10 of the best alternative superhero movies

If the trailer for The Avengers has whetted your appetite for comic-book heroes – and you've seen the classics – check out these lesser-known superhero films

Super (2010)

Super has got Kevin Bacon in it, so you know it’s good. Seriously though, it’s good. When our protagonist, a cook called Frank, loses his former junkie wife to the influence of a drug boss, he decides to become a superhero. Obviously. It's a blackly comic take on the superhero film that mocks the glorification of violence in film with not-so-subtle irony.

Unbreakable (2000)

Probably the last good film M. Night Shyamalan made. Bruce Willis plays ordinary schlub David Dunn, who discovers he's invincible. Or Unbreakable, if you will. He's mentored by brittle-boned superhero fan Samuel L Jackson, who tries to persuade Dunn to use his powers in the manner of a comic book hero. Shyamalan downplays the overt superheroics to explore how comic book morality and characters might function in a more realistic setting. Unbreakable didn’t do as well as it deserved on release – but it's received a lot of cult love since.

Defendor (2009)

A brilliantly heart-warming depiction of a mentally less able fellow who thinks he’s a superhero. Said fellow is played by Woody Harrelson, who conjures up a cheesy, over-the-top hero who you can’t help but root for. Comparisons with the better-known Kick-Ass are hard to avoid, but Defendor takes its parodic take on superheroes to much darker places.

Darkman (1990)

Straight from the brain of Evil Dead and Spider-Man director Sam Raimi, Darkman is a hideously deformed and pretty mental scientist (Liam Neeson) who’s out to get revenge on the evil fellows who put him in that state. Raimi wanted to direct a film based on the adventures of 1930s pulp hero The Shadow, but couldn’t get the rights. So he made his own superhero, and got a cult following in the process. Again.

Rocketeer (1991)

What do you mean you didn’t see this? It’s a classic. Ridiculous helmets, prototype jetpacks, Jennifer Connelly in her heyday, and Timothy Dalton as a villainous Errol Flynn-alike, all wrapped up in a 1930s pulp-adventure setting straight out of Indiana Jones. How this isn’t still on TV daily is beyond us.

The Crow (1994)

This gothed-up revenge tale is most famous for star Brandon Lee's tragic on-set death. That would've attracted the morbidly curious to the film in any case – but the fact that the film is a dark yarn in which a murdered man returns from the dead to seek vengeance for his wife’s death made The Crow's cult status inevitable.

Orgazmo (1997)

Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park fame ventured onto the big screen for this 1996 outing, in which a naive young Mormon is recruited as a superpowered porn star. Orgasmo is born: a sexual pleasure dealing, crime-fighting, God-fearing superhero. Unique isn't the word.

Ubermensch (2009)

This one you almost definitely won't have heard of. It's a short film made by Simon Temple, winner of the Best Film at the 2010 Irish National Sci Fi Awards. Hence you not hearing about it. Without giving too much away it's about what would have happened if Superman's vessel had landed in Germany and he'd grown up under the Nazis instead of learning about Truth, Justice and the American Way. Oh yeah, it's good – really, really good. Watch all sixteen and a half minutes of Ubermensch on Vimeo.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

Bryan Lee O'Malley's comic was a joyful fusion of influences, from 8-bit video games to manga. For the film adaptation, Spaced director Edgar Wright produced eye-popping visuals and boss battles against the likes of Chris Evans (Captain America) and Brandon Routh (Superman). A superhero for the gaming generation.

Captain Invincible (1984)

This one stars a WWII superhero who goes into hiding in Australia after being accused of supporting communists. When a superweapon threatens America he comes back into action, but he’s now an alcoholic. Ridiculous, funny, low budget and it features Christopher Lee singing like a madman. What more could you ask for?


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