Who doesn’t love unconventional heroes? Unconventional villains, perhaps? In any case, here is a list of 10 unconventional heroes, ranging from mutant turtles to a serial killing vigilante. While this list might not include every unconventional hero archetype, it’s still a pretty solid assortment.
- Police Squad! Series/Naked Gun Films (1988)
Inspired by the short-lived TV series, Police Squad!, The Naked Gun film franchise stars Leslie Nielson as police Squad Lieutenant Frank Drebin. It may be his most famous role, and why not? Whether he’s thwarting an assassination attempt on the Queen of England (Jeannette Charles) or saving the Academy Awards, you can somehow count on Frank and his intrepid team of officers.
These include Capt. Ed Hocken (George Kennedy) and Det. Nordberg (O. J. Simpson). Yes, that’s right: That O. J. Simpson! On that note, Naked Gun oddly almost represents a more innocent age, when sports superstars, actors, and police were somewhat more trusted figured.
That aside, one shouldn’t get too heavy regarding the presence of Mr. Simpson. However, it is odd to watch this movie, especially scenes where he’s involved in sight-gags involving his being seriously injured. All that aside, Frank Drebin is ultimately who we remember most from this movie…but damn, the O .J. thing is hard to look past. The film trilogy also stars Priscilla Presley as Jane Spencer, Frank’s lover and eventualy wife. Also, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker evidently love Weird Al Yankovic, who cameos in all three films (and who, let’s face it, also ranks high among pop culture’s unconventional heroes).
- Inspector Gadget (TV Series 1983–1986)
Voiced by Don Adams, Inspector Gadget is, at best, just an O.K. “Inspector.” In fact, with his niece, Penny (Cree Summer), and her trusty dog, Brain ( Cree Summer). Inspector Gadget wouldn’t stand a chance in combatting the evil schemes of the sinister Dr. Claw (also Welker) and his M.A.D. agents. In fact, even with their hefty help, Gadget never quite seems to thwart the villainous organization. So, in an odd way, Inspector Gadget is more of a right-hand man…or cyborg, or robot, or whatever the hell he ultimately is.
In a way, Inspector Gadget is like a low-grade Ultron, but actually a good guy. Unnervingly, Gadget never seems aware that they’re helping him, which means Penny could risk feeling negative about the whole deal. Given Gadget’s unique cyborg-nature, a lot of questions can emerge, too. Is he essentially immortal? How do his Go-Go Gadget powers really work? Shouldn’t he get remodeled?
Basically, if Gadget could upgrade his brain functions, he probably wouldn’t need his niece to help him out all the time. He should also acquire greater skill and speed in dealing with M.A.D agents. Also, where does the man end and machien begin? Does he have regular human feelings, bothy emotional and regarding physical pain (and yes, pleasure)? He may not be as complex as Bruce Banner, and it’s hard to know what any scientist had in mind to grant him his powers, but there is more to Inspector Gadget than meets the eye.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TV Series 1987–1996)
These unconventional heroes tend to live in a sewer, which is weird enough. Of course, there’s more. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a team of 4 mutated, giant turtles mentored by one large mutated rat. They all can speak English, are excellent ninja fighters, are pals with a TV news reporter, and have a borderline dangerous addiction to eating pizza. They’re also named after Italian Renaissance artists.
Who’s your favorite Ninja Turtle? Some of us chose Michaelangelo (Townsend Coleman) as our primary turtle brother. Unlike his serious, katana-wielding counterpart named Leonardo (Cam Clarke), the nunchaku-skilled Michaelangelo (AKA as “Mikey”) generally has a freewheeling, party-dude attitude. However, if you’re slightly more interested in the brainy type, look no further than Donatello (Barry Gordon). Long story short, he’s inventing stuff all the time. He’s also gifted with the bo staff. If you like a light dose of attitude, then you’ll appreciate Raphael ( Rob Paulsen).
The giant rat named Splinter (Peter Renaday) is their mentor. In this animated series, Splinter was formerly a human named Hamato Yoshi. He tends to wear a purple kimono rather than any armor (and, in fact, the turtles are generally quite bare). The cartoon doesn’t often show them training on tatami mats or meditating, but we get the sense that the team does this occasionally. Then you have April O’Neil (Renae Jacobs), an intrepid Channel 6 News reporter who often gets herself in trouble.
Of course, you can’t talk about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles without mentioning their enemies. These primarily include Oroku Saki/The Shredder (James Avery), his evil alien brain companion named Krang (Pat Fraley), and their fierce and loyal, dog-like mutant-punk henchmen, a warthog man named Bebop (Gordon) and a rhino-man named Rocksteady (Clarke). Shredder tends to wear a mask whenever he can, though he does occasionally take it off, implying he’s not trying to protect his identity. Instead, he probably wants to look like a bad-ass. Most of the time, though, he’s actually pretty inept, and he isn’t often scary in the original animated series.
