Sin City, released in 2005, blended moody noir, black-and-white cinema, and comic book storytelling in a unique way that hadn't been done before.
The film's bold approach is synonymous with the careers of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, who push the boundaries of what is considered the norm in art.
The visual influence of Sin City can be seen in films like Zack Snyder's 300 and Watchmen, as well as Miller's The Spirit and the Sin City sequel.
Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City electrified both the world of cinema and comic book fandom upon release in 2005. The heavily stylised film blended moody noir, the classic appeal of black-and-white cinema, and the movement of comic book storytelling into a unique motion picture that hadn’t been done up to this point. Even if someone wasn’t a fan of the genre or the comic book series created by Miller, this production caught the eye and made a splash in the film industry for its innovation.
In many ways, this bold approach is synonymous with Rodriguez and Miller’s careers as artists. Both are visionaries who haven’t been afraid to go left when all their contemporaries turn right. They push the boundaries of what is the norm, upsetting the gatekeepers and the risk-averse conformists who worship at the altar of the status quo. It’s exactly what needs to happen for art to evolve and explore new frontiers. Despite the initial positive reception to Sin City, the celebration proved to be a fleeting moment as the comic book movie genre forgot all about the road the film paved and resorted back to conventionality.
The visual influence of Sin City
One director who embraced the aesthetics of Sin City was Zack Snyder. In 2006, Snyder adapted Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s 300. While not black and white, nor noir in nature, Snyder incorporated the use of bluescreens to recreate the backgrounds from the comic book to bring the Battle of Thermopylae to life. In addition, the filmmaker played around with the colour saturation in the same way a comic book colourist would – to infuse a shift of moods and emotion through visual cues. Snyder took another page out of Sin City‘s book to influence his work on 2009’s Watchmen, which often looked like a comic book come to life on the big screen and borrowed its flashy noir tricks.
Miller also applied everything he learned from his time on Sin City to his 2008 adaptation of The Spirit. While the film wasn’t deemed a critical or commercial success, it certainly contained striking visuals that still stand out to this day. Miller would team up again with Robert Rodriguez in 2014 for the sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, which built on everything they had done before. However, at this point, the audience didn’t react as enthusiastically to the follow-up like they did the original 2005 film. Ultimately, this cut short the possibility of a trilogy.
Visuals aside, Sin City provided something different from other comic book movies at the time. For one, it wasn’t about superheroes – it was about hardboiled and often nasty characters. It showed how there was an opportunity for other genres from the medium to shine, proving once and for all to mainstream audiences that comics can be mature and whatever you want them to be besides capes and cowls.
Second, Sin City could have easily taken one of its stories and stretched it out for two hours, but it decided to stick to an anthology format and connect several of its tales. It’s something that hadn’t been done in comic book movies before and no one has really tried to explore ever since. As a result, it gave the audience something different to experience, aside from the origin stories and cookie-cutter hero’s journey tropes.
And third of all, the film stayed true to the source material through its presentation. Quite often, it comes across as many filmmakers are embarrassed their stories originated from comics, believing them to be some kind of lowly artform, and they try to distance themselves from them as much as possible. That wasn’t the case here, as Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller penned a heartfelt love letter to both film and comics, demonstrating how both mediums can live in perfect harmony and inspire each other.
What modern comic book movies can learn from Sin City
Three years after Sin City debuted, the comic book movie genre changed forever. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was born with the release of Iron Man. From there, nothing was ever the same. What followed was billions of dollars, interconnected stories across movies and television, mega hero team-ups, and a global domination of pop culture.
Now, in 2024, the MCU, and the comic book genre as a whole, finds itself at a pivotal crossroads. After a decade and a half of unimaginable success, the audience isn’t interested anymore. Every character feels the same. Every story unravels in the same manner. Every movie looks like the last one. For so long, inoffensive and safe entertainment ruled, never taking any real creative risks but bringing in the money. Eventually, the audience caught on to the charade and grew tired of the lack of originality.
In 2005, Sin City showed how, like in the comics, it’s possible to change the rules and create something that hasn’t been done before. It arrived at the right time too, since a lot of comic book movies merged into becoming too much of the same – funny how history repeats itself, right? Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller challenged filmmakers and audiences to think about the genre differently. A few took it to heart and embraced originality, while many others followed the money. In the end, the genre reverted to the same position it was in the mid-2000s. Sin City tried to teach the industry an important lesson then, but no one heeded the warning. Maybe now, they will listen.
Sergio Pereira is a prolific and recognised journalist and writer from Johannesburg, South Africa. His expertise encompasses the topics of comic books, film, television, and video games. For over 16 years, he has built up his reputation and knowledge in entertainment journalism by writing for and learning from the world's largest publications.
Sergio is also an accredited Rotten Tomatoes reviewer and has interviewed numerous celebrities, such as Andy Serkis, Ben Barnes, Idris Elba, Letitia Wright and Frank Miller. He is the author of the highly rated fantasy comedy novel The Not-So-Grim Reaper and numerous short stories. In addition, he is the co-writer of the South African crime drama film The Lifesaver. As a regular columnist, he contributes to Looper, Grunge, Screen Rant, Ranker, CBR, SYFY WIRE, IGN Africa, Thought Catalog and Fortress of Solitude.
For Sergio, all he wants in life is to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles eclipse the Justice League as the greatest heroes of all time. Then, he will sleep peacefully.