Over the years, superhero movies have become a cornerstone in the filmmaking industry with every major Hollywood studio developing its own comic book adaptations. It’s a trend which simply won’t die – and why should it? And with Avengers: Endgame hitting the theatres in a couple of weeks, the whole world is bracing for the biggest superhero movie to date.
From moral roller coaster rides to ultra-violent noir thrillers, these are the best 20 superhero movies that have ever been made.
The movies are not ranked in any order.
Chronicle is a coming-of-age superhero story which is told through the ‘handheld lens’ of three high school friends. The trio uses smartphone cameras to capture their experiences after stumbling across an alien artefact and come away ‘changed’.
What would you do if you were suddenly blessed with extraordinary abilities? Get up to the craziest shit possible and record it. Which is what this bunch do until the self-appointed gang leader, Andrew takes things a little too far.
2. Superman: The Movie (1978)
Christopher Reeve’s Superman live-action movie isn’t the first feature film to bring Krypton’s son to the big screen, but honestly, it is the best. Superman never set out to just explain Kal-El’s past. The focus is on the story and the breathtaking spectacle of the movie – a guy who flies.
It’s impossible to imagine anyone else outdoing his iconic version of Clark Kent – he brings hope, humanity and all-around goodness to Superman rendering it easy to stomach some of the movie’s cheesy elements (apologies Henry Cavill).
3. Punisher: War Zone
Punisher: War Zone bears little resemblance to any other superhero film and it’s somehow both exhilarating and deliberately hilarious.
The movie follows the titular lethal enforcer as he goes to war with a facially scarred mobster, Jigsaw and his deranged brother. Punisher was taut and inventive but, tragically overshadowed by its fellow 2008 flicks – Iron Man and The Dark Knight.
4. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Guillermo Del Toro cut his superhero teeth with Blade II, shimmed successfully into Hellboy and then brought out the big guns for its sequel – The Golden Army.
Del Toro crammed this deliciously bonkers sequel with everything that worked oh-so-well in the first outing – quippy one-liners, well-rounded supporting characters, and insane steampunk props. Even the puzzling and over-complicated plot did’t distract much from its sheer brilliance.
5. Thor: Ragnarok
After the Shakespearean origin story and a po-faced sequel, Thor was looking for a clean break. Blessed be Taika Waititi who brought his comic sensibilities and liberally applied it to the intergalactic canvas of everyone’s favourite Asgardian.
Thor: Ragnarok may not be the most important MCU movie, but it is definitely one of the funniest. Pair that with the drippy and dazzingly outlandish visuals and the movie stands out as a comic book-induced fever dream.
6. Iron Man
Iron Man not only laid the foundation of a multi-billion dollar franchise but also saved Marvel Studios from potential bankruptcy.
It was Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark that blew people away. Through him, we got the witty banter, the bright colours, and the clever pop-culture references. We rooted for him to succeed and got goosebumps when he stepped into the Mark II suit for the first time. RDJ’s breathtaking charisma and unmistakable comedic rhythms made us sit up in our seats in a way that Toby Maguire’s Spider-Man or Christian Bale’s Batman never could.
7. The Dark Knight
The middle chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight splits its time between day and night, letting Bruce Wayne’s tale of big-bucks vigilantism stroll out in the sunlight. Its chewy moral grapplings (what Joker says is kinda understandable and does Bruce have a leg to stand on when people he cares for, drop like flies?) is a rarity in superhero movies.
And those who bemoaned Heath Ledger being cast as The Joker couldn’t quibble in the end. Watching his maniac and unnerving performance is like watching a man who was born to play this very role. It’s his Joker with the garish makeup and enigmatic platitudes that stole the show from Batman.
8. The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan floored it with the closing chapter of the Batman trilogy. Though it doesn’t possess the finesse of the The Dark Knight, it loads up a continuous stream of action set pieces which somewhat mirrors Bruce’s shaky emotional state.
Bigger and brasher than its predecessor, Dark Knight Rises repurposes the cerebral superhero movie into a streamlined actioner. After seeing Gotham fall into the hands of a masked madman – Bane, his moral way of doing things falls behind in the shadows, letting his final stand emerge like a cage-fighter.
9. Wonder Woman
Growing up on an Amazonian island, Princess Diana discovers an American pilot – Steve Trevor after he crashes on her shore. After learning the horrors of the World War and believing Ares was responsible for the conflict, Diana takes it upon herself to resolve the fight.
Though it was another origin story, Wonder Woman saw a whole new take on the superhero cliche. And then again, it was for a character whose origin story we hadn’t seen in a movie before. Wonder Woman delivered the hope-charged blast of purely likeable entertainment that superhero movies so very needed.
The idea of a self-made superhero, one who possess no actual abilities, is turned into an amusing, dark-as-hell escapade in Kick-Ass.
Teenager Dave embraces his love for comics and lets it spill into the real-world by becoming Kick-Ass. Going against wealthy foes who wipe the floor time and again, leads him to join forces with Hit-Girl who wields a katana like a seasoned pro. It’s also the only film to make Nic Cage’s quirkiness the least batshit thing onscreen.
