Hollywood often does such a bad job translating comic books to film, it's better to start from scratch. When movies create their own original superheroes, they can have the cool comic booky trappings, without the need to include/ignore/defile decades of print history. If it works (The Incredibles) you get something really fresh. When it doesn't... it's only about as bad as a superhero movie based on a comic. Click through for our list of superhero movies that didn't have a direct comic-book heritage.
Sky High (Disney). Comic books already gave us a high-school for superheroes (P.S. 238), but did it have Kurt Russell as a famous superhero and father to the next generation of heroes? I didn't think so. Plus Lynda Carter is the school's principal. The business about the school separating kids into Heroes and Sidekicks is a bit too comic book-y, in some ways. But it's a cute romp, despite the fact that the main character's superpowers suddenly manifest themselves at the most convenient moment.
Meteor Man (Not Disney). we already assassinated this one recently. I loved Robert Townsend's Hollywood Shuffle, and really wanted this movie to be amazing. It actually had its good moments, but dissolved into incoherence and luke-warm gags. Townsend plays Jefferson Reed, a school teacher who finds a piece of meteorite that gives him superpowers, and uses it to confront gangs in his inner-city neighborhood.
The Incredibles (Disney/Pixar). Yes, I know you're going to say this movie is a rip-off of the Fantastic Four. But it's actually just different enough to have its own identity — nobody would confuse Mr. Incredible's big-lunk persona with Mr. Fantastic's brainy gumby schtick. And this is a textbook case for why superhero movies can be better without a direct comic-book source. The Pixar crew are free to create their own backstory for the Incredibles, including an anti-hero law and a special superhero tailor. it doesn't have to try and shoehorn in Doctor Doom, the Negative Zone, or any of the other trappings of the FF.
Darkman (Not Disney). Supposedly Sam Raimi wanted to do a movie starring Batman or The Shadow, but couldn't get the rights. So instead he created his own hero, a scientist who gets disfigured in an attack by mobsters, then gains the ability to disguise himself as anyone thanks to a new synthetic skin. An incredible cast, including Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand, helps elevate this movie above the usual superhero fare, and it's easily as good as Raimi's first two Spider-Man movies. (And much, much better than the third one.)
Unbreakable (Disney's Touchstone Pictures). I harshed on M. Night Shyamalan yesterday, but this one actually isn't bad. It's sort of a meditation on how a comic-book villain (Samuel L. Jackson, with his wackiest hair yet) actually creates his own superhero (Bruce Willis). Given that many movies and comics now revolve around the idea of superheroes like Batman creating villains like the Joker, it's refreshing to see it the other way around.
Underdog (Disney). A movie based on the 1970s cartoon series about a superpowered dog who comes here to save the day. A failed police dog gets experimented on, and develops amazing superpowers. Then he gets adopted and renamed Shoeshine, but secretly sneaks out to fight crime on the side.
Greatest American Hero (Disney). Another movie based on a TV show, this time the live-action show about a schoolteacher (again) who finds a costume that gives him amazing powers — but he doesn't have the instruction manual for how to use them. Luckily, he does have a cranky FBI agent snarking at him. Why is that lucky? Actually, I'm not sure. The movie starts filming in July, and it features a new villain, another schoolteacher who gets his own superpowered costume from aliens who want to exploit the Earth.
The Green Hornet (Not Disney). Originally a radio serial about a Batman-esque rich guy who runs a crusading newspaper and fights crime at night in a mask, with his Korean chauffeur Kato, the Green Hornet became a series of movies in the 1940s. And in the 1960s, it was a short-lived TV series that included Bruce Lee as Kato. And now it's going to be a movie again, supposedly starring Seth (Knocked Up) Rogen. Somehow Rogen beat out George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg for the lead role (or, more likely, they turned it down.) I'm imagining with Rogen in the lead role, it's not going to be a dead serious rendering of the Hornet's story.
Blankman (Not Disney). Another blaxploitation superhero spoof, this time starring Damon Wayans as a genius inventor who learns to make clothes bulletproof and becomes the lowest-budget superhero ever, Blankman. David Allen Grier stars as the friend, who's skeptical but winds up becoming Blankman's sidekick, Other Guy.
Black Scorpion (Not Disney). On the heels of Tim Burton's slightly less campy reinvention of Batman, Roger Corman decided to bring back the camp with Black Scorpion, his story of a policewoman (Joan Severance) who can't find justice. So she straps on a shiny black rubber bustier and a black fetishy mask and prowls the streets in her high-powered car. The original film includes a character named Tender Lovin', which is really all you need to know. (Actually the Corman connection might be all you need to know.) The film earned a sequel, Black Scorpion II: Aftershock, and a short-lived TV series on, wait for it... the Sci Fi Channel. Slogan: Justice has a nasty sting.
The Specials (Not Disney). I actually meant to include this one originally, but couldn't remember the title and had a hard time finding it online. Thanks to Whitworthian for reminding me of its name. The Specials deals with a group of misfit third-string superheroes on their day off, leading their dysfunctional lives and horrifying their newest member, Nightbird. One of the few superhero comedies that doesn't go for the super-broad humor and stereotypes, unlike...
My Super Ex-Girlfriend (Not Disney). I forgot to include this one originally, maybe just because I was repressing it. I did blog about it a while ago. Luke Wilson dumps Uma Thurman's superhero, G-Girl, and she goes on a vengeful rampage. So he sells her out to a supervillain, Professor Bedlam, and nearly destroys the world in the process. Blah.
Orgazmo (Definitely Not Disney). Another classic I somehow overlooked, even though it's one of my favorite movies. (Thanks, tralu!) Orgazmo is a porno superhero whose schtick is that he can cause people to climax with his raygun. But when he decides to fight back against his sleazy producer, he discovers he can wield the power of Orgazmo for real.