Hercules was born on Mount Olympus with all the powers of a god, and his parents were Zeus and Hera (who has been recast as a loving mother instead of a spiteful stepmother). On the celebration of his birth, during which the Olympian gods present the infant god with a multitude of gifts. Zeus himself creates the winged-horse Pegasus as a gift. It seems to be a joyous occasion, although one god is not happy about the new arrival: Hercules's evil uncle Hades, lord of the Underworld.
Hades wants to take control of Mount Olympus and the world, and he sees that if Hercules chooses to fight when he is older, his plans will be ruined. Knowing that as a god, Hercules is immortal and invulnerable, Hades sends his two lackeys, Pain and Panic, to kidnap Hercules and turn him mortal by means of a magic potion. Although they succeed in the first part of the plan, carrying Hercules down to Earth, they are interrupted by two human peasants (Amphytryon and Alcmene) before Hercules finishes drinking and the final drop falls wasted on the ground. Pain and Panic nevertheless attack him in the guise of snakes, and discover that because he did not drink the last drop he has retained his godly strength and they are beaten back. Amphytryon and Alcmene adopt the child, considering his arrival a gift from the gods since they are themselves childless. Too late, Zeus and the other gods discover the kidnapping. Because Herc is now mortal, however, they are unable to take him back to Olympus.
Hercules grows into a strong but clumsy teenager. He desperately wants to fit in, but as he cannot control his godly strength he only ends up causing havoc and alienating those around him. On one occasion, he accidentally flattens the local market town during a game of discus. His foster parents decide to finally come clean to him about the circumstances of his adoption, showing him a medallion they find that bears the symbol of the gods (Zeus's lightning bolt). Hercules sets off to find his place in the world, and goes to the Temple of Zeus for guidance.
While in the temple, Zeus himself appears (embodying his own statue), and reveals Hercules's origin. He explains that the only way Hercules can rejoin his parents on Mount Olympus is to prove himself a "true hero". A grown-up Pegasus also joins Hercules as a constant companion.
He goes to see Philoctetes (a satyr) a trainer of heroes who initially says he will not train Hercules, having been let down too many times by losers who couldn't go the distance, but changes his mind after Zeus zaps him with a bolt of lightning.
When Hercules has reached adulthood and has passed his training, he sets off with Philoctetes to become a Hero in Thebes. On his way he encounters Megara, who is being persued by the lecherous Nessus. Hercules then intervenes, defeating Nessus (after a couple of disastrous missteps) and rescuing Megara (who felt she didn't even need his help in the first place.) Phil and Pegasus dislike her. Megara relates the events to Hades, by which he learns that Hercules is still alive and so sends a variety of monsters to kill Hercules, the first of which is the Lernaean Hydra. But Hercules dispatches the Hydra and, during the song "Zero to Hero", is shown to dispatch every other monster Hades sends against him.
By this time, Hercules has become the toast of Greece: famous, rich, and perhaps a little too cocky. He believes himself a true hero, and is distraught when Zeus tells him he has not quite gotten there yet, unsure of what more he can do. Megara (on assignment from Hades) convinces him to play 'hooky', or truant for the day, going on a date. The date is ended by Phil, irate at Herc for skipping training. Phil is knocked off Pegasus, and wakes up in time to learn of Meg's involvement with Hades. He leaves to tell his sure-to-be-devastated protege, not hearing Meg's refusal to help destroy Hercules. Hades then discovers that Hercules loves Megara and uses that knowledge to attempt to take the young hero out of the picture while he attempts to overtake Olympus.
Hercules, ecstatic from the date, refuses to believe Phil's warning about Meg, even hitting him in a flash of blind anger, prompting Phil to quit as his trainer. As soon as he is fone, Hades confronts Herc, offering Meg's safety if the hero will give up his strength for 24 hours (long enough for Hades to conquer Olympus.) Hercules is reluctant to see anyone hurt, but Hades vows that no harm will come to Meg. Herc agrees, and Hades takes the opportunity to humiliate him by revealing Meg's role in his scheme. Enacting his plan, Hades sends a Cyclops to destroy Hercules so that he can't get in the way later on. Hercules has been so disheartened by learning that Meg had been working for Hades, that he doesn't even try to defeat the Cyclops. Meg hurries to fetch Phil, who convinces Hercules not to give up. Using his wits, he is able to defeat the Cyclops and send him hurtling off a cliff.
The monster's fall causes a pillar to topple towards Hercules and Megara pushes him out of the way, taking the impact of the pillar. This in turn causes Hercules to regain his strength because Hades' end of the bargain is now broken. Megara, however, is gravely injured and Hercules leaves her in the care of Phil while he rushes off to thwart Hades' invasion of Olympus. After thwarting the invasion, Hades shouts to him that he's got Meg's soul as his 'consolation prize', and Hercules rushes back to Meg's side, only to find that she had died moments before he got there.
However, he then travels to the Underworld to rescue Megara's spirit. When Hades points out that Meg is dead and belongs in the Underworld now, Hercules makes a deal that he will trade his soul for Meg's. Hades agrees to this - IF Hercules can get her out. To do so he must dive into the river Styx, which swiftly ages mortals upon contact, killing them if they spend too long in there. Hercules nevertheless enters the pool to rescue Megara's soul. He does not die, however, as his selfless act fulfills the requirement for being a true hero and, thus, Hercules regains his godhood. He then defeats Hades by punching him into the River Styx, and returns Megara's soul to her body.
He is invited by Zeus to live in Olympus, which was indeed originally his wish, but he decides rather to live his life on earth as a mortal with Megara. Although he will eventually die, he believes that even an immortal life without Megara would be empty.
The animated series Hercules is set in the intervening period between his teen years and his first journey to Thebes as an adult, while he is still in training on Phil's island. The series also reveals that, on Zeus's instruction, Hercules attends a high school called the Prometheus Academy. While there he befriends Icarus and Cassandra and gains a rivalry with Adonis. At one point, he met up with Aladdin when Jafar and Hades teamed up.
Role in the series
Hercules reprises his role in the film, and is an ally to Spongebob.