Comic Book Movies: Marvel vs. DC vs. Indie Publishers

  • Publish Date: July 26, 2011
  • Comments: ↓ 9 user comments

The indies

Marvel and DC together have more than an 80% share of the American comic book market. Most of that dominance is due to their long history and vast number of characters, but it also takes into account the number of small publishers each company has purchased in the past. Very successful franchises like Men in Black and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were started by private comic publishers, but while TMNT remains the property of Mirage Studios, MIB was published by Aircel after they were acquired by Malibu Comics, who in turn were were bought by Marvel in 1994.

Dark Horse Comics is the largest of the independents and also the most successful in translating their work to film. Could it be because many of the comic books they publish are creator-owned and unique, personal works? It’s a strong argument when you look at their success with Dark Horse founder Mike Richardson’s The Mask, Frank Miller’s 300 and Sin City, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, and Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor (which Vertigo began to publish after the success of the 2003 film). With a combination of these personal works, licensed works (Star Wars, Alien, Predator, Robocop, Timecop), and manga translation (Akira, Ghost in the Shell), Dark Horse has thrived, and its film group, Dark Horse Entertainment, has even more movies in development, including R.I.P.D. starring Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges with Robert Schwentke, the director of RED (published by DC Comic imprint Homage), at the helm, and Emily the Strange, starring Chloe Moretz of Kick-Ass.

There are many other successful publishers of comic books all over the world. Foreign titles are starting to reach U.S. shores, with a live-action Akira in the works, an adaptation of Oldboy by Spike Lee in development, and the recently released Priest. There’s even going to be a second film based on Judge Dredd, and a follow-up to 300 called 300: Battle of Artemesia. There’s plenty to look forward to, and from the looks of it, film studios, much like their comic book counterparts, won’t be afraid to recycle, reboot, or re-imagine when needed.

Best movies based on indie comics

(tie) 1. American Splendor 90 (2003) Add to Netflix Queue

"A narrative picture with many of the qualities of a documentary, not to mention a comic book—is one of those rare, inventively made movies that isn't so taken with its own novelty it loses sight of its characters. Its warmth is for real, and it enwraps you. "

—Stephanie Zacharek, Salon

Harvey Pekar’s autobiographical work is brought to life by great performances from Paul Giamatti as Pekar and Hope Davis as his wife, Joyce Brabner, as directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini mix fiction and reality to illuminate the life of an everyman and his daily struggles. Pekar also narrates and is interviewed in this inventive, unconventional adaptation.

(tie) 1. Persepolis 90 (2007) Add to Netflix Queue

"A riveting odyssey in pictures and words. It's unlike any journal you've read or any animated movie you've seen. "

—Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer

This autobiographical comic from Marjane Satrapi first appeared in France in 2000. Drawn in black and white—a technique carried over in the film’s animation—the comic tells the story of Satrapi’s and her family’s struggles in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. The film won Best Animated Feature at the 2007 Academy Awards the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2008 Academy Awards.

3. Ghost World 88 (2001) Add to Netflix Queue

"Pitch-perfect—not just the most enjoyable movie of the year but the first (after Crumb) to get the tone of a certain strain of 'underground' comic right. "

—David Edelstein, Slate

Following his documentary on comic book artist R. Crumb, Terry Zwigoff turned his attention to the lives of Enid Coleslaw (Thora Birch) and Rebecca Doppelmeyer (Scarlett Johansson) which Daniel Clowes depicted first in the comic book series Eightball and then in the book Ghost World published by Fantagraphics Books. The comic and the film are unique, personal works created outside the usual trappings of their industries.

Worst movies based on indie comics

1. Virus 19 (1999) Add to Netflix Queue

"It's such incompetent hackwork that it seems less like a bad Alien knock-off than a film content to steal from films that were themselves bad Alien knock-offs."

—Nathan Rabin, The A.V. Club

Based on the Dark Horse Comic written by Chuck Pfarrer, this (hopefully) little-seen film tells the story of a tugboat crew who encounter an alien life form while seeking refuge from a storm on an abandoned Russian ship. Jamie Lee Curtis, Billy Baldwin, and Donald Sutherland star in what is, at least on our scale, the worst comic book adaptation in history.

2. Son of the Mask 20 (2005) Add to Netflix Queue

"Loud, mean-spirited and generally obnoxious, Son of the Mask makes the boisterous 1994 original look downright demure and refined."

—Michael Rechtshaffen, The Hollywood Reporter

Trying to capitalize on the success of 1994’s The Mask 11 years later and without the original film's stars Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz was not the best idea. The sequel’s odd cast—Jamie Kennedy, Alan Cumming, Steven Wright, Kal Penn, and Ben Stein (the only character to return from The Mask)—couldn’t save the film from winning Worst Remake or Sequel at the 2006 Razzies.

3. Whiteout 28 (2009) Add to Netflix Queue

"It'll take all day to list all the things that are wrong with Whiteout."

—Tirdad Derakhshani, Philadelphia Inquirer

Not even Kate Beckinsale in her underwear could lure people to this thriller set in Antarctica. Director Dominic Sena, whose first film (Kalifornia) is still his best, was unable to translate his love of Greg Rucka’s graphic novel to the big screen. It didn’t help that the film’s title and setting led to critics having fun with wordplay involving white, ice, snow, and ice. Richard Roeper sums up most critic’s feelings, writing, “Even in a whiteout, you can see the plot twists coming.”

What do you think?

Which comic book publisher has done the best job in translating its franchises to the big screen? What are some of your favorite and least favorite comic book films? Let us know in the comments section below.

Comments (9)

  • EssenceOfSugar  

    I never wanted to see the second Fantastic Four anyway. I have other superheroes to look at, like Iron Man.

  • heybuddymoives  

    Top ten worst comic book movies: 10. Punisher: War Zone 9. The Spirit 8. Heavy Metal 7. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 6. Daredevil 5. Hulk 4. Spawn 3. V for Vendetta 2. Alien vs. Predator 1. Batman and Robin

  • 89iajo  

    Superman Returns DIDN'T STINK! It has a meta score of 72!

  • davidcraig  

    good feature - i'm a fan of comic books and can't wait to see Marvel's recent films

  • Forbichoff  

    oh awesome write up though, always enjoy them. particularly because they don't look like my list probably...

  • Forbichoff  

    I'll never understand the inflated (NAY BLOATED I SAY) score that Superman II gets. Every time I see it it baffles me. I can't even watch half the film, the Zod character is so damn annoying, the entire group of villains are terrible, and its funny how the 'best' comic movie of all time churns out the 'worst' of all time just 2 movies later in the series...

    those rose colored glasses of you 80s kids are absurd and they have to come off at some point!

  • CollinP  

    "Though this film and its sequels have barely faded from memory, the franchise is already getting a reboot." Yeah, it's called a shameless and creativity-vacuum money grab. Why reboot one of the most successful comic book movie series, especially when the latest film came out a mere 4 years ago? Money.

    No love for the X-men series (original trilogy at least)? I feel like it deserves a nod too...
    Great article though, thanks for keeping it up Metacritic!

  • JasonDietz  

    The item on Persepolis has been corrected.

  • GRubi  

    Persepolis didn't win Best Animated Feature. Ratatouille did. Please check your facts.

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