Top 20 Superhero Movies of ALL TIME



Top 20 Superhero Movies of ALL TIME

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
These are the most iconic superhero movies of all time, and we dare you to change our minds! For this list, we'll be looking at the absolute best live-action films centered on the mightiest of heroes and the most super of friends. Our countdown includes “X-Men: First Class”, "Deadpool", "Iron Man", "Avengers: Endgame", "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", and more!

Top 20 Superhero Movies of ALL TIME

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Superhero Movies of ALL TIME.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the absolute best live-action films centered on the mightiest of heroes and the most super of friends. We’re leaving off animated superhero movies for now, because even with 20 entries to fill, this list wasn’t easy to narrow down.

What’s your favorite superhero movie? Let us know in the comments.

#20: “X-Men: First Class” (2011)

Following a series of highs and lows, “First Class” breathed new life into the “X-Men” franchise. Of all the “X-Men” films, this prequel came the closest to capturing the fun of the 90s cartoon that introduced many of us to the franchise. As vibrant and humorous as the film can be, it never forgets the core theme of “X-Men”: prejudice, which can be more complicated than good vs. evil. Yes, Charles Xavier is good and Sebastian Shaw is evil. How do you categorize Erik Lehnsherr, though? We finally get to see the tragedies, friendships, and disagreements that define Magneto with Michael Fassbender naturally slipping into the role. James McAvoy is equally convincing as a young Professor X with their dynamic proving the film’s driving force.

#19: “Zack’s Snyder’s Justice League” (2021)

The theatrical cut of “Justice League” had many problems, the biggest being that it wasn’t one artist’s vision. After years of fan campaigning, WarnerMedia finally released the Snyder Cut, appropriately titled “Zack’s Snyder’s Justice League.” While audiences have polarizing feelings on Snyder, this director’s cut finds him at his best with an emphasis on visual storytelling, massive set pieces, and the gravitas that was missing from Joss Whedon’s cut. The 4-hour runtime might intimidate some, but Snyder earns it with Darkseid’s introduction and more development for all of our heroes, especially Ray Fisher’s Cyborg. With every frame, you sense Snyder’s passion to not only deliver on the insurmountable fan expectations, but to also give his late daughter Autumn a beautiful tribute.

#18: “Wonder Woman” (2017)

“Wonder Woman” was the superhero movie that audiences had been waiting for in more ways than one. After two mixed bags and “Suicide Squad,” this film finally got down what the DCEU should be: grand and epic, but also humorous, romantic, and inspiring. In addition to renewing interest in this cinematic universe, “Wonder Woman” finally debunked the age-old Hollywood myth that female-led superhero movies can’t sell tickets. All you need is a director and performer who can do the titular heroine justice. Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot create a Wonder Woman who we want to follow into battle. Allan Heinberg’s screenplay delivers a compelling arc for Diana as she witnesses the best and worst humanity has to offer, ultimately choosing to fight for love.

#17: “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)

Some have argued that the MCU keeps recycling a proven formula, although Marvel has taken more risks that many give them credit. While “Guardians of the Galaxy” is an iconic IP now, that wasn’t the case going into 2014. Not only was the comic among Marvel’s more obscure titles, but a tree, a raccoon, and Andy Dwyer didn’t scream automatic blockbuster. Yet, James Gunn successfully brought these bizarre elements together, turning in one of the MCU’s funniest, most visually stunning, and surprisingly emotional films. A film that opens with the heavy-handed death of a parent and ends with Howard the Duck shouldn’t work. Somehow, though, Gunn hits every emotional beat that he aims for. Like the Guardians themselves, the oddest combinations are often the best.

#16: “The Batman” (2022)

With every new incarnation of Batman, the filmmakers run the risk of retreading on all-too-familiar territory. Although Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan paved the way for “The Batman,” director Matt Reeves makes this version his own. He does so by focusing on a younger, more inexperienced Bruce Wayne who’s rarely seen out of costume. Reeves not only puts a stronger emphasis on Wayne’s alter ego, but also the character’s detective skills. Batman meets his match in Paul Dano’s Riddler, who’s intimidating and creepy without ever feeling like a Joker wannabe. Zoë Kravitz makes for a feisty yet layered Catwoman while Colin Farrell transforms into the Penguin. Reeves’ Gotham strikes the ideal balance between grounded and otherworldly, delivering possibly the best-looking interpretation we’ve seen in live-action.

#15: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)

“Captain America: The First Avenger” was an old-school throwback to a forgotten era of golden age heroes. “The Winter Soldier” completely shifts gears with Cap now in modern day. The red, white, and blue optimism of its predecessor is replaced with something colder and more sophisticated. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for humor, fun, and strong moments of comradery. Aside from developing Steve Rogers into a more complex hero, we’d argue that this was the film that elevated Black Widow from being just another Avenger to one of the MCU’s best characters. With the addition of Sam Wilson and the Winter Soldier’s dark origins, the Russo brothers turn in a conspiracy thriller worthy of comparison to the best espionage films.

