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.
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.
Dream Actor: Ryan Reynolds (The Proposal)
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.
Dream Actor: Cillian Murphy (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.
Dream Actor:Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris)
Dream Director: Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing)
Long before the half African-American/half Hispanic Miles Morales took over the Spider-Man mantle in the Ultimate universe, the independently owned Milestone Comics birthed their own African-American version of Marvel’s famous web-slinger. Though Milestone folded in 1997, Static was saved due to the advent of a successful WB animated series.
Obviously, a Static Shock movie could help add a bit more diversity to the comic book genre, which continues to be primarily dominated by white men. If nothing else, it could serve as a way of giving Tyler James Williams, star of the criminally underrated Chris Rock sitcom Everybody Hates Chris, a great role in a high-profile studio production. Bring in Spike Lee and you could potentially have the first great African-American superhero franchise (sorry, The Meteor Man).
Dream Actor(s): Donald Glover (Community) as Alex Wilder, Brenda Song (The Social Network) as Nico Minoru, Chloe Grace-Moretz (Kick-Ass) as Karolina Dean, Asa Butterfield (Hugo) as Chase Stein, Emma Watson (Harry Potter) as Gertrude Yorkes, Abigail Breslin (Zombieland) as Molly Hayes
Dream Director: Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick)
Lost and Saga writer Brian K. Vaughn made a major mark on the comic world with the creation of The Runaways, a group of superpowered teenagers who discover that their parents are all part of an evil organization. In the ultimate expression of teenage rebellion, the teens band together to defeat their nefarious parentals.
Part superhero story and part high-school dramedy, The Runaways seems like the kind of hybrid genre film that studios would be falling over themselves to make. Indeed, Marvel’s Kevin Feige attempted to develop a feature a few years back, only to shelve the project to better focus on The Avengers. One can only hope that one day soon Marvel will resurrect the film, collecting some of the great up-and-coming actors to star as well as reign in visionary director Rian Johnson to steer the ship.
Dream Actor: Ryan Reynolds (by default)
Dream Director: Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People)
Oh, X-Men Origins: Wolverine — so many bad first impressions. Deadpool first entered the Marvel world as a deformed and mentally unstable mercenary formerly known as Wade Williams (assuming he’s telling the truth). After several appearances, Deadpool proved to be a popular breakout character, particularly with the advent of his numerous fourth-wall breaking quips. So, how was Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool in Origins introduced? As a silent assassin with his mouth sewn shut. So…yeah, people got mad.
Though an alternate stinger to Origins implied that Deadpool was alive and ready for his own spin-off, the critical drubbing of that Gavin Hood-directed film appears to have pushed the project to the side. Not for lack of trying. As early as last week, Ryan Reynolds continues to express his desire to reprise the role in a new movie (and do the character right this time). Whatever the status, until the first photographs from the Deadpool movie set appear online, fans will continue clamoring to see the “Merc with the Mouth” as he was meant to be seen— horribly violent and horribly irreverent.
Being that the character’s persona is so embedded in self-referential humor, it seems quite appropriate that the filmmaker to helm it should be Michael Winterbottom. While the English director’s experience with action is minimal, few filmmakers working today have tackled the kind of meta insanity demonstrated by Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People and Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.
Dream Actor: Patrick Wilson (Watchmen), Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight)
Dream Director: David Cronenberg (History of Violence, Videodrome)
Animal Man was never meant to be much more than a silly throwaway character. Indeed, Buddy Baker’s ability to shape shift into animals seems like fairly small beans in a universe that also contains the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman and The Green Lantern. Only when writer Grant Morrison began filtering Buddy through his beautifully warped imagination did the character finally take on a life of its own. From this hokey premise, Morrison constructed a surreal masterpiece that worked as both a gripping superhero story and an outlet for Morrison to get on his soapbox about animal rights. So strange and self-referential was the series that the Scotsman famously ended his run by writing a meeting between himself and the character.
Fast forward to today, Animal Man has become the breakout hit of the New 52 relaunch. Under writer Jeff Lemire, the new Animal Man carries on Morrison’s penchant for disturbing, provocative imagery while weaving together an emotional and horrific narrative concerning the proliferation of a destructive Rot that twists and corrupts everything it touches. Lemire’s story is one that would make for an intensely powerful and unorthodox Animal Man movie. Whether any major studio would actually support such a venture, which would require extensive CGI and a plot line darker and more disturbing than any superhero tale on the market, is an obstacle that might prove difficult to overcome. That being said, if anyone could pull off such a strange story, it would be David Cronenberg, whose history with body horror would make for a brilliant reference point when it comes to visualizing both the Rot and Buddy’s transformations.
Call it a pipe dream, but it’s one pipe dream I choose to cling to.
