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The best horror comic book movie adaptations for people who love to cross genres

By Rafael Motamayor
The Crow 1994

It still feels weird that we haven't had a big comic book movie in theaters since Birds of Prey back in February, especially since we've had nine or 10 comic book movies a year for the past couple of years. Even when we did get new comic book movies, they were starting to look pretty similar to each other, both in terms of storylines pandering to future franchises and also in visual styles.

That being said, every once in a while we do get a new comic book movie that changes what we think of the medium, movies that aren't afraid to go to darker and scarier places. Now that we've fully entered the Halloween season, it's the perfect season to watch a horror comic book movie. And in case you don't know which one to pick, we've gathered the best, gnarliest, scariest, coolest, and even the campiest horror comic book movie adaptations.

01. The Crow (1994)

What better film to manifest the spirit of Halloween than Alex Proyas' The Crow? It's a film that exudes visual style and perfectly walks the fine line between horror and tragedy. Adapted from James O'Barr's graphic novel of the same name, the film focuses on a musician who is resurrected after a violent death in order to enact revenge on those who murdered him and his fiancée.

Of course, The Crow has become nearly synonymous with tragedy. The original graphic novel was born as a form of therapy by O'Barr to process the loss of his girlfriend when he was 18, and the movie will always be remembered because of star Brandon Lee's untimely death while shooting the film. This gives the film an air of melancholy that accentuates The Crow's dark and stylish vibe. The film is a feast for the eyes and the grittiest film on this list by a mile. You think Batman is dark? This movie makes Batman look like a kid in Disneyland, and arguably kickstarted the '90s Goth culture (in the movies at least) with a badass soundtrack that includes The Cure, Joy Division, and Nine-Inch-Nails, and even more black leather than The Matrix movies. 

02. Constantine (2005)

Though it was maligned by critics and comics purists during its initial release, mostly because it changed John Constantine's look from a blonde English bloke to a jet black-haired and very American occult detective, Constantine is one of the best DC movies of the early '00s. Adapting arguably the greatest and best-known arc from Garth Ennis and Will Simpson's Hellblazer comic, "Dangerous Habits," this 2005 film sells its horror-inspired world through a detective noir narrative. Keanu Reeves may not look like Sting, but still sells Constantine's tired, experienced exorcist by adding a bit of a Philip Marlowe-esque flair.

God in the film acts a bit like a surrogate femme fatale, an unseen but calculating figure that serves as a constant foil to our protagonist, while Peter Stormare plays arguably the greatest Lucifer we've seen put to film. Constantine's Satan is not a pitchfork-wearing demon, but a man in a pristine white suit who keeps leaking boiling tar from his fare feet, constantly taunting John Constantine with gentility and selling the idea that people would willingly and easily sell their soul to this Satan in exchange for favors. Even the film's version of Hell is unlike anything we'd seen at that point, reimagining as a desolated nuclear wasteland version of our world. 

03. Hellboy (2004)

Guillermo del Toro has made a career out of working with monsters and other creatures, so when he took on the highest-budget movie of his career at that point, he made Hellboy a menagerie of horror creatures and great action. Loosely adapting Mike Mignola's Hellboy: Seed of Destruction, the film makes Hellboy the equivalent of a lovesick teenager living in a luscious and spectacular world of monsters and demons.

Hellboy is definitely on the more pulpy side of horror compared to other entries in this list, and like many of del Toro's projects, it manages to be dark without being gritty. Indeed, del Toro infuses Hellboy with his signature optimistic love of monsters, and the result is a movie of dangerous creatures, some of which trying to fight back against the evils of mankind. The visuals, especially the creature effects, are a sight to behold, and if you want a Halloween film that won't give you nightmares, but still embraces the spirit of the season, Hellboy is a perfect choice.

04. Akira (1988)

Though not strictly a horror film, Akira is undeniably a masterpiece, and it does feature some pretty disturbing body horror imagery. Katsuhiro Otomo's seminal work of animation is based on his own 1982 manga, which was one of the first manga to be fully translated into English thanks to Marvel Comics. The story of a biker gang leader trying to save his friend from government experiments, before realizing the experiment turned his friend into a monstrous and omnipotent god is usually regarded as a masterpiece of cyberpunk science fiction. We're not here to deny that, but it's also worth pointing out how Cronenbergian the film's third act is.

Once Tetsuo, the kid being experimented upon, begins to lose the grasp of his power, he starts getting physically consumed by his enormous power. The transformation is utterly terrifying, with Tetsuo's body morbidly morphing into grotesque proportions. Even before that, however, the film is full of hyper-violence and nightmarish iconography, like when a bunch of physic kids cause Tetsuo to hallucinate a giant, zombified versions of children's toys that are instant nightmare fuel.

05. Blade (1998)

The film that revived Marvel's reputation in film, as well as all but kickstarted an action-horror genre, Blade was the film that heralded a new era in superhero films. Director Stephen Norrington and writer David S. Goyer's Blade, with Wesley Snipes' half-vampire determined to wipe out every vampire from the face of the Earth, gave us all the action from a modern superhero film, while adding the blood and the creatures of a horror film. 

The '90s gothic aesthetic of Blade, full of black leather and slow-motion VFX, works wonders with its vampiric roots. That it also managed to gracefully blend martial arts-action with bloodsucking gore and horror made this one hell of a crowd-pleaser, and the sequel by Guillermo del Toro even managed to improve upon the first film by making the vampires even scarier. 

06. Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Of the horror comic book movies on this list, Tales from the Crypt is the rare movie that's more horror than comic book. Based on the EC Comics title of the same name, this anthology features five tales of horror, connected with a wraparound featuring a Crypt Keeper. 

The film preceded the popular HBO show of the same name, but the Crypt Keeper of the film was not as funny or macabre. Still, the five shorts are incredibly faithful adaptations of the classic comic book, offering delightful tastes of everything that made EC Comics' Tales from the Crypt necessary reading. Despite a surprising PG rating, this film is scary enough for both kids and grown-ups, with everything from a zombie Peter Cushing to a killer Santa ready to make the jump from your screen, into your nightmares.

07. A History of Violence (2005)

This one isn't really a horror film, but its pedigree and graphic violence makes it a worthy addition to your Halloween watchlist. Body horror master David Cronenberg adapted John Wagner and Vince Locke's 1997 graphic novel A History of Violence and delivered a striking and multi-layered thriller about a reinvented family man struggling to keep his dark and violent past hidden from his family once he is forced to resort to old habits.

Though it doesn't feature creepy creatures or supernatural events, A History of Violence stands out because of the horrific, gnarly, unfetishizing way Cronenberg shoots violence. There's no slow-motion, no fancy camera work, just extremely gritty and devastating violence. A History of Violence may not give you nightmares, but it may certainly make you look away in horror as you follow a man resorting to his most basic instincts and utterly wrecking everyone who stands in his way.

08. Venom (2018)

Yes, you read that right. The 2018 Venom film may not be the R-rated horror film many expected it to be, instead resulting in a Frankenstein's Monster of a film. Still, it has horror qualities, and it's kind of a beautiful mess in its own right.

Venom is primarily inspired by the comic book miniseries Venom: Lethal Protector by David Michelinie, particularly the Planet of the Symbiotes story arc. The film tells the story of a journalist who becomes infected with an alien symbiote and becomes an anti-hero that begrudgingly saves the world while also enjoying a bit of murder on the side. Though some criticized the film's sense of humor, Venom feels like a throwback to the campiest of campy superhero films from before the MCU became a thing. Sure, it's not Alien, but this bro-bastic slapstick comedy will leave you in stitches, making this the palette cleanser for when you want a break from the scarier titles on this list.

09. 30 Days of Night (2007)

When David Slade adapted Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith's comic book of the same name, he finally realized the promise of horror comic books by making an actual horror movie. Taking vampires back to their scary, monstrous roots, the film takes place in a remote Alaskan town preparing for a month-long period of total polar darkness — which is the perfect time for a band of vampires to go treat the town like a buffet. 

30 Days of Night ruthlessly paints its snowy Alaskan town red with blood with a high-octane ride that is constantly delivering brutal kills and even some memorable cinematography. Like 28 Days Later did with zombies, this 2007 film revitalizes the vampire genre by bringing them back to being legitimately scary, blood-sucking villains. If you want a proper horror film that happens to be based on a great horror comic book, this is for you.

10. Spawn (1997)

Back in the '90s, the Spawn comics were so popular they were even outselling Spider-Man at one point, so it's no surprise that the character would eventually make the jump to the big screen. The 1997 film adaptation of Todd McFarlane's comic book series stars Michael Jai White as a mercenary killed by his own team at the request of a demon. Before long, the mercenary is brought back by the same demon so he can lead an army of soldiers from Hell.

Spawn is hyper-violent, and a visual spectacle. The titular character's costume may be a bit over the top, but it looks very faithful to the comic book and its campiness becomes its strength once John Leguizamo's demonic clown character starts stealing every scene he's in. The special effects may not look as they once did, but the film still has a lot of heart and enough creepy visuals to make it a seminal '90s horror superhero film.

11. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

What if you don't really need a horror movie to be scary, or well-written, but you only need some hellish imagery and the madness that Nicolas Cage brings to every role? Then you don't need to look any further than Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. The film serves as a sequel and a pseudo reboot to the 2007 Ghost Rider, still following the motorcycle stuntman-turned demonic seeker of vengeance with a sick ride and a flaming skull.

Sure, this movie isn't really scary, or even horror-lite, but it does feature wildly entertaining and elaborate action scenes, a go-for-broke visual feast full of demonic imagery, and Nicolas Cage giving one of his wildest performances — and we're talking about a character who has a flaming skull for a head. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is over-the-top, it has great makeup effects, a very cool motorcycle, and crazy performances, and what is Halloween if not the time for some craziness?

12. Swamp Thing (1982)

Before he became a legendary filmmaker with A Nightmare on Elm Street, horror master Wes Craven took a shot at directing an adaptation of Swamp Thing. Mind you, this was before Alan Moore reinvented the character, so the film is based on Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson's comic book run. 

Rather than a gothic horror story featuring a true monster like in the comic, Wes Craven's film is inspired by the type of creature film from the 1950s with a romantic twist. This Swamp Thing is not just sympathetic, but a hero saving a girl. This is also not strictly a horror movie, but more of an action movie starring a monster, and yet the film still has fantastic practical creature effects that qualify it as a campy but highly entertaining horror film.