Mystery Men

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Mystery Men
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKinka Usher
Written byNeil Cuthbert
Based onFlaming Carrot Comics
by Bob Burden
Produced by
CinematographyStephen H. Burum
Edited byConrad Buff
Music byStephen Warbeck
Golar Productions
Dark Horse Entertainment
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • August 6, 1999 (1999-08-06)
Running time
120 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$68 million[2][3]
Box office$33.5 million[2]

Mystery Men is a 1999 American superhero comedy film directed by Kinka Usher (in his feature-length directorial debut), written by Neil Cuthbert, loosely based on Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot Comics, starring Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, Greg Kinnear, Claire Forlani, Kel Mitchell, Paul Reubens, Janeane Garofalo, Wes Studi, Geoffrey Rush, Lena Olin, Eddie Izzard, and Tom Waits. The film details the story of a team of lesser superheroes with unimpressive powers who are required to save the day from a criminal genius when Champion City's resident superhero gets captured.

Mystery Men received generally positive reviews from critics, but was a box-office bomb, only making a little over $33 million worldwide against a $68 million budget.[2]


In Champion City, the amateur superhero team of Mr. Furious, the Shoveler and the Blue Raja attempt to make a name for themselves, but their inexperience, infighting, and dubious abilities generally result in defeat and frustration. While trying to stop a robbery in progress, they are upstaged by the city's powerful and arrogant superhero, Captain Amazing.

However, Amazing's crime fighting prowess has practically made his job obsolete. Without any worthy adversaries (most are either dead, in exile, or in jail), his corporate sponsors are beginning to withdraw support. To create a need for his services, Amazing uses his alter ego, billionaire lawyer Lance Hunt, to argue for the release of his nemesis, supervillain Casanova Frankenstein, from an insane asylum. However, the plan backfires; once released and reunited with his henchman Tony P and his Disco Boys, Casanova Frankenstein blows up the asylum, easily outwits and captures Amazing, and prepares to unleash the "Psycho-frakulator", which lethally bends reality, on the city.

On a stakeout of Casanova Frankenstein's mansion, Mr. Furious observes Amazing's capture and informs his team. After an unsuccessful rescue attempt, the three realize that they need more allies. Through word-of-mouth and auditions they recruit Invisible Boy, the Spleen, and the Bowler. The emboldened team ambush Casanova's limousine, but merely succeed in annoying him.

While drunk from celebrating their “victory,” the team is nearly killed in retaliation by Tony P and the Disco Boys. They are saved by the Sphinx, an enigmatic superhero who agrees to train them. The Sphinx's unconventional team-building exercises and antimetabole rhetoric annoy Mr. Furious, who quits the group, but the others flourish under his tutelage. Knowing that they will still be outgunned, the group seek out Doc Heller, who specializes in non-lethal weaponry, to equip them for their battle. Furious, encouraged by his new girlfriend, Monica, rejoins the team.

The team break into Casanova's mansion during a summit of several of the city's gangs like the Disco Boys, the Furriers, the Frat Boys, the Not-So-Goody Mob, the Suits, and the Susies. While attempting to free Captain Amazing, they become confused by his instructions and inadvertently set off the Psycho-frakulator and kill him. Without Amazing, the team despairs of saving the city, but the Shoveler delivers a pep talk, which inspires them to continue.

With new resolve, the team assaults the mansion again. This time, through a mix of surprise, teamwork, maximizing their quasi-superpowers, and Heller's quirky weapons, they subdue Casanova Frankenstein's henchmen. However, Casanova Frankenstein holds Monica hostage and activates the Psycho-frakulator, which begins to wreak havoc upon the city. While the team works to disable the device, Mr. Furious takes on Casanova Frankenstein, unleashes his inner rage and fights effectively for the first time.

Mr. Furious throws Casanova Frankenstein into the core of the Psycho-frakulator which kills him with its reality-bending powers. The rest of the team helps The Bowler to destroy the device and escape the mansion as it implodes.

