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Great Superhero Movies That Aren't Marvel Or DC

Superhero movies have become a thriving genre unto themselves. Whole universes have unfolded onscreen, bursting with prequels, sequels, and spinoffs. Massive arcs have played out across multiple films over the course of several years. People who have never picked up a comic book in their life are now familiar with the likes of Thanos, Star-lord, and Killer Croc.

Through it all, much as they have in the comic book world, DC and Marvel have dominated the conversation. The "Big Two," as they are commonly known, have been in the superhero game for decades — ever since the created the game itself, in fact. It's no surprise that they've become the most prevalent storytellers on the big-screen as well. But there's much more to superhero storytelling than the tales Marvel and DC have told. If you're willing to look elsewhere, you'll find a whole host of other cinematic heroes, every bit as intriguing and powerful as the likes of Batman and Captain America. These are the best superhero films that aren't based on Marvel and DC heroes.


In many ways, Darkman owes more to the Universal Pictures monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s than it does to comic book superheroes — and that's entirely by design. Director Sam Raimi was inspired by those classic monster films to create something a little more pulpy than your average tights-clad vigilante, and the result is a quirky, darkly funny instant classic. Liam Neeson stars as Dr. Peyton Westlake, a scientist working to create artificial skin for burn victims. Disaster strikes when he gets mixed up in underhanded dealings and is brutally burned and beaten by gangsters. Subjected to a radical procedure that severs his spinothalamic tract, Westlake is utterly transformed. Unrecognizable, unable to feel pain, and granted enormous strength by adrenal overload, he is out for revenge.

Visually, Raimi is keen to play up various comic book elements of the story. Darkman's costume riffs off Will Eisner's The Spirit and the works of Frank Miller. His gruesome disfigurement borrows from a variety of heroes: It's a little bit Two-Face, a little bit The Thing, and a whole lot of comic book-y "science," what with the mask he makes of his own face with his experimental synthetic skin. In other ways, though, the film plays like a cross between Claude Rains in The Invisible Man and a Road Runner cartoon. It has a tone all its own, and it still works 30 years after its release. No wonder Raimi was given Spider-Man to play with, a decade after Darkman.

The Rocketeer

In today's superhero-friendly climate, a movie like The Rocketeer seems like the sort of thing that would be instant box office gold. It's the story of a stunt pilot in the 1930s who happens upon a strange rocket pack that allows him to fly and do good deeds, only to be menaced by the Nazis and the FBI. Who wouldn't want to watch that?

Sadly, when the film debuted in 1991, not enough people were interested in The Rocketeer to propel it to any real box office success. But that hasn't stopped audiences from discovering the film on its own — a feat made all the more easy by its presence on Disney+. Director Joe Johnston pours tons of energy and humor into this throwback adventure, delivering something that feels like a Howard Hawks film with a healthy dollop of Indiana Jones. Superhero movies can sometimes feel repetitive, given their popularity, but The Rocketeer still feels brand new, decades after its premiere.

The Crow

Based on the comic by James O'Barr, itself inspired by his own personal tragedies, The Crow tells the story of a musician named Eric who returns from the dead to seek revenge on the criminals who murdered him. From its love of black leather to its chart-topping soundtrack, it was every 1990s goth kid's dream superhero movie.

The Crow's plot is a fairly straightforward revenge tale, but director Alex Proyas' visuals transform it into a cryptically magical fever dream. From the dark, half-ruined streets of the film's version of Detroit to the swooping first-person crow's-eye views, it's full of shots you won't soon forget.

Then there's Brandon Lee, who plays Eric Draven with an unforgettable vulnerability. His performance surely would have made him a massive star, had he not died in an on-set accident just days before shooting was completed. Lee's death adds a layer of infamy to The Crow, but even beyond that, it stands as a compelling, surprisingly hopeful take on superheroes. Efforts to produce a remake have stumbled repeatedly — that's just how tough of an act The Crow is to follow.

Mystery Men

Tales of misfits, grifters, and outcasts rising to the occasion to save the world is not new territory for superhero movies. So on the surface, 1999 cape comedy (and infamous box office bombMystery Men might not seem particularly groundbreaking. Once you've seen it, though, you realize it's not the concept that makes Mystery Men special — it's the execution.

Yes, it is a story of crummy heroes defying the odds to prove their worth. But it's also aggressively and delightfully weird in pretty much every choice it makes. Its setting, Champion City, is a neon-limned dreamscape, somewhere between Tim Burton's Gotham and the the dizzying sprawl of Star Wars' Coruscant. Then there are the heroes, played by a delightful ensemble cast including Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, and Geoffrey Rush. There's The Bowler, who wields a crystal bowling ball containing the skull of her dear, departed father. There's Invisible Boy, who can become unseen ... as long as nobody's looking. There's Casanova Frankenstein, whose criminal genius is utterly subordinate to the glory of his name. Mystery Men is devoted to looking and feeling like no other superhero film you've ever seen. That instinct, carried out by a talented cast, makes it a must-see cult classic.


You hear the word "grounded" thrown around a lot when filmmakers are trying to drum up buzz for their superhero stories. In some cases, it's code for "we took this typical superhero story and dimmed the lights a bit," while in others it frustratingly translates to "we took a superhero story and made it boring under the guise of realism." It's rare that a truly grounded superhero tale comes along, and even more rare that it works. Unbreakable is one of those rare cases, and still one of director M. Night Shyamalan's best films.

Bruce Willis stars as a seemingly ordinary man who, after a catastrophic train accident, realizes that he is invulnerable to just about any form of injury or illness. His own tests on himself, combined with his son's encouragement and the wisdom of a mysterious comic book expert with brittle bone disease, leads him to believe that superheroes might just be real.

The way Shyamalan's characters quietly wrestle with the strange truth of their lives makes Unbreakable a realistic take on superheroes that actually works. Rather than weigh it down with grim dialogue and grinding music, Shyamalan lets his actors speak for themselves, rooting the superhero tale in family and personal struggle. Add in a striking visual sensibility, and you've got a classic on your hands. 


Any list of the most popular and enduring superheroes outside the realms of Marvel and DC Comics has to include Hellboy, Mike Mignola's working-class, half-demon monster hunter who's been having adventures on the page for nearly three decades. Though 2019's Hellboy reboot was an unmitigated disaster, Guillermo del Toro's 2004 film starring Ron Perlman remains thrilling, inventive, and unlike any other superhero film around.

Now, it's not necessarily the most faithful comic book adaptation out there. But Del Toro is clearly having a blast bringing Big Red and his friends to life as they battle a resurrected Rasputin and try to stop an invasion of cosmic elder gods. The visuals are inventive and endlessly dynamic, and it's great fun to watch Del Toro make this world of monsters his own on the big screen. Plus, Perlman's gruff, witty version of the titular hero remains an iconic superhero portrayal. It's a shame he never got to come back for a third Hellboy installment, but in light of 2019's debacle, it's best to be grateful for what we have.

The Incredibles

Director Brad Bird's Pixar classic is often described as the best Fantastic Four movie ever made, but in some ways, that's doing it a disservice. Yes, The Incredibles owes quite a lot to Marvel Comics' iconic super-team in that the Four defined stories of families with superpowers negotiating the realities of fighting crime and raising children. But Bird isn't just doing a riff on the FF here. No, The Incredibles succeeds because it takes that core concept and uses it to build something altogether new.

Almost everyone going to the movies is at least vaguely superhero literate, whether they realize it or not. Bird uses that to build a world all his own, in which superheroes were once a glorious part of society, but have since been relegated to outsider status. That tension lurking underneath the main plot establishes the sense of a wider universe, and the whip-smart storytelling takes off from there like a hyperactive kid with super-speed. The Incredibles is both a witty commentary on superheroes and a heartfelt story of a family trying to do good, and that makes it something special all its own.

Sky High

In 2005, Harry Potter — the story of a boy who goes to an impossibly cool wizard school — was one of the most popular franchises on the planet. It's a wonder, then, that no one tried to greenlight a film like Sky High -- the story of a boy who goes to an impossibly cool superhero school — sooner. But oh, thank goodness it happened, because Sky High remains a singular delight. Though it may seem a bit low-fi in comparison to the blockbusters that would follow it, this is a film with its heart in the right place and an absolutely relentless sense of fun.

The setup is simple: The teenage son of the world's two greatest superheroes is about to go to their alma mater, a secret high school for super-powered kids in the sky. There's just one problem — he doesn't have super powers yet, and he's starting to wonder if he'll ever get them. While the film is light enough to never beat its audience over the head with its themes, there's a lot of meaty stuff to to work through there: bullying, family pressure, and the struggle to define one's self against one's peers. It's like a Spider-Man story where everyone at the high school is Spider-Man, and really, who doesn't want to see that?


Judge Dredd, a character rooted in long-running British comics anthology 2000 AD, is the idea of the machismo-laden supercop who takes the law into his own hands taken to its logical extreme. As judge, jury, and executioner of his dystopian super-city, he is brutal, effective, and disturbing. That is very much by design — but put him in the right story and he makes a decent enough superhero. Just, you know, not one you like very much, or particularly want to be represented by.

The 2012 Dredd film was the second major film adaptation of the character, and while the first felt far too removed from the source material, the second successfully leans into the outsize circumstances of Dredd's life and work. The world of the film, inhabited by a sterling Karl Urban in the title role, is perfectly bizarre, while the extended, close-quarters fight that defines the plot feels like a super-sized version of Assault on Precinct 13. It's a film that deserves more attention than it got, and a superhero story of uncommon style.