Since it’s open to interpretation, defining what is or what isn’t a superhero movie is so maddening, it’s damn near a fool’s errand. The genre is usually categorized as a person imbued with super powers deciding to use said super powers to fight crime but that’s so broad a a definition, it could literally include anything. Constantine has powers and fights evil doers but are they criminals? The Punisher fights criminals but he doesn’t have any superpowers, so is he a superhero? Do you need a costume and a secret identity or could you be a robot or some other gigantic protector? Godzilla and Gamera save their respected cities on the regular but often times, it’s by accident. Does that make them less of a hero?
However you define it and whether you even like them or not, there’s no denying the impact the genre has had on cinema. They’ve been dominating the box office for almost fifteen years now and there’s a strong possibility that the last major blockbuster that we’ll ever see, will be Avengers Endgame. From the birth of serials almost 100 years ago, to the inevitable death of theaters in about five minutes from now, they’ve always been a constant staple in cinemas. As long as there are movies, there will be superhero movies. To honor their their long lasting contributions to film, the SAW community decided to count down what we believe are the best and most important films of the genre.
This is the 50 Greatest Superhero Movies of All Time!
30. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
The conclusion to a 23 film saga. Maybe the most anticipated movie of all time. I fully believe it was worth every bit of hype. A near perfect movie. Even with its flaws, it is by far the theater experience that will never be replicated. I felt like the Russo’s took us back to the roots of comic book movies. We felt the stakes but it didn’t take itself so seriously. It towed that line very well. The writing and our cumulative investment of time and energy, kept us all grounded. Everything from “America’s Ass” to Thor questioning his worthiness, hits its mark. A lot of high profile figures in the movie business want to talk about how these films are for kids. Maybe they aren’t “high art”. I respect many of those people. Some of their films are considered to be the very best of all time. I do know though, I have seen their films in crowded rooms and none of them moved an audience nearly as much as when Tony Stark said “I am Iron Man” for the last time.
29. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Hot Take: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is the best Caped Crusader film. The more years pass the more this flick grows into unicorn status. A fantastic blend of animation, familiar story, dark characters, and a touch of original storytelling all coexisting to craft a rare, visceral animated feature. Arriving mid-run of TV’s Batman The Animated Series, over the backdrop of becoming the famed vigilante, Phantasm tells the story of Bruce Wayne’s only love — the one that got away, Andrea Beaumont. Years later Andrea returns to Gotham and Bruce’s life. Grappling with rekindled feelings and damaging memories, Batman must also thwart the arrival of a new murderous villain, The Phantasm (or angel of death).
Of course it wouldn’t be a classic Bat-tale without crossing paths with the Joker, Mark Hamill’s greatest performance. Which may, in fact, be the true stroke of genius; weaving Joker’s connection to the narrative still feels fresh and chilling reaching its peak in a guttural amusement park battle that salutes to aged classic Metropolis. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is certainly a nostalgic pick, but it’s one that holds up remarkably well. A great time capsule of an era when mainstream animation was at its peak and comic book entertainment was starting to come into its own. For all of my fellow geeks out there, this one delivers the goods.
28. Black Panther (2018)
Following the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman, the role of Black Panther remains as relevant as ever. Following the story of King T’Challa, who, after the passing of his father returns to the fictional African nation of Wakanda to reclaim his birthright. With a powerful enemy at his heels, the nation must band together for unified freedom. While on the outside, Black Panther is a standard superhero movie, it broke new ground for the genre, tackling issues of race, religion, and discrimination, making it one of the biggest and most influential Marvel films ever made.
27. Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)
This film is the definition of irony. This film consists of a parallel Earth where everything is essentially flipped. The Justice League are villains and Lex Luthor is the hero. He comes to our Earth to team up with our Justice League to stop their insidious plan to wipe out all of humanity.
What’s ironic about it is the voice work of the two leads. James Woods gives the absolute best performance in any of these films hands down. His Owlman is on the same level as Hamill’s Joker. That’s not hyperbole. He’s that menacing. On the flip side, is William Baldwin as Batman. He’s the absolute worst Batman we’ve ever had.
Conroy is the gold standard that all others try to live up to, Greenwood is a worthy successor, Weller nailed the grizzled, older Bats, McKenzie nailed the younger Bats, Sisto is very underrated in New Frontier, and O’Mara isn’t my favorite but he at least tries. Baldwin isn’t grizzled, isn’t menacing, isn’t calculating and doesn’t seem to be very intimidating. The only reason this film isn’t number 1 (seriously, Wood’s voice alone makes it a strong contender) is the fact that it felt like the writers decided to dumb down Batman in order to smarten up Owlman. He’s not written smarter than anyone else in the film, they just wrote everyone to be dumber. And that’s my biggest problem in this film. Batman should be as smart as Owlman but you don’t buy it and Baldwin definitely doesn’t sell it. But James Wood’s performance alone more than makes up for any flaw in the film.
