5 of the Best Films Based on Graphic Novels

We talk a lot about comic book movies. That’s because, for the past few years, they’ve dominated the box office and our collective consciousness. That’s not always a bad thing — the Avengers franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Batman reboot are all out-of-this-world awesome and worthy of the attention and devout fandom they’ve received.

But for fans of visually-driven storytelling, there’s another branch of books that’s brought just as much amazingness to Hollywood. Graphic novels have become increasingly popular among readers since they first entered the scene in the late 1960s. Films based on graphic novels tend to be a little bit darker — their stories can be more political, psychological, and reflective than what we often see in comic book adaptations. And they’ve been some of the most thrilling and visually stunning films of the 21st century. Here are five awesome films based on graphic novels.

1. Sin City (2004)

Jessica Alba and Nick Stahl in 'Sin City'
Source: Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films

Frank Miller is one of the most well-known writer/illustrators out there today, thanks to his success with The 300, The Dark Knight Returns, and Ronin. While many of his works have been adapted for the big screen, perhaps the most exciting — and most faithful — movie based on his work is Sin City. Miller co-directed this film, which was shot entirely in digital color film and then converted to black and white to achieve its comic book-esque aesthetic. The result is an engaging noir that follows an ensemble of often-unsavory characters through dark and violent streets.

Though Sin City is live action, there are hints at its source material throughout the film. Splashes of color — blue eyes, a red dress, and the nuclear yellow skin of a villain — are intriguing and jarring amidst the otherwise black and white scenery. The diverse and talented cast, which includes Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Jessica Alba, and Elijah Wood, deliver electrifying performances that bring the series’ most memorable characters to life. And he highly stylized acting and dialogue give the film a glossy, often surreal feeling that matches the eerie, insidious feeling that the Sin City graphic novels leave with you.

2. V for Vendetta (2006)

Hugo Weaving in 'V for Vendetta'
Source: Virtual Studios, Silver Pictures, VERTIGO DC Comics, Anarchos Productions

The Guy Fawkes mask has become synonymous with vigilante activism. But before Anonymous began using it as its symbol, it stood for a different type of rebellion in the dystopian thriller, V for Vendetta. Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, the Wachovski Brother’s film follows Evie Hammond (Natalie Portman) as she teams up with V (Hugo Weaving) to take down their oppressive government. Even though it was released nearly a decade ago,

From beginning to end, V for Vendetta taps into some pretty timely themes — totalitarianism, censorship, and the fight for human freedom. But its message isn’t the only thing that make it successful adaptation. From V’s angular, unnerving mask and cloak to the image of Buckingham Palace being blown apart, it’s full of stunning visuals that you won’t soon be able to shake.

3. Road to Perdition (2002)

Tom Hanks in 'Road to Perdition'
Source: The Zanuck Company

At first blush, 1930s Chicago and the visually-driven graphic novel may not seem like an ideal match. But with Road to Perdition, Max Allen Collins combined them into a beautiful and gripping story about a young boy and his gangster father. And Sam Mendes translates that story with an almost perfect accuracy with his 2002 adaptation. The film stars Tom Hanks as Michael Sullivan Sr., a mob enforcer who will stop at nothing to avenge his family’s brutal deaths at the hands of unhinged gangster Connor (Daniel Craig). In many ways, Road to Perdition – both the film and the graphic novel — are a study in the difference between light and dark. Mendes brings that theme to fruition time and again throughout the film, and also gives some of Hollywood’s most talented actors — including Hanks, Jude Law, and the late, great Paul Newman — a chance to stretch beyond their usual limits and explore some of the darkest sides of humanity.

4. A History of Violence (2005)

Viggo Mortensen in 'A History of Violence'
Source: New Line Productions

Those not familiar with graphic novels might assume that they’re nothing more than long-form comic books. But there isn’t a single cartoonish moment within many of the genres’ stories — especially in John Wagner and Vince Lock’s A History of Violence, which follows a seemingly normal small town man as he’s forced to uncover his dark history with organized crime. The novel was adapted for the big screen by David Cronenberg, whose often macabre aesthetic sensibilities fits perfectly with the story’s tone. A History of Violence delivers on what is promised in its title — that is, a pretty extreme amount of blood and death. And it features a career-high performance from Viggo Mortensen as Tom, the diner owner turned small town hero with a deeply disturbing past. But A History of Violence also plays into its ambiguous title, and becomes a meditation on how we cope with our past mistakes and reinvent ourselves.

5. Snowpiercer (2013)

John Hurt, Chris Evans and Jamie Bell in 'Snowpiercer'
Source: Moho Films, Opus Pictures, Stillking Films, CJ Entertainment

The future of humanity feels grim in Snowpiercer, a South Korean thriller that follows a train that carries the remainder of the world’s population following a global warming-induced new Ice Age. Based on Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s spectacular French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, the film manages to feel grounded in reality despite its often surreal story. Director Bong Joon-ho leads Chris Evans, John Hurt, and Tilda Swinton through their exhilarating performances as the train’s most powerless — and powerful — residents. At its core, Snowpiercer is a story about survival — not just from catastrophe, but from under a dangerously oppressive regime. It’s also, in many ways, a visual masterpiece — from spine-tingling action sequences to the quieter moments within the jarringly colorful train cars that house salons, classrooms and other microcosms of a world that no longer exists.

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