Best Superhero Origin Movies
Here are our picks for the best superhero origins films!
Honorable Mention: The Rocketeer
In Joe Johnston's pulpy take on the 30s superhero, The Rocketeer, he crafts an action/adventure full of Nazi spies, high-tech gear, and witty one-liners that movie fans of all ages can enjoy. It's a fun-filled film of intrigue and romance with a strong cast including Alan Arkin, Timothy Dalton, Jennifer Connelly, and Billy Campbell. The movie holds up surprisingly well considering it's special effects are over two decades old, and there's never a dull moment due to it's excellent editing and perfect pacing. It's got a great score, cool period costumes, and production and set design that evokes the decade flawlessly. This is a highly underrated film that more movie fans should visit.
Marvel Studio took a big risk early on with this Shakespearean fantasy film from director Kenneth Branagh, but the gamble paid off as the movie became a crowd-pleaser with a hero that has a real arc. In the lead role, Chris Hemsworth delivers a knock-out performance making us care about a selfish prince who learns humility as he's cast out of the magnificent realm of Asgard to the desolate deserts of New Mexico. There are some stunning visual effects, a magical score, and a strong supporting cast including Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgaard, Kat Dennings, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Idris Elba, Colm Feore, and Tom Hiddleston. They have a lot of fun with the fish-out-of-water aspects of the story bringing situational and character-driven comedy to the forefront of many scenes. However, it never loses sight of the emotional hero's journey and complex sibling rivalry at the center of the film.
9. Batman Begins
A revolutionary film in the comic book genre, Batman Begins brought Christopher Nolan's vision of the Caped Crusader to the big screen in a bold and daring way. It goes deeper into the psyche of Bruce Wayne than any film before it as we get to see him develop the skills, attain the gadgetry, and create the vigilante persona the criminals of Gotham come to fear. Christian Bale brings everything he's got to the lead role crafting a disturbed and driven character the audience can relate to and root for. An outstanding supporting cast helps fill out this world with Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, and Katie Holmes all delivering great performances. It's got a grounded feel, gritty tone, and presents a look into Gotham City unlike anything anyone had seen before thanks to superb special effects, wonderful writing, and a haunting score from Hans Zimmer.
8. Man of Steel
Visionary director Zack Sndyer brought his signature stylish filmmaking technique to Superman in Man of Steel. Grounding the most fantastical superhero of them all was no easy task, but the smart script and the casting of Henry Cavill brought a heaviness and intensity to the role of the most popular and powerful superhero of all time. Turning Superman's origin into a first contact story was a stroke of genius and making his first villain a fellow Kryptonian, thus transforming the film into an alien invasion flick, was another brilliant move by the writers. Casting is flawless as Russell Crowe, Ayelet Zurer, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Antje Truer, Harry Lennix, Christopher Meloni, Amy Adams, and Michael Shannon all turn in fantastic work. The visual effects are astounding as they create entire worlds and allow the characters to do things no one could do in believable ways, and the Hans Zimmer score is emotionally powerful.
7. Captain America: The First Avenger
Going back to World War II, Captain America: The First Avenger was another big risk in the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which took us to another time and presented a patriotic hero without getting too cheesy. The entire film has a great retro feel that's heightened without feeling fake thanks to the special effects, costumes, makeup, and props. With the cast, the filmmakers made some inspired decisions bringing in Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, and Chris Evans who embodies Steve Rogers with ease. It's good to see a hero who simply does what's right because it's right without hesitation and is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. There's never been a better throwback superhero movie that feels this fresh and relevant.
Sam Raimi's Spider-Man is largely responsible for ushering in the modern era of superhero movies. This earnest take on the Wall-Crawler makes him the most relatable of all the super-powered beings thanks to Toby Maguire's nerdy, down-on-his-luck take on Peter Parker. The film certainly takes cues from Richard Donner's Superman as the entire cast plays things with truth, but still has fun with the comic book tropes, bringing humor and levity to a film that's also full of dramatic and weighty moments. The action is fun and kinetic, and the story of a boy and a girl is the beating heart that makes this film an instant classic. The line, "With great power and comes great responsibility" is one of the best bits of dialogue ever written and it sums up the entire character and his heroic journey perfectly.
