19 superhero movies you need to watch

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

If Avengers: Infinity War was Marvel's Empire Strikes Back, then Avengers: Endgame makes for the studio's Return of the Jedi: not quite as serious as the movie that came before, but covers up identifiable faults with jaw-dropping action and a sense of fun.

Endgame's stuffed three-hour runtime somehow feels breezy, with the movie being a mixture of both intimate and epic. The writers are deviously clever, paying homage to the other MCU movies while never losing sight of what's at stake. While some Marvel fans may not be best pleased by how the adventure ends following the almost unconquerable climax of Infinity War, there's one thing that's certain; we'll be talking about Endgame for years to come.  

Best superhero moment: Captain America to Falcon: "Try it on."

(Disney / Marvel)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

After Kenneth Brannagh's Shakespearean origin story and Alan Taylor's po-faced sequel, Thor was begging for a fresh start. Thank goodness, then, for Taika Waititi, director of What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, who turned the character around, re-imagining the God of Thunder as an arrogant, comedic mess. 

Thor: Ragnarok may not be the most important MCU movie, story-wise, but the movie makes for the funniest Marvel outing to date. Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, and Jeff Goldblum are all clearly having a blast playing off the fast and loose script. Also featuring dazzlingly outlandish visuals, thanks to some impressive set design and fantastical uses of CGI, Ragnarok makes for a comic book-induced fever dream.

Best superhero moment: Hulk vs Thor... Do we have to say any more?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Directors The Russo Brothers took what could have been a bland sequel to a so-so superhero movie and made something very special with The Winter Soldier: an action flick that, instead of harkening back to the first film's Second World War adventure, brings the paranoia of the Regan Era into the 21st Century. They even cast Robert Redford. 

Having now caught up with the world, Cap's back, and ready to bring down the enemy. But who's the enemy? That's the central question here, and one that leads to a jaw-dropping twist that changed the MCU (and the TV show Agents of Shield) forever.

Best superhero moment: When Steve Rogers takes out an entire elevator full of Hydra agents. "Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?"

(Marvel Studios/Disney)
Superman 2 (1980)

The number of superhero movies that have successfully juggled including multiple villains can be counted on one hand (the number of failures, though, requires you to use your fingers and toes). Against the odds, Superman 2 successfully managed exactly that, pitting Christopher Reeve's Son of Krypton against numerous antagonists (Krypton criminals General Zod, Ursa and Non in addition to a returning Lex Luthor), and pulling it off in near flawless style. 

This, on top of the much publicised behind-the-scenes woes (original director Richard Donner was fired over halfway through production), makes Superman 2 something of a movie miracle. How did the sequel succeed where others have since failed? By focusing on the endearing romance between Clark and Lois,giving the movie a very human heart. That, plus some of the finest physical action sequences of the 20th century. 

Best superhero moment: Superman's god-like battle with General Zod in Metropolis is one for the ages.  

(Warner Bros.)
Black Panther (2018)

The first superhero movie to ever receive an Oscar Best Picture nomination, Black Panther makes for a politically astute blockbuster that marks a significant step forward for diversity in Hollywood. However, even when you isolate the movie from its historical importance, Black Panther's a thrilling ensemble action flick that oozes with director Ryan Coogler's flair. 

Featuring an impressive cast roster and an incredibly realised Afro-futurist setting, Black Panther features warmth and humanity. Plus, Marvel finally has a villain worthy of your attention in Michael B Jordan's Killmonger, whose raw energy is never put to waste.

Best superhero moment: T'Challa heads to South Korea, where a cascading chase sequence snowballs into increasingly levels of mayhem.

(Marvel Studios/Disney)
Batman Begins (2005)

Between Tim Burton's and Christopher Nolan's Batman movies, there were a couple of, shall we say, mixed outings for the Caped Crusader. The thought of another one in the vein of Batman & Robin was hard to stomach, which perhaps made Batman Begins such a dark surprise. 

Nolan brought a certain seriousness to the tale of a billionaire with an alter-ego, the director approaching the comics without wanting to create another frivolous spectacle. This was the first time that a superhero movie was quite so downbeat, Bruce Wayne being a troubled, tormented protector, desperate to make a difference.

Best superhero moment: Eager to escape the cops, Batman shoots into his handily-parked Tumbler and makes his getaway.

(Warner Bros)
The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

Who is Batman? A tortured vigilante? Courageous hero? Wanted criminal? Or maybe, as The Lego Batman Movie makes clear, he's a privileged idiot who's desperate to be loved? As well as being a slapstick comedy rendered in gorgeous Lego visuals and crammed with Easter eggs, The Lego Batman Movie is one of the best character studies of the Dark Knight out there. 

Director Chris McKay, previously best known for episodes of Robot Chicken, wrings Bruce Wayne's isolated soul for brilliantly perceptive comedic effect. The fact that everyone's made out of Danish plastic is just a bonus.

Best superhero moment: Seeing what Bats gets up to when he's not crime-fighting, which mainly involves heating up lobster thermidor in the microwave.

(Warner Bros)
Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Captain America: Civil War basically amounts to Avengers: 2.5. The groundwork for the rift between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers is established in the lesser Age of Ultron, and finally comes up trumps in Civil War. Who's on the right side of history? The man who wants to ensure freedom and the American way? Or the the philanthropist who desires to have a world where superheroes are held accountable? 

There are still wise-cracks and silliness contained within Civil War, yet the movie takes a more serious tone than other MCU outings. The Russo Brothers do a miraculous job, somehow giving everyone their dues and introducing the world to Black Panther and a new-look Spider-Man.

Best superhero moment: That airport fight. Has there been a better Avengers tussle since?

(Marvel Studios/Disney)
The Avengers (Assemble) (2012)

Take Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Captain America, throw them together and what do you get? Not only The Avengers, but a mammoth blockbuster that established Marvel Studios as a true powerhouse. While team-ups had been happening in the comics for years, cinema finally caught up in 2012. And, while nobody expected The Avengers to work, Joss Whedon proved critics wrong, bringing together the superheroes in seemingly effortless style. 

No Avenger feels clunky or unnecessary to the story and the action sequences fly by. The Avengers fuse together into a slick machine ready to dispense justice like no other onscreen team before, and the result is thrilling.

Best superhero moment: Cap and Thor are locked in battle, but that doesn't stop Tony delivering an excellent one-liner: "Doth your mother know you stole her drapes?" 

(Marvel Studios/Disney)
Superman (1978)

Richard Donner's Superman may not have been the first feature to bring Krypton's favourite son to the big screen, but it remains, despite Zac Snyder's best effort, the best. While Superman may be an origin story, the movie does not simply explain Kal-El's past. It instead tells a spectacular story about a heroic man who falls in love and saves the day from a terrifying villain (Gene Hackman on wonderfully camp form). 

Christopher Reeve brings hope and humanity to Superman, making some of the cheesier elements of Donner's movie slightly easier to stomach. There has not been a better Clark Kent since.

Best superhero moment: As awe-inspiring today as it was in 1978: when Superman first takes flight.

(Warner Bros)
Unbreakable (2000)

A self-confessed comic book fan, director M. Night Shyamalan, master of the twist, decided not to adapt an already established superhero story and instead created something entirely original. 

Unbreakable makes for a remarkably subtle character study compared to some of the bigger-budget superhero flicks on this list, telling the tale of security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis) who has to come to grips with his abilities, all while dealing with the shady Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). There's no spandex; no moral ranting about responsibility, just a look at what having superpowers may actually look like.

Best superhero moment: David's son adds extra weight onto his father's dumbbells without Dad knowing. David lifts it anyway.

X2 (2003)

With everyone so desperate for the mutants to arrive in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fans often forget just how great those early X-Men movies are. X2 easily takes the top spot. Not only are the eponymous heroes going up against Magneto (playing with astonishing villainy by Ian McKellen), but also Brian Cox's Stryker. Mixed with a quasi-origins story for Wolverine (Hugh Jackman at his best) and some very distressing scenes in Stryker's base, you have superhero royalty right here.

Did we also mention the amazing cast? As well as the aforementioned names, there's Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, James Marsden and Famke Janssen appearing as the definite movie versions of Professor X, Storm, Cyclops and Jean Grey. 

Best superhero moment: Before Quicksilver stole scenes in the X-Men franchise, there was Nightcrawler. And watching the demon making his way through the White House remains a terrifying stand out moment.

Batman (1989)

For a minute, just forget about Nolan's Batman trilogy. Sure, we can thank the Inception filmmaker for injecting modern superhero movies with a sense of realism, but Tim Burton's take on the Caped Crusader had an equally huge impact on Hollywood. Following the success of Beetlejuice, Burton and Michael Keaton decided their next joint venture would be a retelling of a campy comic book hero on the big screen. Note: campy – not because of the source material, but because the previous Bats adaptation was Adam West's gadget-loving, spandex-wearing light knight. 

When Burton's version arrived, then, everyone was surprised at just how dark (literally and figuratively) a superhero movie could be. Anchored by Keaton's stoic performance and lifted my Jack Nicholson's iconic Joker, Batman holds its own against the CGI-heavy blockbusters of today and remains one of the best superhero movies of all time.

Best superhero moment: "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?" One of cinema's greatest quotes.

(Warner Bros.)
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Infinity War marks the climactic end to 18 movies worth of storytelling. Dozens of Marvel heroes finally unite together for a thrilling finale that miraculously feels like an ending (despite a sequel being a known extension of the story upon release). The Russo Brothers cram the running time with stunning fights, conflicts, and team-ups, all while giving the villain Thanos a thoroughly convincing back story. And the Purple Titan's the real star, bringing all the loose plot strands together. Josh Brolin offers a laudable performance as the CGI being, helping create a character who is truly terrifying. 

