Thus far, 2016 is the year of the superhero. Deadpool and Batman v. Superman both shattered the box office, proving that audiences can’t get enough of costumes and powers. But what’s the best superhero movie of all time? And what’s the worst? Here’s our ranking of all 109 superhero movies to date.
A version of this article first appeared in 2015.
Note: This list doesn’t include animated films, TV movies, direct-to-DVD films, or film serials. Just full-length, live-action movies, that received some theatrical release. Purely in the interest of keeping this list from being over 200 titles.
Also, we’re not including every single story about a hero who fights bad guys, or we’d be here all day—these are stories based on, or heavily drawing from, superhero comics. And yes, there’s a certain amount of judgment call involved in what to include. (As we’ve discussed before, superheroes include a huge variety of genres.)
1) The Avengers - Perfect action, perfect execution of the superhero team-up motif, and a surprisingly graceful character and plot arc for its main characters. Still just amazing.
2) The Dark Knight - It has about three acts too many, but Batman’s torment and the Joker’s escalating morality puzzles make this movie a classic.
3) Spider-Man 2 - Spider-Man is the quintessential self-sacrificing hero, and this movie nails that aspect more dramatically than any other.
4) Superman: The Movie - large parts of this movie have not aged well, but what shows through is its heart and sparkling humor.
5) Guardians of the Galaxy - this weird space opera could have been a campy mess, but instead it’s a stirring, heartfelt miracle.
6) Hellboy - one of the strangest superheroes gets a note-perfect origin story
7) Captain America: The Winter Soldier - on the surface, it’s a homage to Cold War thrillers, but it’s mostly a great meditation on why heroism means doing the hard thing.
8) Iron Man - Marvel Studios’ first movie, and still one of their best — Tony Stark’s journey from selfishness to heroism is captivating, but what saves him is his need to test the limits of everything.
9) Darkman - Sam Raimi’s story of a face-changing man seeking revenge helped broaden our ideas of what superhero movies could be.
10) X-Men - the first X-Men movie encapsulated all the crucial themes of alienation, with a huge dose of humor and fun action.
11) Batman Begins - the most important part of superhero origins is the hero’s motivation, and this film nails Bruce Wayne’s lunatic passion for justice.
12) Batman - Tim Burton helped prove superheroes could be vehicles for real storytelling, and this film remains stylishly weird.
13) Iron Man 3 - Tony Stark loses everything and shows who he really is, in the perfect follow-up to the first Iron Man.
14) The Crow - this movie about an undead avenger holds up surprisingly well, with a snarky/strange performance from Brandon Lee.
15) Blade II - Guillermo del Toro elevated this Marvel vampire series, with a weird-science storyline about mutant vamps.
16) Unbreakable - M. Night Shyamalan’s best movie is really all about what happens when you’re consumed by a superhero narrative.
17) Sky High - Disney had a great superhero film on their hands long before they bought Marvel, with this superpowered high school story.
18) X2: X-Men United - the second X-Men movie feels a bit like a retread, but also improves on the themes of the first.
19) Blade - the “daywalker” became an iconic figure thanks to this movie, not to mention its unforgettable blood rave.
20) Spider-Man - Spidey’s origin is pretty much perfect here, including some great sequences as he learns to use his powers. Raimi captures the heart of the character.
21) Batman Returns - Burton’s second Bat-film falls prey to the “too many villains” problem, and is kind of a muddle. But it’s still stylish and fun.
22) Super - Before Guardians, James Gunn proved he could make superheroes funny as well as heartbreaking with this indie comedy.
23) Captain America: The First Avenger - Another note-perfect origin story that focuses on the why rather than the how.
24) Superman II - The change in directors halfway through filming hurt this movie, but the Phantom Zone criminals are still great, and so is the story of Superman giving up his powers for love.
25) Thor - Asgard’s heir loses his powers due to arrogance, and has to earn them back, and the result is amazingly effective.
26) Kick-Ass - Few movies do as good a job of spoofing the superhero genre while also showing why it’s so great.
27) X-Men: First Class - This prequel is overstuffed, and relies on montages a lot — but it also establishes Professor X, Magneto and Mystique as a fascinating trinity.
28) Deadpool - All of the fourth-wall-breaking insanity of Marvel’s nuttiest hero gets captured on screen in a movie that pokes fun at the pomposity of the genre.
29) Hellboy II: The Golden Army - The second Hellboy movie lurches into a story about the problems of settling down, but still makes way for some great action and world-building.
30) Chronicle - This “found footage” movie shows just how wrong things can go with great powers and no responsibility.
31) Avengers: Age of Ultron - This movie has plenty of flaws, but still manages to give a satisfying arc to an amazing number of characters, and there’s a solid emotional core buried under all the clutter.
32) The Dark Knight Rises - As a standalone film, it’s a bit preposterous. As the third act of a trilogy, it’s pretty effective at bringing the themes full circle.
33) Amazing Spider-Man - This Spidey origin story suffers by comparison to Sam Raimi’s film, but does have a great romance, and a story where Spidey is caught between a few father figures.
