Posted June 13, 2011 by Dane Jackson in Features

Top 20 Comic Book Characters That Need a Movie Adaptation

The cover of “Justice League America” (Vol 1 #28).

The summer of 2011 has quickly become the “Summer of the Comic Book Movie.” The God of Thunder has already graced the silver screens in Thor and the latest X-flick, X-Men: First Class, is a success (though not as much as earlier entries in the series). Moviegoers will soon be bombarded with big-budget big-screen adaptations of Captain America and the Green Lantern as well. In total, there are more comic book movies due this summer than I remember in recent years. Even with all the adaptations being made these days, there are still several superheroes that have never graced the silver screen and I can’t figure out why.

There have been plenty of bad comic book movies like Judge Dredd, The Spirit, The Phantom, Elektra, Howard the Duck, X-Men 3 (and X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Ghost Rider, Steel, and lest we forget, the Joel Schumacher Batman flicks (I have more that I could list, but I think I made my point). We’ve also already seen Punisher, Batman, and Hulk reboots, while Captain America (thought I’d forget the Captain America movie from 1990?) and Spider-Man reboots are on the way. Hell, even obscure indie comics like Dylan Dog have found their way to the multiplexes, and yet we still haven’t seen classic characters like The Flash (the TV show doesn’t count) get a chance to make it in Hollywood. Where’s the justice in that?

With that sense of comic book disrespect in mind, I started thinking about what characters I want to see get a big-screen treatment – the characters that really deserve a movie. My original list was 75 characters long, but I was able to narrow that down to these 20 comic properties. One thing you’ll notice is that my list skews higher to DC than Marvel when it comes to the two major comic companies. That’s because Marvel has done a better job (or worse depending on your point of view) of getting their properties made into films.

Before I began my quest to help vindicate these forgotten heroes, I set a few ground rules. First, if the character was created by Alan Moore, I immediately took it off the list because Hollywood doesn’t know how to handle his genius (see League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Swamp Thing, V for Vendetta, and dare I say it, even Watchmen). Second, if I knew of a property that is currently in pre-production or production, I removed it. Most of the characters on this list are either stuck in developmental hell or trapped in some other cog of the Hollywood machine. Third, I removed manga characters from consideration because Hollywood has never done a good live screen adaptation of these properties (which probably stems from a reluctance to cast Asian actors, but that’s a debate for another day). Finally, I tried to include characters from all the major comic companies.

So, without further adieu, here’s CinemaNerdz’s list of the Top 20 Comic Book Characters That Need a Movie Adaptation:


20. Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy was created by My Chemical Romance lead singer Gerard Way and focuses around a disbanded group of heroes that reunite after the death of their adoptive father to carry out his legacy and save the world. The writing and visuals in this comic are amazing and would make a great big screen feature. Last time I checked, this property is stuck in developmental hell.

19. Invincible

What do you do if you find out you’re an alien and that your Dad is a superhero? Well, if you’re Mark Grayson, you become the superhero named Invincible. You’d think with creator Robert Kirkman’s stock continually rising with The Walking Dead that Hollywood would jump at the chance to snatch up the rest of his properties for the big screen. Kirkman is an intelligent writer that really cares about developing characters and stories, and because of that, he’s built a great foundation for the world of Invincible.

18. Booster Gold

If this property fell into the right hands, they could really have a lot of fun with it. Booster Gold was a star football player who got busted for betting on and fixing games. He then took a job as a security guard at a museum and stole several relics from an exhibit on superheroes of the 20th Century. These pieces allow him to travel back in time to the 20th Century and become a superhero. When he travels to present day, he is able to gain notoriety by saving the president. From there, he signs multiple movie and endorsement deals and becomes a shameless self-promoter who gets on the nerves of a lot of the heroes in the DC Universe due to his obsession with wealth and fame.

17. Savage Dragon

What happens when you cross the strength and color of the Hulk with the healing factor and memory loss of Wolverine? You get the Savage Dragon. After being found in a burning field with no memory of how he got there, Dragon becomes a member of the Chicago PD to fight against a group of “super freaks” called the Vicious Circle. There’s a lot of great storytelling surrounding the circumstances of Dragon finally joining the department that I would love to see played out on the big screen.

16. Iron Fist

When Iron Fist debuted in the 1970s, martial arts heroes were all the rage. In terms of a big screen debut, the property has been in production since 2000 and at one time had Darth Maul (Ray Park) himself slated to star as Danny Rand. I’m actually all for this casting, but everything seemed to fall apart on this one by 2003. Marvel has recently hired a new writer for the project, so we can only hope to see Iron Fist on screen in the near future.

