Top 12 Superhero Movies of the 21st Century

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While superhero fanatics across the world were gifted to many great titles prior to the turn of the century (Superman I & II, Batman, Batman Returns) and also a few we’d rather forget (we’re looking at you Batman & Robin!), the true dawning of the superhero age was at the beginning of the 21st century. We’re looking back through the Top 12 Superhero Movies of the 21st Century.

In 2000, we were given the first movie of the X-Men franchise. This movie showed us that a group of mutants are capable of capturing our shorter and shorter attention spans. In 2002 we were re-introduced to a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, quickly followed by a second and third instalment. Suddenly, a young man with the ability to shoot web out of his arm & crawl up the sides of buildings was bringing in $800+ million with each instalment. These movies proved so popular with fans and critics that suddenly we began to see the dawn of a new blockbuster age. 

Fast forward almost 20 years (far out, we’re getting old), and Superhero culture is now bigger than ever. The movies being developed are not only being revered as the best Superhero films ever, but in some cases, as some of the greatest movies we’ve EVER seen.

With this in mind, we have put together OUR list of the 12 Best Superhero Movies of the 21st Century. For the sake of clarity, these are ONLY live-action movies that have appeared on the big screen.

12. Thor Ragnarok – Marvel – MCU

Released: 2017

Thor Ragnarok | Top 12 Superhero Movies of the 21st Century | Popcorn Banter

If we are talking about story quality, i’m not sure that Thor Ragnarok would make this Top 12. But when you think about the fact that the directors and the actors successfully reinvented the wheel with characters and formats that audiences were well and truly used to, this movie is something special. Along with some gags that rival the original Guardians of the galaxy, a fantastic soundtrack and some spectacular action sequences, Thor: Ragnarok easily earns a place in this Top 12.

11. Iron Man – Marvel – MCU

Released: 2008

Iron Man started everything for the MCU | Top 12 Superhero Movies of the 21st Century | Popcorn Banter

The film that started everything for the MCU. It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when Iron Man wasn’t regarded as a major Marvel character. With an exceptional portrayal of Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr. once again became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Similar to Batman Begins, Iron Man is an exceptional origin story. In comparison to newer MCU films, it has aged slightly; however, it still takes a firm place inside this Top 12.

10. Deadpool – Marvel – Fox

Released: 2016

Deadpool | Top 12 Superhero Movies of the 21st Century | Popcorn Banter

No one could have possibly expected Deadpool to be as good as it was. Not even Ryan Reynolds. The 4th wall breaking, the huge array of hilariously delivered swear words, and some pleasingly non-cliche moments meant that Deadpool was just a treat. Ryan Reynolds officially made up for any part he had to play in Green Lantern and stuck his middle finger up at the people who wrote his original Deadpool character. It’s just a pity he isn’t a part of the greater MCU family…yet.

9. Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel – MCU

Released: 2014

Guardians of the galaxy | Top 12 Superhero Movies of the 21st Century | Popcorn Banter

Guardians of the Galaxy felt like a second (or third?)-coming for comic book movies. Whilst we can’t categorically say that the genre was losing any steam, it did feel a bit like it was going through the motions with titles like Thor: The Dark World & Iron Man 3.

Luckily, Guardians Vol: 1, showed us that a superhero movie could be serious and wickedly funny at the same time. Coupled with what is probably the greatest soundtracks of any movie ever, this definitely deserves it’s place in the line up. GotG also gets upvoted for taking a mostly unknown group of characters and turning them into household names overnight.

8. Batman Begins – DC – Nolan Trilogy

Released: 2005

Batman Begins | Top 12 Superhero Movies of the 21st Century | Popcorn Banter

Batman Begins gets an enormous amount of credit as it’s able to build a fantastic movie out of an origin story – a task many movies have tried and failed, repeatedly. Despite having to see Bruce Wayne’s parents die for what feels like the millionth time, the origin story is swift and doesn’t waste time with unnecessary details of his childhood or adult years.

Bruce’s transition into his more dominant persona comes across as seamless. It actually makes sense that he’s dressed up like a giant bat. Finishing the film with one of the greatest “FU” lines of all-time, this movie deserves a huge amount of respect.

7. Spider-Man 2 – Marvel – Sam Raimi Trilogy

Released: 2004

Spider-Man 2 | Top 12 Superhero Movies of the 21st Century | Popcorn Banter

If Spider-Man (2002) excited superhero fans, than the sequel absolutely blew them away. Spider-Man is still one of the most fun superhero movies i’ve ever seen. Whilst it obviously hasn’t aged spectacularly well, given the calibre of films it’s competing with now, when observed with context, it still holds up as a spectacular movie.

