100 Essential Superhero Movies
After spending a couple months going through my own choices as well as the polls for some of the outliers I finally have a full list of 100 movies that I think are essential for a true fan of superhero movies. There are many good ones, and some bad ones, but there is something noteworthy among every single one of them either due to the character, the circumstances around the movie, or simply the merits of the movie itself. I’d like to thank everyone for their contributions and support throughout making this list, I really appreciate it. Now without further ado, let’s get on to the list itself.
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These are the results of all the polls I’ve held through the You Decide posts these past couple months. I added the movies with the most votes for “yes” minus the votes for “no” to come up with this list of 16 movies to finish out this list of 100. There are a few surprises in my eyes, and a few unsurprising omissions.
Robocop (14 Yes 1 No)
This might be a little bit of a stretch for some people, but I think it’s a perfect fit. It’s set in the near future, similar to X-Men, it’s a great origin story of someone given essentially super powers in order to fight crime. He’s got a secret identity more or less, and there have even been comic books made after the movie. Not only that, but it’s a great film with action, violence, and just a bit of social satire to top things off.
Superman Animated Short Films (13 Yes 2 No)
This one I was hesitant to add initially for a completely different reason, and that’s because it’s not a feature length movie, but instead it’s the combined contributions of the classic Superman cartoons done by the Fleischer studios back in the 40’s. These shorts are very influential to how we look at Superman today and they are a great accomplishment considering how small of a studio this was when compared to something like Disney, and I’m glad that it made itself on this list.
Swamp Thing (9 Yes)
This is a movie that I only just recently watched for the first time. I had seen the old television series, but never caught the original movie. It’s surprising to think that it was directed by Wes Craven who is now known as the master of horror even though this only had hints of a horror movie in it while still keeping to a lot of the origin story tropes. It also had some great creature make-up for Swamp Thing himself though it does fall into the cheesy category here and there, but always a fun cheesy.
Flash Gordon (10 Yes 1 No)
One of my favorite movies in the cheesy category, and also another movie that skirts the line of it being a superhero movie and not just a sci-fi comic book movie. But Flash Gordon ends up saving the day in every possible way, and not just for the Earth but for the entire whatever it was of Mongo. He even has his own theme song, and there are very few names more heroic than Flash Gordon. He will save every one of us.
Iron Giant (6 Yes)
This was a bit of a surprise in my big poll at the end, it’s one of my favorite animated movies and often thought of as an overlooked gem from director Brad Bird before he went on to do the Incredibles. The Iron Giant himself is a superhero unlike almost anything else, he’s a giant alien robot death machine who is accidentally reprogrammed by a young child and inspired by Superman to ultimately save the Earth. It also features Vin Diesel’s voice many years before he comes to life again in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Iron Man 2 (6 Yes)
I wasn’t as surprised that this film made it to the top of this poll, I’m one of what often feels like a few people who enjoyed this movie, and one of the only reasons why I left it off the list was because I felt like I needed to exclude at least one movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and this was the low man on the totem pole. In the years since the first Iron Man movie, Marvel studios has really set the bar when it comes to superhero movies, both in box office and in quality. While this has more flaws than other Marvel movies, it’s still head and shoulders above most of the superhero movies from the 90’s and earlier.
Meteor Man (11 Yes 5 No)
This movie was the most divided in the polls, but it did get strong enough support to make it on the list. One of the most notable things about it is the fact that it is one of only a handful of superhero movies with a black lead. It’s a cheesy 90’s comedy, though I’m a much bigger fan of this movie when compared to Blankman, and besides that it has the great Bill Cosby as a homeless man that doesn’t have any lines and a criminal gang with a pet tiger!
Defendor (6 Yes 1 No)
This is another lesser known movie but one that I really enjoyed when I watched it and I’m glad that it made it to the final list. It’s Woody Harrelson playing something along the lines of Forrest Gump meets Batman with a bit more violence and less running or catchphrases.
Constantine (4 Yes)
Another one of my guilty pleasures, it’s not one of the best movies out there, but it has some amazing performances from Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare and it is visually beautiful in many different places. It’s a large departure from the original comic, but as someone who never read any of the Hellblazer comics in the first place, this is an interesting take on the character on its own.
Punisher (9 Yes 6 No)
I wasn’t entirely fond of this movie as a Punisher movie, but it does have a certain charm as a late 70’s violent cop movie starring Dolph Lundgren. The actual Punisher angle isn’t played up very much in the movie, but it does have Louis Gosset Jr. as his ex-partner and a villain who wears Geisha makeup for some reason. The biggest thing missing here is the iconic skull on the front of his shirt.
