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Boy, what would Hollywood do without comic books to keep them going? Between "Iron Man," "Spider-Man," "The X-Men" and "The Dark Knight" franchises, comic books have provided the studios with some of their biggest and most reliable hits of the past decade or more. These days, imagining movies without comic books is almost like imagining movies without sound or color.
With that in mind, then, here's our comprehensive look at the upcoming comic book adaptations currently making their way towards theaters (starting this weekend with "The Green Hornet"). Because these caped crusaders aren't just fighting crime -- they're also fighting for the future of cinema.
(Note: A couple high-profile projects, such as "Sin City 2" and the "Fantastic Four" reboot, aren't included below because there's little-to-no information yet available on them.)
'The Green Hornet'
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Attached: Seth Rogen, Christoph Waltz, Jay Chou
Status: "The Green Hornet" has a long and tortured Hollywood history, as over the last 20 years, everyone from George Clooney to Kevin Smith has tried to make the movie. Seth Rogen and director Michael Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") have finally succeeded thanks to a unique semi-comic take on the crime fighter. His sidekick, the martial arts master Kato -- who was played by Bruce Lee in the 1960s "Green Hornet" TV series -- is handled this time by Chinese pop star Jay Chou.
Release Date: January 14, 2011
'Dylan Dog: Dead of Night'
Attached: Brandon Routh, Sam Huntington, Taye Diggs
Status: Brandon Routh was once Superman, but this time he's playing a comic book hero significantly less well known by American audiences: Dylan Dog, supernatural private detective. "Dylan Dog" may not be a household name in the U.S., but he's incredibly popular over in his home country of Italy. Comic book fans curious to see what the hype is all about may be left hanging for a little while, though; despite the fact that the film is finished, the March release date is still unverified and no official trailer has been released. Here's hoping.
Release Date: March, 2011
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Attached: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins
Status: Marvel's enormous shared-world experiment enters a whole new dimension -- literally -- with "Thor," a high-octane action extravaganza featuring Chris Hemsworth as the god of thunder. Cast out of Asgard by the king of the gods, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and sent to Earth to learn humility, Thor falls for a human nurse (Natalie Portman) and gets mixed up with those guys from SHIELD that have been popping up in the "Iron Man" movies. Whether or not the "Iron Man" crowd will show up for a fantasy epic featuring a mostly unknown lead playing a mostly unknown hero is just part of Marvel's billion dollar -amble. We have to at least give them props for chutzpah.
Release Date: May 6, 2011
Attached: Paul Bettany, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Karl Urban
Status: Don't worry if you've never heard of the source material "Priest" is based on; pretty much nobody outside of Asia has ever heard of it either. That's because "Priest," which features Paul Bettany as a warrior-priest in an alternate Earth ravaged by a war with vampires, is based on a Korean comic book. The casting, at least, looks solid; whether or not this will be the next cult hit or just another "Jonah Hex"-style fiasco, however, remains to be seen.
Release Date: May 13, 2011
'X-Men: First Class'
Attached: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence
Status: The first "X-Men" trilogy from 20th Century Fox made a bundle of cash, but by the time "X-Men: The Last Stand" came out five years ago, it was clear that the series had run its course both creatively and at the box office. The studio's high concept plan to re-launch the franchise: prequels. Thus "X-Men: First Class" tells the story of how a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) went from fast friends to mortal enemies as Prof. X and Magneto. If this film, which also introduces the first group of young X-Men, turns out to be popular, expect a whole new series featuring this lesser known -- and lower cost -- cast.
Release Date: June 3, 2011
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Attached: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard
Status: After years as a second banana, Green Lantern has recently become the most popular character published by DC Comics, which makes the timing of this release especially serendipitous. Starring Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, a fearless test pilot who is chosen to become to the sheriff of Earth by a group of intergalactic cops, "Green Lantern" is Warner Bros.' first real attempt to capitalize on the vast DC library of characters. And a lot is riding on this one: If "Green Lantern" becomes DC's version of "Iron Man" -- a lesser known character who becomes a box office superstar -- you can expect to see Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the Justice League given the big screen fast track. It's a heavy burden for one set of abs to bear.
