Face Off: Hercules (1997) and Superman I/II (1978/80)

Motion State Face Offs pit two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.

As the leading voice in movie reviews, we at Motion State Review judge films based on a wide variety of factors — dialogue, acting, cinematography, whether or not Nic Cage is in it, etc. But perhaps the most important quality a movie can have, in this contributor’s humble opinion, is originality. Sometimes, we do not recognize a movie’s level of originality unless it is noticeably unoriginal (Avatar rehashing Pocahontas, to name one; seriously they are the same movie). Other times, you can see a movie a dozen times before realizing that maybe you have seen the same exact thing somewhere else. Such was the case as when I traveled to Athens and watched the Disney movie Hercules for the first time in several years, because a true movie critic travels thousands of miles just to watch an animated movie that takes place there. I expected to get a heavy dose of nostalgia while watching; instead I got a heavy dose of…Superman?

In the same way that Avatar and Pocahontas are similar enough that any high school teacher would claim plagiarism, so, too, I found, were Hercules and the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies. Heck, they’re about one Superman solo song away from being the same movie (which would be awesome in the next Man of Steel flick, as long as Henry Cavill’s singing voice is as fantastic as his acting). But, let’s make one thing clear about who’s stealing from whom: the myth of Hercules came just slightly (a few thousand years) before the character of Superman was invented.

Now that we have that cleared up, let’s play a fun Motion State Review Face Off game that I just invented (I hope inventing games isn’t above my non-existent pay grade [Editor’s note: it’s your non-existent dime]). I will give a plot point and you, the reader, will have to guess whether this happens in Hercules or Superman I/II. If you think this invented game is too similar to something you might see on Buzzfeed, then write a Face Off comparing this article to Buzzfeed.

  1. A boy is born to great fanfare, but is separated from his parents soon after birth to live in a far-off land.
  2. Upon arriving in the far-off land, the boy is kindly adopted by simple farmers.
  3. As a result of coming from his far-off land, this boy soon finds that he has super strength and other abilities that other boys simply don’t have.
  4. Instead of applying these abilities to sports and becoming universally liked, as in the superhero movie Forrest Gump, the boy somehow manages to be ridiculed and called a “freak” by his peers who don’t seem to understand that maybe making fun of the guy who can kill you with his pinky is not the best idea of all time.
  5. After being ridiculed, he feels he doesn’t fit in and raises this concern to his adopted parents. This dedicated couple then tells him the truth and shows him what they found him with the day they took him in. Although sad, they are incredibly supportive of his decision to find out more of where he came from.
  6. He travels to a far-off land and on his journey to find himself finds a temple. Within the temple, using what his adopted parents had found with him, he’s somehow able to communicate with his father who tells him everything of where he came from and the powers he has.
  7. After speaking with his father, he decides that he must use his powers for good and become a hero.
  8. On his journey to becoming a hero, he meets a girl. Suddenly, the girl becomes more important to him than literally anything else, to the point where it’s annoying instead of cute to some viewers (me).
  9. His arch-nemesis hatches an evil plot enlisting the help of super villains that all hate the hero’s father after he imprisoned them for all of infinity.
  10. The damsel in distress dies in the midst of everything and the hero breaks all of the rules to save her.
    1. Bonus points if you can name which movie has the hero giving everything (powers, God status, etc.) up to be with the girl!
  11. In the end, the hero defeats the villains and saves the world.
  12. However, new threats emerge when new, far worse movies are released with the same hero!

If you figured out that all of these things happen in both Hercules and Superman, then you understood the whole point of the game! The similarities start with their parents (Jor-El vs. Zeus, who ya got?), adoption, powers, and it doesn’t even come close to stopping there. Both of their ascents to hero status are similar, but that isn’t too surprising. It is the similarities in the smaller plot points such as their abilities to communicate with their fathers by placing what was found upon their adoption into the temple to have their animated father appear.

In the same way, both of them falling for a girl can be found in pretty much any hero movie (I hope in the Wonder Woman movie she falls for a guy who screws everything up, it’s only fair). However, both Lois Lane and Meg dying only to have Superman turn back time and Hercules dive into the pool of death to save them seems a little too similar.

A villain, too, is the most common aspect of a hero movie. But the similarity between Lex Luthor teaming up with Zod and Co. after they escape from their life-long imprisonment given to them by Jor-El and Hades teaming up with the Titans who Zeus imprisoned for life is so far beyond the point of coincidence.

Finally, movie sequels and remakes are usually worse and that can be understood. However, to have both movies followed up with films as atrocious as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Hercules and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace…well, I think it becomes pretty clear that these filmmakers must have been conspiring the whole time.

In the end, maybe your favorite superhero isn’t the most original character of all time. But, then again, who needs originality when DC and Marvel can just stick a cape on someone, release a movie, and make millions regardless of how original it is?

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