Mystery Men (and Women)by grendelkhan | created - 15 May 2013 | updated - 21 Oct 2013 | Public
These are movies and tv shows featuring superheroes, masked mystery men/women, or costumed adventurers (and some supercriminals). I'm mostly sticking to costumed and superheroes, but reserve the right to throw in heroic figures like Tarzan and James Bond, who transcend the normal man. I've also throw in a few villains and some legendary heroes who greatly influenced masked heroes. I'm mostly skipping the direct to video films, as I have only seen a few.
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1. The Gentleman Burglar (1908)
Crime, Drama, Short
The Proposal: The gentleman burglar walking with his lady love. They admire the grandeur and beauty of nature. He proposes and she accepts. She does not suspect his occupation. Turning Over... See full summary »
First cinematic appearanceof Arsene Lupin, the gentleman thief. Lupin is a supercriminal and starred in a series of popular short stories, where he is an anti-hero, often pitted against nastier criminals, much like Britain's Raffles. He even faces off against Sherlock Holmes, sort of, until warned off by Conan Doyle's lawyers. There would be multiple Lupin films, a tv series, and it also insppired the manga Lupin III.
Not Rated | 54 min | Crime, Drama
Inspector Juve is tasked to investigate and capture an infamous criminal Fantomas.
Silent serial, featuring the French supercriminal. Fantomas was a sensation at the turn of the century, inspiring an American serial, a series of films in the 60s, and most of the supercriminals that followed, as much as Moriarty and Fu Manchu.
3. Les vampires (1915)
Not Rated | 421 min | Action, Adventure, Crime
An intrepid reporter and his loyal friend battle a bizarre secret society of criminals known as The Vampires.
French silent serial, about a gang of supercriminals, led by the enigmatic Irma Vep. She appears in a leotard "bat" costume, which would influence many hero and villain costumes to come.
4. Judex (1916)
Not Rated | 300 min | Adventure, Crime
A twelve part serial following the adventures of the masked vigilante Judex as he fights against criminals led by the corrupt banker Favrauxom.
Brilliant silent French serial about a cloaked avenger, operating from a secret lair. Judex predates The Shadow and other cloaked pulp heroes, and the serial was later remade as a film, in the 60s. The plot is relatively the same.
5. Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman (1917)
70 min | Adventure, Crime, Romance
Gentleman burglar Raffles tries to get his hand on a priceless pearl.
Raffles was a little slower getting to the screen than his French counterpart, Lupin. he was also a gentleman thief, who is usually at odds with worse criminals, along with his aid, Bunny. The pair are a sort of criminal Holmes and Watso. Raffles was usually played by a suave actor, including John Barrymore, Ronald Coleman, David Niven, and Anthony Valentine (in a tv series).
6. Tarzan of the Apes (1918)
Not Rated | 73 min | Action, Adventure
Kohn and Alice Clayton set sail for Africa. Mutineers maroon them. After his parents die, the newborn Tarzan is taken by a great Ape, Kala. Later the boy finds his father's knife and uses ... See full summary »
Votes: 623 | Gross: $3.27M
The first Tarzan film, featuring Elmo Lincoln. To me, Tarzan, as written, personifies a superhero, though within his jungle world. His abilities are greater than any Olympic athlete. I will not list every Tarzan film, but will try to highlight some of the notable ones.
7. The Mark of Zorro (1920)
Passed | 107 min | Adventure, Romance, Western
A seemingly idiotic fop is really the courageous vigilante Zorro, who seeks to protect the oppressed.
Douglas Fairbanks stars as the masked hero of Old California. The film did a lot to lighten the tone of Johnston McCulley's creation, which was a bit darker. As with Tarzan, I will list notable Zorro films, but not all.
8. Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922)
Not Rated | 242 min | Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Arch-criminal Dr. Mabuse sets out to make a fortune and run Berlin. Detective Wenk sets out to stop him.
Introduction of the German supercriminal, from Fritz Lang. Norbert Jacques created the character in his novel, but Lang and Thea von Harbour made him something more. Another template of the super criminal. Lang would return to Mabuse in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse; and, in the 60s, The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse. There was also a series of German films in the 60s, following Lang, but never at the same level.
