Entertainment Best superhero movies: 30 great comic book films to stream
Best superhero movies: 30 great comic book films to stream
What are the best superhero movies? With so many comic book films having released over the past four decades, that’s is a question big enough to even leave most experts’ heads in a spin.
Luckily for you, we’re here to help. Below, we’ve compiled a list of the 30 best superhero theatrical offerings of all-time. A number of our selection have been made by Marvel, DC, and Sony – with the sheer volume of comic book flicks developed since 2002, that’s to be expected. If you want the lowdown on how to watch any of these studio’s movie back catalog, read our Marvel movies in order, DC movies in order, or Spider-Man movies in order guides.
But we digress. This list is all about the best superhero films around, and the latest entry in our article is Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie. In our opinion, it’s the best MCU Phase 4 offering, and you can read more about why that’s the case in a bit.
Black Panther 2, then, joins our carefully curated library of top-tier superhero movies. But let’s waste no more time seeing what those other 29 flicks are. Here are the 30 best superhero movies ever made (in our humble view, of course).
Our first entry is controversial for a few reasons. For one, it’s not technically a superhero movie. You could also argue that it deserves to be higher, based on its awards circuit success – or, due to its controversial elements, not be featured here at all.
But Joker goes where most superhero films fear to, focusing on societal issues like the wealth gap and mental health. It’s an engrossing character study, Joaquin Phoenix putting in a career-defining performance as protagonist Arthur Fleck. It’s more than your typical comic book flick and, while it arguably doesn’t have as much going on below the surface as it professes to, Joker will occupy your mind for days.
It might not be as highly regarded as other DCEU films, but the Zachary Levi-starring Shazam! deserves more credit than it gets.
The movie, which sees teenager Billy Batson (Asher Angel) transform into an adult superhero (Levi) whenever he says “Shazam!”, is full of the humor and heart that some previous DCEU flicks lacked. Tonally, it’s still pretty dark at times, but Shazam never loses sight of what it is: an entertaining flick that champions family, friendship, and gleeful wish fulfilment.
One of our list’s few non-Marvel or DC entries, but a worthy addition nonetheless. M. Night Shyamalan’s first film post-The Sixth Sense, the director’s breakout hit, follows his penchant for suspenseful thrillers with a shocking (but now routine) twist.
While Unbreakable’s ending feels a little hollow, it’s still an intriguing and tense watch, with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson giving excellent performances as a real-life superhero and a man fascinated by them. In an era before filmmakers brought superhero genre tropes to similar real world scenarios, such as 2012’s Chronicle, Unbreakable was ahead of its time.
27. Thor: Ragnarok
Thor’s third solo movie was a marked departure from his previous standalone adventures, but it breathed new life into a character in desperate need of reinvention.
It’s easy to see why director Taika Waititi’s fresh approach gave the God of Thunder his highest-grossing film yet. Colorful backdrops and funny moments blend well with the movie’s more serious story threads, which helps to inject some originality into the Thor trilogy. It also set up Infinity War’s universe-shattering events in its mid-credits scene, so Ragnarok’s wider MCU importance can’t be overlooked.
Yes, a Zack Snyder film makes it in, but not the one you expected (i.e. Justice League). Four years before he directed Man of Steel, Snyder cut his teeth on another massive DC comic book property in Watchmen.
Based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ legendary graphic novel, Watchmen is as faithful an adaptation as we’re ever likely to see. It retained the R-rated content that the source material was famous for, and felt so visceral that it really seemed like the comics had been brought to life – even if some of Snyder’s choices felt a tad lacking.
The film’s altered ending was disappointing, given how accurate the rest of it was and Snyder has since said he’d change it if he could. Still, Watchmen is a great example of an adaptation with impressive ambition, even if it didn’t please everyone – Moore included.
25. Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman was the DCEU’s strongest movie until James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. Set during the Great War, it stars Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, who helps the Allied Forces turn the tide of the conflict and thwart Ares, the god of war, in the process.
Comparable to Captain America: The First Avenger due to its period setting, Wonder Woman does a better job of portraying the gravity and consequences of war. It feels grittier and more hard-hitting than Marvel’s film, but Patty Jenkins’ flick isn’t all gloomy. There’s a lot of humor here and Gadot’s chemistry with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is a particular highlight. If you can look past its lackluster, CGI-heavy finale, Wonder Woman makes for entertaining viewing.
24. The Suicide Squad
The Suicide Squad is Warner Bros’ Guardians of the Galaxy in all-but-name. And, as the latter’s success has proved, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
With an all-star cast including Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, and Joel Kinnaman, The Suicide Squad is a lighter, more heartfelt and violent take on Task Force X than David Ayer’s 2016 movie. It leans into the group’s anarchic side with devilish glee and putting villains front and center is a welcome twist on the superhero genre’s formula. Not bad going for an entry in our best superhero movies list.
23. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1
Not to be outdone by its DCEU counterpart, Gunn’s first MCU movie is the blueprint that The Suicide Squad owes its success to. Led by Chris Pratt’s charismatic Star-Lord, this ragtag group of loners become galactic saviors as they look to halt Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) from committing planetary genocide.
Like The Suicide Squad, Guardians of the Galaxy is packed with jokes, emotional story beats, and solid action sequences. Its charming cast are all on song here, too, catapulting this previously niche band of superheroes into the limelight and making them an important component of the Marvel movie-making machine.
22: X-Men: First Class
Fox’s second X-Men movie – learn how to watch the X-Men movies in order first – series was ultimately marred by some dreadful entries but, early on, it had two of the best movies in the franchise. The first of those was First Class, the Cold War-era film that put the series back on the right path after the dreadful X-Men: The Last Stand.
With a suspense-ridden plot, powerful acting performances, and a stylish retelling of the X-Men origins story, First Class was a welcome return to form for the X-Men film series. It laid the foundations for an even better movie to come, too, before things went downhill soon after.
21. The Incredibles
Animated superhero films are sometimes as good, if not better, than their live-action brethren. And few are as wonderful as Pixar’s The Incredibles.
The CGI flick captures the weight of expectation of being a superpowered being. For Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Frozone, it’s struggling to let go of their crime fighting days. Meanwhile, the children (Violet and ‘Dash’) have to hide their abilities from the world. Thematically, it’s a surprisingly dense film – the movie’s villain, Syndrome, is also afflicted by insecurities.
The Incredibles, though, is far from serious. It’s packed with numerous laugh out loud moments, top-tier animation, and a family-friendly tale that’ll equally entertain adults and kids.
Deadpool may never have been made if its test footage hadn’t leaked online in 2014, but we’re glad it did. The Ryan Reynolds-starring film changed the game when it came to R-rated superhero movies, with Joker and Logan owing their development to this pioneering flick.
An inventive origin story that mocks superhero movies that came before, Deadpool is a superbly self-aware flick that does justice to the Marvel fan favorite. Sure, some of its humor comes across as childish and its ending is fairly standard for a superhero movie. But Deadpool demonstrated that there’s room for mature, radical takes on superheroes, and we’re keen to see more. Thankfully, Deadpool 2 already exists and Deadpool 3, which will exist in the MCU and co-star Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, is in development.
19: X2: X-Men United
Coming three years after their live-action debut, X-Men 2 was bigger and bolder than its predecessor. Building on the plot threads laid out in 2000’s X-Men, X-Men 2 introduced more fan favorite mutants, upped the stakes (and action sequences), and its cliffhanger ending teased the arrival of the Dark Phoenix, aka Jean Grey’s villainous persona.
X-Men 2 has been surpassed by other X-Men movies since. For its time, however, it was the benchmark for similar movies moving forward (until Spider-Man 2, at least) and a rare example of a comic book film that bettered its older sibling.
18. Iron Man
Iron Man kickstarted the MCU in 2008 and Marvel hasn’t looked back since. Robert Downey Jr’s electric and charismatic portrayal of Tony Stark has received plenty of plaudits, but the film as a whole is a surprising spectacle. It possesses a strong supporting cast, quality CGI that still holds up, and feels grounded for a movie centered on a billionaire arms dealer-turned-superhero.
Above all, though, Iron Man was just fun. There’s a zestfulness to it that runs through subsequent MCU movies and, while it isn’t perfect (its final battle isn’t great), it pioneered the blueprint on which all Marvel films are built. A welcome addition to this best superhero movies article.
17. Superman: The Movie
The oldest movie on our list, but Christopher Reeve’s first appearance as the Man of Steel remains our favorite Superman movie to date.
Yes, it looks dated compared to modern superhero movies and some of its dialog is corny. But, for its time, Superman was a crowd pleaser that blended comedy and drama in a way that other movies seldom could. It’s old fashioned in its approach but that’s what makes it great. Superman is an old fashioned creation – he was created in the 1940s – and Superman: The Movie reflects that. It was, and still is, a nostalgic tribute to one of DC Comics’ most iconic heroes.
16. X-Men: Days of Future Part
Arriving two years after The Avengers, this time-spanning team-up between different X-Men groups is a dazzling entry in Fox’s now defunct universe. Days of Future Past combined the best elements of the series – namely, its two first-rate casts – and provided each character with a moment in the sun.
For a flick that contains 19 superheroes spread across different time periods, that’s no small feat. Add in a satisfying story that’s revisionist in bringing dead characters back to life (we’re still not over Xavier’s death in The Last Stand), Days of Future Past is a terrific fan service-style superhero film.
