The 12 Most Influential Superhero Movies Ever Made

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Superman (1978)

By 1978, comic book fans had already enjoyed TV adaptations of their favorite characters, such as Adam West’s Batman and the original animated Spider-Man show. Yet, many of these iterations (which included the occasional TV movie or comedic cinematic release) played upon the absurdity of superheroes.

When Jaws and Star Wars set the scene for the bold new age of the blockbuster, the time was right for superheroes to be reformed and given their dramatic dues. And Richard Donner’s assured take on Superman started it all off.

Sure, Superman may seem cheesy and dated by today’s standards. However, its groundbreaking special effects and its earnest approach to its source material set the benchmark for every superhero movie to come. After all, Patty Jenkins recently cited it as a major influence for Wonder Woman. Additionally, as brilliant as Henry Cavill is, few would decry Christopher Reeve’s status as the definitive live-action Superman.

Batman (1989)

Studios have always chased trends and styles of storytelling to satisfy audiences and bag the big bucks. It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s very apparent in our favorite superhero films. For several periods of time, moviegoers have been treated to an overwhelming amount of wholesome super-powered family entertainment. A few years down the line, the adventures almost unilaterally shift towards darker content. Then the focus reverses again, and so on.

We’ll see more of this as we continue through this list, but Tim Burton’s Batman instigated this kind of shift. The campiness of Adam West – and Superman’s sequels – was disregarded in this much darker and thoughtful outing. Indeed, even with its thrilling set pieces, it’s more an atmospheric character analysis than it is an action flick. Yet, Batman’s effect on the genre cannot be understated.

From the tortured, psychological duality of its leads, to the wondrously-realized Gotham, Batman has influenced nearly every version of the Caped Crusader ever since. Its immersive (and substantial) production value signaled that outlandish comic book realms were becoming easier to actualize. And, as we know, it wouldn’t be the first time that a Batman movie would change the superhero genre forever.

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