It's a little crazy to consider that comic book movies have graduated from a niche curiosity in cinema to one of the most lucrative and guaranteed subgenres of all time. Not only are comic book films now the norm, but they're dominating the market and pushing other films out of theaters. Granted, not all comic book movies succeed, but there's definitely a tested formula that's now in place.
Back in the 1990s there was much less security in turning comics into movies, but it led to some truly unique projects as a result. In many ways these oddball movies even helped define the decade, but they’re easy to overlook in comparison to the genuine blockbusters. Accordingly, Here Are 20 weird comic book movies from the ‘90s everyone forgets about.
20 The Rocketeer
In the early days of comic book movie adaptations, the goals were much less ambitious as they are now. In the case of Joe Johnston's The Rocketeer, the aim was more to take audiences back to that golden era of comics than to bring superpowered titans to life. The Rocketeer centers around a special jetpack, not mystical stones or super serums, and explores the idea that anyone can be a hero if they're given the opportunity.
19 Tank Girl
Tank Girl was the film of the generation for a lot of people and it still stands out as a fever dream of the '90s. Lori Petty stars as the titular Tank Girl, an unconventional hero who rates against the man and a corrupt system in a barren futuristic world where water is the most precious commodity. Tank Girl remains a deeply fun and faithful comic adaptation that showed that niche stories could still work for film.
18 Barb Wire
Sometimes an evocative image and the prospect of titillation is all that a comic book movie needs to rope in its intended audience. Barb Wire harkens back to the stories of exploitative powerful women that fueled lighter content. The movie version of Barb Wire is a weird, awkward mess, but the casting of Pamela Anderson in the lead role seemed to work for a lot of people. It's a movie that just wants to have fun rather than reinvent the genre.
17 The Mask
Most people view the outrageous '90s comedy, The Mask, as a major breakthrough vehicle for both Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz. While that's true, the film is actually based on a comedic comic series of the same name. Carrey's film uses The Mask comic as its inspiration, but wisely carves out its own path. It also shows a time where more atypical comics were being looked at in terms of their big-screen potential. Something with big visuals, like The Mask, was what they were looking for.
16 Dick Tracy
Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy is honestly a gorgeous movie. It feels like the Sin City of the '90s in terms of how it creates unreal visuals that use lighting and color to almost make you feel like you're in the classic comic. Beatty delights in the Dick Tracy universe and creates a strong, gritty crime drama out of the pieces. It's an insanely stylish feature from the decade and it's a shame it never got a proper follow-up to ramp up all of this even further.
15 Captain America
At this point, it's hard to picture anyone other than Chris Evans in the role of Steve Rogers, Captain America. Evans had brought gravitas to the role, but back in the '90s they were testing the water with Marvel adaptations and Captain America made the cut. Since Cap's skillset isn't as insane as say, Thor, he's not the worst pick for a film. The movie maintains a DIY charm and is certainly sillier than anything in the MCU, but it still exists as a fascinating relic of how far we've come.
Steel is a supremely confusing superhero adaptation. It takes Shaquille O'Neal and turns him into a junkyard Iron Man of sorts and puts him up against a barely comprehensible villain. What's even stranger is that in the comics, Steel is one of the individuals that steps in during the “Death of Superman” arc. To remove the Steel character from that context and put together a cute Shazam-esque caper is super bizarre.
13 The Shadow
'90s Alec Baldwin was practically an entirely different person than present Alec Baldwin. The actor was more concerned about prestige drama roles than sitcoms or Donald impressions. He was even Jack Ryan at one point! The Shadow is one of the most acclaimed and influential comics of all time, but this '90s take on the property is almost too ahead of its time. It's something that really could have worked a decade later and maybe helped other films, like The Spirit, find their footing.
Hey kids, back in the '90s Todd McFarlane's Spawn held a whole lot of weight and he was more than just some kitschy guest character in the Mortal Kombat series. McFarlane is still working hard to make a new version of Spawn happen. Even though the original movie is deeply flawed, it strangely feels appropriate for the '90s. It's big, bombastic, and aggressive that many comic book fans weren't used to at the time. In spite of its issues, it does capture the energy of the comic and did put the property on more people's radars.
