Superheroes had long been relegated to comic books and seen as something for children. They were never taken all that seriously until Richard Donner made the very first Superman feature film in 1978, showing audiences that superhero films could be serious in a way that children and adults could both enjoy. After that came Batman in 1989, a film that redefined its central hero for a new era on the screen. Superhero movies have always been hit or miss since then, but in the last ten years, ever since the release of Iron Man, they have seen a massive resurgence in quality and popularity.
People connect with superhero films because they tell classic stories about good guys overcoming the plots of villains to save the world. Not only that, but modern superhero films have also examined the idea of responsibility and the balance of power. they have also explored even deeper themes, like what it really means to serve justice. The villains have become more complex as well, showing that they are not always just bad people wanting to do bad things. In many instances, the villain is someone who wants to make the world better, to bring order to chaos.
Take a look at some of these superhero films and pick your favorites. Then, we'll reveal which superhero film we think is your absolute favorite one!
The Amazing Spider-Man
After Sam Raimi's third Spider-Man film didn't succeed in living up to the success of Spider-Man 2, Sony Pictures decided to reboot the series, beginning with The Amazing Spider-Man. This film, which re-tells the origin story of Spider-Man, finds the web-slinger facing off against one of his greatest villains, The Lizard. The film made money, but the critical reaction was lukewarm at best. Audiences were also confused by why there needed to be a Spider-Man reboot so soon after the more popular series of films came to a close.
X-Men was something of a revelation when it was released all the way back in 2001. It showed audiences and other film studios that superhero movies could actually take their source material seriously and still be highly entertaining. the film told the story of how rogue and Wolverine made their way to Xavier Mansion and ended up joining the famous team of mutants. The film introduced Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, a role he would go on to play for over 15 years.
The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk is the second film in the MCU, and yet it is the one that most people seem to forget about. That may be due to the fact that it actually does not have a lot of connection to the world, including the replacement of lead actor Edward Norton. It did, however, introduce General Thunderbolt Ross, who now plays a much larger role in the overall world of the MCU. It was fun at the time, but standards for superhero films are much higher now.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy was a massive gamble for the MCU. They were taking a team of heroes who were never even all that popular in the comic books, and making them into a multimillion-dollar blockbuster that would somehow fit into the world they had already created with earthbound heroes. The gamble paid off, though, and Guardians of the Galaxy became a huge hit, cementing the popularity of characters like Star-Lord, Groot, and Drax. The retro soundtrack also helped to make it stand out from other films.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Ant-Man and the Wasp was an interesting film, not because of what happened in the film itself, but because of when it came out. It was the first MCU film to follow the massive event that was Avengers: Infinity War. The film, in contrast, told a much smaller (literally) story about the titular superhero and his new crime-fighting partner as they work together to bring Janet Van Dyne back from the quantum realm, as well as keeping Hank Pym's technology out of the wrong hands.
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight is rightly considered to be one o the greatest (if not just the greatest) superhero film ever made. The movie, which followed the events of Batman Begins, raised the bar on what audiences could expect from a superhero film. Batman finds himself facing off against his greatest nemesis, the Joker, as Gotham City dives deeper into chaos and trouble. The film received Academy Awards for film editing, sound editing, and Heath Ledger's memorable and incredible performance as the Joker.
X-Men: First Class
X-Men: First Class is a strange film, in that it first appeared to be a reboot of the entire series, but in reality was actually just a prequel. Then, of course, its place in the X-Men film universe got more complicated as it was revealed that it may have been taking place in an alternate timeline. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender star in the film as Professor X and Magneto, respectively. The story sees the two characters beginning to grow apart due to their opinions on where mutants belong in the world.
Batman Returns was Tim Burton's sequel to the genre-redefining Batman, and it took things even further both stylistically and story wise. In Batman Returns, the Caped Crusader faces two new enemies: The Penguin and Catwoman. However, things become complicated as Bruce Wayne begins to fall for Seline Kyle in his regular life, and the Penguin makes a run for Mayor of Gotham City at the behest of a less-than-reputable businessman. The film was much darker than its predecessor, leading Burton to be replaced by Joel Schumacher.
Justice League was the culmination of two films that had been released in the DCEU: Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The film took great lengths to introduce even more heroes to the roster, with highly mixed results. The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg joined the crew and helped Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman take on the villain, Steppenwolf, who was on a quest to retrieve McGuffins known as motherboxes. The film was met with lukewarm reviews.
The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises was the acclaimed and highly-anticipated sequel to The Dark Knight. In this finale of Christopher Nolan's celebrated Batman trilogy, the Caped Crusader faces off against a villain that seems to have the upper hand for the majority of the film. Bane proves to be a worthy opponent both physically and mentally, as he makes his mark on Gotham by driving the entire city into anarchy and disorder. This film also marked the first appearance of Catwoman in this version of Batman's story.
