8. The Specials (2000)
Back before director James Gunn wowed everyone with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, he had dipped his toe into the superhero genre a couple times. In 2010 he made the demented superhero/vigilante film Super which gleefully wallowed in blood and insanity.
Before that though, back in 2000 he made The Specials, a film about a team of superheroes dealing with their waning popularity and group politics. The superteam consists of The Weevil (Rob Lowe), The Strobe (Thomas Hayden Church), Ms. Indestructible (Paget Brewster), Minute Man (James Gunn) amongst others.
What Gunn does well in this ensemble comedy, is get into the minutia of what makes these people want to be heroes (and how it is very akin to celebrity) and bring out the humour in it without making the characters unlikable. Some heroes have overinflated egos while others are filled with self doubt. At the end though, it is fun to watch this group of misfits try to get along, stab each other in the back and attempt to save the day!
9. Frailty (2001)
All right, I’ll be the first one to admit that I might be cheating here. However, in my defence, I left out James Gunn’s Super from this list because of the similarities to this film and there is a scene where the main characters define themselves as superheroes. The defence rests.
This (ahem) superhero film is about a Father of two boys, Adam and Fenton, who is visited by God and told to kill all the demons disguised as humans in his area. And much like Thor is given his hammer, Mjolnir, Dad is given a trusty axe to help with the deed. Or he could just be going mad.
Paxton’s direction is stylish and he gets great performances from everyone in the cast, particularly Matt O Leary, who plays the son who suspects dad might be a little touched in the head rather than touched by God. This is a horror film chock full of atmosphere with truly demented moments interspersed with dramatic ones… I mean a superhero film! Heck, if Bibleman is a superhero, I think Bill Paxton’s Dad can be one too. If Bibleman was written by Ed Gein.
10. Special (2006)
This heartbreaking film, unfairly marketed as a wacky comedy (where it even was marketed at all) showcases a powerful performance by Michael Rapaport and an intelligent and thoughtful script. It’s such a shame that it seems to have slipped completely under the radar.
Rapaport plays Les, a lonely and sad man who has a psychotic reaction to some experimental drugs and believes he has superpowers. For once in his life, he feels special. There are plenty of moments of black comedy, but the overall sense of sadness permeates the film and Rapaport is far from laughable as he slips further and further into his fantasy.
The supporting cast is great as well, but this is Rapaport’s film from stem to stern. Eventually, his delusions get him in over his head with some unsavoury types, but though Les believes himself to be superhuman, his humanity is on full display throughout the film, making it such an amazing achievement. A very special film that really should be seen by more of us regular folks.
11. Mirageman (2007)
This Chilean superhero film has everything. Martial arts, comedy, social commentary, drama and great characters. And there’s probably a kitchen sink in there somewhere as well.
Marko Zarar plays Maco, a club bouncer with a past filled with violence, who takes it upon himself to become Mirageman, a vigilante/superhero! As he goes about his heroics the film has a lot of fun with the low budget, hand-held shooting of his rescues and fights. Mixed in are some truly emotional scenes with Maco’s institutionalized younger brother and Maco’s own disillusionment with the world.
The director, Ernesto Diaz Espinoza, does a astonishing job of keeping the film funny and fast paced, while having some surprisingly dark and serious moments. And add to that, Zarar is a truly amazing martial artist, and much of the films fight sequences are very well choreographed with not that much camera tricks.
12. Big Man Japan (2007)
Hitoshi Matsumoto wrote and stars in this mockumentary about a down and out man, who is called to action whenever Japan is being attacked by giant monsters. You see, he has the ability to grow taller than a skyscraper when need be and defeat the kaiju threatening to destroy Japan.
Though the monster battle scenes are very fun and exceedingly strange, when the film focuses on Matsumoto’s character it shows him to be a unhappy and conflicted man. His wife and child left him and society seems to shun him. When he is not a hero, he is not worth much.
Much like Matsumo’s other works, (Symbol, R100, Scabbard Samurai) there is a lot of commentary and extestensial musings behind his seemingly “wacky” films. Big Man Japan is a real treat for Kaiju fans and those wanting something to think about long after the movie is over.
13. Zebraman 2: Attack on Zebra City (2010)
Back in 2004, director Takeshi Miike made a charming superhero film Zebraman, about a man who finds happiness in his sad life by donning a Zebraman suit and fighting crime. Well, crime that turns out to be aliens. Sounds crazy, huh? Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
In Zebraman 2, super-director Takeshi Miike (able to make 3 movies in a single bound!) transports our hero to 2025, when Tokyo has changed to Zebra City and it’s police are able to do whatever they want, including murder, during “Zebra Time”. Show Aikawa, Zebraman from the first film, is an amnesiac who the police have failed to assassinate, who goes into hiding and has to remember the hero he once was to save the city from the evil Zebra Queen, who wants to use aliens to take over the world. Crazy, huh?
Miike mocks the media and pop culture gleefully while using the zebra motif to highlight the black and white shades of his characters. If Miike ever decides to do a Zebraman 3, I’m sure it can’t be any more unpredictable than this inventive follow up.
14. All Superheroes Must Die (2010)
Teen Titans meet Saw in writer/director/star Jason Trost’s low budget superhero/horror film.
A group of superheroes wake up in an abandoned town without their powers. It turns out they were captured by deranged supervillain, Rickshaw (James Remar), who makes them solve a series of Saw inspired traps to save the innocent civilians.
Now this is not a film without it’s flaws. The young superheroes never really feel like anything beyond a bunch of kids doing cosplay, and the setup of superheroes in a horror film really does not pay off when they don’t have their powers.
But what Trost does manage to successfully achieve is to show the group dynamics in a way that feels like these are “comic book heroes” who are dealing with stuff more horrific than simply stopping a bank robbery. The stakes are a lot higher, and the results of a wrong move are horrific. And Remar is great as Rickshaw, having lots of fun essentially playing a more theatric version of Jigsaw.
Not necessarily a fim you need to run out to see, but a walk won’t kill you.
15. Chronicle (2012)
A hit that seemed to come out of nowhere, Josh Trank’s found footage superhero origin film is filled with a sense of wonder, inventiveness and darkness.
The film is about 3 teens who develop superpowers after discovering a buried UFO. It’s all fun and games as the 3 learn to use their powers to fly and do other neato things. However, once the outsider of the trio starts to see that developing superpowers has not stopped his awkwardness, he starts to withdraw and go to a much darker place than his friends. And then the trouble starts.
Chronicle is not only a great looking film, using low end technology with big budget special effects much like District 9, but it has a dramatic story that is surprisingly thoughtful and adult for what looked like what was going to be a straight popcorn film. And it made a star out of Dane DeHaan, who perfectly captured the uncomfortable teen who turns to the dark side, while remaining sympathetic.
Considering this is his film debut, Trank shows real promise as a filmmaker with his talent and understanding of the genre. In other words, come on Fantastic Four, be good!
Author Bio: Chris Brown loves movies. And comics. And occasionally breakfast for supper, which can be a real treat.