Movies about the strongman of Classical Mythology are legion, and The Cannon Group threw their hat into the ring with this Italian-mounted 1983 production, a starring vehicle for Lou Ferrigno, the bodybuilder who'd come to television fame as The Incredible Hulk a few years earlier. Playing very fast and loose with Greco-Roman myths, it's a perfect reflection of the company's Follow the Leader tendencies — imagine a cross-breed of Superman: The Movie, Clash of the Titans, and Star Wars, and that's a start.
Zeus gifts humanity a being made of light itself and incarnated in the body of a man, a man stronger and more clever than any ever known, to fight for good: Hercules! As infant son of the king of Thebes, he is rescued from usurpers collaborating with King Minos of Atlantis and his equally wicked daughter Adriana, and raised by poor farmers. He grows up mighty, but loses both adoptive parents to the wrath of Zeus's wife/rival Hera and those who serve her. Trying to figure out why he is powerful yet dogged by woe, he seeks his fortune and falls for the beautiful Princess Cassiopeia — but they are quickly separated by the gods; Adriana captures Cassiopeia and she and her father intend to sacrifice her to Hera. Hercules, with the aid of the beautiful sorceress Circe, must now make his way to Atlantis to save his beloved, a journey that literally sends the pair to Hell and back, and even into the stars.
The film did well enough to warrant a 1985 sequel, The Adventures of Hercules II (alternately known as either The Adventures of Hercules or Hercules II). An uprising of gods led by Hera leaves Zeus without his seven mighty thunderbolts, and the universe is falling into chaos. On Earth, Urania and Glaucia are women whose society has become a human-sacrificing cult, and are advised by the Little People they call upon to seek the help of Hercules. The resultant trio must retrieve the thunderbolts from a variety of exotic creatures before the moon crashes into Earth. Hera sends King Minos to fight them by granting him powers comparable to Hercules — not realizing until it's too late that he is now capable of taking her and the other gods down too.
Both films contain examples of:
- Magic Versus Science / The Magic Versus Technology War: The Big Bad of both films, King Minos, is determined to not only conquer the world but eventually eliminate the gods (who represent magic) via science. He even claims not to believe in the gods in the first film — but nonetheless is willing to do Hera's bidding in hopes of being rewarded for his support. (This was actually a faulty translation - the original Italian script is that he doesn't care for the gods but is willing to help them so they will owe him a favor.)
- Order Versus Chaos: King Minos believes that all existence must be kept in Order until the end of time, when all will return to the state of Chaos.
- Sadly Mythtaken: A complete list of examples in these films would go on for a while, due to the near-random mixing-and-matching of elements from the original myths, but here are a few representative examples: The planets, moons, etc. originate as fragments of Pandora's Jar, the explosion of which effectively created the universe. No Pandora actually appears, because lifeforms don't exist at that point. Hercules isn't a demigod but a mortal human who becomes a vessel for a light being. Rather than Mount Olympus, these gods live on the moon. Daedalus, the human inventor who with his son Icarus was exiled to an island and created wings of feathers and wax for them to escape it (with a tragic outcome for Icarus), is here an embodiment of science and knowledge who provides King Minos with aid — and female. And Athena, the goddess of wisdom traditionally clad in armor, is here a "fairy goddess" of witches who dresses like a fairy godmother.
- Ironically, for all the liberties the two films take with Classical Mythology the first one contains some of the only cinematic recreations of some of Hercules' greatest feats, such as killing two serpents as an infant and his cleaning the infamously filthy Augean Stables by redirecting a river.
- Size Shifting: In both films, Hercules temporarily grows to giant size via the magical aid of another character by way of solving a crisis. In the first film, he separates Europe and Africa's landmasses to create a canal (creating the Earth's continents in the process) for the King of Africa, with Circe giving him the boost; in the sequel, Zeus helps him keep the Earth and its moon from smashing into each other this way.
Hercules contains examples of:
- Bears Are Bad News: Hera sends a grizzly after Hercules's adoptive father. Hercules defeats the beast, but upon seeing his father's succumbed, he tosses the bear into space, whereupon it is transformed into the Ursa Major constellation.
- Blessed with Suck: Hercules grows to adulthood not knowing why he is so strong, and when both of his parents are killed by enemies that have him as their real target, realizes that his power is helpful but also makes him a target for misery. Having lost the most important people in his life up to that point, he decides to seek his fortune elsewhere and figure out why he was given his powers.
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Adriana is a blonde, Circe is a brunette, and Cassiopeia is a redhead.
- Climactic Volcano Backdrop: There is one in the heart of Atlantis, and King Minos has used a stolen sword consecrated to Zeus to imprison the (never seen) Phoenix within its lava. By periodically sacrificing virgin maidens to it, he and his daughter retain their youth, and Cassiopeia is the next intended sacrifice. Thus, the climactic battle has Hercules fighting Minos around the lava pit she's slowly being lowered into. In need of a sword, Hercules pulls out the consecrated one despite knowing it will free the Phoenix. After killing Minos and Ariana, he and Cassiopeia flee as the volcano erupts alongside the Phoenix's escape, destroying Atlantis.
- Cosmic Chess Game: Zeus creates Hercules to give humanity a champion, Hera places various obstacles in Hercules' way, and matters escalate from there.
- De-power: This happens to Circe in the late going when (an unseen) Aphrodite, on Zeus's orders, causes her to fall in love with Hercules, as love causes a witch to lose all of her powers; this keeps them from making it all the way to Atlantis by way of the flying chariot, leaving them to finish the journey on foot. Zeus does this to counter Hera's complaints that he and Athena have given Hercules too many advantages.