15. Captain America: Civil War
With tensions bubbling under the surface since The Avengers, the Russo brothers used their second Marvel movie to tear the superhero group apart in devastating fashion.
A mini-Avengers movie, Captain America: Civil War is the cinematic showdown that we didn’t know we needed. Like Days of Future Past, it juggles the MCU’s superhero lineup with aplomb. It even has time to introduce Black Panther and Spider-Man, making them feel part of this world ahead of their own first solo outings.
With thought-provoking themes surrounding family and friendship, and a number of top quality set pieces, Civil War maintained the MCU’s push to become the world’s biggest film series.
14. Batman Returns
With the first film’s experience under his belt, Burton’s second Batman outing – read out how to watch the Batman movies in order with our help – was an equally dark but more entertaining spectacle. Keaton captures what makes Batman such a complex character but, again, it’s the movie’s supporting cast that outshines him.
Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito, and Christopher Walken’s performances as Catwoman, The Penguin, and Max Shreck remain iconic to this day, providing a mix of playful seduction, horror-like threat, and whimsicality to proceedings. It’s a pity, then, that we didn’t see some of these characters in a sequel, instead receiving a lesser movie (sans Keaton) in 1995’s Batman Forever.
Hugh Jackman saved his finest Wolverine performance for his swansong (that’s until he signed onto Deadpool 3, anyway) in this R-rated spin-off.
A gritty, violent and poignant flick, Logan is viewed by many as the true ending to Fox’s X-Men series. Thematically, it’s a heavy movie, but it needs to be: Logan is a more intimate tale than previous X-Men movies and, consequently, takes the time to really dig into the character’s motives and moral compass.
Ably supported by the ever-superb Sir Patrick Stewart and newcomer Dafne Keen, Jackman and company deliver the best X-Men film ever, and a solid entry in our best superhero movies guide, in heartbreaking and at-times ultra-violent fashion.
12. Spider-Man: No Way Home
Some may argue against Spider-Man: No Way Home featuring so high on our list, or the fact that it beats out 2002’s Spider-Man for a place here at all.
But there are many reasons why the latest entry in Tom Holland’s webslinger escapades makes it into this guide. From the return of iconic villains in Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock and its heartwrenching tale, to its superb humor to those brutal battles and exploration of Spidey’s darker side, No Way Home is a true celebration of everything that’s great about Spider-Man. It’s just brimming with fan service.
Add in cameos from those two characters – if you know, you know – and No Way Home just had to make our best superhero movies list. Another Spider-Man film may have explored the wallcrawler’s multiverse first (and arguably better, too – but more on this later) but No Way Home is an excellent MCU entry that superbly honors Spidey’s silver screen adventures.
11. The Avengers
A groundbreaking moment for the genre, The Avengers showed that superhero movies can deliver a spectacle to rival any film. Witty and action-packed, Joss Whedon’s team-up flick is a pulsating ride that knows when to ease off the gas or go full throttle. Each hero gets opportunities to showcase their talents and, in bringing the mischievous Loki back into the fold, solidified the trickster god as the MCU’s first truly great villain.
The Avengers really is a Marvel fan’s dream, but its ability to appeal to a mass audience is also what’s helped to make the MCU such a cinematic juggernaut. It changed the game and proved that superhero team-ups can work on the silver screen.
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The MCU didn’t require a refresh in 2014, but Cap’s second solo movie gave it one anyway. An espionage thriller wrapped in superhero clothing, The Winter Soldier was the first Marvel movie to truly dabble in another genre.
And, somewhat surprisingly, it worked. The Winter Soldier allowed the MCU to take a step back from its previously CGI-heavy visuals to focus on greater character development, political intrigue, and frenetic close-quarters combat. Few Marvel films have come close to replicating The Winter Soldier’s realism, even in a world of superheroes, which makes it a standout MCU entry.
9. Black Panther
A cultural phenomenon, Black Panther’s impact extends far beyond that of superhero movies. It transcended the genre as much as it embraced traditional superhero fare, offering representation to Black viewers who, Blade aside, didn’t have a live-action superhero to call their own.
Iconic performances from the late Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa and Michael B. Jordan’s Eric Killmonger will live long in the memory. But Black Panther is more than its protagonist and villain’s Shakespearean tale: it’s an emboldening and electrifying triumph for Black filmmakers, actors, crew members and viewers worldwide. And that should always be celebrated.
8. Batman Begins
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is the closest thing we’ll get to Batman in real life. Although, in our view, a more recent Batman offering (more on that in a moment) runs it close.
Batman Begins is a smart, compelling, and brooding neo-noir adaptation that definitively captures the character’s essence, psychology, and motivations in minute detail. It’s these elements that sets Nolan’s trilogy apart from other Batman productions, despite it being another retelling of the character’s origin story.
