LOS ANGELES — No superheroes please. I was tasked with naming the best comic book films that did not originate in costumed crusader sagas from either Marvel or DC Comics.
I enthused about six (plus honourable mentions) and shared them with producer-director Zack Snyder.
He cited it as “a pretty strong list,” and not just because I included one of his titles.
Snyder, who just produced 300: Rise of an Empire, offered up a seventh: Road to Perdition. “That’s a great movie.”
He also explained why comic books are such a rich vein: “Now, all of the ‘A’ effort is in genre films. Genre is now the money-making thing!”
In order, my favourites — with Snyder’s input:
• 300 (2006)
Source: Frank Miller’s 1998 graphic novel for Dark Horse Comics.
The Movie: Zack Snyder’s cult classic, starring Gerard Butler as Sparta’s King Leonidas.
Worldwide Box office: $456 million.
The Inside Story: Facing a massive Persian invasion in 480 B.C., 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians fight to the death to slow the enemy at the Hot Gates. Shot inside a Montreal sound stage, the highly stylized film re-invents a legendary tale from the ancient world.
• A History of Violence (2005)
Source: John Wagner and Vince Locke’s graphic novel, first published in 1992 by Paradox Press (then a division of DC Comics, but run independently without superheroes).
The Movie: Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg’s brilliant drama, starring Viggo Mortensen as the reluctant town hero.
Worldwide Box office: $60.7 million
The Inside Story: The terrific William Hurt earned an Oscar nom despite being unsure that his “operatic” approach was appropriate in such a realistic film. “Cronenberg literally is one of my favourite directors,” says Snyder, whose daily coffee mug reads: “Long live the new flesh!”
• Hellboy (2004)
Source: Mike Mignola’s graphic novels, which kicked off in San Diego Comic-Con Comics in 1993.
The Movie: Guillermo del Toro’s action-packed opus, starring Ron Perlman as the dynamic demon.
Worldwide Box office: $99.3 million.
The Inside Story: Armed with superhuman powers, Hellboy grumpily defends mankind from evil forces. Del Toro conjured the weirdness necessary to make this into a deliciously wicked comedy romp. A lesser sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, appeared in 2008.
• Ghost World (2001)
Source: Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel, originally serialized in 1993-1997 as part of Eightball for Fantagraphics Books.
The Movie: Writer-director Terry Zwigoff’s brilliant collaboration with Clowes, starring Thora Birch as Enid Coleslaw and Scarlett Johansson as Rebecca Doppelmeyer.
Worldwide Box office: $8.8 million.
The Inside Story: Despite deviating from the comics and angering purists, Zwigoff’s movie provocatively tells the story of two marginalized teens with a warped perspective.
• Sin City (2005)
Source: Frank Miller’s neo-noir graphic novels, first appearing in Dark Horse Comics in 1991.
The Movie: A three-director collaboration involving Miller, Robert Rodriguez and guest Quentin Tarantino, with Bruce Willis heading an all-star cast.
Worldwide Box office: $159 million.
The Inside Story: Violent but incredibly stylish, the original movie stirred up passions. Miller and Rodriguez are readying Sin City: A Dame to Kill For for August.
• Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Source: Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic series Scott Pilgrim, which debuted in 2004 for Oni Press.
The Movie: Edgar Wright’s comedy-fantasy, starring Michael Cera.
Worldwide Box office: $47.7 million.
The Inside Story: A Canadian rocker in Toronto has to defeat the seven evil ex’es of an American girl before she will date him. Poorly sold as “an epic of epic epicness,” Wright’s charming movie deserved better distribution and boxoffice.
• Road to Perdition (2002):
Source: Max Allan Collins’ graphic novels, first debuting in 1993 for Paradox Press.
The Movie: Sam Mendes’ 2002 crime thriller, starring Tom Hanks as the professional hitman and Paul Newman as his boss.
Worldwide Box office: $181 million.
The Inside Story: When the hitman’s job is exposed, he faces a family crisis. Nominated for six, it won one posthumous Oscar for the gorgeous cinematography of legend Conrad Hall.
• Honourable Mentions: Tales from the Crypt (1972), The Crow (1994), The Mask (1994), American Splendor (2003) and V for Vendetta (2005); plus the vintage TV series Tales from the Crypt and the current TV series The Walking Dead.