Thor is one of the most stylistically ambitious films in the first phase of the MCU. The movie was directed by Kenneth Branagh, a man who knows how to imbue a sense of Shakespearean theatricality to a story about an Asgardian prince protecting Earth from his adopted brother. The film also introduced Loki, who has become one of the most popular villains in the entire MCU. He has even had his own character arc over the course of five different films.
Black Panther is more than just a superhero film. It is a certified cultural milestone. Never before had a superhero film featured almost entirely black actors, nor had it linked its hero's story so close to modern social issues. Black Panther continued the story of T'Challa, who was first introduced in Captain America: Civil War. Upon returning to his home country of Wakanda, T'Challa is faced with a new set of challenges, including the villain, Erik Killmonger, who wishes to take the throne for himself.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The First Avenger was the final film in phase 1 of the MCU before The Avengers, and it was a story that needed to be told in order to bring the final member of the super team into the modern era. Before he became a certified superhero, Steve Rogers was just a scrawny kid from Brooklyn who wanted nothing more than to do his part for the world. After being given a super soldier serum, enhanced by vitarays, he gained superhuman strength and endurance which he used to fight against HYDRA.
Wonder Woman was a major success for Warner Bros. and a huge game changer for the DCEU. While it still had some of the same stylistic downfalls as the previous films, it took great strides in making the world of the DCEU much more open and exciting, rather than dark and drab. Diana of Themyscira finds herself taken from Amazonia and dropped into the Great War, where she must fight alongside new allies (including Steve Trevor) while facing off against ancient malevolence.
Superman II is probably one of the most famous superhero sequels ever made. Following the story of the original Richard Donner Superman, Superman II finds Clark Kent and Lois Lane embarking on a romance after she discovers that he is secretly Superman. In order for them to live normal lives, Superman gives up his powers. The only problem is that General Zod and two other Kryptonian criminals have been freed from the Phantom Zone and are attempting to take over Earth. Only Superman can stop them!
Spider-Man 2 is a highly acclaimed sequel, and still holds up as one of the best superhero films ever made. The film opens with Peter Parker firmly taking on his responsibilities as a superhero. The only issue is that it is affecting his everyday life. With the appearance of a new villain in Doctor Octopus, the city needs Spider-Man more than ever. The only problem is that Peter has decided to give up his life as the web-slinger. Will he return to fight Doc Ock and save the day?
Man of Steel
Man of Steel was the first film in the DCEU, setting up Superman as its main character. the film took a much more grounded and darker look at the titular superhero, retelling his origin story and giving him a mission to find himself and decide whether he wants to be the savior of Earth or not. Of course, General Zod once again becomes a problem, coming to Earth in order to take over and find Superman. The film is not beloved by Superman fans.
Batman Begins was the film that kickstarted the entire idea of rebooting superhero films in order to rework them into something more mature and entertaining. The film tells the origin story of Batman, beginning with the loss of his parents and his travels across the globe in order to find meaning. After training with the league of shadows, Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City in order to go on a one-man crusade against crime. He faces off against forces greater than himself with the help of Jim Gordon.
Logan was another genre-redefining film that introduced the idea that R-rated superhero films could, in fact, be profitable and well-received. Logan tells the story of Wolverine, who, years in the future, is finally starting to feel his old-age settling in. Almost every mutant in the world has been taken out, except for Logan, Professor X, and a few others. Logan is tasked with taking a young mutant who possesses his DNA to a safe place where mutants have taken refuge from the world.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
In the second Avengers film, the team takes on one of their greatest foes ever: Ultron. An artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark in order to, in his words, "put a suit of armor around the world," Ultron gains sentience and begins to learn everything there is to know about the world and humans. After giving it some thought, Ultron decides that Earth is better off without people, and plans to take everyone on Earth out. Only the Avengers can stop him, but will they be able to?
Doctor Strange tells the story of Stephen Strange, a fantastic surgeon whose arrogance is matched only by his skills in the operating room. After an accident leaves Strange unable to perform surgery, he goes on a journey to find Kamar-Taj, a hidden temple where Strange could supposedly learn to fix his hands and become a surgeon again. Instead, he ends up learning how to control immense power, along with learning how to use the eye of aggamotto, a relic that allows the user to control time.
Batman Forever is the third film in the original series of Batman movies and the first one directed by Joel Schumacher. It is the film that marks the division between Tim Burton's film's and Schumacher's, and there are a lot of major changes to the story, look, and overall tone of the movies. Batman Forever was a lot campier than its predecessor and tried harder to be kid-friendly. Val Kilmer stepped into the role, replacing Michael Keaton, but it would be his only foray into playing the Caped Crusader.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Amazing Spider-Man may not have been beloved by fans or critics, but it made just enough money at the box office to justify a sequel. Well, that sequel did not do much better than its predecessor in both critic and audience reactions as well as box office receipts. The second film found Peter Parker firmly in his life as Spider-Man and taking on new villains the rhino and electro (although the former appears only briefly at the end of the film, and their battle is left as a cliffhanger for a sequel that never happened).
Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War was a huge event when it came out, serving as something like an Avengers film going by a different name. All of the familiar heroes in the MCU end up taking different sides when presented with legislation that they would need approval before embarking on any missions. This film features one of the best and biggest fight sequences in the entire MCU, with all of the heroes facing off against each other. It also set up events that would greatly affect the story later on.
Thor: The Dark World
Thor: The Dark World, is part of the second phase of MCU films, and though it is often regarded as a low point for the entire series of films in the MCU, it did do one very important thing: in its post-credits scene, which featured Benicio Del Toro as the Collector, the film confirmed the existence of the Infinity Stones in the MCU. While the rest of the film was somewhat forgettable and very flatly directed, this sequence would prove to be a huge cornerstone for the entire MCU.
Tim Burton changed the entire superhero movie game when he made 1989's Batman, starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader and Jack Nicholson as the villainous Joker. The movie was unlike anything audiences had ever seen associated with Batman. Coming out just a few years before the critically acclaimed Batman animated series, the film set a new tone for Batman, one that moved far away from his campy past, particularly the 1960s TV show starring Adam West. The score by Danny Elfman would also be fondly remembered and used again for the animated series.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
It would have been hard to top the ultimately surprising success of the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, but Marvel managed to do it with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The story continued from the first film, with the Guardians now a firmly established team of heroes. Still, their unorthodox methods and tendency to indulge in crimes gets them in trouble, leading them to encounter an enemy unlike any that had ever been seen in the MCU: Ego, the living planet.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
X-Men: Days of Future Past did something that surprised audiences everywhere: it combined both X-Men timelines into one film, establishing that every X-Men film was, in fact, canon. In the movie, the future is plagued by Sentinels, robots that are programmed to find and rid the world of mutants. Utilizing Shadowcat's powers to project consciousness into the past, Wolverine is given the task of ensuring that the sentinels are never built by Oliver Trask. Along the way, he must team up with the younger Charles Xavier, and fight against the young Magneto.
Spider-Man was a revelation. In 2002, superhero films were still not considered to be very high entertainment by the general public. With the release of X-Men in the previous year, suddenly superhero films were being taken seriously again. Spider-Man was the next step, introducing a hero that audiences were able to connect with, one whose personal loss leads him to take on the mantle of a hero. The film is by no means perfect, but it went a long way in inspiring the superhero films that came after it.
Superman was the film that started it all. It brought a superhero to the big screen in a way that had never been seen before. It told the story of Clark's early years on Earth discovering his powers, moving to Metropolis, and becoming the superhero that everyone knows and loves. It also featured Margot Kidder as probably the best on-screen version of Lois Lane there has ever been. The film defined what it meant to make a superhero film, and featured one of the most famous film scores ever by John Williams.
Speaking of films that redefined superhero movies, The Avengers was a massive event and a huge undertaking, and yet when it came out in 2012, it showed the world that it was possible to combine superheroes into one film that could be somehow greater than the sum of its parts. The film that closed out the first phase of the MCU found all of Earth's mightiest heroes teaming up for the first time in order to fight against Loki and an invading alien army.
Ant-Man was a surprisingly fun entry in the second phase of the MCU. Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang, a man who has been in jail for robbery but is finally getting out. However, his "one last job" moment takes him to the home of Hank Pym, where he steals the Ant-Man suit and discovers its power. Rather than pressing charges, Pym recruits Scott to take back the technology that was taken from him by a rival scientist. The film is full of fun moments and inventive fight scenes.
Spider-Man: Homecoming had a huge hill to climb. It was the second attempt at rebooting one of the most popular superheroes for the big screen, and people were understandably skeptical about how well that was going to work. Fortunately, it was widely praised and looked at as being the definitive version of the hero in film. Of course, that first happened in Captain America: Civil War, but Spider-Man: Homecoming gave the wallcrawler his own story, one that saw him facing off against the Vulture and getting advice from Iron Man.
Batman & Robin
Batman & Robin might just be one of the least popular superhero movies ever made in Hollywood. The film, which effectively kept the studio from touching Batman for another seven years, leans heavily into the campy side of the character, following the caped crusader and his sidekick, Robin, as they go up against Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy. The film was so poorly received that director Joel Schumacher has actually apologized for it. At least it helped to launch George Clooney into superstardom.
X2: X-Men United
X2: X-Men United was the first X-Men sequel, and still stands as a great superhero film. It tells its story efficiently and with exciting action and pacing, while still being able to cover deep themes about exclusion and prejudice. The film also featured even more characters than the previous film, yet still never felt like it was putting too much into the story or overstepping its abilities. the film also featured a sad ending that perfectly set up a sequel, albeit a somewhat disappointing one.