The Many Faces of Hercules - Everybody’s Favourite Ancient Superhero
He has fought barbarians and moon men, and co-starred with Mickey Mouse, Popeye, the Three Stooges, and the cast of Saturday Night Live.
In the Greek legends, Hercules — recognized from his club and his lion’s-head hat — is the son of Zeus and a mortal, torn between his human and immortal sides, and tormented by Zeus’s jealous wife, Hera. The women in his life (like his wives Megara and Deianeira, and the Amazon Hippolyta) tend to either die violently or else attempt to kill him. To atone for killing his own family, he embarks on 12 labours, fighting beasts like the Nemean lion, the snakelike Hydra, and the three-headed dog, Cerberus.
Hercules has appeared as a character in more than 100 movies, TV shows, and games, played by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Adam West, and Lou Ferrigno. He has fought barbarians and moon men, and co-starred with Mickey Mouse, Popeye, the Three Stooges, and the cast of Saturday Night Live. Here, our picks for the top six iterations.
He does the most damage with a gigantic gnarled club
Hercules (film, 2014)
•The Guy: Dwayne Johnson’s grimly humorous Hercules faces human and undead armies and classic monsters like a swamp-dwelling Hydra, a tree-smashing boar, and a three-headed dog that may be connected with secrets from his past.
•The Garb: The Rock really embraces the full-on lion-head helmet.
•The Gear: He does the most damage with a gigantic gnarled club … and his fists.
•The Gal: When the film starts, Hercules is already traumatized by the death of his wife Megara — luckily, because swimsuit model Irina Shayk gets plenty of exposure in his tormented flashbacks.
Lutz somehow ends up bare-chested for most of the movie.
The Legend of Hercules (3D film, 2014)
•The Guy: Kellan Lutz (Twilight) is sent to war by his vengeful stepfather; the script unexpectedly veers into Ben-Hur territory, and he becomes a galley slave and a gladiator before he can return home to win back his kingdom and his love.
•The Garb: Although he boasts an extensive wardrobe, Lutz somehow ends up bare-chested for most of the movie.
•The Gear: His most effective weapon is the sword Zeus imbues with super-lightning power.
•The Gal: Teary-eyed but feisty, Cretan princess Hebe (Gaia Weiss) demonstrates repeatedly that she values her love for Hercules more than life itself.
...his best asset in battle is probably the flying horse Pegasus...
Hercules (animated film, 1997)
•The Guy: Voiced by Tate Donovan, the most naive of the bunch, but popular enough to spawn a prequel and an animated TV series. His adversary is not Hera but Hades, god of the underworld (James Woods).
•The Garb: This Hercules sports a family-friendly armoured breastplate, cape, and belted kilt, making him look more superhero than demigod.
•The Gear: Although he’s handy with a sword and a bow, his best asset in battle is probably the flying horse Pegasus, apparently lifted out of the story of a different legendary Greek hero, Perseus.
•The Gal: Susan Egan’s sassy, wisecracking “Meg” (short for Megara) seems pretty self-sufficient, but she still ends up in the underworld after sacrificing herself for love.
The most down-to-earth Hercules wears an open, sleeveless shirt and leather trousers...
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (TV series, 1995-1999)
•The Guy: For anyone who was watching TV in the ’90s, shaggy Kevin Sorbo reigns as the supreme screen Hercules. And, hey girl, it doesn’t hurt that his younger self (in Young Hercules) was played by Ryan Gosling.
•The Garb: The most down-to-earth Hercules wears an open, sleeveless shirt and leather trousers with a seriously complicated leather belt and wrist protectors.
•The Gear: The most versatile of his kind, Sorbo’s Hercules not only possessed more-than-human skill with every weapon imaginable, but also quick-healing powers, super-speed and an encyclopedic command of science and other intellectual pursuits.
•The Gal: Who didn’t he date? His wives Deianeira and Serena both died; Hercules had flirtations with numerous women, including the Amazon queen Hippolyta and even formidable Xena, warrior princess.
...cartoon Hercules was rock-jawed, but not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
The Mighty Hercules (animated series, 1963-1966)
•The Guy: Voiced by Canadian actor Jimmy Tapp, cartoon Hercules was rock-jawed, but not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
•The Garb: This Hercules liked monograms, sporting an oversized H on his belt and ring.
•The Gear: His super-strength comes from his magic ring — whenever he remembers to put it on.
•The Gal: The beautiful Helena (Helene Nickerson) mainly specialized in getting captured by the evil wizard Daedalus, the Mask of Vulcan, or Wilhelmine the Sea Witch.
...this Hercules favours his bare hands — even when wrestling tigers.
[Labors of] Hercules & Hercules Unchained (films, 1958 & 1959)
•The Guy: Bodybuilder Steve Reeves’ luxuriant beard, tapered waist, and swelling biceps make him the iconic Hercules. His success unleashed a torrent of imitators, including Mickey Hargitay, father of actress Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), who starred in 1960’s The Loves of Hercules, in possibly the tiniest tunic of all.
•The Garb: An entire “Peplum” genre of Italian films was named for Reeves’ off-one-shoulder tunic.
•The Gear: Although he’ll use any handy statue or piece of furniture, this Hercules favours his bare hands — even when wrestling tigers.
•The Gal: His sweetheart in both films was princess Iole (Sylva Koscina); he had problems with the deceitful Amazon Antea and the lustful queen Omphale.
Sarah B. Hood is a Toronto writer and editor.