The 25 Most Influential People in Comic Book Movies: #5 Michael E. Uslan

Michael E. Uslan is the undisputed father of the modern Batman film. A comics lore legend, he was the first professor to teach a course on “comic book folklore” at an accredited university (his alma mater Indiana University.) He famously convinced the Dean of the school to allow his course after equating the Dean’s recollection of the story of Moses with the story of Superman. Since 1979, he and co-founder of Batfilm Productions #8 Benjamin Melniker have owned the feature motion picture rights to the DC Comics Batman franchise. Uslan has shared production credits on every one of Melniker’s comic book screen works, including every Batman film since 1989. He was the first to pitch the idea of a darker Batman, as opposed to the campy 1960s TV Batman, to producers, but was turned down repeatedly. His persistence, however, eventually led to the production of Tim Burton’s 1989 classic, and he has remained the Batman authority since then. In addition, he was executive producer of 2008’s direct to video Turok: Son of Stone, based on the Dell, Gold Key and Valiant Comics hero. He is set to produce Billy Batson and the Legend of Shazam, based on the original DC Comics Captain Marvel. With #11 Sam Raimi, he will be producing a film adaptation of The Shadow, a long time pet project of Raimi’s.

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The 25 Most Influential People in Comic Book Movies: #7 Frank Miller

Frank Miller     Frank Miller revolutionized the comic book superhero mainstream in the 1980s and ’90s with his injection of Neo-noir and anti-heroic elements into the stories he drew, wrote, and created. His works have had such an impact on popular culture that filmmakers seem compelled to produce them for the screen. In 1981 he created the character Elektra for Marvel, on which Jennifer Garner’s portrayal in the 2003 film Daredevil and in 2005’s Elektra were based. Both films were created with the involvement of #14 Mark Steven Johnson; the latter being co-written by #12 Zak PennIn 1983, Miller created the limited series Ronin for DC Comics.  A film adaptation is in the works involving 300 producer Gianni Nunnari but no release date has been announced.  In 1986, DC released Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, a critically acclaimed and highly influential work that took the campy Batman of the 1960s television show and redefined him into the darker, grittier hero now well known to audiences. This, along with Alan Moore’s 1986 work Batman: The Killing Joke, were major influences on Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman. In 1987, Miller wrote the story arc for four issues of Batman titled Batman: Year One.  This story became the basis of the first of many scripts and story ideas that eventually resulted in #18 Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, co-created with #5 David S. Goyer.  
     After leaving Marvel and DC, Miller went on to create his own independent work.  In 1990 he created the three issue series Hard Boiled, published by Dark Horse, which is in the works to be adapted into a film written by Miller and produced by star Nicolas Cage. No release date has officially been issued. In 1991, Miller wrote and drew his first Sin City story, published under the Dark Horse title Dark Horse Presents. Throughout the decade, Sin City “yarns” became increasingly popular and critically well received, reinvigorating the noir and crime comics genre and giving rise to the 2005 film Sin City. Miller was credited as a co-director on this film with Robert Rodriguez, marking an end to his disdain for Hollywood comic book adaptations. Sin City 2 and Sin City 3 are also planned, with Miller directing both and acting as the producer and writer of the screenplay for Sin City 2. In 1996, Miller created Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot for Dark Horse, which led to an animated television series of the same name airing from 1999 to 2001. In 1998, Miller and long time collaborator Lynn Varley created the acclaimed graphic novel 300, on which the eponymous 2007 film was based, which Miller executive produced. His latest project, a film adaptation of Will Eisner’s golden age comic The Spirit, is scheduled for release on December 25, 2008, starring Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson, with #8 Benjamin Melniker and #5 Michael Uslan as executive producers, and Frank Miller directing.

