Top 5 Movie Superheroes That Didn’t Start Out in Comic Books


MegaMind is something of an homage to the superhero comic books that are as indelible a part of the American landscape as the Super Bowl and Disney World. Of late, the movies have picked up on the viability of the great superhero characters, from Marvel (Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men) to DC (Batman, Superman) and the independents (Hellboy, Kick-Ass). They’ve even gotten into the act of creating their own superheroes, some of which have had comic books created for them. Here are the best of them.

HONORABLE MENTION

Captain Zoom (Tim Allen) in Zoom (2006) didn’t benefit from being in a really good movie, but that’s the breaks. While the movie is a forgettable mess, the character had a good deal of potential as a kind of cross between The Flash and a kind of alcoholic, broken-down Yoda. Allen did his best here and in a better movie, Captain Zoom would have rocked. The Strobe (Thomas Haden Church) wasn’t the most likable hero you’ll ever find, not even among his own group, The Specials (2000) but he still had something likable about him. This low-budget movie about heroes who weren’t on the A-list was barely seen, either theatrically or even on cable but it deserved a better fate. More soap opera than superhero film, it was more of a study of life in the limelight more than a special effects extravaganza which might be why audiences stayed away. Finally, while not strictly about a superhero, Jingle All the Way (1996) contains Turbo Man, a TV superhero whose action figure became the center of attention for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad. Arnold even got to try the suit with all of its nifty gadgets. While played strictly for laughs, there weren’t very many of those as it turned out.

5. CAPTAIN EXCELLENT, PAPER MAN (2009)

Captain Excellent, played by soon-to-be superhero expert Ryan Reynolds, acts as more of a conscience for writer Jeff Daniels in this indie comedy. While his superpowers are essentially undefined, Excellent appears from time to time to counsel Daniels who is pretty much falling apart in real life. It’s an interesting role and an offbeat use for a costumed hero; quite frankly, I thought it quirky enough to make the list.

4. SHARKBOY, LAVAGIRL, THE ADVENTURES OF SHARKBOY AND LAVAGIRL (2005) 

Robert Rodriguez has become rather adept at CGI-heavy kid films like Spy Kids and this superhero adventure, which features pre-teen heroes shepherding a daydreamer of a boy to a far out world. The dream world sequences were filmed in 3D while the real world sequences were presented in regular 2D, which meant that audiences were taking off and putting on their 3D glasses throughout the movie which was a bit of a drag. However, Sharkboy was played by a pre-Twilight Taylor Lautner which by itself may have plenty of pre-teen girls scrambling to order this on Netflix.  

3. MEGAMIND, MEGAMIND (2010)

 It’s unusual for me to include a movie I just reviewed in the Top 5, but MegaMind is such a great character there was no point in excluding him. Of course, he also has a death ray pointed at my skull at the moment, so that might also have something to do with it. In any case, this is a hero who we can all relate to; someone who has been put down and pushed around all his life to the point where he just gives up on being liked. It is only when he is forced to find his inner hero that he discovers he is a hero for all of us. This may well turn out to be the best animated movie of the year.

2. THE COMMANDER, SKY HIGH (2005) 

Kurt Russell going back to his early Disney movies was always adept at playing the hero; giving him superpowers was a masterstroke of an idea. In this teen comedy, he is the most famous hero there is, married to a beautiful super-heroine and father to a son who may eclipse the accomplishments of his parents, but on whom the pressure has become so great that he can’t perform. This was meant to become a Disney Channel series but the movie never really generated enough revenue, so despite the terrific performance of Russell (and Lynda Carter as the school principal), this remains a movie that is all about what could have been.

1. THE INCREDIBLES, THE INCREDIBLES (2004)

I admit a soft spot in my heart for this movie, and many a fellow comic book fanboy knows why. This is a comic book superhero team done Pixar-style. It incorporates many elements of typical comic superhero teams, making them a family (very much influenced by the Fantastic Four) with an alpha male (Mr. Incredible, voiced by Craig T. Nelson), his wife Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) who ironically enough had Reed Richards’ superpower of super elasticity, their son speedy Dash (Spencer Fox) and force field-generating daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell). There are references to 60s spy movies as well as the comic book heroes of the 90s and before. It’s a terrific movie and the heroes are all heroes I’d follow in the comics, which really is the benchmark for any movie hero.

