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Top 10 Classic Superhero Movies

VO: Dan Paradis

Written by Spencer Sher

Holy Retro Superheroes Batman! Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Classic Superhero Movies.

For this list, we will be looking at the best superhero films that were produced before 1990.

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Special thanks to our users GreenArrowHunter and whysosirius for suggesting this idea, check out the voting page at http://WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top+10+Superhero+Movies+of+the+1980s

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Top 10 Classic Superhero Movies

Holy Retro Superheroes Batman! Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Classic Superhero Movies.

For this list, we will be looking at the best superhero films that were produced before 1990.

#10: “Swamp Thing” (1982)


Written and directed by horror master Wes Craven, this unconventional superhero film flipped the genre upside-down. Together with his sister Linda, Dr. Alec Holland works on a top-secret science experiment in the swamps of Louisiana. After being exposed to his own chemicals, Holland becomes “Swamp Thing” - a mutated plant creature with extraordinary strength. While this film may not be on par with the Batmans and Supermans of the world, it does remain a classic B-movie filled with fantastic moments of campy humor and gross-out action sequences. Good enough to spawn a sequel, “Swamp Thing” remains true to itself, never trying to outdo other films in its genre.


#9: “The Toxic Avenger” (1984)


This Herz / Kaufman classic is loaded with violence, gore and casual nudity, this isn’t your typical superhero movie. After falling into a vat of toxic waste, a meek health club janitor gains incredible size and strength, which he uses to battle the towns immense crime syndicate. While the film didn’t fair well during its initial release, it gained notoriety during a lengthy run at New York City’s Bleecker Street Cinemas - a well-known art house movie theater prone to showing independent films. Filled with gross-out humor and B-movie violence, this unusual superhero flick spawned multiple sequels en route to becoming one of the '80s most remarkable cult films.


#8: “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” (1984)


Um. Yeah. This thing. Has there ever been a stranger film that embodies the characteristics of the superhero genre? When Dr. Buckaroo Banzai, a rock star with a penchant for physics, builds a jet car with the ability to break the speed of sound, all hell breaks loose on Earth. Forced to do battle with the evil Red Lectroids, Buckaroo and his trusty pals, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, use everything at their disposal to vanquish their newfound foes. Barely making back 1/3 of the original budget, this peculiar flick quickly achieved cult status for its strange plot, unique characters and straight-up insane title. While it may not have won any awards, the sheer fact that it was made is worthy of recognition.


#7: “Batman: The Movie” (1966)


The first feature length flick to focus on the Dark Knight was hardly the gritty action film we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years. Presented as a continuation of the popular TV series of the 1960s, this film maintained the same level of campiness and comic book stylization as was expected from the small screen version. In the movie, Batman and Robin must battle the United Underworld, a crime conglomerate comprised of the Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman. While you’re more likely to see Batman foil crime using all manner of bat-gadgets, the film stands as one of the most enjoyable incarnations of the character ever put on screen.


#6: “Flash Gordon” (1980)


Bulging muscles, tight red tank top and a golden sword - this is one unique superhero. Featuring a plot with a level of convolution usually reserved for 19th century Russian novels, this superhero flick took audiences into space for an adventure they wouldn’t soon forget. When football star Flash Gordon finds himself on the planet Mongo, he, along with his trusty companions, must fight a ruthless dictator hell-bent on destroying Earth. Featuring a banging soundtrack by Queen and the kind of campy humor made famous by early superhero movies, this film is definitely one of a kind. While it wasn’t exactly a box office smash, it has earned a cult following since being released.


#5: “Superman II” (1980)


One of the earliest superhero sequels, this film earned universal acclaim from both fans and critics for its strong performances, engaging plot and poignant writing. After inadvertently releasing three Kryptonian criminals, Superman must fight to save the earth from both Lex Luthor and the evil General Zod. Not without hardship, a change in director led to massive re-shoots and caused many crew members to leave the production. Although the special effects haven’t aged well, Christopher Reeves iconic portrayal of the red-caped hero remains the gold standard for bringing comic book legends to life. Once again proving that superhero films could earn big money, “Superman II” also made it clear that the summer blockbuster was here to stay.


#4: “Robocop” (1987)


Ah the '80s - a simpler time, a time when you could make an action film about a robot cop and win an Oscar for it. When Detroit cop Alex Murphy is killed in a gangland shooting he is turned into a cyborg with a singular goal: cleanse the streets of crime. Originally released with an X rating for its extreme violence, for the time, this action flick didn’t hold back when it came to action. Morally incorruptible and loaded with an arsenal of wicked weapons and badass one-liners, “Robocop” was the perfect fit for the city of Detroit.


#3: “The Mask of Zorro” (1920)


That’s right – even the roaring '20s had their fair share of masked vigilantes gracing the silver screen. Set in the 19th century, Don Diego de la Vega must become the masked hero known as Zorro in order to protect the poor from corrupt government officials. Brought to life by the dashing and enigmatic silent picture hero Douglas Fairbanks, the film would lay the foundation for what would become known as the “swashbuckling adventure”. Filled with the kind of frenetic action and over-the-top performances that were the norm in the early days of film, “The Mask of Zorro” set the standard for all action adventure films to come.


#2: “Batman” (1989)


Tim Burton’s iconic take on the Dark Knight of Gotham City has since been heralded as the seed from which the current superhero film grew. Considered a myth, Batman comes out of the shadows in order to stop the psychopathic criminal mastermind known as The Joker. The film received a fair amount of controversy during production, with many unconvinced by the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman. However, upon release it broke the opening weekend box office record. Nicholson’s maniacal performance, Keaton’s stoic reserve and Burton’s unique storytelling and imagery turned “Batman” into a certifiable classic. Gritty and entertaining, the caped crusader captured the world’s attention and spawned a number of sequels.

#1: “Superman” (1978)


It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman! Taking the world by storm, this classic film made it abundantly clear that superhero flicks were exactly what people wanted to see. Sent to earth as a child and raised on a farm in Kanas, Clark Kent must become the caped hero Superman in order to protect the world from the evil Lex Luthor. A brilliant balance of action and humor, this movie was beloved by audiences and critics alike. Nominated for three Academy Awards and pulling in a cool 300 million at the box office, the Man of Steel didn’t disappoint. The catalyst from which modern superhero films emerged, “Superman” sparked a trend that is still going strong today.

Do you agree with our list? What is your favorite classic superhero film? For more entertaining Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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