9. Belphégor (1927)
212 min | Fantasy
In the Louvres museum ,the phantom appears in the middle of the night ,in search of something in the dark corridors.
Early serial with Renee Navare, as a phantom who haunts the Louvre (wonder where that idea came from). In reality, it is a master thief who is stealing art treasures. Belphegor would later star in a French tv series.
10. Raffles (1930)
72 min | Adventure, Crime, Drama
A distinguished English gentleman has a secret life--he is the notorious jewel thief the press has dubbed "The Amateur Cracksman". When he meets a woman and falls in love he decides to "... See full summary »
Votes: 681 | Gross: $1.00M
Ronald Coleman stars as the debonair thief, this time.
11. Dracula (1931)
Passed | 75 min | Fantasy, Horror
The ancient vampire Count Dracula arrives in England and begins to prey upon the virtuous young Mina.
Bela Lugosi stars in this classic horror film. Dracula is another influence on the potrayal of supervillains, especially supernatural ones. He is oneof the early bad boys, giving the villain a romantic air. Of later Dracula films, the Hammer ones are the best.
12. Frankenstein (1931)
Passed | 70 min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi
An obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses.
The seminal adaptation of Marry Shelly's novel. Boris Karloff plays the sympathetic monster. Frankenstein would influence many a monster in the comics, particularly the Hulk (which also threw in Jeckyll and Hyde), not to mention notions of mad scientists.
13. Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
Passed | 100 min | Action, Adventure, Romance
A trader and his daughter set off in search of the fabled graveyard of the elephants in deepest Africa, only to encounter a wild man raised by apes.
Johnny Weismuller begins a long streak of Tarzan films, with Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane. These, along with the Hal Foster and Burne Hogarth comic strips, did more to make Tarzan a household name than even the books.
14. The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
G | 68 min | Adventure, Horror, Sci-Fi
Englishmen race to find the tomb of Genghis Khan before the sinister Fu Manchu does.
Boris Karloff stars as the evil doctor, a proto-super criminal and embodiement of the "yellow peril." There was a serial, The Drums of Fu Manchu, then a series of films, starring Christopher Lee. the first film, The Face of Fu Manchu, is by far the best.
15. Tarzan the Fearless (1933)
Passed | 200 min | Action, Adventure
In the African Jungle, a group of Europeans come across the fabled white man who was raised by apes. Tarzan takes an immediate liking to the blond Mary Brooks and rescues her during a nasty... See full summary »
Serial version of Tarzan, featuring Buster Crabbe, who completes the truimvirate of the greatest adventure strip heroes. Herman Brix would also play Tarzan in this era.
16. The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)
Not Rated | 97 min | Adventure, Drama
A noblewoman discovers her husband is The Scarlet Pimpernel, a vigilante who rescues aristocrats from the blade of the guillotine.
The Baroness Orczy hero is brought to life in this version from the 30s. The Pimpernal uses various disguises to save aristocrats from the guillotine, along with his league of assistants. Raymond Massey is excellent as the villain, Chauvelin. The Scarlet Pimpernal inspired the dual identity and the masquerade as a less than heroic figure, used by Supmeran and Batman, in their civilian guises.
17. Flash Gordon (1936)
Approved | 245 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Dr. Alexis Zarkov visit the planet Mongo to thwart the evil schemes of Emperor Ming the Merciless, who has set his planet on a collision course with Earth.
This one is also debatable, but Flash excels at everything, so he's here. This first serial had a feature film budget and it shows, though the spaceships had to turn around a lot. Some of the performances and costumes are a bit dodgy, but the serial is loads of fun and follows the first couple of years of the comic strip relatively faithfully. Two sequels would follow; but, I'll just lump the series together. These serials would inspire a certain Californian to create his own space opera adventure and even the opening title crawl.
18. The Bold Caballero (1936)
Passed | 67 min | Action, Adventure, Comedy
The Commandant is making life rough for the colonials in Spanish California. While trying to help, Zorro is charged with the murder of the new Governor, but in the end he triumphs over the evil Commandant.
Early Zorro "talkie," though not in the same league as The Mark of Zorro.
