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Best Superhero Movies Not Based on a Comic Book

Best Superhero Movies Not Based on a Comic Book


  • Unbreakable trilogy by M. Night Shyamalan subverts superhero genre expectations with unique characters and subdued storytelling.
  • Darkman and Super offer unconventional superhero narratives from Sam Raimi and James Gunn, blending horror and comedy with gritty realism.
  • Superhero movies like Krrish and Hancock explore cultural diversity and human flaws, expanding the genre beyond American comic book origins.



Superhero movies have long been a source of fascination for Hollywood. Long before Christopher Reeve made audiences believe a man could fly with 1978’s Superman: The Movie and kickstarted the modern era of high-budget comic book features, the film industry had already spent decades bringing the adventures of costumed crusaders to the screen both in movies and on television.

The quintessential American superhero is one who traces its roots to the comic book world, where companies like DC and Marvel Comics have spent decades enthralling readers with stories about Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man. But not every great superhero movie is based on a comic book or even originates from America. Here are some superhero movies from around the world that did not need comic-based source material to make an impact on the genre.

Updated on April 6th, 2024, by Samuel Cormier: If you are a fan of superhero movies, then you will be happy to know that this article has been updated with more content.

10 Unbreakable (2000)

2000’s Unbreakable tells the story of David Dunn, the sole survivor of a train crash that reveals David has a number of superpowers, including invulnerability and telepathy. Almost two decades later in 2016, Shyamalan delivered an unexpected sequel to Unbreakable with Split, telling the story of supervillain-in-the-making Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man with multiple personality disorder — including one that has superhuman strength. Finally, Shyamalan rounded out the trilogy with Glass in 2019, detailing a final showdown between David, Kevin, and a mysterious criminal mastermind named Mr. Glass.

Shyamalan’s Superhero Universe

M. Night Shyamalan is hardly the sort of filmmaker one would expect to make a big, flashy superhero movie. Yet the filmmaker has made not just one but three superhero movies in his career. Of course, being a true auteur, Shyamalan bent the requirements of the genre to suit his tastes rather than bending over backward himself to accommodate the genre, meaning no over-the-top theatrics, flashy superhero costumes, or loud action set pieces.

9 Darkman (1990)



Release Date
August 24, 1990


Sam Raimi , Chuck Pfarrer , Ivan Raimi , Daniel Goldin , Joshua Goldin

Darkman is a vengeful anti-hero covered in bandages, played to chilling effect by Liam Neeson. He operates in the shadows like classic superheroes in the vein of Batman and The Shadow. Scientist Peyton Westlake, who happens to be working on a new form of synthetic skin — albeit flawed, ends up going mad and seeking revenge against the mobsters who disfigured him. The look of the character was also heavily inspired by classic literary figures like The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Sam Raimi’s First Superhero Outing

After rocketing to fame with the success of his debut horror feature Evil Dead, filmmaker Sam Raimi was keen to use his skills to create a superhero movie experience. Unfortunately, Raimi was having difficulty convincing the studios who owned the rights to the most popular superheroes that he was the man for the job. Thus, Raimi decided to create his own superhero movie character from scratch, paying homage to the 1930s horror movies he admired. That is how the world was introduced to Darkman. The success of Darkman directly led to Raimi getting to make the long-awaited live-action Spider-Man movie a decade later.

8 Megamind (2010)



Release Date
October 28, 2010


The titular Megamind is originally a supervillain: born on another planet, bullied for his big blue head, with an innate penchant for evil. His archnemesis is the stereotypical vigilante Metro Man: popular, full of himself, and not really caring if his actions do more performative good than collateral damage. But when Metroman’s mistakes turn out to be a real threat to the city, Megamind must abandon his grudge and step up to do what’s right.

Creative and Humorous

Megamind saw an interesting success at the time of its release, finding more viewership through Internet memes than children begging their parents to see it in theaters. Nonetheless, the film has an entertaining plot and appealing characters. Megamind makes a unique superhero by turning his mad scientist ‘powers’ into tools to avoid doom. Megamind saw a very badly received sequel in 2024, Megamind vs The Doom Syndicate, which was critiqued for its basic storyline and unbelievably lazy animation.

7 Chronicle (2012)



Release Date
February 1, 2012


Filmed in the vein of a found-footage horror story, Chronicle tells the story of a group of friends who gain mental superpowers after coming into contact with a mysterious meteor. Instead of becoming superheroes, the friends start using their powers for selfish reasons. After one of the friends starts morphing into a full-fledged supervillain, the other two must decide what path they want to take with their new powers: would they choose evil or reestablish good?

A Human-Centric Approach to the Genre

By the 2000s, superhero movies had become mainstream. This meant the bare-bones requirements of a superhero story had already entered the collective pop culture consciousness and were waiting to be subverted by daring filmmakers. One such budding filmmaker was Josh Trank, who made a big impact with his small-budget debut movie Chronicle. He introduced non-willing “supermen” who did not know what to make of their newfound powers and had to make the tough choice between good and evil. This often-forgotten movie has a lot of potential in developing superheroes who only have limited powers and no particular physical strength.


20 Best Found Footage Movies, Ranked

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6 Krrish (2006)



Release Date
June 23, 2006

Rakesh Roshan

Rekha , Hrithik Roshan , Priyanka Chopra , Naseeruddin Shah , Sharat Saxena , Puneet Issar


Robin Bhatt , Sachin Bhowmick , Honey Irani , Akarsh Khurana , Sanjay Masoom , Rakesh Roshan

The titular Krrish is a young man named Krishna who is born with extraordinary abilities. After living a life of seclusion for most of his formative years, Krishna is unexpectedly thrust into the limelight when he travels to Singapore to woo the girl of his dreams. Faced with an increasing threat of violence and a promise he made to his grandmother to keep his powers a secret, Krishna is forced to assume the secret identity of the superhero Krrish to save the world from a mad scientist who has gained access to a computer that can show the future.