#14: “Deadpool” (2016)

Although far from the first comedic superhero movie, “Deadpool” stood out for several reasons. It took place in a continuity that had been played mostly with a straight face for over fifteen years. Up until this point, the “X-Men” movies had been strictly PG-13-rated with rationed profanities. In classic Deadpool fashion, this movie threw out the rule book and did whatever it wanted. It also delivered what the fans wanted: hilarious fourth-wall breaks, hard-R action, and Ryan Reynolds embodying the character he was born to play. It showed that not every film based on a Marvel property needed apocalyptic stakes or a $100 million+ budget. The smaller scale works to the film’s advantage, relying more on wit, self-awareness, and smartassery.

#13: “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017)

While the first “Thor” movie was solid, “The Dark World” is often regarded as one of the MCU’s lesser outings. “Ragnarok” is such an overhaul that it almost feels like the first true Thor movie, especially with the introduction of characters like Valkyrie, the Grandmaster, and good old Korg. It’s arguably the first true Hulk movie as well. At the same time, the film continues to build upon story arcs established in previous films, namely Loki’s redemption and his dynamic with Thor. Taika Waititi directs with the visual flair of an 80s music video and the comedic energy of an 80s road trip movie. It possesses the gravitas one would expect from the God of Thunder, but the film doesn’t take itself too seriously either.

#12: “Captain America: Civil War” (2016)

Throughout the Infinity Saga, the “Captain America” movies perhaps went through the most drastic transformation. This makes sense given the time leap, forcing Steve Rogers to adapt to modern day. While Rogers remains a pure-hearted soul to the end, war isn’t always as straightforward as good guys vs. bad guys. Sometimes, both sides have valid standpoints, turning friends into enemies. In fighting for what he believes is right, Captain America goes from boy scout to rebel with a cause. “Civil War” is practically an “Avengers” movie with Spider-Man making his long-awaited MCU debut along with Black Panther. However, the Russos never lose sight of the central conflict between Cap, Iron Man, and The Winter Soldier. In the end, we don’t know who to root for.

#11: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021)

“No Way Home” is one of those movies that gives the audience everything they asked for and even more. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s tenures as the Web-Slinger had their highs, but they ultimately ended with thuds. “No Way Home” gives Maguire and Garfield the finales they deserve while bringing back some fan-favorite villains too. As crowded as the film is, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is still at the heart of this web. Where his past two standalone movies were coming-of-age stories, this film sees Peter thrust into adulthood. For all the good times the movie provides, it leaves us with a loss of innocence that’s integral to Peter’s growth. It’s a masterclass in juggling tones, characters, and storylines without missing a beat.

#10: “The Avengers” (2012)

Crossovers and cinematic universes are common now. Over a decade ago, though, the idea of several Marvel superheroes teaming up in a live-action film with a $200 million+ budget seemed like a pipe dream. The dream became a reality in 2012 and cinema was forever changed. While “The Avengers” supplied the spectacular action that audiences anticipated, it’s the in sync character inactions that made this something special. The heroes bounce quips off each other so naturally, resulting in some of the superhero genre’s most memorable exchanges. You could quote just about any line of dialogue from the film and somebody would reply, “I understood that reference!” The visuals also worked their way into the zeitgeist with the climatic group shot becoming the stuff of legend.

#9: “Superman” (1978)

Richard Donner’s “Superman” is generally considered the first great superhero movie. The then-​​unprecedented budget of $55 million reflected the important story that the filmmakers were aiming to tell. The money was put to effective use with effects that made audiences believe that a man could fly. While effects have come a long way since then, we’ve yet to see another actor surpass Christopher Reeve’s layered performance as the definitive Superman. Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane, Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, and John Williams’ musical score are equally iconic in a film that gets Superman right in ways that no other feature has. “Superman II” came close, but over 40 years later, the original remains the red, yellow, and blue standard.

#8: “Batman” (1989)

Speaking of definitive superhero movies, Tim Burton’s “Batman” seemed unsurpassable for the longest time. For some, it still is. While there’s one other Dark Knight movie we’d rank higher, nobody can deny that Burton’s “Batman” was a game-changer. Where Donner’s “Superman” brought class to superhero movies, Burton brought a darkness that hadn’t been seen on such a scale. Gotham has never been more gothic and Danny Elfman’s musical score is the definition of triumphant. Although Jack Nicholson is tailormade to play the Joker, the real surprise was Michael Keaton, who makes us believe that Bruce Wayne is crazy enough to dress as a bat, but reserved enough that people wouldn’t immediately catch on. Whoever your favorite Batman is, nobody nailed this line like Keaton: “I’m Batman.”

