Hate superhero movies? 35 movies to change your mind (2024)

Hate superhero movies? 35 movies to change your mind (1)

If superheroes saving the world from VFX-heavy bad guys has you feeling numb, you're not the only one. While superhero movies are easily the most popular movie genre of the 21st century, constant domination has made more than a few people feeling fatigued. But might there be a few transgressive superhero movies that can entertain even the most hardcore cynics? Turns out, yes, there are quite a few.

Superhero movies have been around since the beginning of cinema, with scholars naming Mandrake the Magician from 1939 and The Shadow from 1940 as being the first true superhero movies. Eventually the biggest comic book superheroes like Captain Marvel, Superman, and Batman all enjoyed prominence as film serial icons.

But the dominant form of superhero movies we recognize now arguably began with the rollout of Blade in 1998, followed by X-Men in 2000. When Sam Raimi's Spider-Man broke box office records in 2002, nothing was the same. 10 years later, Marvel released The Avengers, a movie that paid off its risky gamble of interconnected storytelling that audiences, turned out, totally had the patience to follow all the way.

With decades of endless superhero movies, surely many are feeling just a little tired. But if you're truly an anti-superhero movie person, or looking for something fresh in a stale genre, seek out these 35 movies to change your mind.

35. Dredd (2012)

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Before Karl Urban went hunting for Supes in The Boys, he wore the helmet and uniform of Judge Dredd in the woefully underrated 2012 action movie Dredd. Based on the 2000 AD comic strips, Dredd drops Urban as the futuristic super cop Judge Dredd who is trapped, along with his rookie partner Cassandra (Olivia Thirlby), in a high-rise apartment block ruled by the ruthless crime lord Ma-Ma (Lean Headey). While not strictly a superhero production, Dredd's origins as a cult British comic book and its gritty aesthetic is heavily informed by superhero movie conventions. The only difference is that Judge Dredd's alignment with a fascistic police force is made more explicit than it is implicit with other mainstream superhero teams.

34. Brightburn (2019)

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What if Superman grew up into a monster instead of a hero? That's the compelling conceit behind Brightburn, David Yarovesky's 2019 super-horror movie written by cousins Brian and Mark Gunn and produced by James Gunn (yes they're all related). Elizabeth Banks and David Denman co-star as rural Kansas farmers who adopt an alien infant and raise him as their own. But when the boy grows into a troubled adolescent, his powers become a nightmare for an unsuspecting community. Dark and violent, Brightburn is maybe more interesting than it is any good, in its exercise of blending genres than actually delivering a truly worthwhile experience. But Brightburn still raises real scares in the glowing eyes of a strange being from another world.

33. The Super Inframan (1975)

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The tokusatsu genre has its roots in Japan, with legendary media like Godzilla, Kamen Rider, and Ultraman. But in 1975, the famed Shaw Brothers tried giving China its own transforming icon with The Super Inframan, directed by Hua Shan. Danny Lee stars as the title superhero, a thunderbolt avenger in red and silver who defends the Earth from alien invaders using both his alien powers and good old fashioned Chinese kung fu. A lively hybrid of Chinese and Japanese filmmaking, The Super Inframan is unlike any superhero movie you've seen before. In a 2018 Twitter Q&A, Marvel director Peyton Reed said that Inframan was one of several reference points for Paul Rudd's Ant-Man costume.

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32. Constantine (2005)

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During the release of Constantine in 2005, hardcore Hellblazer comic book readers were frustrated by the movie's dramatic changes to the character of John Constantine. Namely, his British identity and bleach blond hair (originally inspired by Sting). But all that aside, Francis Lawrence's supernatural superhero film nails the desolate, unholy atmosphere of the comic book series, plus a post-Matrix Keanu Reeves suiting the part of a moody occult detective eerily well. Constantine may not satisfy the most faithful fans, but film aficionados have come to revere it as a superhero movie that dares to pray at a different altar.

