It's pretty much common knowledge by now that one way to make a ton of money at the box office is with a movie based on a beloved comic book character (or group of characters). If you doubt this, you should probably look at how The Avengers has been killing it this summer (and Dark Knight Rises is probably going to do the same). It seems almost a tautology at this point that comics are good for movies.
But is the reverse true? Do the movies have any kind of effect—commercial or otherwise—on the characters they adapt? To put this in current social networking terms, can movies bring the comics klout? (Ugh, why do they spell it with a k?)
This is kind of a tough call, because so many of the superhero movies we know and love are based on superheroes that, well, we know and love. For instance, not a lot of people don't know who Batman is. So while The Dark Knight may have convinced a few more people to read, say, Arkham Asylum, it probably didn't make too many people go "oh, so that's Batman!"
An exception to the above may be Iron Man. A lot of people were shocked by the success of that 2008 movie because Iron Man was more of an insider hero... you had to know some comics to know who Iron Man was. Yet somehow—no doubt in part because of a quality script, great actors and really fun action sequences—Iron Man became the second highest-grossing movie of 2008 (behind the aforementioned Dark Knight), and it also kickstarted the whole Avengers movie franchise. Not too shabby.
Another possible example of movies helping comics is Watchmen… kind of. Though people will debate whether or not this movie's brilliant or garbage (or maybe brilliant garbage?) 'til they're blue like Dr. Manhattan in the face, it had a huge impact on sales of the Watchmen graphic novel. A book that reliably sold about 100,000 units a year moved another 900,000 when people saw the trailer for the film in front of The Dark Knight. If we're going to guess why this is (of course we are!), it wasn't so much that no one had heard of Watchmen as that few people had read it—a lot of folks were likely familiar with its standing as one of the stone-cold classics of the graphic novel medium, and they wanted to familiarize themselves with the book before the movie came out. Any way about it, that was certainly a case of films benefitting comic book characters.
So it looks like we have two known ways that movies can help out their comic brothers… they can be really good or they can adapt something lots of people know but don't know TOO well. With that in mind, here are five comic characters that might really benefit from an adaptation of their own.
1. Wonder Woman, duh. She's supposed to stand alongside Superman and Batman in the DC pantheon of heroes, but so far she has no movies to her name. Did you know Joss Whedon was supposed to direct and produce a Wonder Woman movie? Someone at Warner Bros. fired him from the project because they didn't like his ideas for it. Then Whedon went and made Avengers. Oops.
2. Ant Man (Eric O'Grady version). this one's kind of a cheat, because filmmakers Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim, Shawn of the Dead) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) have been attached to a version of this film for awhile. But there hasn't been any official word about its being produced or released in ever. This would, it seems, be a perfect film—take a director known for quirky action-comedies and give him a sleazeball superhero like Eric O'Grady (not the original Ant-Man, Henry Pym) to play with. It would be hilarious, exciting, and awesome, and would show the world that you can tell all kinds of different stories with superheroes.
3. Captain Marvel/SHAZAM. Quoting comics blogger Tom Foss, the character of Captain Marvel should be "a license to print money," yet he remains second-tier. He's a young kid who gains access to a world of magical powers when a wise old wizard takes him under his wing and teaches him ancient arts. Does this sound like any other super-popular film franchises to you? But as soon as young Billy Batson screams the word "SHAZAM!" things switch from Harry Potter to Thor in the blink of an eye as Billy turns into a mega-powerful hero that could beat up Superman. This movie would kill.
4. Invincible. A few weeks ago this site extolled the virtues of indie comics. Leading the indie superhero pack is Invincible, a twist on the classic teenage coming-of-age story written by Mr. Robert Kirkman... like, of Walking Dead fame. You guys have seen how well that show cleans up on TV, right? It might be time for Kirkman to bring his magic to the big screen with this relatable, exciting character.
5. Animal Man. The current Animal Man series writer Jeff Lemire is showing us just how awesome an Animal Man movie could be, kind of. In that book, main character Buddy Baker has given up full-time superheroing to become an indie film actor on the side, and he stars in a movie called Tights, about a… you guessed it… washed-up superhero. While this isn't a comic version of an Animal Man movie per-se, it does get the imagination churning. And with decades of stellar stories by writers like Grant Morrison and Jeff Lemire that lots of people haven't read… well, an Animal Man movie could do great things.