rubber- or at least it eats part of them. (I’m sure you can figure out which part for yourself.) Would you be surprised if I told you it was from Troma and made primarily by the Germans? Probably not, but there it is, anyway. Hard as it is to believe, this was indeed based on a comic, but I can only guess how faithful it is to the source material. Whatever the case, it’s pretty out there, with an interesting homosexual component, including a gay spin on the hard-boiled detective type. The “Teach me Tiger” scene is something to see, and it’s all pretty crazy in general. Definitely not for all tastes, to be sure, but no one ever talks about it, much less would guess it was based on a comic, so there you go. Definitely a keeper for aficionados of campy cult films.
Another wild and weird one here, this comic adaptation might seem familiar to you if you’re a Beastie Boys fan, who aped it in their “Body Movin'” video. It also features the aforementioned John Phillip Law- in the same year as “Barbarella,” no less- plus super-sexy Marisa Mell as the girl who captures Diabolik’s heart. Further, it’s directed by Italian cult film maestro Mario Bava (“Black Sunday”) and features a phenomenal and atypical score by Spaghetti Western film composer and legend Ennio Morricone. It’s about an anti-hero super-thief that is a bit off his rocker, and it is something to see, believe me.
If “Barbarella” perfectly captured the futuristic 60s, then this film captures the trippier Earth-bound vibe of the era like nobody’s business. It revolves around the title character, a secret agent that gets into all sorts of swinging shenanigans, as played by the knock-out Monica Vitti. Think a female James Bond and you’re on the right track, but this film is very much of its time, so if you don’t dig the 60s vibe, you might want to skip it. Quentin Tarantino loved it so much he wanted to do a remake, but handed off the baton to cult auteur Scott Spiegel instead, who did a so-so version that’s nothing like this one. Still, QT’s version could still happen, as that film was intended as a prequel to an ongoing series. Whatever the case, the original is worth a look, and features an early performance from cult icon Terence Stamp, who also does a duet with Vitti at the end! Love the score, as well. And dig those crazy sets and cinematography!
An old-school style throwback to 30s cinema and set in that era of Hollywood, with a great cast that includes a young Jennifer Connelly, Billy Campbell in the title role, plus Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton, Paul Sorvino, and “Lost”-star Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes! All this and nefariously nasty Nazi villains! Disney just gave this the Blu-Ray treatment, so it’s high time to give this a shot, despite the fact it tanked at the box office at the time. See also, or should I say, hear the great podcast devoted to the film’s 20th anniversary and moderated by Kevin Smith here.
Another film critically-pummeled back in the day, this comic book adaptation is actually pretty enjoyable, despite those painfully obvious full-body costumes on display. It also features a surprising good guy turn from devilish actor Ray Wise, of “Twin Peaks” infamy, as well as a genre-friendly cast that includes scream queen-royalty Adrienne Barbeau, who does a rare PG nude scene, plus cult icons David Hess and Nicholas Worth and direction by the legendary Wes Craven (“Scream” And “Nightmare on Elm Street”). It’s cheesy as all get out, but it’s so much fun I don’t care.
An insanely violent series from Japan and based on a popular manga, this series is another fave of Tarantino, who cited it as a big influence of his “Kill Bill” movies. “Shogun” is an Americanized version compiled of the craziest moments of the first four films in the “Lone Wolf” series, which in all lasted for six movies. It revolves around a samurai who travels from town to town with his infant son, getting into many bloody battles along the way, and it is awe-inspiringly crazy, but not quite as crazy as.
From the demented mind of action and horror genius Takashi Miike (the “Dead or Alive” trilogy, “Audition”) comes another bat-sh_t crazy manga adaptation that has to be seen to be believed. But then, you could say that about most of his films, so that should come to no surprise to fans. This one is amongst of the most violent things I’ve ever seen, yet it’s so over-the-top I was more impressed than sickened. Wait until you see him dispatch an entire room of people in seconds flat. Once you’ve seen this, you want forget it, and if you like it, see also “Gozu” and “Fudoh,” which are similarly comic-book like and very nearly as insane.
Possibly the craziest entry on this list- and that’s saying something- this Korean offering is currently being remade by Spike Lee, of all people. It’s not so much that it’s overtly violent as it is completely twisted- wait until you see the infamous “squid” scene- and that ending reveal is devastating and totally unexpected! If you like this, see also the other films in director Chan-Wook Park’s so-called “Revenge Trilogy,” which was another big influence on QT and include “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and “Lady Vengeance” the first and third entries in the series, respectively. Lest that scare you away, keep in mind you don’t have to have any prior knowledge of the other films to enjoy this one- though “enjoy” might be a stretch.
Based on the EC comics of the same names, this anthology series preceded the HBO series by many a moon, much less the other movies inspired by that series. It’s a fun bit of business, with many of the big names of the day, including Peter Cushing, Patrick Magee, Ralph Richardson, and Joan Collins, among many others. The one with Joan Collins featured a “killer Santa” long before “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” and is way scarier in roughly twenty minutes than that entire series of films. The wrap-around stories are fun, too, and if the stories can be hit-or-miss, they’re still entertaining, and short enough that you won’t mind. If you like this, see also “Asylum,” “Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors,” “The House that Dripped Blood” and the chilling “Trilogy of Terror,” featuring the scariest killer doll ever.
Well, that about does it! Hope you find some of these as enjoyable as I did. Let me know what you think in the comments section, including your own favorites. I have enough for another list as well, if the demand is high enough!