Comic book movies are going stronger than ever on the big screen and their continued success means that long-loved comic book stories are finally being turned into major live action films. Massive stories like The Infinity Gauntlet are coming to the screen and lesser known heroes like Cyborg will be making their debut in the coming years. With so many possibilities now open for massive and expensive film adaptations, long-time comic book fans can truly hope for some of the medium’s greatest stories to come to life in live action (even if that does not define the true worth of comic).
However, the structure of a two hour film, the decades of history that lead to many comic book stories, and the budget-free nature of storytelling in comics means that even the best-loved comic stories may never be made into big screen films. Wish all they want, comic book fans must come to terms with the fact that some of the greatest comic books ever made will not be adapted. And even if they were, the compromises and changes necessary would result in something far different, and likely not nearly as good, as the original story.
Whether it is due to their reliance on the storytelling nature of comic books or the limitations of what a comic book movie can do today, the following 10 comic book stories will never make it to the big screen.
Iron Man: Doomquest
Iron Man and the villainous Doctor Doom clash, but a malfunctioning time machine sends them both back into the time of King Arthur. Now in the past, the two foes join opposing sides – Iron Man on the side of Arthur and Doom on the side of Morgan Le Fay. Combining future technology with ancient magic, two of Marvel Comics’ best characters clash in a strange and wild land that fulfills both sci-fi and fantasy fans’ wishes in a silly but incredibly fun superhero epic.
While this hero and villain rarely clash, Doomquestshows them as two sides of the same coin due to their technologically advanced suits, cunning intellect, and indomitable wills. With the vastly different background of Arthurian legend, the story majorly breaks away from the typical.
Why It Will Never Be Filmed: At the moment, Doctor Doom is owned by Fox Studios while Iron Man is at home with Marvel Studios, which means they would need a cross-studio agreement. But even if Doctor Doom was returned to Marvel’s control, a time travel story that uses the legend of King Arthur would never be the focus of a major studio film due to the major break from the nature of mainstream superhero movies.
Crisis on Infinite Earths
The multiverse of DC Comics is attacked by the mysterious and purely evil Anti-Monitor, who wishes to destroy every alternate reality so only his will remain. With time running out, hundreds of heroes from every reality team up to beat back the villain and his monstrous forces. In the first massive crossover in comic book history, realities were changes, heroes died, worlds were ended, and the world of DC Comics was changed forever in truly epic fashion. While the storytelling may not completely hold up by modern standards, the enormous scope still makes it a compelling read today.
Despite the main reason behind the story – simplify the DC Universe to bring in new readers – the extremely complicated nature of the story means there is a ton of foreknowledge needed to grasp everything that is happening. Still, comic book events don’t get much more fun than this.
Why It Will Never Be Filmed: If most major comic book events are too big for film, then this one is simply too massive to ever be filmed in any way, shape, or form. Consisting of dozens of alternate realities and with hundreds of pre-existing heroes battling against massive forces, a film version would lack any real focus and could not do justice to the humongous scope.
Thor: The God Butcher
One of the newest entries on the list, Jason Aaron’s run on Thor sees The God of Thunder clash with a foe that he first battled as a young warrior far before he wielded Mjolnir. The villain known as The God Butcher is hell bent on killing every god in the universe. Not only that, but flashforwards to the distant future show and old and battle scarred King Thor surviving in an Asgard ruined by The God Butcher. To beat the villain, three Thors from past, present, and future must team up in an all-out future war.
Aaron not only made one of the best modern Thor stories, but one of the hero’s best ever. Everything fans love about Thor is encapsulated here with thrills, massive action, and a truly terrifying villain all in one place.
Why It Will Never Be Filmed: Marvel Studios has had trouble putting together a Thor story on film that does justice to the mythic hero and his many realms. Putting three versions of the hero on screen at the same time in a time travel story that traverses multiple planets is too grand, especially with the interconnective focus that Marvel films have right now. It’s a shame, since a great version would top most of their on-screen ideas so far.
