Currently we live in a time when the superhero movie’s popularity is at an all time high. Gone are the days where heroes dressed in costume were considered camp and not a box office draw: the superhero movie is now one of the primary sources of blockbuster cinema entertainment, and of box office bucks. For a time, the possibility that Norse gods, shrinking high-tech suits, and purple aliens coveting galactic jewelry would dominate our theaters would have seemed ludicrous. Who’s laughing now? Huh?!?
We all know the big boys – the Batmans, the Spider-Mans and the rest – but today we would like to take a look at a few lesser known superhero flicks that you should maybe check out. These heroes include a kid fighting evil on his BMX bike to a defender who thwarts his enemies with sushi heat-seeking chopsticks. They’re all definitely worth your time…
10. Hero At Large (1980)
In Hero At Large, the late John Ritter plays an unemployed actor named Steve Nichols who takes a job making public appearances as the hero “Captain Avenger” to promote a movie of the same name. One night he thwarts the robbery of a liquor store, in full Captain Avenger costume, and creates a citywide frenzy for people starved for a hero. He takes it upon himself to stand up for the little guy, and try to make his city a better place. He gets a bit over his head (taking a bullet in the process).
Nichols also learns the potential trappings of being a public hero, when a shifty promoter talks him into making more “rescues” under the pretense of giving the city what they want, when all he’s really trying to do is hype the Captain Avenger movie. Eventually, even though they try to discredit him, and tear him down, in the end he proves himself a real hero, both to himself and the city. Ritter was a gifted comedic actor, and his lighthearted touch to this movie makes it very believable. He’s a nice guy that believes in what the character of Captain Avenger stands for, and he brings it to life in what is possibly one of the most honest, purest “superhero” movies ever made.
9. Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. (1990)
Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D is a superhero comedy from the wonderfully demented minds over at Troma. And if you’re familiar with the company and their output then you’re aware that Kabukiman is as over-the-top and exploitative as any of their other productions. The movie is funny and entertaining and the action is slapstick and visually hilarious. Kabukiman is an unexpected jewel that needs to be seen.
The film tells the story of Harry Griswold, a NYPD detective who witnesses an onstage slaughter during a local Kabuki theater production. During the massacre, elderly Kabuki master Mr. Sato is shot and must pass on the ancient spirit of Kabukiman. Sato’s granddaughter Lotus hopes to inherit the spirit but instead it enters Detective Griswold. Soon enough the spirit completely takes over and Griswold is transformed into Sgt. Kabukiman. Using an unusual arsenal of weapons, including fatal sushi heat-seeking chopsticks and pyro projectile parasols, Sgt. Kabukiman is the hero that genre fans need, but not the one it deserves.
8. Doctor Mordrid (1992)
Before we had a big-budget version of Marvel’s Doctor Strange, we had this little gem from the folks over at Full Moon. Doctor Mordrid is a powerful sorcerer who has sworn to keep Earth safe from the powers of darkness throughout the universe. His arch-enemy Kabal arrives with plans to use his infinite powers to unleash a horde of hellish demons to devour and destroy humankind. The two clash in an epic battle of good and evil that includes destructive mystical abilities and re-animated prehistoric creatures.
Doctor Mordrid is one of those rare films that is completely under the radar, but is totally worthwhile. There is certainly a veil of cheapness that hangs over the entire production, but fortunately the filmmakers pushed forward with a vision and a story which impresses due to its refusal to be looked down upon. Filling the roles with competent actors and merging the modern day (at the time) with the more fantastical elements is done even more smoothly than many recent big-budget blockbusters. *Cough*… Fant4stic.
7. The Heroic Trio (1993)
Three of Hong Kong’s finest actresses unite in this outrageously entertaining, over the top, superheroine adventure. The women ultimately square off against an ancient Ming Dynasty eunuch from the past. Anita Mui is Wonder Woman (no, not that Wonder Woman), who’s married to cop Damian Lau by day. By night, she straps on a mask and takes to the rooftops. Maggie Cheung is Thief Catcher, a tough-as-nails mercenary who offers to find the bad guys for bucks. Michelle Yeoh is Invisible Girl, who starts off as a lackey of the eunuch but eventually sees that she doesn’t have to follow such a dastardly fellow.
Chinese superhero movies range from the ridiculous (Invisible Space Streaker) to the sublime (Super Infra-Man), and this one is very special indeed. A delirious cocktail of fantastical stunt-work (the motorcycle spinning through the air with riders still aboard is a real showstopper), graphic horror (cannibal kids chow down on human entrails), and campy fun (Wonder Woman’s acrobatic display before an audience of adoring children), this packs a huge amount of action into eighty-six minutes and moves like a speeding bullet.
6. Guyver: Dark Hero (1994)
Compared to its predecessor, Guyver: Dark Hero (aka The Guyver 2) is much closer to its source material, more serious and violent. The flashback to the creation of the Guyvers, for instance, is taken almost verbatim from the manga. It stars no-one in particular, but what it lacks in acting talent, it makes up for with less cheese and more blood – a lot more blood. This different approach worked, and Dark Hero has gained a substantial cult following over the years – subsequently receiving better reviews than the first film. Like The Empire Strikes Back, The Wrath Of Khan and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, this one of those rare cases in which the sequel is actually better than the original.
In the first movie, Sean Barker became the unwilling host to an alien bio-armor known as the Guyver. He subsequently destroyed the Kronos Corporation, an organization of mutants who want the Guyver. Now he is trying to find why the Guyver unit forces him to fight and kill evil. He is lead to an archelogical site where scientists discover an ancient space craft. Now he must fight Kronos again before they discover the secrets of the Guyver’s origin.