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Top 5 Animated Features


While Planet 51 is something of a disappointment, animated features have been a major part of the Hollywood landscape since 1939 and with the advent of computer animation have become even more of a dominant force at the box office. While Pixar Studios has dominated both in terms of quality and box office, nearly every major studio has an animated division and the quality of some of these studios has been growing both in terms of animation and storytelling, with DreamWorks animation leading the way. Still, Disney and Pixar are the 400 pound gorillas of the genre, and when most aficionados come together to discuss their favorites, those two studios are going to receive the lion’s share of attention.

HONORABLE MENTION

While cartoon shorts had been a part of the landscape since the silent era, it wasn’t until Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) that Walt Disney thought to make a full-length movie of a cartoon. Even now, nearly 75 years later, the movie holds up. The hand-drawn artwork is simply astonishing in its beauty; Disney made sure that the first animated feature, a calculated gamble, had no expense spared. It remains one of the most beautiful animated features ever drawn. Shrek (2001) established DreamWorks Animation as a major player in the field and would inspire three sequels, paving the way for movies like Kung Fu Panda and Monsters vs. Aliens. Peppered with pop culture references and sly satire, the fairy tale gone hideously wrong sported an all-star cast and impressive animation in becoming the most successful feature animated franchise of all time. Akira (1988), based on one of Japan’s most honored comic books (manga) of all time would set the standards for anime, the uniquely Japanese form of animation. Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of the original manga, the finely-detailed world of Neo-Tokyo would become a hallmark of the kind of animation that would come out of Japan for the next two decades. A live action version of the movie has been in the works for decades but so far nothing has come of it. Finally, Bambi (1942) bears a personal place on this list – it is the first movie I ever saw in a theater, way back in 1964 when I was just four. Even today, I find myself entranced by the lush, verdant forest scenes and feel the tears welling up when Bambi’s mother is shot.

5. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)

 

Animated features had always been somewhat looked down upon by critics and the Hollywood mainstream as “kids stuff” and ghettoized in that fashion – until this movie became the first animated feature to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. It was the last movie to be worked on by composer Howard Ashman who passed away before the film was released, and features beautiful music and a timeless story. This was a movie to truly recapture Disney magic and is as good if not better than their classic animations, most of which could easily be on this list but this one was special. It also was a precursor to things to come with extensive digital animated sequences, including the ballroom scene depicted here, as well as hand-drawn animation. This is the favorite of many families, including ours.

4. THE PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997)

 

There are other works of Hayao Miyazaki that are better known and quite frankly, better respected than this one but it is this fantasy film that brought me into his world and has kept me there ever since. Miyazaki is perhaps the most respected animator working today and certainly one of the best ever to come out of Japan. In this allegory that depicts the conflict between nature and technology, he brings fantastic characters to life in an almost fable-like setting with hints of science fiction and high fantasy throughout. It’s a masterful work not only of animation but of storytelling as well, and while it never received the acclaim his other works (such as Spirited Away and Ponyo) got, it nonetheless is my favorite of his both sentimentally and critically.

3. THE INCREDIBLES (2004)

 

 It’s no secret that I’m a comic book junkie, particularly of the superhero variety. Yes, I love all those spandex wearing characters from DC to Marvel and when Pixar decided to make a feature length film about a superhero team that was also a family, I was over the moon to say the least. The final product didn’t disappoint. My initial fears that the genre would be disrespected and dumbed down (as other films like Zoom and Sky High had done) were groundless; this was clearly a labor of love that not only poked gentle fun at the genre but also told a compelling story about family dynamics changed by the advent of great powers. Something like the Fantastic Four done for the Family Channel with a villain straight out of a hip James Bond movie, I was enchanted by every moment of this movie which remains one of my all time superhero favorites.

2. FANTASIA (1940)

 

The idea of animation as a work of art had never really been as explored quite as completely as it did on this film, which was one of Walt Disney’s pet projects and clearly something close to his heart. Vignettes set to classical music pieces (such as Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain) used whimsical Disney imagery to create a breathtaking work that elevates as it entertains. In many ways, Fantasia is a cultural landmark although it was never a commercial success; today it is best remembered for the one vignette featuring Mickey Mouse – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice which was spun off into its own movie that had very little to do with the original. A sequel, Fantasia 2000 came out just in time for the new Millennium; while it captured the spirit of the original, it wasn’t quite as impressive.

1. UP (2009)

 

Only the second animated feature to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, this movie has clearly elevated the bar for animated features. Very few movies can walk the fine line between appealing to children and telling a sophisticated story that will stimulate adults, but this one does, creating timeless entertainment in the process. The opening montage telling the story of balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen and his wife Ellie is both charming and poignant and was one of the most memorable moments in the movies last year. It cements Pixar’s position as the most innovative studio of any sort out there, churning out high quality films year after year. Whether they can ever produce a movie this good again is almost irrelevant; the fact that they proved that it can be done has changed the standards for animated movies from disposable kids stuff to important cinema for everyone.

