The 6 Best of Hercules in Pop Culture
Hercules! Hercules! Hercules! That’s still a reference people get, right? Good. The Rock’s big Hercules movie comes out at the end of this month, and that’s reason enough to celebrate as far as I’m concerned! He’s the Rock! Doing Hercules! It’s kind of perfect, actually.
I am a huge fan of Greek myths. I can still remember the Big Book of Greek Myths I used to devour from my middle school library. So seeing a big budget Hercules movie (that isn’t that earlier big budget Hercules movie from January) is kind of a treat. It’s the Rock fighting all the great Greek monsters. That alone should be pretty cool. And you know what else is pretty cool: the idea that people have been playing Hercules for centuries. This is a character that has existed since before the Roman Empire. How cool is it that we, as a society, are still telling the story of Hercules?
And why can we do that? Because nobody owns the rights to Hercules! Anybody can make a Hercules movie or cartoon or video game or comic book…and they have! Join me after the jump to check out the 6 greatest pop culture appearances of the Lion of Greece!
6. Hercules in New York
Did you know that Arnold Schwarzenegger got his start in Hollywood playing Hercules? You’re damn straight he did, and it’s one of the roles he deeply regrets. But a 22-year-old Arnie hit the silver screen in 1969 in Hercules in New York, a schlocky B-movie about Herc having all sorts of wacky adventures in a late-60s Manhattan. He becomes a professional wrestler, runs afoul of gangsters and gets wrapped up in an infernal plot from his father, Zeus. For some reason, producers of that day and age didn’t trust Arnold’s accent the way we do now, and his lines were dubbed over. That alone should be an affront to the gods.
5. Hercules in God of War III
Can you believe it took all the way until the third God of War before Kratos, the Mad Spartan, got to take on Hercules? That seems like it would be a no-brainer from the beginning. Hercules in the game is a big, hulking, mountain of a man, with a massive scarred chest and a bad attitude to match. He doesn’t like Kratos, who would have guessed? And like all boss battles in God of War, he’s dispatched with plenty of punching, slicing, and level-disrupting quick-time events. Basically he shows up, gets beat down, and then Kratos dumps him in a sewer. Not Herc’s best outing, by far.
4. Hercules by Disney
I’ll just come right out and say it: I think Disney’s Hercules was the first sign of decline in the otherwise stellar Disney animated features. They moved away from adapting classic stories, and instead came up with an original story of their own that just happened to star a very Disneyfied Herc and company. Personally, I never liked the way they turned ‘being a hero’ into ‘being a celebrity’. But Disney’s Hercules had some good songs, and some great early-CGI monsters. So it wasn’t all a wreck. And James Woods as Hades is one of Disney’s most memorable villains. But here was one of the world’s wimpier Herculeses.
3. Hercules the Super-Villain
Hercules has actually had a rough road through DC Comics. Being an historical/mythological figure, DC doesn’t have to pay anybody to just have Herc show up in a comic book. Back in the day, he used to be a big bruiser, and would challenge Superman and Samson (from the Bible) to strength competitions. In the modern era, Hercules was an enemy of Wonder Woman, with a pretty nasty history of raping and pillaging Paradise Island, the home of the Amazons. Yeah, not really kid-friendly fare. But sometimes Wonder Woman has to kick a demigod in the face!
2. Hercules the Superhero
On the other side of the pond, Marvel Comics has actually had a ton of fun with Hercules over the years! Just like they can make Thor an Avenger and a multi-million dollar movie sensation, Marvel can use Hercules however they want, so they made him an Avenger too, though mostly they use him as Thor-Lite. He’s a big, hairy-chested, bundle of demigodly might, who would just as soon drink you under the table as beat up a super-villain. In recent years, Marvel has really pushed Hercules’ comedic potential. He’s even held down his own comic, from time to time. Though don’t expect any big budget Hollywood franchises from this guy anytime soon. At least not until Phase 13 or so.
1. Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
Would it be alright if I just imagined the Rock’s new movie was a reboot of this Kevin Sorbo classic from the 90s? What a time to be alive! This syndicated show was incredibly popular when I was a kid. Herc hunk Sorbo lived in a world of B-movie special effects, fighting monsters and saving the day in the dopiest way possible. But we loved him for it, and we were right to do so. The world needed a hero like Hercules, a big, fun, ‘aw shucks’ kind of hero who always did what was right. Unfortunately for us all, Kevin Sorbo never had much of a career after The Legendary Journeys. Would it be too much to ask for him to have a mini cameo in the new movie? Can the universe be that awesome? I sure hope so.