This follow-up to the hit thriller The Sixth Sense has M. Night Shayamalan crafting a family-centered crime drama around a superhero origin story. It's got Bruce Willis in what might be his best role ever as husband and father David Dunn who discovers his own unique physical abilities and must decide how to use them. In the role of Mr. Glass, Samuel L. Jackson is Dunn's opposite in every way who's body is fragile, but his powerful mind wrecks havoc on the world. The film takes M. Night's love of comic books and brings those fantasies into the real world in the most grounded movie version of a superhero story that's ever been made. The acting is phenomenal with Willis and Jackson showcasing their significant acting ability here better than anywhere else, and the likes of Robin Wright, Spencer Treat Clark, and Charlyne Woodward all bringing their best to each of their important supporting roles.
4. Wonder Woman
Glal Gadot beautifully embodies Wonder Woman physically, mentally, and spiritually in this film from director Patty Jenkins. Somehow, Gadot is able to play Diana Prince as a naive outsider without coming off as stupid in any way. Her relationship with Chris Pine's Steve Trevor is at the heart of the film, and Pine does an amazing job with his role making him an indispensable part of the production bringing the Amazonian princess into the real world and showing her the horrifying truth about mankind during the first World War. Sporting players like Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, and Eugene Brave Rock all help flesh out this world and have real impact on Diana as she goes along her journey. The incredible costumes, astonishing production design, and stellar score make this one stand out among the rest.
3. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
The best Batman story ever told, Mask of the Phantasm has Batman ready to give up his crusade due to an unexpected romance, but also shows us when he first donned the cape and cowl after the death of his parents. Kevin Conroy remains the best actor to ever portray the Dark Knight as he brings pathos to the role, as well as a menacing quality to the character. Mark Hamill's Joker is also the best version of Batman's arch-nemesis as he is an unhinged and disturbing villain while also remaining totally hilarious. It's got a surprisingly romantic storyline and retains the noir tone and feel of the animated series which this movie is based on. This is the ultimate story featuring the Caped Crusader with great animated action, magnificent musical score, and a fittingly dour ending.
2. Iron Man
Ushering in the newest era of superhero films, and modern film-making in general, is Jon Favreau's Iron Man. This action-packed, heartfelt, and humorous blockbuster kicked-off the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a bang by bringing Tony Stark to life and setting up the rest of this fantastic world. In the lead role, Robert Downey Jr. simply is Iron Man making for one of the best casting choices of all time. He gives Stark the self-destructive playboy qualities without making him unlikable and transforms him into an intelligent and selfless hero we can stand up and cheer for. The visual effects are so good, but the use of practical effects helps make the whole thing tangible, grounding it in just enough reality to sell us on the idea that this high-tech suit of armor actually exists. The balance of heart and humor has since become the signature of the franchise, and it all started here.
The best superhero origin movie is Superman. This film still is the gold standard by which all others are judged because it was the first feature film based on a comic book making it a groundbreaking moment in the history of cinema. Richard Donner's motto "verisimilitude" made the production what it was since it means "the appearance of being real or true" forcing the cast and crew to do everything with gusto. As Superman, Christopher Reeve embodies the character as no one before or since giving him relatable qualities and genuine emotion while also being the most powerful being on the planet creating a meek hero we can all aspire to be. Margot Kidder is spunky as the intrepid reporter Lois Lane who'll do whatever it takes to get the scoop and falls hard for Supes without making her seem like too much of a damsel in distress or simple love interest. Gene Hackman makes Lex Luthor a menacing yet hysterical villain and perfect foil to the Man of Steel thanks to his superior intellect and vast resources. The rest of the cast including Marlon Brando, Glenn Ford, Phyllis Thaxter, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, and Valerie Perrine all help support the story being told with their brilliant performances. Revolutionary special effects, great costumes, awesome production design, an unforgettable John Williams score, and a wonderful script by Mario Puzo come together to make a truly awe-inspiring film.