Total Recall: Unconventional Superheroes

With Chronicle hitting theaters, we run down some of the weirdest costumed crime fighters to ever grace the silver screen.

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We could hardly publish a list of non-traditional superheroes without including the mighty Orgazmo, who battles injustice with the power of, well, the orgasm. A proudly NC-17 release from South Park's Trey Parker (who wrote, directed, and stars), Orgazmo follows the vulgar travails of a missionary who's roped into starring in a porn film and ends up becoming a real-life superhero...of a sort. "This movie," argued Kevin N. Laforest of the Montreal Film Journal, "confirms Trey Parker as the Orson Welles of absurd comedy."

Paper Man


Plenty of kids spend significant portions of their childhoods daydreaming about being a superhero -- or being pals with one who could devote themselves to righting the wrongs and fixing the injustices in their lives. But what if you never stopped daydreaming? That's the intriguing idea behind Paper Man, which stars Jeff Daniels as a struggling writer who turns to his super-powered imaginary friend Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds) when he needs someone to talk to. Sadly, most critics felt Paper Man failed to capitalize on its premise -- or its stellar performers, which also included Emma Stone, Lisa Kudrow, and Kieran Culkin. For some, however, the cast was enough to recommend the whole. "Ignore the story of Paper Man," urged Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum. "Concentrate instead on the delightful performances."



A sort of slapdash blend of X-Men and Stephen King's Firestarter, 2009's Push follows the adventures of superpowered individuals (including Dakota Fanning and Chris Evans) on the run from government agents (including Djimon Hounsou) in the employ of a shadowy bureau that wants to use their paranormal abilities to create an army of super-soldiers. A disappointment at the box office, Push received largely negative reviews from critics who were put off by its convoluted storyline. For some, however, it offered enjoyable sci-fi thrills -- including Matt Glasby of Total Film, who argued, "Sloppily conceived but directed with flair, Push is bound to split the vote. Look closely and its disparate pieces fit clumsily together; step back and the overall effect has an undeniable allure."

Ra. One


A superhero movie done Bollywood style, 2011's RA.One follows a relatively straightforward plot (video game designer creates an antagonist so badass that he escapes from the game to wreak havoc -- and only one man can stop him!), but does it with tons of absurdly overstuffed flair, not to mention post-converted 3D and a 154-minute running time. Audiences loved it, making RA.One the second highest-grossing Bollywood film in history, and it earned a fair amount of critical applause in the bargain. While pointing out that it's "The most expensive Bollywood movie ever made," the New York Times' Rachel Saltz called it "a sci-fi superhero thriller, is a kind of entertainment machine set to dazzle, Hindi cinema with a crush on high-tech."

Sky High


It's somewhat difficult to argue that a movie as derivative as Sky High is truly non-traditional -- it rips plenty of pages from the live-action Disney playbook -- but how many movies revolve around the ups and downs of life at a high school for junior superheroes? Not many, and only one boasts the involvement of Kurt Russell as Captain Stronghold, Bruce Campbell as Coach Boomer, and Lynda Carter as Principal Powers. It's all admittedly silly stuff, and a good deal more cartoonish than most of the movies on this list, but it does exactly what it sets out to do. "My 12-year-old self would have liked this movie a lot," wrote the Village Voice's Matt Singer. "The 25-year-old me likes it a bit more than he cares to admit."



A lot of superhero movies show their heroes confronting some level of disbelief from the outside world -- either from people who are stunned to see a costumed vigilante standing up for the downtrodden, or from friends and family who don't believe our hero's powers are real. When it comes to Les Franken (Michael Rapaport) in Special, this suspicion is completely appropriate -- his newfound "powers" are really the result of an experimental antidepressant that's inducing psychotic episodes and making him see and hear things that aren't real. The generally dismissive reviews that greeted this low-budget effort didn't help its limited theatrical prospects, but it gave Rapaport a chance to shine in a leading role and impressed critics like Ray Greene of Boxoffice Magazine, who called it "uproarious and always poignant" and wrote, "co-screenwriters and directors Jeremy Passmore and Hal Haberman have created a moving and pertinent parable for our medicated times."

The Specials


What do superheroes do on their days off? This early, low-budget effort from Super's James Gunn aims to find out, focusing on a middling team of non-superstar crimefighters like the Weevil (Rob Lowe), Ms. Indestructible (Paget Brewster), and the Strobe (Thomas Haden Church). Plagued by internal strife and public indifference, the Specials spend most of the movie just struggling to keep a grip on their personal lives, which lends the film a level of ordinary human drama missing from most movies about people with superhuman abilities. In his review for Film Threat, Ron Wells applauded The Specials' heart, pointing out that "Gunn and first-time director Craig Mazin seem to know and love this world and aren't here to just take potshots at it for 90 minutes."



Costumed crime fighter, or wrench-wielding lunatic? In the black comedy Super, Frank D'Arbo (Rainn Wilson) is a mixture of both, and writer/director James Gunn leaves it up to the audience to decide which side wins. Featuring decidedly non-cartoonish violence and a rather depressing storyline, Super failed to catch on with audiences during its limited theatrical run, and alienated critics who felt it lacked enough laughs to work as a comedy, or a clear enough point of view to function as a drama. Still, it had its fans -- like Duane Dudek of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who argued, "Just as you dismiss it as witless superhero parody, it switches gears in a way not especially subtle but for which you are unprepared. And when it finally declares itself to be a genre film, the surprise is that it's not the genre you thought."



It certainly isn't the most action-packed superhero movie you're ever going to watch, but for patient filmgoers, M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable makes up for its lack of straight-ahead thrills with patiently building tension and a quiet sense of dread. Bruce Willis stars in prime Sadface Mode as a Philadelphia security guard who meets a mysterious man (Samuel L. Jackson) who leads him to believe he might be packing a little something extra in his DNA. While not a runaway hit like Willis and Shyamalan's previous collaboration, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable still made a healthy $248 million at the box office -- and impressed critics like Marc Savlov of the Austin Chronicle, who wrote, "If you can manage that precious, tentative suspension of disbelief, you'll find Unbreakable a rewarding meditation on the nature of heroes, both comic book and otherwise."

Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don't forget to check out the reviews for Chronicle.

Finally, here's the trailer for a film with one of cinema's goofiest superheroes -- Blankman: