There’s no denying that it’s a good time to be a comic book fan. With new movies and television shows based on our favorite comic book characters coming out all the time, it’s easy to get caught up in the Marvel and DC of it all. But not all superheroes come from comic books. In fact, even before the height of the comic book frenzy, filmmakers were creating original super-powered heroes to brighten up our screens. These heroes might not benefit from a plethora of comic book story lines to fall back on, but they still manage to put on their tights and defeat the bad guys.
So if you’re interested in seeing a superhero that appeared on the big screen first, here are 13 Movie Superheroes That Weren’t Based on Comic Books.
The Crimson Bolt and Boltie in Super
The second superhero movie written by James Gunn on this list, Super is a comedy starring Rainn Wilson as Frank, aka The Crimson Bolt, and Ellen Page as Libby, aka Boltie. After Frank’s wife (Liv Tyler) leaves him for a drug dealer (Kevin Bacon) and his attempts to get her back fail, he decides to take up the mantel of resident superhero with a home-made suit and a pipe wrench. What the pair lack in superpowers they more than make up for in enthusiasm, as they deliver savage beatings to various social deviants around their city.
The Toxic Avenger
The Toxic Avenger is a campy superhero horror film about a health club mop-boy who falls into a vat of toxic waste after being chased down by some particularly heinous customers. The ordeal causes him to transform into a disfigured creature of superhuman size with the corresponding superhuman strength, aka The Toxic Avenger. With his new abilities, The Toxic Avenger teaches thugs and bullies some bloody, violent lessons as he cleans up the town of Tromaville.
Originally conceived of as a horror film, The Toxic Avenger retains the extreme violence and blood that came to characterize almost all the films released by Troma Entertainment, the notorious independent horror production company. The film was not a huge hit upon its release, but it went on to become a cult classic, spawning several sequels and an animated series. The Toxic Avenger now serves as the official mascot for Troma Entertainment.
Written by James Gunn, who later went on to co-write Guardians of the Galaxy, The Specials is a comic book satire about a group of superheroes on their day off. In an alternate universe where superhero gangs compete for glory, the Specials don’t even make the top five for most popular superhero group. The Specials gives us a whole new team of underdog heroes to root for, including Strobe (Thomas Haden Church), who can shoot laser beams out of his arms; Ms. Indestructible (Paget Brewster), who has indestructible skin; Deadly Girl (Judy Greer), who can enter the world of the dead; and the Weevil (Rob Lowe), who has the enhanced abilities of an insect.
Notable for its complete lack of action and special effects, The Specials focuses on the superhero team dynamic. The film was produced on tiny budget and was filmed in just 18 days. It received mixed reviews from critics, but many noted its unique take on the genre and humor.
David Dunn in Unbreakable
Directed by M. Night Shymalan, Unbreakable is a superhero-thriller that tells the tale of David Dunn (Bruce Willis), a man who emerges unharmed as the sole-survivor of a train accident. Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a man born with a rare disease that causes his bones to break, seeks out Dunn to share his theory that Dunn’s bones are the opposite: unbreakable. Price believes Dunn is a superhero type on which comic book heroes are modeled. Once Dunn begins testing himself, he discovers he has super strength and extra-sensory perception, allowing him to glimpse crimes other people have committed, which he uses to become an anonymous hero.
M. Night Shyamalan considered Unbreakable a superhero movie and even gave the characters color schemes (green for David and purple for Elijah), but it was ultimately marketed as a psychological thriller. It performed well with critics and audiences alike and is even one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films.
The Incredibles in The Incredibles
The Incredibles is an animated film from Pixar set in a world where “Supers” are forced out of the superhero business and into civilian identities. The former Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and his wife Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) are raising their super-powered children Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Spencer Fox), and baby Jack-Jack in the suburbs. But when Mr. Incredible gets summoned to a remote island, the whole family gets in on the superhero action. Combined, the family’s powers almost resemble those of Marvel’s Fantastic Four, with Mr. Incredible possessing super-strength, Elastigirl possessing the ability to stretch like rubber, Violet possessing the ability to become invisible, and Dash possessing super-speed.
The film had the highest opening weekend box office gross for any Pixar film and it’s beloved by critics. It received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing, and it won the Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Sound Editing, becoming the first Pixar film to win multiple Academy Awards.
Steve Montgomery and Matt Garetty in Chronicle
From Fantastic Four‘s Josh Trank, Chronicle is the found-footage superhero origin tale that shocked almost everyone. When three high school kids unexpectedly gain superpowers, they begin using their telekinesis to cause mischief around town. But as Andrew’s (Dane DeHaan) powers grow stronger, his temper turns him dangerous, and it’s up to the other two teens – Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan) and Matt Garetty (Alex Russell) – to try and control him. When Andrew finally snaps for good, Matt vows to use his new superpowers for only good in the future. A sequel is currently in the works.
