on Film


Greatest Super-Hero Films
(chronological by time period and film title)
Introduction | Flash Gordon | Buck Rogers | Superman | Batman | Spider-Man | X-Men
Marvel Cinematic Universe | The DC Extended Universe
Iron Man | Hulk | Thor | Captain America | The Avengers | Guardians of the Galaxy
Others: A - F | Others: G - N | Others: O - Z

Major Comic-Book (or Comic-Strip) Super-Heroes

Fictional super-heroes with extraordinary powers, derived from comic books, newspaper comic-strips, pulp magazines and other sources, have since become the subjects of numerous fantasy and sci-fi films (both live-action and animated, serialized and feature-length, on TV and on the big screen) with action-oriented heroes and heroines, almost too many to mention fully. They have inspired generations of readers, TV audiences, and movie-goers, and have dealt with a variety of deep personal, political and social issues.

Main Super-Hero Characteristics
Name and/or Secret Identity:
a special name, that possibly described their superhero type; also
a secret or special identity or alter-ego (many superheroes have dual identities or names - civilian and super), often thematic (Batman's bat motifs)
Special Powers, Traits or
Extraordinary Skills:

possession of superhuman traits or powers
(mental or physical skills, including, for example, super-strength, super-eyesight, super-invulnerability, etc.); includes possible weaknesses
Main Enemy or Supervillain:
Most superheroes have a main enemy or arch-enemy (Superman often battled Lex Luthor, or Batman pursued the Joker) with some sort of backstory for their evil nature
Unique Costume or Look:
an iconic costume (often with a mask or cape);
costumes had symbolic colors or were unique in appearance; superheroes often changed into costumes to assume super-hero duties
Accessory, Gadget, Weapon, and/or Vehicle:
a symbolic gadget (weapon, or accessory) with special powers (Wonder Woman's tiara, Thor's hammer ), or an accessory (such as the Batmobile)
Mission or Objective:
an objective or altruistic mission to accomplish (save the world and humanity, from villains, aliens, Nazis, the Axis Powers, etc.), sometimes motivated by an inciting event (alien landing, or scientific accident, or instilled moral code, etc.)
Associated Sidekick or Team:
accompanied by a sidekick (Batman's Robin) or part of a team of other superheroes (the X-Men, the Fantastic Four)
Origin Story or Backstory:
A long history or backstory, explaining a past or previous identity, and other background, usually fanciful or mythical; could include the reason for becoming a superhero (murder of Peter Parker's uncle)
Home, Location, Base, or Headquarters:
Place of residence or main activity, (Gotham City, Atlantis, etc.) and/or secret hiding place (the Batcave)

Sidekicks were added to superhero plots to make them more appealing to kids - including comics' first sidekick, Robin/Dick Grayson for Batman (others included Bulletgirl for Bulletman, Sandy for the Sandman, Speedy for the Green Arrow, Kitten for Cat-man, Toro for the Human Torch, and Tim for the Black Terror). The desired hope was to increase the number of younger readers who could better identify with the heroes.

Superheroes have been repeatedly chosen as the subjects of big-budget blockbuster films, but not at first. Although superheroes had already taken over TV, it took until 1978 for the first big-budget feature film to feature a superhero - Superman: The Movie (1978).

Especially since the dawning of the new Millennium, superheroes have multiplied on the big-screen, with glossy production values, expensive CGI special effects and sets, make-up and costuming. Usually, their simplistic plot lines involve the superhero's (or superteam's) struggle against an arch-nemesis or super-villain (usually interested in world domination, the acquisition of riches, or the wreaking of vengeance). The many superhero films usually end with climactic showdowns. The difficulty with compiling a list of films (or TV series) related to comic-book heroes is that there are so many varieties: live-action, animated, TV series, feature-length, and other original or adapted combinations.

History: Some of the First 'Superheroes'

Even before the appearance of Superman and other traditional super-heroes in comic books, other early media sources (including newspaper comic strips, radio, and pulp fiction publications) were beginning to feature sci-fi heroes, adventurers, magicians, vigilantes, and other crime-fighting 'superhero' type characters, such as:

Buck Rogers
The first US newspaper comic-strip space pioneer (January 1929), and later first appearing on the radio in serial form (November 1932, lasting until 1940, and then revived from 1946-1947). The first comic book appearance of Buck Rogers was in Famous Funnies # 3 (October 1934)
The Shadow
The first radio and pulp fiction adventure/vigilante hero (debuted as a radio show narrator on July 31, 1930, and in a pulp fiction magazine in April 1931)
Dick Tracy
A newspaper comic strip detective (debuted in October 1931)
Flash Gordon
A science-fiction/adventure newspaper comic-strip character (debuted in January 1934)
Mandrake the Magician
A newspaper comic-strip character in the first strip involving magic - Mandrake was a dapper, mustached magician who used powers of illusion and hypnotism to fight crime (debuted in June 1934)
The Phantom
The first costumed, masked superhero (debuted in February 1936) - in the first newspaper strip that introduced the idea of a masked crime-fighter to a wide audience

