Hercules, directed by Brett Ratner and starring Dwayne Johnson, made its debut in U.S. theaters this Friday. Johnson — also widely known as “The Rock” from his days as a professional wrestler — plays the title character, a Greek warrior gifted with superhuman strength. While Hercules is portrayed as a demigod in Greco-Roman mythology, the character played by Johnson in this film is a more human version of Hercules that is loosely based on a graphic novel character created by writer Steve Moore. The film costars Ian McShane, John Hurt, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Reece Ritchie, and Joseph Fiennes.
Hercules has received mixed reviews and currently has a 63 percent rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes. However, according to Box Office Mojo, the film “outperformed modest expectations” with an estimated $11.05 million opening on Friday and it is expected to secure the No. 2 spot at the box office this weekend with a take between $28 million and $30 million. While not quite as successful as the $12.6 million opening for Johnson’s previous sword-and-sandal flick, The Scorpion King, Hercules appears destined to pull in respectable box office numbers.
Classic mythology has long been mined by filmmakers as a source for movie plots and this is not the first time that the story of Hercules has been brought to the big screen. Fortunately, for fans of films featuring mythological musclebound demigods, there is quite a long and varied list to choose from. Unfortunately, when it comes to cinematic portrayals of Hercules, it appears that there has been far more misses than hits. However, with Hercules flexing its box office muscle this weekend, we thought it would be an opportune time to name some of the most, let’s say, interesting movies to feature the character of Hercules. While the Hercules films listed here were selected on the basis of personal taste, the films are ordered according to Rotten Tomatoes’ aggregate critic ratings, from worst to best. Here are five notable films featuring the character of Hercules.
5. The Legend of Hercules (2014)
Our list kicks off with one of the biggest box office bombs of this year. Directed by Renny Harlin and starring Kellan Lutz of Twilight Saga fame, The Legend of Hercules only achieved a total domestic gross of $18.8 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Even including its total foreign gross of $42.4 million, The Legend of Hercules failed to make enough money to recoup its $70 million budget, qualifying this film as a certified box office flop.
The critics found very little to love about The Legend of Hercules and the film currently has an astoundingly low approval rating of 3 percent from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes. However, much like rubbernecking drivers can’t help but stare at a horrible road accident, some movie fans may want to gape at The Legend of Hercules just to take in its legendary awfulness.
4. Hercules (1983)
Who needs good reviews when you have Lou Ferrigno? As one of the many low-budget Hercules-themed movies churned out by Italian film studios, there is nothing particularly outstanding about this film beyond its famous lead actor. Ferrigno, who is better known for his portrayal of certain green-skinned goliath on the long-running television series The Incredible Hulk, plays the title character in this Luigi Cozzi-directed film. According to Box Office Mojo, Hercules barely made a ripple at the box office, with a paltry lifetime gross of $10.7 million.
Although the critics at Rotten Tomatoes have given Hercules a dismal 14 percent approval rating, fans of campy 80s-era cinema may enjoy seeing Ferrigno “fight off grotesque laser-breathing monsters and in one case, jettison a giant bear up into space.” This film also spawned a sequel in 1985, The Adventures of Hercules (aka Le avventure dell’incredibile Ercole), in which Ferrigno reprised his role.
3. Hercules in New York (1969)
Ferrigno wasn’t the only former Mr. Universe winner to portray Hercules on the big screen. Hercules in New York stars Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first feature film appearance as the title character in this comedy film that puts a fish-out-of-water twist on the Hercules myth. Due to his clunky last name, Schwarzenegger was credited as “Arnold Strong” and his voice was dubbed by another actor, because while time-travelling cyborgs from the future can have Austrian accents, mythological demigods should speak perfect English.
Needless to say, like 1983’s Hercules, this film is most notable for its famous leading actor. Hercules in New York currently has a 20 percent approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
2. Hercules aka Le fatiche di Ercole (1958)
Yet another former bodybuilder stars as Hercules in this Pietro Francisci-directed film featuring Steve Reeves. However, Hercules is particularly notable for being the original film that kicked off the sword-and-sandal genre in the Italian film industry. According to The New York Times obituary for Reeves, “When Joseph E. Levine decided to release the film in the United States with a soundtrack dubbed in English, it became one of the surprise hits of 1959.”
The popularity of Hercules led to Reeves being cast in many other Italian-made sword-and-sandal epics, including the sequel, Hercules Unchained (aka Ercole e la regina di Lidia). Aficionados of camp cinema may also recognize Reeves from his first screen appearance in Ed Wood’s Jail Bait. Despite its unexpected box office success, Hercules was not a hit with most critics and the film currently has a 38 percent approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
1. Hercules (1997)
While it remains to be seen if the latest Hercules movie can surpass the box office take of this Disney-produced animated feature, this 1997 film is presently the most commercially and critically successful of all the films on this list based on current box office receipts. According to Box Office Mojo, Hercules made over $99 million in domestic gross, as well as an additional $153.6 million overseas. The film was also well-received by most critics and it currently has an 82 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes. Hercules features the voice talents of Tate Donovan, Danny DeVito, James Woods, Bobcat Goldthwait, and many other well-known Hollywood stars.
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