4. Last Action Hero (1993)
What would happen if reality and the fictional movie world collided? That’s the question asked by John McTiernan’s Last Action Hero. It’s a fun, intensely self-aware action flick, featuring an unlikely hero named Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien). After entering the universe of action film character Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger), he ends up facing off against the homicidal Benedict (Charles Dance), who learns of the real world and wishes to rule it with full-fledged vengeance.
Written by Zak Penn and Adam Leff, this movie is a little bit smarter than it’s often given credit for, and Danny might have deserved a sequel or two, despite just being an ordinary boy. Last Action Hero also features Robert Prosky as Nick the projectionist, Tom Noonan as the Ripper, Frank McRae as Lieutenant Dekker, and Bridgette Wilson as Whitney Slater, among others.
5. Wayne’s World (1992)
Admittedly, the unconventional heroes in Penelope Spheeris’s Wayne’s World don’t really do much. They don’t save the world from space aliens, terrorists, or even some deadly flesh-eating bacteria. However, they do resonate with viewers as heroes against a world of corporate lameness.
Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) start off as public access TV underdogs who struggle to sell out their brand to Benjamin Oliver (Rob Lowe), a generic TV producer who fails to truly grasp his acquisition. In short, Wayne and Garth naturally reject selling out, even if it potentially underminds monetary success. It’s a familiar struggle with all artist-types, and this is exactly what makes these two characters heroes.
Of course, there’s also a love story between Wayne and Cassandra (Tia Carrere), which employs enough humor to note become a plain vanilla romance story. After falling for Wayne, Benjamin offers her a chance at success, though it’s obvious that he’s swooping in to get some action and money out of her musical act.
So you have the two conflicts: Wayne and Garth start devoting themselves to growing the show into something much larger, yet it’s driving everyone apart. Although Oliver is sleazy, the movie wins some points for not being over-the-top with his portrayal, at least not typically. However, like any unsavory character, he does end up paying a price. Wayne’s World also features Lara Flynn Boyle, Brian Doyle-Murray, Ed O’Neill, and cameos by Chris Farley and Alice Cooper.
- The Tick (1994–1996)
Created by Ben Edlund for FOX’s Saturday morning lineup, The Tick (Townsend Coleman) isn’t your average superhero. He protects The City (presumably one of the better cities in the country) from a wide variety of bizarre and deadly criminals. These include miscreants such as Man-Eating Cow, Eyebrows Mulligan (both also voiced by Coleman), Chairface Chippendale (Tony Jay), Multiple Santa (Jim Cummings), Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs at Midnight (Maurice LaMarche), and so many more.
Of course, The Tick gets plenty of help from his sidekick, Arthur (Micky Dolenz, of The Monkees), as well as other weird do-gooders like American Maid (Kay Lenz), Bi-Polar Bear (Ed Gilbert), Baby Boomerangutuang (Kevin Schon), Die Fledermaus (Cam Clarke), Gesundheit (?), Plungerman (Kevin Schon), and Sewer Urchin ( Jess Harnell), among others. Obviously, The City could do worse than have the Tick on hand.
While other animated series of the ’90s went almost for a serious, almost noir setting (Batman, X-Men), this one obviously went the lighthearted route, stocked full of absurd heroes and villains designed to make us laugh. For many of us, it works. The Tick seems to lack the crime-fighting intelligence of Sherlock Holmes, but he and his compatriots get the job done. That’s all we can ask, right?
- Dirty Work (1998)
A true cult classic, Bob Saget’s Dirty Work features two unconventional heroes running a “revenge-for-hire” business. While that’s an iffy line of work, it’s all to pay for a heart transplant for a character called Pops McKenna (Jack Warden).
While not everyone loves this flick, Mitch Weaver (Norm Macdonald) and Sam McKenna (Artie Lange) are some of the most memorable “average Joe” characters committed to film. You have Artie, a lovable, pudgy, almost childlike character with a raspy voice (does he smoke?), and Mitch, a dry-humor-infused has-been, who has been taught “not to take crap from anyone.”
With his pals’ help, Mitch wrangles his way into the innovative “business” of pranking people. They assist a man whose neighbors make egregious noise while partying. They go after a beautiful, bearded lady (Rebecca Romijn) who, between swigs from a bottle of Jack Daniels, abuses her dwarf co-worker at the carnival. They also end up taking on the film’s main antagonist, Travis Cole (Christopher McDonald), and the small troupe of paid goons who enforce his real estate schemes.