11 Nick Fury: Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Much like with Captain America, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Nick Fury is another Marvel character that doesn't seem impossible to do justice. Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. does a decent job to introduce audiences to both Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., but budgetary restrictions and the fact that this was intended to function as a backdoor TV pilot holds it back from greatness. I can't imagine how the MCU's Nick Fury would react to such a film.
10 Judge Dredd
Judge Dredd paints a picture of an ultra dystopian future where crime runs rampant and judges are licensed killing machines. The 1995 take on Dredd becomes total action film bliss by putting Sylvester Stallone in the lead role. The comic's over the top universe and message has remained relevant through the years, but the '90s film is the most gratuitous and fun in a lot of ways.
9 Mystery Men
Mystery Men struggled in the '90s even though it had an incredible cast that features the likes of Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, and William H. Macy. Mystery Men is a parody of superheroes films before anyone else was going there. It's a film that would honestly do a lot better now than when it originally came out. The property is loads of fun and super strange, but many don't realize that the film is actually loosely based on Flaming Carrot Comics, making it an adaptation itself.
8 The Phantom
Most people's take away from Titanic probably wasn't that the bad guy with the gun should headline a superhero film, but that's why the '90s were so crazy. Billy Zane stars in The Phantom, a character that got his start back in the pulpy serial days. Zane may have gravitas, but everything about this film is awkward and representative of the time, whether it's the purple bodysuit that the titular Phantom wears, or his gaudy power ring.
It may not surprise many that Vampirella isn't at Avengers level of quality. The film embraces camp and comes courtesy of Roger Corman. Oddly, Vampirella is a revenge story that sees the titular bloodsucker travel from Drakulon to Earth to hunt down the vampires who slayed her father. Sometimes not taking yourself too seriously can be a good thing.
6 The Guyver
The absolutely bonkers Guyver film (as well as its sequel) is one of the craziest '90s comic adaptations. Granted, Guyver pulls from some already twisted source material from the original manga. Guyver presents almost a Cronenberg-ian take to the comics genre and the result is super grim for the decade. Plus, it's the only place where you can watch the world's favorite Jedi, Mark Hamill, get turned into a weird cockroach creature.
5 Richie Rich
Before cinema was eager to plunder the depths of every single via superhero property, there was a level of contentment found from simply translating properties from yesteryear for modern audiences. Macaulay Culkin’s turn as Richie Rich was perfect in the '90s and found a way to tap into the leisurely comic's extravagant world.
These are all of the comic book film adaptations from the 1990s that grabbed our interest. Sound off over your favorite oddities in the comments below!
4 The Crow
The Crow has gone on to reach cult status over the years and still holds up very well, despite the unfortunate real-life tragedy that surrounds the film's production. The Crow is almost like a gothic Batman and tells the story of a gunned-down musician who comes back to life as a vengeful vigilante. The film stands out, but its origins chart back to comics.
3 Men In Black
The Men in Black franchise has proven to be so popular that this year even saw an attempt at a hip reboot of the property. For many, Will Smith is synonymous with Men in Black and the original films were a major triumph in terms of action, sci-fi, comedy hybrids. That being said, many have no idea that The Men in Black actually started as an Aircel Comics series back in 1990, before Aircel was later bought by Malibu and then Marvel.
Forget all about the Logan and Joker R-rated comic book madness. Blade from the '90s was mixing carnage and horror with superheroes before it was cool. Blade presents a simple story about a vampire hunter who is himself, a vampire. The films found a grim, gothic success (largely thanks to Guillermo Del Toro's work on the sequel) and spawned a trilogy. Marvel may be rebooting the series, but Wesley Snipes and all of that '90s leather still holds up.
1 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Trilogy
The Ninja Turtles have seen many films with decidedly different approaches to the source material. They've all experienced various levels of success, but the original trilogy from the '90s started it all and are still very emblematic of the time period. There's something to be said for the humble man in suit approach and gratuitous Vanilla Ice performances. These films still resonate with a lot of Turtles fans.
Sources: ScreenRant.com, IGN.com, Polygon.com