Hollywood is obsessed with comic book superheroes these days. Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Marvel Cinematic Universe continues growing rapidly and Time Warner (NYSE:TWX.DL) is close to finally uniting DC's Justice League.
These films focus on familiar characters like Spider-Man, not-so-familiar ones such as Thor, and utterly obscure ones like Ant-Man. However, there are still plenty of heroes and heroines out there in the comic book universe who deserve a feature film.
Let's take a look at three of these overlooked characters and weigh their chances of making it to the big screen.
Spawn (Image Comics)
The first character, and the one most likely to get his own film soon, is Spawn.
Spawn, formerly known as the government assassin Al Simmons, was betrayed by his superiors and murdered on the battlefield. After he went to Hell, he made a deal with the devil to return to Earth to see his wife again. Unfortunately, he was sent back to five years later as a demonic soldier of Hell, only to find out that his wife had moved on and married his best friend.
To be fair, Spawn already had his shot at the big screen back in 1997. However, the movie was awful, and currently holds a dismal 19% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. There were two main reasons the first film failed.
First, the movie was written in an age when the only two real creative inspirations for comic book films were Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher's carnival-like takes on Batman. Second, the special effects were atrocious, even for its time. Despite the film's shortcomings, however, it grossed $88 million worldwide on a production budget of $40 million. Naturally, New Line Cinema (a subsidiary of Time Warner), wanted a sequel.
Unfortunately, the follow-up has been stuck in development hell since 1998, mainly due to the constantly changing demands of Spawn's creator, Todd McFarlane. McFarlane initially wanted to reboot the franchise, focusing on the detectives Sam and Twitch, turning Spawn into a mute character instead.
McFarlane, who began writing a new film in 2009, claimed that it would be "more of a horror movie and a thriller movie, not a superhero one." He later inexplicably compared the film to Martin Scorsese's crime drama The Departed.
Despite McFarlane's questionable approach to rebooting his character, there has been tremendous interest in the project. Michael Jai White, who starred as Spawn in the original film, has expressed interest in returning. Jamie Foxx, who stars as Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, is also reportedly interested in the title role.
I have mixed feelings about Spawn as a film. On one hand, McFarlane could finally make a film that does the comic book justice. On the other hand, it could crash and burn like the two Ghost Rider films.
Huntress (DC Comics)
Despite being a well-known character in the Batman comics, a live-action version of Huntress has only appeared twice -- once as a main (albeit highly modified) character in the short-lived WB series Birds of Prey (2002) and another time in two episodes of the CW series Arrow (2012-present).
Huntress, in many ways, is DC's female version of Marvel's Punisher. She is the alter-ego of Helena Bertinelli, whose family was murdered by the Mafia at the age of 8. After a violent streak as a self-styled vigilante, she was exiled from Gotham City by Batman, who believed that she was uncontrollable. She eventually returns to Gotham, becoming Batman's unlikely ally, although he still opposes her desire to kill.
Bringing the Huntress into the DC Cinematic Universe, which currently consists of Henry Cavill's Superman, Ben Affleck's Batman, and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, would be a wise choice for three reasons.
First, Huntress is a perfect foil for Batman and Superman, who both have issues with taking lives. Second, introducing her into the new, non-Nolan Batman universe would open the door for other Batman comic book characters -- such as Oracle, Nightwing, and Robin -- to eventually join.
Third, movie audiences love "girl power" these days -- Hunger Games: Catching Fire has already grossed $771 million at the box office worldwide on a production of budget of $130 million. Even Huntress' weapon of choice, a crossbow, is similar to Katniss Everdeen's trademark bow and arrow.
Ninjak (Valiant Entertainment)
Last but not least, Ninjak, a forgotten hero from the 1990s, would make a great movie character.
Ninjak was created by Joe Quesada, one of my favorite comic book artists and the Chief Creative Officer of Marvel Entertainment, and writer Mark Morelli. The character originally starred in two series from Valiant Comics and Acclaim Comics between 1994 and 1997, and was reintroduced in 2012.
Ninjak is the alter-ego of Colin King, the son of a British spy who was raised in Japan. Like Bruce Wayne, he plays the part of the rich playboy, but he carries out a secret mission to avenge his father's death. His vigilante missions eventually attract the attention of the secret SHIELD-like Weaponeer organization, which recruits him and outfits him with camouflage body armor and a wide array of high-tech gadgets.
In other words, Ninjak is James Bond with a katana. There are four reasons I think this movie could be a surprise hit.
First, the movie rights to Ninjak would probably be cheap to obtain. Second, the character is still recognizable to 30-something year-olds who are now reliving their childhood with the recent flood of Marvel and DC movies. Third, the new James Bond films, while well made, lack the high-tech absurdity that the older films relished. Ninjak could bring that charm back to the big screen.
Last but not least, audiences still love over-the-top, high-tech ninja combat. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow are probably still the most popular characters from the two critically lambasted G.I. Joe films, which have nonetheless grossed $678 million at the box office.
Paul W.S. Anderson, the director of the Resident Evil films, attempted to acquire the film rights for Ninjak back in the mid-1990s, but Acclaim, which was focused at the time on making video games and comics, rejected the offer. Now that Valiant Comics has returned as Valiant Entertainment, it may be time to rethink the offer.
A final thought
What's your take, dear readers? Do you agree or disagree with my choices? Let me know what other forgotten comic book heroes you would like to see on the big screen in the comments section below!
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Fool contributor Leo Sun owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.