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The 25 Most Influential People in Comic Book Movies: #8 Benjamin Melniker

Batman '89 logoFormer Executive Vice President at MGM and current film industry legend, Benjamin Melniker is the co-founder (with #5 Michael E. Uslan) of Batfilm Productions, Inc. On October 3, 1979, Melniker and Uslan acquired all feature motion picture and allied rights on Batman from DC Comics. Since that time, this dynamic duo has executive produced every modern Batman film, including Batman (heavily influenced by the work of #7 Frank Miller), Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, Batman Begins (helmed by #18 Christopher Nolan, co-created by #5 David S. Goyer and instigated in part by an early script by Frank Miller) and the immeasurably anticipated The Dark Knight (also directed by Nolan and co-written with Goyer), opening on July 18, 2008. Melniker and Uslan have produced or executive produced many Batman animated projects, television shows, and spinoffs, including the 1992 “Batman” animated TV series (with development assistance from #13 Mike Mignola), Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman, Batman: Gotham Knight (written in part by David Goyer, to be released direct to DVD July 8, 2008), Batman Beyond: Return of the JokerSubZero, and Catwoman. Other projects include their work together as producers of DC/Vertigo‘s Constantine (along with #16 Lauren Shuler Donner and executive producer #15 Gilbert Adler) which has led the two to sign on as producers of the hopefully coming sequel Constantine 2 (also with Adler and Shuler Donner), and The Spirit, which Melniker and Uslan will executive produce and which Frank Miller will direct, starring Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson, due to be released on December 25, 2008.  Prior to Batfilm, Melniker and Uslan also notably produced Swamp Thing and The Return of Swamp Thing, as well as the 1990 “Swamp Thing” television series, all based on DC’s eponymous character.

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The 25 Most Influential People in Comic Book Movies: #13 Mike Mignola

Mike MignolaWhile Professor Bruttenholm may be Hellboy’s father on screen, the real father of Hellboy and the Hellboy franchise is none other than Mike Mignola.  While illustrating for Marvel and DC Comics during the 1980’s and early ‘90s, Mignola ventured into film by illustrating the storyboards for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version of Dracula.  The same year he created a new character design for Warner Bro’s Batman animated TV series (with #8 Benjamin Melniker and #5 Michael E. Uslan as executive producers).  In 1994 Dark Horse was the first company to publish Mignola’s original concepts in the 1994 Hellboy: Seed of Destruction. Since that time, his work on Hellboy has grown exponentially, leading to a popular spinoff comic known as BPRD (also published by Dark Horse) and numerous screen projects.  His artistry has been described as “German expressionism meets Jack Kirby” by esteemed comics creator Alan Moore.  In 2002 Mignola worked as a concept artist on #10 Guillermo Del Toro’s Blade II (with executive producer #22 Michael De Luca and writer/executive producer #5 David S. Goyer). In 2004 he saw his red-handed creation reach the big screen with Hellboy, for which he was the associate producer and design consultant along with director Del Toro, producer #6 Mike Richardson, and producer #17 Lawrence Gordon. He has served as consulting producer and writer for the animated features Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms, Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron, and Hellboy Animated: Iron Shoes, the first two of which were executive produced by Richardson, and all of which were released in 2006/2007.  In 2006, Mignola oversaw the art direction for the television adaptation of his comic The Amazing Screw-On Head, featuring the voices of Paul Giamatti and David Hyde Pierce. Mignola is currently credited as a consultant and co-story writer for the up-coming Hellboy: The Science of Evil video game, writer and consulting producer for 2008’s Hellboy Animated: The Phantom Claw, and co-story writer and co-producer (again with Gordon, Del Toro, and Richardson) of the highly anticipated Hellboy II: The Golden Army, to be released on July 11, 2008.  Variety reports that another future project is in the works for Mignola, specifically a film adaptation of his 2007 graphic novel Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, to be directed by David S. Goyer.

