Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Superheroes who aren’t CALLED superheroes

With help from my network, I compiled a list of characters (from film/TV/literature) who are for all intents superheroes, but who

  • weren’t called superheroes (and in most cases did not have costumes/secret identities)
  • originated outside of comic books

Though there is no universal definition of “superhero,” these are the three elements on which purists tend to insist:

  • enhanced power (even if it’s human, such as superior intellect or exceptional hand-to-hand combat skills)
  • a costume
  • a secret identity

A further distinction must be made between “hero” and “superhero.” Every traditional movie has a hero, but not every hero is a superhero. Not every action hero is a superhero. James Bond and Luke Skywalker are heroes, but (as I see it) not superheroes.

Early 20th century characters of various media whose origins are now indistinguishable from superheroes (Tarzan, Zorro, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, the Phantom, the Shadow, Doc Savage) are not included.

On the following lists, the entries are films unless otherwise noted and the dates are first appearances.

Superheroes who aren’t called superheroes:

The Little White Bird (book, 1902), but more commonly known from Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up (play, 1904
)—Peter Pan
The Scarlet Pimpernel (book, 1905)
The Public Defender (1931)—Pike Winslow/The Reckoner (Richard Dix)
Pippi Longstocking (book, 1945)

King of the Rocket Men (movie serial, 1949)—Rocket Man (Tristram Coffin)
Escape to Witch Mountain (book, 1968; movie, 1975)—Tony and Tia Malone (Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards)
The Six Million Dollar Man (TV, 1973)—Steve Austin (Lee Majors)
The Bionic Woman (TV, 1976)—Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner)
Tron (1982)—Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges)
Manimal (TV, 1983)—Jonathan Chase (Simon MacCorkindale)
Starman (1984)—Starman/Scott Hayden (Jeff Bridges)
RoboCop (1987)—Alex Murphy/RoboCop (Peter Weller)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)—Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp)
Darkman (1990)—Darkman/Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson)
Powder (1995)—Powder/Jeremy Reed (Sean Patrick Flanery)
Early Edition (TV, 1996)—Gary Hobson (Kyle Chandler)
Phenomenon (1996)—George Malley (John Travolta)
Kill Bill (2003)—The Bride (Uma Thurman)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children—the peculiar children (book, 2011)
Frozen (2013)—Elsa (Idina Menzel)
Lucy (2014)—Lucy (Scarlett Johansson)

Stranger Things (TV, 2016)Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown)
Upgrade (2018)—Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green)

Characters who are intended to be superheroes (more deliberately than previous list):

Space Ghost (1966)

Fartman (National Lampoon, 1979)
Hero at Large (1980)

Super Fuzz (1980)
Condorman (1981)
The Greatest American Hero (TV, 1981)
The Powers of Matthew Star (TV, 1982)

The Beastmaster (1982)
Automan (TV, 1983)
The Toxic Avenger (1984)
My Secret Identity (TV, 1988)
Meteor Man (1993)
M.A.N.T.I.S. (TV, 1994)
Blankman (1994) 

Unbreakable (2000)
The Specials (2000) 

Danny Phantom (TV, 2004) 
The Incredibles (2004)
Sky High (2005)

Heroes (TV, 2006)
My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006)
Hancock (2008)
Bolt (2008)
Super (2010)

No Ordinary Family (TV, 2010)
The Cape (TV, 2011)
Chronicle (2012)

Sweet/Vicious (TV, 2016)
Sleight (2016)

Characters who have some kind of power/ability (some I feel don’t qualify, the rest I am not familiar with): 

The Grey Champion (short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1835)
A Christmas Carol (book, 1843; Ebeneezer Scrooge “could talk to ghosts and travel through time”)
Peter Pan (play, 1904)
The Saint (book, 1928)
Mary Poppins (book, 1934; film, 1964)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
James Bond (book, 1953; film, 1962)
The Fly (short story, 1957; films, 1958 and 1986)
The Warriors (book, 1965; film, 1979)
Star Trek (TV, 1966)
Blade Runner (book, 1968; film, 1982)
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)
Brewster McCloud (1970)
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (book, 1971; film, 1985)
Carrie (book, 1974; film, 1976)
The Fury (book, 1976; film, 1978)
Star Wars (1977)
Mad Max (1979)

Alien (1979)
The NeverEnding Story (book, 1979; film, 1984)

C.H.O.M.P.S. (1979)
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979; Riff Randall)

Thundarr the Barbarian (TV, 1980)
Jason Bourne (book, 1980)
Firestarter (book, 1980; 1984, film)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Scanners (1981)
Time Bandits (1981)
Modern Problems (1981)

Escape from New York (1981)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Knight Rider (TV, 1982)
Voyagers! (TV, 1982)
The Phoenix (TV, 1982)
Krull (1983)
The Terminator (1984)
Ghostbusters (1984)
Splash (1984)
Dreamscape (1984)

Iceman (1984)
The Ice Pirates (1984)

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension! (1984)
The Brother from Another Planet (1984)
Teen Wolf (1985)
Cocoon (1985)