The team is swarmed by reporters who want to know the group's name. As they argue possible names among themselves, one reporter states, "Well, whatever you may call them, Champion City will forever owe a debt of gratitude to these 'Mystery Men'," but they are too busy arguing to hear it.


  • Ben Stiller as Roy / Mr. Furious, an amateur superhero whose power is his rage which enhances his strength and agility.
  • Hank Azaria as Jeffery / Blue Raja, an amateur superhero with sniper-vision and an innate ability to throw virtually any object as a projectile with superhuman-accuracy (and sometimes with enough force to be lethal) with cutlery being his preferred means.
  • William H. Macy as Eddie / The Shoveler, a quarry worker turned amateur superhero with superhuman agility and cunning who wields a shovel as a weapon.
  • Greg Kinnear as Lance Hunt / Captain Amazing, Champion City's local superhero as well as billionaire lawyer.
  • Kel Mitchell as Invisible Boy, an amateur superhero who can only become invisible if nobody is looking.
  • Paul Reubens as Spleen, an amateur superhero whose flatulence makes others faint.
  • Janeane Garofalo as Carol / The Bowler, an amateur superhero with psychic powers and whose crystal bowling ball contains the skull of her dead father, Carmine the Bowler, who died fighting the Disco Boys.
  • Wes Studi as The Sphinx, a mysterious superhero who can use his mind to cut weapons in half.
  • Claire Forlani as Monica, a waitress and Roy's love interest.
  • Geoffrey Rush as Casanova Frankenstein, a criminal genius.
  • Lena Olin as Dr. Anabel Leek, Casanova's prison psychiatrist and love interest.
  • Eddie Izzard as Tony P., Casanova Frankenstein's right-hand man and leader of the Disco Boys gang.
  • Tom Waits as Doc Heller, a mad scientist who makes non-lethal weapons for the Mystery Men.
  • Artie Lange as Big Red, leader of The Red Eyes gang.
  • Louise Lasser as Violet, Blue Raja's mother.
  • Ricky Jay as Vic Weems, Captain Amazing's publicist.
  • Jenifer Lewis as Lucille, Eddie's long-suffering wife.
  • Prakazrel Michel as Tony C.
  • Ned Bellamy as Funk
  • Goodie Mob as The Not-So-Goody Mob.

Additionally, Corbin Bleu and Philip Bolden appear as Butch and Roland, the Shoveler and Lucille's sons. Television personality Riki Rachtman and filmmaker Michael Bay appear as part of the evil Frat Boys. Composer Mark Mothersbaugh appears as the band leader at the beginning of the film while a then unknown Sung Kang has a brief appearance. During the superhero auditions, Dane Cook, Doug Jones, Vincent Bowman, and Dana Gould make cameo appearances as The Waffler, Pencilhead, Son of Pencilhead, and Squeegeeman.


In 1997, Mike Richardson, publisher of Dark Horse Comics, pitched the "Mystery Men" concept to producers Larry Gordon and Lloyd Levin at Universal. "My first impression was just how relatable the characters are," Levin said "Bob [Burden] has a real surrealistic sensibility, but at the core of his work is something that's thematically so identifiable. I think there is an almost childlike persistence of all the characters. And they ultimately hold on to the conviction that with courage and sacrifice, they can become what they dream."[4]

The film was announced in mid-1997 along with a raft of comic book adaptations including Blade, Virus, Superman Lives, X-Men, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Captain America, The Sub-Mariner, Iron Man, Daredevil and Silver Surfer, Hellboy, Concrete, Green Hornet and 26 other titles.[5]

That fall, Danny DeVito was in talks for a $13-million deal to both star and direct, but negotiations broke down over who would produce the soundtrack. "It was a big deal for me," DeVito said. "I really wanted it, so I walked away from the project."[6] Ben Stiller was then approached to rewrite the script and direct but eventually turned it down. "I decided I didn't want to do it," he explained, "because it was just too much. It was a huge movie I'd be taking on."[7]