Release Date: June 17, 2011
'Captain America: The First Avenger'
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Attached: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci
Status: Marvel's Sentinel of Liberty does double duty in this film; not only does "Captain America" tell the origin story of comicdom's premier patriotic hero, it also reveals the backstory for the entire line of Marvel movies. So Chris Evans, who plays his latest on-screen superhero (following turns in "Fantastic Four," "Scott Pilgrim," "TMNT" and others), has a lot riding on his newly muscled shoulders: besides anchoring this World War II adventure, he also has to set the stage for 2012's giant crossover film "The Avengers." No pressure, dude.
Release Date: July 22, 2011
'Cowboys & Aliens'
Attached: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde
Status: Based on a little-known indie comic by writer Fred Van Lente and artist Andrew Foley, "Cowboys & Aliens" has become the surprise must-see film of the year thanks to a combination of Comic-Con buzz and a fantastically simple -- and awesome -- premise. And the lineup of talent behind the film doesn't hurt either; directed by "Iron Man's" Jon Favreau, "Cowboys & Aliens" stars Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and "TRON's" Olivia Wilde. This may not have the pedigree of better known properties like "X-Men" and "Green Lantern," but don't be surprised if it turns out to be the surprise hit of the year.
Release Date: July 29, 2011
Attached: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Jason Cope
Status: Movie fans who have seen Sylvester Stallone's 1995 take on "Judge Dredd" are probably wondering why on Earth anyone would make film another version. Comic fans who have read the hugely influential British source material know exactly why: because it is much, much better than the film showed. And this time around, the producers -- who have tapped "Lord of the Rings" stalwart Karl Urban to play Judge Dredd -- have vowed to remain true to that original British aesthetic, so much so, in fact, that the film has only been given a UK release date so far. We're sure curious Americans will eventually get a chance to see this movie as well, though.
Release Date: December 1, 2011 (UK)
Attached: Norman Reedus
Status: Director Stephen Norrington is no stranger to superhero movies, having previously brought the surprise hit "Blade" and the surprise crapfest "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" to the big screen. This time around, though, he's taking on a franchise that always has a strong cult following; 1994's "The Crow" is considered by many to be a seminal moment in goth history, meaning fans already wary of the idea of a remake were particularly flabbergasted when news broke that Mark Wahlberg had been offered the lead role once filled by the tragic Brandon Lee. Wahlberg has reportedly passed on "The Crow," however, leaving the title role open and making it unlikely they will meet their goal of finishing the film in time for a 2011 release.
Release Date: 2011
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Attached: James McAvoy
Status: 2008's "Wanted" turned heads and opened wallets thanks to an all-star cast (Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie, for starters) and some cutting -dge direction from Russian auteur Timur Bekmambetov ("Night Watch"). The departure of Freeman and Jolie hasn't stopped production on the sequel, however, as James McAvoy is set to return as the world's unlikeliest hitman. Just what this will be about -- or when it will actually be released -- is still up in the air, but we do know one thing: They're going to need to budget for a lot of bullets.
Release Date: 2011
'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance'
Attached: Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Violante Placido, Eva Mendes
Status: Despite widespread critical firebombing, the original "Ghost Rider," which was released back in 2007, turned into a modest box office success. That seems to be enough for Marvel and Columbia, who have teamed up to bring "Ghost Rider' back to the big screen. Nic Cage is set to reprise his role as Johnny Blaze, a stuntman who turns into a skull-faced, motorcycle riding demon of justice whenever evil is afoot. Plot details for "Spirit of Vengeance" are still sketchy, but really, if you've seen the first movie you can probably guess most of it anyway.
Release Date: February 17, 2012
Attached: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo
Status: This is The Big One, as Marvel tries to pull off something never before done in motion pictures, uniting the stars of several different film franchises into one giant blockbuster. "Iron Man's" Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson join "Thor's" Chris Hemsworth and "Captain America's" Chris Evans -- along with Mark Ruffalo, who replaces "The Hulk's" Edward Norton -- to form Earth's Mightiest Heroes, "The Avengers." "The Hurt Locker's" Jeremy Renner will also be onboard as Hawkeye the archer in what will either be the crowning achievement for Marvel Studios or possibly (but not hopefully not) the biggest bust in movie history. Comic fans are already counting down the hours in anticipation of finding out the answer.