31. Smoking Causes Coughing (2022)

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While Americans maintain serious nostalgia for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, in countries like Brazil and France, their fondness rests in classic '80s Sentai like Bioman. In 2023, French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux paid homage to his childhood watching French-dubbed Japanese tokusatsu with his satirical farce Smoking Causes Coughing. His movie follows a week in the lives of the heroic Tobacco Force, who recoup from a devastating battle by embarking on a company retreat to rehabilitate their eroding team dynamic. Produced with roughly the same exact budget as Power Rangers and Super Sentai, Smoking Causes Coughing will have you wheezing from laughter.

30. Zebraman (2004)

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Childhood dreams clash with the harsh realities of adulthood in Takashi Miike's superhero comedy Zebraman. Disrespected by his students and even his own family, a middle-aged man (Show Aikawa) dons the costume of his favorite television superhero Zebraman. After exhibiting real superpowers, "Zebraman" is called into action to save the world from an actual alien invasion, all while avoiding the same fate as his boyhood idol. Takashi Miike again focuses his cameras on his favorite kind of subjects - iconoclasts living extraordinary lives in the margins of modern life - to reveal how even absolute zeroes can become heroes.

29. The Batman (2022)

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No one needs an introduction to Batman. But for anyone allergic to the deafening noise of big-budget productions, Matt Reeves' singular take on the Batman legend is one hell of an antidote. Set in its own universe, The Batman stars Robert Pattinson as a Batman still early in his crime-fighting career as he tracks down an elusive serial killer calling himself The Riddler (Paul Dano). Though still a major Hollywood production, Reeves' crime noir-inspired interpretation casts a different shade over the Caped Crusader, drenching him in acid rain and surrounding him with shadowy city dwellers. Sure, The Batman is still a "dark Batman movie," of which there's no shortage of. But that doesn't stop The Batman from feeling like one of a kind.

28. The Guyver (1991) and Guyver: Dark Hero (1994)

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While Guyver is an established sci-fi franchise in Japan with various manga and anime adaptations, two low-budget Hollywood movies took the Japanese superhero into the American underground. In 1991, special effects wizards Steve Wang and Screaming Mad George collaborated as directors on The Guyver, with Jack Armstrong playing a California martial artist who comes in contact with an alien device that turns him into a superhero. Mark Hamill appears in a supporting role of a CIA agent, though the movie's misleading poster made it seem like Hamill morphs into The Guyver. The sequel Guyver: Dark Hero released in 1994, being a more action-oriented installment with less comedic gags; Metal Gear Solid's David Hayter replaces Armstrong in the lead role. Both films are strong introductions to the tokusatsu genre, which were briefly in vogue in the early 1990s amid the success of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

27. Super (2010)

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Before taking control of the entire DC Universe, James Gunn applied his DIY spirit and Troma heritage to the superhero genre with the underrated, overlooked Super. A black comedy-drama with an all-star cast - including Rainn Wilson, Elliot Page, Liv Tyler, and even Kevin Bacon - Super tells the story of a pathetic fry cook named Frank (Wilson) whose recovering addict wife (Tyler) has left him for a sleazy strip club owner (Bacon). Fearing his wife has relapsed under her new boyfriend's influence, Frank dons the mask of the Crimson Bolt to save her and take down her boyfriend's underworld empire. Before Gunn broke box office records, his star-studded indie Super made us question whose lives, precisely, are really saved by superheroes.

26. Upgrade (2018)

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In the same year that Sony and Marvel's Venom grossed a monstrous $850 million worldwide, director Leigh Whannell delivered a more vicious version of a similar story. In Upgrade, Logan Marshall-Green plays a paralyzed mechanic named Grey. While mourning the senseless murder of his beautiful wife (Melanie Vallejo), Grey is injected with a cutting-edge A.I. implant that not only helps him regain motor functions, but turns him into a lethal killing machine. While Grey embarks on a road to avenge his wife, the implant slowly reveals its own agenda. Taut and thrilling, Upgrade is the anti-superhero movie Venom wishes it could be.

25. Black Mask (1996)

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Bruce Lee's first big break in Hollywood was portraying the masked martial artist Kato, sidekick to Van Williams in the pulp TV series The Green Hornet in 1966. Lee's legacy influenced many around the world, including Chinese comics artist Li Chi Tak. In 1992, Tak released his superhero comic Black Mask, about a masked vigilante with a striking resemblance to Kato. In 1996, action star Jet Li kicked his career into high gear starring in a film adaptation of Black Mask, where Li plays a quiet librarian with a secret identity as a top secret super soldier. Black Mask is a blast, if only for its attractive showcase of Jet Li in his physical prime.

