It’s depressing when movie franchises as hyped as Spider-Man and Batman destroy box office records without even trying. They’re OK films, but their subjects aren’t particularly special or nervy. I like nerve. And I hate when a great, nervy hero fails at the box office, loses his/her credibility, and seems doomed never to hit the big screen again. Today I’m honoring eight fallen (or simply forgotten) heroes who deserve our respect and another chance at blockbuster glory. Go, silver screen racers, go!
1. Speed Racer
Here comes a snark-free statement: The trailer for the 2008 Speed Racer movie was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Kaleidoscopic, fiery, rambunctious, and just an eye-popping, Tropical Skittle-colored update of the old cartoon. It’s too bad the film was horrendous dreck, because I think the glamorously debonair Speed Racer is the perfect character to bridge mainstream blockbuster lovers and sophisticated gay automobile enthusiast. Emile Hirsch, you tried.
Welcome to the Rose McGowan portion of our list, as the former Mrs. Rodriguez was at some point assigned to revive and reinvigorate the following roles. First, Barbarella, Jane Fonda’s armor-clad, camera-loving hero. She’s comely, serious, and a little blank — which means she must be thrust into 2012 with a whole new approach. Roger Vadim, you scare me and we have nothing in common, but surely you can’t complain that Anne Hathaway, also rumored for the remake, wouldn’t be a worthy Fonda proxy.
3. Red Sonja
Aw, who else could go for 90 minutes of Arnold Schwarzenegger making kissy faces at his Amazonian accomplice, the gorgeous, the tall, the helplessly Danish Red Sonja? That 1985 bomb is uncomfortably bad, a shabby-looking B-movie stocked with Play-Doh sets and clumsy duel sequences. But the idea of Red Sonja — which Rose McGowan was again supposed to revive — is perfectly palatable. Give me lanky battle prowess! Give me headpieces! That unkempt horse hair! It’s all rad and red enough!
4. Super Mario
I don’t know how you screw up a Super Mario Bros. big screen adaptation with Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Samantha Mathis, and Dennis Hopper in key roles, but by God, that’s exactly what we received in 1993: one of the more odious bombs of the video game-to-film genre. Mario needs a reboot, and he needs a sense of humor, a Speed Racer-colored makeover, and a 3-D transformation. This idea seems obvious, but am I far off? Is our princess still seven castles away?
4. Street Fighter II’s Chun-Li
A personal favorite. Street Fighter II isn’t just a seminal video game; it also gave us some of the most developed fighting game characters ever, and their stories continue to this date in various Capcom games. Unfortunately, Chun-Li’s name has been dragged through the dirt in two abysmal movies: 1994’s Street Fighter (where Jean Claude Van Damme barked the whole time) and Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (where Chris Klein’s performance is the last great example of camp). The Chinese-bred fighter needs a worthy big-screen moment. Dusting off Ming-Na’s costume from the ’94 flick would be a real start.
We’re always hearing about Jean Grey, Rogue, Storm, and all those self-aggrandizing queens from X-Men. Aside from a small cameo in X-Men: First Class, the mysterious Psylocke has not gotten to enjoy her purple glow on the big screen. My favorite Psylocke perks: her telepathy, her telekinesis, and the fact that she’s a master of ninja-like martial arts. Fab.
Obviously the third installment of the ’80s-defining franchise has been forthcoming (or stalling?) for the past decade or so, but there’s simply no substitute for the quipping quartet of Peter, Egon, Ray, and Winston. They should be toiling in reality TV, making jokes about how terrible the Paranormal Activity movies were, and ribbing Peter for sounding like the voiceover in those Garfield movies. It’d be expertly delivered comedy with an edge of genuine heroism.
Yes, Anne Hathaway is on the case in The Dark Knight Rises, playing original Catwoman Selina Kyle. But that doesn’t quite mean she’s the “star” of the show, not in the way Halle Berry was in her infamous 2004 bomb. (Monster’s Hairball, anyone?! No one is also fine.) Fact is, if those wretched Tomb Raider movies can draw a crowd, you’d think Catwoman could rile the troops too. I want a woman who combines Michelle Pfeiffer’s chutzpah, Eartha Kitt’s salaciousness, and Lee Meriwether’s admirable eye size. Elizabeth Olsen, I think you could do it, girl.
8. Samantha Stevens of Bewitched
Technically the subversive housewife from the ’60s sitcom Bewitched isn’t a “superhero,” but she’s a supernatural force who routinely shoos people to outer space. Hell, NASA invited Agnes Moorehead to watch a real space shuttle launch in person because she’d been zapped to the moon on TV so many times. I just think the awful 2005 movie version (sorry, dearly departed Nora Ephron) tarnished Samantha’s reputation as an opinionated, deeply capable sorceress of her own domain. Plus, Elizabeth Montgomery was a kickass gay advocate and we should be toasting her coolness constantly.