15. Moon Knight

Before becoming Moon Knight, Marc Spector was a mercenary, a boxer, and in the military (not in that order). While working for another mercenary in Egypt, he stumbles on an archaeological dig. His employer intends on looting the dig, so he ends up killing an archaeologist and nearly beats Spector to death when Spector tries to stop him from looting. The Egyptian God Khonshu comes to Spector in a vision after his heart stops and offers him a second chance if he becomes the human host for the God. It is as the host for Khonshu that Spector decides to become a hero named Moon Knight. The character has seen a resurgence in 2011 with Brian Michael Bendis taking over writing duties, so I think it’s time for Moon Knight to shine on the big screen.

14. Aquaman

Aquaman doesn’t seem to get much credit or respect, but if a proper Justice League of America (JLA) movie ever wants to see the light of day, DC has to make an Aquaman movie. Aquaman has been around since the 1940s, so it’s hard to decide which origin movie-makers would want to use, but no matter what, it’s safe to say, an Aquaman movie could be pretty successful (Entourage or no Entourage). Sure, Aquaman may not be everyone’s favorite, and people may make fun of his powers, but he’s one noble dude.

13. Cloak & Dagger

I love the team of Cloak & Dagger and I honestly have no idea why they aren’t more popular. Cloak & Dagger were both teenage runaways that made their way to New York to escape their life – Cloak because his speech impediment prevented him from warning his friend of danger and Dagger because her mother cared more about her social life than her own daughter. The two meet when Cloak attempts to steal Dagger’s purse. She surprises him by offering to give him money. The two soon become friends and get delivered (unwillingly) to a chemist who was developing a synthetic heroin. The two friends survive the injections and begin to develop superhuman powers. This type of storyline would never be touched in today’s comic world, but man would it make a great movie.

12. Lobo

Lobo is one of my personal favorite anti-heroes. My first taste of the character came in the 1990s when DC rebooted his character as a bad ass bounty hunter on a space bike. Lobo is the last Czarnian, having killed the rest of his race for fun, and now spends his time kicking ass first and asking questions later. Guy Ritchie was attached to direct an adaptation of the main man, but he was intent on making it PG-13, which had Lobo fans, such as myself, up in arms. Thankfully, he decided to bail on the project and work on the Sherlock Holmes sequel instead.

11. Luke Cage

Luke Cage went to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. In exchange for parole, he volunteers for an experiment that ends up giving him heavier muscle and steel-hard skin. With his new powers, Cage escapes the prison and becomes a hero for hire. While he teamed with Iron Fist on several occasions, I think Luke Cage deserves a standalone flick. A Luke Cage movie has been in development for years with people like Jamie Foxx and Tyrese Gibson attached. Now, the Old Spice Guy wants to be Luke Cage. If you search YouTube, you’ll even find an audition video he created. He has my vote!

10. Namor

Before Aquaman there was Namor, and in my opinion, Marvel won the battle of the underwater superheroes. Originally, Namor was part of the Golden Age of comics and since then he’s been revealed as Marvel’s first mutant. In the beginning though, his origin was very similar to Aquaman’s origin, but when it comes to the two characters, Namor definitely reigns supreme. On look alone, Hugo Weaving would be a good choice for the Sub-Mariner, but I think based on his age, and the fact that he’s the Red Skull in the new Captain America movie, the Hugo Weaving ship has sailed.

9. Martha Washington

It’s an absolute crime that Frank Miller’s Martha Washington character has never become a film. The story follows Martha as she goes from growing up in the projects, to entering a psychiatric ward for the murder of a thug named the Ice Man, to joining the PAX Peace Force. Not only is she a whiz at computer programming, she’s also a great hacker. She joins the Peace Force and works to reunite a fractured United States and create a better world. This is sci-fi comic writing at its best and would be great as a feature film.

8. Dr. Strange

A Dr. Strange movie has been in some form of pre-production since the mid 1980s. We’re now in 2011 and Marvel is finally revisiting the film options for the character. Dr. Strange is a former neurosurgeon who loses the ability to operate with his hands due to a car accident. In an attempt to find a cure, he eventually learns the mystic arts and makes an archenemy in Baron Mordo. Hopefully, Dr. Strange has been fast-tracked now that Marvel has proven they can handle the mystical aspects of the Marvel Universe with how successful Thor was (plus, there’s a quick Dr. Strange Easter Egg in the flick).

