Would Billy Zane have been in Ben Stiller’s Zoolander if his The Phantom launched the superhero franchise it should have? Would Schmidt of the hit comedy New Girl have lampooned Zane’s celebrity status by declaring himself a “Zaniac” in one memorable episode of the sitcom if Zane’s interpretation of one of the world’s first great costumed crime-fighters wasn’t spot-on? The answer, of course, is no. Alas, a franchise wasn’t in the cards. Critics drubbed the flick, while true comic book geeks did what they do over it: geeked out. Here are 11 other underrated comic book and superhero movies surely worthy of more love than they received.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Now, now, slow down. Sure, the rabid Pilgrim fanbase gobbled up Edgar Wright’s adaptation of the Bryan Lee O’Malley trip of a hero, but that’s about it. At best, the film starring Michael Cera is dismissed as a cult classic, and it’s so much more than that. True to the collection of comics that inspired it, it boasted inspired casting, with the aforementioned Arrested Development and Superbad actor in the lead. Plus, it gave a waiting world Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a pitch-perfect Ramona Flowers, whose exes Pilgrim has to fight. Let’s not even get into the cameos: Oscar-winner Brie Larson, Anna Kendrick and even Captain America himself, Chris Evans. Seriously, where’s the sequel?
The admittedly off-kilter flick starring Will Smith as a superhero prone to excessive drinking and sloppily violent outbursts (not to mention serious obliviousness when it comes to the rubble left in the wake of his rescues) is one of those movies one must watch a few times to truly appreciate. It’s deep. At its core a love story, Hancock co-stars the formidable, lovable Jason Bateman. He’s a bit lost regarding the love triangle he’s a part of, mainly because it involves his wife (Charlize Theron). This was pre-Atomic Blonde and Mad Max Theron too yet post-Aeon Flux. Which, come to think of it, should be on this list as well.
Directed by then-newbie Josh Trank, the awesomeness that was, and remains, Chronicle is basically what got him the gig directing the ill-fated Fantastic Four reboot starring Miles Teller. (It can be argued that film should be on this list too, but no pushing our luck here). Chronicle details the aftermath of three highschoolers discovering a mysterious substance that gives them each superpowers. It introduced audiences to actors such as Michael B. Jordan and Dane DeHaan and is in many ways the Blair Witch of superhero movies.
Dwight Schrute from The Office as a costumed vigilante? Makes perfect sense actually. It even comes off as an episode of the NBC classic sitcom that could have actually been made. But Super plumbs depths even Threat Level Midnight didn’t. With Ellen Page as a spunky sidekick and Kevin Bacon as a truly menacing villain, Super is just that. Rainn Wilson delivers meaningful monologues, in costume and out, as a man whose broken heart paves the way to herodom.
It can be argued that Upgrade isn’t underappreciated at all. It brought in triple what it cost to make. Plus, it had Leigh Whannell at the helm, the epitome of a filmmaker on a roll. It started with Saw and careened through the Insidious series, recently culminating in hit The Invisible Man, starring Elisabeth Moss. But somewhere in there was this gem, the story of a man paralyzed in an accident that killed his wife and later accepts an inventor’s offer to give something called STEM a whirl. Not only does it return his ability to walk, but it bestows upon him superhuman strength and agility. Furthermore, there’s a trademark Whannel (read: Saw) twist ending. That’s Blumhouse, baby!
It’s difficult to include in this list a film that actually procured a sequel—and a stellar one at that. But Kick-Ass, based on a comic book by Mark Millar, who’s been having tons of success with TV and film adaptations of his work in recent years, and stalwart Marvel icon John Romita Jr., really needs to be mentioned more often when movies adapted from Marvel properties (which this was) are brought up. Like, way more often. Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who went on to play Quicksilver, albeit briefly, in the MCU and Chloë Grace Moretz as “Hit-Girl,” both movies have a heart beating in common with The Punisher yet managed to get tongue-in-cheek enough to allow over-the-top turns by the likes of Nicolas Cage (whose Ghost Rider, too, should be on this list) and Jim Carrey.
The Green Hornet
Admittedly, Seth Rogen went an unorthodox route with the time-honored character and his sidekick, Kato. But there was too much post-Knocked Up scrutiny for critics to see what an ingenious approach this was to reintroducing The Hornet to an ever-starving superhero fanbase. Rogen would, of course, redeem himself, in the comic geek world anyway, by producing TV series adapted from comic books such as Preacher, but Hornet was a peach. With Jay Chou, an immensely popular Taiwanese singer who totally did a Kato 2.0, by his side, the film efficiently laid the foundation for a follow-up that would never come. But it’s never too late.
Some may consider this lowkey, 2016 moderate box-office success a stretch, but this tale of a young street magician whose power was conjured up in science class at school, a la Peter Parker, has superhero written all over it. Bo, played by The Chi’s Jacob Latimore (who also released a debut record the same year), built an electromagnet into his arm, and the sucker is slowly getting increasingly powerful, if not taking said arm over. It’s also helping him out as he searches for his missing sister and takes down a drug ring simultaneously. Best of all, Sleight has an ending that not only hints at a sequel—it makes the viewer yearn for one.
Though it flopped at the box office, El Chicano has all the elements necessary for a franchise, if not a TV series that could run on The CW for years. See, El Chicano is an urban myth in the violent projects of Los Angeles, a masked vigilante tale passed on from generation to generation in an effort to keep whoever’s being told it on the straight and narrow. But when a detective’s brother turns up dead of a supposed suicide and he knows better than that, he’s left to bring the myth to life. Marketed as the first Latinx superhero movie, it even gives George Lopez some scenery to chew.
Saying Krrish is underappreciated isn’t exactly accurate. After all, the franchise (yes, franchise, with part four slated to begin shooting soon) is considered one of India’s biggest silver-screen success stories, with Krrish 3 one of the country’s biggest money-makers. It’s just Krrish, the superhero offspring of a scientist, doesn’t so much as arch a pre-teen eyebrow in the states. And that’s a shame. But it did introduce Priyanka Chopra to Hollywood, who won’t be a part of this long-awaited next installment. The music numbers may be off-putting to those seeking tried-and-true superhero fisticuffs, but they need only wait them out. Plenty of fists fly in this series.
There are superheroes everywhere in this movie. In fact, they’re so commonplace in the Code 8 universe that they’re known as “Powers.” Not only does this Canadian sci-fi/superhero flick afford cousins Stephen “Green Arrow” Amell and Robbie “Firestorm from The Flash” Amell to work together, but it’s basically a two-superheroes-for-one extravaganza. While not related in the film, which was based on a short film of the same name, it does have family at its core. Robbie’s Connor Reed witnesses his mother battling brain cancer. This compels the heartbroken son to run with some newfound powers and work with a group to obtain the funds necessary for treatment.