In 2013, Warner Bros. and DC Comics gave comic book fans the first installment of the interconnected continuity that has become known as the DC Extended Universe. By 2017, we saw Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman and Justice League. Unfortunately, results have been decidedly mixed, and following the disappointing box office performance of Justice League, Warner Bros. has decided to make some changes to DC Films operations. Now the future of the DCEU is in question, and it’s frustrating for fans of these characters because things could have been so much better.
Meant to rival the success Marvel Studios has found with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Extended Universe (with the exception of Wonder Woman) can’t even hold up against older comic book movies from 20 years ago. There are even a few international superhero films that look far superior than what the DCEU has been able to produce, and these movies weren’t even backed by any of the large American studios that dominate Hollywood. It just goes to show how big budgets and over the top special effects don’t make good movies. Here are 15 foreign superhero films better than anything the DCEU has put out.
The United States tried to adapt a British comic book series, and we got the 1995 Sylvester Stallone vehicle Judge Dredd. Almost 20 years later, the character came back to the big screen for Dredd, but Stallone stayed home. Instead, Pete Travis and Alex Garland gave us a film that was far more entertaining than the original version, if also a little too self-serious.
Dredd proved to be a fun, violent rampage of a movie that required very little thinking in order to have a good time. That is an element that movies in the DCEU have sorely missed, with most films trying to be so serious that they stop being fun. That proved to be painfully true for Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad.
14 KRRISH 3
It is absolutely bizarre how the Krrish series transformed into a superhero film franchise. The first film, Koi... Mil Gaya from 2003, centers around a developmentally challenged boy who is cured by an alien and given superpowers. In 2006’s Krrish, his son inherits his powers and becomes a superhero. The 2013 film Krrish 3 picks up on father and son living together, who are both played by Hrithik Roshan. It’s wild.
The Krrish film series has proven to be a record-shattering blockbuster hit in Bollywood, and has spawned multiple animated television shows, comic books, and video games. Krrish 4 will be released in 2018, and Hrithik Roshan will play the hero and the bad guy this time around. It’s this kind of cultural excitement that the DCEU has lacked almost from the beginning.
Similar to James Gunn’s Super, the film Defendor depicts the life of a real-life superhero as he attempts to fight crime in the real world. It has a strong cast that includes Woody Harrelson, Kat Dennings, Elias Koteas, and Sandra Oh. It’s the kind of simple, street-level storytelling that we have seen in the Marvel shows on Netflix, which the DCEU completely lacks.
Written and directed by Peter Stebbings, the film also takes a look at the mental health side of the equation, as people question the sanity of a man who dresses up like a superhero. It takes a clever movie to openly challenge its own concepts and still be taken seriously. DC Films would be in a better place if they could do something more like this and less like what they have been doing.
12 ATTACK ON TITAN
People love to see monsters on the big screen; it’s one of the reasons some of the new MCU films have done so well with their fire demons and their alien beings. The monstrous Titans from Attack on Titan give us something to fear and be amazed by. Given the popularity of the manga series and anime, it makes perfect sense that a live action Japanese version would be produced in recent years.
In 2015, Attack on Titan was released as a two-part film that had Japanese audiences running to the movie theaters. The popularity of the franchise has been strong enough that an American version is now in development for release. The DCEU could use some truly terrifying monsters, but fans will have to settle for the bizarre Zod-Doomsday hybrid instead.
11 THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ADELE BLANC-SEC
What many comic book adaptations lack today is a good adventure story that takes the viewer through the impossible and brings them back out on the other side as a true believer. That’s what The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec has proven to do. The French comic series by Jacques Tardi was adapted to the big screen by Luc Besson in 2010, and the results were amazing.
Adele Blanc-Sec is an adventurer and mystery-solver in the 20th century, and the movie version captures the excitement of the source material perfectly. The film has the titular character dealing with a rampaging dinosaur and talking to a living mummy over tea. It is truly the kind of romp through fiction that all comic book movies could learn from.
The biggest failure of Justice League was just how expensive it was to make in the end. When you spend $300 million on a film, it has to make a lot of money at the box office to be worth it, and Warner Bros. has been disappointed by its return. The 2015 film SuperBob proved that you can make an interesting superhero film without much in the way of a budget.
SuperBob follows a normal Englishman who gains superpowers and joins the Ministry of Defense. The film stars Brett Goldstein, Catherine Tate, Natalia Tena and Laura Haddock as we see Bob during his off day (Tuesdays) while he prepares to go on his first date in years. Writer and direct Jon Drever proved that you can create an entertaining superhero story without the need for giant blockbuster battles.
The 2017 Finnish film Rendel is directed by Jesse Haaja and features a vigilante superhero that he previously created himself. The titular hero Rendel basically looks like a combination of Spawn and Venom, but he also kind of looks like Zoom from the second season of The Flash. His backstory is also just like The Punisher, where his entire entire family was killed by criminals and now he’s out for revenge against those who wronged him.
