There’s no denying superhero movies are the defining genre of blockbuster cinema over the last two decades.
Ever since 2000’s revolutionary X-Men proved that spandex-clad comic book heroes could be treated as serious cinema, the genre has bloomed. With characters – big and small – from every corner of the comic world starring in films that span comedy and tragedy, and from huge sci-fi adventures to small scale gritty dramas, there’s a superhero movie to suit every taste.
Read more: New way to watch the MCU in order
But which films do fans of the genre consider to be the greatest superhero films of them all?
A new thread on link-sharing platform Reddit, asking fans to name the best superhero movie ever, has proved to be incredibly popular, with over 11,000 comments and counting, all debating which are the best superhero movies ever.
These are the most popular choices so far:
The Dark Knight (2008)
Inevitably Christopher Nolan’s second Batman movie is the superhero film most recommended by fans on Reddit. It’s a seminal piece that changed superhero films forever. As one commenter explained: “The Dark Knight was more like a super villain movie where the good guys lose everything to win against the bad guy. The Joker's character was written so well. It needed a performance of a lifetime and [Heath] Ledger delivered it.”
Iron Man (2008)
Robert Downey Jr.’s first outing as Tony Stark generated a ton of recommendations. Coming out the same year as The Dark Knight, but generating half the hype as Nolan’s film pre-release, it had the last laugh by kick-starting the most successful movie franchise ever: The MCU. The top comment summed it up: “It had lots of humour, a good origin story and a decent romantic subplot. Mostly, though, I wasn't burned out by the dozens of superhero movies that have been produced since and come to dominate the movie market.”
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)
Sony’s Oscar-winning animated Spider-Man adventure, co-directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, is easily the most visually-ambitious superhero ever made, and comes closest to recreating what a living comic book could look like. One comment explained its appeal: “That movie makes excellent use of style, animation, music, and story to highlight the theme of Miles’s journey of self-discovery.”
Read more: Sony vetoed live-action Spider-Verse cameos
A sequel is currently in production, targeting a 2022 release date
The power of Karl Urban’s jawline cannot be overstated. Dredd was a bloodthirsty, visually inventive thriller that gave fans of the 2000 AD hero the adaptation they definitely didn’t get when Sylvester Stallone played the cop. One Reddit commenter said the movie “blew my mind” with its approach of “no filler, just pure action”.
Talk of a sequel has risen and fallen ever since the film’s release but, at this stage, it seems unlikely that anyone will return to Mega-City One in the near future. Urban can let the jawline slip, just a little.
The Incredibles (2004)
Before superhero movies took over the world, Pixar delivered a pitch-perfect send-up of comic book crime-fighters with the brilliant 60s-set animation The Incredibles. As one Reddit commenter put it, the film was “a meta commentary on superheroes before superhero movies and the subsequent meta superhero commentary movies became big”. The 2018 sequel is the highest-grossing Pixar movie of all time.
After years as one of the most important and beloved cogs in the X-Men universe, Wolverine finally got to unsheath his claws in Logan — a very adult comic book movie with serious edge. A commenter described it as “depressing and human”, which encapsulates Hugh Jackman’s grizzled farewell to a character he had embodied on the big screen for the best part of 20 years.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Taika Waititi danced his way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with this colourful sequel, reinventing the God of Thunder as the protagonist of a Flash Gordon-style homage to classic space opera. One commenter praised the combination between the movie’s humour and its focus on deepening the Thor character more than he had been in the previous movies, as well as his fairly minor role in many of the team-ups.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Waititi is due to continue to tell the story of Thor in the upcoming Love and Thunder, with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster returning to do some hammer-wielding heroics of her own.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Before 2014, only the most devoted of comic book fans had much of a connection to the Guardians — very much a second string set of Marvel characters. That was until James Gunn’s movie arrived, though, delivering one of the MCU’s biggest and riskiest swings. One Reddit commenter was “hooked” by the comedy of Gunn’s approach, which escalated the already chucklesome Marvel world to new comedic heights.
Sky High (2005)
Director Mike Mitchell has made some fun family films over the last decade or so — and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. In 2005, he made the superhero comedy Sky High, in which the son of two superheroes is enrolled in a special school for the gifted. The commenter who suggested the film acknowledged they might “catch flak” for mentioning it and admitted that it’s “not the best movie by any means but I enjoyed it and it brings back some good memories.”
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise had its highs and lows, but it never made it higher than Spider-Man 2, which featured Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus in arguably the greatest comic book villain performance ever. But it was the portrayal of Spidey himself by Tobey Maguire that impressed one Reddit commenter, who said it “perfectly depicts the character and why he is so relatable”. The less said about the disco dancing a few years later, the better.
Unfairly maligned on its release, this ambitious and occasionally befuddling take on the dark-edged DC anti-hero is in the midst of a reappraisal. Keanu Reeves is currently at the peak of his fame and Constantine has perhaps inevitably built itself a cult following around him. The Reddit commenter who suggested it said the movie is “full of amazing moments”, which is true even if you just focus on Tilda Swinton’s bizarre angel character.
Read more: Is Constantine a misunderstood classic?
Ryan Reynolds first played Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which notably does not appear on this list. It robbed the character of his trademark smart mouth and so fans longed for him to get a movie of his own. Thankfully, and largely due to the impetus of Reynolds himself, that happened and the result was an acerbic, foul-mouthed satire of the genre. On top of the comedy, the action was described in the thread as “perfect”.
Kick Ass (2010)
In 2010, Kick-Ass ran so that Deadpool could also run six years later. Matthew Vaughn took Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s uncompromising comic and turned it into a bloody, funny superhero tale set in the real world. Chloe Grace Moretz burst on to the scene as the C-bomb-dropping Hit Girl and Nicolas Cage channelled Adam West for one of his best performances in years. A Reddit commenter pointed to how the movie was silly, “but still almost kind of believable”.
Guillermo del Toro brought Mike Mignola’s demonic hero to the big screen in 2004, with Ron Perlman painted red to play the big-fisted paranormal peacekeeper. “I'm really partial to Hellboy,” wrote one Reddit commenter, adding: “such a great film and the sequel was also fantastic”.
The Golden Army saw Del Toro return to the character once more, but last year’s reboot recast David Harbour into the lead role and attracted a critical mauling to match its disappointing box office.
Batman has been transferred to the big screen on many occasions since the 1980s, but Tim Burton’s take on the Caped Crusader still stands the test of time. With Michael Keaton as the man behind the cowl and Jack Nicholson as a delightfully campy Joker. Burton’s “dark and grimy” take on Gotham impressed one Reddit commenter, who holds up this and its sequel Batman Returns as the pinnacle of the superhero genre.