19. Dick Tracy (1937)
Approved | 290 min | Action, Comedy, Crime
A master criminal called The Spider puts the famous detective's brother under a hypnotic spell and turns him against Dick.
Not strictly a superhero, but the comic strip inspired so many elements of later comic heroes, like Batman's Rogues Gallery. The serial would also inspire stunts in the Indiana Jones series, and some footage was reused in Fighting Devil Dogs.
20. The Shadow Strikes (1937)
Approved | 61 min | Crime, Film-Noir, Mystery
Lamont Cranston assumes his secret identity as "The Shadow", to break up an attempted robbery at an attorney's office. When the police search the scene, Cranston must assume the identity of... See full summary »
One of two short films with the Shadow, but it isn't in the same league as the pulp hero or the radio version.
21. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
PG | 102 min | Action, Adventure, Romance
When Prince John and the Norman Lords begin oppressing the Saxon masses in King Richard's absence, a Saxon lord fights back as the outlaw leader of a rebel guerrilla army.
Votes: 44,454 | Gross: $3.98M
Errol Flynn stars as the legendary outlaw, in what is still the finest version. I include Robin Hood because he is the inspiration for many of the elements of the superhero, especially ones like Green Arrow and Hawkeye.
22. The Lone Ranger (1938)
Approved | 264 min | Western
CHAP. 1, HI YO SILVER: An outlaw leader planning to take control of Texas after the Civil War kills Colonel Jeffries, a man empowered to levy taxes, and assumes his identity. His men then ... See full summary »
Republic serial that adapted the masked radio hero. Unfortunately, they changed a lot of it, to the point that the original negatives were destroyed and only foreign prints survive.
23. The Spider's Web (1938)
Passed | 300 min | Action, Crime, Drama
A crime fighter known as The Spider battles a villain called The Octopus, who is out to sabotage America and install his own government.
Movie serial, based on the pulp hero. Norvell Paige, one of the pulp writers, contributed to the strip. The character isn't nearly as wild as in the pulps, but he has a unique mask and cape, with white webbing on it, influencing the later Spider-Man. A second serial would follow.
24. The Fighting Devil Dogs (1938)
Approved | 204 min | Adventure
The US marine corps must battle a would-be world conqueror who uses electricity as a weapon.
Not so much a superhero film as a supervillain one. The Lightning is one of the most memorable villains in all serials, and would go on to inspire Darth Vader. He also flew around in a wicked flying wing (via stock footage from Dick Tracy). Some of the cliffhangers were also recycled footage.
25. The Saint in New York (1938)
Approved | 69 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery
Simon Templar, the Saint, is brought to New York. His search for the identity of "the Big Fellow" takes him through many dangerous situations.
Leslie Charteris' criminal/adventurer Simon Templar comes to life, with Louis Hayward in the role. There would be a series of films, with George Sanders taking over the role.
26. Buck Rogers (1939)
Approved | 237 min | Adventure, Family, Fantasy
A 20th Century pilot named Buck Rogers and his young friend Buddy Wade awake from 500 years in suspended animation to find that the world has been taken over by the outlaw army of Killer Kane.
I debated whether to include sci-fi adventure heroes, but Buck was close enough to count, in my book. Buster Crabbe plays this take on Rip Van Winkle, awakening in the 25th Century, where he fights would-be despots and other nogoodniks. It's pretty entertaining, to boot.
27. Mandrake, the Magician (1939)
Approved | 215 min | Action, Adventure, Crime
Mandrake and his assistant Lothar are working the cruise lines and make the acquaintance of Professor Houston who has developed a radium energy machine, which is much coveted by a masked Crime Lord known as "The Wasp".
Movie serial based on the comic strip hero. Mandrake mesmerized his opponents, though it seemed almost like real magic in the early strips. The hero was created by Lee Falk, who also thought up The Phantom.
28. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)
Approved | 85 min | Crime, Mystery, Thriller
The master sleuth hunts his archenemy, Professor Moriarty, who is planning the crime of the century.
Following the Hound of the Baskervilles came this film, both with Basil Rathbone, the definitive Holmes. Great intrigue and mystery. Holmes is the superdetective and Moriarty would be the template for all supercriminals.