The action in Rendel brings back images of Batman fighting armed gunmen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but less stylized. While the reach for a film like Rendel has been limited, its authentic dark and gritty story is something that Warner Bros. wishes could be part of the DC Extended Universe.
8 THE HEROIC TRIO
In 1993, Hong Kong director Johnnie To introduced us to The Heroic Trio, an action movie that brought three of the country’s stars together in one film. Michelle Yeoh played the martial artist Invisible Girl, Maggie Cheung was the crime fighting vigilante Wonder Woman (not that one), and Anita Mui was the bounty hunter Thief Catcher.
The movie is a fun romp through superheroics mixed with the sense of adventure of Hong Kong action films, with plenty of fighting and stunts to go around. Johnnie To liked the premise of the movie so much that he actually produced a sequel called Executioners in that same year. Sure, Justice League has the budget and the special effects, but does it have the choreographed fights scenes of a movie like this?
7 TURBO KID
In 2015, the team of François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell gave us the amazingly bizarre adventures of Turbo Kid. Set in an alternate 1997 where the world has ended and society lives in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, this Canadian and New Zealand production manages to capture the imagination like no other film in a genre filled with grit and darkness.
The main character discovers the crashed spaceship of the comic book hero Turbo Rider, gains new abilities, teams up with an android and a superpowered arm wrestler, and stops the villain of the film, played by Michael Ironside. The movie proves to be a whole lot of fun, which is an element of the DC Extended Universe that doesn’t seem to exist. As Taika Waititi proved with Thor: Ragnarok, you don’t have to be a big-name director to create a fun superhero movie.
6 BLACK LIGHTNING
Outside of Spider-Man, there aren’t many teenage superhero movies that deal with young people learning about the world and deciding to do something to help. The 2009 Russian film Black Lightning, produced by Timur Bekmambetov, manages to follow in the footsteps of Spider-Man. A teenager discovers a flying car and uses it to become a real-life superhero in Russia.
While the whole part with the hero’s father dying because he couldn’t be bothered to help people is a little too much like Uncle Ben and Peter Parker, that relationship dynamic is still an element that is wholly lacking from DCEU films. The movie universe has basically yet to tell an origin story, so it’s hard to see any of these characters grow when you don’t know where they came from in the first place.
Deadpool proved that superhero comedies can actually work, which is a lesson that Warner Bros. needs to learn if they are going to continue the DC Extended Universe and give it a sense of humor. If the studio needs any more inspiration, the 2004 Japanese film Zebraman is a fun direction to take for a superhero movie.
Zebraman follows an everyday man who decides to dress up like the star of an old TV show and fight crime. Little does he know that there is more to the story, and an alien invasion is coming. The film proved to do well enough to earn a 2010 sequel called Attack on Zebra City. It will be interesting to see if Hollywood ever releases a superhero parody film at any point.
Sometimes superhero films can take themselves too seriously, like what we saw in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The 2011 Indian superhero film Ra.One proves that being as ridiculous as possible can actually work for a superhero film. The movie revolves around a new video game that has the ability to enter into the real world, and when the villain escapes, things get crazy.
While critics have scoffed at the film’s premise, many have commended the the special effects that brought Indian cinema to the level that Hollywood currently enjoys. Sure, it’s probably better if mainstream superhero movies stay away from pseudoscience, but sometimes it’s ok to not bother trying to translate the fantastical into something that is grounded and believable. Just don’t be cheesy.
Released in 1968, Barbarella was adapted from the French science fiction comic book series of the same name that ran in the early ‘60s. When Italian film producer Dino De Laurentiis bought the rights to the film, French director Roger Vadim became attracted to the project as a fan of the original comic by Jean-Claude Forest. He ultimately cast a young Jane Fonda in the title role, and the rest was history.
It might not be the greatest comic book adaptation of all time, but it has retained a special status in film history as one of the most influential science fiction movies ever made. At the time of release, it was praised for its unique visuals and cinematography, but the plot prevented it from becoming the true cinematic breakout that 2001: A Space Odyssey had been earlier that year.
2 SNOWPIERCER (SOUTH KOREA/CZECH)
Led by a star-studded cast that included Chris Evans in the lead role, the film Snowpiercer was a surprise hit in 2013. It was adapted from the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette. The film version captured the hearts of Americans with a dystopian adventure story that is lacking from most other comic book adaptations.
Though the movie has a mostly American cast, it was actually a joint venture between South Korean director Bong Joon-ho and Czech Republic’s Barrandov Studios. It originally saw only a limited release in America, but the film performed well enough to merit a much wider release. It has actually proven to be so popular with American audiences that it is currently being adapted into a television series.
1 VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS
Okay, so Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was not too highly regarded when it was released in the summer of 2017, but it did have a lot of good things in it. The visual effects were beautiful and the movie was just a lot of fun. Think of it as something like the Guardians of the Galaxy, only not as well done. That certainly earns it credit over most of the DCEU, though.
French filmmaker Luc Besson actually funded the film by himself and through crowdfunding methods. The movie is also based on the French comic book series Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières. As the producer, director and writer of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Besson basically single handedly made this film happen.