International Cinematic Superheroes

These days, it’s the superhero movie that reigns king at the box office. Studios are pumping out as many as they can to take advantage of receptive audiences and to maintain profitable franchises that expand beyond the cinema. Part of the reason that superhero movies have worked so well of late is that they provide mass appeal. This mass appeal has allowed Hollywood-made superhero films to become hits overseas as well as at the domestic box office. Seeing that success and profitability, international filmmakers have tried their hand at creating their own superhero films. Here are 10 such examples:

Turbo Kid (2015)

Origin: Canada / New Zealand

Plot: In an alternate future, an evil overlord names Zeus rules over a post-apocalyptic future. A young man who is obsessed with comic books meets a young woman/robot who becomes threatened by Zeus. He finds an ancient energy weapon and adapts the persona of his favorite comic book hero to try and save her.

A zany, low-budget (and violent) action film that is built on nostalgia; the plot harkens back to fun 80’s B-movies as much as the hero of the film is obsessed with pop culture relics. It’s the one film on this list that Americans may actually have seen, as it debuted at Sundance in early 2015 and had a short theatrical run after that.

Black Lightning [Chernaya Molniya] (2009)

Origin: Russia

Plot: Dima is an average college student who receives an old car as a gift from his father. When working as a delivery boy, he finds out that his car was a product of two scientists who made it capable of flight. When a crime hits Dima close to home, he decides to use his flying car to help people in need.

This film has nothing to do with that other Black Lightning superhero from TV. The plot has a lot of similarities with Spider-Man, and the action takes a few pages out of the book of Iron Man. Regardless, for a low-budget foreign film, it was reasonably successful and found some love with audiences.

Ra.One (2009)

Origin: India

Plot: Scientists create a method for digital objects to enter the real world. A glitch causes an insanely powerful villain (Ra.One) from a video game to cross over, and chaos ensues. To try and defeat this menace, the game’s protagonist (G.One) is brought over.

At the time of its release, many people considered Ra.One to be the most expensive Bollywood film ever created. That budget helped to create some Hollywood-level special effects and action set-pieces, and the film’s ambition is without question.

The Heroic Trio (1993)

Origin: Hong Kong

Plot: An invisible women is stealing babies for an evil villain with nefarious intent. When her boss kills her love interest, she turns against him. Teaming up with a mercenary and crime fighting vigilante, they must work together to end the terror.  

Hong Kong action films are historically known for their martial arts, and this one brings that expertise to a pseudo-superheroine premise. With an impeccable cast of three female protagonists (Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, Anita Mui), ahead-of-their-time wirework fight sequences, and an inventive production, this one is a lot of fun.

Rendel (2017)

Origin: Finland

Plot: Similar to The Punisher. A masked vigilante is driven by revenge to eradicate a crime syndicate known as VALA.

Rendel is the first Finnish cinematic superhero, based on a drawing the director had made in secondary school. Dark, bleak, and violent. Also checks off all the superhero movie cliches. Interesting setting, good production values despite a low budget.

Guardians (2017)

Origin: Russia

Plot: During the Cold War, the USSR created the Patriot program to defend against supernatural threats by creating their own superheroes. Years later, when a former scientist of the Patriot program goes rogue, the Patriot program is re-initiated and the super agents are reunited to fight the new threat.

Russia’s answer to DC’s Justice League or MCU’s The Avengers. The team consists of a man who can transform into a bear, a man with super speed, a man who can control earth/stone, and a woman who can turn her body into water and invisible. The film was a flop in theaters, and the company that produced it went into bankruptcy because of the failure.

The Return of Captain Invincible (1983)

Origin: Australia

Plot: An American superhero in the mold of Superman, known as Captain Invincible, is forced to retire due to McCarthy-style persecution. He moves to Australia and becomes an alcoholic. Three decades later, his arch nemesis re-emerges and Captain Invincible has to come out of retirement to save the day.

This is a superhero musical-comedy. It stars Alan Arkin and the villain is played by Mr. Villain himself, Christopher Lee. Sadly, this one never really found a following and remains in obscurity.   

Krrish Franchise

Three Films so far:

  • Koi…Mil Gaya (2003)

  • Krrish (2006)

  • Krrish 3 (2013)

Origin: India

Plot: A mentally challenged boy is enhanced by extraterrestrials with increased intelligence and improved physical strength. Later, the boy grows up and has a son who has the same powers. The son becomes a reluctant superhero, and goes on to prevent a series of evil scientists from seeing their sinister plans come to fruition.

India’s first superhero movie franchise. All three films were hits in theaters, with the series being the third highest grossing in Bollywood to date. The franchise has a fourth film on the way, it has spawned two animated spin offs, as well as a series of comics and other tie-in merchandise.

Big Man Japan (2007)

Origin: Japan

Plot: A mockumentary about a man who has the ability to grow 30 meters tall with the application of high voltage electricity. He is a part of a family with the same abilities who have protected Japan against invasion by giant monsters.

Written by a stand-up comic, the film is an ode to both the traditional superhero film as well as the Japanese Kaiju genre. It’s a good concept, one that could see a remake soon, but audiences have criticized the film’s length and deadpan style comedy as wearing down the oddball premise.

The Knock-offs:

For many decades, foreign cultures have been enamored by the most popular American superheroes. In some cases, there was so much interest in these characters that foreign film industries made their own cinematic versions. These are often low-budget affairs, with abysmal production quality and exactly zero special effects. To appeal to their audiences, the films accommodate local cultural themes and concepts, and often the heroes act much differently than what we’ve seen in their original format:

Tu Mera Superman aka Bollywood Superman (1988)

In this Bollywood production, Superman teams up with what seems to be Spider Woman, although she shares her abilities with Spiderman. But this is less about crime fighting and more about expansive song and dance numbers.

Alyas Batman en Robin aka Filipino Batman and Robin (1991)

Right around the time that Warner Brothers decided to make a modern Batman film, someone else decided to make a spoof of the original Batman television series. It’s an odd combination of camp, song and dance, terrible action scenes, and pretty women.

Supermen Donuyor aka Turkish Superman (1979)

A film with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, which is probably its most redeeming quality. So-bad-its-good applies to every aspect of this film’s production, includinging the acting, editing, use of stolen music, and terrible terrible special effects.

La Mujer Murciélago aka Mexican Batwoman (1968)

Think of this one as Creature from the Black Lagoon, mixed with the original Batman film, and featuring a lot of wrestling. Having a film centered around a female superhero is probably the best thing you can say about this one.