The Next Wave of Comics Hits the Big Screen

This has been a monster year for movies that started as comic books, with two in the top ten moneymakers and four in the top twenty. But what's next? The Iron Man sequel won't be around until 2010, and they don't even have Christopher Nolan signed up for the next Batman yet. The Hulk? Must we? And don't get me started on Spider-Man. But besides all the inevitable sequels, there's a new crop of comic book movies.

The Punisher: War Zone (December 5)

The 2004 Punisher movie was vastly better than the Dolph Lundgren original, but Lionsgate still decided to boot Thomas Jane and Rebecca Romijn overboard and start all over again. This time British actor Ray Stevenson steps into the role of Frank Castle to take on Jigsaw, one of the comic's major villains. Two of the four screenwriters worked on Iron Man, but the starless cast seems like a mistake (Stevenson was great as Pullo in HBO's Rome, but that's about as good as it gets). Fine, The Punisher only made $33 million domestically, but Jane is a good actor (watch him as Todd the stripper in Boogie Nights), and Romijn is solid too. This looks like a low-budge action flop bound for the DVD sale bin at Wal-Mart. Hm, sort of like that Dolph vehicle.

The Spirit (December 25)

From the trailers, Frank Miller's version of Will Eisner's forties comic strip looks unfortunately like Sin City (which Miller co-directed). I was a fan of that movie, but Eisner's Spirit had its own look and feel, and people hoped that the movie would reflect that, not Miller's. Still, with a powerhouse cast including Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sarah Paulson, this is still one to watch for.

Watchmen (March 6)

Fine, you may have heard me ranting on about this one before (read it and you'll be with me). Alan Moore's classic '80s miniseries is finally, finally hitting the screen -- unless the Fox lawsuit derails the whole thing -- and from the trailers, the art releases, the set reporting, it looks like it might actually do the comics justice. Movie fans, mark your calendars, this is going to be big.

Whiteout (April 24)

In this adaptation of the Greg Rucka/Steve Lieber comic, Kate Beckinsale plays the sole U.S. Marshal posted to Antarctica, investigating a murder with just three days until winter, with its never-ending night. Gabriel Macht (who also plays the Spirit) is a U.N. agent on the same case. Not a lot of info has been released about the film, but the miniseries was nominated for four Eisners.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (May 1)

Is it just me, or is the blush off the X-Men's mutant rose? I'm a huge fan (I even liked the third one) and Hugh Jackman's Wolverine is a truly classic character. But I just can't gin up any enthusiasm for this one. This prequel, set 17 years before X-Men, explores Wolverine's first encounters with Sabretooth and William Stryker, whose Weapon X project turned him into a living weapon. This is the first in a series of planned X-Men Origins movies, and a lot rests on its shoulders; we'll have to see if it can pull it off.

Kick-Ass (TBA 2009)

No release date has been given for Kick-Ass, now filming, but the comic about a dorky high school student who wants to be a superhero is just twisted enough to make it a real break from the usual. Based on a comic written by Mark Millar (who also wrote Wanted, the comic this summer's Angelina Jolie movie was based on), it stars British actor Aaron Johnson as David Lizewski, the high school kid who become the hero "Kick-Ass" by night, and Nicolas Cage and child actor Chloe Moretz as Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, a father-daughter crime fighting team. Cage is kind of the kiss of death these days -- sure, he's a big star, but when's the last time he did anything decent? -- but the concept is so good that my hopes are still high.

Red Sonja (late 2009)

Yes, there was an eighties Red Sonja starring Brigitte Nielsen and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but this one isn't a remake, just a new adaptation of the comic series, a spin-off of Conan the Barbarian. Rose McGowan will play the title role, with her is-it-on, is-it-off boyfriend Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Grindhouse) producing. Posters released at Comic-Con got the fanboys pretty frothed up, but filming doesn't start until the end of the month, so this one could go either way.

It may seem like an awful lot of movies are based on comics these days, but after the truckloads of money they made in 2008, it's only going to get worse. Fortunately, comics aren't just about capes and superpowers any more, though from the box office, it looks like that's what people want. Bring on the Legion of Superpets!