Tired of Marvel and DC? Try these 10 Under the Radar Superhero Movies

Posted on July 27, 2023

by Eric S

You know, Marvel movies really are great (and some recent DC ones, to a lesser extent). There’s no denying it: they’ve brought a lot of visibility to the medium of comics and the genre of superheroes. But Marvel and DC are far from the only examples that the realm of superhero films has to offer. Whether you’re tired of the “Marvel formula,” looking for something a little edgier, or simply need a break from the Batmans and Supermans of the world, there’s plenty of alternatives that still have all the super heroics, special abilities, and evil villains that fans love. Below are some of our favorites.

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Before Michael B. Jordan was a household name and starred in another noteworthy superhero film, he was in this somewhat underrated movie with Dane DeHaan. While Chronicle is not the most groundbreaking film, it plays a little bit with the typical pacing and storytelling techniques of the genre by presenting itself as found footage—a technique most viewers associate with horror. The film follows three high school students who discover a glowing object in the woods that gives them telekinetic powers. As it turns out, not all teenagers are as responsible with their powers as the Teen Titans, Power Rangers, and New Mutants. With young people adjusting to their new abilities and themes of the dangers of unhindered power, Chronicle has many of the trappings of your typical superhero fare, but it executes those tropes well and is worth checking out. 


While the question of “what if Superman used his powers for EVIL?” has been around in comics for decades (actually, make that almost a century), it’s been explored to a much lesser extent in film and television. The Boys and Invincible (and even the Injustice series of video games) do a great job, but that doesn’t mean you should sleep on Brightburn. You’ve heard it before: a baby from another planet crash lands in Kansas and is discovered by a kindly couple. And of course, this young extraterrestrial has exceptional powers. But that’s where Superman and Brightburn diverge. Although the pacing can be a bit uneven, this horror-tinged film is an interesting (and perhaps more realistic) examination of a classic American myth with which we are all familiar.  



As director of both The Evil Dead and the original Spider-Man films, Sam Raimi has a rather impressive resume, but one gem thats often overlooked is the underrated Darkman, starring a pre-Star-Wars Liam Neeson. When Raimi couldn’t acquire the rights to make a film about The Shadow (who would eventually become the subject of another great, but lesser-known superhero film), he decided to create his own hero. True to its name, Darkman is, welldark. When hitmen leave Dr. Peyton Westlake horribly disfigured, he decides to go on a quest for revenge, as one is wont to do when horribly disfigured by hitmen. Stylish and surprisingly poetic, Darkman wears its love of classic horror on its sleeve and is a must-see superhero film for fans of The Phantom of the Opera, The Fly, The Mummy, and old pulp heroes.


Before James Gunn became a household name with Guardians of the Galaxy, he wrote and directed this surprisingly funny indie superhero film about a frustrated fry cook named Frank (played by Rainn Wilson) who decides to take justice into his own hands by becoming the Crimson Bolt (AKA, a guy in a red costume who goes around hitting so-called rulebreakers with a wrench). Part love letter, part metacommentary, Super is the self-aware superhero comedy you’ve been waiting for. Rounding out the all-star cast is Elliot Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, and most hilariously, Nathan Fillion, who plays the Holy Avenger, a hero who comes to Frank in a vision to tell him he’s been chosen for a higher purpose. Whether you love superheroes or think they’re ridiculous, Super should be at the top of your watchlist.


Another flick that falls more to the low-key and grounded side, Defendor follows Woody Harrelson as the amazingly named Arthur Poppington, an everyman who roams the streets in search of his arch nemesis. Although this movie got fairly mixed reviews upon its release, it’s one of the few in the genre that puts the psychology of super heroics at the forefront and acknowledges how it may intersect with trauma and mental illness. Defendor would make a great companion piece to Super, if you decide to do a double feature of indie superhero films about normal people assuming a secret identity and putting themselves in dangerous situations.   

The Toxic Avenger

Hailed as the “first superhuman hero from New Jersey,” the Toxic Avenger (or Toxie, as his friends call him) is the perfect embodiment of campy, ‘80s, B-Movie weirdness. When mild-mannered Melvin the mop boy falls into some toxic waste, he gains super strength and embarks on a quest for justice. With themes of environmentalism, white collar crime, and superhero absurdity, there’s some genuine thoughtfulness if you’re willing to dig beneath the veneer of gratuitous violence and grossness. Warning: although Toxie got his own cartoon, Toxic Crusaders, in the early ‘90s (it was a strange decade), this movie is NOT for kids. Like, at all.

The Rocketeer

A lot of the movies on this list fall into the realm of irony, subversion, parody, deconstruction, etc., but The Rocketeer is about as sincere and reverential as you can get. Based on a comic book from the 1980s by Dave Stevens, The Rocketeer follows Cliff Secord, a stunt pilot from the 1930s who discovers a jetpack, which comes in handy when he’s fighting Nazis. While it doesn’t have the nuanced character development or mind-blowing effects of the best MCU films, The Rocketeer is a fun, nostalgic love letter to a simpler time when stunt pilots discovered mysterious jetpacks and fought Nazis on top of German airships. 

Mystery Men

It seems like you don’t hear too much about Mystery Men these days, which is a shame. Like so many superhero stories, this film relies on the trope of the ragtag team of weirdos who have to band together to save the day, and the results are surprisingly bizarre and amusing. With an all-star cast that includes Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, William H. Macy, Paul Reubens, and many more, it’s a fun superhero spoof that is long overdue to be re-evaluated. Definitely recommended for fans of The Tick.  

Fast Color

Superhero films are nothing if not big, bombastic spectacles, so it’s nice when a movie like Fast Color comes along. Ruth, a young woman with the power to create earthquakes, finds herself on the run after her powers are discovered. This leads her back to the mother and daughter she abandoned long ago (don’t worry- they also have superpowers). With a much greater emphasis on relationships and character growth than fight scenes and explosions, Fast Color is perfect small-scale superhero palate cleanser.  


While the 1995 Sylvester Stallone film, Judge Dredd, has its charm, it veers quite a bit from the source material, and in the process takes away much of the character’s edginess. With Karl Urban as everyone’s favorite no-nonsense one-man judge, jury, and execution, the grimy, violent world of the 2000 A.D. comic from which he came never looked so good on film. Sadly, this movie wasn’t a huge financial success, but it has nonetheless earned an extremely loyal fan base (this writer included) that’s hoping for a sequel.

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