24. Archenemy (2020)

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If a bearded man came up to you on the street raving about an intergalactic war and his past life as a superhero, would you believe them? Or would you call the police? Such is a dilemma grilled by filmmaker Adam Egypt Mortimer in his 2020 indie gem Archenemy. Joe Manganiello stars in the lead role of "Max Fist," a scruffy hobo who claims to be a hero from another dimension. He teams up with a teenager (Skylan Brooks) to take out a crime boss, while the truth behind Max Fist's wild claims never stop being in question. A strange but spectacular movie that challenges our expectations for the superhero genre, Archenemy goes up, up, and away into a different realm entirely.

23. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

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While author Alan Moore wants nothing to do with it (he doesn't want anything to do with any adaptations of his work, actually), that hasn't stopped The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from drumming up a cult audience. Based on Moore's comics made with Kevin O'Neill, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen sees the assembly of Victorian-era "superheroes." Major characters like Captain Nemo, Dorian Gray, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Fantômas, and more all gather under the command of Allan Quartermain, played by Sean Connery in his last live-action movie. Though Extraordinary Gentlemen bombed with critics in 2003, it has slowly won favoritism among genre fans who see it in all its pulp glory.

22. Shin Ultraman (2022) and Shin Kamen Rider (2023)

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In contrast to other cinematic universes so reliant on legally enabled connectivity across projects, the "Shin Japan Heroes Universe" is a triumvirate between Japanese studio giants Toho, Toei, and Tsuburaya. Together, the three stand behind famed animation director Hideaki Anno, who since 2016 has put his stamp on the studios' most iconic properties starting with Shin Godzilla. In 2022, Hideaki Anno - in collaboration with filmmaker Shinji Higuchi - released Shin Ultraman, his own interpretation of Tsuburaya's iconic monster fighter. He did it again in 2023 with Toei's motorcycle-riding cyborg Kamen Rider. Both pictures breathe new life to vintage tokusatsu, sporting singular authorship that bigger budget rivals lack the courage to afford.

21. The Incredibles (2004)

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Before Disney simply bought its superhero brands, Disney - through studio Pixar - created its own throwback-flavored franchise with Brad Bird's spy-fi homage The Incredibles. A tribute to Golden and Silver Age science fiction and superhero comics, The Incredibles takes place in a universe where superheroes are outlawed and the last generation of them hide in plain sight. When Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) comes out of retirement, followed shortly by his own wife Elasti-Girl (Holly Hunter), he discovers the truth behind his fellow heroes' downfall. Between Brad Bird's blazing direction, a universally relatable story about work/life imbalances, and a pulsating score by Michael Giacchino, The Incredibles proves superhero epics don't need big IP branding to save the day.

20. Darkman (1990)

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What do you get when you mix Sam Raimi, superhero movies, and Raimi's affections for the Universal Monsters? Enter: Darkman. Starring Liam Neeson in the title role, Darkman tells of a scientist named Dr. Westlake who is left for dead, only to be healed back to life with new superpowers. Now seeking to repair his life, including his relationship to his girlfriend Julie (Frances McDormand), Westlake dons the identity of "Darkman" to exact vengeance against those who ruined his life. Predating Raimi's own Spider-Man film series, Darkman sees the splatter auteur draw from other movies like The Elephant Man and The Shadow to bring his own original hero to the big screen, with all the usual Raimi pizazz his fans expect.

19. Kick-Ass (2010)

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Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe truly boomed, Matthew Vaughn adapted Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s original comic book series Kick-Ass to the big screen. Aaron Taylor-Johnson stars as dweeby high school student Dave who turns himself into a vigilante superhero - the internet sensation Kick-Ass - and gets caught up in another superhero duo’s mission to take down a crime boss. (Nicolas Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz co-star, as the father/daughter team Big Daddy and Hit-Girl.) While Kick-Ass’ gleeful R-rated take on superheroes feels passé in a post-Deadpool world, Kick-Ass still hits hard.