The Four Ages of Comic Books: Superheroes

There are four specific ages referred to when speaking of superheroes, especially in regards to comic book superheroes, who made their first appearances in the Golden Age - in the late 1930s and early 1940s:

  • The Golden Age (1936-1949) - the late 1930s to the late 40s (some say early 1950s)
    This was the era of the creation of the superhero archetype, and the debut of many superhero characters, including Superman, Batman, Captain America, Captain Marvel, and Wonder Woman. After WWII, many superheroes began to decline or fade away, except for the most popular (Superman, Batman and Robin, and Wonder Woman). Comics in the early 1950s were no longer in vogue, and were replaced by other more popular literary genres: funny animal stories, teen comedies and romances, westerns, gangsters, and horror stories. This was partially due to the damaging efforts of psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham, M.D., who argued in his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, that comic books had a deleterious effect on children, including giving kids erroneous ideas about physics (i.e., Superman could fly!), and obscenely glorifying violence and crime.
  • The Silver Age (1956-1969)
    This was a period of revival of some older superheroes and new entries (such as the Flash, Green Lantern, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor, the X Men and Iron Man) and the creation of superhero teams (including the Fantastic Four and the Justice League), who were revamped, refashioned, or reintroduced, with some success.
  • The Bronze Age (1970-1985)
    The maturing of comic-book heroes, with the appearance of some socially-relevant and timely issues, and some anti-superheroes (for example, The Punisher, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider).
  • The Dark Age of Comic Books (mid-1980s-present) (aka the Modern Age)

Superhero Comic Book Publishers: Rivalry

Marvel and DC Comics have been in a decades-long battle for supremacy. Most of DC's characters go back to the late 1930s and 1940s, while most of Marvel’s main characters are dated in the 1960s and 1970s. There still existed a serious rivalry in the late 1930s and early 1940s to achieve a foothold in the superhero comic-book publishing field with a defining character. There was actually a four issue, mini-series comic book released in 1996 that celebrated the fact of the early rivalry between the two publishing companies and their superheroes.

Marvel Comics vs. DC Comics

DC Versus Marvel Comics # 1
February 1996

Comic Book Publishers
DC Comics








DC Entertainment was originally known as "National Allied Publications" when founded in 1934. National Allied Publications' first comic was New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine # 1 (February 1935), followed by a second line of comics titled New Comics # 1 (1935) - both offered traditional comedy, "Adventure, Thrills and Prizes." By issue # 12 (January 1937), New Comics had evolved into New Adventure Comics, and then by issue # 32 into Adventure Comics (November 1938).

1938 marked the beginning of a major development - the launching of a new, comic book superhero, thus making DC the originator of the American superhero genre:

  • Superman ("Champion of the Oppressed") in Action Comics # 1 (June 1938) - also, Superman was the first comic-book superhero to have his own comic-book title - Superman # 1 (June 1939)

A number of characters were developed in the wake of the popularity of Superman:

  • Arrow, a costumed, human crime-fighter (without superpowers) in Funny Pages # 21 (September 1938)
  • Batman in Detective Comics # 27 (May 1939)
  • the Masked Marvel, another masked crime-fighter (without superpowers) in Keen Detective Funnies # 11 (July 1939)
  • Shock Gibson (aka The Human Dynamo) in Speed Comics (October 1939); he wore a red costume with yellow belt, shoes, gloves, and helmet

All Star Comics # 1 (Summer 1940) mostly contained superhero stories for Flash, Hawkman, Ultra-Man, National's Hour-Man, the Spectre and the Sandman. [Note: Some of these characters also appeared in Flash Comics # 1 (January 1940).]

The publisher was known as DC Comics (DC came from the name of the Detective Comics series), although the name wasn't officially changed until 1977. More issues followed with various significant superheroes:

  • Captain Marvel in Whiz Comics # 2 (February 1940)
  • Robin/ Dick Grayson, Batman's sidekick, introduced in Detective Comics # 38 (April 1940)
  • the Green Lantern in All-American Comics # 16 (July 1940)
  • the Atom (aka Al Pratt), a non-superhero crime-fighter in All-American Comics # 19 (October 1940)
  • the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics # 3 (Winter 1940-1941) - the first appearance of DC's (and the comic world's) first superhero team of crimefighters, adding the Green Lantern to All Star Comics # 1's collection of superheroes (Flash, Hawkman, etc.)
  • Wonder Woman (the first female superhero) in All Star Comics # 8 (January 1942)

Then, after WWII, there was a major renewal or reinterpretation of some of DC's superheroes during the five year period from the summer of 1956 to the fall of 1961:

