Comic Book to Film Adaptations: How and Why Have They Changed Over Time?

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Information about Comic Book to Film Adaptations: How and Why Have They Changed Over Time?

Published on January 30, 2014

Author: joelmatthewbell



In this presentation created for middle high school students, I outline the evolution of comic book to film adaptations moving away from the comedy and camp of earlier works (the Batman TV series, Schumacher's Batman installments) towards the naturalistic worlds and politically charged atmospheres in works from the mid-00s on (Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy and Snyder's Watchmen)- approaches which are generally considered to be more representative of the original source materials. I propose to students that this is a result of the primary author and creative team on a comic book film project using such an adaptation to reflect and explore contemporary cultural/political conditions and social issues in the film's themes and execution.

This presentation was commissioned by the English Faculty of Brisbane Water Secondary College Middle School Campus in 2008, back before I studied Producing, Screen Business and Screen Culture at AFTRS and put my acquired knowledge and skills into practice across multiple projects. With the presentation now being over five years old, reviewing it recently has made me want to revisit this topic, utilise my new knowledge and update the material to reflect the current landscape of comic book to film adaptations and the blockbuster landscape in general.
i.e. Marvel's Phase One approach to world building and franchise integration (Nick Fury's role) and the juggernaut success The Avengers experienced as a result, inclusion of Man of Steel, the rise of the Hunger Games franchise and other YA novel adaptations; replace Quantum of Solace with Skyfall; replace declining franchises like Die Hard, Terminator, Indiana Jones and Bourne with more relevant content; use my since acquired producing and film industry knowledge to expand on the practices available for studios to modernise their comic book properties and the associated financial incentives; include video examples and generally update the theory for a more sophisticated, critical, digitally native teenage audience.

I hope to bring you the 2.0 version of this presentation soon. If you have any comments or suggestions for things you'd like to see in a new version, please don't hesitate to message or contact me otherwise. You can find links to my social media presences on this page. Thanks for viewing!

Audiences have become more demanding • Audiences expect more sophisticated stories and themes. • As the world and society changes, audiences expect to see the same changes reflected in movies. • Audiences today are much more vocal.

New source material is constantly being created • New editions of established comics allow for new storylines, characters and/or re-interpretations of both to be incorporated into the film adaptations. • Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ and ‘Batman- Year One’ • Alan Moore’s ‘The Killing Joke’ • Also ‘Batman- The Long Halloween’

Authors and publishers of the source material are more involved in the production of these movies • Marvel now have their own production studio and can independently finance their own films without outside interference. • Frank Miller was able to co-direct the movie version of his comic ‘Sin City’. Allowing a comic author to do this is a big deal in the comic world.

They are the new summer ‘tent pole’ blockbusters • One or a few successful comic book movies released during the summer can make enough money to finance a studio’s entire production slate for the year. They are called ‘tent poles’ because they are the support. This means there is more pressure to get the comic book films just right to attract huge audiences.

Increased competition from similar movies • Book adaptations

Increased competition from similar movies • The latest installments of high-profile action movie franchises.

Increased competition from other forms of media • • • • Video games Books Music Subscription television (Foxtel)

The inclusion of more serious, personal and darker themes. • Identity is a common theme in comic book movies due to the ‘secret identity’ used by many comic characters e.g. Batman/Bruce Wayne, SpiderMan/Peter Parker.

The most recent two Batman movies are the best examples, as they address a wide range of themes, including: • • • • Fear Sacrifice Father figures Police corruption and organised crime

• • • • Urban terrorism Vigilantism vs. Vengeance Dualism of identity Justice

Other themes that appear in modern comic book movies include: • Responsibility (Spider-Man)

• Nuclear armament and the dangers associated with such (Hulk).

• the Supernatural (Blade, Hellboy)

• The civil rights of minority groups and the violent outcomes of human prejudice, including the Holocaust (X-Men).

• Over controlling (Fascist) governments (V For Vendetta)

• Government conspiracies (Watchmen)

• The deconstruction (break down) of the myth of the 'superhero' itself (Watchmen).

The revision of certain elements (including characterisation) from past comics to better suit modern society. • The original Iron Man comic was a vehicle for (Marvel writer) Stan Lee to explore Cold War themes, particularly the role of American technology and business in the fight against Communism. • The 2008 Iron Man movie has these now outdated references to Communism replaced with terrorism and other post-9/11 themes. Iron Man’s alter ego Tony Stark is now captured by villains in Afghanistan, instead of the previous foes in the Iron Man mythology related to the Vietnam and Gulf wars.

• The director of Iron Man has said that elements of Chinese supervillain Mandarin (a character who was representative of the American fear of Communism) will have to be updated for the Iron Man sequel, due to changes in modern socio-political attitudes.

The participation of a higher quality of film talent. • Comic book movies are the new Shakespeare! • Due to the critical acclaim, high box office takings, wide exposure and high salary that recent adaptations have provided (not to mention opportunities for sequels and spin-offs), Academy Award winning and nominated actors are stepping over each other to appear in comic book movies.

• These movies are also attracting top directing and writing talent. This lifts the quality standards of these movies even higher than they were previously. • In an inspired piece of casting, Kenneth Branagh, a director better known for Shakespeare adaptations, will be directing the upcoming movie based on the Marvel comic character Thor.

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