18. Hellboy (2004)

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Hellboy wasn’t the first superhero comic that celebrated filmmaker Guillermo del Toro applied his craft. (That honor goes to Blade II.) But Hellboy features so much more of del Toro’s signature touches that it’s easy to forget Hellboy was first a comic book by Mike Mignola. The movie details Hellboy’s origins, as a demon from Hell raised by a gentle scientist during World War II, and grows up into a top secret federal agent. Ron Perlman memorably fills the combat boots of Hellboy, while Selma Blair co-stars, in a picture that renders Mignola’s already gorgeous and textured art into three dimensions. It’s just one hell of a good time.

17. Saban's Power Rangers (2017)

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Although it didn’t mighty morph the box office, the PG-13 oriented reboot Power Rangers from 2017 has aged rather well as an anti-nostalgic take on the ‘90s TV hit. With a charismatic cast all playing moody teenagers who might otherwise wallow in their ennui if not for the call of destiny, Power Rangers surpasses low expectations to be more than a post-Twilight YA franchise non-starter. If nothing else, you can’t take your eyes off Elizabeth Banks going absolutely gonzo as Rita Repulsa. If only we could see that sequel with, according to rumors, a female Green Ranger.

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

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The miracle act that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse pulls off is that it never loses sight of Miles Morales and his coming-of-age growth no matter how many other masked spiders crowd the movie. Inspired by Dan Slott’s Spider-Verse comics crossover from 2014, Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales comes in contact with a genetically modified spider and learns to be a hero under the webbed wings of (an alternate dimension) Peter Parker. With snappy humor, gorgeous animation, and a true back-to-basics approach to genre conventions, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse felt like the true beginning of a new era. And it was. Anyone claiming fatigue of superheroes ought to see what kind of inventive web Into the Spider-Verse weaves.

15. The Green Hornet (2011)

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Before Sony had Spider-Man’s benchwarmer villains to make movies out of, the studio tried striking out with, well, other superhero IP. In 2011, it had the opportunity to reintroduce the pulp radio character The Green Hornet to a 21st century public. With Seth Rogen in the lead role and Taiwanese pop sensation Jay Chou - as sidekick Kato, a role Bruce Lee made famous - there were clearly high hopes for a franchise. (Did we mention acclaimed filmmaker Michel Gondry was behind the wheel?) Sadly The Green Hornet didn’t sting and bombed in its dumpy winter 2011 opening. But in hindsight, its freewheeling humor compliments its efforts to subvert superhero movie clichés. The Green Hornet has aged well, unlike most other Green Hornet media from the 1940s.

14. Split (2017)

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Billed as a disturbing horror movie with a chameleonic James McAvoy as a man suffering from multiple personality disorder - and opposite him Anya Taylor-Joy, riding buzz from her debut in The Witch two years earlier - Split stunned, if not confused moviegoers with a cameo from Bruce Willis at the end. Why? Because 17 years after his acclaimed film Unbreakable, a cerebral thriller that thematically evoked superhero lore, Split revealed itself to be a surprise sequel set in the same universe. Though the climax of Glass in 2019 shattered hopes for a satisfying climax, Split snuck its way into the conversation of superhero movies forever, not to mention being a quality thriller in its own right.

13. The Suicide Squad (2021)

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After James Gunn was (temporarily) booted from Marvel Studios over old unsavory tweets, he was poached by rival DC to do something with its Suicide Squad film franchise. While Gunn eventually wound up in Marvel’s graces again, he still delivered his hard-hitting, rollicking war movie homage The Suicide Squad. A loose sequel to the gaudy 2016 movie, The Suicide Squad reunites Task Force X, plus newcomers, for a mission in South America. Popping with color and featuring a studded cast including Idris Elba, John Cena, David Dastmalchian, Peter Capaldi, and of course Margot Robbie back as Harley Quinn, The Suicide Squad brought badass action back to theaters amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It retains more noteworthy status for spotlighting what James Gunn could do with DC’s toy box before sitting over DC Studios.

