Comic books have been published in America for nearly 100 years, but they didn’t hit their stride until the 1940s when characters like Superman and Batman were introduced. Now, over 60 years later, comic book movies have become staples of the summer movie season. This year saw the release of “Spider-Man 3,” “Fantastic Four 2” and “Ghost Rider, “(all based on Marvel comic book characters). Plus, the surprise hit of 2007, the Spartan epic, “300,” was based on Frank Miller’s acclaimed 1998 comic book series. These four movies alone have made over $700 million for the bean counters in Hollywood. Not bad for characters that appear in $3 comic books each month.
2008 may be the best year so far for comic book movies, with Will Eisner’s (the father of the American graphic novel) “The Spirit” due in January, “Watchmen,” directed by 300’s Zack Snyder due in March, Robert Downey Jr. as “Iron Man,” Ed Norton as “The Incredible Hulk” and Christian Bale back as Batman facing off against Heath Ledger as The Joker in “The Dark Knight.”
Why have comic book movies become so big in the last decade? “Two reasons,” says Marc Bowker, owner of Alter Ego Comics, a comic book store in Lima, OH. “First, special effects technology has finally caught up with the imaginations of comic book artists.” The Spider-Man films are a perfect example of movies that could not have been done well without the advances in effects technology. (Want proof? Check out “The Chinese Web,” a Spider-Man TV movie made in the 1970s.) The second reason, according to Bowker, “Hollywood has run out of original ideas.” Most of the best films of the last 10 years have been based on existing material – novels, comic books, musicals, etc. Many comic book characters have 25-50 years worth of stories to choose from that would make excellent films.
Movie studios have taken over the biggest comic book convention in the world, The San Diego Comic Con, where they buy up the rights to comic book characters, big and small. The studios also use San Diego to make major casting announcements for comic-related movies and start building buzz around those films. At the 2007 San Diego Comic Con held in July, Zack Snyder was officially announced as the director of “Watchmen,” and key cast members were revealed. Warner Bros. also held a scavenger hunt to promote the 2008 release of the new Batman film, “The Dark Knight.”
The relationship between Hollywood and comic books shows no signs of ending anytime soon. There are dozens of movies based on comic books in active development, including non-super hero comics like Vertigo’s “Y: The Last Man,” and this fall’s “30 Day’s of Night.” As long as the comic book industry keeps creating memorable characters with great stories, Hollywood will be waiting to bring those stories to the big screen.