Commercial director Kinka Usher was signed in April 1998 to direct.[8] Usher had won awards for the "Got Milk?" and Taco Bell Chihuahua campaigns. Usher, who had been approached for other films, was discouraged when he saw the script for Mystery Men. "I thought it was boring," he said. "However, the premise was great." He continued, "Most of the movies made by commercial directors are heavy on visuals and thin on content. I don't want to be a part of that. I was very cognizant of showing that I know how to work with character."[9]

Garofalo signed on and persuaded Stiller to appear in the film. "I met Kinka and he was nice and funny and the money was good, so I decided to do it," she said. "I had to twist Ben's arm because he's always so busy."[10]

Stiller was originally offered the Blue Raja role, but was not interested in playing what he called a "nerdy guy" again. "The minute you start doing the same thing in comedy, people go, 'Oh, I've seen that,'" he said. He took the role of Mr. Furious but explained, "In the original script, he was just angry all the time, but I thought that would be boring, so one of the changes I made is that he has the least power. Like if we're a band, I'm the guy who started the band but who's also the least talented."[11]

Geoffrey Rush was cast in what was his first Hollywood film in July,[12] followed by Azaria, Reubens, Forlani and Macy. Lena Olin was added in August; Greg Kinnear in October; and Eddie Izzard in November.[13] Others in consideration for roles included Ving Rhames and Vince Vaughn.[14]

Reubens said, "I liked the idea. I hadn't seen it before. I loved the cast that was assembled by the time I came into it, and I thought the script was fun, smart and goofy all at the same time." Regarding his character, he said, "I felt I was playing the character as kind of slow, but when I saw the movie it didn't seem like that at all. I don't know what that says."[15]

According to Stiller, the script was fluid. "The script was being reworked all the time by... everybody! Because everybody kind of wanted to personalize their part, and try to make it as funny as possible. So yeah, that was welcome. That was the idea we had going in, to just have everybody kind of get together and try to make it as funny as we could. Especially in the context of a big action, special effects type movie. You know, a lot of the time what gets lost is the specific character stuff, and the small moments that really have to work for the whole thing to work. So that's what we were concentrating on as much as possible. And it's good if everybody's on board with that, you know what I mean? And I think Hank, myself and Paul and Janeane were probably most involved in that process, for our characters. We're used to working that way."[16]

Usher said, "We did a lot of unscripted stuff. I let Ben and Janeane go. They were totally free." Usher said he wanted "the film to look flat, like a comic book. I tried to capture that alternate reality but keep the edgy humor."[17]

Shooting began on October 21, 1998, in Los Angeles, and was completed the following April. "I thought it would be quick, but it ended up being this six month shoot," Stiller recalled.[18]

Bob Burden was on the set for some of the shoot, answering questions that came up about his creations. "There were times when we were kind of stumped in a scene and we asked him what he thought," Levin said. "The great thing about him is that 10 minutes later, we'd get 30 pages in the fax machine with probably 29 pages filled with the lousiest ideas that you've ever read but that one page of pure genius."[4]

The original ending was unpopular with test audiences, so Usher shot a new one with what he called "a big-cheer finish."[19]


The musical score for Mystery Men was composed by Stephen Warbeck. Written within a 28-day time span, the score was recorded on the Sony Scoring Stage.[20] "I was quite liberal in the choice of instruments, because I've chosen a couple of Hungarian instruments, the tárogató and the cimbalom, and also a Greek instrument, the bouzouki," said Warbeck on the film's range of sounds. "And then Mike Fisher and the other percussionists have brought along an exciting range of stuff which are so interesting and varied that we keep picking bits of those and adding them in."[21] After Warbeck's contributions were completed, the film's producers decided to alter various scenes. Because of this, composer Shirley Walker was brought in to create additional music and rearrange Warbeck's score to fit the new running time.[20]

A soundtrack album was released on July 6, 1999, by Interscope Records.[22] the album spawned two singles, "All Star", and "Who Are Those Mystery Men".

The soundtrack album’s first single, the recently recorded All Star by the California rock band Smash Mouth (which was heard during the end credits of the movie) became a critically and massively successful international hit after their manager Robert Hayes licensed it for the film’s official soundtrack. And to promote it, a music video directed by McG was made featuring footage from the film. It became their signature song, peaking at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, nominated for the Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals at the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards, and it was later licensed to be used in many films, TV shows, commercials and more.