#7: “Avengers: Endgame” (2019)

When the first “Avengers” hit theaters, we assumed superhero crossovers would never get more ambitious. As well as the original holds up, no film has made us feel the size of this cinematic universe like “Endgame.” The second half of this two-part story arc is like three movies for the price of one. The first is a solemn reflection on the previous movie’s events. The second is a love letter to the past decade of Marvel movies, complete with a time heist. The third is the ultimate showdown where every character - and we do mean every character - gets at least one satisfying moment. In an age where many franchises struggle to stick the landing, this truly felt like everything the Infinity Saga was building towards.

#6: “Iron Man” (2008)

It’s the film that didn’t just launch a successful trilogy, but an entire cinematic universe. Even if “Iron Man” had simply been a standalone movie, it still would’ve exceeded all expectations. When you think about it, the fact this movie turned out as well as it did is miraculous. Director Jon Favreau wasn’t known for action while Robert Downey Jr. was struggling to shake his controversial past. The script wasn’t finished when shooting commenced, requiring the actors to improvise a fair deal of dialogue, including Downey Jr.’s final remark to the press. On top of all that, Iron Man wasn’t especially well-known to mainstream audiences in 2008. Now, thanks to this film, we all know that Tony Stark is Iron Man.

#5: “Logan” (2017)

Although “Deadpool” had already brought “X-Men” into R-rated territory, “Logan” was a different beast entirely. For all its ups and downs, superhero movies wouldn’t be what they are today without “X-Men,” and “Logan” was the franchise’s most daring outing to date. Director James Mangold redefined what a superhero movie could be, trading flashy visuals for a bleak, unforgiving backdrop reminiscent of an apocalyptic western. There isn’t a day to save anymore, but living to see tomorrow is considered a victory. Heroes who once seemed invincible are pushed beyond their limits on the road to redemption and salvation. For all the brutality, it’s also a touching family drama with Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Dafne Keen giving career-best performances as three generations of X-Men.

#4: “Black Panther” (2018)

“Logan” was the first comic book superhero movie to receive a screenplay Oscar nomination, but “Black Panther” went even further. This Best Picture nominee wasn’t merely another MCU movie. It was a cultural milestone for representation. Of course, representation alone doesn’t secure a film’s place in the zeitgeist. To truly make an impact, the characters have to be identifiable, the drama needs to be compelling, and the world must spring to life. Director Ryan Coogler accomplished all of the above, celebrating Black culture on an unprecedented scale. Of all the movies produced during his time as Disney CEO, Bob Iger said that he was proudest of “Black Panther.” We can see why. It’s a landmark that’s still making a difference. Wakanda and Chadwick Boseman forever.

#3: “Spider-Man 2” (2004)

Before there was the MCU, there was Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” and its superior sequel. “Spider-Man 2,” in particular, set a precedent for all future Marvel movies. At the time, it was the funniest and most visually impressive superhero yet. What surprised critics like Roger Ebert, though, was the human story. Although Donner’s “Superman” and Burton’s “Batman” gave us layered heroes, “Spider-Man 2” delved deeper into the realities that superheroes would face. Peter Parker isn’t much different from the average college student balancing studies, relationships, and paying the rent. What sets him apart is one enormous responsibility with few rewards. Throw in Alfred Molina as one of the greatest supervillains, and you have a superhero movie that evolved the genre to new frontiers.

#2: “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)

The MCU has taken up nearly half this list, but “Infinity War” may be this cinematic universe’s most impactful entry thus far. Although “Endgame” had an even bigger cast, Thanos alone propelled “Infinity War” into top-tier territory. After several years of build-up, Thanos firmly established himself as the MCU’s most physically daunting villain. What makes Thanos so intimidating, though, are his dangerous mindset and identifiable motivations. From Thanos’ perspective, he’s a hero willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. Following the trajectory of other heroes’ journeys, Thanos emerges victorious. On the other side of the mirror, however, Thanos’ triumph is the biggest failure for the real heroes. The grim ending is one for the ages, reducing the audience to piles of ashes.

FakeOut #1: “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009)

FINALLY hearing the public’s demands, the studio gave us an “X-Men” movie with obvious CGI claws, Deadpool’s mouth sewn shut, and not as much focus on Wolverine as the title suggests! You get us, Fox! Okay, our real top pick is no joke…

#1: “The Dark Knight” (2008)

At this point, “The Dark Knight’s” status as the best superhero movie isn’t a matter of opinion. It’s essentially a fact that few would argue against. Picking up where “Batman Begins” left off, director Christopher Nolan improved upon everything, from the action, to the real-world commentary, to the villain. In a posthumous performance that earned him a well-deserved Oscar, Heath Ledger molded the Joker from a comic book villain to the embodiment of terror. It’s often said that Joker is Batman’s opposite. Really, though, Joker is the antithesis of Harvey Dent’s White Knight. Sometimes opposites are just one bad day away from being identical, however. This is where Batman comes in, traversing the lonely line between nobility and darkness on the double-headed coin of justice.