Ranking Our Top 10 Favourite Superhero Origin Movies

The superhero origin story is one of the most enduring narratives in blockbuster cinema.

With countless caped crusaders to choose from on the pages of comic books, studios aren’t short of inspiration for new big screen franchises – but making cinema audiences care about a new hero isn’t as easy as it looks, especially when the storytelling formula is now so familiar.

As DC’s Blue Beetle arrives in cinemas this weekend, we’re counting down ten of our favourite superhero origin movies; the stories that get it absolutely right when it comes to introducing us to powerful new protagonists. From Marvel and DC adaptations, to original characters created by A-list directors, this list has it all – do you agree with our picks?

10. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Marvel Studios

If there’s one thing every origin story should have to introduce a brand new hero, it’s a majestic musical number outlining why we should care about this character. Unfortunately, Captain America’s debut outing within the MCU is an outlier in this sense, but that show stopping sequence is a great illustration of why this is a perfect translation of the character to the screen.

Before Cap’s stories became paranoid thrillers, he was a fish-out-of-water – and what better way to highlight that this is a man out of time than with the good, old fashioned charms of a movie musical, a genre which had long been forgotten in Hollywood? But even outside of that one scene, The First Avenger is a defiantly uncool movie in its storytelling, and it’s all the better for it.

9. Deadpool (2016)


20th Century Fox

The conventions of an origin story had long been exhausted before Deadpool came along to directly poke fun at them in its opening credits sequence, but simply pointing out how tired and familiar they had become turned out to be enough to breathe some new life into the genre.

The second introduction to Ryan Reynolds’ motormouthed, foul mouthed anti-hero wasn’t groundbreaking in its storytelling, but its fourth-wall breaking humour and excessive violence felt like nothing else in comic book movies at the time. In fact, they still do – we’re still not quite sure how Wade Wilson will slot into the family friendly MCU.

8. Darkman (1990)


A decade before he got the Spider-Man gig, Sam Raimi had a trial run at directing a superhero origin story with his own original creation: Darkman. Developed after he couldn’t obtain the rights to make a movie adaptation of The Shadow, this early Liam Neeson vehicle had more in common with a Universal Monsters classic than a caped crusader adventure – an approach he later returned to when bringing Peter Parker’s physical transformation to the screen.

Largely overlooked in Raimi’s filmography when placed next to his Spider-Man and Evil Dead trilogies, Darkman deserves to be rediscovered, not least because it has everything you could want from one of his movies. There’s bloody violence, endearingly old-fashioned quips, and most importantly of all, a cameo from Bruce Campbell.

7. Iron Man (2008)

Marvel Studios

Regarded by casual observers as a distinctly B-tier character within the Marvel Comics before this movie adaptation arrived, Tony Stark emerged on the big screen as a force to be reckoned with for one crucial reason: Robert Downey Jr. The actor cemented his comeback with this blockbuster leading role, a casting coup so perfect that an entire cinematic universe was built off the back of it.

No, we don’t just mean in the sense that the success of this movie led to the Avengers and beyond. Through the actor’s snarky, sardonic attitude, he redefined the stereotypical superhero persona – and many of Marvel’s best loved characters on the page have been redesigned in his image when translated to the screen.

6. X-Men: First Class (2011)

20th Century Pictures

Arriving just two years after another X-Men prequel which we can confirm will not feature in this list, First Class was the shot in the arm the franchise needed. This swinging sixties-set origin story for Charles Xavier and Magneto boasted two pitch-perfect turns from James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, actors who captured the spirit of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen without simply imitating their performances.

Following up Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn also brought a new irreverent energy to the movie behind the camera too. It may be less bloody, but Fassbender’s take on Magneto ensured it wasn’t simply a safe retreat to family friendly territory.

5. Spider-Man (2002)

Sony Pictures

Long in development after years in copyright hell, Peter Parker’s first blockbuster live-action outing is as economical in its storytelling as an origin story can get. Yes, it takes 45 minutes before Peter dons his suit for the first time, but we’re not even ten minutes in before he’s bitten by a radioactive spider – Sam Raimi knew audiences weren’t flocking to blockbusters for exposition, and his take on this material flies like flipping through the pages of a comic book.

Directors ranging from James Cameron to David Fincher were tapped to make Spider-Man at different points, but the end result is distinctly Raimi. From the transformation montages, to Willem Dafoe’s monstrous Green Goblin, he keeps one foot in the campy horror genre at all times.

4. Unbreakable (2000)

Buena Vista Pictures

It took 17 years before it blossomed into a fully fledged cinematic universe, but even as a stand-alone effort, M. Night Shyamalan’s supernatural drama is about as striking as an origin story could get. Released just a year after The Sixth Sense made him the hottest new director in Hollywood, his follow-up initially bamboozled audiences by going bigger in scale, yet far quieter in temperament.

As a result, it’s aged like a fine wine, boasting top tier performances from Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson – the former arguably delivering the best dramatic work of his career. It couldn’t look any different to the typical contemporary superhero movie, but its character-based examination of the human cost of superpowers finds rich new ground to tread within traditional origin story territory.

3. Batman Begins (2005)

Warner Bros.

After Batman And Robin transformed Bruce Wayne back into a campy hero in the Adam West-mould, it was going to take a miracle to get audiences to take him seriously again. In previous films, Batman had already been established as a hero, so Christopher Nolan’s pitch was simple: take him back to basics, and truly dive into what transformed him into the tortured protagonist Tim Burton’s films redefined him as.

The end result was one of the most influential blockbusters of its decade, catapulting Nolan into the A-list and giving him free reign to conclude a trilogy that would go even bigger in scale. Every superhero movie that attempts to “go dark” is doing so in an attempt to recapture some of the magic of Begins – but they will all remain in its shadow.

2. Superman (1978)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Is there any tagline in cinema quite as awe-inspiring as “You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly”? Superheroes have become so commonplace onscreen that it’s hard to recall a time when they appeared magical – and somehow, after nearly 50 years of caped crusader movies, Superman still dazzles in that respect.

Clark Kent’s origin story has been retold onscreen several times since, but this remains the definitive adaptation. It’s unashamedly cheesy, but charms due to its earnestness: it’s hard to imagine a contemporary Superman movie taking the same approach to its world building.

  1. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)

Sony Pictures

Released at a time when superheroes were dominating our screens, Spider-Verse was a crucial reminder that these stories continue to resonate in the cultural consciousness because of the human characters behind the mask. The groundbreaking animation and the multiverse breaking storyline have been imitated far and wide in Hollywood ever since, but the beating heart that goes with that invention has proven hard to copy.

At the time of release, many were wondering whether we needed a Spider-Man spin-off animation – that concern was short lived. Now, Miles Morales might be the most fascinating superhero currently in the movies.

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Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder


Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.