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. 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.
29. 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.
28. 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.
27. 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.
25. 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.
24. 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.
23. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2
While it doesn't quite measure up to its predecessor, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still an enjoyable ride through the cosmic corners of the MCU. The main way the sequel separates itself from the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie is more focus on the family theme, from Peter Quill's new relationship with his powerful father, Ego, to Gamora and Nebula dealing with their sibling rivalry. Throw in James Gunn's trademark humor and a lot of Marvel Easter eggs, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 makes a worthy addition to the MCU, especially with how it expands the galactic corners of this franchise.
22. 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.
21. 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. Sadly del Toro won't be able to conclude the story the way he wanted to with Hellboy III since a reboot has been ordered, but this sequel is a fun ride nontheless.
20. 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.
19. 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.
16. 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.
13. 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.
12. 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.
11. Iron Man
We've seen a lot of great superhero casting over the years -- especially in the modern era -- but the argument could be made that the choice of Robert Downey Jr. to play Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man completely changed the comic book movie landscape. Jon Favreau's brilliantly entertaining 2008 blockbuster is truly fueled on the unstoppable wit and charisma of its star, and it's what propelled Iron Man to greatness. Armed with a great character arc and a classic redemption story, the actor made the material sing, and got amazing buzz for a film centered on a lesser-known comic book property. This buzz led to smashing box office success, and eventually paved way for what will go down in history as one of the most successful franchises ever made. It's the film that truly ushered in a new era for the comic book movie world, and continues to stand as one of the best ever made.
10. Spider-Man 2
The sequel tends to be the one that gets more things right. By the time a Part 2 rolls around, the creative team is able to dispense with the mandatory origin story and truly swing into action. And that's exactly why we adore Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2, which plunges audiences right back into the complicated realm of young Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and his painfully awkward efforts to maintain a social life while also fighting crime as the web-slinger. That conflict reaches a breaking point in Spider-Man 2, allowing Peter to actually walk away from his alter ego -- albeit temporarily -- in a sequence that beautifully nods to The Amazing Spider-Man #50. At the same time, Spider-Man 2 nails Doctor Octopus, who is brought to terrifying life by the perfectly cast Alfred Molina. The train fight remains one of the best action set pieces in any superhero movie, and a benchmark of the Spider-Man cinematic saga.
9. Guardians of the Galaxy
When Marvel Studios announced at San Diego Comic-Con 2012 that they would be creating a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, the news was met with a collective "Huh?" While Marvel had managed to be successful even without the rights to popular characters like Spider-Man or the X-Men, this group of space-trotting heroes was certainly seen as an incredibly obscure choice for a film. In retrospect, thanks to the hiring of writer/director James Gunn to be at the helm, the move was brilliant. Armed with a stunningly charismatic ensemble led by the effortlessly charming Chris Pratt, the film is fun and awe-inspiring on a Star Wars level, and introduced the world to characters that pop culture will not soon forget. You'd think that a feature starring a talking raccoon and a mobile tree would be an instant flop, but it's really one of the best pieces of blockbuster entertainment we've ever seen.
8. Captain America: Civil War
When it was revealed that Captain America: Civil War would feature nearly all of the MCU heroes, fans immediately nicknamed it Avengers 2.5 However, the threequel managed to juggle what seemed like an impossible task. At the same time as keeping the story largely centered around Steve Rogers' personal struggles, they also gave all the heroes enough time to shine, especially for newcomers Black Panther and Spider-Man. Despite the large cast, it never felt overcrowded, and each protagonist had their own unique role to play in arguably the most intricate story the Marvel Cinematic Universe has told so far. That was impressive enough, but when you combine that with explosive action, emotional bears and even a few twists that were surprising even for longtime comic book fans didn't see coming, Captain America: Civil War ushered in Phase Three with a bang and set the stage for many upcoming MCU movies.
Hugh Jackman wanted his last Wolverine movie to be impactful and memorable. He succeeded, and then some! Like Deadpool, Logan was unlike any X-Men or general superhero movie that had come before, feeling more like a modern Western than a cape and costumed adventure. Following an aged and weary Wolverine as he faced his mortality while also taking care of an unstable Professor X and his newfound daughter Laura, this story toned down on the fantastic X-Men elements in favor of character study. The smaller-scale story and added violence made this the Wolverine movie fans had been waiting years to see. Delivering an emotional ending to Jackman's tenure as the clawed mutant, Logan marks the end of an era and could have easily served as the last chapter of the entire X-Men cinematic universe.
6. Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman was one of the best parts of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and over a year later, moviegoers got to see the Amazon princess shine to her fullest in her first solo movie after over seven decades of existence. Turning the clock back to World War I, Diana's origin story saw her coming to man's world for the first time to try to stop the greatest conflict the planet had ever seen. The movie itself is a lot of fun, but more importantly, it's incredibly inspirational. Diana is the epitome of a great superhero, and make no mistake, Wonder Woman was an incredible achievement for how it highlights female empowerment. Female-led superhero movies had been released before, but usually to negative reception. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, has been almost universally loved, and it's because of that that it will maintain a positive position in pop culture for many years.
5. The Incredibles
One of the greatest superhero ensemble stories doesn't have Marvel or DC ahead of its title. Instead, it's a 2004 Pixar story about former superheroes who are forced to table their crime-fighting ways after the government legislates their activities to prevent collateral damages. The fact that these same themes were explored years later in movies like Civil War and Batman v Superman shows just how ahead of his time Brad Bird really was with The Incredibles. This movie also celebrates family as it highlights bravery, explaining why heroes -- dubbed "Supers" in this universe -- are vital, and why those with a gift can't simply turn it off. Also, the action scenes are a thrill a minute, particularly those involving Dash. Whoever tries to reboot The Fantastic Four again (because you know it will happen) needs only to memorize Bird's approach to family and teamwork, and they just might get it right.
No other movie defied odds and expectations quite like 2016's Deadpool. After one majorly disappointing silver screen debut, and years in development hell, Ryan Reynolds finally got the chance to don the red and black suit in earnest to portray the beloved comic book Wade Wilson. Deadpool is nothing if not vulgar, violent, and a rip-roaring good time that subverts expectations of a comic book film whilst embracing the over the top absurdity of a classic 1980s action flick. It's a small scale, gore-filled revenge thriller that also seems to possess an astonishing amount of heart and sentimentality. In a genre dominated by sanitized content and PG-13 ratings, Deadpool turned the movie industry on its head by proving once and for all the niche characters slapped with R-ratings can undoubtedly appeal to massive mainstream audiences and yield absolutely insane box office returns if given the proper silver screen treatment.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
After two outings in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chris Evans' Steve Rogers finally fulfilled Captain America's true potential as a hero and silver screen icon during the events of the impeccable Captain America: The Winter Soldier. By stripping the character of his more ridiculous elements and grounding him in the world of the MCU, Joe and Anthony Russo crafted a tight, enthralling political thriller that proved equal parts cerebral and pulse pounding. Although Cap had developed a strong presence in his first two MCU outings, The Winter Soldier made him a lynchpin of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and brought him to the same level of importance as Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark. With its immaculate fight scenes, intelligent narrative and strong sense of continuity within the greater MCU, Captain America: The Winter Soldier proved that in a post-Avengers world, standalone superhero movies could be profound, insightful, and provocative.
2. The Avengers
In 2006, Marvel Studios began planning something incredibly ambitious and unlike anything the blockbuster world had ever seen. The idea was to release a series of solo superhero movies, with each one contributing heroes to an eventual team-up film called The Avengers. This major gamble turned out to be genius, and that same team-up film -- written and directed by Joss Whedon -- easily stands as one of the greatest superhero movies we will ever see. From the brilliant banter between heroes, to the perfect villain in Tom Hiddleston's devilish Loki, to its epic, jaw-dropping third act, everything about it is fun, thrilling or both. It's a movie that genre fans will be talking about for decades, replaying over and over, and it will forever be considered one of the greatest cinematic events in history -- both because of its tremendous quality and the stunning pop culture fervor it created.
1. The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan reinvigorated Batman on the big screen in 2005 with Batman Begins, but it was the 2008 sequel, The Dark Knight, that really took the world by storm. To this day, it serves as the prime example of when a sequel can improve upon its predecessor and then some. Taking inspiration from stories like The Killing Joke and The Long Halloween, the movie followed Batman as he fought The Joker, played by Heath Ledger, whose performance stunned audiences everywhere and earned him a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Besides the conflict between the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime, the movie also impressed viewers by chronicling Harvey Dent's fall from grace, going from civil servant to two-faced revenge seeker. By combining the traditional superhero elements with a gripping crime narrative, The Dark Knight is not just the best superhero movie, but one of the greatest moves over the last few decades.
Head to the next page to recap all the movies that made this list.
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