This is nothing new, but superhero movies are currently the biggest flicks on the planet right now. Disney/Marvel, and to a certain lesser extent, Warner Bros./DC are by far the most dominant companies when it comes to cinema these days, but they’re not the only superheroes in town.
Not by a long shot. There’s actually a long history of superhero movies that have little to no connection to Marvel or DC, and these are just a few of them. Now, some of these movies you may not even consider to be “superhero” movies at all. But if Joker can get away with being called a “superhero” movie, then I don’t see why some of these other picks wouldn't also fill that bill. And if you're looking for a list of superhero movies that aren't based on comics at all, you can find that here.
10. Spawn (1997)
It’s hard to believe, but Spawn was once one of the biggest comic book series in the world, and it still has massive appeal. But while 1997’s Spawn may not visually hold up today, the story of Al Simmons, a.k.a., the spawn from hell, is still really fun, if not a bit silly and a little too corny at times.
But what makes Spawn still work today is what made it work back in 1997, and that’s the performances by Michael Jai White as the titular Spawn, and John Leguizamo as Clown. Spawn, as a movie, may not be high art—and we’re definitely looking forward to the ostensibly dour new one that's supposed to be coming out soon. But as a comic book movie about a guy who goes to hell and then comes back again pissed off, it’s a guilty pleasure and scary good fun for sure.
9. The Rocketeer (1991)
While we’re still waiting for the remake, the original Rocketeer is still so good, we think we can wait just a little bit longer for the update. The story centers around a stunt pilot who finds a jet pack and starts being super heroic. There are also Nazis, and it’s a period piece, but it still feels fresh and modern, even today.
Which makes sense, since Joe Johnson directed it. That name should ring a bell since he also directed the first Captain America movie. You know, the period piece. With Nazis. Which reminds us. We really should do that double feature of The Rocketeer and Captain America: The First Avenger that we've been meaning to do. It’s the American way.
8. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
Okay, look, I already know what you’re going to say. One, the Kingsman comic book series is published by Icon, which is an IMPRINT of Marvel Comics. And two, The Kingsman agents aren’t even “superheroes.” Well, I’m going to address both those points. To that first point, there’s a reason why Marvel created Icon, and it was to keep the top talent from going elsewhere. But in doing so, it’s also pretty much an indie-brand, so it’s Marvel, but not entirely. And as for it not being a superhero movie, did you see Colin Firth in that church fight? If that’s not superhero material, I don’t know what is.
The story concerns a British secret service agency that's full of all of the spy stuff you would find in a James Bond movie, but also full of all the action you would find in a big budget superhero movie. Because that’s what it is when you boil it all down--a superhero movie. With spies. We really can’t wait for the prequel.
7. Kick-Ass (2010)
Another Matthew Vaughn/Mark Millar collabo (Mathew Vaughn directed Kick-Ass and Kingsman. Mark Millar wrote both the Kick-Ass and Kingsman comics) Kick-Ass was also initially under the Icon umbrella, but was then later republished by Image Comics. To put it bluntly, Kick-Ass was Deadpool before Deadpool was a mega-franchise. And by that, I mean the movie, of course. Not the comic book character.
Kick-Ass was the super violent, super profane superhero movie that predated 2016’s Deadpool, which would eventually make R-Rated comic book movies popular. The story deals with a comic book-loving nerd who wants to fight crime for real, but then gets stabbed, goes through surgery and then finds out that he has a delayed reaction to nerve pain, which is when the real ass-kicking begins, since he's pretty much invulnerable to pain. And even though the movie is over a decade old, it's one of the first films that made going viral an actual plot device. Pretty prescient.
6. The Crow (1994)
“It can’t rain all the time.” That’s true, but what’s also sadly true is that we’ll likely never get a reboot of The Crow. But that’s likely for the best since the original is so classic, it’s probably better left untouched (especially since its three sequels, to put it nicely, were not great follow-ups to the original).
The story is about a murdered rock star who comes back from the dead to avenge his girlfriend, who was raped, as well as his own death. It’s a dark movie, both literally and figuratively, and it was a great, Rated-R counterpoint to Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, which came out two years earlier.
5. Men In Black (1997)
Here come the Men In Black. M.I.B. is another movie you might not at first think is a superhero flick, but all you have to do is see the heroics of Agents K and J, played by Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, respectively, to understand how this is a superhero film to the nth degree. I mean, I’m not the first to say this, but the Men In Black (film-wise, anyway) were the Guardians of the Galaxy long before the actual Guardians of the Galaxy were a thing.
What makes this superhero film great is the wild assortment of aliens the Men in Black face off against. It’s a superhero, sci-fi classic from the 90s, and one that any superhero fan would feel right at home with watching.
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
While I’m well aware that most people would consider Scott Pilgrim vs. The World more a love letter to video games than superheroes, I can argue that Michael Cera’s titular Scott Pilgrim is indeed a superhero. I mean, how else could he battle all seven of Ramona Flower’s evil exes… and survive? Plus, it features both Captain America and Superman. AS VILLAINS! So yeah, that’s saying something.
But seriously, Scott Pilgrim is all about awesome fights and awesome music. Scott Pilgrim may not seem tough or wear a cape, but, as the saying goes, not all heroes wear capes.
3. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008)
I liked the first Hellboy. It introduced us to the character and set him in a real world setting. But Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is the movie that converted me into a Hellboy fan. More of a fantasy film than anything else, Hellboy 2, for me anyway, is what Blade 2 and Pan’s Labyrinth would be if they were mashed together and if they toned down the seriousness a little bit. And the only reason I mention those two seemingly random movies is because they were both filmed by the Academy Award winning director, Guillermo del Toro. And if you also ask me, this is his best movie to date.
Ron Perlman is fantastic as the titular character, and all the other characters in the film feel more fully fleshed out and real in this sequel, most notably Abe Sapien. It’s also a really fun movie that never takes itself too seriously, which is why it’s so enjoyable. Unlike most people, I didn’t think the most recent Hellboy remake was terrible, but it couldn’t hold a candle to Hellboy 2. Nothing could.
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Totally tubular, dude. The first TMNT movie is still the best out of all the turtle movies since it really dug into the lore of the (super)heroes in a half shell. Drawing more from the gritty comic books than the cartoon at the time, the first Ninja Turtles movie to hit theaters is probably also the most iconic.
This version features the Foot Clan as a bunch of adrift teenagers, and there’s almost a sense of sadness in the overall film that elevates it from just being some movie about talking turtles who also know martial arts. And I can hear the music in the fire scene in my dreams sometimes. It keeps me up at night.
1. Dredd (2012)
Honestly, if you asked me what is the best comic book movie of all time, I’d say Dredd, which only gets better and better the more I watch it. Is Dredd a superhero? No. He’s more like a supervillain, which is what makes the character so fascinating. In a world as messed up as Mega City One, an authoritarian figure like Dredd IS the hero.
Karl Urban is everything Sly Stallone wasn’t in the first Judge Dredd movie—quiet, angry, and deadly. And his performance is what has made so many people who missed Dredd in the theaters fall in love with the character at home, since it quickly became a cult classic. Dredd may not have the flash and pizzazz of something like The Avengers, but when you have a character as cool as Judge Dredd, you don’t need any bells and whistles.
And that's the list. There are other superhero movies out there that aren’t even based on comics. But for those that are and are not based on any major DC and Marvel properties, these were definitely the best. But what are your favorite superhero movies outside of DC and Marvel? Come on. I know there’s got to be a Tank Girl or Barb Wire fan out there somewhere.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.