Creator ownership and the generation of comic book movie properties

What we have here is a chart looking at the English language theatrically-released films released since 1982 that are based on English language comic book and graphic novel properties, sorted in order of the date of first publication of the property, color-coded for whether the property was creator-owned, corporate-owned (generally by the publisher), or co-owned by both.

The 1982 date was chosen to reflect a shift that was going on in comics at the time. I’m specifically linking the date to Destroyer Duck #1, which showed that creator owned material could be run in a standard-format American comic book. This was not the invention of the creator-owned comic, of course, but it was a strong change in the air.

What can be seen is that once creator ownership was on the table, the moviable properties were largely works that creators maintained ownership of. Of the large mainstream publishers that preexisted the change, Marvel and Archie have published no new company-owned properties that have reached the big screen. DC has published four over those 30 years. In contrast, in just the 10 years preceding 1982, Marvel launched 6 purely-Marvel-owned properties that would later become movies, including a couple that were made into movies within 15 years after creation (so it’s not merely a matter that company-owned concepts take longer to reach the screen – although they seem to – that prevents post-1982 Marvel material from showing up.)


  • The source is derived from the Wikipedia article “List of films based on English-language comics” and its completeness is dependent on that.
  • Not having a long time for research, the ownership status is sometimes based on my assumptions, informed by the companies involved and the practice of the time. Corrections are welcome.
  • I counted as “Corporate-owned” anything created as work-for-hire and anything independently-created where the property was sold to the corporation before publication (example: Superman), but not anything where the creator or heirs may have sold to a corporation at some later date.
  • I counted as creator-owned things that may have been published as copyright by the publisher, but with a reversion clause where the property reverted before the film was licensed (Road to Perdition.)
  • There were judgment calls on what to count as the property creation date, for items like Green Lantern and The Losers, where the property name had been used by the owner on what might be viewed as multiple properties.
  • Judgement calls were also made on what counts as a comic book property; both the inclusion of Red Sonja and the exclusion of Aliens Vs. Predator are arguable.
  • I recognize only one property per film, as that’s the central thing that caused it to be made. So, for example, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the Wolverine property, not the X-Men (despite their presence in the title) nor Deadpool.


Published in: on June 14, 2012 at 5:14 am  Comments (25)  

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  1. Fascinating. I’ve been saying much the same thing but it’s interesting to see it laid out like that.

    I’d be interested to see it mapped with TV properties, too — while there have been plenty of TV iterations of Batman, the X-Men, et al, I’d say TMNT and The Tick loom pretty large too. (I guess by your criteria Static Shock would be creator-owned even though I believe DC owned it outright by the time the TV show was made?)

    Heavy Metal JUST misses your cutoff, since the movie was released in ’81. And I’m guessing that Heavy Metal 2000 is not listed because it was direct-to-video?

    • Static Shock would fall into a tricky category like Timecop and The Mask, where part of the creative team has substantial ownership of the company (without it being the sole or primary source of product, a la Cartoon Books or Aardvark-Vanaheim), but I’d probably still stamp it company-owned (even without opening up the can of “who really created Static”, which involves disagreement between two people whom I both respect and who are both too deceased for the argument to serve much point but to sadden me.) Heavy Metal 2000 was kept off as was all direct-to-video material, but would qualify as creator-owned; while the title was publisher-owned, the actual content was based on creator-owned material. There’s lots from both sides of the ownership line on TV, even some post-1982 company-owned stuff (Ultraforce, Generation X, Night Man), but even there, creator-owned would likely win (Painkiller Jane, Witchblade, Walking Dead, Sam & Max, Fish Police, Big Guy And Rusty, Spawn, and so forth.)

  2. Also interesting is that of the post-1982 movies, Nine — so far — have resulted in multiple films — Hollywood’s much-desired ‘franchise’.

    (by my count: Turtles, Crow, MIB, Sin City, Hellboy, 300, 30 Days, Red, Kick-Ass)

    • Good point that creator-owned sources are not franchise-proof… although I’m avoiding counting anything until actually released.

  3. Given that the vast majority of comic book properties were adapted to film after 1982, doesn’t this simply show that most post-1982 creations are Creator Owned?

    When the adaptation(s) occured might give us a better idea if there is a trend. But my guess is that the vast number of properties that never made it to the screen – Corporate or Creator Owned – are going to be the iceberg that sinks any meaningful conclusions.

    • I don’t think it simply shows that most post-1982 properties were creator-owned. The big publishers certainly continued to offer up new properties, continued to be the source of funding that would seem at to generate new material, continued to appear to have extra “ins” with Hollywood… and if it’s simply that they’re generating fewer usable properties than their position would suggest, might that not show that companies that supposedly depend so heavily on licensing have been focusing their comics line on more comics featuring the same characters, rather than fertilizing new ground? There is ONE movie released from something Marvel (themselves, not a company they later bought out) originally published post 1982, the creator-owned Kick-Ass, which means Marvel as a publisher has fewer entries on this list than not just next-size-down competitors Dark Horse and Image, but fewer than much-further-down-the-ladder Oni and Fantagraphics. I really don’t think that in terms of generating moviable properties, they want to be tied with Renegade Press.

  4. Hi Nat!

    I made this list some time ago, from several sources. Looks like there’s a few missing from yours.

    Also, I’d say that “The Losers,” being a Vertigo book, is co-owned in the same way as “30 Days of Night” from IDW.