It’s often stated that Dirty Work was censored down to a PG-rating and that it’s a lesser movie. However, a “harder” version of this movie just wouldn’t be the same. This may be one of those awkward moments where a neutered movie ended up being better. Plus, you still get a fair share of edgy comedy here, including assorted sexual humiliations and strange, hallucinatory moments.
It’s perhaps better that it’s somewhere between a “hard” PG movie and an R-rated one. Trying to juggle edgy comedy with general audiences can be tough. Mitch and Sam walk that line pretty well. “Dirty Work” also features Traylor Howard, Don Rickles, Chevy Chase, Chris Farley, and Gary Coleman, among others.
- Half Baked (1998)
Another cult classic, Tamra Davis’s Half Baked elevated pot smokers to higher places not seen since Cheech & Chong. Basically, if you don’t like Half Baked, you can go take a hike. The story is pretty straightforward: Three potheads —Thurgood (Dave Chappelle), Scarface (Guillermo Díaz), and Brian (Jim Breuer) — end up stealing and selling medical marijuana to bail their pal, Kenny (Harland Williams), out of jail.
They become big hits in New York City’s drug culture, earning the attention of their competitor, Samson (Clarence Williams III). Can they free Kenny and retain the passion they’ve had for weed? To complicate matters, Thurgood falls in love with an ironically named Mary Jane (Rachel True), who wants to eliminate the supposed danger to society posed by marijuana.
- Zoolander (2001)
For a time, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) was the hottest male model in the business. However, a new force by the name of Hansel (Owen Wilson) has swooped down from model heaven to challenge his dominance. With lowered job prospects, Derek announces his retirement. However, he is soon excited to be selected by Mugatu (Will Ferrell) to model his new line. The problem is, Mugatu intends to brainwash the already intelligence-challenged Zoolander into assassinating the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
This movie has plenty of funny moments, such as a freak gasoline fight accident, a runway pose-off battle, and Derek’s stylish yet semi-disheveled appearance while attempting to blend his family’s coal mining job with his career in fashion. Also, this is obligated to be a love story, too, as Zoolander’s bizarre profession forms the backdrop to his relationship with Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor). Less heroic than Clark Kent yet more professional than Les Grossman, Zoolander is a stupid yet charming protagonist. Although dated in some respected, Zoolander is a bit of a cult classic
Yes, one could mistake it for an Adam McKay movie, and one could also be annoyed by the stupidity of it all. However, this is the sort of comedy that comforts those who return to it. It is a refreshing lighter comedy, if not a real piece of cinematic history. Also, you have to love Blue Steel! Zoolander also stars Milla Jovovich, Jerry Stiller, and Jon Voight.
- Dexter (TV Series 2006–2013)
It seems a list of unconventional heroes wouldn’t be complete without this guy, especially when he could barely register as any sort of hero. Still, he actually sort of is. It would be wrong to say Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), grew up with a strong sense of right and wrong.
However, the budding serial killer was given a “code” by his adoptive stepfather, Harry (James Remar), a police officer who molded a young Dex into an intelligent, murderous vigilante. Yes, Dexter primarily hunts bad guys, and particularly other serial killers. Though he regularly suggests he feels nothing, he becomes (or became) protective of others through his conditioning. Another interesting question emerges: Did his adoptive father became a serial killer by proxy?
Dexter’s instincts are strong, but he also has the strong cover of working as a blood spatter analyst for the Miami Metro PD. Lesser circumstances might have allowed Dexter to channel his pain into blind vengeance, but he is generally very strategic, in line with Harry’s code. Although he has the support of his stepsister, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) and eventually gets married, Dexter also suffers losses as the series progresses, sand is sometimes overconfident in his abilities, growing frustrated when his hobby complicates his life.
Some highlights from Dexter include interacting with fellow serial murderer Arthur Mitchell (John Lithgow), as well as the tensions between himself and Sgt. Doeaks (Erik King), who suspects Dexter to be a criminal pretty much from the start. While intent on catching the man or woman responsible for heinous deeds, Dexter takes us along on his murder campaigns, brimming with moral ambiguity.
While his irrational rage has found common ground with bloodlust and a sense of justice, Dexter isn’t completely concerned with the collateral damage he causes, either. The question ultimately is, can his urge to kill ever be sated and replaced with a normal life, or will he always find it more important to crack down on the criminals he discovers to appease his unique variety of sadism?
What are your thoughts on these unconventional heroes? Did we miss any key ones? Let us know in the comments!