7. Black Panther

Created by the mega team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Black Panther ended up becoming the first major black superhero in mainstream comics. That fact alone should make the character prime for the movie picking. You mean to tell me Shaq can star as a fake Superman, but we can’t get a legitimate movie featuring the first black superhero? That’s as big of a travesty as the fact that Martha Washington hasn’t been adapted yet. The Black Panther is the tribal leader for the Panther Tribe of the African nation Wakanda (his wife, and queen of the tribe, just happens to be Storm from the X-Men). While these days, Black Panther has taken over for Daredevil as the “Man Without Fear,” I’d really love to see a good director touch on Black Panther’s origins in Wakanda. This character is another example of a property being stuck in developmental hell. Wesley Snipes was primed to star as the Black Panther after filming Demolition Man, but he ended up becoming more well-known as a certain day-walking vampire named Blade.

6. Y the Last Man

Brian K. Vaughan’s comic about Yorick Brown, an escape artist who just happens to be the last male mammal (well, him and a monkey) on Earth, needs to come to the big screen. The story tells of a plague that wiped out everything with a Y chromosome. Society soon resorts to chaos and the remaining women on Earth try to juggle the fact that without men, the human race is headed for extinction. As for Y’s path to the big screen, I feel like I’m beginning to sound like a broken record. The property was green-lit, the screenplay was written then rewritten, and Shia LaBeouf was slated to star as Yorick. Then, as the story commonly goes with these types of properties, everything seemed to fall apart and it’s now on hold.

5. Preacher

Writer Garth Ennis created the Preacher series and aside from his work on Punisher, it’s my favorite thing he’s ever done (well, that and The Boys – which should be getting a movie treatment soon with shooting rumored to start this year). Preacher stars Jesse Custer as a preacher who becomes accidentally possessed by a demon and kills his entire congregation. The demon is actually a combination of an angel and a demon. Because of that balance of pure good and evil, Jesse becomes the most powerful man on the planet. With this newfound power, Custer goes on a journey to find God…literally. While this project is also in developmental hell, the latest news on it was from 2008 when Sam Mendes was slated to direct.

4. The Sandman

I’m not talking about the lame Spider-Man villain or Jack Kirby’s creation in the 1970s. I want to see Neil Gaiman’s interpretation of the character on the big screen. It might be hard to pull off (people have tried – see previous entries re: development hell), but if done right, this could be a great franchise for folks sick of the same old, same old from comic book movies. Neil Gaiman is a literary genius, and Sandman is one of his true gems.

3. The Flash

The Flash is slightly confusing in that several folks have donned the speedster’s mantle. When I mention The Flash, I want to see Barry Allen’s origin story (especially since it was screwed up on the 1990 TV show). When it comes to DC superheroes, the Holy Trinity will always be Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but The Flash is definitely part of the next tier down. Plus, you need a Flash movie if you’re going to do a JLA movie. Ryan Reynolds was originally talked about as The Flash, but he has since become Deadpool for Marvel and the Green Lantern for DC. Personally, I think he would have made a better Flash than Green Lantern.

2. Green Arrow

Ollie Queen may not be everyone’s penultimate choice for superheroes needing a movie, but there’s just something about the Green Arrow character that compels me to want to see him on the big screen – his attitude as well as all the awesome trick arrows he has. He was originally a billionaire and former mayor, but his best comic run was when he was made penniless and became a crusader for the poor and disenfranchised – like an urban Robin Hood. Of course, the perfect Green Arrow movie would also have to include Black Canary.

1. Justice League of America

After seeing how Marvel is handling the Avengers, I think DC may have finally wizened up with its treatment of their own super group. Originally, there was a JLA movie in the works in 2007 that was fully cast and completely separate from the current Superman and Batman movie franchises. No involvement from Christian Bale as Batman and no involvement from then Superman Brandon Routh. Then, just as the movie was going to start filming, Warner Bros. put it on hold and let the actor’s cast options lapse. This was all because of the writer’s strike. No writers = no script rewrites. I think DC’s ultimate goal with this movie was to get ahead of Marvel’s Avenger movie (which they have been building towards since the Hulk reboot and first Iron Man movie). They failed in their valiant attempt and now in 2011, Marvel’s Avengers movie is on track for a 2012 release and DC continues to hang their hats on their one-two knockout punch of Superman and Batman with a new Batman flick due in 2012 and a new Superman film currently being cast (both movies have Christopher Nolan’s involvement). While the rumor is that a JLA movie is slated for 2013, only time will tell. It will be interesting to see if the Green Lantern movie plants any JLA seeds. Initial trailers and pre-movie buzz says no. It’s my opinion that as a total company, Marvel has done a better job incorporating more of their properties onto the big screen, but a JLA movie could be the jumpstart DC needs to get back in the game. With the entire DC Universe getting rebooted this year, the sky’s the limit for DC Comics and their properties. Let’s just hope they don’t screw it up.

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Dane Jackson
Dane Jackson has been writing about movies since high school when he had a monthly column in the school paper about cult movies. His cinematic tastes have matured (slightly) since then.

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