Track listing
1."Back In 1999"John Oszajca3:45
2."All Star"Smash Mouth3:19
3."Keep Keep Movin'"Dub Pistols3:42
4."The Mystery Men Mantra" (feat. Terry Bradford, Will Wheaton & Nancye Ferguson)Mark Mothersbaugh4:11
5."No Way"Freak Power4:14
6."Who Are Those Mystery Men"Kel and the M.A.F.T. Emcees Feat. Romaine Jones4:08
7."Rainy Day Parade"Jill Sobule3:05
8."Sometimes"Michael Franti & Spearhead3:48
9."Won't You Come Down"Spy4:04
10."Gangster"Citizen King2:43
11."No More Heroes"Violent Femmes2:54
13."Disco Inferno"The Trammps3:34
14."Night Fever"Bee Gees3:30
15."Mystery Men Oath"Ben Stiller & William H. Macy0:42

Additional songs featured in the film include:


Box office[edit]

Universal delayed the film's release one week to avoid competing with the opening of The Blair Witch Project.[23] In its opening weekend, Mystery Men grossed $10,017,865, ranking number six at the domestic box office.[24] By the end of its run, on October 14, the film had grossed $29,762,011 domestically and $3,699,000 internationally, for a worldwide total of $33,461,011. Given its $68 million budget, the film is a box office bomb.[2]

Critical response[edit]

Review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 61% based on 104 reviews, with an average rating of 5.80/10. The site's consensus states: "Absurd characters and quirky gags are brought to life by a talented cast, providing this superhero spoof with lots of laughs."[25] On Metacritic, the film has a 65 out of 100 rating based on reviews from 24 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[26] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.[27]

Godfrey Cheshire for Variety thought the film "may contain more yuks than the summer's other big pop sendup, the second 'Austin Powers,' but it also spreads them over an ultimately tiresome two hours...Though pic boasts several action sequences that are expertly handled and laden with dazzling effects, its most engaging passages by far are the ones focusing on the central sextets' banter and interaction."[28] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Watching 'Mystery Men' is a bit like sitting next to a brilliant person at a dinner party who just won't shut up. Because this film is so self-conscious and, like Mr. Furious and friends, has a tendency to try too hard, it's an effort you end up admiring more than completely loving. Influenced by its betters, films such as Brazil, Buckaroo Banzai and even Blade Runner, it's destined to join them all in cult film heaven."[29]

Jonathan Romney for Sight & Sound said that it was "a desperately hit-and-miss affair".[30] Michael Dequina of The Movie Report said that it "fails to come up with worthy gags and one-liners for the able cast."[31] Steve Murray of Cox News Service gave it a negative review, saying "Mystery Men is like its hapless heroes. It's a wannabe that has the best intentions – including a pronounced anti-gun stance – but none of the knack it takes to save the day, or itself."[32]

Newsday wrote, "'Mystery Men' manages to exalt both the terminally weird and the frighteningly mundane with such flamboyant good spirits that you overlook its occasional dead zones and dull patches. Try as it might to prop up its static plot, the movie is more comic revue than action comedy. Viewed within these parameters, 'Mystery Men' is as satisfying as a heaping helping of Abbott-and-Costello shorts. And much smarter than the average doofus blockbuster."[33] British television channel Film4 gave the film 3.5 out of 5 stars, saying it was "Hugely entertaining – especially for those with a thing for superheroes."[34]


While Mystery Men was not a hit during release, it has been acknowledged as a cult film.[35] Cast members have generally expressed interest in returning to their roles for a sequel, while acknowledging the unlikelihood of such a sequel happening.[36][37][38]

Janeane Garofalo kept her character's skull bowling ball after filming, and enjoys using it as a Halloween decoration.[39]