Release Date: May 4, 2012
'Men in Black III'
Attached: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson, Jemaine Clement
Status: One of the franchises that kicked off the whole comic book movie craze returns after a full decade when "Men in Black III" hits screens next summer. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are back as Agent J and Agent K, the two premiere government agents assigned to protect Earth from aliens -- and vice versa. "Flight of the Conchords" star Jemaine Clement plays Boris, a villain who uses time travel to try and kill the younger Agent K back in the past (played by Josh Brolin). Sounds kinda badass.
Release Date: May 25, 2012
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Untitled 'Spider-Man' Reboot
Attached: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans
Status: Boy, the summer of 2012 is going to be pretty hardcore, isn't it? Sandwiched between heavy hitters "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises" is another little comic book movie you may have heard of: "Spider-Man," which aims to return the webslinger to the top of the movie heap by rebooting the franchise back to square one. "The Social Network's" Andrew Garfield stars as Peter Parker, while "Zombieland's" Emma Stone continues her conquest of Hollywood by playing Pete's number one squeeze, Gwen Stacy. We'll say one thing about this new "Spider-Man:" If the cast is any indication, it's got a good chance of topping the original, which is saying something.
Release Date: July 3, 2012
'The Dark Knight Rises'
Attached: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy
Status: You guys remember "The Dark Knight," right? Three summers ago it was only the second biggest film in the history of the entire world, thanks to a fantastic story from director Chris Nolan, a stoic and subtle turn by lead Christian Bale and an Academy Award-winning performance by the late, great Heath Ledger. It goes without saying, then, that anticipation is already through the roof for the third -- and possibly final -- film in Nolan's Batman trilogy, especially after the runaway success of his last movie, "Inception." By the way, 'Inception's" Tom Hardy has also been added to the cast of Part 3, probably as a secret supervillain. My god, why can't 2011 be over already?
Release Date: July 20, 2012
'Superman: Man of Steel'
Attached: Director Zach Snyder
Status: Comic book director extraordinaire Zach Snyder ("300," "Watchmen") gets his crack at the first and greatest superhero of them all, Superman. Just what the movie is going to be about or who is going to be in it, though, is still kind of up in the air. We do know that the cast of 2006's disappointing "Superman Returns," which included Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth and Kevin Spacey, is unlikely to return. Given Snyder's penchant for sticking as closely as possible to the source material, we figure this will probably be a very faithful adaptation of comic book legend John Byrne's popular 1986 revamp of Superman's origin. Expect to hear more as we get closer to the film's 2012 release date.
Release Date: December, 2012
'Kick-Ass 2: Balls to the Wall'
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Attached: Chloe Moretz, Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Status: Despite massive fanboy joy over last year's "Kick-Ass," the film wasn't exactly a hit, barely turning a profit domestically. But Lionsgate apparently feels there's some value in buzz, because they've already announced production on a sequel, to be subtitled "Balls to the Wall." Of course, the ballsiest character in the film is likely to once again be Chloe Moretz's breakout pop icon Hit Girl; details of the production are being held close to the vest, but it can safely be assumed that the movie will pick up where the first one left off, with Christopher Mintz-Plasse's Red Mist poised to make his big move.
Release Date: 2012
Attached: Ryan Reynolds
Status: Can one man anchor two different superhero franchises for two different comic book companies simultaneously? That's what we may find out with "Deadpool," which stars "Green Lantern's" Ryan Reynolds as Marvel's "Merc With a Mouth." Reynolds, of course, debuted the character of Deadpool in 2009's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," though that version of fast-talking mercenary Wade Wilson ended up losing his head at the end of the film -- literally. Just how they'll work around that little problem is unclear, but hey, it's comic books. Nobody really stays dead anyway.
Release Date: 2012
Attached: Hugh Jackman
Status: "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" was received somewhat tepidly both at the box office and by bored fans, but there's no doubt that Hugh Jackman's take on mutant berserker Wolverine is still popular internationally. So it's no surprise that 20th Century Fox has given the go-ahead for this new sequel (or prequel… or whatever), which will take the Canadian mutant worldwide, as Logan searches for inner-balance by heading to Japan to train with ninjas. Sure, it sounds dumb when we put it like that, but the comic books this story is based on (which were done by "Sin City's" Frank Miller) added a new dimension to Wolverine's one-note personality. Should be fun to see.
Release Date: 2012