Movies about folks in capes and tights have been a mainstay in American cinema since 1978’s Superman: The Movie, and the genre rose to new heights thanks to the efforts of Tim Burton and Michael Keaton in 1989’s Batman. Although the genre saw a brief dip in the late '90s, for every year since 2000’s game-changing X-Men, superhero films have topped the box office and grown into moviegoers’ favorite genre.
They’re not going anywhere, either. The next decade is packed with new installments in the Marvel and DC universes, and critical acclaim remains high. Both Black Panther and Joker earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture. Although the occasional disaster like Fantastic Four or Suicide Squad reminds us of the worst the genre can offer, genuinely inventive projects such as Logan or Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse stand as examples of its best.
It can be a tough time for anyone who doesn’t dig the whole “caped crusader” schtick, but thankfully there’s a whole world of great comic book movies outside of superheroes. We’ve ranked 20 of the very best.
20. Atomic Blonde
Charlize Theron kicks ass and takes names in this hyper-stylized Cold War spy thriller set to a blasting New Order soundtrack. The 2017 film from the John Wick filmmakers features a bone-crushing stairwell fight, where Theron proves she could easily go up against Keanu.
19. Kingsman: The Secret Service
The Kingsman franchise will continue later this year with The King’s Man, and the sequel The Golden Circle from 2017 inserted Elton John into the fray. However, we still prefer the first Kingsman movie the best. We love Bond, but we also love seeing the Roger Moore-era 007 lampooned in these violent, raunchy parodies.
Between Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow and Minority Report, we’re convinced Tom Cruise needs to do more sci-fi in between saving the world as Ethan Hunt. Oblivion is a thoughtful meditation on loneliness and the futility of destiny, which was somehow marketed as a big-budgeted sci-fi spectacle.
17. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Don’t let the lousy reviews detract you; Valerian is a wacky space opera that features one of the all-time greatest uses of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in film.
16. The Mask
Remember when Jim Carrey could do no wrong? You could try to argue that The Mask himself is a superhero, but we’re keeping it on our list because, when you think about it, are Carrey’s intentions really that noble, or is he just trying to woo Cameron Diaz?
Avoid the Stallone version at all costs, but this bare-knuckled 2012 reboot — which starred The Boys’ Karl Urban as the judge, jury and executioner — exists within a future where law enforcement is actually accountable for their actions. The Die Hard-inspired premise (and there are plenty) pits the titular hero against all the minions Cersei Lannister (aka Lena Headey) can send against him in a futuristic skyrise.
14. Flash Gordon
C’mon! Don’t tell us Flash Gordon is a bad movie, because it’s completely self-aware. And we know, some consider Flash Gordon a superhero, even though as creator Stan Lee pointed out, he isn't as he has no superpowers, and the film has always been considered more of a space opera. And don’t tell us that any movie with original songs by Freddie Mercury should be ignored.
13. Men in Black
Did you know the classic sci-fi buddy comedy was based on a comic book by Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers? Men in Black 2 sucks, Men in Black 3 is actually sort of heartfelt, and nobody actually saw MIB International, so we’re not even convinced it’s a real movie. You can’t beat the initial magic of seeing polar opposites Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones join forces to “protect Earth from the scum of the universe.”
12. Dick Tracy
Warren Beatty is a very serious, very respectable Academy-Award winner with such credits as The Parallax View, Reds, Bonnie and Clyde, and McCabe & Mrs. Miller. He also made the ridiculously campy Dick Tracy, for some reason. You have to see Al Pacino as “Big Boy Patrice” to believe it.
11. Sin City
It’s been ripped off so many times since that you may forget how inventive Sin City was back in 2005. For those of us who get confused when Marvel and DC start introducing alternate timelines and multiple versions of the same character, Sin City makes for a much less confusing anthology of noir stories.
10. The Crow
It’s a tough movie to watch given the tragic on-set death of star Brandon Lee, but The Crow is an interesting take on the vigilante story.
9. American Splendor
Skillfully balancing live-action and animation for an inventive biopic, American Splendor features both its subject Harvey Pekar and Paul Giamatti in one of his best roles. Breaking the fourth wall, it tells the story of a brilliant cartoonist who never conformed to the media circus that threatened to tamper with his artistic vision.
8. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Every 20-something hipster’s favorite movie, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World brought comic book panels to life far before Into the Spider-Verse got all the credit. Mileage may vary on who is considered the favorite evil ex, but we think we’d actually watch all the in-universe films starring Chris Evans as dude bro action star Lucas Lee.
American remakes of foreign cinema masterpieces rarely work. Case in point, skip the disastrous Josh Brolin remake of Oldboy, and just watch the grizzly South Korean revenge masterpiece instead.
6. The Rocketeer
Remember when summer blockbusters were fun, hopeful, and didn’t spend half the time establishing a connected universe? Director Joe Johnston would take a similar approach to bringing a World War II serial nostalgia to life with Captain America: The First Avenger, but he did it first with this underrated Disney classic.
Everyone loves delightful Parasite director Bong Joon-ho (except for BlazeTV host Jon Miller), and we’re still screaming at people to check out his post-apocalyptic class warfare action film, Snowpiercer. In the film, people are organized by their income aboard a futuristic train that circles the Earth in the aftermath of a global freeze.
4. V for Vendetta
Remember, remember the 5th of November? V for Vendetta’s searing indictment of a totalitarian regime became even more frightening during the Trump era.
3. Road to Perdition
For anyone who complains Tom Hanks always plays the nice affable guy, Road to Perdition shatters our expectations for “America’s Dad” by casting him as a ruthless gangster attempting to shield his son from the criminal world.
2. Ghost World
Black Widow is taking the box office by storm, but we’d argue that Scarlett Johansson is even better with her non-superhero works. This charming coming-of-age dramedy casts Johansson alongside American Beauty’s Thora Birch in a quirky story of two best friends who realize their futures lie apart in the summer before they embark for college.
1. A History of Violence
No jokes here, folks. A History of Violence is one of the best films of the 21st century, analyzing how our worst decisions never leave us. This mature, thoughtful take on a criminal hiding his life is a heartbreaking family drama and a remorseless nail-biter.