Superhero movies may be the dominant form of movies adapted from comic books and graphic novels right now, but they hardly represent the full picture. For decades, filmmakers have drawn inspiration from these formats to deliver films around the world covering a wide range of genres and storytelling styles, from crime drama to coming-of-age comedies. Here are just a few titles from around the world whose origins might surprise you…
Honorary Academy Award recipient Jackie Chan is known for his outrageous, action-packed films from Hong Kong and the U.S., but nothing in his career is quite like this stylized version of the Japanese manga by Tsukasa Hojo. Filled with elaborate sight gags worthy of Looney Tunes, it’s the action-packed story of a private eye whose assignment on a cruise ship turns into a nonstop barrage of fights and pratfalls.
Producer Dino De Laurentiis entered the comic book movie sweepstakes with back-to-back films based on European comics: Barbarella, starring a young Jane Fonda, and this wildly inventive supercriminal epic based on the watershed Italian series. Known for his stylish horror films, director Mario Bava pulls out all the stops with blazing colors and camera trickery, bringing to life the story of the title criminal and his beautiful partner in crime, who foil police and fellow crooks alike to the accompaniment of an infectious Ennio Morricone score.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Based on the English comic book series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, Matthew Vaughn’s breathless story of a secret spy school is a wildly irreverent (and definitely not kid-safe) reinterpretation of James Bond for a new era. The combination of an all-star cast (including Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, and Taron Egerton) and a pop music sensibility made this such as success that it spawned two sequels to date.
A favorite in Japan and France but barely seen anywhere else, this is the only live-action version of the gender bender Riyoko Ikeda manga, The Rose of Versailles, which was also a popular ‘70s anime series. This is easily the most unusual film by legendary director Jacques Demy, most famous for his Oscar-nominated musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, as it follows a young woman named Oscar who’s been raised as a boy to serve the French monarchy with various adventures shot on the real grounds of Versailles.
One of the prime inspirations for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 1, this epic tale of swordplay and vengeance stars the magnetic Meiko Kaji as the title character, originally conceived in the violent manga of the same name. The saga of a young woman out to deliver righteous revenge against the trio who destroyed her family led to an equally worthy sequel one year later as well as a second adaptation of the manga in 2001, The Princess Blade.
Based on a manga written by Garon Tsuchiya and illustrated by Nobuaki Minegishi that began in 1996, this audacious, twist-filled crime film from Chan-wook Park charts the fate of a businessman mysteriously held captive in a room for fifteen years before embarking on a twisted quest for vengeance. One of the most lauded productions to come out of South Korea, the film was remade by Spike Lee a decade later.
This French-Iranian animated production wowed audiences with its sophisticated story of a young woman growing up during the Iranian Revolution, drawn from the Marjane Satrapi graphic novel based on her own life. Nominated for an Animated Feature Oscar, the film recruited twenty animators to work with Satrapi to ensure faithfulness to the original source material.
Here’s another Tarantino connection, since this one was prominently featured in Kill Bill: Vol. 2. The highly successful 1970s manga series Lone Wolf and Cub about an exiled samurai and his baby son wreaking bloody mayhem across feudal Japan led to six feature films, with the second film serving as the bulk of this English-friendly version that became a major hit with its flamboyant bloodshed and breathtakingly beautiful scope photography. The Japanese series is worth seeing in its entirety, and the story also served as a primary inspiration for Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition in 2002 with Tom Hanks.
Based on a French graphic novel and, in turn, the inspiration for the current streaming series, this ambitious South Korean/Czech Republic co-production starring Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and Octavia Spencer is the most ambitious film to date from director Bong Joon-ho (who later went on to make Oscar history with Parasite).
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Pierre Christin’s popular French science-fiction comic book series (which began in 1967) hit the big screen with this splashy, eye-filling space opera, which earned significant coverage at the time as the most expensive film in its country’s history. On its own terms, this is a quirky, dimension-hopping adventure that’s gradually building a cult following.