“My Top Nine”… it seems to be a thing now. Well, it’s only my second top nine list, but is could be a thing. Why not a Top Ten? In both cases I really couldn’t come up with ten picks, for the life of me.
This one is simple. Comic strips to the big screen. These are some of the best, live action, examples of this genre of film. When I say “best” I mean, of course, my best.
9. The Addams Family (1991)
The Addams Family is a 1991 American fantasy comedy film based on the characters from the cartoon of the same name created by cartoonist Charles Addams. The film was originally developed at Orion Pictures (which, at the time, owned the rights to the television series on which the film was based due to its ownership of the Filmways library and later quietly relaunched by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on September 11, 2014). But due to the studio’s financial problems, Paramount Pictures stepped in to complete the film and handled North American distribution; Orion retained the international rights, though these rights now belong to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer through their purchase of Orion.
8. The Spirit (1987)
When Denny Colt, detective for the Central City Police Department, survives an assassination attempt by criminals, he is still believed by the public to be dead. He decides to use to his advantage, since being “dead”, he isn’t subject to the rules that bind regular cops. To this end, he equips an abandoned tomb in a graveyard into a residence and headquarters and prepares for a new career. With that, he becomes the Spirit, a mysterious crime fighter whose only costume is a blue business suit, fedora hat and a little eye mask. His first major case pits him against P’Gell, a femme fatal who has criminal designs on the city.
7. Popeye (1980)
Popeye is a 1980 American musical comedy film directed by Robert Altman. It is a live-action film adaptation of E. C. Segar’s Popeye comic strip and stars Robin Williams as Popeye the Sailor Man and Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl.
I have a fond memory of going with my parents to see this on xmas day, 1980. It was at the height of Robin Williams’ popularity as Mork from Ork on “Mork and Mindy”. Let’s just say that I was an immense fan, being 10 years old.
6. Dick Tracy (1990)
Dick Tracy is a 1990 American action comedy film based on the 1930s comic strip character of the same name created by Chester Gould. Warren Beatty produced, directed, and starred in the film, which features supporting roles from Al Pacino, Charles Durning, Madonna, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Glenne Headly, Paul Sorvino, Dick Van Dyke, and Charlie Korsmo. Dick Tracy depicts the detective’s love relationships with Breathless Mahoney and Tess Trueheart, as well as his conflicts with crime boss Alphonse “Big Boy” Caprice. Tracy also begins his upbringing of “The Kid.”
5. Blondie (1938)
Blondie is a 1938 movie directed by Frank Strayer, based on the comic strip of the same name, created by Chic Young. The screenplay was written by Richard Flournoy.
This was the first of 28 films based on the comic strip; Columbia Pictures produced them from 1938 to 1943, and popular demand brought them back in 1945. When the Blondie film series came to an end with Beware of Blondie in 1950, it was announced that it would be replaced with a series of Gasoline Alley movies. However, only two such films were made, Gasoline Alley (1951) and Corky of Gasoline Alley(1951). Columbia then reissued the Blondie features, beginning with the very first film in the series.
I lived in Sacramento, it was around 1981-ish, when channel 31 played the Blondie movies in the early afternoon on Saturdays… before Kung Fu Theater. Thus I discovered the live action embodiment of the character that I knew from the Sunday Funnies.
4. Annie (1982)
Annie? I know. My Mom and Grandmother took me to go see it when I was 10. I was the only boy there and I was acutely aware of that fact. I didn’t even want to see it but I wound up having a great time watching it.
Annie is a 1982 American musical comedy-drama film adapted from Broadway musical of the same name by Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin and Thomas Meehan, which in turn is based on Little Orphan Annie, the 1924 comic strip by Harold Gray. The film was directed by John Huston, scripted by Carol Sobieski, and stars Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Ann Reinking, Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters, Geoffrey Holder, Edward Herrmann, and Aileen Quinn in her film debut. Set during the Great Depression, the film tells the story of Annie, an orphan from New York City who is taken in by America’s richest billionaire Oliver Warbucks. Filming took place for six weeks at Monmouth University in New Jersey.
3. The Phantom (1996)
The Phantom is a 1996 American superhero film directed by Simon Wincer. Based on Lee Falk’s comic strip The Phantom, the film stars Billy Zane as a seemingly immortal crimefighter and his battle against all forms of evil. The Phantom also stars Treat Williams, Kristy Swanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Remar and Patrick McGoohan. The film’s plot is loosely inspired by three of The Phantom stories, “The Singh Brotherhood”, “The Sky Band” and “The Belt”; but adds supernatural elements and several new characters.
2. The Shadow (1994)
I know this one isn’t technically a comic strip first. This was first a pulp novel series then became a serialized radio program.
The Shadow is a 1994 American superhero film directed by Russell Mulcahy and starring Alec Baldwin, John Lone, Penelope Ann Miller, Ian McKellen, Peter Boyle, Jonathan Winters and Tim Curry. It is based on the pulp fiction character created by Walter B. Gibson in 1931.
1. Flash Gordon (1980)
Flash Gordon is a 1980 British/American space opera action film filmed in Technicolor and Todd-AO, based on the comic strip of the same name created by Alex Raymond. The film was directed by Mike Hodges, and produced by Dino De Laurentiis. It stars Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Topol, Max von Sydow, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed, and Ornella Muti. The screenplay was written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., with a story adaptation by Michael Allin. It intentionally uses a camp style similar to the 1960s TV series Batman (for which Semple had developed and written many episodes) in an attempt to appeal to fans of the original comics and serial films. Although a box office success in the UK, it performed poorly overseas. The film is notable for its soundtrack composed, performed and produced by the rock band Queen, with the orchestral sections by Howard Blake.
This is my number one pick for my favorite and possibly the best Strip to Film adaption. I mean… he’s the saviour of the universe, after all.
Nice list. I remember watching the television movie The Spirit when it first aired. Even though it wasn’t spot on accurate to its source material, it was a lot closer and felt way more like the character than the recent movie we were given.
Thanks! Misty, and I, couldn’t make it through the opening act of the recent Spirit film. I cannot recall why. Perhaps I need to revisit it, to give it a fair shake.
I feel like Pulp comic movies are due for a Renaissance/Revival. After the boom that was the 90’s, we haven’t seen a really good pulp movie since then. (Not that the Phantom, the Shadow and the Rocketeer were “good” by many standards, but they were certainly enjoyable.)
Heck, the world of today is a close analogue to the world the original pulps were born from. Post war, post boom and bust, (almost) post pandemic, an economic Recession and a lingering feeling that something big is on the way. I think we’re primed for relevant and juicy pulp stories and heroes dealing with the problems of today.