How many superhero movies been released in the last five years? Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Green Hornet and The Incredible Hulk are only a few, and before that there were three Spider-man movies, three X-Men movies, two movies each for The Fantastic Four and Hellboy, not to mention all the Superman and Batman movies. Coming up is a reboot for Spider-man, an X-Men prequel and two possible X-Men spinoffs, the third Christopher Nolan-directed Batman movie (The Dark Knight Rises), rumored to be followed by another Batman reboot. The Green Lantern. Thor. Captain America. The Avengers.

Yep, Hollywood loves its superhero movies, and most of them have a few things in common. The hero’s sense of responsibility will at some point conflict with his (or her) desire to live a normal life, which leads to an inspiring “With great power comes great responsibility” moment. The superhero is an outsider who (usually) doesn’t reveal his true identity, and yet he protects the little people because deep down he knows they’re (usually) decent. Some superheroes have superpowers, and some don’t. Some are dark and emotionally conflicted, and some aren’t. But is that all the variation audiences can expect in superhero movies? Can’t we have something a little bit… unconventional?

With James Gunn’s Super in theaters now, we get exactly that. Rainn Wilson stars as Frank D’Arbo, a.k.a. The Crimson Bolt, who decides to don a costume and become a superhero after his wife leaves him for a drug dealer. The Crimson Bolt has no powers, a homemade costume and a sidekick who goes by the name “Boltie.” Seems like a refreshing change from the nearly-invulnerable Superman (who will be played by Henry Cavill in Zack Snyder’s Superman: Man of Steel, to be released in 2012).

But Super’s not the first movie to take a less popular approach to the traditional superhero genre. With that in mind, MovieMaker presents A Brief History of the Unconventional Superhero.

The Cult Classic: The Toxic Avenger (1984)
directed by Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman
In this cult classic, a dorky health club janitor named Melvin Junko is bullied by pretty much everyone until one particularly nasty prank ends with Melvin upside down in a barrell full of blubbling green radioactive sludge (the movie takes place in Tromaville, New Jersey, the toxic waste capital of the world). The nuclear waste turns Melvin into a seven-foot-tall deformed-looking monster who is driven to beat bad guys to a pulp. And beat them to a pulp he does. The Toxic Avenger is outrageously over-the-top from the very beginning. In one of the first scenes four of Melvin’s tormenters, who like to go out driving and run people down, review their hit-and-run point system (bonus points are given if the victim is riding a bicycle or Puerto Rican, among other things). The corpulent mayor of Tromaville is involved in selling drugs (Melvin pulls out his intestines). Three punks try to rob a fast food restaurant and kill a blind woman’s seeing eye dog in the process (Melvin kills one by sticking his head in a pizza oven, another by putting his hands in a deep-fat fryer, and the third, well, you don’t want to know). Even the sweet little old lady Melvin kills by dry cleaning her (no, really) was actually the leader of a white slavery ring. The Toxic Avenger was made by Troma Entertainment, whose low-budget splatter horror films gained a loyal fanbase for the studio and helped to popularize horror movies. James Gunn got his start at Troma writing Tromeo and Juliet, and Troma co-founder (and The Toxic Avenger co-director) Lloyd Kaufman has a cameo role in Super as “911 Man.”

The Wacky Comedy: Mystery Men (1999)
directed by Kinka Usher
Not since Mystery Men has there been an unconventional superhero movie so fearlessly willing to include nudity-based comedy, awful puns and fart jokes, fart jokes, fart jokes. Mystery Men is about a team of misfit superheroes, including The Blue Raja (“I am pilfering your tableware because I hurl it. I hurl it with deadly accuracy.”) and The Shoveller (“Lucille, God gave me a gift. I shovel well. I shovel very well.”), who have to save the city from a disco-obsessed supervillain named Casanova Frankenstein after Champion City’s resident superhero (and Pepsi spokesman) Captain Amazing gets himself captured. The movie’s main focus is its jokes (sometimes gross, sometimes random, usually silly), though there are some digs on traditional superhero movies as well. When The Shoveller insists that Captain Amazing can’t be the billionaire Lance Hunt because Hunt wears glasses, group leader Mr. Furious responds that Hunt takes the glasses off to become Captain Amazing. The exasperated Shoveller then cries out “That doesn’t many any sense, he wouldn’t be able to see!”