  1. ^ "MYSTERY MEN (PG)". United International Pictures. British Board of Film Classification. September 8, 1999. Retrieved August 16, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d "Mystery Men". Box Office Mojo. October 14, 1999. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  3. ^ "Mystery Men (1999) - Financial Information".
  4. ^ a b Botwin, Michele (August 2, 1999). "Drawn to the Odd". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 13, 2021.
  5. ^ USA TODAY; 01 Aug 1997: D, 1:2.
  6. ^ Los Angeles Times, 16 Nov 1997: CAL, 5:1.
  7. ^ Miller, Prairie. Star Interviews; Rye, (Sep 6, 1999).
  8. ^ The Hollywood Reporter; Apr 14, 1998: 3, 94.
  9. ^ "Left His Heart On Madison Avenue." New York Times 25 June 1999: E13.
  10. ^ The Montreal Gazette; 01 Aug 1999: C10.
  11. ^ Los Angeles Times. 01 Aug 1999: 10.
  12. ^ The Hollywood Reporter (Archive: 1930-2015); Hollywood Vol. 353, Iss. 19, (Jul 10, 1998): 1, 6.
  13. ^ Sunday Mercury; Birmingham (UK) 15 Nov 1998: 43.
  14. ^ The Hollywood Reporter; Jul 20, 1998: 13.
  15. ^ "Reubens Camps it Up - Again". Orlando Sentinel. New York Times. August 1, 1999. Archived from the original on April 13, 2021. Retrieved April 13, 2021.
  16. ^ Star Interviews; Rye, (Sep 6, 1999).
  17. ^ "Enemies of crime and pithiness." Spin. Aug 1, 1999: 72-73.
  18. ^ Star Interviews; Rye (Sep 6, 1999).
  19. ^ Berger, Warren (July 25, 1999). "The Ad Guy Takes Charge". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 13, 2021.
  20. ^ a b Koppi, Rudy (June 16, 2013). "Stephen Warbeck on Scoring Mystery Men". The CinemaScore & Soundtrack. Archived from the original on June 24, 2015. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  21. ^ "Robogeek checks in on MYSTERY MEN... and interviews Stephen Warbeck!". Ain't It Cool News. June 25, 1999. Archived from the original on June 24, 2015. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  22. ^ "Mystery Men - Original Soundtrack". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  23. ^ "'Blair Witch' has 'em running scared: Abbott, Jim. Edmonton Journal27 July 1999: C1.
  24. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for August 6-8, 1999". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. August 9, 1999. Retrieved August 16, 2014.
  25. ^ "Mystery Men". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 26, 2022.
  26. ^ "Mystery Men Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved August 16, 2014.
  27. ^ "MYSTERY MEN (1999) C+". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on December 20, 2018.
  28. ^ Cheshire, Godfrey (August 2, 1999). "Mystery Men". Variety.
  29. ^ Turan, Kenneth (August 6, 1999). "Movie Review: Mystery Men | Who Are You Gonna Call? These Guys?". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on February 25, 2003.
  30. ^ Romney, Jonathan (February 2000). "Mystery Men USA 1999". Sight & Sound. BFI. Archived from the original on November 12, 2009. Retrieved August 18, 2012.
  31. ^ "Archive Volume 53". The Movie Report. Retrieved August 18, 2012.
  32. ^ "Mystery Men". Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Access Atlanta. Archived from the original on October 20, 2006. Retrieved August 18, 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  33. ^ Newsday. REVIEW MYSTERY MEN. Bouncy, achingly hip send-up of comic book superheroes benefits from its all-star cast and its cool complicity with its own gaudiness. Gene Seymour. STAFF WRITER. 06 Aug 1999: B06.
  34. ^ "Mystery Men - Film4". Film4. Archived from the original on February 24, 2011. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  35. ^ "My Year of Flops Case File #24 Mystery Men". The A.V. Club. April 17, 2007.
  36. ^ "Mystery Men Star Addresses a Possible Follow-Up Adventure".
  37. ^ "Hank Azaria Comments on the Possibility of Reuniting with the Mystery Men".
  38. ^ "Kel Mitchell Teases Mystery Men 2 Pitch (Exclusive)".
  39. ^ "Janeane Garofalo is Still the Voice of My Generation".

External links[edit]