Sure, superheroes are all over the silver screen. And that’s great for the comics publishers (who get to license the rights to their IP) and great for producers and studios (cuz it’s easier to sell a movie that’s based on an existing brand). But it sucks for the spec screenwriter who doesn’t have said rights (and thus would be wasting his/her time writing an adaptation of, say, The Tick) and still wants to write a superhero movie.
So what’s a spec screenwriter who wants to put their stamp on the superhero genre to do?
Is there room for a nonbranded, unknown superhero at the box office? Well sure. There’s a legacy of unknown heroes, from Cannell’s Greatest American Hero TV series to Wayans’ Blankman, from the borderline brilliant Unbreakable through the very cute Sky High, from the wonderful The Incredibles to the watchable but forgettable My Super Ex-Girlfriend and lastly the simply unwatchable Zoom (somebody needs to apologize for this movie). And need we even mention TV’s Heroes?
But methinks I see a new trend growing. A trend focused not on otherworldly superpowers, but on regular guys with nothing more than a pair of tights, some duct tape and a dream. A trend that perhaps reaches beyond comic fans and superhero geeks (I mean it with love).
As early as 1980 John Ritter starred as a struggling actor who accidentally thwarts a robbery while dressed in a Captain Avenger costume in Hero at Large.
In 2004, Michael Rapaport starred in the quirky Special, about a meter maid whose medication makes him think he’s got special powers.
Also in 2004, brilliant Japanese director Takashi Miike walked the everyman takes on the superhero mantle path with ZebraMan, in which a failed teacher lives out his fantasies dressed as Zebraman, the hero of a failed TV series.
More recently, trailers have started running for the upcoming Woody Harrelson everyman takes on the superhero mantle project Defendor, where he plays a schlub who takes on the mob with nothing more than courage.
Even more recently, Screen Daily just announced that Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page will get together again in the everyman takes on the superhero mantle project SUPER. Wilson plays an ordinary man who transforms himself into pseudo superhero The Crimson Bolt and wages a war on crime after his wife has a fling with a drug dealer.
So the answer is “Yes, there is room on our silver screens for superhero themed stories that revolve around regular guys with no superpowers, whose dedication to a cause and innate sense of decency (or justice, or fairness, or vengeance) is enough to vault him to superhero status.”
Which means there’s a market for our story, the funny and charming Grampa Was A Superhero, about a dotty elderly man who thinks he’s a TV super hero, and drags his grandson on a cross-country road trip to confront his imaginary arch enemy Baron Mind… accidentally thwarting crimes along the way and fast becoming a folk hero.
Yes, I’m pimping my own project. But only because I saw a trend emerging that justified it. We wrote the script not with the goal of fitting an emerging market, but because we thought it was a good story. It’s just gratifying to see that there is a niche out there for it, and I’ll do what I can to find it a home.
That’s what a spec screenwriter who wants to put their stamp on the superhero genre has to do.
There have to be titles I forgot… help fill in the gaps if you’ve got ‘em.