10 Superhero Movies NOT Based on Comics in the Last 10 Years
When discussing the greatest superhero movies that weren’t actually based on any preexisting source material, most people’s minds go to films like “Unbreakable” and “The Incredibles.” And as incredible as they may be, they’re starting to became a little dated when it comes to recent examples. So we decided to focus on the past 10 years only as we try to decipher whether it’s the concepts behind comic books that make them so intriguing, or if larger-than-life hero movies are even worth the time if they aren’t directly pulled from a previous work (not to mention their bizarre knack for one word titles and blue-tinted promotional imagery).
Some would argue that the worst thing about the new “Fantastic Four” movie (besides being a general train wreck) is that it is essentially based on the comic books in name only. Fans don’t tend to be too fond of drastic changes to source material, which is probably one of many reasons why director Josh Trank’s latest superhero epic failed so miserably. However, maybe this just means he should stick to original stories like his debut effort “Chronicle.” While not exactly a pulse pounding thrill ride, the idea of taking a found footage approach to the traditional superhero origin story seemed to work pretty well, with the film not only generating over ten times its $12 million budget, but also garnering enough positive buzz to warrant a sequel.
Of course, there are other directors out there who can nail the superhero genre in any form. Take James Gunn, for instance. Before he was breaking the box office with Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” he had already written two films based around superhero characters that weren’t based on anything from comic books. While his first foray into such material, “The Specials,” was released in 2000 and followed the misadventures of lackluster superheroes, his follow up effort “Super” (which he also directed) went on to become a cult classic. It centered around a somewhat unstable man who decides to take on the criminal element as a masked vigilante after his wife leaves him. While the film itself could be considered a fairly substantial bomb due to grossing less than half a million dollars on a $2.5 million budget, there are those who consider it a superior version of the comic-based film “Kick-Ass,” which was released in the U.S. nearly a year prior but shared a very similar theme of becoming superheroes in a realistic world.
Not to be confused with “The Specials,” which we mentioned in our previous entry, “Special” focuses on superpowers in a much different way than anything else on this list. Namely, those powers only exist as a figment of lead character Les’ (Michael Rapaport) imagination due to some bad pharmaceuticals. Another low budget film that didn’t exactly wow everyone who saw it nor pull in much money, it’s still a very intriguing entry in the “superhero films not based on comics” genre, as the only other movie to remotely tackle a similar plot of unhinged people thinking they have superpowers would be the 1999 movie “Mystery Men.” Even then, “Mystery Men” would still probably have more in common with “The Specials” than “Special.”
Are you starting to notice that when superhero films aren’t revolved around comics, they tend to be much darker? If not, try watching “Hancock” and see if it changes your mind. Whether it’s the first half of the film, which follows a drunken John Hancock (Will Smith) as he flies around Los Angeles barely doing more good than harm, or the second half which delves into his much too convoluted backstory involving a race of near extinct immortals that get weaker when they are close to one another, you are looking at a superhero movie that’s as gritty as it is disjointed and at times completely illogical. Fortunately, the films stellar cast alone is enough to keep it from being a total dud, although it had critics virtually split down the middle.
Before Chris Evans hit it big as Captain America (but after he shat the bed as the Human Torch in two “Fantastic Four” movies), he decided to give big budget superheroes another go with the generally panned sci-fi thriller “Push.” Featuring a very generic plot involving shadowy government organizations, erasing memories and psychic characters classified with names like “Pushers,” “Movers,” “Watchers” and “Shifters,” this film tries so hard to be original that it comes off horribly cliché. While it was able to gross roughly $10 million more than it cost, we find it hard to believe than anyone who saw it will be clamoring for a sequel, even if it did get a limited comic book prequel series in its honor just prior to the film’s release.
Sky High (2005)
Let’s try to get back on pace with a superhero movie that was actually pretty well received all-around. And with good reason. Some of the best movies out there are the ones that can take a familiar genre and put a fun yet seemingly obvious spin on it. In the case of “Sky High,” we have superheroes meet high school, as we follow teenager Will Stronghold as he not only realizes his parents are superheroes, but that they’ve sent him to a high school that trains kids to follow in their parents’ footsteps. What follows is a highly entertaining tale of a superhero/teenager coming into his own which is both relatable and enjoyable for the entire family.
Much like the previously mentioned “Super,” which had the misfortune of featuring a plot very closely related to a previously released superhero film, “Zoom” had a concept so similar to “Sky High” that it’s even difficult to tell the posters apart. Be that as it may, the film’s special effects are so poorly done and its plot so terribly executed that had it beaten “Sky High” to theaters, it is entirely possible that that it would have never been green-lit. Just to prove we aren’t being unnecessarily harsh, either, we’d like to point out that “Zoom” actually has a lower Tomatometer rating (coming in at a whopping 3%) than one of this years biggest superhero bombs “Fantastic Four.” Considering this movie came out at a time when poor computer graphics weren’t that big of a deal as long as the movie itself was decent, that’s never a good sign.
Of all the computer animated movies that come out these days, we’re surprised “Megamind” was never given a sequel. Having grossed well over twice its $130 million budget worldwide, somehow it still wound up being DreamWorks Animation’s lowest-grossing CG film. Nevertheless, it was still praised by most critics as being visually invigorating and very funny despite many of them finding it fairly run-of-the-mill in terms of both the superhero and animation genres. However, with a voice cast featuring the likes of such A-listers as Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey and Jonah Hill, perhaps the effort of getting them back together again would be more trouble than it was ultimately worth.
Paper Man (2009)
Ryan Reynolds clearly isn’t going to stop doing superhero films until he stars in a hit, so it should come as no shock that he dabbled outside the world of comic-based properties in the 2009 indie movie “Paper Man.” While this could hardly be considered a superhero movie in line with the others since the only superpowered character is Reynolds’ imaginary Captain Excellent, it was just barely considered anything but a mess by critics who saw it as overly quirky to the point of being too gimmicky for its own good. In the end, the stories main conflicts just weren’t fleshed out enough to feel like a story worth telling, even if the imaginary superhero friend angle was quite original in and of itself.
For the final film on our list, we decided to take a trip into the near future. “Guardians,” also known as “Zashchitniki” in its native Russia, is already being hailed as the country’s first superhero blockbuster months before it’s even due to hit theaters. But with a teaser trailer like the one released earlier this month, it’s not hard to see what all the fuss is about. Centering on a squad of Cold War test subjects given special powers who are called to task for another major mission in the present day, we can only hope it will translate to the screen as interestingly as it sounds.