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The most underrated superhero movies of the last 15 years

Superheroes are currently dominating the cinematic landscape, with comic movie juggernauts Marvel and DC each churning out several new films every year about characters with extraordinary powers and tremendous responsibility. And for the most part, these movies tend to be pretty good, with blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame, Shazam!, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man: Far from Home

In other words, it's a great time to be a superhero fan, but with expectations set so high, it's easy for super-films to fall through the cracks. Not only can it be difficult for other superhero films to get noticed, but even major franchise films can falter if they fail to live up to the current stratospheric standards applied to superhero films. From movies that deserve a second chance to films that were so underrated that you might not have even heard of them, we've rounded up a selection of superhero films from the past 15 years that don't receive much acclaim, but may be worth a (re)watch.

Sky High is a superhero film that soars over expectations

Hitting theaters less than two months after Christopher Nolan's critically acclaimed Batman Begins, Sky High offers a very different take on superheroes than Nolan's gritty, grounded saga. The movie follows Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) — the son of beloved superheroes the Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston) — on his first day of Sky High, a high school in the clouds that's aimed at training the children of supers to become the heroes of the future. The only problem? Will has no superpowers, which makes things tricky when a villain takes all the super-parents out of commission, and suddenly, it's on the kids of Sky High to save the day.

Although Sky High performed decently at the box office and received generally positive reviews, it was never truly able to establish itself as a mainstay in the superhero canon. Perhaps after Batman Begins, viewers weren't in the right mindset for a lighthearted, campy romp, or perhaps adult audiences didn't fully connect with the teen cast. Whatever the reason, Sky High didn't make a huge splash when it came out, and it's mostly faded from memory. 

However, don't let its modest performance or poor staying power fool you. Sky High is an energetic, cheesy blast, filled with weird superpowers (one girl has the ability to transform herself into a talking guinea pig), heartwarming friendships, and high-stakes adventure. Years before Nick Fury teased a project called the "Avengers Initiative," Sky High delivered a team of funny, endearing superheroes the whole family could enjoy.

Special is something truly, well, special

If you've never heard of the superhero-themed dramedy Special, you don't need to turn in your superhero cred card just yet. Barely anyone saw the film during its limited theatrical release. As for the plot, Special follows a man named Les (Michael Rapaport) who believes he's developed superpowers after experiencing an adverse reaction during a clinical drug trial. Despite attempts from his doctor and friends to persuade him to stop taking the drug, Les becomes convinced that he was given these powers for a reason, so he sets out to make things better for the citizens of his town by thwarting a series of small crimes. However, as Les gains notoriety, the company conducting the trial becomes increasingly desperate to silence him, terrified that Les' antics will cost them their funding. 

While Special is a departure from standard superhero tropes in that Les only thinks he has powers — in reality, he's running into walls when he believes he's phasing and flailing on the floor when he thinks he's flying — its themes couldn't be more true to the genre, as Les wrestles with whether his powers make him special, or if he can be special without them. Even when the film feels a little uneven, Rapaport does a great job bringing the audience into Les' world, allowing us to root for him even when we know he's wrong. Rapaport's earnest performance, along with the film's unique premise, makes Special truly worthy of its title.

Hancock is an underrated super-flick with strong performances

The first of two Will Smith films to appear on this list, Hancock follows an angry, irritable amnesiac who proves that having superpowers doesn't necessarily make you a hero. Finding himself hated by the public for his surly disposition, the titular Hancock hires a public relations specialist to rehabilitate his image. As a result, he winds up not only making a few more enemies, but also discovering a piece of information about his past that will change his entire future

Despite its strong premise and a valiant lead effort by Smith, Hancock faltered in the execution, alienating critics with its uneven narrative and abrupt tonal shifts. What could have been a delightfully subversive superhero story wound up being more convoluted than surprising, with unearned twists that strained the limits of the film's thin internal logic. 

Still, strong performances from Smith, Charlize Theron, and Jason Bateman go a long way toward rescuing Hancock from its own worst impulses, and if you can go along with the bizarrely contorted storytelling, there's a lot to appreciate in the off-beat, quirky script. Smith checks his characteristic charm at the door, fully embracing his off-putting character and committing to every weird turn of the plot. But instead of pushing the audience away, he only draws us in more. Hancock is far from a perfect film, but even if its reach sometimes exceeds its grasp, it still deserves some points for how hard it tries.

Push will pull you in with Chris Evans' charm

Before Captain America (but after Fantastic Four), MCU star Chris Evans headlined yet another superhero action thriller, although we don't blame anyone for forgetting about this one. In Push, Evans plays Nick, a "mover" who can use his telekinetic abilities to affect the objects around him. But Nick is far from the only superpowered person in the world of Push. He is joined by Cassie (Dakota Fanning), a "watcher" who gets visions of the future and tells Nick they must find a way to save his ex-girlfriend Kira (Camilla Belle) from a variety of superpowered enemies who will stop at nothing to get her under their control.