Top 5 George Clooney Movie Characters


George Clooney used his breakout role as Dr. Doug Ross in the hit TV medical drama “E.R.” to catapult him into movie stardom, a position he hasn’t relinquished in more than a decade. His charm and self-effacing humor have translated nicely to the big screen; it doesn’t hurt that his rugged good looks have kept him in the running for People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive honor during that entire run. Perhaps the most notable thing about Clooney’s career however, is his willingness to take on quirky roles that many mainstream stars would be loathe to tackle. Here are some of his more memorable ones.

HONORABLE MENTION

It’s hard to limit Clooney’s career to just five top roles; here are some that narrowly missed the cut. Bob Barnes in Syriana (2005) stood out in an ensemble drama enough to net Clooney his first (and only to date) Oscar as an aging, frustrated CIA Middle East operative who comes to find that everything he thought he was working for was a lie. Lyn “Skip” Casady in The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) is indicative of Clooney’s bread and butter off-center roles, as a career army officer who works for a strange and unique group of military psychics who intend to wage mental warfare on America’s enemies – but first must beat the games going on within their own ranks. In the title role of  Michael Clayton (2007), Clooney played a reprehensible lawyer who finally manages to grow a conscience (and no, it wasn’t science fiction). This is another Oscar nomination for Clooney, who has been nominated twice for acting and once each for writing and directing. Finally, Archie Gates in Three Kings (1999) was a Gulf War soldier with ambition, intelligence and more than a little greed in one of those Clooney movies that while not a major hit still remains a cult favorite today.

5. CAPTAIN BILLY TYNE, THE PERFECT STORM (2000)

 The Perfect Storm

Clooney doesn’t play real people very often, but in this depiction of one of the worst storms to hit the Northeast ever recorded, he captures the spirit of the captain of the ill-fated sword boat Andrea Gail. He’s a well-respected captain who was on a run of bad fishing that decided to go out farther than perhaps was safe, only to find a monster in between him and his home port. Clooney captured perfectly the working class courage of an old salt, the kind we would see later on reality shows like “The Deadliest Catch.”

4. SETH GECKO, FROM DUSK TIL DAWN (1996)

From Dusk Til Dawn

Robert Rodriguez turned the vampire movie clichés on their ears, not so much reinventing the vampire movie as injecting it with enough steroids to turn it into Arnold Schwarzenegger with fangs. Clooney co-starred with director Quentin Tarantino as the Gecko brothers, a couple of small-time hoods on the run who kidnap a family and take them to an unlikely place – a Mexican titty bar – that is the front for a group of vampires who lure humans in to feed upon. Gecko is vicious, merciless and quite frankly the perfect antihero.

3. RYAN BINGHAM, UP IN THE AIR (2009)

Up in the Air

 Clooney’s most recent Oscar nomination was for this movie, in which he plays a corporate consultant who firms hire specifically to inform employees they’ve been laid on. In order to insulate himself from the emotions of the job, Bingham develops a taste for the itinerant life, living out of a suitcase going from airport to airport, anonymous hotel to anonymous hotel in cities all over the country. Nobody does the emotionally insulated character better than Clooney does.

2. ULYSSES EVERETT MCGILL, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? (2000)

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Early on in Clooney’s film career he developed a rapport with the Coen Brothers who would later go on to direct him in such films as Burn After Reading and Intolerable Cruelty. Their best collaboration however was in this Depression-set movie which was VERY loosely based on Homer’s “The Odyssey” and featured Clooney as a fast-talking ex-convict with a love of Dapper Dan pomade that equals that of his love for his wife. The movie is quirky and refreshing, full of cornbread humor and soggy bottoms. It’s definitely among my favorite movies ever.

1. DANNY OCEAN, OCEAN’S 11, OCEAN’S 12, OCEAN’S 13 (2001, 2004, 2007)

Oceans Twelve

This is a bit of a no-brainer; while perhaps McGill would be Clooney’s best performance ever, this is going to be the character he will be remembered for; the ultra-suave, super-smart thief Danny Ocean who robs three Las Vegas casinos with a crew of the best there are at what they do, all while chasing down his ex-wife who divorced him while he was in prison. There would go on to be two more Oceans movies, all of which are among Clooney’s biggest hits. It takes a great deal to out-do the Rat Pack but that’s just what director Steven Soderbergh, Clooney and his band of merry men (and women) did.