Will Guardians of the Galaxy be the next Avengers, or the next Green Lantern? Or something in between? Only time will tell — but everybody's dying to see whether Marvel's huge, ambitious bet pays off. And if it does, here are a dozen other space heroes who could rock their own movies.
Top image: Adam Strange, art by Carmine Infantino.
It hasn't been a great time for space heroes — definitely not on television, where space opera seems permanently dead and Syfy has passed on a number of spaceship shows recently. And not really in movies, where the planet-hopping John Carter, the intergalactic cop Hal Jordan, the alien-fighting Ender Wiggin and a number of others all failed. Even the long-awaited Prometheus underperformed. Only Star Trek has succeeded, based on some brand loyalty.
But maybe, just maybe, Guardians could be an actual game-changer. If it manages to be smart enough and have enough heart — the crucial ingredient — then it could win people over to the "zany heroes in space" genre once again. (As opposed to the "military science fiction" subgenre, which is slightly different.) And if that happens, here are 16 great stories that could get a shot (or in some cases, another shot) on the big screen:
The archetypal space hero had a ludicrously goofy 1980 film version, which was pretty much stolen by the great Brian Blessed. And there was a dull-as-dishwater SciFi Channel series in 2007. But a few years ago, Breck Eisner (director of the underrated The Crazies) was attached to direct a somewhat more serious Flash Gordon film, which went through a couple different writers before fizzling. But maybe Guardians could do well enough to make Universal say, "Gordon's alive!"
In the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer, we met the spacefaring Nova Corps., who are Marvel's answer to the Green Lantern Corps. — who, in turn, are DC Comics' version of the Lensmen. Written by E.E. "Doc" Smith, this is a vast story of the Arisians, an ancient race, who create a group of human champions, armed with the "lens," to fight an invasion by the evil and megalomaniacal Eddorians. Leave out the eugenics program and the sexism, and you've got a great saga.
Sure, DC already got burned with Green Lantern — but there's no reason they couldn't try again with some of their other classic space heroes. First and foremost, there's Adam Strange, who gets zapped by a Zeta Beam that teleports him to the planet Rann, where he flies around defeating alien threats to the Rannians. What's great about Adam Strange is that he keeps getting zapped back to Earth, so you can show him being connected to an ordinary life on Earth when he's not being whisked away to a strange planet.
Legion of Super Heroes
And if DC starts feeling even more adventurous, a Legion of Super Heroes movie could be amazing. This is a bit more of a longshot, but it could be fantastic. It's the 30th century, and superheroes from a ton of planets join up in a big clubhouse to fight huge cosmic threats and have ill-advised hookups, while wearing brightly colored spandex uniforms. And they all get rings that allow them to fly. The intense, brooding Brainiac-5 could totally steal this movie. And imagine if they were able to pull off the powerful, insane Great Darkness Saga from the comics.
Or suppose you don't want to have a space action franchise that takes place in the distant future? There's also the Licensed Extra Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network (or L.E.G.I.O.N., which exists in the present day and consists of another Brainiac version, Vril Dox, gathering a team of rogues and nutcases to protect the galaxy against huge universe-shattering threats like Eclipso. Somewhat less upbeat and massive than the Legion of Super Heroes, you could see them spawning a fun movie about in-fighting misfits who work together when the chips are down.
And then there's Lobo, the motorcycle-riding bounty hunter who's the last of his kind and loves dolphins. He's basically Riddick with worse hygiene and a higher body count. And he definitely has the "bizarre outlaw" thing going on that the Guardians are working. There have been rumors of a Lobo movie for a decade, but it never seems to happen. Lobo is actually a member of L.E.G.I.O.N. on occasion, so you could see him being spun out of a L.E.G.I.O.N. movie, or crossing into one.
Suppose Fox decides it wants to get in on this sweet space superhero action after Guardians comes out? Luckily, Fox owns the rights to Starjammers, a Marvel comic that spun out of X-Men. And the Starjammers are basically like the Guardians of the Galaxy, if they were space pirates. There's a big white furry guy whom nobody understands (sort of like Chewbacca), a cat woman, a lizard guy, and Marvel Girl.