29. Zorro's Fighting Legion (1939)
Passed | 212 min | Action, Adventure, History
The masked hero leads a fighting force to fight a villian who plots the conquest of The Republic of Mexico.
First Zorro serial from Republic, which features legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt as the masked hero. Canutt recreates the stagecoach stunt from John Ford's Stagecoach, which would be repeated in The Legend of the Lone Ranger and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Republic did several more Zorro serials, but each was less like the original character.
30. Raffles (1939)
Approved | 72 min | Adventure, Comedy, Crime
Man about town and First Class cricketer A.J. Raffles keeps himself solvent with daring robberies. Meeting Gwen from his schooldays and falling in love all over again, he spends the weekend... See full summary »
Votes: 683 | Gross: $0.09M
It's David Niven's turn in the tuxedo, continuing the tradition from John barrymore and Ronald Coleman.
31. The Saint Strikes Back (1939)
Passed | 64 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery
Simon Templar, the Saint, travels to San Francisco to solve crime mysteries within the police department.
George Sanders takes over the role of Simon Templar and continues for several films, before becoming another detective, The Falcon. Saunders oozes charm as Templar and was always good in these kinds of things.
32. The Mark of Zorro (1940)
Approved | 94 min | Action, Adventure, Romance
A young Spanish aristocrat must masquerade as a fop in order to maintain his secret identity of Zorro as he restores justice to early California.
Votes: 8,788 | Gross: $4.36M
Tyrone Power stars in the best rendition of The Fox. Power excels as both foppish Diego and the hero Zorro, while Basil Rathbone is perfect as the sneering villain. This has one of the better duels at the climax. It was later remade as a tv movie, in 1975, starring Frank Langella.
33. The Green Hornet (1940)
Approved | 258 min | Adventure, Crime, Drama
A newspaper publisher and his Korean servant fight crime as vigilantes who pose as a notorious masked gangster and his aide.
The first of 2 Universal serials, featuring the radio hero. The Hornet is a masked crimefighter who passes himself off as a criminal, aided by his manserveant Kato. Kato was Japanese, originally, but was made Filippino during the war and Korean here, played by Keye Luke (blind Master Po on Kung Fu). It's a bit unique in that each chapter focused on the pair defeating a different group of criminals, who are part of a bigger syndicate, providing the connection across chapters.
34. The Shadow (1940)
Passed | 285 min | Action, Adventure, Crime
The Shadow battles a villain known as The Black Tiger, who has the power to make himself invisible and is trying to take over the world with his death ray.
Movie serial based on the pulp hero, created by Walter Gibson, under the house name Maxwell Grant. The Shadow debuted as the host of the Street & Smith mystery radio program, then gained his own pulp series, radio show, and this serial. he would go on to appear in a series of short films and a tv pilot, before returning as Alec Baldwin.
35. Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940)
Passed | 267 min | Adventure, Action, Crime
A mad scientist plots the domination of America and only the masked hero, The Copperhead, can stop him.
Intended as a Superman serial, National (DC) passed on the idea. The hero was retooled into the Copperhead, a man in a chainmail hood. The villain got top billing, though.
36. The Green Archer (1940)
Passed | 285 min | Action, Adventure, Crime
The struggle over the Bellamy estate ends with Michael Bellamy accused of murder and killed on the way to prison, while his brother, Abel Bellamy, takes control of the estate for his own nefarious plans.
Serial based on the Edgar Wallace novel. This archer works in secret, via secret passages within a mansion. He does predate the Green Arrow, though Robin Hood inspired both.
37. The Green Hornet Strikes Again! (1940)
Approved | 293 min | Action, Adventure, Crime
A wealthy publisher uses a disguise and calls himself the Green Hornet to fight crime in his city.
Kato is the same; but, we have a new Hornet. As before, each chapter is essentially a new adventure, breaking from serial tradition.
38. Superman (1941)
Passed | 10 min | Animation, Short, Action
The Man of Steel fights a mad scientist who is destroying Metropolis with an energy cannon.