Of course, the convoluted plot of Push is far, far more complicated than that, jammed so full of side characters, subplots, and twists that it's easy to get lost in its winding, adrenaline-filled corridors — which may help explain its 23 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, especially for MCU fans, it's a lot of fun to see Evans embody a different character with the same inherent likability and determination that we're so used to seeing from Steve Rogers. Plus, his sibling-esque chemistry with Fanning is delightful to watch. Sure, the story itself is more than a little bizarre, and it works hard to set up a sequel that in all likelihood will never happen, but today's superhero fans are so used to following intricate, sprawling storylines that it shouldn't be a problem to sit back and enjoy the ride. 

Defendor deserves way more love

Two years before Kat Dennings made her MCU debut as Darcy in Thor, she co-starred with Woody Harrelson in Defendor, a Canadian film that, despite its top-tier cast (including a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance by a Tatiana Maslany), received only a limited theatrical release in the U.S. It's a shame because Harrelson gives a stellar, heart-wrenching performance as Arthur Poppington, a man convinced that the real world works just like the stories in the comic books his grandfather taught him to read. Every night, Arthur dresses up as the superhero Defendor (the spelling is important) and goes out in search of his arch-nemesis, Captain Industry, whom he blames for the death of his mother. 

Dennings plays Angel, a sex worker whom Defendor rescues from a violent encounter with a corrupt cop (Elias Koteas), and who later rescues Arthur after a disastrous run-in with the same cop and his friends. Despite their myriad differences, Angel and Arthur form a sweet, genuine friendship, even as she grows frustrated with his insistence on continuing to be Defendor. 

While it does play into a few of the superhero genre's more tired tropes, Defendor is mostly an entertaining, engaging film that's better than its lack of commercial success would suggest. Harrelson's sincere portrayal of Arthur pairs beautifully with Dennings' trademark acerbity, and Sandra Oh plays her scenes as Arthur's court-ordered therapist with a deep warmth and compassion that help balance the film's darker moments.

Megamind is a good movie about a bad guy

In the world of animated superhero films, the past fifteen years have been, shall we say ... incredible? From The Incredibles to Big Hero 6 to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, animated films have been the source of some of the most innovative and creative superhero storytelling across the genre, and they've been rightly praised for it. 

However, in the midst of this golden age of animated superheroes, one super-film came and went without much fanfare, despite its largely positive reviews. Megamind follows an alien supervillain (Will Ferrell) who, after finally defeating the Superman-like hero Metro Man (Brad Pitt), realizes his life lacks meaning and decides to create a new hero to battle. Unfortunately, Megamind's creation turns out to be more villainous than he'd intended, and in order to stop him, Megamind is ultimately forced to step into the role of hero himself.

It was bad luck for Megamind that another animated supervillain-turned-reluctant-hero film had come out just a few months beforeit hit theaters: Illumination Entertainment's far more successful Despicable Me, which instantly took the edge off Megamind's premise. Still, with a first-rate cast that also boasts the vocal talents of Tina Fey and Jonah Hill, Megamind is a visually impressive animated adventure that, while never completely breaking new ground, is still a fun spin on the reluctant hero trope, and is probably better than you remember. But if you revisit it today, just try not to watch Despicable Me first. 

Thor: The Dark World has some good brother bonding

Since 2008, The Marvel Cinematic Universe has developed a reputation for delivering consistently high-quality superhero films, full of lovable characters, quippy dialogue, and emotionally resonant storylines. The MCU has become the standard by which all other big-budget superhero fare is judged, and it's turned out to be a nearly impossible bar to clear — sometimes, even for Marvel themselves. 

Thor: The Dark World didn't receive bad reviews when it first hit theaters, and it still sits at a respectable 66 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. However, when asked to rank the entries in the franchise, The Dark World tends to appear near the bottom of most Marvel fans' lists. Evaluated alongside other films such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, The Dark World pales in comparison, with its clunky script and forgettable, wooden villain.

But The Dark World may have more going for it than you recall. While the first Thor painted its hero as formal, stiff, and pompous, The Dark World allowed him to loosen up a little, hinting at the sharp comedic turn the series would eventually take in Thor: Ragnarok. The Dark World also set up the post-Avengers reconciliation between Thor and Loki, helping build the relationship between the two brothers into one of the strongest emotional arcs in the entire MCU. Just try watching Thor and Loki team up to steal a spaceship without cracking a smile, we dare you. 

Avengers: Age of Ultron is actually a whole lot of fun

Similar to The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron is the other black sheep in the Marvel family. The reviews for Age of Ultron, once again, aren't bad, but they're not exactly rave reviews. Instead, the critics took points for its inconsistent characterization, disjointed storytelling, and slapdash internal logic. 

But although Age of Ultron doesn't manage to recreate the precise alchemy of The Avengers, it still has a few big factors working in its favor. The party scene in which all of the Avengers try to lift Thor's hammer feels straight out of the comics, with every character getting to relax and showcase their personalities in a way the previous movies hadn't been able to fully portray. Fan-favorite characters Vision and Scarlet Witch (along with her brother, Quicksilver) are introduced, and each get multiple moments to shine. And Ultron himself is one of Marvel's better villains, brought to life with a deliciously sinister vocal performance from James Spader. 

