A version of this list ran in 2014, but it has been updated throughout.
In 1998, predicting a fiscally and artistically rich superhero-movie industry would’ve gotten you laughed out of your local comics shop. Hell, the idea of an “industry” for movies about costumed heroes was ludicrous. No such thing had ever existed. Superhero movies had been few and far between throughout cinema history, and the then-most-recent superpowered flick had been 1997’s Batman and Robin — a movie so derided that George Clooney has spent 17 years apologizing for it. Then Wesley Snipes came along and changed everything. On August 21, 1998, Blade was released and audiences watched Snipes don the shades of the titular vampire-stabbing superhero (a longtime Marvel Comics staple). The picture earned more than $131 million worldwide. A revolution quietly began.
In the nearly two decades since, successful caped-crusader movies started trickling, then flooding, into theaters. Now we live in a world where the global film economy is largely built on them. The so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe alone has raked in more than $10 billion to date, and when a movie like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice makes $872 million, it’s regarded as something of a disappointment. Studios announce their superhero slates like Stalin announced five-year plans. High-profile directors get attached to adaptations of comics few have ever heard of. It sure feels like we’re in a bubble, but there’s no sign it’ll pop anytime soon — and even when it does pop, there will be plenty of products of this spandex-clad era worth rewatching. Here are the 25 best superhero movies since Blade kicked off their modern renaissance. (As you might expect, Suicide Squad didn’t quite make the cut.)
But first, let’s talk methodology. Our criteria for what constitutes a superhero movie are as follows. It must:
- Be about a do-gooder or group of do-gooders who either have superhuman abilities or are more skilled at crime-fighting than any real-life human reasonably could be. (Batman and the Punisher being examples of the latter.)
- Be set primarily on Earth (which excludes a sci-fi fantasia like Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy, as both are set in galaxies where superhuman abilities are commonplace).
- Not feature superhuman abilities powered by magic (that means no Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings movies).
There’s also a certain amount of Potter Stewart–esque logic here: You know a superhero when you see one.