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Superhero stories have been a part of popular culture for over 75 years, but it's not just on the printed page that they're being told. Many kinds of adaptations have been told across various media, but the big screen is arguably the most popular destination besides the comic books themselves. The last four decades or so have seen continued expansion of full-length superhero features, and whether it's traditional narratives or takes that deconstruct the material, they're frequently great tales to watch.
Currently we live in a time when the superhero movie's popularity is at an all time high. Marvel and DC continue to announce new projects for their cinematic universe, and even other companies are contributing to the genre whether it's adapting an existing property or coming up with something original. With so many entries, both live action and animated, there's more than enough to determine which are the greatest of the bunch. With that in mind, Cinema Blend has put together its definitive list of the 30 best superhero movies ever made. Not everyone will necessarily agree on the exact order, but we guarantee that many of your favorites made the cut. And don't worry, folks, with all the positive buzz surrounding Captain America: Civil War, it's guaranteed to get a spot on here later down the line.
30. Iron Man 3
After two solo movies and The Avengers, Iron Man 3 threw a wrench into Tony Stark's superhero career by taking away his armor, the main thing he uses to fight bad guys. Under Shane Black's direction, the movie not only reminded us how capable Tony is without his greatest invention, but also provided a whole strike force of Iron Men that he built over many sleepless nights. Although the Mandarin twist angered some fans, Iron Man 3 did enough to redeem the series, especially by giving Tony a main villain who didn't just simply use his own technology against him.
Hellboy's presence on this list is made all the more impressive when its titular character is compared to the other heroes present on this list. The definition of a niche character with limited appeal, Hellboy's success is a testament to the reverence director Guillermo del Toro has for the source material, and the commitment actor Ron Perlman has for the character himself. A well-crafted horror-action hybrid film with almost zero name recognition among mainstream audiences, Hellboy succeeds on the merits of its filmmaking alone, and that's not a claim that every superhero movie has the privilege of making.
28. The Wolverine
Hugh Jackman would be the first to tell you that for most of the X-Men series, they never fully captured the spirit and essence of Wolverine on screen. Before Logan, the closest they arguably came was with James Mangold's The Wolverine. An attempt to adapt Chris Claremont and Frank Miller's "Japan Saga," The Wolverine sends our clawed mutant to Tokyo where he's asked to repay a life debt. In the process, he gets pulled into a war involving the Yakuza, his true love Mariko, and the Silver Samurai. It mostly works (losing its way when the Silver Samurai arrives), and Jackman continues to develop his cherished character right before the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past.
27. Avengers: Age of Ultron
After coming together in The Avengers, Earth's Mightiest Heroes reunited three years later in Avengers: Age of Ultron to battle the eponymous villain. Along with the six returning heroes and other key supporting characters, the sequel introduced Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and The Vision. Fortunately, the movie still managed give each of its protagonists enough attention so that it never felt like one person was overshadowing the rest. All this character development, along with some of the MCU's best fights, made Avengers: Age of Ultron a thrilling blockbuster and a fascinating set up for the Phase Three movies.
26. X-Men: First Class
Following two negatively received installments, the X-Men movies got off to a semi-new start in 2011 with X-Men: First Class. Taking place in 1962, moviegoers followed Professor X, Magneto and a few other established favorites from in their younger years interacting with other mutants in a time when their kind wasn't publicly known. Although this is a prequel, it felt more like a reboot by getting some distance from the original movies to tell a smaller, yet still important, origin tale filled with dazzling, spy-like intrigue, thus freshening up the series and ushering in the 'First Class" trilogy.
25. Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The First Avenger wasn't the first time the Star Spangled hero was featured on the big screen, but it did introduce Steve Rogers in a more faithful fashion to those not familiar with the comics. Jumping back in time to the 1940s, when World War II was raging and Captain America was the United States' top hero, the movie managed to convey a timeless feel reminiscent of director Joe Johnston's previous movie, The Rocketeer. Thanks to Chris Evans' performance, great choreographed action and a unique story, Captain America: The First Avenger provide moviegoers a fun adventure in the MCU decades past.
