The 10 Best Superhero Movies That Weren't Made by Marvel or DC

The 10 Best Superhero Movies That Weren't Made by Marvel or DC

Aug 14, 2013

It's no secret that the vast majority of superheroes come from the Marvel and DC comic book universes, so it's not surprising that the vast majority of superhero movies have the Marvel or DC logo stamped across them. But what about the superhero movies that aren't from one of the Big Two? They may not be as frequent or as high profile, but there have been plenty of superhero films that have been based on characters from smaller publishers of have been created directly for the screen. And that's why we're here: it's time to count down the 10 best superhero movies that aren't from Marvel or DC.

For the record, we really only followed one simple criteria: it had to be a superhero movie, not a comic book movie. Dredd may be a terrific movie from a non-DC/Marvel publisher, but Judge Dredd himself is not a superhero. 

10. Hancock

Hancock is a film of two distinct halves and one of those halves is very good. The title character (played with typical Will Smith-iness by Will Smith) is an irresponsible superhero who lives like a bum and has all the grace of a wrecking ball. This drunk, superpowered slob is an amusing send-up of the typical movie superhero, who acquire powers and immediately become beacons of justice. For a while, the film remains a fun romp, with Hancock hiring a publicist, accepting a prison sentence to take responsibility for all of the damage he's caused over the years and proceeding to clean up his act and transform into a first rate crime fighter. It's a shame that the second half of the script lets Smith and director Peter Berg down with a series of increasingly nonsensical plot twists, but for a good 60 minutes or so, Hancock is one of the more unique and strange superhero movies in recent memory.


9. Kick-Ass

Special Note: Technically, Kick-Ass is published by Icon, the creator-owned imprint of Marvel comics. Since it's completely disconnected from the normal Marvel brand we believe it warrants inclusion here.

How often does a film based on a comic book transcend its source material? Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of Mark Millar's not particularly great comic is a wild, bizarre and bloody romp. Although shaggy and rough around the edges, this tale of "real-life" superheroes coasts by on charm and manic energy, with the various narrative speed bumps canceled out by the cast's game performances. What makes Kick-Ass especially interesting is that it takes place in a world where Marvel and DC comics actually exist and lend the cast of wannabe vigilantes the necessary inspiration. It's no accident that Nicolas Cage's "Big Daddy" is dressed like George Clooney's Batman and sounds like Adam West. 


8. Mystery Men

In a weird way, Mystery Men is about 10 years ahead of its time. Released two years before the superhero-movie revolution really kicked off with Bryan Singer's X-Men, this comedy about a team of bizarre and frequently useless crime fighters feels like a scathing parody of movies that hadn't even been made yet. It's surreal to watch Mystery Men now and to see it deflate the comic book movie template before the comic book movie template was officially written. Although the film opened to mixed reviews back in the day, it's aged extremely well, gaining more relevance (and becoming much funnier) as superheroes have become dominating Hollywood.


7. Super

While Kick-Ass initially sets out to be a movie about what would happen if people living in the real world put on costumes and fought crime, it eventually abandons any sense of reality in favor of typical, over-the-top (and entertaining) action. That initial concept is much better handled by James Gunn's Super, which is frequently disturbing and uncomfortable in its depiction of a person putting on a colorful suit and fighting crime. Rainn Wilson's "Crimson Bolt" is a vigilante driven by obsession, depression and delusion -- he's Travis Bickle in tights. Although Super is a funnier film than Taxi Driver, it doesn't shy away from getting down and dirty, asking uncomfortable questions about the very concept of superheroes. It's shocking that Gunn is now directing Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy since he previously made a movie that did its damnedest to rip the stuffing out of this genre.


6. Unbreakable

As far as M. Night Shyamalan's star has fallen in recent years, you've got to hand it to the man: it takes a certain amount of nerve to follow up a smash-hit horror movie like The Sixth Sense with a slow and methodical deconstruction of superheroes. While Super uses the idea of a superhero in the real world to turn the genre inside out, Unbreakable places a Superman in our world to examine and celebrate the idea of heroes. Unbreakable may be a dark film and it may be a slow film and it may not have any action whatsoever, but its depiction of a godlike man coming to grips with the untold power inside of him is just as powerful (and not as on the nose) as something like Man of Steel. Although the twist ending feels a little unnecessary, Unbreakable remains one of Shyamalan's best films and makes you wonder what went so horribly wrong when he was tasked with making more literal action films with the likes of The Last Airbender.


5. Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army

On page and on-screen, there has never been another hero quite like Hellboy. A demon who escaped from Hell as a baby and was raised in government captivity to become the world's greatest paranormal investigator (he punches monsters in the face really hard), he's one of the most endearing of all comic book heroes, a loveable sad sack who just happens to be a massive demon with red skin and a pair of horns. Over the course of two (criminally underappreciated) films, actor Ron Perlman and director Guillermo del Toro made us fall in love with this big lug, letting us grow invested in his burgeoning romantic relationship with fellow agent Liz and his various friendships and rivalries. There's something offbeat and sweet about these movies that separate them from the rest of the superhero pack. It's a shame that a third and final film feels less likely by the day.


4. Chronicle

Josh Trank's Chronicle has a nasty little trick up its sleeve that elevates it from an interesting movie to a pretty great one. What begins as a found-footage take on the superhero origin story (three teens gain extraordinary powers, learn about great power and great responsibility) slowly reveals that the central character isn't a hero at all, but rather a burgeoning supervillain. The result is a gritty and gut-wrenching riff on superhero movies that forces us to identify with and understand a sociopath who is one mask and cape away from being Dr. Doom. The found-footage format, which initially seems unnecessary, ultimately proves vital, making all of the raw emotions and realistic violence feel like something you've stumbled upon instead of a story you're being told.


3. The Rocketeer

There's a timeless quality to Joe Johnston's The Rocketeer that has allowed it to age gracefully. Made just a few years before CGI started to become a thing in Hollywood, this is the story of a 1930s test pilot who stumbles across an experimental jetpack and uses it to fight Nazi spies on the eve of World War II. The combination of practical effects, period setting and actors who look like they walked right out of an old-school adventure serial contribute to the film's infinite charms. It may not be as good as something like Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it truly feels like it was cut from the same cloth. In an era where these kinds of movies follow a "bigger is better" philosophy, The Rocketeer is a reminder that sometimes, simpler can be better.


2. Darkman

Years before he was given the reins to the Spider-Man franchise, director Sam Raimi proved himself more than capable at tackling the superhero genre with Darkman, a character he created after he couldn't secure the rights to Batman or the Shadow. Interestingly, many of the stylistic choices Raimi would make with Spider-Man 12 years later are already evident here, making this the spiritual successor to three of the most popular superhero movies of all time. Naturally, this is a smaller movie with a stranger, nastier hero (Darkman is a scientist who develops superhuman strength, resistance to pain and a certain amount of insanity after an experiment goes wrong), but it's so clearly the same voice at work that it's just plain surreal. In addition to simply being a preview of things to come, Darkman is also a darn good movie, a wild and weird superhero movie that feels like it comes from a bigger and more entrenched world than it does. It's a must-see for Raimi fans, but it's also a must-see for Liam Neeson's performance, which finds the actor trying on an action hero role years before he'd reinvent himself with Taken.


1. The Incredibles

Just how good is Pixar's The Incredibles? It's so good that you simultaneously want a sequel and never want one. It leaves you with such a high that you want to see more of this superpowered family but you also know that there's no way they could top this. Although inspired by the family dynamics of Marvel's Fantastic Four and the antisuperhero world of Alan Moore's Watchmen, The Incredibles creates its own rich, lived-in world that demands you search every frame for new and exciting details. Perhaps it's because The Incredibles is free of decades worth of backstory baggage that the film is so successful. Writer-director Brad Bird cherry picks ideas and plot points from across superhero history and fills in the gaps with his own imagination, creating a universe that feels like someone carved all of the bad story runs and poor decisions out of a long-running comic book world and left behind the cream of the crop. It all manages to feel comforting and familiar while being its own thing altogether. This is a great, great movie.

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