Comic book movies are the most bankable films being made today, with Marvel leading the pack and both DC Comics and Fox’s X-Men franchise earning a lot of money as well. However, for people who want to see something a little more original, there are also some highly entertaining superhero movies that have no basis in any pre-existing comic book property. What is interesting is that these wholly original films introduce superheroes that are often even more interesting than longtime comic book properties. While everyone loves Captain America, Iron Man, Wonder Woman and Superman, it is always fun to find a creatively fresh new superhero to cheer on to victory.
Some of these original superhero movies go back decades and feature traditional superhero stories, as well as unique angles on the superhero genre and some sci-fi and fantasy superhero hybrids as well. From animated films and independent films to R-rated action flicks and family-friendly films, there is something for everyone who wants to see a brand-new superhero in the world of movies. These are films from prestige studios like Pixar and cult studios like Troma and have directors as famous as James Gunn and as derisive as M. Night Shyamalan. Here is a look at some of the most original superheroes who were born in the world of movies.
M. Night Shyamalan has started to regain some of the promise that he displayed with his first two movies – Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. It was that second movie that many fans call his best. Unbreakable tells the story of David Dunn, an ordinary guy who was the only survivor of a terrible train crash. When he came out of the accident, David soon realized he had always had superhuman strength and invulnerability. He also gained the power to see crimes before they are committed by touching someone.
Unbreakable sees him battle Mr. Glass, a man who has a brittle bone disease, prone to injuries his entire life. It is a different film, one that does not rely on epic superhero battles but instead deals with what it means to be a hero. The sequel, Glass, is coming out in 2019 as David Dunn prepares to battle The Horde from the movie Split.
14. THE INCREDIBLES
Fox has tried to make a Fantastic Four movie three different times; however, the most loyal adaptation of Fantastic Four is not even a movie with Marvel’s First’s Family in it. Brad Bird directed the animated film The Incredibles, which is clearly influenced by the Fantastic Four. The movie starts with a prelude that shows how superheroes disappeared when mounting lawsuits caused the government to force all heroes into retirement.
Bob is the former Mr. Incredible (super strength like The Thing) and works unhappily for an insurance company. Helen is Elastigirl (stretching like Reed Richards), his wife who is happy just to raise her family. They also have three kids – Dash (similar to Johnny Storm but with super speed), Violet (invisibility powers), and the non-powered (at the time) Jack-Jack. When a villain named Syndrome lures them out of retirement, they have to fight for their lives as well as the safety of their home. A sequel is on the way.
When Fox tried to reboot The Fantastic Four in 2015, they brought in who they believed was the perfect director in Josh Trank. However, Trank attempted to make the movie his way, and Fox interfered, causing the film to be a jumbled mess. Instead of making a movie that paid homage to the beloved Fantastic Four comics, it seemed Trank was more interested in making an updated version of his 2011 film Chronicle.
Starring Michael B. Jordan (Fantastic Four), Dan DeHaan (Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Alex Russell, Chronicle is a found footage superhero movie about three high school students who gain superhuman powers. This film is a story about how superhuman powers can affect kids who already deal with severe emotional problems in everyday life. In a time where found footage movies were repetitive, this was a film that surpassed the format.
Will Smith got his first chance to star in a superhero movie thanks to the 2008 movie Hancock. The film was a fascinating look at superheroes with Smith as the hero John Hancock, a reckless alcoholic who saves the city but has developed a bad public image because he destroys almost as much as he protects while in action. The movie takes a turn when one individual he saves is a man named Ray (Jason Bateman), a PR man who decides to help Hancock become a real hero.
Ray convinces Hancock to spend time in jail to both demonstrate that he is willing to pay for the damage he caused while also showing how much the city needs him. The movie then delves into the mystery of who Hancock is, where his powers came from, and whether or not there are others like him on Earth.
