It’s not a bold claim to say that the superhero genre has been a dominant one in the last decade or two, so far feeling like the one kind of movie that’s found the most success at the 21st-century box office. Maybe there’s some fatigue for the genre, felt by some, but there were many years where superhero movies tended to be among the most popular releases of any given year. The genre may be a prominent one, but that doesn’t mean every cinematic superhero is a household name.

Well beyond the realm of any films featuring Marvel or DC characters, these superhero movies are among the strangest and most obscure of all time. They’re ranked below, starting with a couple of oddball movies that are cult classics, and ending with some superhero films that are essentially languishing in obscurity. Some are underrated, and some are arguably more deserving of staying forgotten, but one thing’s for sure: they’re all pretty strange.

10 ‘The Toxic Avenger’ (1984)

Directors: Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz

Image via Troma Entertainment

The Toxic Avenger is relatively well-known, by cult movie standards, and with a reboot that’s already screened at festivals while waiting for a wider release, it’s inevitably going to find itself on more people’s radars. Yet without a doubt, The Toxic Avenger is still about as weird and crass as superhero movies get, feeling like a parody of the genre that aims to have as much gory low-budget violence as possible.

The titular hero is a nerdy young man who falls into a vat of toxic waste, which turns him into a mutant with unexpected physical powers. Naturally, this makes him a perfect candidate to be a feared vigilante for the town he lives in, and most of the film follows him as he violently murders various villainous characters. It’s dumb, but also a good bit of fun, and deserves its cult status.

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9 ‘Turbo Kid’ (2015)

Directors: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell

Image via Epic Pictures Group

With an intentionally retro look that was all the rage in the 2010s (a time when people seemed especially nostalgic for the 1980s), Turbo Kid feels like an old-school kid’s movie but with a great deal more violent action than one would otherwise expect. As such, its premise is simple, but the level of bloodshed and amount of low-budget special effects prove complex and in-your-face.

Turbo Kid revolves around a teenage boy in a post-apocalyptic setting, and the battle he wages against a terrifying overlord who’s kidnapped the girl of his dreams. It’s an overall fun ride, even if the experience is arguably a little shallow; again, the simplicity could add charm, depending on the viewer. It seems like it was made with the intention of being a cult classic, and was relatively well-received upon release, so ultimately, time will tell if it does end up as something of a cult film.

turbo kid

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8 ‘Zebraman’ (2004)

Director: Takashi Miike

Image via Toei Company

It says something about how wild Takashi Miike’s filmography is that a movie called Zebraman isn’t even close to being one of his strangest works. Miike is known for pushing boundaries and being generally uncompromising when it comes to showing violence and horror, though Zebraman tells a story about a man going through a midlife crisis and becoming a vigilante in a way that, by Miike’s standards, is surprisingly family-friendly.

There’s still a bit of cartoonish mayhem, with a main character dealing with things kids might not necessarily relate to, but most people who appreciate offbeat action comedies, regardless of age, will get a kick out of this. It’s low-budget and successful in its throwback to Japanese sci-fi/action television of old, and its anarchic spirit and silly comedy make Zebraman a good amount of fun to watch.

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7 ‘The Super Inframan’ (1975)

Director: Hua Shan

Feeling like a mix of old-school Godzilla-style monster chaos crossed with wild and unconventional martial arts action, The Super Inframan is an unbelievably ridiculous and supremely entertaining film. The titular character is a man who agrees to be experimented on so that he can be granted powers; powers which will then be used to take on an army of monsters that have been unleashed on Earth to take it over.

Everything feels silly in The Super Inframan, but it’s the film’s commitment to being as crazy as possible that makes it oddly admirable for just how all-out it goes. It might not be among the classiest or most physically impressive martial arts movies of all time, but it’s one of the wildest and most purely entertaining, and anyone who likes goofy old-school action cinema ought to check it out.

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6 ‘Attack from Space’ (1965)

Directors: Teruo Ishii, Akira Miwa, and Nagayoshi Akasaka

Image via Walter Manley Enterprises Inc.

Even if one might think of the 1980s or even the 1970s as a golden era for strange sci-fi, the notion of making something really weird and really science fiction in nature preceded such decades. Look no further than something like 1965’s Attack from Space, for one of many examples, with the premise of this sort of superhero movie being about violent aliens from the Sapphire Galaxy coming to invade Earth.

