When Action Comics No. 1 hit newsstands in June of 1938 and readers met Krypton’s number-one-son Superman, it was a big-bang event that kicked off what would become the Great American Superhero Obsession. Naturally, the movies wanted in on this craze as well. Thus, a few years later, serials like The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941), Batman (1943) and Captain America (1944) became matinee staples; even the Man of Steel would get his own 15-part adventure in 1948. Later, these comic-book characters would get co-opted by this newfangled invention called “television,” and you could tune in watch George Reeves move faster than a speeding bullet, Adam West and Burt Ward zap-blam-pow their way through a who’s-who of Bat-villains and Bill Bixby go from mild-mannered drifter to a raging green hulk. Don’t even get us started on Saturday morning cartoons.
By the time superheroes started making their way back to the big screen in the late 1970s and the 1980s, these defenders of truth and justice had become universally recognized icons — you didn’t have to be a comic-book reader to know what that black-and-yellow bat insignia meant, or understand that a red mask with white eyes and a web design equaled your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. And when the one-two punch of the first X-Men movie and Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man hit theaters within a few years of each other, the stage was set for the first part of the 21st century to give birth to what’s now a Golden Age of Superhero Movies.
So, after having navigated several cinematic universes and traveled through a host of multiverses, fought infinity wars and played endgames, rode shotgun with webslingers and prowled alongside dark knights and hung with so many supergroups that we’ve practically become charter members, we’ve ranked the top 50 superhero movies of all time. From the campy to the grimdark, the late nights in Gotham City to the sunrises in Wakanda, these are the films that both define the genre and have helped turn the thrill of watching comic-book characters leap on to the screen into a multiplex lingua franca.