After a couple of Covid-related delays, Robert Pattinson is scheduled to make his superhero debut Friday, when Matt Reeves’s hotly anticipated The Batman finally arrives in theaters. But the Caped Crusader is hardly the only comic book hero-turned-movie star headed to the big screen in 2022. He’ll be joined later in the year by Jared Leto in Morbius (April 4), Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (May 6), Chris Hemsworth in Thor: Love and Thunder (July 8), Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in Black Adam (July 29), and Miles Morales in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Part One) (October 7).
To tide you over until then, we’ve gathered up a list of our own favorite comic book movies that can be found streaming on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, and—perhaps most prominently—Disney+.
With its mix of cutting-edge special effects, humor, and total sincerity from leads Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, Richard Donner’s Superman quite literally set the standard for every comic book movie that followed. After being sent to Earth from Krypton as a baby, Kal-El is adopted by a Kansas couple who are aware of their son’s superhuman abilities and do their best to help him blend in. Raised as Clark Kent (Reeve), the Kryptonian eventually makes his way to Metropolis, where he works as a reporter with a major crush on his clumsy colleague Lois Lane (Kidder). When the planet is threatened by mastermind Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), Kent—as Superman—inadvertently becomes the news as he fights to save Earth and maintain his secret identity. Get beyond the fact that a simple pair of glasses seems to make Kent unrecognizable as the one and only Superman, and you’ll find a superhero movie for the ages that still stands up as one of the greats.
Iron Man (2008)
Today, Iron Man is one of Marvel’s biggest assets (despite, well, you know). But back when his first standalone movie hit theaters, it was a bit of a scrappy endeavor—and a huge risk for the studio. At the time, Robert Downey Jr. was still doing penance for his wilder days as a talented actor who made bigger headlines for his antics than he did for his acting output. As such, his bankability as a superhero was in question. But director Jon Favreau knew Downey was a perfect fit for the role of Tony Stark, so he fought for him—and it’s a good thing he did. Downey brings just the right amount of wisdom, baggage, swagger, and humor to Stark, who uses his tech know-how to engineer the ultimate superhero.
Doctor Strange (2016)
The year 2022 is shaping up to be a pretty good one for Benedict Cumberbatch, who is a top contender for a Best Actor Oscar for his work in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog and who will make his solo return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with legendary director Sam Raimi guiding him. But his superhero roots were initially planted way back in 2016, with what might be considered the first “prestige” comic book movie. Not just because it featured an amazing cast even beyond Cumberbatch in the title role (Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, and Michael Stuhlbarg all came along for the ride). But also because it somehow found a way to fit perfectly within the MCU’s tenets yet also exist just outside the periphery at the same time. Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a renowned/obnoxiously self-assured neurosurgeon who has never met a medical challenge he doesn’t think he can conquer. But when a terrible car accident permanently damages his hand, making it impossible for him to ever operate again, he begins searching for a way to regain control over his livelihood. In the process, Strange teaches himself how to bend time and opens a Pandora’s Box of problems for both his superhero pals and his flesh-and-blood ones, forcing him to use his newfound powers to manipulate time and save the world (well, at least until Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness arrives in May).
Black Panther (2018)
Over the past 30 years, several directors have helped elevate the comic book movie form from something campy to something much more, going all the way back to Tim Burton’s Batman. Oscar-nominated director Ryan Coogler is one of those filmmakers. In 2018, the Oscar nominee broke new ground with Black Panther—a comic book film that was as much (if not more) about race, identity, and social consciousness as it was about superpowers. It also had the distinction of becoming the first superhero movie to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture—a feat not even Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) could achieve. Hannah Beachler, Black Panther’s production designer, also made history when she became the first person of color to be nominated for Best Production Design and then won the award. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s a skillfully directed movie, which sees T’Challa (the late, great Chadwick Boseman)—the newly crowned king of Wakanda—forced into a conflict that could put the fate of his people at risk. The film’s geopolitical narrative makes it unique within the MCU, yet the stunning visuals and battle between good and evil make it feel right at home. A sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which will not recast Boseman’s role after his untimely passing in 2020, is due in theaters in late 2022.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Given Guardians of the Galaxy’s now exalted status within the Marvel Cinematic Universe—and writer/director James Gunn’s impact on both the MCU and the DC Extended Universe—it’s easy to forget that no one was really expecting much from Gunn or his team of superhero oddballs when this film made its way into theaters in the summer of 2014. Though Marvel had been toying with the idea of bringing this lesser-known comic book series to the big screen as far back as 2009, it wasn’t until Gunn was brought aboard in 2012 that Marvel’s powers-that-be realized they had finally found the perfect match for the quirky material, as a Han Solo-like space adventurer (Chris Pratt) finds himself having to partner with a ragtag group of characters, including a wisecracking raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and a tree-like humanoid named Groot (who can only say “I am Groot” yet somehow manages to convey a lot more). It was followed by 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, with Vol. 3 set to reunite the merry band of misfits in 2023.
