Posted on March 4, 2016 by Kelsey Warner
The concept of superheroes and their alternate worlds attracts an almost universal interest. As self-made superhero Dave Lizewski from the film Kick-Ass speculates, “At some point in our lives, we all want to be a superhero.” This hits close to our modern, near-rabid fascination with superheroes. Initially fueled during dark times such as the Great Depression and World War II, the superhero invention creates a medium to project our mortal fantasies and imagine a limitless world. These larger-than-life characters engage in the classic battle of good against evil, and the modern creations increasingly dominate the film industry.
Some say that the success and creativity behind superhero franchises are “saving Hollywood.” In the next few years, the planned release of more likely-blockbuster superhero films will hammer this point home. Some predict the upcoming release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice to have a record-breaking weekend. The superhero genre is now established far beyond just comic books, and could be setting a new precedent for the entertainment industry.
The team at PrettyFamous queried its movie database for the top superhero films. They are ranked according to our Smart Rating, which combines scores from Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, Metacritic and Gracenote. This list contains the best films that exemplify the superhero genre — and sometimes — challenge it.
- 35. Unbreakable
- 34. Megamind
- 33. Thor
- 32. The Mask of Zorro
- 31. Hellboy
- 30. The Amazing Spider-Man
- 29. Captain America: The First Avenger
- 28. Batman Returns
- 27. Chronicle
- 26. Iron Man 3
- 25. Kick-Ass
- 24. Batman
- 23. X-Men
- 22. Avengers: Age of Ultron
- 21. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
- 20. Ant-Man
- 19. Spider-Man
- 18. X2
- 17. X-Men: First Class
- 16. The Crow
- 15. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- 14. Deadpool
- 13. Batman Begins
- 12. Spider-Man 2
- 11. X-Men: Days of Future Past
- 10. Guardians of the Galaxy
- 9. Superman II
- 8. The Dark Knight Rises
- 7. Iron Man
- 6. Big Hero 6
- 5. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
- 4. The Incredibles
- 3. Superman: The Movie
- 2. Marvel’s the Avengers
- 1. The Dark Knight
Smart Rating: 83.63
Unbreakable, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is an unconventional modern superhero tale with a classic Shyamalan twist. Although not based on a comic book, it features other-worldly powers and a classic tale of good-against-evil archetypes.
Smart Rating: 83.78
Megamind, one of the three animated films to make the list, plays against superhero standards by placing the classic villain (Will Ferrell) as the film’s protagonist. This comedy includes the voices of Brad Pitt, Tina Fey and Jonah Hill.
Smart Rating: 83.92
32. The Mask of Zorro
Smart Rating: 84.33
Although not the typical superhero film, The Mask of Zorro, set in 1800s California, contains the classic evil and good archetypes and a hero with a hidden identity. The film follows the story of Zorro, now an aged masked outlaw, as he trains a successor, played by Antonio Banderas, to serve a dish of cold revenge.
Smart Rating: 84.37
Hellboy, a Dark Horse Comics adaptation, features a Nazi-summoned half-demon, played by Ron Perlman, who fights crime under the jurisdiction of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. He must reconcile his demonic roots with his desire to fight for good.
30. The Amazing Spider-Man
Smart Rating: 84.60
The Amazing Spider-Man, a reboot of the Marvel Comics film adaptation, portrays the creation of Spider-Man, played by Andrew Garfield, and his battle against The Lizard, a genetic-biologist-turned-lizard-man played by Rhys Ifans. The film release coincided with a generally well-received video game of the same name.
29. Captain America: The First Avenger
Smart Rating: 84.62
Captain America: The First Avenger, explores the beginnings of Captain America, a patriotic Marvel Comics invention. Captain America, played by Chris Evans, emerges from World War II super soldier experiments to fight Nazis and terrorists.
28. Batman Returns
Smart Rating: 85.34
Batman Returns, one of the many Batman adaptations, contains the signature quirkiness of director Tim Burton. Batman, played by Michael Keaton, must battle the Penguin and Catwoman to protect fictional Gotham City.
Smart Rating: 85.52
Chronicle follows a group of friends that receive telekinetic abilities. This superhero and coming-of-age hybrid is filmed in the found footage style.
26. Iron Man 3
Smart Rating: 85.58
Smart Rating: 85.97
Kick-Ass, an ultra-violent, R-rated superhero film, contains no supernatural powers, instead focusing on costumed vigilantes as they confront a mafia boss and a costumed villain. The 2013 sequel did not fare well with critics and film critic Ali Arikan named it “one of the year’s worst films.”
Smart Rating: 86.23
This 1989 Batman adaptation features the Joker, played by Jack Nicholson, as the villain who terrorizes the city of Gotham. The film won an Academy Award for best art direction.
Smart Rating: 86.39
X-Men, the first in the live-action adaptations of the Marvel Comics series, follows a group of humans that have superhero powers and are ostracized from the general population. Some view the mutant theme as a disguised commentary on racism or anti-Semitism.
22. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Smart Rating: 86.44
Avengers: Age of Ultron, the second film in the Marvel Avengers series, features a team of superheroes that must stop an artificial intelligence peacekeeping program that turns rogue. This film made over $1 billion at the box office in its first 24 days.
21. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Smart Rating: 86.47
Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the final film in the series, follows Hellboy as he must stop a powerful, mechanical army built by elves. Hellboy’s relationship with his girlfriend Liz, played by Selma Blair, is a focal point in the plot.
Smart Rating: 86.70
Ant-Man, another Marvel Comics adaptation, follows thief Scott Lang, played by Paul Rudd, as he encounters and utilizes a suit with shrinking technology in order to stop forces of evil. The producers took special care to create an accurate portrayal of ants, which Lang learns to control.
Smart Rating: 86.75
Spider-Man, the first film in the original Marvel Comics film trilogy, follows teen Peter Parker, played by Tobey Maguire, as he receives powers from a radioactive spider and must defeat the Green Goblin, played by Willem Dafoe.
Smart Rating: 87.85
17. X-Men: First Class
Smart Rating: 88.06
X-Men: First Class, acts as a prequel to the popular X-Men films as it explores the origin story of the main mutant groups, the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants. The relationship between Professor Charles Xavier, played by James McAvoy, and Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender, drives aspects of the plot.
16. The Crow
Smart Rating: 88.20
The Crow, based off the comic series by Caliber Comics, is a dark twist on the superhero tale where the protagonist Eric Draven and his fiance are murdered. He is resurrected a year later and pursues a grisly mission of revenge. Brandon Lee, who starred as Draven, died on the set as a result of an accidental gun discharge.
15. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Smart Rating: 89.57
Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a well-received sequel, follows Captain America as he struggles to adapt to modern times and uncovers a conspiracy with the help of the Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson, and Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie.
Smart Rating: 89.89
Deadpool, the critically-acclaimed antithesis to the superhero mold, features Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, who receives superpowers through secret experiments that also permanently disfigure him. He seeks to restore his appearance and exact revenge.
13. Batman Begins
Smart Rating: 89.91
Batman Begins, the first film in the latest Batman reboot by Christopher Nolan, explores the origin story of Batman, played by Christian Bale. The antagonist is the Scarecrow, played by Cillian Murphy.
12. Spider-Man 2
Smart Rating: 89.92
Tobey Maguire reprises the role of Spider-Man in this 2004 sequel. He must stop Doctor Octopus, a mad scientist, from destroying the city while also seeking a work-life balance.
11. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Smart Rating: 90.47
X-Men: Days of Future Past, the seventh and highest-rated film in the X-Men series, follows Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman, as he travels back to the past in order to save mankind. This film takes place before X-Men: First Class.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy
Smart Rating: 90.93
Guardians of the Galaxy, a science fiction-esque superhero film based on Marvel Comics, follows space explorer Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt, as he teams up with aliens in order to save the universe.
9. Superman II
Smart Rating: 91.01
Superman II is the second film in the DC Comics series. Superman, played by Christopher Reeve, must stop criminals from his home planet, Krypton, from destroying Earth.
8. The Dark Knight Rises
Smart Rating: 91.08
The Dark Knight Rises, the final film in the Batman reboot trilogy, features Bane, played by Tom Hardy, as the main antagonist. Batman, played by Christian Bale, must come to terms with his past errors and once again rescue the city of Gotham.
7. Iron Man
Smart Rating: 91.30
Iron Man, the first film in this Marvel Comics trilogy, explores the creation of the signature weaponized suit by Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr. Using his Iron Man suit, Stark pursues terrorist operations.
6. Big Hero 6
Smart Rating: 92.89
Big Hero 6, an animated adaptation of a Marvel Comics series of the same name, follows the adventures of a young robotics enthusiast who uses his skills to create a powerful robot and teams up with other intelligent friends.
5. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Smart Rating: 93.03
This film is another of the unconventional superhero films as it reflects on the life of an actor known for his role as Birdman, a superhero. It follows past-his-prime Riggan Thomson, played by Michael Keaton, as he attempts to reinvigorate his career. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) won Oscars for best picture, best cinematography, best original screenplay, and best director.
4. The Incredibles
Smart Rating: 93.12
The Incredibles, a Pixar animated film, live in a world where superpowers are banned but the family must band together and use their powers to defeat a villain. It won Academy Awards for best animated film and best sound editing.
3. Superman: The Movie
Smart Rating: 93.22
Superman: The Movie, the first of the Superman films featuring Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman, covers the origin story and introduces love interest Lois Lane, played by Margot Kidder. Superman must defeat evil mastermind, Lex Luthor, played by Gene Hackman.
2. Marvel’s the Avengers
Smart Rating: 93.37
Marvel’s The Avengers, marks the first convergence of superhero films based in the Marvel universe. The heroes included are Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, the Black Widow and Hawkeye. Their goal is to stop Loki, Thor’s brother, from aiding in an alien attack against earth. The film earned over $1 billion at the box office in the first 19 days.
1. The Dark Knight
Smart Rating: 96.44
The Dark Knight tops the list as the highest rated superhero film. The second and most successful of the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman reboot, Batman (Christian Bale) and Harvey “Two-Face” Dent (Aaron Eckhart) attempt to end organized crime. The Joker, played by Heath Ledger, turns the conflict into a life-or-death situation that tests the moral limits of Batman and Dent. It was the first Warner Bros. Pictures film to cross the $1 billion mark in sales. Heath Ledger died before the film’s release but won a posthumous Oscar for best supporting actor.