The Best Superhero Movies You’ve Never Seen

Defendor (Canada, 2009)

Arthur Poppington is a mild-mannered man most of the time, but at night he dons a costume of his own shoddy making and prowls the streets as the Defendor. He’s on the hunt for wrong-doers big and small, but his ultimate prey is a villain known only as the Captain of Industry. Also, Arthur isn’t all there in the head.

Like Hero at Large above, this is a tale about a regular guy who wades into danger hoping to help, but there’s nothing accidental about Arthur’s efforts. He’s on a mission, and while he thinks he knows what he’s doing, viewers won’t be too sure. His weapons of choice include marbles, wasps, lime juice, and a billy club, and his disinterest in guns stems in part because he feels impervious to bullets. That belief creates a sense of security that may or may not be accurate.

Woody Harrelson channels all kinds of crazy for the mildly off-kilter Arthur, but he also finds the heart that’s necessary for viewers and other characters to actually care. He has people in his life with his best interests at heart, but the pull of vicious criminals and the motivation of his mother’s death see him return to the street to face down villains of all stripes. The film works as a minor action movie, but it doesn’t shy away from the drama inherent in Arthur’s mental state and instead explores his mindset, the psychological need for justice, and the effect a true hero can have on the rest of us. It’s like a low-key sibling to James Gunn’s Super – complete with Kat Dennings instead of Ellen Page – and it’s an effective and affecting feature.

Watch Defendor on Amazon.

Antboy (Denmark, 2013)

Pelle is something of a loner who has trouble making friends and harbors a secret crush on a girl at school. His boring life takes a turn, though, when he’s bitten by a very special ant and develops some equally special superpowers. His newfound career as a pint-sized hero is fun for a while, but he’s soon challenged when his crush is kidnapped by a villain calling himself The Flea.

This is a light-hearted romp aimed squarely at the pre-teen market, and as such it might leave older viewers a bit cold. Take it on its own terms, though, and the film is a delightful action/adventure that sees its young hero stumble into abilities that he very intentionally uses for good. The film riffs pretty damn closely on Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, but rather than feel like a rip-off, the movie works as an homage for younger generations. It’s based on a local comic book and went on to spawn at least two sequels, so if your little one is into the first, there’s more to follow.

It’s absolutely a kids movie, but The Flea is no joke. He’s a darkly threatening creation played a bit heavier and creepier than the rest of the film suggests is necessary. Most of the movie is tremendously goofy as twelve-year-old Pelle struggles to get a grip on his abilities, uses them to wow and impress the other kids, and trades comic book wisdom with his nerdy new friend. The Flea, though, is legitimately unsettling – albeit in a still silly way – so if you do share this one with kids, you may be waking to their nightmares.

Watch Antboy on Amazon.

psychokinesis trailer

Psychokinesis (South Korea, 2018)

A security guard drinks from water that’s been tainted by a meteorite and soon discovers he’s developed new abilities. Namely, he can move things with his mind: small things, big things, and even himself. That’s right, he can fly when he puts his mind to it. When corporate thugs threaten his estranged daughter’s livelihood and neighborhood, he steps up to become the hero he was never capable of being before.

There’s a simplicity at the heart of this Korean superhero origin story as a normal guy is gifted with abnormal powers, but it balances the genre elements with a beautiful tale of a father and daughter in distress and a compelling one of small businesses at the mercy of corporate greed. Both of those angles offer an intimacy to the story – the world isn’t at risk, millions aren’t in peril – but the stakes feel no less heavy for it. When it does come time for action, some pretty sharp CG and solid stunt work bring it all to exciting life.

This is as far removed from Yeon Sang-ho‘s previous film (Train to Busan) as that was from the animated movies that preceded it. The one constant across his drama, action/horror, and superhero shenanigans is an incredible skill at crafting visually engaging, highly affecting entertainment. His latest lacks a propulsive pace, but both thrills and an emotional connection are present here, meaning that we’re left cheering as it heads towards a climax where no one’s fate is certain. That’s one of the beauties of South Korean cinema: tone can shift from playful to heartbreaking in moments, and Psychokinesis isn’t afraid to do just that.

Watch Psychokinesis on Netflix.

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