Just like they did the previous year with Guardians of the Galaxy, 2015's Ant-Man took an obscure character from Marvel's library and turned them into a hit at the box office. The Peyton Reed-directed flick featured Scott Lang as the Tiny Titan working to harness the Pym Particle technology and make up for his criminal past with Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne's help. By adding plenty of humor and incorporating a heist into the story, Ant-Man turned out to be anything but small when it came to enjoyability, and also made for a nice "epilogue" to Phase Two following Avengers: Age of Ultron.
23. The Rocketeer
Joe Johnston's The Rocketeer came out at a time when Batman was really the only big screen superhero game in town, but it truly captures the spirit of the best in the genre: it's truly a hell of a lot of fun. Billy Campbell is an effortlessly charming lead, and he's surrounded by a brilliant cast with Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton, Paul Sorvino and Terry O'Quinn. It's a thrilling adventure that takes full advantage of its wonderful period setting, and it hasn't aged a day -- making it a pretty great double feature with Johnston's second superhero story: Captain America: The First Avenger.
22. Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange marked another first for the MCU: the full introduction of magic after a few years of those particular forces being tiptoed around. This movie hit some of the same beats as Iron Man with its arrogant protagonist (Stephen Strange) learning how he can truly help the world (using the mystic arts), but Doctor Strange still felt extremely different than past Marvel movies. With the inclusion of magic, the exploration of other realities and a truly unique final confrontation that shows you don't always need fists or brute force to defeat an adversary, Doctor Strange is not only a solid origin story, but will always be appreciated for opening up a new corner for the MCU for future movies to delve into.
21. Superman (1978)
We believed a man can fly. Most point to Richard Donner's Superman as the movie that started it all, and while it certainly wasn't the first superhero movie, you can trace virtually every hit from the modern era to this landmark feature. Donner understood the importance of the hero's origin story, spending as much time on Krypton and in Kansas as he did in Metropolis because understanding Clark Kent helped us appreciate Superman. Christopher Reeve embodied DC's mightiest hero, Margot Kidder was a delightfully zany Lois, and the movie had supporting roles for Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando! Superman makes this list for John Williams' score, alone.
20. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Guillermo del Toro did a brilliant job bringing Mike Mignola's amazing stone-handed creation to the big screen with Hellboy in 2004, he actually managed to make something even better four years later in Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Both the visual and special effects are spectacular and beautiful, the plot provides a fantastic journey for the audience, and you really care about the peril of the fantastic ensemble as the stakes get higher and higher. We can only hope that someday del Toro will have the opportunity to complete the trilogy with a Hellboy III, and craft the conclusion to the story he's always wanted.
19. Batman (1989)
The superhero genre was stuck in a rut in 1989. Warner Bros. drove its Superman franchise into the ground with Superman IV: Quest for Peace, and audiences wanted no part of duds like Supergirl or Howard the Duck. Fortunately, with the gothic Batman, Tim Burton proved a director could put his or her stamp on a classic comic-book character, and reinvent the hero for a new generation. Michael Keaton wiped the memory of Adam West from our collective minds, and Jack Nicholson broke the mold on playing The Joker... at least, until Heath Ledger broke his mold decades later. Prince's music was the icing on this Bat-cake.
18. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Bryan Singer's take on the iconic Days of Future Past storyline provides us with a quintessential example of how to adapt an iconic storyline whilst making logical changes to the narrative. Although X-Men: Days of Future Past deviates greatly from its source material, it arguably improves upon it by incorporating cherished elements from the live-action X-Men universe. Despite its high stakes and equally high concept sci-fi premise, Days of Future Past works so well because it tells an emotional story anchored by the concept of family and making the ultimate sacrifice for those we love and care about most.
Bryan Singer turned out to be the ideal director to bring the X-Men to the silver screen. Coming off of both The Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil, Singer grasped the darker tone -- paired with a flippant sarcasm -- that was necessary to bring Marvel's mutant outcasts to the big screen. Naturally, Singer also gets credit for casting Hugh Jackman as the perfect Wolverine -- a decision that continued to fuel several superhero projects for decades afterward. 2000's X-Men ultimately laid a strong foundation for an entire mutant franchise at Fox, and it's one that continues to grow healthier (with Singer's help, actually) with each passing year.
For years, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen fell under the category "impossible to adapt," as many filmmakers tried and failed to bring the story to life (either as a movie or a miniseries). In that regard, director Zack Snyder simply deserves an incredible amount of credit, because the film is undeniably a massive undertaking, and also a beautiful adaptation of a genius tome. The movie does make some controversial choices, and there is great debate between fans about which cut is best (be it theatrical, director's, or "ultimate), but regardless of this, Watchmen is a true epic and an often stunning piece of work.
15. The Crow
Based on the comics by James O'Barr, Alex Proyas' The Crow isn't your typical superhero movie at all, but it is a fantastic, thrilling, and dark feature with design that has become iconic in its own right. It's a small-scale story, all of the action taking place within one small neighborhood, but it still manages to thrill with great character work and stakes that come along with it. It's a classic revenge tale with a fantasy twist, as a rock star comes back from the dead on the anniversary of his murder to get vengeance on those who killed him and his girlfriend, and it's executed with amazing style.
Although there's a significant portion of the population who would refer to Spider-Man 2 as the pinnacle of Sam Raimi's trilogy, the contribution of the original Spider-Man to the genre as a whole cannot be understated. From the film's hyper-stylized aesthetic, to the perfect casting choices in the form of Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, and J.K. Simmons (just to name a few,) Spider-Man was one of the first major superhero films to prove that a faithful adaptation of treasured source material could yield a profit on the silver screen. Without this one movie the genre would look quite different today.
An origin story for an unknown superhero, M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable embraces every trope of the comic-book genre, but goes through painstaking efforts to ground each cliché in a realistic setting. What would happen if an average man (Bruce Willis) slowly realized that he had super powers? How much would he have to endure before he started to believe in his own abilities? And what, then, would he do with those powers once his abilities had been confirmed? The tragedy of Unbreakable is that Shyamalan hasn't been able to continue the saga of David Dunn and his nemesis, Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson)... at least, not yet.
12. Batman Begins
Christopher Nolan's work on Batman Begins didn't just change the superhero genre; it forever altered the course of action films in general. The first entry in the beloved Dark Knight trilogy set the standard for dark, gritty, and realistic depiction of traditionally flamboyant characters like Batman, and bled into other franchises like James Bond and Spider-Man. Nolan completely reinvented the character from the ground up, providing a new take on everything from his equipment to the Batcave to his lesser-known rogues like Scarecrow and Ra's al Ghul. Beyond that, Batman Begins is quite simply a pitch perfect adaptation of Frank Miller's Batman: Year One story arc, and arguably the most faithful depiction of the Caped Crusader himself within the entire trilogy. For the first time ever on the silver screen, Batman truly became a dark, terrifying creature of the night who could do battle with legions of criminals from the shadows.
11. X2: X-Men United
Three years after X-Men essentially kicked off the modern superhero movie era, reunited us with the mutant superheroes as they battled the fanatical, prejudiced Colonel William Stryker. Just like in the last movie, Wolverine remained the central character, and it was here that moviegoers learned more about his past, namely how Stryker was responsible for Logan's claws being coated in adamantium. Fortunately, the movie also did provided enough screen time to the other players, including Jean Grey, Charles Xavier, Nightcrawler and Iceman. At a time where superhero movies were still just starting to become popular to all kinds of audiences, stayed provided some of the best the source material had to offer (including a tease of Jean Grey becoming Phoenix) while also continuing to tackle discrimination issues. The X-Men movie franchise is still going strong, but overall consensus is that this sequel remains its best main entry.
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