Here’s a look at the relative faithfulness of some recent comic-book adaptations that turned out to be blockbusters. Did their success as films come because of the source material, or in spite of it?
The Dark Knight
Total Gross: $533,337,152
Behind the box-office: Grounding its depiction of classic Batman supervillains in the real world, Christopher Nolan’s reinterpretation of the Joker and Two-Face were just two of the elements that differed wildly from previous takes. It resulted in one of the most critically acclaimed and financially successful films of 2008.
Total Gross: $403,706,375
Behind the box-office: Praised for capturing the core elements of the Spider-Man mythology — nerdy boy gets amazing powers, but finds that it doesn’t make his life any easier — but unafraid to make changes when it suited the story (the climax was directly taken from the comic, except with a different damsel in distress and a different resolution), the Sam Raimi films decreased in box office as they grew stranger and more detached from the source material. “2” did $373 million; “3” did $336 million.
Total Gross: $318,412,101
Behind the box-office: Its strengths as a film also matched with what the comic is best known for — a technologically complicated supersuit and an emotionally complicated superhero. And the film focused on those elements so well that its weak climax (Jeff Bridges is not the most imposing of supervillians) didn’t hurt it a bit.
Total Gross: $251,188,924
Behind the box-office: The 1989 film didn’t come close to matching the grittiness of Frank Miller’s interpretation of the character in his ‘80s comic book work (“Batman: Year One,” “The Dark Knight Returns”) . But without this first properly grown-up take on the character, future adaptations would have been considered kid’s stuff.
X-Men: The Last Stand
Total Gross: $234,362,462
Behind the box-office: Bryan Singer’s first “X” films captured what fans loved about the Marvel characters, while also capturing the core conflicts of their world. But while the third film, directed by Brett Ratner, played fast and loose with the core mythology of the comics, it outgrossed the previous two films easily. (The first film only took in $157 million.)
Total Gross: $200,081,192
Behind the box-office: Tried to be a retro throwback to the ‘40s comics, and captured not only the look, but the character’s vaguely messianic roots. But still wasn’t able to beat “X-Men 3” that summer.
Total Gross: $132,177,234,
The Incredible Hulk
Total Gross: $134,806,913
Behind the box-office: The Edward Norton-starring follow-up to the 2000 film was much closer to the original comics than Ang Lee’s artsy interpretation. But it just barely out-earned it.
Total Gross: $134,508,551
Behind the box-office: A faithful adaptation of the comic book’s first issue — because the first issue was all that had been released when writer Miles Millar’s series was optioned. As a result, the movie veers in a wildly different direction from the complete graphic novel after the first act. All that stuff about a magic loom which decides who deserves to be assassinated? Not Millar’s fault.
Total Gross: $59,623,958
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Total Gross: $75,986,50
Behind the box-office: Possibly one of the most visually loyal adaptations of a graphic novel to ever exist, in part because of director Guillermo Del Toro’s love for the comics. And despite being a somewhat obscure title, the series managed to find its audience both times.