12. X2: X-Men United (2003)

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Alongside the Wesley Snipes-led Blade, X-Men from director Bryan Singer ushered in the modern superhero movie boom. (That movie also introduced Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, easily one of the most effective casting decisions in Hollywood history.) Three years after X-Men's theatrical release in 2000, Singer’s sequel X2: X-Men United upped the ante, with a politically charged action tentpole in which Brian Cox - nearly 20 years before starring in HBO's Succession - plays a military colonel with plans to rid the world, but primarily America, of mutants for good. Overall faster-paced and more exciting than its predecessor without sacrificing quality, X2: X-Men United is truly the best of mutantkind.

11. The Rocketeer (1991)

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A dieselpunk superhero takes flight in this retro-nostalgic adventure from director Joe Johnston, adapting Dave Stevens' original comic book character. Released in 1991 from Walt Disney Studios, The Rocketeer stars Billy Campbell as a 1930s stunt pilot who comes across a cutting-edge jetpack, which he uses to become the flying avenger Rocketeer. A lively throwback to the bygone pulp heroes of yesteryear, The Rocketeer mixes the gee-whiz innocence of Saturday matinée serials with more modern blockbuster standards. 20 years later, Johnston would revisit a similar aesthetic and time period to envision a different hero altogether: Captain America, for Captain America: The First Avenger.

10. Shazam! (2019)

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Once upon a time, the most popular superhero wasn't Superman, but a big red cheese named Captain Marvel. (Long story.) In 2019, Captain Marvel - now going by the name Shazam - hit the big screen, fully realized for the Fortnite generation in David F. Sandberg's impossibly underrated superhero pic Shazam! While it shares continuity with the DC cinematic universe, Shazam! stands alone as an accessible, coming-of-age joyride about orphan teen Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who is granted the powers of gods by an ancient wizard (Djimon Honsou). With the utterance of the word "Shazam," Billy becomes a 6-foot-4 titan (played by Zachary Levi) with superpowers. As electric as Zeus' lightning but unsuspecting in its emotional darkness, Shazam! can make even the most cynical moviegoer say the magic words.

9. Watchmen (2009)

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Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' seminal comic book series Watchmen is untouchable, a cerebral and socio-political deconstruction of the superhero genre profoundly informed by post-Vietnam and Cold War anxieties as it concerns the fate of the world. While Moore disowns all adaptations of his stories, his Watchmen got the once-thought-impossible Hollywood treatment from 300 director Zack Snyder. Visually faithful to the material while still missing the thematic point entirely, Watchmen is a magnificent late-aughts epic that recycles Moore and Gibbons' same fears about the world and recontextualizes them in a climate shaped by the War on Terror and sudden economic recession.

8. Mechanical Violator Hakaider (1995)

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Before superhero franchise villains like Loki and The Penguin enjoyed starring in their own TV shows, Toei saw some spin-off potential in the antagonist Hakaider who originated in the 1972 tokusatsu TV classic Android Kikaider. In Mechanical Violator Hakaider, a stand-alone 1995 sci-fi film directed by Keita Amemiya, Hakaider awakens in an undetermined future timeline and uses his powers to defend a utopian village. Although Mechanical Violator Hakaider didn't launch a revival for the Kikaider franchise, the movie alone enjoys underground cult status as a rip-roaring midnight action flick.

7. Chronicle (2012)

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Its creative lineage is unsavory in hindsight, being written by canceled personality Max Landis and directed by Josh Trank whose career never rebounded after his failed Fantastic Four reboot in 2015. But Chronicle, released in 2012, is still a cult favorite for its fresh take on teens with powers. Shot in found-footage verite style, Chronicle follows three high school seniors who bond over their newfound superpowers until one of them takes a darker turn. Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, and Michael B. Jordan all lead one of the most memorable superhero thrillers of the 2010s, a movie that effortlessly combines The Blair Witch Project, Kids, Akira, and X-Men in one taut package.

