The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen began as a 1958 novel, then a 1960 British film, which inspired a comic book series from 1999-2019, and another film in 2003. It might be set to return to the screen in the future. Let’s go back to the beginning before we go back to the future.
British author Bertram John Boland (1913-1976) wrote the 1958 pulp-fiction, heist book The League of Gentlemen which had two sequels: The Gentlemen Reform (1961) and The Gentlemen at Large (1962).
When Basil Dearden directed the 1960 film The League of Gentlemen, starring Nigel Patrick, Richard Attenborough, and Jack Hawkins as Lieutenant-Colonel Norman Hyde, it was adapted by Bryan Forbes who was also cast in the movie, and financed through their own production company called Allied Film Makers. Cary Grant turned down the role as Hyde and Oliver Reed had his first talking role.
It became the 1960’s most successful British film financially and the country’s sixth most popular movie of the year. The New York Times said the Bryan Forbes screen adaptation was “devilishly inventive and amusing” while Time Out called it “a terrific caper movie.”
The book and film inspired Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill to write The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as a comic book series published by ABC/Wildstorm/DC Comics (1999-2007) and Top Shelf and Knockabout Comics (2009-2019). It includes four volumes, a graphic novel, and a graphic novella.
In 1898, Campion Bond recruits Mina Murray (Harker) on behalf of British Intelligence to assemble a league of extraordinary individuals to protect the British Empire. The individuals include Caption Nemo (the fictional character in French author Jules Verne’s 1870 novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas), Allan Quatermain (the fictional character in English writer H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel King Solomon’s Mines), Dr Henry Jeckyll (the fictional character in Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde), Hawley Griffin (the fictional character in English writer H. G. Wells’ 1897 novel The Invisible Man), and Mina Harker (the fictional character from Irish author Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula). Elements of the first volume were loosely adapted by James Dale Robinson for the 2003 movie.
The comic book series won the 1999 National Comics Award for Best New Comic (international), and the first volume won the 2000 Bram Stoker Award for Best Illustrated Narrative.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – also known as LXG or LoEG – became a 2003 superhero film under the direction of Stephen Norrington based on James Dale Robinson’s screenplay, starring Sean Connery as Allan Quatermain. It was Connery’s final film before his retirement in 2006 and death in 2020.
Financially, the film did well, opening the box office at number 2 behind Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, but the critics panned it. Calling it “just ordinary” and “ruined by poor execution” it received an average score on cinema rating sites. Critic Robert Ebert said the movie, “assembles a splendid team of heroes to battle a plan for world domination, and then, just when it seems about to become a real corker of an adventure movie, it plunges into … inexplicable motivations, causes without effects, effects without causes, and general lunacy.” Sean Connery, however, was praised for his performance, despite reportedly disliking his experience on set.
The criticism is the result of the film not being respectful to the comic book series, bearing little resemblance to it and taking too many liberties with its interpretation.
In 2015, 20th Century Fox Film Corporation announced a reboot of the movie, which didn’t eventuate. In May 2022, 20th Century Studios (previously 20th Century Fox Film Corporation) announced that it aimed to reboot The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen on Hulu with Justin Haythe as the screenwriter. Will it be another disappointment for critics? Not if, as the studio says, it will be more faithful to the comic book series. Viewers will be poised for a likely 2024 release.