movies, popular culture, reviews, the superhero project

The Superhero Project and the Superhero Movie Evolution

When it comes to the superhero movie, it feels a bit like “I know it when I see it.” However, it’s more complicated than it sounds. If you don’t count James Bond, do you count Black Widow? Do you include Star Wars? Do you include all movies based on comic books regardless of content? I mean, you obviously include Superman, but do you include Zorro. Answering these questions along with examining the development of the superhero movie is the goal of The Superhero Project.

Back in grad school, I was inspired by a book by Jeanine Basinger called The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre. I would encourage anyone interested in genre to read it. In it, she explores the question of genre through the WWII combat film. She demonstrates that genre is more complicated than it sounds.

So, I am going to watch every superhero movie ever made in (mostly) chronological order to try and understand the genre.

The Goals

The Superhero Project is modeled after Basinger’s work. My purposes are currently modeled after her as well which are:

  • To establish a definition of a superhero movie
  • “To trace the evolution of that genre” from its creation to present day in order to “reflect its shifting ideologies and usages”
  • “To indicate what happens to the basic definition when it is altered by comedy, music, and [women]”
  • “To demonstrate how this definition, as it evolves and varies, transforms itself, comingles with other genres, disguises itself as another genre, and allows other genres to enter itself” (9)

Here are my preliminary rules for defining a superhero movie:

  • They must star characters who have abilities beyond those of a normal human (or who thinks they do/tries to).
  • Superheroes might have a separate identity from their hero identity. This excludes Luke Skywalker. Weirdly enough, this includes Zorro.
  • No spy films disconnected from a comic book universe. Meaning, Black Widow stays, and James Bond goes.
  • No animated films. Animated films have their own rules and including them would be too messy.
  • No TV movies, straight-to-DVD, or unreleased films. Theatrical release only.
  • Hollywood films only. While I hope to review some foreign superhero films, I will be focusing on Hollywood films.

A movie must follow most or all of these rules in order to earn a spot on The Superhero Project list. Below is my preliminary list for getting started. To be honest, I’m not even sure how many of these films I’m going to be able to find. We’ll have to see.  I’m excited to get started, and don’t be surprised if this project changes as I go along. Be prepared for a review of every single movie (hopefully on my upcoming YouTube channel).

Shout out to Flights, Tights, & Movie Nights which helped me compile this list.

If you’re interested in helping me out with The Superhero Project, consider donating a few dollars so I can rent the movies if I need to. I’m going to try and get everything through the library, but I’m sure it won’t be possible to get every movie. If you donate, I’ll be sure to give you a shout out during my next superhero movie review. Thank you in advance!