Wonder Woman (2017)
While women will be leading the way in Phase Four of the MCU, which kicked off with the Disney+ series WandaVision (2021) and made its theatrical debut with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow just a few months later, the DCEU really paved the way for female dominance with Wonder Woman. It took a while to make it to screens, but the film was the first-ever superhero movie to feature a female protagonist (in this case, Gal Gadot) and be directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins). Though it takes place in the present day, the movie is a recollection of World War I, so it is set at a time when American women didn’t even have the right to vote. Yet Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman manages to take gender out of the equation as she recalls the bravery she showed during the height of the war—and proves that women were just as capable of kicking ass both on screen and at the box office. While Covid-19 forced 2020 follow-up Wonder Woman 1984 to go straight to streaming, Jenkins and Gadot have more Wonder Woman on the horizon.
Batman Begins (2005)
If Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) showed that comic book movies weren’t just for kids, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) proved that comics and campiness didn’t have to be inextricably linked. In fact, there are few laughs to be found in this dark (both literally and narratively) meditation on revenge, which paints a detailed picture of what prompted poor little rich boy Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) to morph into a Batsuit-wearing vigilante in the first place. Bale is ably supported by a powerhouse cast of costars, including Michael Caine as his doting butler Alfred, Morgan Freeman as his go-to gadget-maker Lucius Fox, Gary Oldman as Gotham police commissioner Jim Gordon, consummate scene-stealer Tom Wilkinson as mob boss Carmine Falcone, and Cillian Murphy as an evil psychopharmacologist with an impressive ability to make scarecrows terrifying.
The Dark Knight (2008)
With all due respect to Bale, it’s pretty safe to say that the success of Nolan’s Batman reboot rested largely with its villains. Nowhere was this point made more painfully clear than in The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger, who died six months before the film’s release, posthumously won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his mesmerizing turn as The Joker—and deservedly so. And while Ledger plays his role with a perfect mix of insanity, intensity, and dark humor, his performance is in perfect balance with the kind of gorgeous action scenes that show what happens when a man whose only real power is his bank account goes toe-to-toe with the the most depraved villains in a city full of baddies.
Though one could successfully argue that Nolan’s trio of Dark Knight flicks are more compelling, Tim Burton’s signature creepy-but-kitschy Batman helped pave the way for more serious comic book movies in the first place. It also reminded the world of Michael Keaton’s enviable range as an actor. Keaton plays billionaire bachelor Bruce Wayne, who spends his days wandering around his massive estate and his nights fighting Gotham’s most nefarious criminals (including Jack Nicholson’s iconic version of The Joker) with a collection of high-tech (for the time) gadgets and a pretty tight-fitting Batsuit. If it seems like Keaton is having trouble moving in that suit, that’s because he is; as a result, one of this Batman’s quirks is that he doesn’t move his head much. Later this year, more than 30 years after first originating the role, Keaton will don his bat ears yet again for November’s The Flash, as well as HBO Max’s Batgirl.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Within the Thor franchise, Ragnarok is the hands-down favorite of both fans and critics, and the reason can be summed up in two words: Taika Waititi. The director behind Eagle vs. Shark (2007) and What We Do in the Shadows (2014) brought his distinctively quirky style of comedy to this MCU entry, giving the series—and Chris Hemsworth as its superhero—a chance to really show off some comedic chops as Thor enlists the help of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to defeat the evil Hela (Cate Blanchett) and prevent Ragnarok, a battle that will destroy Thor’s home world of Asgard. Though the consequences are dire, the mood is refreshingly light.
Deadpool spent more than a decade as a nonstarter: Ryan Reynolds originally signed on to play the Merc with a Mouth in 2005 and miraculously kept the role at the forefront of this acting to-do list, despite the fact that it took more than 10 years for it to actually happen. When it did, it ushered in yet another new era of comic book movies—one in which our heroes could be foul-mouthed and ultra-violent yet make that blue humor work to the tune of more than $780 million worldwide at the box office. Today, Deadpool is considered an instant classic of the genre, even if it doesn’t look like any other comic book movies that came before it. It also stays true to its roots, with Reynolds spending most of the movie seeking revenge on the doctor who turned him into Deadpool with an experimental cancer treatment that left him feeling no pain but looking not-so-hot.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Marvel made yet another brilliant decision when it brought one of Hollywood’s most lovable actors, Paul Rudd, into its superhero fold with 2015’s Ant-Man. Though the original film faced some early growing pains, with original director Edgar Wright departing the project over creative differences, the sequel allowed Peyton Reed (who replaced Wright on the first film and directed this follow-up) to have a bigger hand in shaping the story. It shows in the final result, which has a more carefree feel than many other MCU movies. Rudd and costar Evangeline Lilly (the Wasp) keep the mood light as they shrink down to subatomic levels and work to rescue former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) wife, who they believe could be trapped in a quantum realm. Yes, it may sound super-scientific, but it’s a Paul Rudd movie through and through. Meaning that it pokes fun at its own genre (just not in as R-rated a way as, say, Deadpool).