    I’d move “Red” being Wildstorm to the co-owned column.

    Also, the creator of Men in Black no longer receives money for MiB, I don’t think (not sure about this one) so it should possibly be in the corporate-owned column.

    TMNT is now corporate-owned. Peter Laird sold the rights to Nickelodeon.

    • My point is that these were created as creator-owned or co-owned properties, as I note in the caveats; Men In Black was creator co-owned according to the copyright registration, TMNT was of course creator-owned at inception and first publication (and when all of the movies were released, although one creator had bought out the other by the last one). According to DC’s website, Red is “© Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner.” There is no similar exception for The Losers, which is derived from an older DC property anyway, so I think it’s unlikely it’s partly creator-owned.

      I’m not seeing anything on your list that qualifies for mine which is not listed; our limitations are different (you include comic strip-based like Garfield, things where the source material was not originally in English like Dylan Dog, and sequels, whereas I’m only listing properties and thus only list the first film from each property during the time period.)

      • Hi Nat,
        Almost positive the modern iteration of The Losers is at least a creator-participation property. It’s certainly not work-for-hire. I’m also almost positive DC co-owns the trademark for Red, like all Wildstorm properties; no former Wildstorm book can, say, jump ship and move to Image, even if they wanted to.

        Also, the created property for “Constantine” should be “Hellblazer” rather than “John Constantine”; John Constantine being the character’s name, rather than the property’s name.

        Noted on your exceptions of “property originally published in English; comic books only; movie made after 1982.”

      • Steve: DC says on their copyright page that RED is trademarked to Ellis and Hamner. I’ll take their word over your assumption. They also make no exception to their blanket copyright and trademark there for The Losers, even though they bother to mention older projects. I fully expect its creator-participation, but that’s true of even new material in WFH books at DC.

        The claim that no former Wildstorm book can be published anywhere else must come as a surprise to the folks at IDW, who sure think they’re publishing Danger Girl. It can be a mistake to assume that all projects done under the same imprint have the same deal.

      • Danger Girl was a “Cliffhanger” imprint book, which operated under different rules than Wildstorm books. Similarly, Battle Chasers was also able to move to another publisher.

        New WFH books at DC are not “creator-participation”. They’re work-for-hire books that involve royalties, which is not remotely the same thing.

        The “Constantine” movie was based on the “Hellblazer” property, not John Constantine as he operated in the Swamp Thing book beforehand.

        Anyhow, I’m done nitpicking. Carry on. 🙂

      • Oh, and John Constantine was around for years before the “Hellblazer” term was applied.

      • Steven: royalties that include licensing monies are indeed a form of creator financial participation.

  5. Interesting, Nat, and you can add one more creator-owned feature to the 90s if you care to, FAUST: LOVE OF THE DAMNED in 1999, (Filmax/Lions Gate)

  6. David: I know Faust had a festival show or two; was it ever released to theaters? I couldn’t find record of it when I checked, but I may have missearched. (Its existence is properly noted at Wikipedia.)

    • It had a theatrical release globally OUTSIDE the U.S. It was a Spanish production.

  7. Pretty sure that FROM HELL movie 2001 was creator owned.

    • Yes, and it’s listed as such – in 1991, when From Hell first appeared.

  8. Where’s Fritz The Cat?

    Also, you list only comic books, but what about creator owned comic strips? Even discounting short cartoons like Popeye, there were comic strips adapted into live action films all the way back to the 1920s (Ella Cinders).

    And I realize it may have been beyond the scope of your original research, but it might be helpful if someone could list when a property was first produced for theatrical release & in what format. After all, there were 17 Superman cartoons and 2 Superman serials before the first standalone Superman feature (S v The Mole Men, which served as a backdoor pilot for the TV series)

  9. And of course now I see that I left the film Zoom, based on a property that started as a comic book (Zoom’s Academy for the Super Gifted) before heading over to prose books. 2000, creator-owned. I will update the chart, but not right now.

  10. One thing that should be taken into account is how many of those oldest characters appeared in other media before 1982. Batman, to name but one obvious example, had movie serials in the forties, a live-action show in the sixties, a solo cartoon in the seventies, and a featured role on Superfriends through the seventies and eighties. If you’re the Time Warner of today, doesn’t it make more sense to exploit a character with decades of popularity and 100% name recognition than greenlight a movie for someone like Hitman?

  11. I have now dragged out my copy of The Losers #1, and find that all copyrights and trademarks belong to DC. So that would appear to be company-owned.

    One way to look at this information: the big publishers now both have some form of incentive for creating company-owned properties that prove to have licensing legs, and they have strong licensing departments and are owned by movie studios, which would seem likely to help getting movies made. So, are you better off creating for Marvel to own, for DC to own, or for yourself to own? I can’t help but to think that well, yes, Deadpool appears to be getting a movie made, so there’s a post-1982 Marvel-owned character getting a film… but that character was introduced in 1991. While I’m sure I wouldn’t mind getting a chunk of money a couple decades from now, I’d rather see the money sooner, as the creators of Red, Wanted, Scott Pilgrim, and Kick-Ass presumably did.

  12. movie review

    Creator ownership and the generation of comic book movie properties | Nat’s TV or Not TV

  13. […] not an exhaustive list (see Nat Gertler for that), but it's an eye-opening one. Marvel and DC have a strong library of characters — from […]

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