From The Matrix to Unbreakable, proof why not all the great superhero movies came from comics.
This weekend sees the release of Lucy, in which Scarlett Johansson increases her brain capacity by 100%, thereby developing the ability to warp reality. Coming from the imagination of crazy action auteur Luc Besson, rather than being adapted from a comic book, Lucy promises to be, if not original, then at least a little different to the usual super heroics we have come to expect from the likes of DC and Marvel.
So if superheroes are your thing, but you’re getting a bit tired of the comic book variety, here are ten great superhero films not adapted from comic books.
The Matrix (1999)
Inspired by comics and anime more than actually adapted from any one source, The Matrix defined the late 1990s with its wild action set pieces and state of the art special effects. Sure, bullet time and wire work may be done to death now, 15 years later, but at that moment, on the brink of a new millennium, Neo, Trinity and Morpheus were the superheroes we needed as we headed into an unknowable future.
The Toxic Avenger (1984)
This hilariously schlock-tastic cavalcade of bad taste sees a picked-on janitor get turned into a monstrous superhero by an accident involving toxic waste. Produced by the infamous Troma Entertainment, “Toxie” becomes a figure of social justice against corruption despite his outwardly disgusting appearance.
Directed by James ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Gunn, this filthy, vile and very non-PC take on ordinary people deciding to become superheroes is very much steeped in Gunn’s roots as an alumnus of Troma Entertainment. Ellen Page is a force to be reckoned with, as she takes this idea to new and revolting levels.
Clive Barker’s film based on his own novel is a dark fantasy about a secret society of folkloric creatures living in an underground city that must fight for their very survival. Hacked to pieces by the studio, this underrated cult film feels like the pilot to an awesome TV series that was never made. It is particularly worth watching for David Cronenberg as a serial killing therapist – that is not a typo.
James Bond series (1962-present day)
There is no doubt that James Bond is a superhero. With his wits, gadgets, and his car,s he has foiled many a plan for world domination. But it is during the increasingly ridiculous Roger Moore years where the character and his world became a living, breathing comic book. If you don’t agree, just take a look at Moonraker. On second thoughts, don’t. Really, don’t.
The Incredibles (2004)
This story of a family of superheroes is slick pop entertainment at its finest. Brad Bird is the king of simultaneous action and can put a sequence together like nobody’s business. While not directly adapted from a comic book, The Incredibles uses and subverts the tropes to brilliant effect.
Paul Verhoeven’s satire of politics and corporatism is shiny, funny and ultraviolent. Loudly subverting the Reagan-era Americanism that allowed for its very existence, Robocop is also the origin story of a superhero. Officer Alex Murphy must fight his programming to reclaim his soul and become, in the director’s own words, “An American Jesus with a gun.”
“From the dawn of time we came…” This film about immortals doing battle across history has everything: a cool mythology, copious swordfights, a rocking soundtrack by Queen and, for some reason, French actor Christopher Lambert is playing a Scotsman while Sean Connery is playing a Spaniard pretending to be Egyptian. Great stuff; just avoid the sequels like the plague.
Sam Raimi channels the anarchic spirit of his Evil Dead series to tell a suitably bonkers superhero tale about a disfigured man (played by Liam Neeson) who uses light-sensitive synthetic skin to don disguises in order to take down the Mob and reunite with his estranged fiancée. Yes, it IS as awesome as it sounds.
Whatever the quality of his later output, M Night Shyamalan’s sophomore feature turns comic book tropes on their head to thrilling effect. As realistic as a superhero origin story gets, Unbreakable prefaces the ‘dark and gritty’ superhero reboots of the last ten years. Also, its twist ending is not only Shyamalan’s best, but is still just as effective 14 years on.
Featured image: Orion
Inset images: Warner Bros; Troma Entertainment; IFC Films; Warner Bros; United Artists; Pixar; Orion; Thorn EMI; Universal; Buena Vista