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Several years after he first began developing Ant-Man, and a few years before he departed the project, Edgar Wright—who has dabbled in everything from spoofs to musicals—adapted Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series into Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It’s the kind of film that, if you weren’t familiar with the comics, might not feel like an adaptation at all. Michael Cera is Scott Pilgrim, the lovestruck bassist of a pretty terrible garage band who is forced to battle the seven angry exes of his dream girl, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), in order to win her love. As with Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and his other genre-bending films, Wright’s ability to marry eccentric characters with stunning visuals made Scott Pilgrim stand out from what people had come to expect from “comic book movies.”
American Splendor (2003)
Much like Scott Pilgrim, American Splendor doesn’t immediately strike you as a comic book movie. Which is part of its brilliance. The movie’s meta take on the comic book phenomenon—and the everyday people who are turned into superheroes because of the art form—makes it one of the most unique films within the genre. Paul Giamatti (whose Oscar snub remains one of the Academy’s most unfortunate oversights) plays Harvey Pekar, the curmudgeonly file-clerk-turned-author of the American Splendor comic book series, which finds fascinating details in the mundanity of everyday life (and Pekar’s everyday life, in particular).
V for Vendetta (2005)
A longtime disciple of the Wachowskis, James McTeigue did his mentors proud when he managed to successfully translate comics legend Alan Moore’s moody style to the big screen with V for Vendetta. Hugo Weaving is V, an anarchist in a Guy Fawkes mask who is attempting to overthrow England’s new fascist-like regime with the help of Evey (Natalie Portman), a young woman whose commitment to the cause eventually overpowers her personal feelings of right versus wrong. Though Moore and his fans aren’t often enthusiastic about adaptations of his work, V for Vendetta struck a powerful enough chord with real-life freedom fighters that V’s mask has become an easily recognized symbol of protest.
Though it was largely panned upon initial release, the negative campaign against the big-screen adaptation of Watchmen began months before anyone had even had a chance to see the movie, largely due to outcry from fans of the Alan Moore comic book series on which it is based. Moore, who is also the creative brain behind V for Vendetta, had made it widely known that his goal in creating groundbreaking works like Watchmen—which used a nine-panel grid layout and a nonlinear narrative that skipped through space and time to tell its story—was to illustrate the power of the comic book medium. Though director Zack Snyder remained faithful in his adaptation of Moore’s complex work, newcomers to the story ended up slightly confused, and many hardcore fans chose to ignore it altogether. But opinions on the film, which is smartly written, well-acted, and impressively directed, have thankfully softened over time, with many moviegoers giving it a second chance—especially following the release of HBO’s well-crafted companion miniseries—and discovering a whip-smart, visually stunning entry into the comic book movie genre.
For many American moviegoers, Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s Akira was their introduction to the world of anime—and what a wild initiation it was. Based on Ôtomo’s own manga series, the film starts with a nuclear explosion that sets off World War III and then fast-forwards 30 years into the future. In 2019, Tokyo (now known as Neo-Tokyo) has become a crime-ridden dystopia where gang violence, organ harvesting, terrorism, and the abuse of military power are everyday occurrences. But when teenage pals Kaneda and Tetsuo happen upon a secret government project, they might just be the city’s best bet for a brighter future.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The Captain America franchise’s tendency to politicize its entries is one of the things that helps it stand out from its fellow comic book adaptations. This 2016 installment sees Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) face off over the role—if any—that government should play in determining which causes are worth defending for a superhero. The disagreement becomes so heated that the rest of the Avengers feel forced to pick sides—and nothing good ever comes from dividing a team of people who kick ass for a living.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Avengers: Endgame (2019) may be the most recent Avengers outing, but you can’t really watch—or enjoy—that film without first seeing Infinity War (2018), which many people consider the best of all MCU team-ups. The plot is classic comic book fare: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Doctor Strange, and the rest of the Avengers must work together to fight off Thanos, the most powerful enemy they’ve ever faced. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you definitely know how it ends: Nearly everyone dies. No, that’s not (really) a spoiler; it’s just the setup for what comes next in Avengers: Endgame—not to mention the launching pad for a million different fan theories about how our mighty Avengers will once again assemble to finally defeat Thanos and (hopefully) bring back some of their fallen family and friends by whatever means possible.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
After the success of the first Hellboy, Guillermo del Toro took the fervor one step further for its sequel, which finds Hellboy and his colleagues at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense working to save humankind from Nuada Silverlance, an evil warrior elf who—in a fit of power-hungry madness—breaks an ancient pact to maintain harmony between humankind and their mystical counterparts. (Isn’t that the way it always goes?) As with the original film, it’s clear that Ron Perlman is having a lot of fun playing the bright red demon, which makes it even more disappointing that del Toro declared a planned third outing dead in early 2017. In 2019, Hellboy officially got a reboot courtesy of director Neil Marshall, with Stranger Things star David Harbour in the eponymous role.
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