The Fleischer cartoons are wonders to behold, visually, and the stories are mostly good (if occassionally racist). This Superman couldn't yet juggle planets and had to earn his victories. These are great little stories.
39. Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941)
Passed | 216 min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy
To protect a magic talisman from being used for evil, a teenage boy named Billy Batson is given the power to become an adult superhero, Captain Marvel, with a single magic word: "Shazam!"
The Big Red Cheese is brought to life by Republic and Tom Tyler. This one is played straight and it is tremendously entertaining. Cap even throws a thug off the roof and shrugs off being hit by a conveninetly placed engine block. The villain is a standard masked serial villain, rather than Sivanna or Black Adam. If you only ever watch one movie serial, make it this one.
40. Spy Smasher (1942)
Passed | 215 min | Action, Adventure
Alan Armstrong, aka Spy Smasher, battles a Nazi villain known as The Mask, who heads a gang of saboteurs determined to spread destruction across America.
The second Fawcett hero to reach the silver screen. Spy Smasher is a masked hero/aviator trying to stop The Mask, a Nazi agent. Spy Smasher's gyrosub doesn't appear, but there is a flying wing, which would inspire the similar fight in Raiders of the Lost Ark. This another of the really great serials, making Fawcett the most successful comic publisher, when it came to cinematic success: 100% (2 for 2).
41. Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942)
Passed | 71 min | Action, Adventure
Tarzan and Jane go to New York to rescue Boy after he is kidnapped into a circus.
Tarzan comes to New York is this nice departure for the series, transplanting the jungle hero into an urban environment. Definitely one of the superior Weismuller films.
42. Captain Midnight (1942)
Passed | 270 min | Action, Adventure, Drama
Secret Service Major Steel (Joseph W. Girard), is one of the few men in America aware of the fact that Captain Albright (Dave O'Brien) is also Captain Midnight, daring masked aviator ... See full summary »
Movie serial, based on the popular radio and comic book hero. Our intrepid captain is one of several aviator heroes, and one of the most popular. The serial is fairly average, devoid of any really memorable stunts. There was a tv series, which was standard fare for the period.
43. Batman (1943)
Approved | 260 min | Action, Adventure, Crime
Japanese spymaster Prince Daka operates a covert espionage organization located in Gotham City's now-deserted Little Tokyo which turns American scientists into pliable zombies.
The Caped Crusaders come to the cinema in this serial from Columbia. Lewis Wilson was a bit on the pudgy side, and the Batmobile is just a regular sedan, but there is a Batcave, though they keep their costumes in a filing cabinet. The question is whether it is under C for "costume" or U for "unifrom;" or T for "tights?"
44. The Masked Marvel (1943)
Passed | 197 min | Action, Adventure, Drama
A mysterious detective called The Masked Marvel battles Japanese saboteurs intent on blowing up America.
Original hero from Republic. The Marvel is a masked crusader who is fighting a gang of saboteurs, with the hook that he is one of 6 men. The body is played by Tom Steele, who also appears as a thug, in one chapter. He ends up chasing himself, up a flight of stairs.
45. The Phantom (1943)
Passed | 299 min | Action, Adventure, Drama
Professor Davidson and his niece Diana Palmer search Africa for the Lost City of Zoloz, reputed to be the source of a large hidden treasure. Also searching is a local crook, Singapore Smith... See full summary »
The Ghost Who Walks was brought to life by Columbia and Tom Tyler. Again, Tyler is physically perfect for the role and there is a pretty darn good script. Stock footage gives it more scope than many serials. The wolf Devil is replaced by a german shepherd.
46. Captain America (1944)
Approved | 244 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Superhero Captain America battles the evil forces of the archvillain called The Scarab, who poisons his enemies and steals a secret device capable of destroying buildings by sound vibrations.
The sole cinematic outing for Timely Comics (the future Marvel). This Captain America isn't a supersoldier, but a masked crusading district attorney. The script wasn't originally intended to be for Cap; rather, there is some belief it was written for Fawcett's Mr. Scarlett, who was a masked, crusading district attorney. It's not a bad serial, but it isn't Cap. He also only has red and white stripes on his abdomen, not on his back.
47. Enter Arsene Lupin (1944)
Approved | 72 min | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir