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8 superhero movies you love that Marvel and DC had nothing to do with
Who needs Iron Man and Batman when you have the Incredibles?
Ten years ago today, on February 3, 2012, the then-tried trope of found footage movies got hit with a strong dose of space rock radiation with the release of Chronicle.
Josh Trank's feature directorial debut centered on three seemingly normal teenagers who struggle to come to terms with their newfound superpowers once they come into contact with a mysterious substance that hails from outer space. It was a gritty and grounded take on superhero tropes DC and Marvel movies have dined out on for years, but it was done in a very compelling and expectation-subverting way. (The unique and inspired approach proved to be a hit with audiences, too, as Chronicle grossed over $100 million at the box office).
Prior to Chronicle, the last time audiences got caught up in a comic book movie that wasn't based on an actual comic — or not based on a DC or Marvel property — was M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable in 2000. Both of those movies proved that you don't need the House of M or Superman's publisher to execute solid superhero movie entertainment. Some can come from original IP (shocker!), others from different publishers in the comics space. But either are worth checking out. In honor of Chronicle's 10th anniversary, here are a few comic book movies worth checking out that have nothing to do with Marvel or DC.
20 years before Chronicle made it very profitable to come up with your own superheroes to play with on the big screen, Sam Raimi brought the R-rated, ultraviolet (and scary-good) Darkman to life.
Co-written by Raimi, and based on a short story he wrote to pay homage to Universal Pictures' classic monster movies, Darkman capitalized on the massive cultural impact Tim Burton's 1989 Batman had on audiences by giving moviegoers an even darker and more psychologically traumatized hero to root for than the Dark Knight. Liam Neeson stars as scientist Peyton Westlake, who, while working on a synthetic skin to help burn victims, becomes a burn victim himself after well-suited thugs attack him in his lab and blow it and him up in a fiery blast that serves as Darkman's origin story. All of Raimi's visual trademarks are showcased here, as well as his effortless balancing of tones as Darkman jolts audiences with its tragic drama and black-on-black humor. This 1990 cult fave was an early sign of how good superhero movies could be in the right hands, and it paved the way for Raimi to work his magic on the Spider-Man franchise.
Unbreakable's greatest strength is that it's a superhero origin story that doesn't truly reveal itself untill the climax. Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan pushed the superhero genre in a much more grounded and emotionally-nuanced direction with his follow-up to 1999's The Sixth Sense. Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah starts out as an almost mentor figure to Bruce Willis’ superhero-in-training, David, and the reveal that Elijah is actually the bad guy lacks the full dramatic punch the movie seems to be reaching for. Unbreakable culminates in the less-than-satisfying choice of using on-screen text as a coda to wrap up a story that deserved more. Or, at least, better. But the drama leading up to that moment is full of some of the genre's most compelling and entertaining scenes.
The Incredibles (2004)
As frustrating as it is that we have yet to see a decent Fantastic Four movie, does it really matter when we already have Pixar's Incredibles series? Brad Bird's endlessly-rewatchable original film remains one of the best superhero movies of all time, animated or not. Its trademark combination of family drama and Silver Age superhero/spy movie zaniness never gets old.
Sky High (2005)
You'll be hard-pressed to find a more charming and family-friendly superhero movie than Sky High. It soars on the strength of its simple but brilliant premise — a coming-of-age high school comedy set at a school for the children of superheroes. It's not every day you get to see Kurt Russell put on a cape and muscle suit as he does his best Man of Steel-meets-suburban dad impersonation, which is worth the price of admission alone.
Years before he turned the Guardians of the Galaxy into household names, or made Peacemaker into a global success for HBO Max, writer-director James Gunn cut his teeth on this small, quirky superhero comedy. Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page star as two completely-ordinary nobodies who decide to put on spandex and fight crime. The Crimson's Bolt's tagline "Shut up, crime!" may be the best superhero slogan we've ever heard.
While not exactly the most groundbreaking animated movie ever made, Megamind does have one of the most inspired animated movie premises. The very funny and surprisingly heartfelt film features gives an entertaining spin on the usual hero vs. villain dynamic.
Will Ferrell is pitch-perfect as the hyper-intelligent titular villain who grows so bored after defeating his nemesis, one voiced by Brad Pitt, that he creates a replacement. Of course, Megamind's efforts wind up accidentally creating an even bigger threat to humanity. How the movie addresses the fallout of this new threat, in terms of our supervillain's newfound appreciation for a life outside of being a Big Bad, gives Megamind a Pixar-esque dose of four-quadrant-friendly pathos that elevates the material above your standard DreamWorks fare.
Matthew Vaughn's highly-entertaining (and very, very violent) Kick-Ass came just as the MCU was becoming the MCU. The R-rated approach to comic books, thanks to Mark Millar's source material, benefit from audiences' interest in superhero outside of Marvel's bourgeoning roster of Avengers. While the movie doesn't quite hold up as well, and many of the jokes feel more forced than they did on opening night with a sold-out crown, Kick-Ass's portrayal of Hit-Girl (a scene-stealing Chloë Grace Moretz) still delivers, as does Vaughn's savvy execution of action scenes.
If you want to know the very last time a found footage movie was actually a unique and novel experience, watch Chronicle. This intimate epic approach to the superhero genre literally puts teenage superpowers angst through a gritty lens and, in doing so, captures more resonate and relatable drama than most of its bigger budget counterparts. By taking this approach to a story about a group of teens torn apart by their enhanced (and eventually tragic) capabilities, Chronicle makes great use of the played-out FF format by reinventing it with the kind of big emotional stakes that few comic book movies at the time explored in such effective ways.