After years of scheming, a dying Doctor Octopus switches brains with Peter Parker, leaving the hero to die in his broken body while assuming the identity of Spider-Man. A last second act by Parker imbues Doc Ock with his heroic memories, but the hero dies, leaving Ock as the new Superior Spider-Man, who is dedicated to being a better hero than his enemy ever was. With no one knowing that Doc Ock has taken over the body of the hero, both heroes and villains are left to deal with a Spider-Man that is far different than his previous incarnation.
As a hero with more than 50 years of stories that trade on similar themes, the massive switch within The Superior Spider-Man makes it a refreshing and unique take on the burden of being the hero. It’s unique, unpredictable, and great fun.
Why It Will Never Be Filmed: Turning the star hero into a conflicted villain while still keeping the same actor, yet making him portray a completely different version? That’s enough to make any movie studio executive immediately turn down the idea. But even if the idea was greenlit, how could the story of a villain turned hero who wrestles with the idea of doing good despite his true motivations be satisfying in a two-hour runtime? It would disappoint both fans of the story and casual audiences who just want a fun Spider-Man movie.
Writer and artist Art Spiegelman chronicles the life of his father, who survived in a Jewish concentration camp during the Holocaust. Not just a straight biography, Maus shows his father’s harrowing journey through countless atrocities while Spiegelman himself shows his difficult relationship with the man as he interviews him. In addition, this true tail is told in an anthropomorphic form, with Jews portrayed as mice, Nazis as cats, Americans as dogs, and many more nationalities given various portrayals.
Spiegelman made something that is deeply personal but also crucial for understanding the toll of the Holocaust. The mastery of comic book storytelling on display here shows the unique value of the medium and makes it one that everyone, fan or not, should read.
Why It Will Never Be Filmed: This is one of the perfect examples of why some comic books should not be adapted to a different medium. The metaphorical nature of the anthropomorphism used works wonders on the page, but may be difficult to interpret to film without losing the real meaning. Plus, the layers of storytelling on display would likely be axed for a film version, which would lose much of the emotional impact that has made Maus into one of the best and most important comic books ever made.
Batman: The Long Halloween
An epic mystery that unfolds over the span of a year, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween is a retelling of the early days of Batman. Here, The Dark Knight forges a partnership with Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent, who work to take down Gotham’s mob bosses. Meanwhile, the mysterious killer only known as Holiday strikes once a month and the many freakish supervillains well known by fans begin to take over the city for the first time. Part detective story and part tragedy, this miniseries encapsulates everything readers love about Batman.
Since it takes place outside of the regular comic book continuity, The Long Halloween can be read by anyone only somewhat familiar with Batman. Given the enormous history of the character and his many villains and sidekicks, a standalone story can be incredibly difficult with Batman, but the best ones are transcendent.
Why It Will Never Be Filmed: In order to fit a typical film runtime, the sheer amount of characters and story packed into The Long Halloween would need to be severely trimmed, which would cut out much of its appeal and the cavalcade of villains that thrilled fans. Not only that, but the Batman/Gordon/Dent team up was cannibalized for The Dark Knight. Finally, the focus on making a DC Comics cinematic universe basically makes any this standalone early days Batman tale invalid from the get-go.
A self-contained miniseries free from continuity by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, All Star Superman centers on the final year of The Man of Steel. During a rescue on the surface of the sun, Superman is overdosed with solar radiation, which gives him greater powers than ever but also means he will die in one year. In that time, Kal-El works to make the most of his limited days by saving lives, making the world a better place, and fulfilling the dreams of his loved ones, all while Lex Luthor schemes to end him once and for all in this story that reflect both Greek myth and the lengthy history of Superman.
It’s not easy making a great Superman story. The incredible powers and pure heart of the hero can mean that his adventures are too predictable. Here, Morrison embraces these qualities for an epic tale that doesn’t compromise the nature of The Man of Steel, but elevates everything else to fit the hero.