There are a bunch of great video games set in space, but for the "space adventure hero" trope as opposed to the "military science fiction" trope, you need look no further than Metroid Prime's hero Samus Aran, who goes around exploring strange planets in her Iron Man-esque armor and getting into crazy scrapes. She's a bounty hunter who goes on missions for the Galactic Federation fighting space pirates.
Eric John Stark
Stark starred in a ton of novels and stories by Leigh Brackett, the "queen of space opera" who also co-write Empire Strikes Back. Stark is basically a Space Tarzan, who was raised by natives on Mercury and winds up spending a lot of his time fighting back against the human empire in the solar system and defending poor aliens against human exploitation. It's a bit Avatar-ish, maybe — but the business of being chased throughout the solar system by the human authorities, who've sentenced Stark to 20 years in prison for gun-running on Venus, sounds great. And Stark is also one of the few great space opera heroes of African ancestry.
Another great comic-book space team — Vanth Dreadstar is a tragic space hero who has an awesome sword and a cool beard. And he teams up with an all-powerful mystic Jedi type, plus a psychic and a cat-woman. (There's always gotta be a cat woman.) Dreadstar flies around getting into lots of wild adventures, but he's also caught up in a galactic civil war between a space empire and the theocratic Instrumentality. Could be insane fun, with a bit of a subversive edge to it.
Another comic book published by First Comics back in the day, Nexus has just the right amount of silly weirdness to catch a hypothetical "Cosmic Marvel Universe" wave, if it happens. Created by Mike Baron and Steve Rude, Nexus is the story of an ordinary guy who gets recruited by a strange alien intelligence to be its assassin — he's granted great powers, but every once in a while he has dreams about someone who needs to be killed, and the dreams get worse and worse until Nexus kills that person. And when Nexus isn't killing random people, he's getting caught up in complicated politics on the planet where he's living, involving lots of corrupt alien politicians and poor creatures just trying to get by. And his best friend Judah would steal your love away from Rocket Raccoon.
Just this past weekend, there was a tantalizing hope that a movie version of this classic television space opera could happen — and it's the ultimate example of the "unlucky human having space adventures with weird aliens" trope. And maybe if Guardians makes a billion dollars, it will give the Farscape movie a much-needed shot in the arm? Maybe?
Traditionally, Captain Marvel is one of the most cosmic of the Marvel heroes — the original Captain Marvel is a Kree warrior who turns against his own people and fights for the humans. Since then, there have been both aliens and humans bearing thatname. We're hoping that the current version, Carol Danvers, gets her own movie — but then let's hope she gets tossed back into space, to deal with weird aliens and interstellar empires.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers had a bit of a revival after Star Wars conquered pop culture, with a beloved-but-campy TV show. And recently, there's been all sorts of talk about a Buck Rogers revival — but maybe a new boom in offbeat movie space opera could finally give us a Buck movie that would be able to capture everything we loved about the original comics hero as well as his TV incarnation. Including an evil princess and a cute robot, but also lots of badass space battles and a serious storyline.
The Last Starfighter
We've been saying for a while that Last Starfighter could really benefit from a remake or a continuation — the storyline about a kid who plays a space combat video game, only to find that it's a simulator for a real spaceship flight deck, is just amazing. The original movie spends a lot of time on Lance Guest "refusing the call" to heroism, and also way too much time on the "duplicate Lance Guest" storyline — and not enough time on actual starfighting. But you could imagine a new version that gives a bit more detail about the aliens and fleshes out Lance as a real character a bit more. It could be fantastic.
The Stainless Steel Rat
We will never stop agitating for a Stainless Steel Rat movie — Harry Harrison's great space rogue is one of the great creations, a con-man who winds up saving planets because he's just more cunning and slightly more decent than everybody else around him. And he has a great love story, with a woman who's a semi-reformed assassin. He's like a slightly edgier Han Solo.
And then there's the British Buck Rogers, who's basically a fighter pilot in space, fighting against the evil Treens and their monstrous leader Mekon. The good thing about this series is that the brains of the operation is Professor Jocelyn Peabody, a rare example of the heroic female scientist in classic space opera.
And finally, there's Brian K. Vaughan's new comics series, that we have praised endlessly for its clever universe-building and its amazing family saga. This series really ought to become a movie at some point — and maybe a "cosmic comics adaptation" wave could finally carry it into theaters?
So what great off-the-wall epic space heroes did we miss?