Dream Actor: Lynn Collins (John Carter)
Dream Director Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)
Ah yes, the eternal question — why can’t they make a decent live-action Wonder Woman? With both Batman and Superman now boasting major franchises, DC’s major iconic super heroine has been a noticeable absent from the silver screen. Yes, there was the Lynda Carter TV series as well as the ill-fated David E. Kelley-scripted pilot that cast Wonder Woman as Diana, an unlucky-in-love CEO prone to overly violent tendencies and self-righteous soapboxing about feminism (the less said about that the better), but no one has yet to crack the feature-film code. Joss Whedon famously came close during the mid-2000s, only to step down from a project after creative differences with the Warner Bros. brass.
Honestly, had someone asked me but a few years back, I would have viewed Wonder Woman as one of those properties that seem better left alone. Then came the New 52. Under the pen of Brian Azzarello, the Amazon princess was revived as the kind of kickass-yet-honorable action star that made her an icon in the first place. One can argue that the campiness of Wonder Woman’s costume would be a major hindrance. To that I say, if audiences can accept Superman’s and Captain America’s inherently outrageous get-ups, they can probably accept a version of Wonder Woman’s costume so long as it is properly modernized and sleek.
While fans would no doubt rejoice at seeing Whedon return to the project with his newfound Avengers clout in toe, one can’t help but wonder what a director like Kathryn Bigelow would bring to the project. Aside from simply bringing a female perspective to the superhero genre, Bigelow has shown a mastery of directing incredibly tense action set pieces. As for who would play the Amazonian princess, the sky’s the limit. Personally, I would hope the production would cast an unknown whose persona is free of preconceived expectations. That being said, if pressed to choose an established actor, John Carter’s Lynn Collins proved herself a formidable female warrior in that film and would make for an excellent Diana.
Dream Actor: Tyler Posey (Teen Wolf)
Dream Director: Josh Trank (Chronicle)
Created by artist Charles Nicholas Wojtkoski back in 1939, The Blue Beetle has a long and varied history, going through several different incarnations and comic-book companies over the years. The first Beetle was Dan Garret, who derived his power from a mystical scarab that he found during a dig in Egypt. After several years, Garrett’s mantle was taken on by Ted Kord. Unlike Garret, Kord eschewed the scarab in favor of acquiring the best fight-training and gadgetry that his billionaire-dollar empire could buy.
While Kord secured a spot in The Justice League, he frequently served as a lowly supporting character (there is literally a series of issues where his main concern is struggling with a weight problem). Then, in a shocking and ingenuous twist courtesy of writer Geoff Johns, Kord was killed off after discovering a nefarious plot by former League member Maxwell Lord. Through a convoluted series of circumstances, the Blue Beetle scarab—later revealed to be a powerful piece of alien technology—ends up attaching itself to a young Hispanic teenager named Jamie Reyes. From here, veteran writers Keith Giffen and John Rogers, along with artist Cully Hamner, created a short-lived series that stands as a shining example of the modern-day superhero story. Giffen and Rogers’ run is not violent. It’s not dark. It doesn’t have heroes breaking their code in a cheap attempt to shake the status quo. It’s just fun, good old-fashioned serialized storytelling.
A true modern-day Peter Parker if there ever was one (minus the brilliant scientific mind of course), Jamie Reyes’ Blue Beetle comes across as the ultimate everyman — an average teen thrown into incredible circumstances that he bravely rises to meet. Also, in a nice change of pace, he actually reveals his superhero secret to his family.
Though both the Giffen-and-Rogers comic line and the New 52 relaunch were both cancelled prematurely, the Jamie Reyes-version of the Blue Beetle gained attention with comic fans via his appearance in Batman: Brave and the Bold.
In the course of their run, Giffen and Rogers wrote some fantastic adventures for young Jamie that would be perfect fodder for a summer blockbuster adventure. And, as with Static Shock, the casting of a Hispanic superhero could very well help break some glass ceilings in the comic book movie realm.
All that’s left is putting the right team together. A young up-and-coming Hispanic actor currently employed on the MTV supernatural series Teen Wolf, Tyler Posey manages to convey genuine charisma and charm despite that show’s numerous absurdities. Moreover, having demonstrated that he knows a thing or two about superpowers and adolescence with his 2012 film Chronicle, Josh Trank seems like the perfect man to bring Jamie’s story to life. Plus, as demonstrated in Chronicle’s climatic battle sequence, Trank knows how to stage an extravagant climax with a fairly small budget.
Though rumors of a Blue Beetle movie or TV show has made the rounds in the past years, the only definite footage to come out of these talks was a a guest appearance on the Smallville episode “Booster” and some test footage showing Jamie awakening form bed and changing into his Blue Beetle outfit. With no news of a Blue Beetle property being put into development, however, fans must simply hope that some film executive somewhere realizes the potential inherent in this fantastic character with an unfortunately silly name and gives the Beetle the recognition he deserves.