Orgazmo (7 Yes 4 No)
There are many superhero comedies on this list, and this one takes a wildly different take by having it set within the porn industry. There aren’t really any super powers or crime fighting, it’s much more of a movie within a movie with plenty of costumes and a lot less nudity than you would expect for a movie filled with porn stars.
Return of Swamp Thing (3 Yes)
As far as sequels go, this one takes the original concept and plays up the campiness, plays down the horror, and brings in Heather Locklear as the damsel in distress who falls in love with the Swamp Thing. They also managed to bring back the villain who was supposedly dead, but one of the things that it does do better are the many different creature effects on display.
Tank Girl (3 Yes)
One of the best things about this movie is the mood it creates, there’s a sense of anarchy and punk throughout this movie led by the highly charismatic and frenetic Lori Petty who makes you believe there’s something super about this Tank Girl who doesn’t have any powers, but is able to make her way through any situation no matter how dire it seems. Not to mention Malcolm McDowell as the villain.
Green Lantern (3 Yes)
This movie gets a lot of flak, but I still don’t think Ryan Reynolds was a bad choice to play Hal Jordan in this movie. It had a lot of potential with the setup of Mark Strong’s Sinestro, but it was hampered by a couple weak villains and a poor plot. Still, it’s the first live action appearance of the Green Lantern who is one of the biggest DC superheroes so that’s got to account for something.
Daredevil (6 Yes 4 No)
Another guilty pleasure for myself, but there is still a lot to like in this movie, especially the darker director’s cut of the movie. Ben Affleck did a decent job playing the blind supehero, Colin Farrel was having an absolute blast hamming it up as Bullseye, and I will have a hard time seeing anyone else other than Michael Clark Duncan as the Kingpin, sorry Vincent D’Onofrio.
Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2 Yes 1 No)
One of the few TV movies that made this list, starring the “great” David Hasselhoff before the Ultimates Universe designed Nick Fury after Samuel L. Jackson who was so honored that he agreed to play the role in the movies, or something along those lines. It has 90’s TV movie written all over it with limited special effects, limited action, but plenty of dialogue talking about all the action that they are going to be doing. Very much something that needs to be seen to be believed.
Superman Movies # 1 – 8
Marvel Cinematic Universe # 9 – 15
Comedies # 16 – 24
Batman Movies # 25 – 38
Early Marvel # 39 – 46
Animation #47 – 56
Original Heroes #57 – 65
Borrowed Marvel #66 – 72
Indie Comics #73 – 84
100 Essential Superhero Movies by Release Date
- The Superman Animated Shorts 1941-1943
- Superman and the Mole Men 1951
- Batman: The Movie 1966
- The Wild World of Batwoman 1966
- Mr. Freedom 1969
- Super Infra-Man 1975
- Superman: The Movie 1978
- Superman II (The Richard Donner Cut) 1980
- Flash Gordon 1980
- Swamp Thing 1982
- Return of Captain Invincible 1983
- Superman III 1983
- Supergirl 1984
- The Toxic Avenger 1984
- Howard the Duck 1986
- Robocop 1987
- The Punisher 1989
- Batman 1989
- Return of the Swamp Thing 1989
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1990
- Darkman 1990
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze 1991
- The Rocketeer 1991
- Batman Returns 1992
- Batman: Mask of the Phantasm 1993
- The Meteor Man 1993
- Fantastic Four 1994
- The Shadow 1994
- The Mask 1994
- The Crow 1994
- Tank Girl 1995
- Batman Forever 1995
- Men in Black 1997
- Batman & Robin 1997
- Orgazmo 1997
- Spawn 1997
- Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1998
- Blade 1998
- The Iron Giant 1999
- Mystery Men 1999
- X-Men 2000
- Unbreakable 2000
- Blade 2 2002
- Spider-man 2002
- X2: X-Men United 2003
- Hulk 2003
- Daredevil 2003
- Catwoman 2004
- Hellboy 2004
- The Incredibles 2004
- Spider-man 2 2004
- The Punisher 2004
- Constantine 2005
- Sky High 2005
- Batman Begins 2005
- Fantastic Four 2005
- Superman Returns 2006
- TMNT 2006
- Ultimate Avengers 2006
- Hellboy: Blood + Iron 2007
- Doctor Strange 2007
- Ghost Rider 2007
- Superman: Doomsday 2007
- The Incredible Hulk 2008
- The Dark Knight 2008
- Iron Man 2008
- Hellboy II: The Golden Army 2008
- Hancock 2008
- Batman: Gotham Knight 2008
- Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog 2008
- Green Lantern: First Flight 2009
- Watchmen 2009
- Wonder Woman 2009
- Defendor 2009
- Batman: Under the Red Hood 2010
- Megamind 2010
- Super 2010
- Iron Man 2 2010
- Kick-Ass 2010
- Planet Hulk 2010
- Gantz 2010
- Green Lantern 2011
- X-Men: First Class 2011
- Captain America: The First Avenger 2011
- Thor 2011
- All Superheroes Must Die 2011
- Chronicle 2012
- The Avengers 2012
- The Amazing Spider-Man 2012
- The Dark Knight Rises 2012
- Dredd 2012
- Justice League: Doom 2012
- The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 & Part 2 2013
- Thor: The Dark World 2013
- Legends of the Knight 2013
- Iron Man 3 2013
- Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox 2013
- The Wolverine 2013
- Lego Batman: DC Heroes Unite 2013
- Man of Steel 2013
Posted on July 27, 2014, in Blogs, Lists and tagged Blog, DC, list, Marvel, movies, superheroes. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.