Why It Will Never Be Filmed: Too big. Too many ideas. Too standalone. Too different from the mainsteam superhero film. Take your pick. It’s unfortunate that one of the greatest Superman stories ever made that encapsulates everything great about the hero is out of the question as a live action movie. Yes, this was adapted as a straight-to-video cartoon, but that is as close to the big screen that All Star Superman will ever get.
Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon
What does Hawkeye do when he’s not with The Avengers? Matt Fraction and David Aja chronicle the everyday life of Clint Barton – the hero who just can’t catch a break. Teamed with Kate Bishop (also codenamed Hawkeye), these two heroes get in loads of trouble while also protecting the New York apartment they wrestled from the control of some comically mean mobsters. Full of style, thrilling, and loads of fun, it turned Hawkeye from C-list Avenger to one of the leading Marvel heroes of the modern era. Plus, everyone’s favorite mutt, Pizza Dog.
Rather than high stakes adventuring, Fraction’s run on Hawkeye focused on the hero’s brokenness combined with the fledgling heroism of Kate. The small focus mixed with the humanity at its core means that Hawkeye is a far more relatable and interesting hero.
Why It Will Never Be Filmed: As a key character in the major Avengers films that doesn’t have enough appeal to power his own movie yet is portrayed by major actor, Hawkeye exists as a character that can neither warrant a solo film or revert to a television series like Daredevil. In addition, My Life as a Weapon is the perfect example of a story that exists outside of the normal superhero action epic thanks to its focus on small character moments. Plus, it’s artistic and quirky art is impossible to translate into live action.
Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil
A modern retelling of the origin of the magical hero Captain Marvel, Jeff Smith’s Shazam: The Monster Society of Evilhas a real old school charm and is done in a wonderful manner that is truly enjoyable for readers of every age. Tracking young orphan Billy Batson as he is granted powers by The Wizard, the young boy is able to transform into the hero Captain Marvel by shouting “Shazam!” Quickly confronted with a monstrous menace, Billy must learn the true extent of his powers to save the world in this outright fun adventure.
Rather than focus on the dark and gritty focus of many modern superhero comics or add real world issues, The Monster Society of Evil is filled with throwback charm and wonderful characters. This is a comic that will be relevant both today and decades from now.
Why It Will Never Be Filmed: Smith’s The Monster Society of Evilis the charming and old school superhero tale that would have been perfect in the era of Richard Donner’s Superman. But DC Comics’ focus on darker and more serious fare on both film and comics is why this miniseries is both a standout series and one that will never make it to film. The quaint and joyful charms of the story put it outside the realm of today’s big screen comics. In addition, the modern changes made to Captain Marvel (now Shazam), mean this classic version of the hero is even further removed from his present version.
Hulk: Future Imperfect
What happens when The Hulk is confronted with a future version of himself that is not only evil, but has taken over the world? All-out war! One of the seminal stories from writer Peter David’s massive run on The Incredible Hulk, the storyline known as Future Imperfect sees an intelligent Hulk who combines Bruce Banner’s intelligence with his alter ego’s strength thrown into the future to confront The Maestro. Every bit as strong and intelligent and his present form, The Maestro is The Hulk gone completely evil. Having killed every hero on Earth, The Maestro stands unopposed, with only the heroic Hulk able to stop him.
Having an intelligent Hulk adds a new wrinkle to the typical story involving the monstrous hero, especially given the nature of having him face a possible horrible version of himself. The added layers given more meaning to the huge action set pieces that follow.
Why It Will Never Be Filmed: It is incredibly clear that The Hulk is a very difficult character to bring to the big screen, especially for a film solely focused on the misunderstood hero. If a sci-fi epic like the fan favorite Planet Hulk can never make it to the big screen, then the chances for Future Imperfect is far from possible. A smart Hulk, an evil future Hulk, and lots of time travel? This classic story is well out of the purview of a blockbuster movie that would need hundreds of millions of dollars to do right. Like most of the stories on this list, the rewards of an adaptation done right would be mind-blowing, but the risks are too great for studios.