Zack Snyder's Justice League
Image via Warner Bros.

The 10 best superhero movies of all time

There are now countless superhero movies, but here are the all-time greats.

For the entirety of the 21st century, superhero movies have been the dominant form of blockbuster. 2000’s X-Men laid down a template, and 2002’s Spider-Man iterated on it, but things went supernova with 2008’s Iron Man and the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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So, let’s cast our gaze across the vast amount of superhero movies and pick the ten best (presented in no particular order). So load up your web shooters, fill your belt with Batarangs, and grab those Infinity Stones, because we’re going up, up, and away.

Iron Man (2008)

Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is now one of the most beloved movie characters of all time, but it’s important to remember that prior to release Iron Man was a big gamble. Stark was at most a B-tier hero, Downey Jr was still rebuilding his career after years of addiction issues, and a shared cinematic universe was an unknown quality.

We all know how this roll of the dice worked out. But even leaving aside its gigantic legacy, Iron Man remains a great watch. Downey Jr cranks up the charisma to ridiculous degrees, the supporting cast is impeccable, and Jon Favreau’s willingness to let them improvise gives the movie a distinct offbeat energy.

Blade (1998)

Blade was way ahead of its time. Much like future Marvel movies (for example, Guardians of the Galaxy), nobody outside of true comic book geeks knew who Blade was, but director Stephen Norrington faithfully brought him to the screen via an all-time great performance from Wesley Snipes.

Guillermo Del Toro’s sequel is also fantastic, though the wheels would come off with Blade: Trinity. Even so, with Marvel Studios’ Blade eternally trapped in development hell, we can’t help but wonder whether they should just say to hell with it, bring back Snipes, and say Blade took place in the MCU all along.

Avengers: Infinity War / Endgame (2018/2019)

Infinity War and Endgame have no business working as well as they do. These two movies simultaneously wrap up a decade of story teases, organically squeeze every hero into its story, and deliver one of the best comic-book villains to date in Thanos (a performance and CGI triumph).

These days it’s looking increasingly like Infinity War and Endgame will go down in history as the critical and financial highwater mark for the MCU. These two hugely ambitious and technically dazzling stories have already carved out a place in cinema history and we doubt they’ll be forgotten anytime soon.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Sam Raimi had already delivered a great take on Spidey’s origin story, but it was with his sophomore effort that he hit a home run. With the pesky radioactive spider bite out of the way he was free to focus on just how awful Peter Parker’s life could be, piling on the awkwardness, the misery, and the pressure of being a superhero struggling to pay rent.

All that and we get an incredible villain in Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock. There are now a lot of great Spidey movies, but Raimi’s second entry will always be one of the best.

Logan (2019)

Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine had been the best thing about Fox’s X-Universe ever since 2000’s X-Men, though his solo adventures failed to make much of an impression. That all changed with Logan, an R-rated adventure that’s more drama than a superhero movie, following the long-lived mutant as his healing factor fails amidst a dystopian future.

Jackman is never better as Logan, though Patrick Stewart and Dafne Keen are also unforgettable. Logan is such a perfect swansong for the character we’re almost disappointed Jackman is strapping the claws back on for Deadpool 3. Almost.

The Incredibles (2004)

Pixar was in the middle of one of the greatest hot streaks in cinema history in the 2000s when they decided to try their hand at superheroics. The result was The Incredibles, a post-modern tale focused on a family with superpowers (with obvious inspiration from Marvel’s Fantastic Four).

Director Brad Bird deftly sketched out a brand new comic book universe that felt like it’d been around for years and the powers (particularly Elasti-Girl and Dash) look amazing on screen. The Incredibles 2 is also great, though we fell in love with the original and it’s aged like a fine wine.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

Industry insiders spent years adamant that the “Snyder cut” didn’t and couldn’t exist, but this didn’t shake the faith of a truly determined group of fans. Years of campaigning, charity fundraising, and publicity stunts paid off when Snyder’s gargantuan four-hour DC behemoth was released in 2021, with even naysayers having to admit it was a vast improvement on the awful theatrical cut.

There’s never been another superhero movie like Snyder’s maximalist Justice League, which isn’t afraid to squeeze in digressions that would never, ever make it into any other major studio superhero movie (we love the sweater-sniffin’ Icelandic singing scene). There will probably never be another superhero movie like this again and, even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Snyderverse skeptic, this epic deserves to be experienced at least once.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Sony Pictures Animation couldn’t have nailed this brief harder. The cinematic debut of Miles Morales remains one of the most kinetic and visually dazzling animated movies of all time, perhaps only beaten by its sequel. I walked out of the theater with my jaw on the floor back in 2018 and many subsequent rewatches since only confirmed its greatness.

Into the Spider-Verse isn’t just a top-class Spidey story, it actively makes the entire Spider-Man franchise better by its existence, fleshing out the mythology and themes that underpin every great web-slinging story. We can only hope the hugely anticipated Beyond the Spider-Verse lives up to the sky-high expectations.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

Batman: The Animated Series instantly defined the Caped Crusader for a generation, so what happens when that team is given a feature-length movie and a bigger animation budget? Well, you get one of the greatest comic-book movies of all time and a perennial underdog on lists like these.

Mask of the Phantasm sees Batman trying to solve a series of mafia murders, committed by a mysterious figure known as the Phantasm. The story takes in his earliest years of crimefighting, Bruce Wayne’s doomed attempts at romance, and weaves in a great Joker story too. The much-missed Kevin Conroy was never better than here, and he’s more than matched by the best Mark Hamill Joker performance. If you somehow haven’t seen it, rectify that ASAP.

The Dark Knight (2008)

What list of greatest superhero movies would this be without The Dark Knight? Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins set the tone but the sequel perfected the formula, delivering a crime drama that feels as fresh and exciting now as it did on its original release 15 years ago. It’s complex without being confusing, mature without being pretentious, and impossibly tense.

The entire cast excels, though the obvious stand-out is Heath Ledger’s magnetic Joker, generally (and correctly) considered the greatest live-action version of the classic villain. Ledger tragically died before the movie was released, though his Oscar-winning performance here cemented his place in cinematic history.


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Author
David James
London-based writer of anything and everything. Willing to crawl over rusty nails to write about 'Metal Gear Solid' or 'Resident Evil.'