Before we get started here, let’s make one thing clear: most comic book film adaptations are never really forgotten. They tend to either be blockbuster successes raking in hundreds of millions at the box office, or they fizzle out at the cinema but develop cult followings nonetheless. Such is the nature of comic book fiction: there are such enthusiastic fan bases already built in that the films, in a sense, have guaranteed audiences.
That said, not every comic book film adaptation turns into The Avengers. Here’s a look back at five films that, relatively speaking at least, have been forgotten over time, but are definitely worth a second look.
Zack Snyder was just soundly whipped by critics for his ‘heartless’ and ‘uninteresting’ Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice. A review at Flavorwire wrote, “if a filmmaker attempted to combine and amp up everything that casual moviegoers don’t like about superhero franchises…they couldn’t come up with a picture as thoroughly execrable as this one.” That’s about as harsh a critique of a director as I’ve seen in years.
But if there’s a reason the director keeps getting tabbed for such films, it may just be Watchmen. Deemed by many to be unadaptable, Watchmen was an ambitious project, not unlike putting out a darker X-Men film without any prequels or setup origin stories. And it worked quite well. Sprawling and epic without confusion or clutter, it’s as good or better than most of the popular DC and Marvel blockbusters we’ve seen in the last decade. Even the game based on this film – Watchmen: The End Is Nigh – earned relatively strong reviews, with IGN’s rating hovering around 5.5 but describing a rich episodic experience.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World had a somewhat loyal following right when it was released, if for no other reason than it was an incredibly bizarre film. Featuring the geeky and unassuming Michael Cera as the titular hero, it was an absurd picture in which video game-like scores popped up on screen during fights and the hero had to chase down and defeat ex-boyfriends. It definitely had a quirky appeal for a lot of viewers. But many may never have realised that it was based on a comic book by Oni Press. The film was actually a pretty faithful adaptation – and, as with Watchmen, there was a fun video game based on the film as well.
Dredd never really had the mainstream acclaim that Watchmen and even Scott Pilgrim vs. The World enjoyed, at least briefly. Unlike Watchmen, it was a financial disaster; unlike both films, its primary gaming adaptation wasn’t a console video game but rather an online slot machine. Incidentally it’s not a bad game; it’s described by Gambling.com as a game in which Dredd’s full arsenal of weaponry (including the iconic Lawgiver) is on hand to help players win big, and that’s an appealing setup for a casino game. Nonetheless, the lack of a definitive console title sort of speaks to the type of film this was: under-the-radar, but fun.
Really, Dredd was almost a ’90s-style action film rather than a superhero movie or typical comic book adaptation. Taking place in a dark and brutal dystopia, it seemed designed to appeal to fans of a huge range of action films, from Underworld and Minority Report to RoboCop and Terminator. And for those who might be interested, there’s now talk of a sequel or series being made for Netflix or Amazon.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Surely this sounds like a massive title rather than a forgotten film, and according to Box Office Mojo it approached a billion U.S. dollars in worldwide profits. Nevertheless, when was the last time you heard about the first Marc Webb Spider-Man film?
Somehow or other it’s the other four that seem to get all the attention. The Sam Raimi trilogy starring Tobey Maguire in the lead role was widely praised for two films, and is still mocked today for its disastrous finale. Meanwhile, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has been largely dismissed as a disappointment that contributed to the Webb franchise ending before it was initially supposed to. But Webb’s first film – The Amazing Spider-Man – was a pretty strong superhero film. It was fresh and familiar at the same time, a formulaic but undeniably enjoyable take on the Peter Parker story. And frankly, Andrew Garfield’s sassier take on Parker may have been the best version we’ve seen.
Daredevil (Director’s Cut)
Finally, there’s the Ben Affleck Daredevil film, which is still among the most frequently mocked superhero movies 13 years after its release. Viewed essentially as a model of what not to do when making a comic book film, it’s been quite fairly dismissed. There’s a reason, after all, that Marvel and Netflix have partnered to revive the hero in a streaming series, and most believe they’ve gotten it right this time around. But if you go back and watch the director’s cut for the 2003 film, you’ll find it far better than you may remember. With about 30 minutes of additional footage and a few crucial edits, it presents almost like an entirely different film, far from perfect but loads better than the theatrical version.
If you take the time to search for lists of comic book films, you’ll find there are actually far more than many realise. Marvel and DC have come to dominate the genre so thoroughly that it’s easy to forget how many other publishers and independent comic book writers there are out there, often producing material that’s suitable for Hollywood adaptations. But among them all, these are five projects that stand out as worthy of another viewing.