Legend (1985)
Ladyhawke (1985)
D.A.R.Y.L. (1985)
The Goonies (1985; Sloth)
The Last Starfighter (1985)
The Last Dragon (1985)

Misfits of Science (TV, 1985)
The Equalizer (TV, 1985)
Street Hawk (TV, 1985)
Forrest Gump (book, 1986; film, 1994)
Captain EO (1986)

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
The Boy Who Could Fly (1986)

Short Circuit (1986)
Crocodile Dundee (1986)
Highlander (1986)
Memoirs of an Invisible Man (book, 1987)
Mannequin (1987)
Innerspace (1987)
The Monster Squad (1987)
Die Hard (1988)

Willow (1988)
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
Quantum Leap (TV, 1989)
Teen Witch (1989)
Hudson Hawk (1991)
The People Under the Stairs (1991; Roach)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (film, 1992; TV, 1997)
The Lawnmower Man (1992 film, not the largely unrelated Stephen King short story)
Jumper (book, 1992; film, 2008)
Pulp Fiction (1994; the Wolf)
The Secret World of Alex Mack (TV, 1994)
Game of Thrones (book, 1996)
Harry Potter (book, 1997)
Jack Reacher (book, 1997)
The Fifth Element (1997)
Charmed (TV, 1998)
The Matrix (1999)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Angel (TV, 1999)
Dark Angel (TV, 2000)
Frequency (2000)
Alias (TV, 2001; “she’s pretty much Batman”)
Donnie Darko (2001)
K-PAX (2001; prot/Robert Porter)
Firefly (TV, 2002; River Tam)
Underworld (2003)

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Night Watch (2004)
Percy Jackson (book, 2005)
The Covenant (2006)
Next (2007)
Avatar (2009)
Splice (2009; Dren)
Push (2009)
Inception (2010)
Black Swan (2010)
I Am Number Four (book, 2010; film, 2011)

The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To (book, 2010)
Super 8 (2011)
Sucker Punch (2011; the “unwilling prostitutes”)
Drive (2011)
Limitless (2011)
Cross (2011)
Looper (2012)
Elysium (2013)
Pacific Rim (2013)
John Wick (2014)
Midnight Special (2016)
Colossal (2017) 
Peppermint (2018)
Fast Color (2019)
Clint Eastwood (“everything he is in”)
Bruce Lee (“in any movie—and real life”)

Don’t qualify because based on comic book characters:

Asterix (comic, 1959) 
Snowpiercer (graphic novel, 1982; film, 2013)
Mystery Men (comic, 1987; film, 1999)
The Mask (comic, 1989; film, 1994)
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (comic, 1999; film, 2003)

Characters where the humor, not the power, is the point:

The Beverly Hillbillies (TV, 1962; the Clampetts “have enhanced strength and vision and Granny has exhibited enhanced speed”)
Bewitched (TV, 1964)
I Dream of Jeannie (TV, 1965)
Adam Adamant Lives! (TV, 1966)
Mr. Terrific (TV, 1967; no relation to DC Comics superhero of same name)

Captain Nice (TV, 1967)
Happy Days (TV, 1974; the Fonz can control people and machines)

Mork & Mindy (TV, 1978)
The Cannonball Run (1981; Captain Chaos)
Zapped! (1982)
Zelig (1983; he “can take on other people’s appearance and abilities and uses his powers to rescue women from Nazi Germany”)
Weird Science (1985)
Small Wonder (TV, 1985)
Back to School (1986; “the Triple Lindy”)
Beetlejuice (1988)
Matilda (book, 1988; film, 1996)
Saved by the Bell (TV, 1989; Zack Morris could stop time)
Toy Story (1995; Sheriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear)
South Park (TV, 1997; Kenny is “invincible—he can’t be killed”)
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)


Andrew Carney
Andrew Singer

Bill Davis
Bill Schelly
Brent Frankenhoff
Carolee Davis Eubanks
Craig Byrne
Dan Trudeau
Dani Ward
Darren Sapper
David Bushman
David Seidman
David Weitzer
Debi Cohen Himelfarb
Eric Reid
Gregory Okshteyn

Howard Nobleman
Jen MacNeil Danenberg
Jill Koufman
Jim Shelton
Jody Feldman
Joe Oesterle
John Dudas
Jonathan M. Berman
Jonny Bentwood
Joshua Liebster
Justin LaRocca Hansen
Kevin Danenberg
Kevin Meister
Kristina Johnson
Leah Bee
Mark Fogelberg
Mark Friedman
Mark Hughes
Mark R. DeFrancesco
Mike Zitomer
Nick Bruel
Paul Tolksdorf
Richard Gibbs
Robert Greenberger
Ross Garmil
Samantha Berger
Scott Kittredge
Stacey Wesley Giddis
Stefan Blitz
Steven Thompson
Timothy Young
Ty Templeton

Thank you all.

Am I missing any entries? Did I miscategorize any?

1 comment:

Comicbookrehab said...

Don Quixote - the forerunner for some of the themes associated with comic book superheroes and heroism.