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the full team of mystery men Photo: Universal Pictures

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10 weird superhero movies that break the Marvel and DC mold

On the heels of The Old Guard, a few off-kilter takes on heroic material

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Netflix’s film adaptation of The Old Guard is the rare superhero movie that isn’t a part of the bigger Marvel or DC machine. It’s more violent as a result — not to mention much more willing to showcase its gay characters rather than having them be barely visible and still asking for credit. Instead of copying the popular formula, director Gina Prince-Bythewood forges her own way forward.

If watching The Old Guard gave you a hankering for some more superhero movies a little further off the beaten path, here are the best, weirdest superhero movies you can try next — from a black comedy about superheroes with no powers at all, to a superhero movie that brings literature’s most colorful figures together — and where you can watch them.

Kick-Ass

aaron taylor-johnson and chloe grace moretz in kick-ass Photo: Lionsgate

Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar’s comic-book series takes place in a world with no superpowers. The heroes the movie focuses on are, instead, normal citizens turned vigilantes. One character is a normal high school student who, after being severely injured on his first jaunt out, develops a higher tolerance for pain. Another pair are a father and daughter who, driven by the need to avenge a dead family member, have become incredibly proficient with all sorts of weapons. Like all of Vaughn’s movies, it’s a stylish ride, but also extremely gory and affecting as it digs into how trying to be a real-life superhero would affect a normal person’s life. —Karen Han

Kick-Ass is available on Apple, Amazon, Vudu, or YouTube.

Zebraman

zebraman locked in combat Image: Toei Company

Zebraman is just as strange and outlandish as all of Takashi Miike’s other films (Ichi the Killer, Ace Attorney), but also exhibits extreme tenderness in its depiction of an elementary school teacher who wants to be a superhero. Shinichi Ichikawa’s personal life is falling apart, and so he finds an escape by dressing up as “Zebraman,” a superhero with whom he’d been obsessed as a child. When he meets a student who shares his love for Zebraman, things start looking up — but also start looking stranger, as Ichikawa begins to manifest superpowers and notices similarities between what’s happening around him and the events of the original Zebraman series. —KH

Zebraman is available on DVD.

Hancock

will smith as hancock Photo: Sony Pictures Releasing

Hancock also takes a more real-world approach to superheroes, similar to the way The Incredibles mentions just how much rebuilding will have to be done after superheroes are done battling. Will Smith stars as Hancock, an alcoholic superhero primarily known for how much destruction he causes while attempting to perform heroic acts. When he saves public relations specialist Ray (Jason Bateman) by derailing an entire train, Ray takes it upon himself to rehabilitate Hancock’s image, but that’s easier said than done, especially when it turns out there are still other superheroes out there. —KH

Hancock is streaming on Netflix.

The One

jet li in the one Photo: Columbia Pictures

The One is, ironically, one of many post-Matrix action romps full of visual effects that distort time and reality. But while embarrassing dreck like Equilibrium fumbled with existential questions, The One asked a much simpler question: What if Jet Li could jump twice as high? The answer is that it would be cool as hell.

Allow me to tell you some things about The One. The film’s core conceit is that we live within a multiverse. Some other multiverse sci-fi stories encourage us to believe that our reality is one of infinite parallel realities. It’s mind-blowing stuff, so The One sets some comforting parameters. There are exactly 124 universes, and a version of each person exists in all of them. What a relief!

Jet Li is dual cast as Good Jet Li, and Evil Jet Li. Evil Jet Li has made a dark discovery: If he kills a Jet Li from another dimension, the life energy of all remaining Jet Lis is split between the survivors. When we join the story, he’s already turned himself into a demigod, and the only thing that stands between him and full power is Good Jet Li (you can tell he is good because he loves to kiss his wife), who must quickly learn how to harness the superpowers he never asked for.

Allow me to tell you some more things about The One. Jason Statham is here as a “multiverse agent,” and he’s doing some sort of American accent. Evil Jet Li picks up two police motorcycles and swings them around like clubs. The film features diegetic and non-diegetic use of the music of Drowning Pool. The Evil Jet Li enjoys listening to Drowning Pool. He explicitly states that it’s the only thing he likes about our boring dimension. —Patrick Gill

The One is available on Amazon, Vudu, or YouTube.

