Hey Graphic Novel Fans: 10 Anti-Hero Movies Fighting The Superhero Monopoly

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Are graphic novels and comic books responsible for classic fanboy superheroes, and nothing more? Of course not! This rich, literary (yes, literary) genre has inspired a wealth of other cinematic material, from dystopian yarns to biting black comedies. Here are a few of our favorites.

1. 30 Days of Night
This inventive 2007 Josh Hartnett vampire thriller was based on the celebrated graphic work by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, and the movie was generally received well even by fans of the original comic. The premise of a vampire brood attacking a northern village in which the sun rarely rises is a good one, in that it puts the humans up the creek without a paddle much more than in your average vampire caper.

2. A History of Violence
David Cronenberg directed this Oscar-nominated adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name, with a critically-acclaimed Viggo Mortensen in the lead role as an introverted man launched into the spotlight after killing two men in an act of defense. The fact that the movie doesn’t especially feel as though it’s based on a comic is part of the strength of the source material, whose author, funnily enough, is also responsible for more traditional comic fodder like Judge Dredd.

3. American Splendor
With one of the first—and arguably among the best—powerhouse performances by Paul Giamatti, this charming and very quirky biographical take on Harvey Pekar, the “comic book hero everyman,” mixes animation and live action in an original and unheralded way, bringing to life the man behind one of the most unique and creative comics to ever hit the stands.

4. Ghost in the Shell
As far as comic book movies go, this Japanese masterpiece of anime has some of the most ambient, beautiful and melancholy montages in any movie, let alone of the animated variety. The quieter moments here are so much more arresting—and memorable—than the action sequences, but those are pretty exquisite too. The story is rather beside the point, evocatively bringing to light the ennui and isolation brought about by modern technology.

5. Ghost World
Terry Zwigoff’s sharp 2001 dramedy starred a fresh-faced Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi at the top of his game, the late Brad Renfro and always-great Illeana Douglas. Although there are some sly references to more traditional comic book trappings (like Thora’s catwoman getup), this movie was one of the first to reinvent what it meant to make a film based on a comic.

6. Persepolis
Who said comics can’t make for astute political commentary? Persepolis the comic turned heads as a youthful and original take on the Islamic Revolution and its fallout as seen through the eyes of an outspoken Iranian girl, and the movie version, with its striking black-and-white aesthetic and slightly foreboding but still humorous atmosphere, honored its source material well.

7. Road to Perdition
Didn’t think Oscar-bait like this could possibly come from the world of comics, huh? This 2002 movie starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman was actually based on the acclaimed graphic novel from crime writer Max Allan Collins. Director Sam Mendes does wonders with the work, creating a Depression-era crime noir thriller that feels like a throwback to films of a bygone era.

8. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Although it ostensibly follows the superhero/villain trope, a film starring Michael Cera couldn’t possibly be qualified as a superhero flick, in any way, shape or form. Telling the tale of humble Scott Pilgrim, who must battle the 7 Evil Exes of his true love Ramona Flowers, this mashup of good vs. evil with a rock n’ roll sensibility stays true to its graphic roots and has a lot of fun in the process.

9. The Crow
This one may technically be considered a bit closer to superhero territory, but The Crow is about as dark as you can get in that genre. Aside from the now legendary (and tragic) on-set death of star Brandon Lee (son of real-life superhero Bruce Lee), the movie is a gothic homage to revenge, violence and crazy makeup. Comic creator James O’Barr has cited Iggy Pop, The Cure and Joy Division as creative influences while working on The Crow. Fitting, no?

10. V for Vendetta
If a superhero is defined by his or her acceptance into society, then V for Vendetta is about as anti-superhero as you can get, with its action-packed and very cynical view of a dystopian future and references to British history and the Guy Fawkes legend. Natalie Portman stars this rousing film, adapted by the Wachowski brothers from the graphic novel. “Remember, remember, the fifth of November…”

If you can’t get enough comics, check out these 10 nerd-approved comic book movie adaptations.