Marvel and DC are undoubtedly the two biggest comic book publishers of all time. So it’s no mistake that most of the comic book movies that are hitting theaters today have roots at one of these two iconic companies.
It used to be that audiences would have to wait until the summer months to get their fill of superhero movies. But even though we’re just now in the beginning of June, we have already been treated to Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Wonder Woman -- which have all pulled in solid figures at the box office and been greeted warmly by audiences and critics alike. And later this year we can already expect Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Justice League to begin pulling in massive audiences as well.
It wasn’t long ago that knowing anything about these superheroes or reading their comic books would have deemed you a social outcast. But now, being a nerd is in, and the more you know about these iconic heroes and the comic books they came from the better. While everyone can probably align the most well-known characters with their original publishers, there are plenty of movies out there that many people probably don’t even suspect of having comic book roots.
Now's the time to see how well you know your Marvel from your DC!
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
This 2016 endeavor was the first time that Batman and Superman appeared in a live-action film together. While Henry Cavill reprised his role as Clark Kent/ Superman from Man of Steel, Ben Affleck made his big screen debut as the latest iteration of Bruce Wayne/ Batman. While the casting choice was initially met with extreme backlash, Affleck’s performance was actually one of the highlights of the film — which was otherwise met with lackluster reviews and a weaker than expected box office performance.
Though the character has appeared in a number of animated series and live-action TV endeavors, Spider-Man did not appear in a live-action theatrical release until 2002. Tobey Maguire starred as Peter Parker, a nerdy high-schooler who develops superhuman abilities after being bitten by a genetically engineered spider. The film, which was directed by Sam Raimi of Evil Dead fame, was a massive success and was followed up by two sequels. The character was created by comic book legend Stan Lee, and Spider-Man made his first appearance in 1962 during the Silver Age of Comics.
Before he became synonymous with playing Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds starred in this 2011 film as Hal Jordon, an arrogant test pilot who is chosen to become a member of the Green Lantern Corps. The Green Lanterns first appeared back in the 1940s, at a time when comic books were at an all-time high popularity. Unfortunately, the first live-action adaptation failed to entice audiences and plans for a subsequent sequel were canceled. A reboot of the franchise is slated for a 2018 debut to be part of this cinematic universe…
Watchmen is easily one of the most influential comics of all time, and the only entry in the medium to make it into TIME Magazine’s 100 Greatest Novels of All Time list. First published from 1986-1987, the story is set in an alternate reality where superheroes are outlawed and the world is inching closer toward a third World War. Zack Snyder adapted the magnum opus into a feature film in 2009, which was met with mostly positive reviews considering the complexity of the source material.
After mediocre performances from 2005’s Fantastic Four and its 2007 sequel, Rise of the Silver Surfer, this 2015 reboot of the series was supposed to get audience reinvigorated about seeing this comic book classic up on the big screen again. But despite its promising cast, the film was absolutely destroyed by critics, receiving just a 9% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s fair to say that the Fantastic Four comic series has yet to receive an appropriate live-action adaptation. But maybe it should stay that way.
Even just 20 or so years ago it was far from cool to admit that you read comic books. But now that they dominate the worldwide box office even the most obscure characters are getting their own live-action adaptations. It’s even fair to say that many of these characters who once playing second fiddle — like Iron Man, Ant-Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy — make for some of the most enjoyable films. In 2015, Paul Rudd starred as Ant-Man, an unusual superhero who can trace his origins back to the 1962 character from this publisher…
The stars of Jonah Hex would probably prefer for you to just forget that this movie was ever made at all. The 2010 film had an immensely talented cast, made up of Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Micheal Fassbender, and Micheal Shannon. And then there was Megan Fox. Even still, it’s a wonder how so many talented people ended up in such a second-rate film. So if you’re looking for a gritty western superhero story, you’re better off going back to the 1970s comic series instead.
V for Vendetta
This 2005 film was based on the 1980s limited run comic of the same name. While renowned comic book writer Alan Moore (Swamp Thing, Watchmen) penned the original story, the film adaptation was actually written by The Wachowskis -- the duo that wrote and directed The Matrix trilogy. V for Vendetta stars Natalie Portman as Evey Hammond, along with Hugo Weaving, who spends the majority of the film hidden behind his Guy Fawkes mask — a symbol that since become synonyms with fighting tyranny.
The first X-Men movie was released in 2000, and the film paved the way for one of the most successful comic book franchises of all time. To date, the X-Men film series has released 10 feature-length films which have collectively grossed over $4.9 billion, making it the eighth highest grossing film series of all time. In 2018, we can already expect the release of three more film — including New Mutants, Deadpool 2 and Dark Phoenix — all thanks to the extremely popular comic book series from this publisher…
First appearing in 1974, this comic book antihero has been subject to a number of live-action adaptations, making an appearance in a 1989 film where he was played by Dolph Lundgren, before being played by Thomas Jane in this 2004 feature film. More recently, the character made an appearance in the second season of Marvel’s Daredevil, and actor Jon Bernthal is already expected to reprise his role as Frank Castle/ The Punisher in the upcoming Netflix series that will debut later this year.
Steel marked the second box office bomb for NBA superstar/actor Shaquille O’Neal, following his performance in Shazaam the year before. This superhero movie, which was based on the comic book character that first appeared in 1993, made just $1.7 million at the box office, against a $16 million budget. One of the major problems with the film (outside of O’Neal’s acting abilities), is that it largely ignored the original comic book character and his place in this publisher's much larger universe.