Alongside the rest of the MCU, it's understandable that Age of Ultron often finds itself at the bottom of the heap, but even though its flaws are both more numerous and more glaring than most of the films in its company, that doesn't make it bad. And if we could all be a little forgiving, then fans would see that Age of Ultron is actually a worth entry in the MCU.

Suicide Squad has a killer cast and some crazy characters

After receiving mostly negative reviews for the first two films in its Extended Universe, Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, DC made some drastic changes to Suicide Squad. The film was originally said to be much more somber, but it was quickly re-edited to match its lighter (and hugely popular) trailer. Unfortunately, all the seams from this last-minute reworking showed through in the final product, making it feel choppy, jarring, and practically incomprehensible.

Still, for all its faults, Suicide Squad definitely has some strengths as well, mostly in the form of its casting. Will Smith smoothed over many of the film's rough edges (including a confusing subplot centered around his vendetta against Batman) with his charming performance as Deadshot, and Margot Robbie was so popular as Harley Quinn that she's getting her own spinoff in 2020's Birds of Prey. Add to that Jai Courtney's ridiculous take on Captain Boomerang (an admittedly ridiculous character), Joel Kinnaman's soft-hearted toughness as Rick Flag, and Viola Davis' pitch-perfect performance as Amanda Waller, and you get an ensemble that is often able to elevate the uneven, clunky script into something that's wild, zany fun. 

Saban's Power Rangers is mighty, morphin' good time

Based on the immensely hokey (but highly beloved) '90s television series, the reimagined Power Rangers brought together a group of just-before-they-hit teen actors (including a pre-Stranger Things Dacre Montgomery and a pre-Aladdin and Charlie's Angels Naomi Scott) to play the diverse group of high school students who are granted superpowers in order to protect the Earth from supervillain Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). 

Instead of jumping straight into the acrobatic action that characterized the original series, the film takes its time in allowing its characters to master their powers, and in the process, the Rangers develop a closer bond with one another. While critics were largely unimpressed, saying the film failed to live up to both the television series and other contemporary superhero films, Saban's Power Rangers still delivered many of the things that endeared fans to the original series, such as the strong connections between the characters, and of course, the Megazord. This version of Power Rangers may not focus as much on fight scenes and one-liners as its predecessor, but it's still a lot of fun, and its emphasis on character over spectacle may even feel preferable to some viewers who've grown accustomed to the slow-burn development of the MCU.

The Darkest Minds is an underrated YA gem

Based on the young adult novel by Alexandra Bracken, The Darkest Minds takes place in a world in which a mysterious virus has wiped out the majority of the children and left the few survivors with strange new powers. In the United States, once the government realizes what their children can do, they become scared and begin rounding all the kid up in camps, categorizing them by ability and holding them indefinitely until the people in power can figure out what to do with them. 

The Darkest Minds follows a group of these children, led by teen protagonist Ruby (Amandla Stenberg), as they attempt to make sense of their abilities and find a way to live in this dangerous new world, while also remaining hidden from the adults who are tracking them. Sadly, The Darkest Minds received mostly negative reviews from critics and bombed at the box office, but it's worth noting that most of its target audience seemed to like it, earning it a 73 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. For fans of dystopian teen adventures like The Hunger Games, there's plenty to like about The Darkest Minds, from its stirring themes of empowerment and friendship to its endearing ensemble cast. And for superhero fans, the X-Men-like powers exhibited by the kids — everything from ripping trees out of the ground, to shooting electricity from their fingers, to altering a person's thoughts with a single touch — should be more than enough reason to check this one out.  

Fast Color is a beautiful and underrated story about what makes superheroes great

An intimate, family-centered film filled with beautiful imagery, Fast Color tells the story of Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a woman living a hand-to-mouth existence in a world that hasn't seen rain in eight long years. Ruth suffers from seizures that turn into earthquakes, powerful enough to crack buildings, and after suffering a particularly bad one that draws the attention of powerful, dangerous people, she returns home to her mother, Bo, who's been raising Ruth's daughter for years in her absence. Beyond her expected guardian duties, Bo has also been teaching the child how to use her own powers to deconstruct and reconstruct matter, an ability that has been passed down through the women in their family for many generations. 

Receiving only a short, limited theatrical release, and an even more limited marketing campaign, Fast Color was in and out of theaters before most people even knew it existed, so it's no surprise if this is your first time hearing about this underrated story. Unlike many of the other films on this list, Fast Color is a quiet, contemplative film that uses its characters' spectacular abilities not to punch bad guys or vaporize spaceships but to explore themes of guilt, regret, and forgiveness. Anchored by a powerful performance from Mbatha-Raw, Fast Color may not be standard superhero fare, but it has no shortage of deep love, fierce loyalty, sacrificial bravery, and dazzling abilities. In other words, it has all the traits that characterize the best superhero films.