Ranked: The 20 Best Superhero Movies of All Time

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Ranked: The 20 Best Superhero Movies of All Time Newsweek

Although it feels like they've been around forever, Hollywood was pretty late to catch on to the power of the superhero movie. For the first half of the 20th century, they were mostly relegated to Saturday film serials, which like comic books themselves, were seen as low-budget entertainment for kids.

Richard Donner's 1978 movie Superman changed all that. The smash hit was the first to take superheroes seriously, and star Christopher Reeve became the square-jawed, all-American superhero prototype which would dominate the genre until the end of the century.

For some time, the superhero movie would remain tied to its pop-art comic book origins, often featuring wacky humor and archetypal heroes and villains. This tongue-in-cheek approach often hindered their success—the campy humor of 1997's Batman & Robin was critically mauled, and caused the franchise to lay dormant for almost a decade.

The dawn of the 21st century saw superheroes take on darker, more complicated character aspects. When Batman returned to the screen in 2005's Batman Begins, Christian Bale's brooding portrayal couldn't have been more different to the previous cinematic outing.

The subsequent two movies in the trilogy, The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), only fueled public demand for this new breed of tortured superhero, who could now perform jaw-dropping physical feats with the aid of much-improved special effects.

There was plenty more of this kind of superhero on the way. The Marvel Cinematic Universe launched in 2008 with Iron Man, and has since raked in over $17 billion at the worldwide box office. Their movies are often critical as well as commercial successes; the recent success of Black Panther shows that comic book adaptations can explore real-world social issues as well as fantastical landscapes and epic battles.

Now seen as a guaranteed money-maker in financially uncertain times, superhero franchises look like they'll be swooping into cinemas for years to come. 2019 will see the return of Captain Marvel and Spider Man, as well as the plethora of superheroes who frequent the Avengers franchise.

Looking at data from critical aggregation websites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, as well as user-submitted reviews from Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb, we've made a list of the 20 best superhero movies ever made.

01 Spider-Man- Homecoming
Marvel/Columbia Pictures

20. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). Total score: 77%. IMDb users: 7.5. Metacritic: 73. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.6. Rotten Tomatoes users: 4.2. 
Directed by: Jon Watts. Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr. 
Plot summary: Peter Parker balances his life as an ordinary high school student in Queens with his superhero alter-ego Spider-Man, and finds himself on the trail of a new menace prowling the skies of New York City.
What the critics said: "What makes this homecoming fun is [Tom] Holland, who seems as excited about Spider-Man as his classmates even though he is Spider-Man." Bob Mondello, NPR.

02 Batman Begins
DC Comics/Warner Bros.

19. Batman Begins (2005). Total score: 77%. IMDb users: 8.3. Metacritic: 70. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.7. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.9. 
Directed by: Christopher Nolan. Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman. 
Plot summary: After training with his mentor, Batman begins his fight to free crime-ridden Gotham City from corruption.
What the critics said: "The psychological realism and the science-fiction villainy don't always mesh seamlessly. But unlike so many superheroic summer spectacles, this one actually has a soul behind the special effects." David Ansen, Newsweek.

03 Spider-Man 2
Marvel/Columbia Pictures

18. Spider-Man 2 (2004). Total score: 77.25%. IMDb users: 7.3. Metacritic: 83. Rotten Tomatoes: 8.3. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.5. 
Directed by: Sam Raimi. Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco. 
Plot summary: Peter Parker is beset with troubles in his failing personal life as he battles a brilliant scientist named Doctor Otto Octavius.
What the critics said: "The web-slinging sequences are bigger-better-brighter-faster than the already spectacular ones in 2002's Spider-Man, and at the same time, the film's smaller emotional moments are denser, richer and more resonant than those in the first." Christy Lemire, Associated Press.

04 Captain America- The Winter Soldier
Marvel/Disney

17. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Total score: 77.5%. IMDb users: 7.8. Metacritic: 70. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.6. Rotten Tomatoes users: 4.3. 
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Starring: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan. 
Plot summary: As Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world, he teams up with a fellow Avenger and S.H.I.E.L.D agent, Black Widow, to battle a new threat from history: an assassin known as the Winter Soldier.
What the critics said: "This film is unlikely to convert a non-Captain America lover into a fanatic but it's assembled with sufficient skill that those who enjoy this sort of motion picture will have a good time." James Berardinelli, ReelViews.

05 Big Hero 6
Walt Disney

16. Big Hero 6 (2014). Total score: 77.75%. IMDb users: 7.8. Metacritic: 74. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.3. Rotten Tomatoes users: 4.3. 
Directed by: Don Hall, Chris Williams. Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, T.J. Miller. 
Plot summary: The special bond that develops between plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax, and prodigy Hiro Hamada, who team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.
What the critics said: "Big Hero 6 celebrates nerd culture. And not merely the pop-culture- obsessed version (comic books) but the let's-invent-something-cool kind. Hey, kids, this PG flick asserts, it's good to be taken with technology, crushed out on code, wowed by chemistry." Lisa Kennedy, Denver Post.

06 Thor- Ragnarok
Marvel/Disney

15. Thor: Ragnarok (2017). Total score: 78%. IMDb users: 7.9. Metacritic: 74. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.5. Rotten Tomatoes users: 4.2. 
Directed by: Taika Waititi. Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum. 
Plot summary: Thor is imprisoned on the planet Sakaar, and must race against time to return to Asgard and stop Ragnarök, the destruction of his world, at the hands of the powerful and ruthless villain Hela.
What the critics said: "Perfectly acceptable as an action movie but inspired as a comedy–which is probably where the Thor franchise should have been aiming from the start." Christopher Orr, The Atlantic.

07 Wonder Woman
DC Entertainment/Warner Bros.

14. Wonder Woman (2017). Total score: 78.25%. IMDb users: 7.5. Metacritic: 76. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.6. Rotten Tomatoes users: 4.3. 
Directed by: Patty Jenkins. Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis. 
Plot summary: When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, Diana, an Amazonian warrior in training, leaves home to fight a war, discovering her full powers and true destiny.
What the critics said: "Wonder Woman embraces issues of female power and the need to turn from hate to love, war to peace in a mainstream delivery system. And the female lead is not solely a mother, sister, girlfriend or hooker, however gold her heart: wonder of wonders!" Thelma Adams, Observer.

08 X-Men- Days of Future Past
Marvel/Twentieth Century Fox

13. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). Total score: 79%. IMDb users: 8. Metacritic: 75. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.5. Rotten Tomatoes users: 4.3. 
Directed by: Bryan Singer. Starring: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page. 
Plot summary: The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants.
What the critics said: "Tucked away amid all the existential melodrama is perhaps the most hilarious set piece ever to grace a superhero film." Christopher Orr, The Atlantic.