There’s no question that the genre of superhero stories more or less originated in comic books.
In the past couple decades we’ve seen a deluge of film adaptations of these comic book characters flood the multiplexes. But buying up the rights to a beloved comic book series is not the only route to making a superhero movie. Let’s look at some great superhero stories born entirely in the medium of film.
This is a very striking and impressive character study about a woman with terrifying powers being hunted by the government. The premise sounds like something out of the X-Men universe but it’s actually a very affecting drama about a woman learning to embrace her strength. The fact that the story is told from the point of view of a woman of color (something mainstream superhero fare has struggled to do) adds even more import and uniqueness to this tale.
A few years before Gunn introduced us to our favorite band of outer space misfits in the MCU he directed this gonzo and very violent tale of a beaten down man donning a costume and picking up a wrench to bash crime’s face in. Featuring totally unhinged performances from leads Rainn Wilson and Elliot Page, the movie is certainly not for the squeamish (just ask the horrified crowd of older folks I saw it with in an arthouse theater) as this is the darkest of comedies.
Chronicle (2012) Dir. Josh Trank
Remember when the found footage movie was all the rage? Well, of course there was a superhero entry in this oddity of a subgenre. The film focuses on three very different high schoolers who are gifted superpowers after a run in with a mysterious object. The movie is an amazing slow burn as we come to see how the powers affect the individual psychology of each of the main characters. It deftly explores the concept of “with great comes great responsibility” and the horrifying consequences when this ideal is ignored.
The Incredibles (2004) Dir. Brad Bird
While many a Marvel fan has called this the best Fantastic Four movie made so far, it’s actually not based on a comic book. Director Brad Bird had been trying to get the rights to the legendary Will Eisner comic The Spirit for years, in his frustration he decided to create his own superhero story. The movie does such an amazing job of balancing edge of your seat action with heartwarming family drama and a healthy dose of Pixar branded comedy is thrown into the mix. Followed up by an excellent sequel as well, it’s become a family classic in the Disney canon.
Darkman (1990) Dir. Sam Raimi
Like a lot of the films on this list, this was created by a filmmaker with a deep love of superheroes but no rights to any of them. Sam Raimi is a name superhero movie fans are well aware from the original Spider-Man trilogy to the upcoming Dr. Strange And The Multiverse Of Madness. Once upon a time though, he was a cult horror director with a love of comic books and a crazy idea for a disfigured hero who uses a chemical substance that allows him to become anyone for 99 minutes. Darkman’s bizarre and at times downright psychotic war against the mob coupled with Raimi’s absolutely berserk filmmaking style make this one of the most unique and fun superhero movies.
So, if you’ve memorized every MCU movie, devoured all of the DCEU, sampled your share of Hellboy movies, and are looking for something a little different in your superhero stories, these five films should open things up. Superheroes are a genre with archetypes and tropes associated with it like any other. They can be born of comics, movies, video games, etc., the sky is truly the limit for these types of characters.