Before he was handed the reigns to launch the Spider-Man franchise, Sam Raimi created an original superhero movie in 1990 with Darkman. At the time, Raimi was trying to make a Batman or Shadow movie but couldn’t get the rights and created a superhero of his own instead. The film stars Liam Neeson as a scientist caught in an explosion caused by mobsters that leaves him disfigured. However, the incident also caused him to become incapable of feeling physical pain as well as taking away his tactile sensation, which means he has adrenaline overloads that give him super strength.
Darkman becomes a very violent and vindictive vigilante and sets out to seek vengeance against the mobsters who tried to kill him. While Liam Neeson left after the first movie and Sam Raimi stepped down as the director, two sequels came out in 1995 and 1996 with Arnold Vosloo taking over the lead role in the series.
James Gunn directed the hugely successful Guardians of the Galaxy movies for Marvel, but before that, he created his own original superhero movie. The result was Super, starring Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page. Wilson, who was best known for his comedy role in The Office at the time, starred as Frank, a man whose wife left him for Jacques, a gangster played by Kevin Bacon. Frank chose to wear a mask and become Crimson Bolt, a vigilante who used extreme violence to punish wrongdoers.
Things get dark when Frank decides to go after Jacquez and grudgingly allows a younger girl named Libby to become his sidekick. Libby becomes Boltie and is even more violent and out of control than Frank. The two then make plans to seek vengeance against Jacquez and his men, despite possessing no superpowers.
9. THE SPECIALS
James Gunn wrote an original superhero movie for Craig Mazin to direct back in 2000. This film was titled The Specials and had an impressive cast that included Rob Lowe, Thomas Haden Church and Jamie Kennedy. The movie was more of a comedy than a superhero action film and had little to do with giant superhuman battles, instead focusing on the relationship between the superhero team The Specials during their day-to-day lives.
The Specials are called the sixth or seventh most famous superhero team in their world, and this is because the members are either underpowered or have social shortcomings that don’t allow them to reach any level of success. Instead of seeing the team battle supervillains, they fight and argue with each other, and the entire movie is a satire surrounding climbing the ladder of success and achieving corporate sponsorship. The Specials might be the most dysfunctional superhero team in history.
8. THE TOXIC AVENGER
The most infamous and successful independent movie studio in cinema history is Troma, a studio that prefers violence, raunchy humor, sexual situations, and splatter-gore. The company has a ton of movies, many of which have superhero-styled characters such as Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D., but the entire studio rests on the considerable shoulders of The Toxic Avenger.
The first movie in the franchise was an origin story as Melvin, a skinny weakling who is humiliated at the gym he works at, jumps into a vat of toxic waste. The Toxic Avenger was thus born – a hideously deformed creature that soon began to battle drug dealers and criminals. The movie has tons of skin and a lot of disgusting gore, shot with Troma’s traditionally cheap special effects. There were also two sequels and a musical, as well as an inexplicable children’s cartoon.
7. SKY HIGH
In 2005, an original superhero movie aimed at kids hit theaters with Sky High. The film stars Kurt Russell as Steve Stronghold (The Commander), one of the world’s most powerful superheroes, and Kelly Preston as his wife Josie (Jetstream), another hero. However, the movie itself focuses on a school for teaching and training superheroes called Sky High. The main character is Will, an incoming freshman who is also the son of Steve and Josie.
The movie follows Will, who has inactive powers at the start of the movie, but they soon manifest themselves as the film develops. Sky High is a teen-oriented high school movie where the kids have to save the day when one of The Commander’s former rivals, Royal Pain, returns to attack the school. In a fun cameo, the original Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter, is the principal of Sky High.
While RoboCop might not be considered a superhero movie, that is exactly what the franchise is. The first film in the series hit in 1984, directed by Paul Verhoeven. In the future, a police officer named Alex Murphy is gunned down by a gang of criminals in crime-riddled Detroit. Alex is brought back to life as RoboCop – a cyborg police officer who is then sent out on the streets to stop crime – usually with as much violence as possible.