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The 25 Most Influential People in Comic Book Movies: #15 Gilbert Adler

Gilbert AdlerGilbert Adler kept the Crypt Keeper alive, as it were, owing a great deal of his accomplishment to his antecedent, the late writer/producer #24 Milton Subotsky. Where Subotsky first brought EC Comics stories to the screen with the original Tales from the Crypt in 1972, Adler continued the tradition through the 1980s and ‘90s.  Adler started by directing the Crypt Keeper sequences in HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” television show in 1989, directing two full episodes in 1992 and 1993, and writing several episodes between ‘91 and ‘96.  During this time, he produced over 60 episodes of “Tales from the Crypt” for HBO.  In 1995, he directed Crypt Keeper sequences for the big screen in Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, which he also produced.  He soon directed, produced, and wrote the screenplay for his own feature length Crypt film Bordello of Blood in 1996.  In subsequent years he has served as the executive producer for DC/Vertigo’s Constantine (produced by #16 Lauren Shuler Donner, #8 Benjamin Melniker and #5 Michael E. Uslan) released in 2005, and as a producer of Superman Returns, also produced, directed, and co-written by #9 Bryan Singer, released in 2006.  He is reportedly set to produce the Superman sequel, Superman: Man of Steel, again with Singer, scheduled for release in June of 2009. He may also be the executive producer of the sequel to Constantine (also with Shuler Donner producing) if the film is ever actually made.

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The 25 Most Influential People in Comic Book Movies: #16 Lauren Shuler Donner

Lauren Shuler DonnerIt has been said that behind every great man stands a great woman. Be that as it may, it is certainly the case that behind every X-Man stands Lauren Shuler Donner.  She has (with the assistance of #19 Ralph Winter) brought Marvel Comics’ X-Men to the forefront of American pop culture with her productions of X-Men, X2, and X-Men: The Last Stand. Capitalizing on the success of this franchise, she is currently producing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, starring Hugh Jackman, scheduled for release on May 1, 2009. She has also been announced as a producer for X-Men Origins: Magneto, based on a screenplay most recently written by #5 David S. Goyer, also scheduled for release in 2009. Ms. Shuler Donner was instrumental in bringing the main character from Hellblazer (published by DC’s Vertigo imprint) to the screen in her production of Constantine (with producers #8 Benjamin Melniker and #5 Michael E. Uslan and executive producer #15 Gilbert Adler). She remains attached to the possibility of producing a sequel to the film, also with Adler and Melniker, but according to IESB.net, possibilities are waning. Hollywood.com reports an announcement that Shuler Donner will also be producing an adaptation of DC Comics’ Metal Men, but no release date has been revealed.

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The 25 Most Influential People in Comic Book Movies: #18 Christopher Nolan

Christopher NolanAfter over a decade of steady decline, Christopher Nolan resurrected the Batman film franchise into a starkly beautiful and gritty world, telling a new generation of Batman fans that the Caped Crusader has not faded away. Indeed, the Bat has only just begun his flight.  In 2003, after the critical and box-office failure of 1997’s Batman & Robin, and after no less than five unsuccessful attempts at a new Batman film, Warner Brothers approached Nolan to direct a project begun by #7 Frank Miller and Darren Aronofsky, known then as Batman: Year One.  Nolan was a risky choice since he was relatively unknown at the time, but had garnered some critical success with previous films such as Memento and Insomnia. After several false starts, Nolan took over the Batman project and, with writer #5 David Goyer, set out to make a Batman grounded in a “recognizable, contemporary reality against which an extraordinary heroic figure arises.” Nolan directed and co-wrote the screenplay for the finished Batman Begins (with executive producers #8 Benjamin Melniker and #5 Michael E. Uslan on board), which won great critical and commercial success upon its release in 2005, including one Academy Award nomination. Nolan and Goyer were also a writers for the 2005 Batman Begins video game, and Nolan is credited as having produced, directed and co-written (again with Goyer) the screenplay and story for the highly anticipated sequel, The Dark Knight (again executive produced by Uslan and Melniker), to be released July 18, 2008, starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, and the late Heath Ledger. In 2003, Variety reported that Warner Brothers had optioned The Exec, a comic book created by the late Doug Miers, to be adapted for the screen by Christopher Nolan.

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