Underappreciated By Western Audiences

Indian storytelling traditions are replete with intricate mythologies and larger-than-life heroic sagas that can rival the best Greek and Nordic epics. But superhero stories are a vanishingly small part of Indian pop culture. In 2006, Bollywood created the industry’s first modern-age superhero hewing closely to the tradition of DC and Marvel Comics characters with Krrish. The film did not break through overseas audiences, but became a household name in India, prompting two sequels. Currently unavailable to stream.

5 Hancock (2008)



Release Date
July 1, 2008

Peter Berg


Hancock is a washed-up alcoholic who also happens to be a super-strong man with invulnerable skin and the powers of flight and super speed. Despite meaning well most of the time, Hancock’s careless use of his powers in helping people often leads to more harm than good, turning public opinion against him. After a PR consultant vows to turn Hancock’s public image around, he sees a chance for redemption and the possibility of getting some answers about his mysterious past.

A Charming Cast

As one of the biggest stars of the ’90s and 2000s, there had long been a demand to see Will Smith play a superhero. After a close brush with playing Superman, Smith’s superhero career took an unexpected turn when he starred in 2008’s Hancock. A subversive take on superhero culture, the movie places Smith’s titular character in the role of a Superman-type savior with major personality issues — alongside an equally impressive cast including Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman. Stream on Peacock.

4 Super (2010)



Release Date
November 26, 2010


Super tells the story of short-order cook Frank Darbo, who feels that he has been chosen by God to become a superhero. Clad in a red costume and calling himself “The Crimson Bolt”, Frank starts a war on crime that soon gets the attention of the news media and the city’s criminal elements. Frank must now prove his worth to both sides of the law, in order to be taken seriously. The movie, released in 2010, stars Rainn Wilson, Elliot Page, and Kevin Bacon.

James Gunn’s Earlist Superhero Effort

Today, James Gunn is one of the most noted names in superhero movie culture. But before giving memorable additions to the MCU and DCEU with the Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad, Gunn took a stab at creating his own original superhero characters in a gritty, grounded reality. Despite being a low-budget, gritty affair, Gunn’s trademark style of humor, pathos, and gore are on display in Super, which the filmmaker would later employ in his MCU and DCEU outings.

3 The Toxic Avenger (1985)

The Toxic Avenger

The Toxic Avenger

Release Date

Andree Maranda , Mitch Cohen , Cindy Manion , Robert Prichard

82 Minutes

In The Toxic Avenger, Melvin Ferd Junko III is a weak, meek janitor who gets bullied relentlessly by the patrons of the gym where he works. A cruel prank by said patrons leads to Melvin falling into a toxic vat of sludge. This transforms Melvin into an inhumanly large and powerful monster, and he sets off on a rampage to get revenge against the people who had wronged him for so long. The Toxic Avenger proved popular enough to spawn multiple sequels and is currently getting rebooted for the modern superhero age.

A Rarer ’80s Superhero Saga

Before superhero movies became money-minting machines at the box office and their budgets ballooned as a result, most films in the genre were campy, low-budget affairs in the vein of slasher horror movies. The most famous superhero film from that era is TheToxic Avenger film franchise, which started in 1985 with the first entry in the series that sought to marry superhero sensibilities with slasher horror movie tropes.

2 The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)

Two characters gaze at each other in The Scarlet Pimpernel

Before there were comic books like DC and Marvel, there was the 1905 novel The Scarlet Pimpernel. The novel, and its 1982 movie adaptation, tell the story of Sir Percy Blakeney, an English nobleman who affects a languid and foppish manner in public. Behind closed doors, however, Percy operates as the dashing vigilante known as “the Scarlet Pimpernel”, who uses his extensive wealth and combat skills to rid the world of oppression.

The Original Superhero

If that setup sounds similar to Batman, Zorro, and so many other superheroes, just remember that the Scarlet Pimpernel came before all of them. The character has long been credited with making way for many of the tropes that came to codify the superhero genre, like having a secret identity and various unexpected superhero sidekicks. Apart from its influence on the superhero genre, 1982’s The Scarlet Pimpernel stands on its own as a well-made film with a compelling star cast that includes Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour, and Ian McKellen. Stream on Kanopy and Acorn TV.

1 The Incredibles (2004)

In The Incredibles, after a series of very public catastrophes turn the world against superheroes, meta-humans are forced to go into hiding with the help of the government. Mr. Incredible and Elasti-Girl are two such supers who hang up their costumes for a stab at family life. But after years of uneventful domesticity, Mr. Incredible yearns to feel the rush of his old crime-fighting days again. One day, an opportunity presents itself that seems promising at first, but which soon turns dangerous as it swallows up not just Mr. Incredible, but his super-powered family as well.

The Most Delightful Superhero Fare

Despite being some of the most popular superhero characters in comic book history, The Fantastic Four has struggled to find decent representation on the big screen. Then along came The Incredibles, and gave the world the perfect Fantastic-Four-based-ish movie in spite of being an original story created by Pixar. The film was an instant success for all ages, with an incredible box office of $631.6 million against a $92–145 million budget, leading to a long-awaited (yet less appreciated) sequel that came out in 2018.

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