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Dark Horse Comics' Movie Hits and Misses of the Past 25 Years

The Mask™ © 2011 Dark Horse Comics, Inc
"The Mask"

From "The Mask" to "Timecop," the indie publisher's quarter-century of film adaptations includes both failures and surprise blockbusters.

In the mid-'80s, as New York City titans marvel and DC Comics were battling for supremacy, the aptly named Dark Horse Comics galloped forth from faraway Milwaukie, Ore. During the past 25 years, the publisher's creator-friendly approach has helped it become the biggest indie comics house in America, the home of such original books as Concrete, Hellboy, Sin City and Umbrella Academy and licensed properties such as Star Wars (once at Marvel), Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Conan the Barbarian.

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Like its heavy-hitting predecessors, Dark Horse also moved into the movie space. After just six years on the scene, it produced the low-budget horror flick Dr. Giggles. That didn't have much of an impact, but the company's next feature, The Mask, caught Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz just as they broke into stardom in 1994 and grossed $352 million worldwide. It was then unseated from its No. 1 slot at the box office by Timecop, another movie based on a Dark Horse comic.

"It was a one-two punch, and now Dark Horse was in the film business," recalls company founder Mike Richardson, who is heading to his 25th consecutive Comic-Con.

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In the years since, the company has set up more than 80 projects from its library of original content. Those produced run the gamut from embarrassing failures (Barb Wire) to surprise blockbusters (300). Here's a look at the notable movies spawned from its books, all except Sin City and 300 involving Dark Horse as a producer.

Dr. Giggles

  • Comics debut: 1992
  • Film debut: 1992
  • Directed by: Manny Coto
  • The movie was shot less than a mile away from the company's headquarters. Coto went on to become a writer-produceron 24 and Dexter.
  • Domestic Gross: $8.4 million

The Mask

  • Comics debut: 1989
  • Film debut: 1994
  • Directed by: Chuck Russell
  • Based on a comic created by Richardson, the movie cast Carrey before Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was released and marked Diaz's film debut. An animated TV series and 2005 sequel followed.
  • Domestic Gross: $351.6 million

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Mystery Men

  • Comics debut: 1987
  • Film debut: 1999
  • Directed by: Kinka Usher
  • The superhero satire was ahead of its time. It starred Ben Stiller before he became an A-lister and was produced before there was a ubiquitous superhero genre to satirize.
  • Domestic Gross: $33.5 million

Hellboy

  • Comics debut: 1993
  • Film debut: 2004
  • Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
  • Del Toro wrote and directed the movie based on a comic by Mike Mignola that was originally pitched to but rejected by DC Comics. Hellboy then debuted in a special Comic-Con comic.
  • Domestic Gross: $99.3 million

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AVP: Alien vs. Predator

  • Comics debut: 1991
  • Film debut: 2004
  • Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
  • The film grabbed the concept from, and is partly based on, a story that first appeared in Dark Horse Presents. It was followed by a 2007 sequel, AVPR: Aliens Vs. Predator -- Requiem.
  • Domestic Gross: $172.5 million

Sin City

  • Comics debut: 1991
  • Film debut: 2005
  • Directed by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
  • Dark Horse published the first of Miller's noir stories in Dark Horse Presents #50. Miller declined to sell the film rights for more than a decade after his bad experience co-writing Robocop 3.
  • Domestic Gross: $158.8 million

Timecop

  • Comics debut: 1994
  • Film debut: 1994
  • Directed by: Peter Hyams
  • Richardson co-wrote the movie, which starred Jean-Claude Van Damme in the actor's highest-grossing effort. It was followed by a short-lived ABC series and a 2003 direct-to-DVD movie.
  • Domestic Gross: $101.6 million

Barb Wire

  • Comics debut: 1994
  • Film debut: 1996
  • Directed by: David Hogan
  • The flick was nominated for six Razzies, winning one for worst new star, Pamela Anderson Lee. It was the first credited work by writer Ilene Chaiken, who went on to co-create Showtime's The L Word.
  • Domestic Gross: $3.8 million

300

  • Comics debut: 1998
  • Film debut: 2007
  • Directed by: Zack Snyder
  • A commercials director, Snyder originally tried to develop a film adaptation based on Frank Miller's Eisner-winning miniseries before he made his feature debut with Dawn of the Dead in 2004.
  • Domestic Gross: $456.1 million

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

  • Comics debut: 1993
  • Film release: 2008
  • Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
  • The Universal movie extended the rare franchise that begins at one studio (in this case, Columbia) and ends up at another, thanks to the persevering del Toro and producer Lawrence Gordon.
  • Domestic Gross: $160.4 million