The movie is less of a superhero movie and more like Judge Dredd, a film that shows a disdain for capitalism and positions RoboCop as the judge, jury, and executioner for criminals. RoboCop appeared in two sequels and a reboot that came in 2014. There has also been TV series, video games, and animated efforts, as well as a comic book series published after the fact.
After starring as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movies but before he starred as Captain America in the MCU, Chris Evans appeared in an original superhero film called Push in 2009. The movie is about people born with superhuman abilities who learn that a government organization is hunting them down one-by-one. Evans is Nick Grant, a Mover (psychokinesis), and Dakota Fanning is Cassie, a Watcher (a precog) that he has to save to bring down the organization hunting them.
Unlike many superhero movies, Push has established its superheroes and villains into categories. Other than the Movers and Watchers, there are also Pushers (implant memories), Bleeders (high-pitched sonic screams), Shifters (shape changers), and more. The movie was a critical failure but was a very creative film with big ideas for the future of superhero movies. Wildstorm published a prequel comic after the movie hit theaters.
Woody Harrelson starred in an independent superhero movie that was a comedy-drama with very dark undertones. Harrelson is Arthur, a man who fights crime under the name Defendor. Arthur has grown up with a hatred for criminals and a desire to catch his arch nemesis Captain Industry, although he has yet to find this mysterious villain, who he blames for his mother’s death. Arthur is also mentally unbalanced and unable to tell reality from fantasy.
The movie shows Defendor meet a young drug addict named Angel (Kat Dennings), who he moves in with and becomes both a friend and protector to. There is also a side plot of Arthur facing criminal charges for attacking a police officer that he claims is corrupt. Defendor is a problematic movie — Arthur is a very unreliable hero to get behind as he is unstable and is more of a tragic character than a heroic one — but it remains an interesting take on the genre.
3. ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE
With the lowest dregs of the other industry hitting its stride, director Jason Trost decided to take one particular genre and implement it into an original superhero movie. All Superheroes Must Die features four heroes known as The Wall, Shadow, Cutthroat and Charge. They wake up in a seemingly abandoned town and realize they no longer have their superpowers and are forced to act on the wishes of a villain named Rickshaw. The villain forces the heroes to take on challenges, where if they fail, innocent people will die.
The four former heroes then have to make decisions on whether they will allow people to die, kill each other, or try to work together to stop Rickshaw. The movie received universally negative reviews and was a failure with poor production and weak characters. Regardless, it was a daring gamble to put the superheroes in a world of a an adult-themed horror movie.
Matt Stone and Trey Parker remain best known for their creation of the ultra-successful animated cartoon South Park. However, the two have also made a few movies, including an original superhero comedy called Orgazmo. The film is a satire, directed by Trey Parker and starring Matt Stone as a Mormon missionary named Joseph who wants to get married to his sweetheart. To make money for the wedding, he agrees to star in an adult movie based on a superhero named Orgazmo.
With life imitating art, an M.I.T. graduate who is working on the movie creates an actual weapon used to shoot someone and, well… let’s just say “finish them off.” Joseph then uses the weapon to battle street thugs who are bullying him into continuing to work in the movies, despite trying to get out of the industry. The film is witty, fun and super controversial.
1. THE POSTHUMAN PROJECT
Released in 2014, The Posthuman Project is an independent, original superhero movie that focuses on a group of teenagers who develop superhuman powers. The film is a superhero movie set in the world of a John Hughes movie. Denny is a teenager who heads out on one last rock climbing trip with his friends before they all split up and head off to college. However, while out, they find an object that injects them with superhuman powers and they have to decide what to do next.
The superhero story is not quite as important here as the real driving force of the film: the teenagers. They are all part of broken and damaged households and have to mature quickly to learn their place in the world, way before they even worry about how to handle their powers. The movie also has a nice family dynamic to it outside of the Breakfast Club-styled relationship between the friends.
Can you think of any other superhero stories that started out on the big screen? Let us know in the comments!
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