- The Ferryman: Charon himself (who looks the traditional take on The Grim Reaper) ferries Hercules and Circe to the center of Hell where her mystic charm has been hidden away by their enemies.
- Flaming Sword: In their final battle, Minos attacks Hercules with a flaming sword that has rainbow colored flames.
- Fountain of Youth: There's more than one way to be de-aged here. Circe is initially a wizened crone, but consuming ten drops of Hercules' blood (which is super-powerful) de-ages her to a beautiful sorceress. King Minos has imprisoned a phoenix in a volcano to serve as a power source for Atlantis and this trope for him and (apparently, given her Rapid Aging fate) Adriana. Too bad periodic human sacrifices to it are required.
- The Ghost: Aphrodite and the Phoenix are rather important personages in the story, but are never actually seen.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Cassiopeia, who is Hercules's true love — at least in this movie — as opposed to Adriana (blonde and evil) and Circe (brunette and mostly in this for herself).
- Humongous Mecha: The three mechanical monsters Daedalus sends to kill Hercules — an unidentified insect, a three-headed ray-spitting dragon, and a sword-wielding centaur — are toy-sized in her realm, but by design become this upon contact with Earth's atmosphere.
- Moses in the Bulrushes: When rebels kill the King and Queen of Thebes, it's a handmaiden who rescues the infant Hercules before he can be killed too; she manages to tuck the baby in a boat and send it downriver before she herself is killed. The soldiers decide the baby won't survive and choose not to follow it. When Zeus protects the boat and baby when it goes over a waterfall, Hera responds by sending serpents after it; Hercules manages to strangle them, and the boat eventually comes ashore just in time to be found by a childless couple...
- Rapid Aging: As Arianna dies, they undergo this and ultimately crumbles to dust.
- This Is as Far as I Go: When Hercules and Circe arrive on the shores of King Minos' kingdom, she explains "This is as far as I dare go" — and indeed she doesn't go any further because the mechanical centaur kills her shortly afterward.
- Vapor Wear: Cassiopeia when she's brought to be sacrificed.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: That Hercules is the rightful heir to the throne of Thebes is never brought up again after that kingdom is usurped by a traitor allied with King Minos and the infant prince is sent away for his own safety.
The Adventures of Hercules II contains examples of:
- Action Girl: While certainly far from Hercules' level, Urania and Glaucia put up a good fight against several Mooks.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Hercules did this after the events of the previous film, and returns to Earth only at Zeus's command to seek the thunderbolts. He returns to the stars at the end, joined by Urania (who becomes one of the Muses).
- Eye Beams: The superpowered King Minos uses these against Hercules in the climax.
- Heel–Face Turn: Hera herself switches alliances to aid Hercules and Zeus in the face of Minos's treachery, and from there restores the final thunderbolt to Zeus by giving the kiss of death to her own daughter.
- Heroic Sacrifice: The final thunderbolt turns out to be hidden within Urania, Hera's mortal daughter, who dies so it can be returned to Zeus.
- Kiss of Death: A rare non-sensual example is administered as a needed formality by Hera to her daughter Urania, to reveal the seventh thunderbolt, in the denouement, with the trope name used to describe it.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: Or, rather, Urania, Hera is your mother.
- Offing the Offspring: A particularly heartbreaking example in which the mother (Hera) is forced to take her child's life against her will, and at her child's request no less.
- Plot Coupon: The seven thunderbolts, which can be cashed in to restore Zeus's powers and from there balance to the universe.
- Recycled Animation: Some of the action footage blatantly stole from other films; Anteous is a traced Id Monster from Forbidden Planet, while the final battle is traced from King Kong's fights with a tyrannosaurus and a giant snake.
- Scaled Up: King Minos takes on the form of first a T. Rex, then a giant snake, in his final battle with Hercules, with Hercules taking on the form of a giant ape to counter this.
- Stellification: At one point, Hercules throws a bear into the sky with such force that it turns into a constellation. At the end of the movie, Hercules becomes a constellation himself.
- Stock Footage:
- Where the first film used stock footage from unrelated Italian productions, this movie's opening credits feature a montage of highlights from the first film. From there, stock footage of Hercules is used twice in-story: his first appearance is recycled from his initial creation, and the Size Shifting sequence turns up again when he stops the moon from crashing into Earth at the end. Much of the music is recycled as well, and would be recycled again for a later Cannon production, Outlaw of Gor.
- In the rotoscoped fight between Minos and Hercules, many shots are recognizably traced from King Kong (1933).
- Tomato in the Mirror: Just after thunderbolt six is recovered, Glaucia realizes that she's actually a duplicate of the now-dead original created to be obedient to Minos's commands as needed, and promptly threatens Urania's life.
- Villain Team-Up: Hera brings back King Minos so that she and the other three rebelling gods have someone who can fight Hercules once they've granted him their abilities, not realizing until it is too late that this is the perfect way for him to destroy them as well.
- We Can Rule Together: King Minos to Hercules just before the final confrontation. Hercules promptly refuses and is knocked out in one shot for his trouble, since Minos has a backup plan already (create a Hercules duplicate he can control).
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Cassiopeia isn't so much as mentioned in the sequel.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Once the Glaucia duplicate has served their purpose for King Minos, they are ordered to commit suicide due to this trope — and promptly obliges.