A superhero known as Starman is the only being capable of stopping such a fearsome alien race, so he’s sent to protect Earth by protectors from the so-called Emerald Planet. Attack from Space is one of several obscure superhero movies featuring the character of Starman, with all being American re-edits of feature films (of the very short variety) made for Japanese audiences in the late 1950s, known as the Super Giant series.

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5 ‘Guardians’ (2017)

Director: Sarik Andreasyan

Image via Turbo Films

While there are plenty of great Russian-language movies from throughout the history of cinema, 2017’s Guardians cannot be counted as one of them. It very much feels like a rushed and oftentimes laughably bad attempt to emulate the sorts of movies that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with most of the main characters even feeling similar to more well-known Marvel superheroes.

A squad is assembled, they get sent after a bad guy, the bad guy is defeated, and then a sequel (which has never come to fruition) is teased right before the end credits role. Along the way, viewers are treated to a screenplay that feels even less fleshed out than most first drafts, as well as some truly abysmal special effects. It’s derivative, but also good for a laugh. And, to give it a little credit, the MCU hasn’t yet given viewers the sight of a half-bear/half-man firing a minigun… for whatever that might be worth.

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4 ‘The Specials’ (2000)

Director: Craig Mazin

Image via Fluid Entertainment

A mostly forgotten superhero movie that’s so low budget it’s essentially free of special effects and action, The Specials is centered on a team of superheroes who are all pretty much losers, and sit around a house most of the time, instead of doing traditionally heroic things. They argue and deal with mundane things for most of the runtime, and the results are sometimes funny and sometimes a little dull.

Still, The Specials feels at least a little clever in its approach to making fun of the superhero genre, and there’s a good chance it feels a bit funnier and/or more subversive today, now that the genre’s risen to real prominence. Also amusing is the fact a then little-known James Gunn was behind the screenplay of The Specials, some years before he’d go on to direct films like 2021’s The Suicide Squad as well as the Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy.

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3 ‘Evil Brain from Outer Space’ (1966)

Directors: Teruo Ishii, Akira Miwa, and Nagayoshi Akasaka

Image via Walter Manley Enterprises Inc.

Evil Brain from Outer Space is another superhero movie featuring Starman, edited together from scenes belonging to films in the Super Giant series. Like you’d expect from a movie quite literally called Evil Brain from Outer Space, it is by no means up there and ranking among the great films from the 1960s, but if you’re in the mood for goofy sci-fi action, you’ve come to the right place.

Even considering the fact that Evil Brain from Outer Space is cobbled together from a different series, it still feels sporadic and hard to follow throughout, although that’s a little easier to handle when the title tells you straight away what you’re in for. Starman battles diseased monsters sent to Earth by the titular evil brain, saving humanity once again; it’s that kind of film – nothing more, nothing less.

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2 ‘Fearless Frank’ (1967)

Director: Philip Kaufman

Image via Trans American Films

Though Fearless Frank is about as obscure as superhero movies get, it does, quite incredibly, have two people attached to it who would go on to become fairly well-known. The first of those is Jon Voight in the title role, with this being well before he got recognition for films like Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance, and the original Mission: Impossible (1996), as well as its director, Philip Kaufman, who’s probably best known for being behind the epic The Right Stuff.

Fearless Frank is a chaotic comedic superhero movie that simply wants to do as many ridiculous (and usually slapstick-heavy) things as it can before the runtime’s up. The energy it has in telling the story of a young man getting brought back to life with superhuman powers is fun for a while, though Fearless Frank does eventually run out of steam and becomes a little exhausting.

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1 ‘Invaders from Space’ (1965)

Directors: Teruo Ishii, Akira Miwa, and Nagayoshi Akasaka

Image via Walter Manley Enterprises Inc.

One final classic piece of Starman-starring science fiction worth pointing out is 1965’s Invaders from Space, with alien forces clearly not getting the memo and still believing they can conquer Earth. The villains here are defined as being salamander men, with their plot to take over the world involving the use of a deadly plague, which of course Starman is having none of, setting up a dramatic conflict the hero unsurprisingly wins (again).

It’s all an excuse to showcase some low-budget yet charming action, and anyone who enjoyed any of the other Starman/Super Giant films will similarly get a kick out of this one. Invaders from Space, despite the broad title, is incredibly obscure and perhaps only likely to be uncovered by those who are particularly passionate about the strangest titles from Japan’s cinematic history, but there’s definitely something bizarre and fun about this film and the series it belongs to.

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NEXT: The Most Underrated Humphrey Bogart Movies, Ranked

 From The Super Inframan to the likes of Zebraman and the Starman series, these are some of the strangest and most obscure superhero movies ever made.  Read More