34) X-Men: Days of Future Past - Wolverine does a great job of anchoring this time-travel story where the future is unraveling and only a trip to the Nixon era can fix things.
35) Orgazmo - Another rare superhero spoof that brings something solid to the genre, this porntastic comedy actually has a dose of superpower.
36) The Mask - Jim Carrey’s manic wackiness is put to good use in this comedy about a mask that gives you super-powers.
37) Thor: The Dark World - Thor’s brother Loki pretty much steals this movie. Too bad he’s not the actual villain.
38) Ant-Man - Marvel goes back to basics with this origin story for a hero who can shrink and control ants. Michael Pena saves it from being a totally run-of-the-mill film.
39) The Specials - A third James Gunn joint (only written, not directed), this is a lesser superhero spoof that packs a few fun moments.
40) The Man of Steel - This movie rules for two reasons: 1) It has a solid emotional core and a well-drawn character arc. 2) The action scenes are beautiful, if destructive.
41) Batman: The Movie - This big screen continuation is basically an extra-long episode of the 1966 TV series, but that doesn’t keep it from being fun as hell.
42) Superman and the Mole Men - The first ever Superman movie is actually a great lesson in tolerance.
43) Punisher: War Zone - The Punisher’s second movie slipped through the cracks, but it features some pretty brutal action.
44) Swamp Thing - Directed by Wes Craven, this campy horror film plants itself firmly in “so bad it’s good” territory.
45) The Rocketeer - This retrofuturistic jetpack adventure never quite soars as much as it wants to, but it’s got lots of fun bits.
46) Watchmen - Alan Moore’s nearly unfilmable graphic novel gets a movie with amazing visuals and some strong worldbuilding, but not enough of the heart of the story.
47) Mystery Men - Another superhero spoof, featuring some neat ideas and fun characters, surrounded by muddle.
48) The Punisher - The first Punisher movie is a gritty action film without quite enough style to become something more.
49) The Green Hornet - Director Michel Gondry brings a weird style to this Seth Rogen joint, in a stoner movie that nobody quite got.
50) Incredible Hulk - there are some great sequences, including the opening chase, and some neat ideas. But this film can’t decide what it wants to be.
51) Mr. India - India’s classic superhero film features a memorable villain (Mogambo) and some really weird slapstick comedy.
52) Kick-Ass 2 - This sequel manages to build on the original in some fascinating ways, including showing Hit-Girl growing up.
53) Zebraman - This Takashi Miike film features a man who escapes his unhappy life by dressing up as his favorite hero. And then he randomly fights a guy dressed as a crab.
54) Hancock - The first half of this movie is a pretty interesting look at a flawed supehero trying to fix his image (and himself.) The second half... never mind.
55) Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance - The Crank guys, Neveldine and Taylor, set out to make a loony Ghost Rider film, but something went pretty badly wrong.
56) Amazing Spider-Man 2 - There’s some great material in here, but this movie proves a superhero film is only as good as its villain(s) — which is a real problem.
57) Spawn - Todd McFarlane’s gritty supernatural hero doesn’t quite get the movie he deserves here.
58) Daredevil - The DVD “director’s cut” is a better film, but the theatrical release is just bland.
59) Iron Man 2 - Tony Stark is self-destructive in a not-terribly compelling way in this film, which pits him against a rival businessman and a Russian with an ancient grudge.
60) The Toxic Avenger - The most famous Troma movie features a hero who’s transformed by toxic waste, and a story that goes totally bonkers.
61) Hero At Large - This movie about John Ritter as an unemployed actor who’s hired to portray a superhero (and then becomes one) is pretty watchable.
62) HK: Forbidden Super Hero - Another Takashi Miike film, this one is about a hero who wears panties on his face and goes by the name “Pervert Mask.” That’s really all you need to know.
63) The Phantom - This movie version of the 1930s superhero goes for the retro camp, but also has some cool moments here and there.
64) Condorman - A comic book artist figures out how to become his creation for real, in this campy Disney film.
65) Defendor - Another superhero comedy, this one features Woody Harrelson as a man who thinks he’s a superhero, but it’s sort of a delusion.
66) Krrish 3 - India has produced several insane special effects spectacles in recent years, but this story of a masked hero fighting mutants is the most joyously insane.
67) Hulk - We expected Ang Lee to create a more introspective, nuanced take on the Hulk, but instead he leaned hard on camp and odd comic-book imagery, as if he confused the medium with the story.
68) Constantine - Keanu Reeves isn’t right for the role of John Constantine, but then there’s Tilda Swinton.
69) The Wolverine - Wolverine goes to Japan, where he’s attacked by an army of cliches. He does get a few great moments, especially early on, but the ending’s a mess.
70) Fantastic Four - Marvel’s greatest superteam never quite soar in this campy-clunky origin story.
71) Superman Returns - This movie tries too hard to reference Richard Donner’s Superman, while at the same time missing what made that film work.
72) Krrish - The other film about the masked Indian hero, this is a sequel to an alien film, Kol... Mil Gaya. It has a few really great fight scenes and a fair bit of heart.
