Back in 1998, New Line Cinema released Blade, an adaptation of a lesser known Marvel property starring Wesley Snipes. The movie’s phenomenal success would later prove to be the impetus for a whole new generation of blockbuster comic book adaptations, a trend that seemed to have burned itself out in the mid-90s with abysmal releases like The Phantom and the Shaq vehicle Steel. 2000’s X-Men and the long-awaited premiere of a live action Spider-Man movie in 2002 further cemented what comic fans had long dreamed: comic book movies were back and better than ever.
While each year since then, film journalists and analysts have predicted an inevitable oversaturation point, the comic-book-movie trend remains as strong as ever today, as demonstrated last summer when Marvel Studio’s crowning jewel The Avengers became the third-highest grossing movie of all time.
With a wealth of new films coming out both this year (Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Thor: Dark World, The Wolverine), next year (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past) and years to come (The Avengers 2, Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man, The Black Panther, Doctor Strange), this gravy train shows no sign of slowing down.
Truly, it has never been a more exciting time to be a fan of the funny books.
Yet, while Marvel and DC’s most iconic heroes have seen both good adaptations (Batman, Iron Man, etc.) and not-so-good adaptations (Green Lantern, Jonah Hex), any fan worth their salt knows that there are universes filled with characters that would make for compelling screen adventures.
This list will shine on a light on some of the heroes, antiheroes and teams that deserve to have the cinematic treatment.
Dream Actor: Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy, On the Road)
Dream Director:Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
If there were ever a character in need of redemption in the public eye, it would be Aquaman. Long-marginalized due to his undeniably lame characterization on Super Friends, Aquaman garnered a reputation for being a character with little to no power when taken from his ocean homeland. The HBO show Entourage even spent an entire season dealing with the repercussions of Vinnie taking on the lead role in a James Cameron-directed Aquaman film. Yet, those who quickly dismiss Aquaman obviously have little frame of reference. A great warrior and ruler, Aquaman’s powers and abilities extend far beyond an ability to talk to fish (I mean, come on, by definition he controls 70 percent of the Earth). Certainly, Geoff Johns’ recent run in The New 52 has attempted to rectify the damage done to Aquaman’s reputation (to great avail, I might add).
An Aquaman movie would certainly call for the kind of grand scale seen in big-budgeted Hollywood fantasy epics. Having shown he has no fear when it comes to filming on water in harsh, indie-film level conditions, Beasts of the Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin could definitely bring an excitement and visual dynamism to an Aquaman movie if given a healthy budget and major creative freedom. Thrown in up-and-coming leading man Garrett Hedlund, and you even have serious sex appeal along with the film geek credentials.
11. Moon Knight
Dream Actor: Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma)
Dream Director: Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire)
Since his debut back in 1975, Moon Knight has had to bear a fair amount of criticism; specifically, that he was nothing more than Marvel’s rip-off of Batman. And yes, to be fair, the tale of how Marc Spector went from the son of a rabbi to a murderous mercenary to a millionaire philanthropist who moonlights as a crime fighter contains unmistakable elements of The Dark Knight mythos. Yet, as writer Charlie Huston once put it, while Bruce is compelled to the cowl because of the trauma surrounding his parent’s death, Marc Spector fights crime because “it helps him to feel better about all the people he killed when he was a mercenary.” In other words, he’s Batman with a serious case of multiple personality syndrome. In an age where morally ambivalent superheroes go no further than Tony Stark’s Iron Man, a Moon Knight film could very well serve as a nice bit of counter-programing.
Add in an actor like Ben Foster, renowned for playing memorable crazies in films like Alpha Dog and 3:10 to Yuma as well as highly frenetic stylings of Danny Boyle and you’ve got something special on your hands.
Dream Actor: Dwayne Johnson (Fast Five) as Atlas, Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) as Moonstone, Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) as Songbird, Jensen Ackles (Supernatural) as Abner Jenkins, Jason Isaacs (The Patriot) as Baron Zemo, Michael Jai White (Black Dynamite) as Luke Cage
Dream Director: Joe Carnahan (The Grey, Smoking Aces)
In a wonderfully subversive take on the traditional superhero team-up scenario, The Thunderbolts consist of a group of supervillains who attempt to masquerade as a noble superhero team for their own selfish gain. Soon, however, they find themselves enjoying the perks of being heroes and decide to reform themselves as Earth’s newest defenders.