Deadpool 2 is great and all but it is nothing compared to the original 2016 movie that first gave the character a big-screen spotlight worthy of his brash irreverence.
Deadpool is the comic book adaptation that fans have longed for after X-Men Origins: Wolverine made a hash of the beloved mercenary. Awash with blood, foul language and nudity galore, the movie holds nothing back as Deadpool battles against the men who turned him into a disfigured superhero or as Weasel likes to call him – an avocado that had sex with an older avocado.
12. Black Panther
Even before its release, Black Panther was making headlines for its political timeliness and significance as a step forward for diversity in Hollywood. But the fact remains that even when you isolate its historical importance, the film is a thrilling and an endearing ensemble movie that oozes flair and orginality through every Wakandan seam.
Compared to most Marvel movies, the cast is large and varied and all of them play an important role in the story, each providing motivations and viewpoints that enrich the jaw-dropping Afro-futurist setting with warmth and humanity. And Marvel finally gave us a villain worthy of our attention – Killmonger – whose raw energy was never put to waste even for a single second on the screen.
13. Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy re-wrote the rules of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe in a way which showed that superhero movies can be silly and irreverent without damaging its soul. From the opening scene right up until the final moments, all you feel is heart.
Every single element of this whacked-out story of misfit superheroes joining together to fight evil works in harmony. Honestly, everyone involved in this hilarious soap-opera would’ve loved going to work. And if you like your superheroes without swagger, then this movie is for you.
14. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Pit The Winter Soldier with the first Captain America movie and they couldn’t appear more different. But there is one strain that binds them together – they mix together several genres to tell a better story. There are no throwbacks to World War II in Winter Soldier, however. Instead, the Russos throw it back to the ’70s-era of paranoia.
Coming to terms with being trapped in ice for decades, Cap comes back with a new haircut and a mission to kick-ass in the 21st century as he tries to save his friend, Bucky. The modernised story drops its sepia-tones for a much harsher look.
Logan is the only superhero movie that feels meaningfully adult. It serves as a metaphor for our awful planet and the struggle to be a good person amid the temptations of joining its cruel inertia.
Rest of the superhero flicks are filled with despicable brutality, but Logan shows us what punches actually feel like, rather than cleaning it for the kiddies. As the man, once known as Wolverine traverses a cursed earth, we watch him overcome the hypnotic seduction of cynicism and choose to feel vulnerable. Logan is a rare story about a superpowered individual fighting for something – love.
16. The Avengers
What happens when you take one superhero and another, and then add another and so on? You get an epic team! The Avengers fuse together into a slick machine ready to dispense justice like no other onscreen team before.
Bringing together Earth’s mightiest heroes into one movie after several of them launched their own solo movies was a gamble, but well worth the risk. Creating a superhero ensemble movie without compromising any of the characters is tricky. But every member of the team slots in without it feeling clunky. The action sequences fly by at breakneck speeds and there’s a number of erratic jump cuts – it’s pretty damn busy, but it works.
17. Avengers: Infinity War
With a butt-load of heroes and numerous threads finally coming together for the second-last instalment of 10-years worth of storytelling, Infinity War does not mess around. The three-hour-long movie is full of fights, conflicts and team-ups as it treats its cast with an almost Game of Thrones sense of brutality.
Thanos is the real star though, bringing together the Infinity Stones to impose his genocidal plans on the universe. The Earth’s mightiest heroes do an admirable job of managing an incredible headcount and numerous plot threads as almost the entire MCU tries to stop the Mad Titan. It’s one long climax from start to finish, but the scale and ambition of Infinity War is a daring achievement.
18. Spider-Man 2
It’s the middle chapter in Peter McGuire’s trilogy which sums up everything that we love about the webhead aka Spider-Man. The movie perfectly balances his inner struggle to become a superhero and his romance with Mary Jane.
Peter Parker’s day-to-day misery is quashed by his burgeoning friendship with Doctor Octavius. Of all the friend-to-foe betrayals Peter suffers, it’s this film that serves up the best of all without necessitating to overstuff the movie with a gazillion villains. When done right, one bad guy will suffice.
19. Captain America: Civil War
The groundwork for Captain America: Civil War was laid throughout the first dozen films in the MCU. Cap strived to be a do-gooder, ensuring freedom and justice through the American way. However, Tony’s desire was to crack wise in times of crisis and fashion killer AIs. Their opposing views bring a massive dose of grit and heart to Civil War.
A rift forms between the Avengers when legislation forces all superheroes to work under government supervision. Cap is against it, but Tony is all for it. Pretty much all the major MCU players make an appearance for the epic showdown that would decide the fate of the Avengers.
The story takes a subtle approach to the life of a superhero, with security guard David Dunn suddenly coming to grips with his abilities and dealing with the shady Elijah Prince. It’s a refreshing, minimalist film that is devoid of spandex and moral rantings about responsibility to the people.