July 19th, 2013

New Tilley Hat

Comics turned into movies: A brief overview

This was prompted by a Facebook post by former Superman writer Martin Pasko, who decried the current state of the two big comic companies, now owned by Disney and Warner. In the thread, it was noted that the 2013 blockbuster movies based on comic characters features characters, with few exceptions, from fifty years ago or more. I was tempted to see how much of a trend this really was. Sorry for using Wikipedia as a main source, but I was in a hurry.

Popeye; First appearance: Thimble Theater (comic strip), January 17, 1929. Popeye quickly became the featured character and later the strip took his name.
First appearance at the movies: Popeye the Sailor. The Fleischer cartoons starting in 1933 and continuing, off and on, for twenty-five years.
First appearance in radio: 1935
First feature length film: Well, I'm going to give two dates. The Fleischer studios produced 108 Popeye cartoons, 105 in black and white. The remaining three were two reelers (double length, about a half hour), starting with Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor in 1936. However, a true live-action feature length movie had to wait until the Robert Altman Popeye with Robin Williams in 1980.

So... Popeye went from origin to cultural icon in the movie theaters (and eventually on tv) in just a few years, but waited many years for a live action film. And is still waiting for a good one.

Superman. First appearance: Action #1, June 1938
First appearance at the movies: Superman The Fleischer animated seres 1941-43.
First appearance in film: Superman: A serial in 15 chapters, 1948
He was at the 1939 New York World's Fair (in 1940), on the radio in the 40s and on tv in 1952.

So... Superman went from origin to being on the big screen in three years, but waited nearly ten years for his first live action film serial.
much more under the cutCollapse )
What does this tell us?

I hope this small sample of list of English-language comics turned into movies adds some perspective to Disney's buyout of Marvel and Warner's ownership of DC. Basically, with few exceptions, comic books were a great way to introduce the American public to a character. Then came tv, movies, CGI and big budgets. Comic books writ large can make it in the movies, but only if the characters are well established and their backstories well-known.

Comic books used to drive people's perception of the heros. Spiderman's unsung hero was Steve Ditko, who gave the hero a distinctive look. Don't step on Superman's cape. The Dark Knight is an image as well as an action. Captain America never gives up.

Now... not so much. We have remakes and reimaginings. I don't particularly begrudge anyone for trying, but they don't succeed all that often. I'd like plenty of movies and tv shows much better if they gave a nod to the influences rather than trying to reinvent a character and tripping over their cape.

But that's just me.