It’s a nice, high-concept premise that could really pave the way for some funny-yet-exciting action sequences as well as some equally explosive arguing between the team members (courtesy of director Joe Carnahan’s hyper-energetic, high-octane style). Though the Thunderbolts’ roster has included everyone from Hawkeye to The Green Goblin, a film version would most likely want to bring together the founding members who have yet to be featured in any Marvel movies. Of course, the film would also need some definite contributions from the Warren Ellis/Mike Deodato Jr. storylines, which delved into the team’s rehabilitation as heroes. And hell, for the sake of killing two birds with one stone, why not throw in the superhuman Luke Cage— who has long demanded his own movie— into the mix?
Dream Actor: Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood)
Dream Director Gareth Evans (The Raid: Redemption)
Fans of the smooth-talking Cajun mutant—capable of charging anything he touches with explosive kinetic energy—have had quite the frustrating experience in the past 13 years. Since the debut of the first X-Men movie in 2000, comic fans eagerly anticipated Gambit’s appearance in the series. Three movies and numerous online complaints later, the diehard Gambit-ites finally looked to be getting their wish when it was leaked that the character would appear in the Wolverine prequel film, X- Men Origins: Wolverine. Needless to say, fans were disappointed when their favorite X-Man (played by box-office bomb magnet/Friday Night Lights scene-stealer Taylor Kitsch) appeared in what amounted to a glorified cameo.
With The Wolverine and X-Men: Days of Future Past now on the horizon, interest in witnessing a revamped version of the character has begun once again. To which I say, why not give the man his own movie? While he lacks the hefty backstory of a Wolverine, Gambit’s penchant for hand-to-hand combat could make for one hell of great quasi-martial arts film, especially if said film were helmed by Gareth Evans, whose film The Raid: Redemption promptly raised the bar for how intense and jaw-dropping an action film could be.
8. The Flash
Dream Director: Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger)
Whenever one discusses the possibility of a Flash-centric movie, the conversation inevitably leads to the same central question—how do you make a dramatically intriguing narrative when your hero’s sole power is super speed? To be fair, it’s a perfectly reasonable question. The Flash tends to work best when taking a supporting role in Justice League-type adventures rather than serving as the leading man in his own tales. Yet, with the advent of stories such as Geoff Johns’ epic Flash: Blitz, there are certainly ways of incorporating both an origin story and an exciting first adventure into the same film. Supposedly, Johns even has a Flash feature script residing somewhere in the Warner Bros. vaults. Certainly, if the studio plans on actually getting out a Justice League film, a cinematic introduction to The Flash would be wise.
Though comic-book movies have been far from kind to his career, Ryan Reynolds — with his penchant for playing cocksure characters who also have the right quip on hand — would be a great choice for the irreverent Wally West-era Flash. And, having successfully translated Captain America to box-office gold, director Joe Johnston might also prove to be a valuable figure in bringing the (frankly) absurd character to the big screen.
7. Morbius, The Living Vampire
(28 Days Later, Batman Begins)
Dream Director: David Slade (30 Days of Night)
In a world where vampires have now become the new franchise buzzword (see Underworld, Twilight, True Blood and Vampire Diaries), the fact that one of Marvel’s most beloved bloodsucking anti-heroes has not yet made the leap to the big screen is downright baffling. Unlike the half-vampire Blade, Morbius gained his vampiric abilities through the beauty of “comic book science.” Beginning life as Dr. Michael Morbius, a Nobel-Prize winning biochemist, Morbius starts experimenting with vampire bats and electroshock therapy in an attempt to cure a blood disease that had afflicted him. Rather than curing him, however, the experiments endow him with superhuman strength—along with, unfortunately, an aversion to the sun and a need to drink blood to survive.
Though Morbius first entered comics as a villain-of-the-week for Spider-Man, he has slowly started moving away from the dark side. It’s the kind of redemption story that audiences eat up, but it also contains the sort of dark edges that a director like David Slade will happily indulge in. Furthermore, few actors are better suited for the role than Cillian Murphy, who has played both heroes (28 Days Later) and baddies (Red Eyes) with equal fervor in the course of his career. Granted, if the rumors prove to be true, Morbius might just find his way into the next Amazing Spider-Man movie.