ADVERTISEMENT

The 21st century is definitely the age of superhero movies. TV shows and comic book adaptations have been the dominant genre at the box office for over two decades. But how are superheroes so popular? What is it about them that attracts audiences of all ages? For many fans, the answer comes down to wish fulfillment. These characters represent the best in us, often standing up for justice and equality. They’re also incredibly powerful, sometimes even immortal. In short, they seem to be everything we’d like to be.

When superhero films first hit the big screen in the 1970s, they were primarily aimed at children. The Superman films starring Christopher Reeve were bright and colorful, full of action but somewhat campy. Over time, however, superhero films have evolved. They’ve become darker and more serious; modern films like Logan and The Dark Knight show us more complex heroes who struggle with their own identities as well as external forces. This is something we can all relate to in some way. After all, who hasn’t felt like an outcast or struggled with doubt?

Marvel and DC undoubtedly paved the way for the superhero movies of this generation with dozens of films under their belt, but they’re not the only ones. Each entry on our list represents a new high watermark in what hero movies can be. Some were box-office hits. Some were critically acclaimed. Some did both. Others flew under the radar despite being some of the best superhero movies ever made. But all of them are essential viewing for fans of comic book characters in film. Enjoy!

#1

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

2008 | 2h 32m | Directed by Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins was a breath of fresh air in 2005, the first in a spate of superhero origin stories that rethought and redefined what made a good comic book movie. But it’s 2008’s The Dark Knight that stands out as Nolan’s best. Nolan takes the Batman mythos, which is so well known by millions of fans worldwide, and makes it fresh and original. He gives us a new take on the character while at the same time making him true to his comic book origins. Bale and Oldman are awesome, but the late Heath Ledger gives an award-winning performance as the Joker.

amazon.com Report

ADVERTISEMENT
#2

The Avengers

The Avengers

2012 | 2h 23m | Directed by Joss Whedon

The Avengers shattered records upon its release in 2012. The film, which unites Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye, is an action-adventure spectacle that puts its heroes through seemingly impossible challenges before allowing them to triumph against all odds. The Avengers is everything that film geeks could have possibly wanted out of a big superhero crossover movie. It’s funny, thrilling, and delivers powerful visuals and action sequences.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
capi_92 avatar
Pilar
Community Member
1 year ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

For me, the best of the first superhero crossover movies, never get tired of rewatching it.

View more commentsArrow down menu
#3

Spider-Man 2

Spider-Man 2

2004 | 2h 7m | Directed by Sam Raimi

There aren’t many movies out there that can succeed in making a super good sequel. But Spider-Man 2 is not only one of the best superhero movies; it’s one of the best movies, period. It’s got everything you want in a comic book adaptation: great action and effects, plus a healthy dose of humor. But Sam Raimi, who directed the whole trilogy, also found time to explore Peter’s emotions and nailed his coming-of-age story.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
ADVERTISEMENT
#4

Logan

Logan

2017 | 2h 17m | Directed by James Mangold

Logan takes place in 2029 when Wolverine and an aging Charles Xavier are the last mutants around. It’s a dark film that showcases Hugh Jackman’s acting abilities, and it’s definitely not appropriate for kids. Logan still remains a cinematic masterpiece. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a superhero movie as well-written, acted, or directed as this one. It has a serious tone and isn’t your typical “happy-go-lucky” hero flick. It’s very much in the same vein as Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
brook3bt avatar
BrookeBT
Community Member
1 year ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

This may be the greatest movie on this list. Now, try convincing your mom to watch it. So there's this guy and he's like 200 years old and has metal claws that come out of his hands, and his best friend is a father figure whose brain is so powerful that he can control everything in the world but he also has dementia, and there is also this girl (she also has metal claws) that is running away from ICE so she can get to Canada. It's a father-daughter western!