6. The Crow (1994)

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While its memorably dark and grungy vibe is owed to director Alex Proyas and a soundtrack with Nine Inch Nails and The Cure, The Crow soars decades later because of lead actor Brandon Lee, who died in a freak accident during filming. Lee's charisma and handsome visage haunt The Crow, in an eerily fitting superhero story about a vengeful rock star who comes back to life one year after his family's murder on Halloween. Long before movie stars lost their aura to the superhero figures they flesh out, The Crow - based on the comic by James O'Barr - was a genuine synthesis of superhero lore and magnetic lead who actually breathed life into them.

5. Punisher: War Zone (2008)

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Just as the Marvel Cinematic Universe was properly taking off, the short-lived Marvel Knights existed as a production arm under Marvel Studios to adapt Marvel's darker, lesser known characters to the screen. Four years after Jonathan Hensleigh's The Punisher, filmmaker Lexi Alexander - truly the first woman to direct a Marvel movie - was given the reins over her stand-alone reboot/sequel, Punisher: War Zone. Taking even more inspiration from the Punisher comics, Punisher: War Zone is a disarmingly gorgeous midnight action movie with chiaroscuro contrast lighting and an imposing Ray Stevenson in the role of Frank Castle. Punisher: War Zone doesn't posture to be more than what it is. Instead, it doubles down on exactly what you think a Punisher movie to look and feel like, and the result is nothing short of extraordinary.

4. Spider-Man (2002)

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Superhero movies ruled cinema screens in the 2000s for a reason, and that's because of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. In an early era when even the X-Men were averse to colorful costumes, Raimi dressed up New York's resident web-slinger in a faithful recreation of his classic look, all in an exciting story about the trials and tribulations of swinging into adulthood. Tobey Maguire dons the mask of Spider-Man in his origin story, who battles his nemesis Green Goblin (an impenetrable Willem Dafoe) while trying to save the girl of his dreams (Kirsten Dunst). After Spider-Man blew up the summer box office in 2002, the world was never the same.

3. Unbreakable (2000)

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Mainstream audiences had yet to fully grasp superhero movies when M. Night Shyamalan unleashed his cerebral deconstruction of the genre in his unforgettable thriller Unbreakable. Bruce Willis plays David Dunn, a family man and security guard who slowly discovers his impossible gifts. He is "mentored" by an eccentric comic book art collector Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson), himself a physically frail individual, who lectures him on the meaning of his destiny - although he has ulterior motives, too. Unlike most other superhero movies out there, Unbreakable is methodical and deliberate in its storytelling, a muscular interpretation of superhero conventions minus the indignities of convoluted, overproduced production. In concert with an elegant score by James Newton-Howard, and you've got something close to a perfect movie.

2. Superman: The Movie (1978)

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All superheroes trace their origins back to Superman, whose comic book debut in 1938, hoisting a car on the cover of Action Comics #1, birthed the modern superhero we know today. Decades later, amid national crises like Vietnam and Watergate, Richard Donner made the world believe a man could fly with Superman: The Movie. Although the film is indeed the ur-text for the modern superhero blockbuster, Superman still holds up like unbendable steel as a romantic and idealistic vision of superheroes in our "real" world. They're not always arbiters of destruction, but living examples of truth, justice, and a better tomorrow.

1. Logan (2017)

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When you think about it, Logan is a miracle. Under the dominance of billion-dollar Marvel movies, James Mangold helmed his second Wolverine movie (after 2013's The Wolverine) and delivered a stone cold neo-Western classic. In one of his most dimensional performances of his career, Hugh Jackman fleshes out Wolverine one last time (or so we thought) in a future setting where the X-Men are no more. Floundering about with weakened powers, Wolverine is called to action to protect a young girl who is, genetically speaking, his "daughter" (Dafne Keen) from the clutches of a ruthless corporation. Although superhero movies kept going after Logan, Mangold's movie first challenged audiences to remember that for superhero stories to mean something, at some point, they have to end.

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Eric Francisco

Contributor

Eric Francisco is a freelance entertainment journalist and graduate of Rutgers University. If a movie or TV show has superheroes, spaceships, kung fu, or John Cena, he's your guy to make sense of it. A former senior writer at Inverse, his byline has also appeared at Vulture, The Daily Beast, Observer, and The Mary Sue. You can find him screaming at Devils hockey games or dodging enemy fire in Call of Duty: Warzone.

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