20 Underrated Movies That Prove Comic Books Aren't Just About Superheroes

List Rules
Vote up the best comic book adaptations that don't have a superhero in sight.

There is no denying the impact superhero films have had on the film industry in the last two decades, but these are not the only narratives to find their origins in the pages of comic books. Though rarely receiving the same attention or success as the movies of the MCU or DCEU, these underrated non-superhero comic book adaptations are worth a closer look. With some that are fantasy-based and others dedicated to a more realistic depiction of life, these narratives cover a broad number of topics and approaches, all with roots in comic books.

If film is a visual medium, why not choose a source material with a graphic representation of the narrative? Whether taking inspiration from comic books, graphic novels, or manga, these films are all adapted from publications where illustrations are utilized to help tell the story. And they do this without involving heroes created from radioactive insects, born out of scientific experimentation, or native to alien worlds.

Which of the non-superhero comic book adaptations do you think are most underrated? Vote up your favorites.


  • The Source: The original story comes from Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s 2004 Japanese light novel, All You Need Is Kill, which was adapted to manga by author Ryōsuke Takeuchi and illustrator Takeshi Obata in 2014. A graphic novel adaptation of this manga was later released in North America.

    The Adaptation: Brought to the screen by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), Edge of Tomorrow takes place in a future where the world has been invaded by an advanced alien race, with much of Europe turned into a battleground. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is an inexperienced officer who doesn’t last more than minutes into his first mission. Exposed to an alien’s blood before dying, Cage awakes to find himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop that he reenters each time he perishes. With the help of Special Forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), Cage makes use of the time loop to learn from their mistakes in the fight against the aliens.

    Why It’s Underrated: With the number of time-loop narratives in recent years, not to mention the constant stream of alien movies, some audiences may have dismissed Edge of Tomorrow as just another of each. Although the film did remarkably well internationally, domestic sales weren’t enough to even cover the cost of the budget, despite extremely positive responses from critics and audiences alike.

    201 votes

    Available On:

    subscription

  • 2
    191 VOTES

    The Source: Oldboy was originally a Japanese manga series written by Garon Tsuchiya and illustrated by Nobuaki Minegishi. The comic was first serialized in Japan from 1996 to 1998 before Dark Horse Comics released English-language translations between 2006 and 2007.

    The Adaptation: After being taken and imprisoned for 15 years without any information about his captivity or captors, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is released with the instructions that he must answer these questions within five days. If he discovers the reason he was held prisoner, the culprit responsible promises an opportunity for revenge.

    Why It’s Underrated: Despite it being the second installment in his Vengeance Trilogy, Oldboy was the first introduction to filmmaker Park Chan-wook for most North American viewers. After winning the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and receiving high praise from critics, the film has developed a loyal cult following without ever reaching the level of success it deserves. In 2013, Spike Lee directed an English-language remake of the film, which was poorly received and did little to increase the popularity of the original.

    191 votes
  • 3
    192 VOTES
    Snowpiercer
    Photo: RADiUS-TWC

    The Source: The original story comes from the 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette, which was followed up by three additional volumes. Between 2014 and 2016, the British publishing company Titan Comics released English translations of the four installments, later publishing a prequel series.

    The Adaptation: Taking place in a post-apocalyptic future in which the world has been devastated by the effects of climate change, the Snowpiercer train contains the remainder of humanity struggling to survive. A class system has been established on the train, with lower-class passengers designated to the back of the train. The film follows Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), a lower-class passenger who leads a rebellion against the elite passengers at the front.

    Why It’s Underrated: Snowpiercer served as the English-language debut for South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho and received high praise from critics, despite many audience members only becoming aware of the filmmaker with the release of Parasite in 2019. It was initially planned as a higher-profile release, but creative differences between Bong and Harvey Weinstein led to the latter's decision to cut it down to a much more limited release. It eventually expanded to some additional theaters and VOD after the successful critical response. Although not a massive success, there was enough of an audience to justify a TV series adaptation in 2020.

    192 votes

    Available On:

    subscription

  • 4
    137 VOTES

    The Source: Before it was a film, Ghost World was a graphic novel written by Daniel Clowes. It was serialized in Clowes's comic book series Eightball from 1993 to 1997 before it was published in book form in 1997.

    The Adaptation: Clowes co-wrote the screenplay adaptation with director Terry Zwigoff, whose previous film had been a documentary about another cult cartoonist, R. Crumb. The film follows the misadventures of Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), two apathetic teenagers who decide to pull a prank on a lonely man (Steve Buscemi) after he places a newspaper ad to try and find romance.

    Why It’s Underrated: Ghost World was praised by critics and nominated for an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay but had limited success finding an audience upon initial release. The film has since garnered a cult following and deserves consideration as the film to provide Johansson with her breakout role, earning her a Toronto Film Critics Association Award for best supporting actress.

    137 votes

    Available On:

    subscription

    free

  • 5
    142 VOTES

    The Source: Originally published as a novel in 1999, Battle Royale was adapted into a Japanese manga series in 2000. Both were written by Koushun Takami, with the manga illustrated by Masayuki Taguchi. English translations were published by Tokyopop starting in 2003.

    The Adaptation: Containing a plot sharing a suspicious number of similarities with the later Hunger Games series, the film follows a group of middle school students forced to fight to the death on a deserted island by a dystopian Japanese totalitarian government. The game, comprised of 42 students, is structured to continue until only one child remains alive.

    Why It’s Underrated: Although the film made $25 million in Japan alone, and was released in 22 additional countries, Battle Royale wasn’t distributed in the United States. In 2005, a potential distributor reported that its attempts to buy the North American rights had been halted after lawyers convinced the Japanese production company they might be sued or arrested for the film’s release in the United States, due to similarities to the real-world violence of the Columbine High School mass slaying in 1999. As a result, Battle Royale didn’t have its first North American theatrical run until 2011, 11 years after the initial Japanese release.

    142 votes
  • The Source: The basis for this film was a graphic novel series with the same name, written by Max Allan Collins and illustrated by Richard Piers Rayner. They were published in 1998 by a division of DC Comics, Paradox Press.

    The Adaptation: Taking place during the Great Depression, Road to Perdition follows Chicago mob enforcer Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) in a campaign for revenge against the gangster who wiped out most of his family. Joined by his only surviving son, Michael Sullivan Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin), the two head out on a road trip to seek justice for their biological family against a criminal one.

    Why It’s Underrated: Filmmaker Sam Mendes followed up the Academy Award-winning American Beauty with this gangster drama, but despite strong reviews, Road to Perdition failed to make the same impact. While Conrad L. Hall did posthumously receive an Oscar for best cinematography (which he had also won for American Beauty), the film wasn’t able to match the success of Mendes’s theatrical debut. Within the gangster genre, Road to Perdition remains a hidden gem often looked over.

    178 votes

    Available On:

    subscription