5. Darkman (1990)
Although Raimi’s Darkman has a loyal cult following, it has been largely overlooked by superhero fans. Horror king Sam Raimi, once again proving that some of his best work is his non-horror material, delivers a genre-bending story of revenge and a man walking the thin line between sanity and insanity.
Liam Neeson plays the original hero incredibly well, portraying a monster with a heart. Darkman is rather special considering he is not a comic book creation. Raimi created Darkman after he couldn’t secure the rights for Batman or The Shadow, and instead decided to create an original hero and story.
As studios scrape the pages of DC, and particularly Marvel, for literally any story to tell, it is refreshing to see an original character like Darkman and the film is totally worth revisiting.
4. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Argued by many fans as the Dark Knight’s finest onscreen performance, Mask of the Phantasm is a stylish neo-noir mystery, with terrific dialogue and stunning animation. The voice acting is superb and Kevin Conroy in particular delivers a career-defining performance as the Caped Crusader.
Mask of the Phantasm was initially set to be a VHS release but was given a theatrical release after the studio saw the strength of the final product. Sadly, it failed at the box office, but over time has received an enormous cult following and occasionally gets a mention in Wired and other similar publications.
Mainstream audiences appear to have been so intoxicated by the brilliant Nolan trilogy, that exploring pre-2005 Batman might seem unnecessary. However, Mask of the Phantasm expands on Bruce Wayne, bringing slightly more depth to the character than some other portrayals. It is a true must-see for any superhero fan.
3. Spiderman (2002)
This film has everything a superhero fan could want: a perfect villain portrayed by the sinister Willem Defoe, a gripping origin story, a down-on-his-luck youth just trying to get by, and the New York skyline.
Sam Raimi’s Spiderman catapulted to the top of the box office and was a sensational smash hit. So why is it underrated? Spiderman is often overlooked largely because it occurred just before the superhero explosion of 2008, and some feel it is overshadowed by the brilliant Spiderman 2 2004.
However, Raimi’s direction is on particular form in the 2002 outing. Parker’s gradual evolution into Spiderman is paced perfectly. The relationships between Parker, Uncle Ben, Aunt May, Mary Jane, and both Harry and Norman Osborn are achingly real and each interaction feels laced with the authentic social struggle of any introverted young person.
The characters and the direction are by far the strongest points of Spiderman. Willem Defoe’s descent into madness, although perhaps a little rushed, oozes the kind of evil possession that Raimi is accustomed to. Spiderman is a film all superhero fans should revisit as it delivers the perfect origin story and displays heartfelt characters that are currently absent from most hero films of late.
2. Unbreakable (2000)
Unbreakable is a superhero film in disguise. How perfectly metaphorical is that? M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller follows Bruce Willis as a Philadelphia security guard during his gradual discovery of his own superpowers. The film looks beautiful and was clearly in the hands of someone who respects the comic book format. Shyamalan’s expert use of colour in the film subtly ‘dresses’ his characters in their costumes.
The performances from Willis and, particularly, Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price are sublime. Each scene is framed like a comic book. Certain shots feel so iconic that you’d be convinced Shyamalan is referencing an existing comic. Shyamalan delivered a stunning original script that he had meticulously worked on during the post-production for The Sixth Sense 1999.
For any fan of the genre who wants to see more from a superhero film, Unbreakable delivers a suspenseful, gripping and maturely-delivered story that also just happens to be a superhero film. Unbreakable is arguably one of M. Night Shyamalan’s best films and belongs in the elite of superhero flicks.
1. Watchmen (2009)
Despite creator Alan Moore’s hatred of it, Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, it is actually a feast for the eyes and mind. For any fans of the graphic novel (one of the best things ever put to paper), Watchmen delivers several key characters in close to their purest form. Dr. Manhattan, played by Billy Crudup, is almost cut out of the pages and placed on the screen. His serene soliloquies are just as dreamy and thought-provoking as in the novel and provide insight into the mind of one the greatest superhero characters of all time.
Rorschach perhaps stole the show as the blunt, relentless mystery man, hell-bent on pursuing his code of justice. The Comedian is as slimy and disconcertingly likeable as in the novel and certain scenes are even more heart-wrenching as they unfold on the screen (particularly the Vietnam flashbacks and the incident involving Silk Spectre).
Zack Snyder’s vision deviated slightly from the novel, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The Minutemen are supposed to be just average citizens standing up for justice; however, in Snyder’s picture, Night Owl and the second Silk Spectre possess deadly hand-to-hand combat skills and break bones like they were toothpicks.
Nevertheless, when viewing an onscreen adaptation of any story, no matter the source material, rather than expecting an exact replica, it is worth watching the film as an extension of the universe, as an addition instead of a replacement.
Watchmen surprised some viewers due to the realistic social and political subject matter, the gritty darkness and the close to 3-hour runtime. However, Watchmen is not a film that uses the superhero concept as a gimmick; instead, the story runs deep into the veins of the human condition, explores humanity’s flaws under a microscope, and delivers a philosophical punch-line that will leave you pondering for days after viewing. Watchmen is a truly underrated, powerful experience.
Author Bio: Rob is a 24 year old Musician from Hampshire, who is currently pursuing fiction writing. Rob has aspirations of becoming an author and screenwriter.