It’s hard to say for certain when Nicholas Cage’s acting career starting to take a turn for the worst, but his appearance as Johnny Blaze in Ghost Rider, and its 2001 sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, seemed to definitely play a part in that decline. Cage’s over-the-top acting style, which can work quite well in films like Leaving Las Vegas and Matchstick Men, proved to be the wrong fit for the portrayal of a stunt motorcycle rider who sells his soul to Satan. Though both films somehow did well at the box office, they were both lampooned by critics.
Quite a few actors have starred in both Marvel and DC movies, but only Ben Affleck and Ryan Reynolds have played title roles in both of those franchises. Both actors also have the distinction of having the sequels of their original superhero outings canceled — we’re talking about Daredevil and Green Lantern of course. But thankfully, Reynolds has slid into the suit of Deadpool much more comfortably than he did with Green Lantern. That Green Lantern suit was CGI, after all.
Wonder Woman is undoubtedly one of the most iconic comic book characters of all time, right up there with Batman and Superman. She first appeared in 1941 in the issue of All Star Comics #8 and was created by William Moulton Marston. In 1975 the character was given her own live-action TV series, which featured Lynda Carter in the title role and ran for 3 seasons. Gal Godot made her debut as the superhero in 2016 and was given her own solo film earlier this year, which has largely been credited with steering this movie universe down a better path.
The Losers is a 2010 action-comedy featuring a handful of actors and actresses who have appeared in a number of other comic book movies, including Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Idris Elba and Chris Evans. The film was based on the 32-issue comic book that was written by Andy Diggle, and published in the early 2000s — though even this was loosely based on an earlier WWII-set comic book that was released in the 1960s. The Losers was met with mixed reviews and a poor box office performance, with many calling it a retread of The A-Team.
Howard the Duck
This 1986 film, which was based on the comic series of the same name, was a failure of colossal proportions, receiving multiple Razzie nomination and performing poorly at the box office. Howard the Duck was executive produced by George Lucas and was originally meant to be an animated film. Unfortunately, the film was made into a live-action adaptation that contained plenty of cringe-worthy make-up effects, not to mention that it failed to capture the entire satirical/ metafictional tone of the original comic.
Blade first appeared in the 1973 comic The Tomb of Dracula, and he was created by Marv Wolfman along with artist Gene Colan. The character in the 1998 film was changed considerably from the source material, where he was written as a half-human/ half-vampire, as opposed to being an average vigilante who just so happened to be immune to becoming a vampire. Wesley Snipes starred in the title role and would go on to reprise his performance in two follow-up films.
The 2016 film Suicide Squad traces its origins all the way back to the 1950s, where the group made its debut in the comic anthology series The Brave and the Bold. The film follows a group of expendable super villains who are coerced into saving the world in exchange for shorter prison sentences. While Margot Robbie and Will Smith give entertaining performances as Harley Quinn and Deadshot, the film as a whole proved to a bit of a mess, receiving even worse reviews than the previous films in this movie universe…
The Incredible Hulk
After the disappointment of Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk, Edward Norton starred in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, which was met with a much warmer reception from critics and comic book fans. Though the film was originally meant to be a semi-sequel to the 2003 film, pretty much any overlap between the two films was gotten rid of -- aside from the fact that Bruce Banner is still hiding out in South America. The Hulk has been subject to various incarnations across television and film ever since the character made his debut back in the 1960s.
Road to Perdition
This 2002 film stars Tom Hanks as Michael Sullivan Sr., an Irish mobster who seeks revenge on the man who murdered his family along with the help of his sole surviving son. The somber story was adapted from the 1998 graphic novel of the same name and was directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes (American Beauty). Though the film performed well at the box office, its notoriety pales in comparison to other Hanks films, which is a bit of a shame considering that this may be one of the actor's best (albeit more unusual) films.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, Elektra is one of the lowest rated comic book movies of all time with an approval rating of just 10%. And for good reason. Its story is thin, its characters are cartoonish, and its dialogue is corny beyond belief. Because of the film’s poor performance at the box office, the studio’s planned Daredevil sequel was even canceled. Jennifer Garner starred in the title role of Elektra Natchios, a violent mercenary who first appeared in the 1980s by this comic book publisher…
A History of Violence
An unusual story as far as comic books go, A History of Violence was first published in 1997 and written by John Wagner, who is probably best known for creating the Judge Dredd comics series. A History of Violence follows a small-town diner owner (Viggo Mortensen) whose dark past comes to light when he brutally kills two robbers in self-defense. Though the set-up of the movie is largely drawn from the source material, the adaptation takes a different turn around the story's halfway point.
Big Hero 6
Based on the superhero team of the same name, this 2014 film went on to be the highest-grossing animated film during the year of its release. The story centers around a young robotics genius who assembles an electronic superhero team to take down a mysterious villain. The film draws loosely from the comic book characters, which first appeared in Sunfire & Big Hero 6 back in 1998. Despite the immense popularity of the first film, a sequel has yet to be officially announced, though a follow-up TV series is in the works at Disney XD.
Red is based on a three-issue comic series that ran between 2003 and 2004. It centers around a retired C.I.A. agent who must take on the very agency he once worked for after they attempt to assassinate him. In the film, Bruce Willis plays Frank Moses, the retired black ops operative who decides to assemble his old team to aid in his cause. Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich also starred in the film, which was met with mostly positive reviews and a solid box office performance. Red 2 was released in 2013, and plans for a third film are currently in the works.
Though it’s in no way the Hellblazer adaptation we had been hoping for, 2005’s Constantine is still a half-way decent action-horror film — so long as you don’t mind turning your brain off during the two-hour runtime. The movie, which stars Keanu Reeves in the title role, draws little from the 1980s comic series that was written by Alan Moore, which centered around a London-based occult detective who battles against demonic forces. Hellblazer proved to be on of the most successful comics for the imprint of this publisher…