Scarlett Johansson in the action thriller "Lucy," written and directed by Luc Besson, in theaters July 25, 2014. (Credit: Universal Pictures)

Scarlett Johansson action flick 'Lucy' illustrates the lure of the superdrug

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In the upcoming action film "Lucy," Scarlett Johansson plays a drug mule who accidentally ingests the stuff and ends up developing superpowers. The chemical component, called CPH4, has some fairly impressive effects: hyper-intelligence, increased strength, even telekinesis. Johansson's Lucy isn't out to save the world, however. She wants revenge.

"Lucy," due in theaters next Friday, marks the latest movie about an enduring fantasy: the superdrug. In these stories, the science may be fuzzy (Morgan Freeman's Professor Norman does the explaining in "Lucy"), but that hardly matters. The selling point is the pill, potion or serum that can turn Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, transform Steve Rogers into Captain America or change any one of us into something bigger, better and stronger. Though these movies often caution that there's a price to pay -- a crippling addiction, perhaps, or an overly active id -- the lure of the superdrug remains powerful.

"The audience wants to be a superhero but doesn't have the ability to," says Clay Chapman, a screenwriter and contributing author to Marvel Comics. "Taking a drug is the short track. If I'm not going to get bit by a radioactive spider, and I'm not going to find the ring that turns me into the Green Lantern, then maybe it's possible that some kind of designer drug could advance me to a next-level being."

Here are 10 movies about supersubstances over the years. Side effects may include increased amorousness, boundless energy and an exploding head.

THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963) Jerry Lewis' double-role tour de force centers on Julius Kelp, a nebbishy chemistry professor smitten by his student Stella (Stella Stevens). Thanks to a Technicolor potion, however, he can woo her as Buddy Love, a charismatic hepcat with arrogance to burn. ("Want some?" he asks, after making out with his own hand.) After the film's release, Lewis was surprised to find that Love got the most fan mail.

THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD (1975) Starting in the 1960s, Disney produced several movies about Medfield College, where the science department produced whimsical things like Flubber ("The Absent-Minded Professor") and an invisibility spray ("Now You See Him, Now You Don't"). Here, a chemical concoction mixes with the breakfast cereal of Dexter Riley (a young Kurt Russell), who develops Herculean strength. High jinks ensue, and the stuff also turns out to be a good gasoline additive.