Greatest Movies That Are Surprisingly Based On Comic Books

Comic books have been turned into movies for decades, but the ones on this list are the most surprising adaptations of all time.

By Jonathan Klotz | Published

These days, comic book movies are dominating at the box office, with characters like Ant-Man getting trilogies, but Hollywood has been using graphic novels as inspiration for decades. The award-winning movies and blockbuster franchises in this list originally started as comic books, even if most people didn’t realize it at the time.

The Mask

Jim Carrey

An early 90s Jim Carrey classic, The Mask is a live-action cartoon that started out in 1987’s Dark Horse Presents before getting its own limited series in 1991. While the movie and tie-in cartoon had The Mask as a heroic trickster, the original comics had the wearers becoming sadistic villains or bloody anti-heroes with more in common with the Punisher than a Tex Avery cartoon.

Heavily sanitized for theaters, The Mask is one of many dark comic books that went from being gritty and political to kid-friendly. While the comic was a success for Dark Horse, it’s hard to argue that the family-friendly version wasn’t a great choice since it made over $350 million worldwide.


Dark Horse strikes again with Timecop, the classic Jean Claude Van Damme film that was originally a three-part story in the anthology series Dark Horse Comics. Created by Mike Richardson and Mark Verheiden, the pair would on to write the screenplay for the box office success film as well.

The original story followed an officer going back to the 1930s in South Africa, while the film was more personal, about a political candidate responsible for the murder of Max’s wife. Two films, a television series, and a video game later, Timecop is one of the most surprisingly successful comic book adaptations.

From Hell

From Hell began as a graphic novel by the legendary comic book creator Alan Moore before being adapted into a Johnny Depp horror film. Moore, fiercely protective of his original works, derided the depiction of his hero as an “absinthe-swilling dandy,” which is one of the nicest things he’s said about Hollywood.

Moore wrote the comic book based on a theory about Jack the Ripper’s ties to the British Royal Family, using it as a way to shine a spotlight on the darkest corners of Victorian society. By comparison, the movie is a straight-up police story set in the Victorian era, removing most of the darkness from the bloody plot in the process.

Ghost World

One of the most successful indie films of the early aughts, Ghost World starred Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch as Rebecca and Enid, two disaffected recent high school graduates with no plans for their lives. The original comic book is considered a seminal classic, and while again, Hollywood has simplified and cleared up the plot, the film is still loved by the original fans.

Ghost World (both the film and the comic book) won multiple awards, with the movie becoming part of the Criterion Collection. Not every comic has to be about heroes or serial killers, with some of the best depicting day-to-day lives and fascinating character studies.

Men In Black

men in black series

Men In Black was a cult-hit comic book that ran from 1990 through 1991, but its impact on culture, and even the comic industry, was minimal, to say the least. When it was adapted into a comedy starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, the franchise took off, and it’s now far removed from the original source material.

As usual, the Men In Black comic book was much darker, with the agents willing to kill to get the job done. J and K are wildly different, with J essentially forced to become an agent against his will, while K is cruel without the heart of gold of the movie version.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

teenage mutant ninja turtles movie

The origin of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a black-and-white comic written by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird has been lost to time since the original one-shot comic book was such a smash success the Saturday morning cartoon and the massive wave of merchandise that soon followed. Continuously published as an on-going series, even as the movies and cartoons were rebooted multiple times, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been a success in every format they’ve been adapted to, including video games.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the comic book, was heavily influenced by Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil (which explains why Raphael’s color is red and he uses sais), but all of the darkness and grittiness was lost when they became cartoon characters.


Red (Retired and Extremely Dangerous) is both a Bruce Willis action-comedy and a three-issue comic book limited series. Beyond the title and the name of the main character, there are a few differences, namely the characters played by John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman, oh, and the entire plot.

In the comic book, Red is a one-man mission for revenge, while the movie is an amazing get-together of retired spies and assassins. Both versions are good for what they are, but it’s easy to say that the movie, which spawned a sequel, was far more successful.

A History of Violence

A History of Violence was the first pairing between Viggio Mortenson and director David Cronenberg, but it was also the rarest type of comic book adaptation, a movie that adds to the source material in a well-thought-out and effective way. The film shows Tom’s (Mortenson) relationship with his wife (Maria Bello) and a dark similarity to his son, while the comic goes deep into his past, complete with a flashback sequence.

Treating the movie and the comic as companion pieces to each other works remarkably well, which never happens with adaptations. The comic was written by John Wagner, better known as the creator of Judge Dredd, which was also adapted into a film. Given how poorly the Sylvester Stallone movie treated the source material, it’s a karmic payoff that A History of Violence was far more respectful.

2 Guns

Yes, the Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington buddy-cop action movie 2 Guns was originally a comic book published by BOOM! Studios, and shockingly, it’s a faithful adaptation. Actual lines from the comic are used in the movie, plot points are the same, and while the original characters are closer in age, even fans of the source material think the Hollywood superstars did a fantastic job.

3 Guns, a sequel comic book timed to come out alongside the movie, has also been rumored to be getting the cinematic treatment, but after a decade, nothing has come out of it. Still, 2 Guns is one of the more surprising adaptations that exists, and it means Denzel Washington has starred in a comic book movie.

Road To Perdition

tom hanks road to perdition

Tom Hanks has starred in a comic book movie. Road to Perdition is technically part of the DC Universe because the comic publisher was behind the original series released in 1998. The film, according to the original writer Max Allan Collins in an Entertainment Weekly interview, was mostly accurate to the source material, and the changes made were ones that he would have done when writing for a different medium.

Though the film was a one-and-done, the comic series has had two sequels, following more generations of the O’Sullivan family, through World War 2 and Vietnam. Adaptations come in all shapes and sizes, and they don’t always have to be part of a superhero universe, which reminds us, when are we getting 100 Bullets?