Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a film genre that’s taken over mainstream Hollywood and multiplex culture faster than a single bullet! Superhero movies have gone through a massive evolution over the last few decades, from special-event blockbusters (“You’ll believe a man can fly”) to expanded-universe franchises that mimic serialized comic-story arcs with impressive fidelity. Not every cinematic superhero is created equal, however, even if many of their origins stories seems the same – so we’ve ranked the 50 greatest caped crusaders and friendly-neighborhood crimefighters, Justice Leaguers and Avengers, off-brand men-in-tights and MCU-and-beyond all-stars to grace the big-screen.
A note about the picks: We’ve relegated superheroes who’ve had numerous actors behind a singular character’s mask to one performer and asked writers to choose which of the performances they preferred regarding the list; we’ve done this avoid, say, six different Batman entries. We’ve identified the particular version we’re singling out and tried to mention as many of the other portrayals as we could. Also, supervillains were not eligible (see title), but a supervillain who eventually transformed into a superhero was eligible – what we call the Mystique Syndrome. Read on.
[Editor’s Note: a version of this list was originally published July 2018.]