Mystery Men

the mystery men team Photo: Universal Pictures

Mystery Men, with its lampooning of superheroes as corporate entities and the silliness of many alter egos, was way ahead of its time upon its release in 1999. Now, despite its age, it’s still a breath of fresh air in the superhero-sphere. Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, Paul Reubens, William H. Macy, Janeane Garofalo, and Kel Mitchell star as group of second-string superheroes trying to break into the big leagues. When the city’s most successful superhero, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear), frees his nemesis in order for there to actually be crime for him to fight, the plan backfires, leaving the would-be team to finally step in and save the day. —KH

Mystery Men is available on Apple, Amazon, Vudu, or YouTube.

Sky High

kurt russell and michael angarano in sky high Photo: Buena Vista Pictures

Sky High makes fun of the classic distinction between superhero and sidekick by separating kids at a superhero high school into two different curriculums. Will (Michael Angarano) is the son of two famous superheroes, but is put into the sidekick track because he has yet to manifest any superpowers. His powers, or lack thereof, define his high school experience — once he finally does start to become superpowerful, he becomes popular, but his ultimate lesson is, of course, that it’s not the power that defines you, but what you do with it. —KH

Sky High is streaming on HBO.

The Rocketeer

billy campbell and alan arkin in the rocketeer Photo: Buena Vista Pictures

For a more steampunk superhero, try The Rocketeer, based on the Dave Stevens comic-book series of the same name. Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) is a stunt pilot, but after finding a rocket pack and using it to rescue a friend, he becomes known as “the Rocketeer.” Unfortunately, the rocket pack is an invention stolen from Howard Hughes, making the Rocketeer the subject of an FBI investigation, even though the pack was in fact stolen by members of Eddie Valentine’s gang. All three forces (and more) collide in a much bigger conspiracy as the Rocketeer’s fame grows. —KH

The Rocketeer is streaming on Disney Plus.

The Iron Giant

the iron giant peers at a boy Image: Warner Bros.

That The Iron Giant is a great movie goes without saying. The Iron Giant is also the best Superman movie since Richard Donner’s live-action original — an impressive feat for a film in which Superman appears only as a fictional character. As the eponymous giant hides in the barn behind Hogarth’s house, the young boy brings him a stack of comics as a “bedtime story,” and shows off a copy of Action Comics. Superman, he says, is a lot like the giant. “Crash landed on earth, didn’t know what he was doing; but he only uses his powers for good, never for evil.” Despite the giant’s superficial resemblance to a comic book bad guy, Hogarth tells him that he’s a good guy, too. Like Superman.

The best Superman stories remind us that Superman’s strength is not just the sum of his powers, but his power to influence. To show the world, and the superheroes around him, a better, more peaceful way. As Marlon Brando intones in Richard Donner’s Superman, “They can be a great people, Kal-El; they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way.” When The Iron Giant puts Superman’s name on the giant’s iron lips in the film’s climactic moment, it is saying more about the power of Superman in a single scene than most movies do in their entire runtime. —Susana Polo

The Iron Giant is streaming on HBO Max.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Three men stand in a library that has paper all over the floor. Photo: 20th Century Fox

This adaptation of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s work doesn’t bear too many similarities to its source material, but manages to be a fun, campy romp nonetheless. The central premise, at least, remains the same, as a group of famous literary figures — Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, Dorian Gray, Jekyll and Hyde, Tom Sawyer, and a knock-off invisible man — join forces to stop a world war from breaking out. They face a classic superhero conundrum in preventing their powers from being copied and used for evil, and each show off their respective strengths as they battle against yet another famous literary figure: Sherlock Holmes’ Professor Moriarty. —KH

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is available on Apple, Amazon, Vudu, or YouTube.

Highlander

sean connery and christopher lambert in highlander Image: 20th Century Fox

The idea of immortal beings pursuing each other through history reaches its apex in Highlander. The fantasy film that focuses on Scottish swordsman Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), known as the Highlander, who is one of a race of immortal warriors who can only be killed by being beheaded. His nemesis is Kurgan (Clancy Brown), who wishes to obtain “the Prize,” which is only given to the last immortal: infinite wisdom and the ability to enslave the entire human race. —KH

Highlander is streaming on Amazon.