It wouldn’t be long until it was usurped by its successor, and it isn’t a faultless film (Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes’ interactions lack chemistry). But Batman Begins is a brilliant movie that offered a different cinematic take on the icon to what we’d seen before. A worthy entry in our best superhero movies list.
7. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Widely considered the best Spider-Man film until very recently, Spider-Man 2 has everything you’d want from a superhero flick.
Boasting one of the genre’s most tragic and complex villains in Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock, Spider-Man 2 is an emotionally gripping story about father figures and letting go of the past. Hugely satisfying set pieces (that train fight sequence is truly exceptional), too, make for a great spectacle. Few movies, superhero-based or otherwise, can match its blend of action, comedy, horror, and drama. It’s just a shame that Spider-Man 3 couldn’t elevate Sam Raimi’s trilogy even further.
6. The Batman
There have been plenty of top-tier Batman movie offerings down the years – there’s still one more to come in this list, too – but few can hold a candle to Matt Reeves’ 2022 film adaptation.
The Batman, which stars Robert Pattinson as the titular superhero, is a stupendous flick that just gets everything that’s great about the vigilante. From its authentic portrayal of the superhero’s detective skills – an often overlooked aspect of the character in previous movies – and its soaring score, to its thematic resonance, powerful acting performances, and brutal action, The Batman has laid down a marker that all future Batman flicks must meet.
5. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
At first glance, it might seem odd to place this one – read our spoiler-free Black Panther: Wakanda Forever review – above its predecessor. After all, 2018’s Black Panther set a revolutionary benchmark for Marvel films and the wider superhero genre.
But Black Panther 2 has a lot of vital things going for it that make it (in our view, anyway) a superior movie to its older sibling. Boseman’s death (and T’Challa’s by proxy) is the emotionally gripping plot device that narratively drives it forward to cathartic effect. The film’s ensemble cast all elevate their performances way above what they’re capable – Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, and Angela Bassett delivering particularly powerful and raw performances throughout.
Wakanda Forever’s doubling down on representation in superhero projects – the inclusion of mutant anti-hero Namor and Mesoamerican culture, traditions, and heritage are as important as the first film’s celebration of Black communities – and stylized blend of humor, heartbreak, action, and drama are equally impressive. A movie that stands head and shoulders above many of its contemporaries, all the while exploring sisterhood, maternal relationships, and overcoming grief in a beautiful manner.
4. Avengers: Endgame
Delivering a highly satisfying conclusion to the MCU’s Infinity Saga, Avengers: Endgame is as absorbing, moving, and joyful as fans hoped it would be. Its three-hour runtime flies by whether you’re watching for the first or 50th time – proof it’s a well-paced movie that slaloms intricately through its numerous story threads, action sequences, and more intimate moments.
Endgame is a victory lap for the MCU’s most beloved heroes and, with plenty of fan service that both diehard and more casual fans will revel in, it’s a fitting end to the MCU’s first decade.
3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse had no right to be as wonderful as it is. And yet here it is, beating the likes of Endgame to enter our top three.
Its eye-popping comic book-inspired art style is a huge reason why, but it isn’t the only one. Into the Spider-Verse is hilarious, inventive, heartfelt, and full of exhilarating action sequences. It even tackled the idea of the multiverse long before Marvel Studios did, which is no small feat for a movie that exists away from the MCU. There’s only one Spider-Man film that could potentially overtake it in our list – and that’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, this franchise’s forthcoming sequel.
2. The Dark Knight
One of the best superhero movies ever made, The Dark Knight is a rich, thrilling crime drama that grabs your attention and refuses to let go as it builds towards its nightmarish and tragic conclusion.
The late Heath Ledger’s Joker is the firecracker that ignites The Dark Knight, elevating it from a very good superhero flick to an all-time explosive blockbuster within its 152-minute runtime.
To only mention Ledger’s performance, though, is a disservice to the rest of the cast, crew, and Nolan’s meticulous crafting of a tense and massive-scale superhero movie. It’s deeper and more evocative than its predecessor, and set a new standard for how any film – not just those from the superhero genre – should be designed, developed, shot, and produced.
1. Avengers: Infinity War
The cream of the crop. Avengers: Infinity War is a sweeping superhero masterpiece that juggles the MCU’s dizzying assemblage of heroes as they attempt to thwart Thanos’ genocidal plan in a race against time.
The result is a hugely thrilling but ultimately harrowing film where, in a rare occurrence, the villain is victorious. It’s a shocking play by the Russo brothers, directing their fourth Marvel movie, and provided the MCU with its most traumatic and memorable finale ever.
With its emotionally complex antagonist, intimate and extravagant battles, pulsating score, and jaw-dropping sequel set-up, Infinity War is a wildly ambitious superhero film. A grandiose movie that hits the right notes despite its innumerable moving parts. Put simply, it’s one of the best superhero movies, if not the best, ever.