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7 best alternative superhero movies to watch

Jackson A. Dunn plays the mysterious Brandon Breyer in "Brightburn".

Like it or not, the superhero genre has been an ongoing trend that refuses to die down.

This is particularly evident with the varied numbers of critical and financial successes seen in Marvel and DC movies, but sometimes, it would be nice to see something different than your usual mainstream-friendly superhero movies and this can be seen in the upcoming "Brightburn" produced by James Gunn of the "Guardians Of The Galaxy" fame.


Now, to coincide with the release of the James Gunn-produced subversive horror take on the superhero genre, here are the 7 of the best alternative superhero movies worth checking out too!

1) "Darkman" (1990)

Liam Neeson plays the horribly disfigured scientist in search for vengeance in "Darkman".

Way before Sam Raimi hit the big time with the first "Spider-Man" movie in 2002, he had already proven himself as quite a genre specialist exploring the superhero genre earlier on in "Darkman". Interestingly enough, "Darkman" wasn't based on any existing property of a comic book or graphic novel but more of an original idea created by Sam Raimi himself. The movie basically involves Peyton Westlake, a scientist played by, yes, Liam Neeson, seeking for vengeance against the crime boss Robert Durant (a perfectly sinister Larry Drake), who is responsible for attempting to burn him alive. Raimi pays a great tribute to both old-school monster movies and the 1930s superhero genre, complete with B-movie energy and pulpy storytelling style. The result is a gleefully fun and violent piece of cult cinema, one that doesn't need a huge studio budget to make. "Darkman" turned out to be a surprise hit at the time of its release and subsequently spawned two inferior direct-to-video sequels, "Darkman II: The Return of Durant" (1995) and "Darkman III: Die Darkman Die" (1996).

2) "The Crow" (1994)

The late Brandon Lee played the vengeful Eric Draven in "The Crow".

If anything, former music video director Alex Proyas' feature-length debut in "The Crow" was famously known for the tragic death of 28-year-old Brandon Lee, who unexpectedly died from an accidental gunshot wound due to a malfunctioned prop gun while filming the movie. Ironically enough, his death was coincidentally mirrored the movie's plot about a young man's (Brandon Lee's Eric Draven) return from the dead to avenge his own murder as well as seek vengeance for his fiancee's death. But "The Crow", which itself adapted from James O'Barr's comic book series, is more than just your standard-issue movie about revenge. The movie is blessed with a unique gothic look and a superb alternative rock-heavy soundtrack. At the heart of the movie is Brandon Lee himself, who's already on his way to stardom following "Rapid Fire" in 1992 but like his late famous father, his film career was tragically short-lived. "The Crow" gained a cult following ever since and even spawned three sequels (1996's "The Crow: City Of Angels", 2000's "The Crow: Salvation" and 2005's "The Crow: Wicked Prayer) but none of them holds a candle against the superior 1994 original. There have been a development on and off to reboot "The Crow", only to end with numerous setbacks since 2013.

3) "Unbreakable" (2000)

Samuel L. Jackson plays Elijah Price in "Unbreakable".

Although M. Night Shyamalan manages to bounce back from his career downfall following a trio of financial (and critical) successes of "The Visit" (2015), "Split" (2016) and this year's "Glass" (2019), his earlier directorial efforts remains the best, and that includes "The Sixth Sense" (1999) and his somehow underrated follow-up in "Unbreakable", a thought-provoking superhero drama that gamely explored the otherwise fantastical genre told in a grim, grounded reality. A superhero movie set in a realistic setting is nothing new these days (see Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" trilogy) but back then, "Unbreakable" offered something unique and different than your usual comic-book movie. The movie tells a story about a Philadelphia security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis) who doesn't realise he actually possesses super strength. His unique ability immediately catches the attention of Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who is born with a rare disease that causes his bones to break easily but is blessed with a vast knowledge of comic-book mythology.

4) "V For Vendetta" (2005)

Hugo Weaving is the man behind the mask in "V For Vendetta".

An intriguing blend of superhero genre with a sociopolitical undertone, Alan Moore and David Llyod's limited graphic novel series of the same name takes place in a dystopian future of the United Kingdom where a masked freedom fighter, who goes by the alias of "V" (Hugo Weaving), stages a series of terrorist attacks to overthrow a fascist government with the help of Evey (Natalie Portman). Far from your conventional superhero theme, "V For Vendetta" is more interested in exploring the aforementioned subject than filling the screen with lots of action and pyrotechnics. But as a political thriller, it works well enough with top-notch performances from Natalie Portman and especially Hugo Weaving, who steals most of the show as the titular masked character. While the action takes a backseat in this movie, the Wachowski siblings, who are both responsible for writing and producing the movie, still deserve credit for a particularly brief, stylised action sequence involving V's cool knife attack shot in slow motion.

5) "Watchmen" (2009)

Patrick Wilson and Malin Akerman in a scene from "Watchmen".

Once deemed as an "unfilmable" project, Alan Moore's seminal graphic novel of the same name suffered from decades of setbacks stretching way back in the late 1980s. Potential directors like Terry Gilliam, David Hayter and Darren Aronofsky all came and gone. Then came Zack Snyder, hot on the heels for his acclaimed directorial effort in "300", he was eventually attached to direct and the rest is history. Zack Snyder's big screen adaptation of "Watchmen" is largely faithful to its source material right down to its costume design and spot-on casting including Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl, Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre, Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian. Although "Watchmen" didn't exactly set the box office on fire, it remains a fascinating and risky undertaking for a big studio (Warner Bros.) willing to invest over USD130 million budget for a superhero movie that isn't particularly known as mainstream-friendly.

6) "Kick-Ass" (2010)

Chloe Grace Moretz and Nicolas Cage in "Kick-Ass".

Forget about the inferior 2013 sequel directed by Jeff Wadlow. The less said about that, the better. Which was a shame, considering the way co-writer and director Matthew Vaughn did such a tremendous job bringing Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.'s "Kick-Ass" comic book series to vivid life in the first movie. This is a pure 18-rated territory that doesn't shy away from colourful profanities and graphic violence. And of course, this is definitely not your average kid-friendly superhero movie. Vaughn has a keen eye for visual flair and this can be evidently seen in some of the well-choreographed action sequences. Not to mention the cast is spot-on perfect, with scene-stealers particularly credited to Chloe Grace Moretz's Hit Girl and Nicolas Cage's Big Daddy.

7) "Chronicle" (2012)

Dale DeHaan in "Chronicle".

There was a time when Josh Trank used to be such a promising director, thanks to his superb feature-length debut in "Chronicle". But his supposedly ambitious follow-up in 2015's ill-fated "Fantastic Four" reboot was a polar opposite altogether -- a disastrous superhero movie that effectively killed his career and became a subject of ridicule ever since. However, back with "Chronicle", Trank actually showed a lot of promise on what he can do with a tiny budget (USD12 million) by combining a unique blend of found-footage subgenre with a superhero undertone. Written by Max Landis, the movie revolved around three high-school friends (Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan and Alex Russell) who were all granted telekinetic abilities following an unexpected encounter with an unknown object. The found-footage concept works well enough while Dale DeHaan particularly steals most of the show as a teenager who eventually becomes the antagonist of the movie.


Cinema Online, 11 May 2019