73) Batman Forever - Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey are two of the weakest villains Batman has faced, and this film is neither fun nor exciting.
74) The Crow: City of Angels - Making a sequel to The Crow without Brandon Lee was probably a mistake.
75) Blade Trinity - After two decent movies, this series descends into the murk with a storyline about looking for Dracula and a virus that kills vampires.
76) Ghost Rider - Nic Cage brings a nutty charm to the role of Johnny Blaze, but there’s just not enough flaming skull/motorcyle action.
77) Meteor Man - Robert Townsend’s superhero spoof has some fun ideas but can’t decide whether it wants to be a pure parody or a semi-serious tale about saving the neighborhood.
78) Super Fuzz - A Miami police officer gets superpowers, as long as he doesn’t see anything red. Featuring Ernest Borgnine.
79) Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice - Superman, threat or menace? An elderly Batman can’t decide, so they fight a lot. Plus two hours of speeches about xenophobia. Basically, C-Span plus slow-mo.
80) Green Lantern - Ryan Reynolds’ head is swallowed up by a sea of green CG, as he struggles to find a relatable character or a story.
81) X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Wolverine’s brother apparently kills Wolverine’s girlfriend, so he gets indestructible metal inserted into his bones. Some of the most boring action I’ve seen in ages.
82) My Super Ex-Girlfriend - Uma Thurman is that bitchy ex you can’t get rid of, except she’s got superpowers.
83) Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer - How do you mess up the classic story of Silver Surfer and Galactus? This movie is a step-by-step instruction manual.
84) Blankman - Damon Wayans is the most ridiculous superhero, in one of the less successful Wayans films.
85) Son of the Mask - The Mask should have gotten a vasectomy.
86) The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D - Robert Rodriguez let his kids come up with a movie, which is a nice thing to do for your kids.
87) The Return of Swamp Thing - A much goofier sequel, this film fails to take root.
88) Superargo and the Faceless Giants - I don’t think the first Superargo film got a theatrical release, but this second film, in which the Italian-Spanish hero fights an army of robots, did. Some of the most unconvincing fight scenes ever filmed!
89) Superman III - A Superman film so bad, even Superman plays a drinking game to get through it.
90) Steel - Shaq is a junkyard hero, and this film lacks Shaq-fu.
91) Underdog - We don’t care how bad Pixels is, Peter Dinklage will always have a worse film on his resume.
92) Super Capers - This family-friendly superhero film has a coveted “0” on Rotten Tomatoes. I own the DVD but can only watch about five minutes at a stretch.
93) Elektra - The weak Daredevil film gets a much weaker spinoff, in which Elektra’s compelling comics storyline becomes a muddled mess. It’s sai-inducing.
94) Jonah Hex - They took a dark, weird Western story and tried to turn it into a jolly comedy, then changed their minds halfway through. The result is a godawful mess.
95) Spider-Man 3 - This movie is emblematic of overstuffed sequels, shoddy characterization and too many villains.
96) The Pumaman - You’ve probably seen the MST3K version of this incredibly goofy film.
97) X-Men: The Last Stand - This film squishes a ton of storylines into a gelatinous muddle, killing off one of the main heroes off-screen in a horrendous fashion.
98) Supergirl - Superman’s cousin fights a witch (Faye Dunaway) for the affections of a gas station attendant.
99) Zoom - Tim Allen has to whip some kids into superheroic shape in this incredibly dull family film.
100) Rat Pfink a Boo Boo - A legendarily chaotic film, this is a serious crime thriller for 30 minutes until the film-makers change their minds and it becomes a bizarre comedy about the hero Rat Pfink and his sidekick Boo Boo. Nobody knows why it’s not called “Rat Pfink AND Boo Boo,” it just is.
101) The Batwoman - A Mexican spoof of the 1960s Batman, except that her batsuit is a bikini.
102) The Spirit - One of the greatest comics of all time gets turned into a greenscreen disaster, where Samuel L. Jackson just kind of does whatever he feels like.
103) Catwoman - She fights the cosmetics industry in ripped-up pleather pants and bra. But she can’t get her neighbors to turn their music down.
104) Superhero Movie - Of all the terrible superhero spoofs on this list, this is the terriblest.
105) Howard the Duck - Two words: “Duck boobs.”
106) Fantastic Four - The director of Chronicle brings the same misanthropic dourness to Marvel’s famously optimistic family of adventurers, and they become the shittiest heroes ever. God. Just fuck no.
107) Batman and Robin - It’s like someone watched the 1960s TV show on codeine and then dictated a screenplay to a lip-reader on meth.
109) Superman IV: The Quest for Peace - The most horrendously cheap and ill-conceived movie about a major superhero. It really is that bad.
110) Superbabies: Supergeniuses Part 2 - It wasn’t hard to identify the worst superhero film of all time. There are supersmart babies, and they fight Jon Voight, who wants to make people watch television. See for yourself.
So there you have it. What did we leave out? Do you agree with our rankings? Let us know!