ADVERTISEMENT
#5

Iron Man

Iron Man

2008 | 2h 6m | Directed by Jon Favreau
 

The one that started it all, and for a good reason. Marvel’s first foray into the MCU was a huge risk, as Iron Man wasn’t exactly a household name at the time. But thanks to Robert Downey Jr.’s incredible charisma and swagger, Tony Stark was finally brought to life in a way that could truly rival Batman on the big screen. The movie managed to balance character development, humor, and action while setting up the larger story that would come to define the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#6

The Incredibles

The Incredibles

2004 | 1h 55m | Directed by Brad Bird

The Incredibles is the superhero movie we deserve right now, with a killer blend of nostalgia, excitement, humor, and heart. The film taps into our love of costumed heroes and the classic family dynamic while also cleverly subverting both. This Pixar movie is geared toward older children and adults, but the hero action will keep young kids riveted and may even inspire them to do their homework so they can grow up to be superheroes themselves.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
ADVERTISEMENT
#7

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming

2017 | 2h 13m | Directed by Jon Watts

If you were worried that Spider-Man: Homecoming would be just another retread, don’t be. This is a fresh, breezy take on our favorite wall-crawler, with enough humor to keep it light and a real sense of fun as Spider-Man takes to the skies in his first Marvel Cinematic Universe adventure. It’s also a refreshingly teen-focused take on the character, especially after Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield played him as someone approaching their mid-20s.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#8

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

2017 | 2h 21m | Directed by Patty Jenkins

With 29 wins and 72 nominations, Wonder Woman is the highly acclaimed movie starring Gal Gadot. Gal Gadot almost gave up on her acting career before getting this role. When she was told that she was short-listed to play Wonder Woman, she was floored at the idea of playing the iconic superhero and eagerly agreed to participate. She did an excellent job as Wonder Woman, and the supporting cast helps make the story feel fresh again.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
#9

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

2014 | 2h 16m | Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

In between all the trademark gallows humor and winking references to other Marvel products, Captain America: The Winter Soldier tackles themes like government surveillance and political intrigue with a surprisingly deft touch. But on top of all that, it’s also just a damn good action movie, with some of the greatest fight scenes to date. It’s also got one of Marvel’s best villains so far in The Winter Soldier himself, aka Cap’s old best friend, Bucky Barnes.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#10

Spider-Man

Spider-Man

2002 | 2h 1m | Directed by Sam Raimi

An all-time favorite for many young fans who grew up with Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man. The first of the modern superhero movie era, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man set the template for a new generation of comic book movies. It also proved that big expectations could be met with the right mix of talent and story, as Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and Willem Dafoe all brought their A-game.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#11

Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok

2017 | 2h 10m | Directed by Taika Waititi
 

The third Thor title from Marvel Studios found director Taika Waititi injecting some much-needed humor into the franchise, resulting in a film with everything from quirky visual gags to laugh-out-loud scenes. The film also brought together a host of the studio’s heroes for an epic intergalactic adventure that saw Thor teaming up with Hulk and Loki for one of the most entertaining Marvel films.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#12

Black Panther

Black Panther

2018 | 2h 14m | Directed by Ryan Coogler

Black Panther is a movie that finally brings some much-needed diversity to the superhero genre, both behind and in front of the camera, and shows just how good things can be when you let people do their thing. In a film full of great performances (Michael B. Jordan as the villainous Killmonger, Lupita Nyong’o as the warrior Nakia, Danai Gurira as Okoye), it’s Chadwick Boseman who steals the show as the title character.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#13

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War

2016 | 2h 27m | Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Captain America: Civil War gifted us with something pretty new; a clash between heroes on opposing sides, following the government’s decision to pass on a law that would regulate and limit the Avengers’ activities. It’s a far cry from the relatively simple “Good vs. Evil” conflicts we’re used to seeing in Marvel movies, and it allowed for some unexpected alliances and more nuanced characters.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#14

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Guardians Of The Galaxy

2014 | 2h 1m | Directed by James Gunn

Guardians Of The Galaxy is undoubtedly one of the funniest sci-fi movies ever produced by Marvel, which is saying a lot. The film’s sense of humor is partially fueled by its “‘80s-ness.” This allows it to poke fun at itself as often as it can. The film introduces us to Peter Quill, who was abducted from Earth in 1988 and raised by a group of intergalactic thieves and smugglers called the Ravagers.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#15

Superman

Superman

1978 | 2h 23m | Directed by Richard Donner

The original Superman could be regarded as the ancestor of every good superhero movie out there. Like most origin stories, it’s a bit slow in places, but thanks to an iconic performance from Christopher Reeve, it’s still an all-time classic. This wholesome and optimistic hero had everything, from kindness to a sense of humor, and has been sometimes considered “too good to be true”. But who cares? He’s an icon for a reason.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#16

Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger

2011 | 2h 4m | Directed by Joe Johnston
 

In this World War II-set adventure, Chris Evans stars as Steve Rogers, a scrawny New York man who wants to fight for his country despite his ill health. He volunteers to get injected with an experimental serum which gives him the superhuman powers that will later make him Captain America, the star-spangled hero we all know and love. He then embarks on a journey all over Europe to battle a secret Nazi organization led by Johann Schmidt.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#17

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

2018 | 1h 57m | Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse takes our favorite wall crawler on a trip across the multiverse, colliding with various versions of Spider-Man along the way. Miles Morales is the Spider-Man of his universe and must join forces with his counterparts from other dimensions to stop a common danger that threatens every reality. Each brings their own flavor to the table, but it’s newcomer Morales who proves himself to be a worthy successor to Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Peter Parker.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#18

X2: X-Men United

X2: X-Men United

2003 | 2h 14m | Directed by Bryan Singer

X2: X-Men United is the sequel to Bryan Singer’s X-Men. This sequel takes the elements that worked from the first film, improves them, and adds new characters that just work. The whole cast is great, with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Ian McKellen’s Magneto stealing every scene they’re in. But the real star is director Bryan Singer, who somehow manages to juggle so many characters and subplots that the movie never feels crowded or rushed.

amazon.com Report

#19

Batman Begins

Batman Begins

2005 | 2h 20m | Directed by Christopher Nolan

Batman Begins takes the viewer back to Batman’s beginnings and explains the emergence of the Dark Knight as a hero who fights for Gotham City. Following his parents’ murder, the now-billionaire Bruce Wayne travels the world searching for a way to fight injustice. Once back in Gotham, he unveils his alter-ego: Batman, a masked crusader who uses his brawn, brains, and high-tech tricks to fight the sinister forces threatening the city.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#20

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

2008 | 2h | Directed by Guillermo Del Toro

A sequel to the 2004 film Hellboy, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is written and directed by Guillermo del Toro and stars Ron Perlman reprising his starring role as the eponymous character. The movie is about an ancient truce between humankind and a mythical realm, broken when the latter’s crown prince revolts against humanity. Hellboy and his team must save Earth from an impending apocalypse.

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#26

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#27

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#33

Batman: Under The Red Hood

Batman: Under The Red Hood

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#41

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#43

The Powerpuff Girls Movie

The Powerpuff Girls Movie

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#45

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#48

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man: Far From Home

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#49

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man: No Way Home

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#50

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#52

Fantastic Four (2005)

Fantastic Four (2005)

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#54

The Last Airbender

The Last Airbender

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#59

X-Men: Days Of Future Past

X-Men: Days Of Future Past

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#60

The LEGO Batman Movie

The LEGO Batman Movie

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#61

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#63

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#64

Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm

Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
See Also on Bored Panda
#69

X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#70

Superman Returns

Superman Returns

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
brook3bt avatar
BrookeBT
Community Member
1 year ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Good movie, but it's basically Superman lifting increasingly heavier things

#71

Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#72

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
See Also on Bored Panda
#77

Ant-Man And The Wasp

Ant-Man And The Wasp

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#79

The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#82

Batman: The Movie (1966)

Batman: The Movie (1966)

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#85

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
See Also on Bored Panda
#87

Punisher: War Zone

Punisher: War Zone

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#89

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#91

Justice League Dark

Justice League Dark

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#94

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
See Also on Bored Panda
#98

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#99

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#100

Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman 1984

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#104

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#105

Fantastic Four (2015)

Fantastic Four (2015)

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
See Also on Bored Panda
#111

The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#116

Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance

Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
See Also on Bored Panda
#118

Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#120

Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad (2016)

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#123

G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra

G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#124

The Suicide Squad (2021)

The Suicide Squad (2021)

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#126

Batman: The Killing Joke

Batman: The Killing Joke

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
See Also on Bored Panda
#127

Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#129

X-Men: The Last Stand

X-Men: The Last Stand

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST
#130

X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse

amazon.com Report

Add photo comments
POST