This week sees the long-awaited release of “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,” Steven Spielberg’s first 3D motion-capture film. (Peter Jackson, who co-produced, plans to direct a sequel after “The Hobbit.”) The latest version of Belgian artist Hergé’s classic serial (begun in 1929) about the intrepid boy journalist and his faithful dog Snowy, the movie brings together three of Tintin’s many adventures: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure.
Studios have mined the comic book genre heavily over the past few years, but they’ve concentrated primarily on modern superhero franchises (X-Men, Iron Man) and the occasional indie hit (American Splendor, Scott Pilgrim). But there’s a rich history of comic strips dating back to the 1800s and a wide variety of adaptations those comics have inspired: radio serials, feature-length films and shorts, television shows, cartoons, and plays.
Have superhero fatigue? Here’s a starter list of vintage comic strip adaptations:
Still running today, this comic strip inspired a popular movie series in the 1930s. Penny Singleton plays flapper-turned-practical housewife Blondie, with Arthur Lake as her sandwich-eating husband Dagwood Bumstead; they appeared in all twenty-eight pictures, as well as a radio show.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965)
Featuring Charles M. Schulz’s beloved Peanuts characters (and one sad Christmas tree), this half-hour animated special beautifully illustrates the joy and melancholy of the holiday season. Vince Guaraldi’s jazz score is justifiably famous in its own right, particularly the instrumental “Linus and Lucy” and the song “Christmas Time Is Here.”
The popular series about the squinty-eyed sailor empowered by spinach became a Robert Altman musical. Robin Williams stars as Popeye, with Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl, a role she was born to play. Often regarded as a flop, the film, thanks to Harry Nilsson’s charming score, has become a cult favorite.
Directed by John Huston, this movie of the 1977 musical (based on the Little Orphan Annie strip) stars Aileen Quinn in the title role, with Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks. While the picture's somewhat uneven, the songs — “Tomorrow,” “Hard-Knock Life” — remain fan favorites.
“Dick Tracy” (1990)
In this version of the ongoing series, Warren Beatty directs himself in the title role. Despite an all-star cast, this adaptation is probably best remembered for its highly stylized look and for Stephen Sondheim’s Oscar-winning song “Sooner or Later,” performed by Madonna.
“The Addams Family” (1991)
Twenty-five years after the sitcom made them famous, Charles Addams’ hilariously morbid New Yorker cartoons became a popular movie. Starring Raúl Juliá, Anjelica Huston, and a deadpan Christina Ricci, it led to a sequel, “Addams Family Values,” two years later.
Are there any old school comics you’d like to see on screen?