5 Superhero films *NOT* based on comic books

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Superhero movies are a full blown genre that now exists alongside ‘the western’ or ‘the musical’. Also, as mentioned in a previous article, the superhero genre as a whole can be traced back to different story types based on character origins, i.e. Batman = crime, Superman = sci-fi. The question is, if films can exist separate from the ‘superhero’ title, can superhero films exists separate from comic books? The answer, of course!

Because we can recognize the conventions of superhero stories, the plot devices and structures can be reapplied to film without the need to adapt them from already produced graphic novels. Below are examples of 5 superhero films NOT previously adapted from comic books.

Unbreakable: M. Night Shyamalan is an easy target these,  but most people forget that there was a time when he made engaging, mysterious and thoughtful films, chief among them, Unbreakable. Shaking the established recipe for a superhero film, Shyamalan opts to take on the first act of the traditional superhero tale, the origin. Unbreakable tells the story of David Dunn, an average man in a struggling marriage, who discovers that he is nigh invulnerable. This films is perhaps the most fascinating and realistic depiction of superhero conventions ever put to screen.

Limitless: What if you could take a drug that turned you into the best possible version of yourself. You’d be smarter, more ambitious and better looking. Would you take it? That is the set up for the film Limitless, an adaptation of the novel ‘The Dark Fields’ by Alan Glynn. This film tells the story of Eddie Morra, a lazy novelist who takes a miracle drug that turns him into a rising star in the financial sector. Unfortunately, Eddie’s powers come under scrutiny by an unscrupulous business man.

Hancock: Some folks consider this film to be the best adaptation of Superman ever put to film, and while that may be a bit of a stretch, this movie does tackle some of the issues that a character like the ‘man of steel’ raises. A violent, drunken superhero, known as Hancock, decides to clean up his image with the help of a PR agent. This movie is a lot of fun and presents the superhero genre with humorous and heartbreaking practicalities.

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RoboCop: I had originally forgot about this one until a friend brought it to my attention. To be fair, with its gritty future-tech feel, this one doesn’t necessarily scream superhero film. Upon closer examination however, this movie perfectly illustrates the journey of the superhero as seen in films like Batman and Captain America, while also exhibiting the ultra-violence of the 1980s. After Detroit police officer Alex Murphy is murdered, he is rebuilt as a cyborg meant to protect the city from crime. Like its protagonist, RoboCop is a more thoughtful and nuanced film than its steel exterior would lead you to believe.

The Incredibles: This film is undeniably a better team movie than The Avengers. There, I said it. The Incredibles is a superhero movie thick with fascinating dualities. Using a fun adventure story about a ‘retired’ superhero family, themes of what it means to be special, putting family first and growing old, carry this movie into realms of maturity not commonly seen in most superhero film let alone animated movies. Along with the wonderful story, the films 1960s aesthetic is topped perfectly with a John Barry-esque score by Michael Giacchino.

I know there are some films not on this list that would definitely qualify, which is why we want to hear from you. What are some of your favorite superhero movies NOT based on comic books?

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Robert Walker
Robert Walker 152 posts

Rob Walker is a writer and filmmaker in Colorado, and is creator of the comedy web series Victorian Cut-out Theatre. He loves horror films and comic books (American Vampire, Jonah Hex, The Flash, Planetary). Rob has been a Sherlockian since the age of ten, is a Dark Tower junky and believes that Indiana Jones is the greatest cinematic hero ever created. You can follow him on twitter at: @timidwerewolf and see his other writings and videos at robwalkerfilms.com