Elsewhere, both the script and the cast do an admirable job of managing an incredible headcount, as almost the entire MCU tries to stop Thanos. The scale and ambition of Infinity War is a daring achievement, and that ending... oh, that ending haunted Marvel fans for an entire year before Endgame finally landed.

Best superhero moment: "You should have gone for the head" *Snap*

(Disney/Marvel Studios)
Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Sam Raimi's second Spider-Man strikes a perfect balance between aerial acrobatics, action set pieces, Spidey's inner struggle to become a hero, and his romance with Mary Jane. There are a lot of pieces to juggle and yet every component works in tandem to create a near-perfect Spider-Man story. 

There's a great villain in Doctor Octavius, played by Alfred Molina, whose turn from mentor to antagonist makes for a heartbreaking story. Sure, some of the effects are dated, but Spider-Man 2 remains one of the best superhero movies to date.

Best superhero moment: Peter and Dr. Ock come to blows in the trilogy's best fight sequence: on a speeding train.

(Sony Pictures)
The Incredibles (2004)

One of Pixar's most beloved films, The Incredibles takes inspiration from the golden era of comic books, imitating recognisable moments and sequencing them for a family adventure that's entertaining for both kids and parents alike. 

Beneath the lycra outfits and caricature villains, The Incredibles makes for a heart-warming tale about the importance of family. Director Brad Bird, who also voices the movie's best side-character Edna Mode, proves why Tom Cruise wanted the filmmaker for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol with some stunning action set-pieces.

Best superhero moment: Samuel L. Jackson's Frozone can't lay his hands on his super suit and loses his – ahem – cool.  

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy rewrote the rules of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Turns out, superhero movies can be silly and irreverent. From the opening scene right up until the final moments, writer-director James Gunn's love for the material is on brazen display, every frame oozing with soul. 

And the cast. Chris Pratt's turn as the hilarious Star Lord was a revelation, the actor only really being known for Parcs and Recreation pre-Guardians. Then there's Zoe Saldana as the moody Gamora, Dave Bautista as the excellent Drax, and Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket. Every member of the eponymous group of misfits works. Plus, there's the throwback soundtrack and just enough fan service to make this a must-watch instalment in the MCU.

Best superhero moment: "Dance off, bro!"

(Disney/Marvel Studios)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse understands Spider-Man than any other Spider-Man movie: that he's a teenager struggling with Uncle Ben's famous adage: "With great power comes great responsibility."

Produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (of 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie fame), Spider-Verse makes for a beautifully animated romp through multiple dimensions that gives dozens of knowing nods to Spider-Man films and TV shows of the past, yet never excludes those viewers who may not have seen every Spidey outing. 

While the story centres on Miles Morales, Peter Parker's still here, thanks a split in the multiverse. As a result, we have multiple Spider-Men (including an older, chubbier Parker, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Ham, and even Nicholas Cage's noir Spider-Man) going up against Kingpin. The premise may sounds complicated, but Spider-Verse makes things seem so simple thanks to a hilarious and wip-smart script that has huge amounts of heart, all while toying with superhero convention. Plus, the animation is mesmerising, with every frame having been painstakingly crafted by the astoundingly good animation team. Did we mention this won the Oscar for Best Animation? Deservedly so.

Best superhero moment: Peter Porker (AKA, Spider-Ham, voiced by John Mulaney) asking Miles whether animals can talk in his dimension, "cause I don't want to freak [anybody] out."

(Sony Pictures)
The Dark Knight (2008)

Forget everything you know about comic book movies: the Dark Knight takes the formula and smashed it to smithereens. The middle instalment in Nolan's trilogy changed everything. 

Splitting screen time between day and night, The Dark Knight focuses as much – if not more – on Batman's alter ego, Bruce Wayne, who must grapple with the decidedly chewy morals of fighting crime and doing what's acceptable when saving the day. Gotham, meanwhile, is presented as a dark nightmare city with a festering underbelly of crime-lords and a general public aching for a hero.

Of course, any good superhero must have a super-villain to match them. Enter Heath Ledger's Joker. A controversial casting at the time, Ledger makes for the perfect manic, unnerving murderer. With garish makeup and enigmatic platitudes, Joker steals the show. When he was awarded a posthumous Oscar for best supporting actor, few were surprised. 

There have been several attempts to faithfully recreate Batman's story since Dark Knight, but never has it been achieved with such brazen disregard for the rules. Every superhero movie since 2008 owes a debt to The Dark Knight, and none have surpassed its glory.

Best superhero moment: Batman's decision to save The Joker at the last second with his grappling hook, and then going on to take the blame for Two-Face's crimes. A true hero.

(Warner Bros.)

These superhero movies will make you a true believer in the power of comic book cinema