The Moody Thriller: Unbreakable (2000)
directed by M. Night Shyamalan
There was a time, before Lady in the Water, The Happening and The Last Airbender, when M. Night Shyamalan was a well-respected, up-and-coming director whose film The Sixth Sense introduced the world to a major new talent. Shyamalan’s follow-up to The Sixth Sense was Unbreakable, which grossed only $249 million worldwide compared to The Sixth Sense’s $662 million. Unbreakable’s two main characters are David Dunn (Bruce Willis), a security guard who walks away from a train wreck unscathed, and the physically fragile comic book collector Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who helps David discover that he’s basically a real-life superhero (he can’t be injured, is unnaturally strong, never gets sick, etc.) who was put on Earth to help people. Unbreakable provides an interesting twist on the superhero genre. The movie features a last-minute revelation that changes the meaning of everything that came before. This is early-era M. Night Shyamalan, after all.
The Kid’s Classic: The Incredibles (2004)
directed by Brad Bird
In Brad Bird’s first film, The Iron Giant (1999), the titular character is a massive robot who crashes on Earth with no memory of his history or purpose. Superhero mythology is a big part of the film, and in Bird’s follow-up, The Incredibles, the unconventional superhero takes center stage. Though superheroes were once revered by the masses, they fell from grace after a nasty series of lawsuits swayed public opinion against them, and they had to become normal members of society. There’s plenty in this movie to amuse kids and adults alike; superhero costume designer Edna Mode’s (“Supermodels! Nothing super about them. Spoiled, stupid little stick figures with poofy lips who think only about themselves. Feh! I used to design for gods!”) tirade against capes is one of the most memorable scenes in any Pixar movie. But The Incredibles uses the idea of superheroes forced to abandon their powers and responsibilities to address real-life questions. Woven throughout the entire movie is the idea that some people are just more special than others, which is depressing when it’s presented in, say, a stark black-and-white Italian neorealist film, but when it’s in a Pixar movie, it’s not quite so much of a downer.

The Blockbuster: Hancock (2008)
directed by Peter Berg
In nearly every respect, Hancock is a traditional summer popcorn movie. There’s a big movie star (Will Smith) in the starring role as the down-on-his-luck superhero Hancock, and since Hancock can fly and has super-strength, the audience can expect some intense CGI effects-laden fight scenes (with explosions, obviously). When the movie starts, the public hates Hancock because he causes a lot of property damage and isn’t very personable, the way a superhero should be. But that’s okay with Hancock, since he doesn’t much like anybody else. The requisite summer blockbuster humor is provided by scenes of Hancock sleeping on a city bench, bumbling drunk through high-speed shootouts and intimidating a pre-teen bully (who’s French, which makes the whole thing even funnier). Of course, a summer blockbuster needs some token emotional content, so a character from Hancock’s past shows up, leading to some tearful revelations, some romance and a few more fights (and explosions). The movie was successful with audiences, though most critics weren’t as forgiving of Hancock’s out-of-left-field plot twists.

The Indie Dark Comedy: Defendor (2009)
directed by Peter Stebbings
Defendor, real name Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson), is a sweet, innocent man whose nemesis, Captain Industry, is the city’s drug kingpin. Arthur’s naïvete (Arthur thinks Captain Industry is a real person, since his grandfather told him it was the “captains of industry” who nourished the drug trade that killed Arthur’s mother) starts out cute; though Defendor’s most dangerous weapon is a trenchclub, which he wields with enough force to seriously injure, the rest of his arsenal consists of lime juice, jars of angry wasps and handfuls of marbles, which prove surprisingly effective when chucked at criminals. This is no kid’s movie, though, where toys and a winning attitude can bring down a criminal organization. The bad guys, after all, have guns.

The Controversial: Kick-Ass (2010)
directed by Matthew Vaughn
This graphic novel adaptation caused a stir even before it was released, when a clip surfaced online of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) shooting his daughter Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) in the chest as part of her training to become an 11-year-old killing machine. The movie itself is filled with violence, but not traditional superhero movie violence, where a bad guy falls off a building and the audience isn’t shown anything too traumatic. The deaths in Kick-Ass, many of them inflicted by Hit-Girl, are bloody and brutal, and none of the characters seem emotionally bothered by the fact that the cute pigtailed girl has been raised to kill (Big Daddy’s ex-partner disagrees with his parenting tactics because “You owe that girl a childhood,” not because “You’ve taught her to use a bazooka”). The movie grossed over $95 million worldwide and received praise from critics and audiences alike for its new take on the superhero movie and its unique visual style. But not everyone was so impressed; Roger Ebert called the movie “morally reprehensible”. Though Kick-Ass was hardly the first not-really-super superhero movie, it’s certainly the most controversial up to this point.

Did we leave our your favorite unconventional superhero? Let us know in the comments.