The Superhero Project Official Movie List

TitleDate           Director
The Mark of Zorro1920Fred Niblo
The Shadow Strikes1937Lynn Shores
International Crime1938Charles Lamont
The Mark of Zorro1940Rouben Mamoulian
Captain America1944Elmer Clifton
The Shadow Returns1946Phil Rosen
Superman and the Mole Men1951Lee Sholem
Invisible Avenger1958James Wong Howe
Batman1966Leslie H. Martinson
The Wild World of Batwoman1966Jerry Warren
Fearless Frank1967Philip Kaufman
Barbarella1968Roger Vadim
The Mark of Zorro1974Don McDougall
Abar: The First Black Superman1977Frank Packard
Superman1978Richard Donner
Flash Gordon1980Mike Hodges
Hero at Large1980Martin Davidson
Pumaman1980Alberto De Martino
Super Fuzz1980Sergio Corbucci
Superman II1980Richard Lester
Swamp Thing1982Wes Craven
Superman III1983Richard Lester
Sheena: Queen of the Jungle1984John Guillermin
Supergirl1984Jeannot Szwarc
The Toxic Avenger1984Michael Herz
Howard the Duck1986Willard Huyck
Masters of the Universe1987Gary Goddard
Robocop1987Paul Verhoeven
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace1987Sidney J. Furie
Batman1989Tim Burton
The Punisher1989Mark Goldblatt
The Return of the Swamp Thing1989Jim Wynorski
The Toxic Avenger Part 21989Michael Herz, Lloyd Kaufman
The Toxic Avenger Part 31989Michael Herz, Lloyd Kaufman
Captain America1990Albert Pyun
Darkman1990Sam Raimi
Robocop 21990Irvin Kershner
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle1990Steve Barron
The Rocketeer1991Joe Johnston
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle 21991Michael Pressman
Batman Returns1992Tim Burton
Robocop 31993Fred Dekker
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 31993Stuart Gillard
The Crow1994Alex Proyas
The Shadow1994Russell Mulcahy
Batman Forever1995Joel Schumacher
Judge Dredd1995Danny Cannon
Barb Wire1996David Hogan
Black Mask1996Daniel Lee
The Crow: City of Angels1996Tim Pope
The Phantom1996Shuki Levy
Batman & Robin1997Joel Schumacher
Spawn1997Mark A.Z. Dippé
Star Kid1997Manny Coto
Steel1997Kenneth Johnson
Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie1997Shuki Levy, David Winning
Blade1998Stephen Norrington
The Mask of Zorro1998Martin Campbell
Mystery Men1999Kinka Usher
The Crow: Salvation2000Bharat Nalluri
The Specials2000Craig Mazin
Unbreakable2000M. Night Shyamalan
X-Men2000Bryan Singer
Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV2000Lloyd Kaufman
Blade II2002Guillermo del Toro
Spider-Man2002Sam Raimi
Daredevil2003Mark Steven Johnson
Hulk2003Ang Lee
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen2003Stephen Norrington
X-Men 22003Bryan Singer
Blade: Trinity2004David S. Goyer
Hellboy2004Guillermo del Toro
The Punisher2004Jonathan Hensleigh
Sky High2004Mike Mitchell
Spider-Man 22004Sam Raimi
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl2005Robert Rodriguez
Batman Begins2005Christopher Nolan
Constantine2005Francis Lawrence
The Crow: Wicked Prayer2005Lance Mungia
Elektra2005Rob Bowman
Fantastic Four2005Tim Story
V for Vendetta2005James McTeigue
The Legend of Zorro2005Martin Campbell
Special2006Hal Haberman, Jeremy Passmore
My Super Ex-Girlfriend2006Ivan Reitman
Superman Returns2006Bryan Singer
X-Men: The Last Stand2006Brett Ratner
Zoom2006Peter Hewitt
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer2007Tim Story
Ghost Rider2007Mark Steven Johnson
Hero Tomorrow2007Ted Sikora
Spider-Man 32007Sam Raimi
The Superhero2007Adam Simcox
Underdog2007Frederik Du Chau
The Dark Knight2008Christopher Nolan
Hancock2008Peter Berg
Hellboy II: The Golden Army2008Guillermo del Toro
The Incredible Hulk2008Louis Leterrier
Iron Man2008Jon Favreau
Jumper2008Doug Liman
Punisher: War Zone2008Lexi Alexander
The Spirit2008Frank Miller
Superhero Movie2008Craig Mazin
Wanted2008Timur Bekmambetov
Defendor2009Peter Stebbings
Push2009Paul McGuigan
Super Capers2009Ray Griggs
Watchmen2009Zack Snyder
X-Men Origins: Wolverine2009Gavin Hood
Iron Man 22010Jon Favreau
Jonah Hex2010Jimmy Hayward
Kick-Ass2010Matthew Vaughn
The Losers2010Sylvain White
Super2010James Gunn
Captain America: The First Avenger2011Joe Johnston
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance2011Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
The Green Hornet2011Michel Gondry
Green Lantern2011Martin Campbell
Priest2011Scott Stewart
Thor2011Kenneth Branagh
X-Men: First Class2011Matthew Vaughn
Alter Egos2012Jordan Galland
The Amazing Spider-Man2012Marc Webb
The Avengers2012Joss Whedon
Chronicle2012Josh Trank
The Dark Knight Rises2012Christopher Nolan
Dredd2012Pete Travis
Iron Man 32013Shane Black
Kick-Ass 22013Jeff Wadlow
Man of Steel2013Zack Snyder
Thor: The Dark World2013Alan Taylor
The Wolverine2013James Mangold
The Amazing Spider-Man 22014Marc Webb
Birdman2014Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Captain America: The Winter Soldier2014Anthony & Joe Russo
Guardians of the Galaxy2014James Gunn
The Posthuman Project2014Kyle William Roberts
Real Heroes2014Keith Hartman
Robocop2014José Padilha
Sparks2014Todd Burrows, Christopher Folino
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles2014Jonathan Liebesman
X-Men: Days of Future Past2014Bryan Singer
American Hero2015Nick Love
Ant-Man2015Peyton Reed
Avengers: Age of Ultron2015Joss Whedon
Fantastic Four2015Josh Trank
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice2016Zack Snyder
Captain America: Civil War2016Anthony & Joe Russo
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows2016Dave Green
Deadpool2016Tim Miller
Doctor Strange2016Scott Derrickson
The Masked Saint2016Warren P. Sonoda
Max Steel2016Stewart Hendler
Suicide Squad2016David Ayer
X-Men: Apocalypse2016Bryan Singer
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 22017James Gunn
Justice League2017Zack Snyder
Logan2017James Mangold
Power Rangers2017Dean Israelite
Spider-Man: Homecoming2017Jon Watts
Thor: Ragnarok2017Taika Waititi
Wonder Woman2017Patty Jenkins
Ant-Man and the Wasp2018Peyton Reed
Aquaman2018James Wan
Avengers: Infinity War2018Anthony & Joe Russo
Black Panther2018Ryan Coogler
Deadpool 22018David Leitch
Venom2018Ruben Fleischer
X-Men: Dark Phoenix2019Simon Kinberg
Captain Marvel2019Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
The New Mutants2019Josh Boone
Shazam!2019David F. Sandberg
Spiderman: Far From Home2019Jon Watts
Hellboy2019Neil Marshall
Avengers: Endgame2019Anthony & Joe Russo
Black Widow2020Cate Shortland
Wonder Woman 19842020Patty Jenkins

What do you think? Are there any movies you think should be on the list? Shouldn’t be on the list? Let me know!

// Basinger, Jeanine. The World War II Combat Film. Wesleyan UP, 2003.

Erin Lafond

Erin Lafond is a freelance writer and aspiring filmmaker. She's obsessed with superheroes and love stories, and she enjoys helping filmmakers promote their work.

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  1. […] This post is part of The Superhero Project. Check out my post explaining the project here. […]

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