I’ve seen a little better than 3/4 of the moviea that made it. Thanks for giving me some others to seek out. Mr. Freedom? How have I never heard of this? Great post.
That one’s even a Criterion! I’m just 4 shy of 100 and a couple more that still need reviews. I should link these up soon, but I wanted to get this up sooner.
This is such an awesome idea! Great list. I look forward to digging into the ones I haven’t seen!
Not all of them are great by any means, but I do think they’re worth checking out to see how far these kinds of movies have come in the past 20 years or so.
Thank you very much for this list, it helped me a lot in completing mine. If I had to name the superhero films that are absolutely perfect though, it would be just four: Batman (1989), Dark Knight, Watchmen and Man of Steel. Those are the ones that not only are flawless but also left me breathless, screaming for more and analysing their every detail long after (or rather between) watching them. While I always enjoy a good Marvel Universe movie, Spider-Man or X-Men, they never seem to be truly perfect in every respect like those four, at least for me.
Thanks again for a great blog. After watching every next movie from my list, I read your review and compare our impressions.
Always glad to see someone else that liked Man of Steel. My four would be the ones that really changed the face of superhero cinema which would be Superman, Batman, X-Men, and the Avengers. Glad you found your way here and feel free to leave a comment on any of my older reviews when you get around to seeing them.
I guess your four is more appropriate than mine as they are in fact the films that were game-changers in a superhero movies domain and every one of them represents a different decade. My four was just the films that I deem to be perfect.
If I may make a suggestion regarding the list of 100 essential movies, Batman Forever is presented twice on the list under items 30 and 32. It’s a minor mistake but there is a spot for another great movie to include. I have read how much you enjoyed that movie as a kid which I can understand, but I actually think that it is not a better movie than Batman & Robin. Carrey’s Riddler and Jones as Two-Face were so incredibly annoying and over the top that it really spoiled the whole experience for me. Batman & Robin was such a spectacular catastrophe only because it was the second bad movie in a row but for me Batman Forever is actually not any more watchable than Batman & Robin, but probably both are essential as one of the biggest superhero movies of the 90’s.
I also watched a string of Marvel movies lately. I watched them in the following order:
Hulk, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It took me over two weeks and was a lot of fun! The only movie that I did not enjoy was Iron Man 3. I really think it was an accident at work in the Marvel Universe. I guess routine killed it as after the enormous success of the first two movies they thought that actors left alone at the movie set would do the whole job. I guess they were wrong. There were a lot of holes in the script, Robert Downey Jr. felt tired, villains were hopeless, Christmas angle felt out of place and the whole movie felt forced. It feels like it was not a fun movie to make and it is not fun to watch either. I really think it was the only bad Marvel movie of late and not essential to watch. Captain America: The Winter Soldier could take its spot on the list as it is a much better film.
Good catch, the 2nd Batman Forever is actually supposed to say Batman & Robin, I will correct that when I get a chance. I also left out any 2014 movies, but I plan to update this list yearly with additions from the previous year, I imagine Guardians of the Galaxy would also make it in. And I’m with you on Iron Man 3, but this list isn’t just about my opinion and that does have significance because of the Mandarin controversy, though that will likely be less notable over the years.
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