Chronicle far exceeded box-office expectations and opened at number one. The film, which was Trank’s directorial debut, earned mostly positive reviews from critics, and many believe that Trank’s excellent work on it is what led to him helming the latest Fantastic Four. But he wasn’t the only person who moved on to a big-budget superhero film – both Dane DeHaan went on to play Harry Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Jordan went on to play Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four.
The Strongholds in Sky High
This superhero comedy from Disney, set in a world where superheroes are well-known and accepted, introduces the Stronghold family. This includes two of the world’s most famous superheroes – The Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston). The Commander is one of the world’s strongest superheroes, while Jetstream is one of the fastest flying. But when their son Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) starts school at Sky High, the floating high school for teenage superheroes, his lack of developed powers lands him on the sidekick track, and he only discovers his real powers later.
Sky High spoofs some of our favorite comic book cliches by giving each character their own color-scheme and making meta-references to the world of superheroes. Most critics appreciated these nods to the world of comic books, and the film received largely positive reviews.
G-Girl in My Super Ex-Girlfriend
The only superhero rom-com on the list, My Super Ex-Girlfriend introduces us to Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman), aka G-Girl, a superhero who acquired super strength, super speed, invulnerability, and heat vision from exposure to a crashed meteorite as a teenager. When Matt (Luke Wilson) breaks up with Jenny, things quickly go awry as the superhero becomes jealous of his new love interest, Hannah (Anna Faris). As G-Girl begins using her powers to ruin Matt and Hannah’s lives, by doing things like tossing a live shark at the pair, Matt begins to plot with villainous Professor Bedlam to strip G-Girl of her powers for good.
Will Smith plays John Hancock, an alcoholic superhero who costs the city of Los Angeles millions of dollars in property damage every time he saves someone. Hancock’s list of powers includes super-strength, flight, and immortality, all of which he uses to stop criminals. Unfortunately, his heroic deeds often come with a hefty price tag, which has made the citizens of LA turn on him. But after Hancock saves Ray Emrey (Jason Bateman), the thankful PR Executive vows to restore Hancock’s reputation as a true superhero.
Hancock was both Will Smith’s and director Peter Berg’s most successful opening to date, though the critical response to the movie was mixed, with many critics believing the second half of the film fell flat. While the film is seven years old now, a sequel is said to still be in development as of earlier this year.
Metro Man and Megamind in Megamind
DreamWork’s Megamind is an animated superhero comedy that begins when a super-villain named Megamind (Will Ferrell) takes down his arch-nemesis, the superhero Metro Man (Brad Pitt). Megamind, suddenly bored with his lot in life, gets the idea to create a new superhero to be his rival, but the plan backfires and he accidentally creates a new, stronger, even more villainous super-villain, requiring Megamind to become his city’s savior. Jonah Hill, Tina Fey, and David Cross round out the voice cast for the film.
Both Megamind and Metro Man are spoofs of classic comic book characters, with Megamind spoofing Lex Luthor and Brainiac and Metro Man spoofing Superman. While Megamind was a financial success, becoming the second highest-grossing superhero comedy film (behind The Incredibles), it actually performed on the low end for a DreamWorks Animation film.
Before Sam Raimi turned Tobey Maguire into Spiderman, he co-wrote and directed Darkman, an all-original superhero action film. The film stars Liam Neeson as Dr. Peyton Westlake, a scientist attempting to perfect artificial skin for use in treating burn victims. After a gang attacks his lab, Peyton is horrifically burnt and left for dead. An experimental medical procedure to get rid of the pain succeeds, but it also gives him super-strength and mental instability. As he plots revenge on his attackers, Westlake learns that he is able to use the synthetic skin he’d been developing on himself, but the skin only lasts for 99 minutes of light exposure.
Darkman, which was an homage to Universal’s 1930’s horror films, earned well at the box office and was a critical success. With classic comic book elements, from the origin story to the angst to the evil villains, the film was praised for its ability to capture the comic book spirit, even as an original property. It’s now considered a cult classic, and has spawned several direct-to-video sequels, a limited Marvel Comics adaptation, and a video game.
The Meteor Man
Written, directed, and starring Robert Townsend, The Meteor Man is about a gentle school teacher named Jefferson Reed who gains super powers when he’s struck by a meteor. Prior to the fluke accident, Reed was staunchly against picking fights with the the local gang, but post-meteor Reed has the ability and desire to scare them off. The contact with the meteor gave Reed superhuman strength, ability to fly, super speed, and x-ray vision. The only problem is that his powers are slowly diminishing.
Seemingly part satire and part children’s movie, The Meteor Man wasn’t a huge hit with critics or at the box office. While the film has entertaining parts, including cameos from Sinbad and James Earl Jones, it was criticized for its implied message that it would take a superhero to solve inner city problems. But despite these issues, the movie developed its own little following, with Marvel releasing a six issue limited series spin-off.
As superheroes become more popular in film and television, expect more original superheroes to skip the page and head straight to the screen. Are there any original superheroes that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!