So, you’ve seen Brightburn. And since you’re reading this, you probably liked it. Maybe it was the way the story subverted classic superhero tropes. Perhaps you were down for a darker edge than even Zack Snyder could ever get away with at Warner Bros. Or the lower-budget, less CG-slick feel gave it an edge and made it a refreshing break from what the bigger studio departments are doing. Regardless of your reasons, you may want more. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered with more suggested superhero movies to watch after Brightburn. As it turns out, at least half of our selections have a James Gunn connection as well.
If Brightburn is about an evil Superman, The Specials is about the dysfunctional X-Men. Gunn’s second produced feature screenplay also features him in a rare acting role as Minute Man (pronounced My-Newt Man, because he can shrink). To get around a tiny budget, the film depicts very few actual super powers, as the movie follows the team on their day off. Let’s just say this team’s version of Cyclops and Jean Grey (Thomas Haden Church’s Strobe and Paget Brewster’s Ms. Indestructible) are thinking divorce. There’s sexual harassment, PR blunders, and the decision whether or not to induct Nightbird, whose power is that she lays eggs.
Featuring the likes of Rob Lowe, Jamie Kennedy, and Melissa Joan Hart, the movie also gave a breakthrough role to Judy Greer as Deadly Girl (she talks to ghosts) and showcased Sean Gunn’s wacky physicality as Alien Orphan. It’s a whole lot funnier than the similar, bigger-budget film, Mystery Men. Although it leaned into jokes rather than powers, The Specials demonstrated early on that Gunn had a real affinity for comics and the dynamics that make them work.
There’s a very strong likelihood that Super is what got Gunn the Guardians of the Galaxy gig. Once again, he took on a story about dysfunctional would-be superheroes. However, nobody has any powers. Although Rainn Wilson’s short-order cook, Frank, sure believes he does. While watching a Christian superhero show, he has a vision of God licking his brain with a tentacle, and that’s all the proof he needs. Donning a homemade red costume, he sets forth to beat the crap out of evildoers with a wrench. Along the way he gains a sidekick named Boltie (Ellen Page) who has a fetish for superheroes and appears genuinely psychotic.
It’s like Kick-Ass, without all the Mark Millar-isms — Frank never discovers masked vigilantes who are actually good at what they do, but he does ultimately manage to brutally murder the drug dealer who stole and corrupted his wife. They briefly get back together, but it doesn’t work out.
The Toxic Avenger
Gunn’s former employers at Troma are best known for this horror comedy, an NC-17 level spin on the notion of radiation giving super powers to a hapless nerd. Melvin (Mark Torgl) isn’t some misunderstood genius — he’s just a gawky, physically frail mop boy at a health club. When the gym patrons humiliate him by setting him up to wear a tutu while kissing a sheep, he jumps out a window into a vat of toxic waste. This turns him into a muscular, but melty-faced mutant who can instinctively identify criminals and brutally disembowel them. By New Jersey standards, this makes him a local hero.
There’s an ultimate irony to the whole thing. With three sequels all as filled with gore and nudity as the first, and designed to trash superhero tropes, The Toxic Avenger spawned a kids’ cartoon series, complete with action figures. And Legendary, which brought us the earnest Man of Steel and 300, plans a big budget remake, from I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore director Macon Blair.
Okay, here’s the one with no connection to Gunn whatsoever, so of course it’s the least humorous and most disturbing. It’s actually based on a real comic, though maybe not one you’ve ever heard about. It stars Arrow‘s Katie Cassidy as a mental patient with multiple personalities, who is undergoing a treatment meant to kill off the extras personalities one by one, until only the “real” one remains. At the same time, fellow residents in her halfway home are also dying off, one by one, and chances are it’s one of the alternate personalities doing it.
One of her personalities lives life in reverse. Another, The Scribbler, may have super powers. But is she hero or villain? As a character in the movie advises near the end, “Don’t try to analyze this logically.” The world of the movie appears neon-colored and strange, and even once you think you’ve realized what counts as “real,” you may still not know. But with heavy amounts of nudity and violence, this is not a super-story for the masses. Like Brightburn, it ends with a hook for a sequel that we’ll probably never see, sadly.
Do you have a favorite low-budget dark superhero movie to watch after Brightburn that we missed? Let us know about it in comments!