- Ridley Scott calls out the superhero genre for prioritizing spectacle over character development, but argues that characters in other genres can also be classified as superheroes.
- Heroes like Ellen Ripley, Rick Deckard, Maximus Decimus Meridius, Indiana Jones, Ethan Hunt, John Wick, Dominic Toretto, John McClane, Ash Williams, and John Rambo possess extraordinary abilities and save others from danger, proving that superheroes come in many forms.
- These characters may not have traditional superpowers, but their bravery, intelligence, resilience, and exceptional physical abilities make them true heroes.
Superhero cinema has dominated the box office for the last two decades, but some movies from other genres may just squeeze into the category thanks to their death-defying leads. Ridley Scott criticized the superhero genre for often being boring when the story becomes less about the characters and more about the spectacular, impossible feats performed. He went on to state that he directed multiple ‘superhero’ films, citing Alien, Gladiator, and Blade Runner as examples.
While these films don’t fit the traditional mold of a superhero movie, there is a good argument to be made about why the central characters could be classified as superheroes. From surviving in impossible situations to possessing extraordinary athletic abilities, and saving others from danger, superheroes can be found in plenty of other genres. From action heroes like Rambo and John McClane to horror stars like Ellen Ripley and Ash Williams, these heroes don’t need powers to be super.
10 Ellen Ripley – Alien
Ellen Ripley is a fairly unassuming warrant officer simply working on the USCSS Nostromo when she first appears in Alien. But by the end of the first film, she is the final girl who survived an onslaught of horrifying aliens and returns to Earth to tell the tale. Ripley wipes out Xenomorphs through her heroic actions when she dives into a furnace with the queen xenomorph that had implanted itself in her, and constantly proves herself to be the most important person in the franchise. She is super intelligent, resourceful, and resilient enough to have survived multiple attacks before choosing to sacrifice herself on her terms and saving countless lives.
9 Rick Deckard – Blade Runner
Blade Runner never fully clarified whether Rick Deckard is in fact human, with a strong argument to be made for his being a replicant existing in the director’s cut. However, human or not, Deckard manages to pull off incredible stunts and heroic feats unlike any normal man. Deckard is employed as a special unit that hunts down and retires advanced robots known as replicants. Deckard battles these superhuman robots, taking intense hits and even having his fingers broken, but he still manages to climb tall buildings and almost make impossible leaps across rooftops. These feats of strength combined with his determination prove that at least in some ways, he is superhuman.
8 Maximus Decimus Meridius – Gladiator
Russell Crowe dons his superhero outfit in Gladiator as Maximus fights with strength and prowess beyond any normal human. Gladiator is a historical movie that sees a fictional Roman general, Maximus, removed from his position and then fighting his way through challenges in the Colosseum. He fights multiple warriors, and a group of tigers and endures tremendous physical injuries. His final encounter with Commodus takes place after he is fatally stabbed, and despite his injuries, he manages to overpower his opponent before finally succumbing to the wound.
7 Indiana Jones – Indiana Jones
Indy is a talented archeologist in Indiana Jones who isn’t afraid to step away from his desk and get physical. Throughout the Indiana Jones series, Indy performs death-defying feats, outrunning giant boulders, swinging on a rope bridge over alligator-infested waters, and jumping from tall buildings with only thin fabric sheets to break his fall. His abilities and luck push him past the point of any normal archeologist and firmly into the realm of heroes.
6 Ethan Hunt – Mission Impossible
Tom Cruise has performed some remarkable stunts in Hollywood while playing Ethan Hunt in the Mission Impossible franchise. Driving a motorcycle off the edge of a cliff, scaling the outside of a plane as it flies, and performing impossibly challenging heists even underwater. The thing that makes Hunt’s character even more impressive and heroic is the fact that, often, Cruise performs the stunts for real. From learning to hold his breath underwater for six minutes, to performing more than 100 skydivers to qualify to perform a halo jump, Cruise is a real-life superhero, and by extension, so is the character he plays.
5 John Wick – John Wick
John Wick sees Keanu Reeves perform countless moves and maneuvers that far exceed most human abilities. The legendary assassin racks up a kill count in double and triple figures throughout each of the films in the series and often without taking any serious damage himself. Aided by some bulletproof business attire, Wick is capable of incredible stunts, such as clearing out an army of bad guys in the Continental or fighting his way up a staircase in Paris covered in hostile forces. His endurance and quick thinking in the face of any danger are beyond human.
4 Dominic Toretto – The Fast & Furious
While the entire cast of The Fast & Furious franchise has increasingly become more like superheroes than street thugs, Dominic Toretto stands apart as the most capable of them all. Toretto managed to successfully steal a vault and drag it around behind a muscle car in Fast Five, and then in Fast & Furious 6, he rescued Letty by jumping from his car, over a large gap between two highways, after she was launched off of a tank to catch her mid-air and break the fall with his body. Despite launching at high speed and shattering a car window, he manages to walk away unharmed.
3 John McClane – Die Hard
Bruce Willis plays the tough guy cop, John McClane in the Die Hard franchise, and his performance certainly plays out as heroic with increasingly impossible stunts performed as the series goes on. At one point in Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth Die Hard film, McClane manages to drive a car into a helicopter while it is flying above the ground, and manages to jump out before the impact to walk away with minimal injuries. While McClane does take on more injuries than many others on this list, he still performs jaw-dropping stunts that make him a real hero.
2 Ash Williams – The Evil Dead
Ash may be human, but his encounters with evil and demons over the decades have refined him to become exceptional in many ways during The Evil Dead franchise. Ash has survived high falls with almost no injuries, fought demons hand to hand, and used his mechanical know-how to create a unique chainsaw prosthetic to help him cut down the forces of evil. Ash may be just human, but with his ability to save the world, experiences traveling through time, and killing countless evil deadites, he may as well be super.
1 John Rambo – Rambo
John Rambo is a highly decorated veteran and a Green Beret capable of pushing his body and skills to limits that feel more than human. Not only is he proficient in using a wide array of weapons and hand-to-hand combat, but Rambo is also a multi-lingual genius adept at a number of skills, from hunting to medicine, and first aid. Rambo might appear to be a butch soldier, but he is much more talented and capable than even that, but even those skills alone could push him into the realm of being a superhero.