8 Massive Franchises You Didn’t Realize Started As Comic Books

As a result of the success of the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes, comic book movies have never been more popular and it has become hard to imagine a world without them.

With film adaptations of some of the most obscure comic books like Guardians of the Galaxy becoming box-office behemoths, a successful adaptation can quickly become extremely lucrative both for studios and for comic book publishers.

However, these adaptations can often prove to be a double-edged sword, with some creators failing to reap the rewards having produced the basis of a successful Hollywood blockbuster.

Whether it be a case of the adaptation diverging so far from the original, the franchise being rebooted so many times the origins are lost or even filmmakers failing to provide any nods to their inspiration, there are many ways that a cult comic can be relegated to live in the shadow of their adaptation.

From some of the most iconic cartoon characters of all time to some of the most well-known film franchises, it seems as if there is no escape from the power of Hollywood – even as it overshadows the source material entirely.

8. The Smurfs

Columbia Pictures

Despite originating as supporting characters in Belgian cartoonist Peyo’s popular comic series, Johan and Peewit, The Smurfs has gone on to become one of the most recognisable franchises in the world, with an enormous range of themed merchandise as well as numerous film and TV adaptations.

As a result of their eponymous Hanna-Barbera-produced animated TV series, which first aired on NBC in 1981, The Smurfs were launched into mainstream popular culture and have resided there ever since.

Following the TV series’ success, the franchise diversified into numerous media, including music, video games, theme park rides, and even a Smurfs on Ice show in Ice Capades’ travelling entertainment shows.

The franchise has also received considerable success with feature films, including Sony Pictures’ live-action/computer-generated films – 2011’s The Smurfs and its 2013’s sequel The Smurfs 2 – which collectively grossed over $900 million and featured Neil Patrick Harris and Katy Perry in leading roles.

7. GI Joe


Comic strips and books based on a G.I. Joe character have existed since his comic book debut in the June 1942 issue of Yank Magazine – a World War II US army weekly.

However, the character failed to become widely recognisable until US toy company Hasbro licensed the GI Joe character in 1965 and produced a range of 12″ action figures.

Following the success of the original toy line, a revival of the character was undertaken in 1982 with the creation of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero brand which became a global phenomenon during the 1980s and 1990s.

This new range of action figures received considerable attention due to the accompanying major Marvel comic series, created by Larry Hama, which established the mythos around the character and spawned the successful animated TV series of the same name which aired from 1985 to 1986.

Hasbro would later continue to expand the franchise to include video games and, more infamously, two derided live-action feature films in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and 2013’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

6. Alien Vs. Predator

Dark Horse

The Alien Vs. Predator franchise is most well known for being a series with a dream concept but an ultimately disappointing end product, after both the original 2004 film and its 2007 sequel, Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem, were critically panned.

However, despite the film series’ misfortunes, the original comic book series, created by Chris Warner, has been a breakout success for publisher Dark Horse Comics.

The idea for the iconic cross-over originated during a meeting about a planned DC/Dark Horse cross-over, when Warner suggested keeping production in-house and combining two characters that Dark Horse already owned the rights to instead of involving DC.

They would later go on to extend the cross-over to a number of DC properties resulting in 2007’s Superman and Batman versus Aliens and Predator two-part series.

Dark Horse also licensed the series to produce a range of other media like video games, including Capcom’s critically-acclaimed arcade game, and even theme park rides at both Universal Studios Hollywood and Florida.

5. Sabrina The Teenage Witch

Archie Comics

While most people are aware of Archie Comics as a result of the extremely popular teen drama series Riverdale, fewer people realise they also inspired another equally popular teen franchise – Sabrina The Teenage Witch.

Based on the life of Sabrina Spellman, a teenage half-witch who lives with her witch aunts Hilda and Zelda as well as her cat Salem.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch is most well known for the iconic ABC/The WB series which, after running for seven series between 1997 and 2003, became one of ABC’s highest-rated series and spawned three made-for-TV films as well as a successful animated spin-off.

Recently, the franchise has been rebooted to produce Netflix’s supernatural The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which is set to serve as a companion to Riverdale and stars Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka in the lead role.

4. Transformers

Marvel Comics

Despite being initially conceived as a toy-line, created during a collaboration between American toy company Hasbro and Japanese toy company Takara Tomy, both the backstory and characters of the Transformer’s franchise were created by Marvel Comics.

The original Marvel Transformers comic was initially intended to run as a 4 issue mini-series however, due to the series’ popularity, it was later expanded to a 80-issue series featuring a variety of story-arcs.

The series proved especially popular in the UK, with the regional comic book series running for 332 issues featuring additional stories and characters.

Alongside the comic book series, a successful animated series of the same name ran between 1984 and 1987, as well as a 1986 animated tie-in feature film which both served to only increase the franchise’s popularity further.

Following the original Generation 1’s success, a number of spin-off animated TV series have since been produced, as well as Michael Bay’s enormously successful live-action film series which is currently the 13th highest-grossing film series of all time.

3. Kingsman

Icon Comics

The idea for Kingsman: The Secret Service originated in a bar during a conversation between Kick-Ass collaborators, veteran Scottish comic book writer Mark Millar and acclaimed director Michael Vaughn, during which they lamented the serious tone of most modern spy films.

This led to Millar creating the original 2012 comic book, The Secret Service, which was illustrated by Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons.

Vaughn, along with long-time collaborator Jane Goldman, later adapted the comic to produce 2014’s action spy comedy Kingsman: The Secret Service, which became an unexpected global success.

2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise revolutionised merchandising after its original comic book debut in 1984 and, as a result, has produced some of the most recognisable characters of all time.

Originally conceived by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird and published using money from a tax refund along with a loan from Eastman’s uncle, TMNT was initially published as a single-issue comic book which played on the incongruity of a slow cold-blooded reptile participating in high-octane martial arts.

The popularity of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles really took hold in 1987 with the production of a range of TMNT action figures by Playmates Toys Inc., which coincided with the release of Murakami-Wolf-Swenson’s iconic cartoon series.

The franchise has since gone on to produce another 3 animated and one live-action TV series alongside multiple films.

Despite the original comic ceasing publication in 2014, a Michael Bay-produced reboot of the film series has since been produced with 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and 2016’s sequel Out of the Shadows both becoming box-office successes.

1. Men In Black

Columbia Pictures

1997’s Men in Black became one of the decades most popular films and solidified Will Smith’s status as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. It also spawned 2 successful sequels, 2002’s Men in Black II and 2012’s Men in Black 3, as well as an animated series which ran between 1997 and 2001.

However, despite the film’s success, the franchise’s original source material remains relatively obscure with the series being based on Aircel Comic’s 1990 3-issue series The Men in Black and its 1991 follow-up 3-issue collection published by Malibu Comics.

Malibu Comics

Despite sharing a similar plot and characters, the film series is notably different from the original comic series with the omission of many of the comic’s darker themes in favour of more comedic elements.

Following the film’s success and Marvel Comic’s 1994 acquisition of Malibu Comics, a number of comic books based on the films and their characters have since been released.

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