5. Generation X (1996)
In the mid-90s, after the silver screen failures of Howard The Duck, Captain America and Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher, Marvel decided that perhaps the safe money would be in putting larger-than-life comic book heroes back on TV, where the Hulk and Spider-Man shows had always been reliable ratings-spinners. With that, Fox TV acquired the rights to Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo’s hip, trendy “Junior X-Men” title, Generation X, which they intended to package as a sort of grungy Beverly Hills 90210 with superpowers.
Like the X-Men movies, Generation X (which, awesomely enough, begins by defining “mutation”) takes place at Professor Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters. But this is not the well-funded, elegantly designed mutant secondary academy where the likes of Kitty Pryde would later matriculate. Professor Xavier is nowhere to be seen in Generation X, along with most of the mutants you know and love. Instead, he has left the school to the B-team, most notably Emma Frost/White Queen and Sean Cassidy/Banshee (the firework shooting Jubilee is also in attendance – undoubtedly guaranteed a spot due to her recognizability via the X-Men animated series).
This mostly forgotten made-for-TV film is in no way good but it is interesting to watch Marvel in its early stages still trying to find its way off of the comic book pages.
4. Star Kid (1997)
In a galaxy far away the Trelkins are defending their planet from the invading Broodwarriors. On earth 12-year-old Spencer (played by that annoying kid from Jurassic Park) has his own problems – too shy to talk to girls, ignored by his single parent Dad and bullied at school. When a Trelkin Phase 1 Cyber Assault Suit lands in a nearby junk yard in need of bio-organism to interface with, Spencer concedes and finds himself in control of an 8ft robot. However, when a Broodwarrior comes to capture the suit to help their invasion Spencer finds himself in a situation where he must face his fears.
Yes, it’s a kid movie where the “geek” comes good. The difference here is that it is actually pretty great fun for kids and adults. The story mainly revolves around the relationship between the suit and Spencer. This is handled well with the usual mis-communications (the suit responds to “this is cool!” by starting to heat the internal area to 1000°C) and fish out of water jokes. The chemistry between the two is good and keeps the film fun. Oh, and it was directed by the same guy who made the so-bad-it’s-great masterpiece, Dr. Giggles.
3. Special (2006)
Les is a comic book fan and minion of the city – worse, he’s got a purposeless job, as a pushover metermaid. His boss chides him and forces him to repeat his mantra – “I’m important, and I keep this city running”. The film chronicles his “medication journal” in taking an experimental new drug – Speciopin Hydrochloride – a futile effort to provide meaning to his lonely life. His consultant, Dr. Dobson hands it out like candy. Slowly, Les begins developing superpowers, like floating, reading minds, and walking through walls. Faced with the dilemma of how best to utilize his new “powers,” the answer seems obvious to Les. He puts together a homemade superhero suit and hits the streets to fight crime and protect the world from the forces of evil.
What happens as the film progresses is difficult to explain without robbing the film of its surprises and therefore a lot of its charm, but it takes you on a fairly unconventional ride and right there holding it all together is Les. Funny and heartbreaking in equal measure, it is star Michael Rapaport’s deceptively soulful performance that carries you through the films numerous shifts in tone; he has a unique, puppyish, almost Jimmy Stewart-type, nice-guy way of evoking sympathy from an audience and you’ve likely never seen it put to better use than it is here.
2. Super (2010)
When sad-sack loser Frank sees his ex-addict wife willingly snatched by a seductive drug dealer, he finds himself bereft and wholly unable to cope. But soon he decides to fight back under the guise of a DIY superhero called Crimson Bolt. With a hand-made suit, a wrench, and a crazed sidekick named Boltie, the Crimson Bolt beats his way through the mean streets of crime in hopes of saving his wife.
Super (written and directed by Mr. Guardians Of The Galaxy James Gunn) is an interesting beast to tackle. On the surface it’s comparable to Kick-Ass, the incredibly violent adaptation of Mark Millar’s comic book where someone decides to become a real-life superhero, which came out the same year. But the similarities pretty much end there. Where Kick-Ass uses its violence somewhat to temper what is ultimately an idealist hero origin story played straight; Super uses violence to hammer home how deeply disturbed its characters are, and presents a very dark satire that certainly isn’t for everyone. Super is less a conventional superhero movie than an alternately grim and goofy meditation on what Taxi Driver might have looked like if Travis Bickle had put on a homemade superhero costume and decided to channel his vigilante instincts into beating criminals to death with a giant wrench rather than going the gun-and-assassination route.
1. Turbo Kid (2015)
It’s 1997 and the apocalypse has been and gone. Living alone in his nostalgia-filled bunker underneath a playground is The Kid – a comics-obsessed orphan who wishes for nothing more than to be left in peace. Unfortunately for him, this changes when he comes across the friendly, but utterly manic Apple. Refusing to leave The Kid’s side, his unwaveringly positive new friend accompanies him across the wasteland, ultimately drawing the attention of evil gang leader Zeus and his cronies – including the saw blade-armed Skeletron. In a stroke of luck, The Kid comes across the body of the real-life superhero who inspired his favorite comic book – Turbo Rider – and must take up the mantle, donning the gear and advanced weaponry of his hero in order to take the fight to the ruthless Zeus.
Turbo Kid is a special film. A schizophrenic mash-up of emotions and action, the characters carry the film, but the characters also receive all the empowerment possible thanks to the special effects, the pacing and the general vibe of the feature. This is not only an absurdly fun film, it’s easily one of the finest genre pieces of recent history. If you haven’t seen it, please do so immediately. You’ll thank us later.