26. X-Men: First Class (2011)
After a giant misstep with X-Men: The Last Stand, Fox decided to reboot the franchise and at the time it seemed silly. But, they got a really great cast and a solid enough story that it honestly worked for me. AND they followed it up with a fantastic sequel that tied the two timelines together. Then they shit the bed again with the two that followed. But I digress, First Class is a solid entry in the X-Men saga that deserves more love. And even though Disney has the rights now, it will still be fun to revisit this one as an alternate universe type situation.
25. All-Star Superman (2011)
Adapting one of the more celebrated comic runs of perhaps the arena’s most famous hero is a tall order. Giving the animated treatment and packing the story into a sub 90 minute runtime is even taller. But here we are. The DCAU treatment of All-Star Superman is most certainly a thing and, for the most part, it captures the best parts of what makes the Superman mythology great. As an exploration of mortality, we get a glimpse into the last days of the great boy scout. As a character study of the infamous villain, we’re given one of the best screen treatments of Lex Luthor. As a herculean task of capturing all that makes Supes great alongside an inevitable tale of sacrifice, the movie itself nearly accomplishes all it sets out to do. Visually bold, earnest in heart, fantastic voice talent, and a strong story … All-Star Superman, while flawed, still finds a way to captivate and remind us why the iconic character still resonates.
24. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)
All it took was 81 minutes for The Flashpoint Paradox is tell an amazing time travel story that The CW’s The Flash butchered over the course of three seasons. Arguably one of the last great films to come out of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line, The Flashpoint Paradox sees the Flash accidentally create a new timeline when he goes back and saves his mom from dying. He wakes up in a world unfamiliar to him. Aquaman and Wonder Woman are at war; Superman doesn’t exist; Thomas Wayne is Batman instead of his son Bruce; his super-speed is gone; but, more importantly, his mother is still alive. At first, the Flash is happy to remain in this world, but when he sees that his wife Iris is married to another man, and the world is on the brink of destruction, he knows that he has to change things back to how they were. With the help of Thomas Wayne’s Batman, the Flash is able to defeat Professor Zoom and reset the timeline. The highlight of the film is definitely seeing alternate versions of beloved DC superheroes proving just how much of an impact the butterfly effect can have on the timeline.
23. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
There are very few MCU movies I remember garnering as much hype before its release as Captain America: Civil War. Oftentimes I forget this was the concluding movie of Cap’s trilogy and not another Avengers movie. It might as well have been, given that nearly every Avenger has a role to play in the movie but for Thor and Bruce Banner. After spending years bringing the Avengers together, it was necessary to up the stakes by tearing them apart. Civil War does so by introducing one of the most underrated villains in MCU history with Helmut Zemo. Aware that he couldn’t beat the Avengers one on one, Zemo went to war with them in a completely different way, undermining them and turning them against one another instead. Maybe things didn’t go exactly how he planned them to, but did he actually lose? Whether you were Team Steve or Team Tony, it was evident that the movie’s events would have long-standing consequences for our heroes.
22. Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
The more I slowly dip into the pool of the DCAU the more it feels like feast or famine. They either knock it out of the park or face plant in dire fashion. Batman: Under the Red Hood feels closer to the home run ilk. Now, it doesn’t reach Mask of the Phantasm status, but let’s be honest, very few do. But, Red Hood does take a note from the Phantasm book and thrusts us into the messy depths of Batman’s guilt. Therein lies the nuanced layers of good storytelling. Of course the action sequences are top-notch, but displayed over the backdrop of lingering loss, missed opportunities, and failure are what craft a deeper experience over all.
Ultimately, Under the Red Hood easily stands on its own as a solid animated movie by any measure; and a strong venture for the lore of Batman. The stakes are earned, the challenges for The Bat are daunting, and the hook of Red Hood’s identity makes for a great discovery. Although, I can’t shake the feeling that any iteration of animated Joker shouldn’t be touched unless dawned by Mark Hamill himself. But, what can you do? Nevertheless, Batman: Under the Red Hood is a worthwhile, engaging watch.
21. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Despite being one of the strongest Avengers, Thor always came across as sort of… dull, to me. Way too serious and gruff while Loki (Tom Hiddleston) shined and became a fan favorite. But then, a miracle. Thor: Ragnarok fell into the hands of Taika Waititi, who understood the appeal of not taking the God of Thunder too seriously. What followed was a brightly colored extravaganza with an insanely fun villainess, a supporting cast that enhanced an already clever script, and a version of Thor that took advantage of Chris Hemsworth’s (non-physical) strengths. One of my favorite things about the MCU is that they’ve never been afraid of including various characters in their standalone films, whether for a brief cameo (Doctor Strange) or a stronger supporting role (Hulk/Bruce Banner). They’re both perfectly balanced in Ragnarok while also introducing new characters we quickly come to love or love to hate. It’s definitely one of the stronger films in the MCU and has breathed much-needed new life into the character of Thor.
What do you think of the selection so far? What are some of your favorite superhero films? Maybe they will show up further on the list!