  • Flash was renewed in Showcase # 4 (October 1956)
  • Supergirl was introduced in Action Comics # 252 (May 1959)
  • older characters (such as Flash, Hawkman, and Green Lantern) were modernized (i.e., the Green Lantern returned in Showcase # 22 (October 1959))
  • the Justice League of America, DC's superhero team (and the first superhero team of the Silver Age), first appeared in The Brave and the Bold # 28 (March 1960); soon after, it acquired its own title, Justice League of America # 1 (October 1960). The main superheroes in the Justice League were Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the Martian Manhunter.
  • the Golden Age's Atom (as Ray Palmer) was rebooted or updated in Showcase # 34 (October 1961)

In addition, new non-superhero, costumed crime-fighters/protagonists from science-fiction were added (i.e., the Space Ranger, Adam Strange, and the Atomic Knights team).

DC Entertainment is currently a subsidiary of Warner Brothers and its parent company Time Warner.

Marvel Comics



Until 1989



Marvel Entertainment was originally known as "Timely Comics," and then "Atlas Comics" (in the 1950s). At first, it produced 'pulp magazines' or cheap fiction magazines and books.

Its Golden Age superheroes included the following:

  • the android Human Torch, the Angel and Namor - the Sub Mariner, who first appeared in Marvel Comics # 1 (October 1939), Timely's ironically-titled first comic book
  • Captain America first appeared in Captain America Comics # 1 (March 1941)

After decreasing sales in the late 1940s, however, the company abandoned its superheroes for other horror and adventure comics, published by Atlas.

Then in 1961 in the Golden Age of Comics, inspired by rival DC Comics' boosting of the superhero genre, the company started producing comic books under the name Marvel Comics, and again returned to the superhero genre. American comic-book author, creator and chief editor Stan Lee of Marvel Comics was a major influence on the comic-book industry beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Known as "the father of modern comics," he led the creation of superhero teams and additional characters (some of which included the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the X-Men, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, the Avengers and many more). He was also responsible for reviving characters from the 1940s, including the Sub-Mariner and Captain America.

Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and others at Marvel created an amazing sampling of iconic superheroes in only two and a half years, comprising the entire core cast of the "Marvel Universe."

  • the Fantastic Four in The Fantastic Four # 1 (November 1961)
  • Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish # 27 (January 1962)
  • The Hulk in The Incredible Hulk # 1 (May 1962)
  • Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy # 15 (August 1962); and then in Amazing Spider-Man # 1 (March 1963)
  • Thor in Journey into Mystery # 83 (August 1962)
  • Iron Man in Tales of Suspense # 39 (March 1963)
  • Colonel Nick Fury in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos # 1 (May 1963), modernized in Fantastic Four # 21 (December 1963), and the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Strange Tales # 135 (August 1965)
  • Doctor Strange in Strange Tales # 110 (July 1963)
  • the X-Men in The X-Men # 1 (September 1963)
  • the Avengers in Avengers # 1 (September 1963)
  • Daredevil in Daredevil # 1 (April 1964)

Two of the original Golden Age heroes returned to action:

  • the Sub-Mariner resurfaced in Fantastic Four # 4 (May 1962)
  • Captain America, Timely Comics' WWII hero, came back in Avengers # 4 (March 1964)

By 1968, Marvel was selling 55 million comic-book issues a year, matching and surpassing its rival DC. Marvel's readership has always been younger than DC Comics. To date, there have been 17 feature-length films based on characters and stories attributed to Stan Lee - a record for the most movies from the work of a comic book creator.

Marvel is currently owned by the Walt Disney Company.

There were a few other prominent comic-book publishers:

  1. Fawcett Comics, one of the earliest publishers, originated Captain Marvel, one of the best-selling superhero comics of the 1940s, who first appeared in Whiz Comics # 2 (February 1940). Other popular superheroes were Bulletman (and Bulletgirl).
  2. Dark Horse Comics, founded in 1986, has become known for alternative comics, such as Frank Miller's Sin City.
  3. Image Comics, founded in 1992 (located in Berkeley, CA), responsible for DC/Marvel styled superheroes, has become known for hit original series, such as Todd McFarlane's Spawn, Rob Liefeld's Youngblood, Witchblade, Kick-Ass, Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead, Invincible, The Darkness, Brian K. Vaughan's Saga, and Savage Dragon.
  4. IDW Publishers, formed in 1999, the youngest company, now publishes a majority of comics licensed from movie and television franchises, including Star Trek, Doctor Who, Transformers, G.I. Joe, and The A-Team.

Greatest Super-Hero Films
(chronological by time period and film title)
Introduction | Flash Gordon | Buck Rogers | Superman | Batman | Spider-Man | X-Men
Marvel Cinematic Universe | The DC Extended Universe
Iron Man | Hulk | Thor | Captain America | The Avengers | Guardians of the Galaxy
Others: A - F | Others: G - N | Others: O - Z

Previous Page Next Page