From Comics To Film And TV: A Brief History Of ‘The Crow’

Despite Boardwalk Empire‘s Jack Huston dropping out of the title role due to scheduling conflicts, the remake of The Crow seems to be moving along. It’s been more than 20 years since James O’Barr’s comic was turned into a major motion picture™ and 10 years since the last movie in the franchise was released. We decided to take a look at the history of the series — from the various comics, films and TV episodes based on it — as well as the issues that arose behind the scenes of its creation.

The Comics

The story of The Crow began in 1978, when O’Barr’s fiancee, Beverly, was killed by a drunk driver. In order to cope with his grief, O’Barr joined the military for a while before beginning what would become the comic series that inspired all the films to follow. While the death of Beverly was that primary impetus of the story, O’Barr was also inspired by the story of a Detroit couple who had been murdered by thieves over a $20 engagement ring. After sitting on the shelf for years, The Crow was eventually published by Caliber Comics in 1989.

In 1996, two years after the release of the movie, Kitchen Sink Press began to release new stories of different characters taking up the “Crow” mantle. These characters included a Native American from 1860 (The Crow: Dead Time), a female Federal Conservation officer (The Crow: Flesh and Blood) and a man trying to save his daughters from being sold into slavery by the Chinese mafia (The Crow: Waking Nightmares). The most recent version —The Crow: Pestilence — was released in 2014.

O’Barr has mentioned that while his creation of the comic was intended to be cathartic, it actually achieved the opposite effect and increased his depression. It was meeting Brandon Lee on the set of the comic’s film adaptation and talking with him that he finally was able to get some much-needed closure, thus making the events to follow all the more ironic.

The Crow (1994)

Much like James O’Barr’s comic, the film adaptation of The Crow was steeped in tragedy. On March 31, 1993, Brandon Lee — playing Eric Draven — was shot with an improperly prepared firearm during filming. After being rushed to a local hospital and undergoing six hours of surgery, Lee was pronounced dead. He was 28 years old, only four years younger than his father, Bruce Lee, when he died in 1973. Most of Lee’s scenes had already been filmed up to that point, and any remaining scenes were filmed using a stunt double and CGI to replace him.

The film itself turned out to be a surprise hit at the box office, earning more than $11 million it’s opening weekend and putting it atop the box office in the United States. Some of the attention was, understandably, due to morbid curiosity as to how the filmmakers crafted the film after Lee’s death. It was also fairly well-received critically, with many critics praising its visual style. Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half out of four stars and called the film the best adaptation of a comic book universe he had ever seen.

The Crow: City of Angels (1996)

Once The Crow started showing signs of success, Miramax put plans for a sequel into motion. David S. Goyer (who would go on to write other comic-based films such as Blade, Batman Begins and Man of Steel) was brought on to write the script. At the time, he was also working on Dark City, directed by the first Crow film’s director, Alex Proyas. For the directing job, producers brought on Tim Pope, who had previously directed music videos for The Cure. Swiss actor Vincent Perez was cast as Ashe Corven, the film’s protagonist, while Iggy Pop was brought on board as the villain, Curve.

Out of respect for Brandon Lee (and to possibly preserve their own integrity), Goyer and Pope had intended to make the sequel significantly different from the original. Miramax, on the other hand, was bound and determined to make the sequel as much like the first movie as possible, by insisting that the character of Sarah (Rochelle Davis in the original, Mia Kirshner in the sequel) appear in the film while also adding significant edits. What followed was a film that had an opening nearly as successful as the first, but was eventually both a critical and financial disappointment.

Both Pope, as well as numerous cast members, have expressed dissatisfaction with the finished film (with Pope offering a six-minute video on how he would have cut the film).

It’s hard to blame the studio for wanting to recreate the original as much as possible, considering what a success it was. Unfortunately, the poor showing led to the following Crow sequels going direct-to-video.

The Crow: Stairway to Heaven (TV, 1998)

With City of Angels not exactly being the hit that Miramax was hoping for, and reboots having not yet become Hollywood’s thing, producer Edward R. Pressman decided to take the franchise to television. The result was The Crow: City of Angels, a Canadian TV series that once again featured Eric Draven as the main character. This time around, the role was played by martial artist, Brandon Lee-doppelganger, and future Iron Chef America chairman Mark Dacascos.

Much like the film it was based on, Stairway to Heaven also had its own tragic moment. During filming, stuntman Marc Akerstream was struck and killed by debris resulting from a controlled explosion on set. Oddly enough, Akerstream wasn’t actually involved in the scene being filmed and was merely a bystander. After filming was briefly suspended out of respect, production eventually continued and debuted on television as scheduled.

The series ran for one season before being cancelled. Ratings had been decent, but Universal’s purchase of the show’s production company led to them not continuing the show.

The Crow: Salvation (2000) and The Crow: Wicked Prayer (2005)

In 2000, Miramax had a third Crow movie on their hands, and they weren’t quite sure what to do with it. After the disappointment that followed City of Angels, the studio had to decide if they wanted to try for a theatrical release for the new film or just send it straight to video. In order to test the waters, they played The Crow: Salvation for one week in a theater in Spokane, Wash. They apparently got their answer, as that was the only time the film was shown on the big screen; it was a direct-to-video release from Dimension Films after that.

This time, the mantle of The Crow was taken up by Alex Corvis, a man wrongly convicted and executed for the murder of his girlfriend. Corvis — played by Eric Mabius of Resident Evil and Ugly Betty — would be aided in his quest for revenge by his girlfriend’s sister, here portrayed by… Kirsten Dunst? Is that right? Yeah, The Crow: Salvation features a Bring It On-era Kirsten Dunst. The main villain would be portrayed by Fred Ward from Tremors and Remo Williams.

Not willing to leave well enough alone, Dimension Films went ahead and also distributed the most recent film of the franchise, The Crow: Wicked Prayer, in 2005. Edward Furlong plays Jimmy Cuervo, an ex-con (he was in jail for killing a rapist, so you know he’s actually a good guy) who was murdered along with his girlfriend in a satanic ritual. The satanic cult at fault here, led by Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s David Boreanaz, were hoping that this ritual would bring about the Antichrist (you also know they’re a bunch of devil worshipers because they have a party where they serve deviled eggs and devil’s food cake, and no, I didn’t make that up). Tito Ortiz, Tara Reid, Danny Trejo and Dennis Hopper are also in this mess.

The Reboots

In 2008, Blade director Stephen Norrington announced his intention to reboot the franchise. Since then, the remake has bounced back and forth between both directors — Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later) had been attached at one point — and cast members. Bradley Cooper, Luke Evans, Channing Tatum, James McAvoy, Tom Hiddleston, and Mark Wahlberg had all been attached at one point or another to star. UK music video director Corin Hardy is the most recent director signed to the film, and Mad Max: Fury Road‘s Nicholas Hoult is among the new leads reportedly being considered. Will there ever be a new Crow movie? Time will tell.