The train scene in which Spider-Man simultaneously fights Dr Octopus and tries to save a train-full of helpless NY commuters is an all-time favourite.

6. The Avengers – Marvel – MCU

Released: 2012

The Avengers | Top 12 Superhero Movies of the 21st Century | Popcorn Banter

If we were writing this top 12 in 2012, then this title would be sitting firmly in the #2 spot. The Avengers was the first team up superhero film in the MCU and the best we had had prior to Civil War. With some of the greatest action sequences we’ve seen, the film is masterfully directed and at no point feels tiresome or gruelling. Everything from costume design, to the choreography of the fight scenes was done to perfection. Also, Loki was an awesome villain.

5. Captain America: Civil War – Marvel – MCU

Released: 2016

Captain America: Civil War | Top 12 Superhero Movies of the 21st Century | Popcorn Banter

Pushing X-Men to the side for a moment, Captain America: Civil War gave us our first taste of a movie with a huge superhero roster. Whilst the Avengers had a fairly impressive crew, it pales in comparison to the cast of Civil War, which featured 11 superheroes. But that’s not why Civil War is so high on this list. It’s a movie which is set outside of the bounds of the usual good vs bad story arc.

This film tackles the consequences of the decisions made by our favourite Avengers. The way the narrative goes against the general flow of the genre is the most impressive feature of this film. We’re lead to believe we have a standard big bad on our hands that wants the world to burn, but really he just wants a small group of people to pay for their actions. This is truly unlike any movie we’ve seen before.

4. Avengers: Endgame – Marvel – MCU

Released: 2019

Avengers: Endgame | Top 12 Superhero Movies of the 21st Century | Popcorn Banter

Avengers: Endgame was the finale to The Infinity Saga of the MCU. While 2019’s, Spider-Man: Far From Home officially finalised Phase 3, Avengers: Endgame was the cherry on the top of the saga and allowed us to bid a heroic, and sad, farewell to many of our favourite Superheroes. The film will go down in history as an epic and one of the greatest finale movies ever.

It doesn’t quite have the plot appeal of an Infinity War or The Winter Soldier, but it’s fan service and incredible action sequences make it an amazingly enjoyable film.

3. Avengers: Infinity War – Marvel – MCU

Released: 2018

Infinity War | Top 12 Superhero Movies of the 21st Century | Popcorn Banter

After Civil War set the standard for how many superheroes could be in one film, Infinity War came in and absolutely destroyed the record. Infinity War successfully managed an enormous roster of superheroes, providing ample time for each of their paths to make a huge impact on the narrative. This movie provided us with the highest stakes that have ever been set by the genre.

Not only was the Earth at stake, but literally the entire Universe was in trouble. Whilst the narrative wasn’t as strong as Civil War, it is still one of the most impressive movies we’ve ever seen, with some of the most exciting and heart wrenching sequences ever compiled on the big screen.

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Marvel – MCU

Released: 2014

Captain America: Winter Soldier | Top 12 Superhero Movies of the 21st Century | Popcorn Banter

The Captain America franchise worked so well due to the grounded base of its main characters and supporting cast. Sure, Captain America has significantly heightened abilities, but at the end of the day he is still just a man and there are limits to what he can achieve and who he can fight. This creates the need to drive the characters and the plot beyond the action and pace of the film. This is where Captain America: The Winter Soldier stands out from the pack. It’s grounded nature, realistic plot points and the politically themed villains allow fans to immerse themselves into the story.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is by far the most well-rounded MCU film and outside of our #1, it’s the best superhero film of the 21st century.

1. The Dark Knight – DC – Nolan Trilogy

Released: 2008

The Dark Knight | Top 12 Superhero Movies of the 21st Century | Popcorn Banter

The quality of the writing, direction & acting in this film has been discussed about 14 million times, but yet we still feel it’s not enough. The simplistic answer would be that Heath Ledger’s Joker is the greatest cinematic villain of all-time, and that fact alone is enough to make it to the top of the list.

But it runs much deeper than that.

This movie has a way of making the viewer feel & experience things that no superhero film had ever done to date. Just when you thought you had the movie figured out, Nolan threw us another curveball. From start to finish, this movie is a work of art, and will live on forever, as such.

Honourable Mentions: 

  • Logan
  • Black Panther
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past

Do you agree with our list? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section or across our social media channels.