We live in a golden era of comic book films. Sure, adaptations of comic books date back to the Batman and Superman serials of the 1930s and 1940s. But now we live in a time where we have forty films coming out in the next four years stemming from Marvel and DC properties alone. Comic-based movies, and comics as a direct result, have never been more popular. But people forget that some of the films that tested the waters, some of the movies that really proved that this kind of adaptation could work were projects based on horror comics. Horror comics have always been a cornerstone of the comic book movie but they often go overlooked. Here are some of movies that were surprising hits and helped shape the comic adaptation as its own sub-genre.
30 Days of Night
30 Days of Night is adapted from a breakout graphic novel which provided a great concept. When the sun sets on Barrow, Alaska for an entire month vampires come out of the woodwork to make it their new feeding ground. But as a comic book movie it was a very surprising success. 30 Days of Night was coming out in the height of comic movie popularity. It was not a Marvel or DC project, it was a very independent graphic novel from with a plot that was about as far from a superhero story as one could get. The comic had won some great reviews, but that meant nothing to a studio that needed a surefire hit. The fact that it made money and was at all successful as a film proved what Clive Barker had said in his introduction to the graphic novel: 30 Days of Night had been meant to be a movie all along.
Blade is a movie that deserves a lot more credit than it gets. Not only was it instrumental in shaping the comic book movie, but it’s also just ridiculously entertaining. Because Marvel wasn’t sure if a full-blown Marvel superhero movie would work at the time, they made the wise decision to adapt Blade for the big screen. The source material is quite dark and the horror genre was experiencing a resurgence in popularity in the late ’90s. There were major doubts. Marvel had backed some notoriously bad films up to this point. They had released made-for-TV movies and had done straight-to-video versions of Captain America and The Punisher and their only theatrical film they had released was Howard the Duck. There was nothing at the onset that suggested Blade might even be a marginal success. It wasn’t even a well-known character. On paper, it seemed ridiculous to think it would work. But it did. The film’s success led to the release of X-Men shortly after and the rest is history.
Not only one of the great unsung comic book movies, Tales from the Crypt is also one of the greatest horror anthologies ever made. Made by Britain’s Amicus Pictures it brings together a great cast including Joan Collins, Richard Greene and Peter Cushing. But it was still a movie based on a comic book, which was not a critically accepted medium at the time. Not only that, but Tales from the Crypt and the other EC comics had spawned a ton of controversy. They were blamed from everything from teenage delinquency to asthma. The fact that source material with that kind of stigma attracted a cast like this is astonishing. Nonetheless, the film was a surprising success.
While it’s often argued whether or not The Crow is in any way a work of horror, it certainly has its roots there. It’s a gorgeous, gothic movie steeped in styles dating back to German Expressionism and Victorian Romanticism. The movie was not expected to be successful and was certainly not expected to be as remembered as it is today. There were even plenty of times when it looked likely the film would not be completed. It’s no stretch to say that the movie had a troubled shoot, with star Brandon Lee tragically losing his life during production. There were attempts to get the movie off the ground for a few years, but none of them had gone anywhere. The production process was hectic from start to finish. The death of the star seemed like the death of the movie. There was immediate debate on whether or not the project would be completed. But Lee had been outspoken on how successful the movie would be and what it would mean to people. He had wholeheartedly believed that the project would be something special. Even though he didn’t live to see it, he was right.
The success of Hellboy may have been the most unexpected of any film on this list. Guillermo del Toro is a revered horror filmmaker now, but that wasn’t the case when this film was coming out in 2004. Sure, he was known by hardcore cinephiles who had seen Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone and knew what he was capable of. But the only films he had made in America at this point were Mimic, which had a hugely troubled production, and Blade II which was only a modest success and had a troubled production. It didn’t fully showcase del Toro’s style or what he was capable of as a filmmaker. This was the movie that really started to introduce del Toro to a wider audience. The reason why Hellboy actually was such a success is fairly simple: Del Toro understood what made the comic work and he simply put that on the screen. At the same time, he’s a director of a particular style, which he fused with the comic’s imagery and mythology. It proved to be the perfect marriage.