The Marvel Cinematic Universe is largely responsible for some of the biggest films that define the current era of Hollywood cinema. The idea of a shared cinematic universe with intersecting storylines was virtually unknown in Hollywood before the MCU arrived. No one had imagined that superheroes could be introduced to live action in such a naturalistic way.
Among the many defining characteristics of the MCU is its penchant for making multi-genre superhero movies. This was a deliberate creative decision by MCU mastermind Kevin Feige, as pointed out Comicbook.com in 2018. Changing the creative rules from film to film through genre-hopping gave us films like the Wonderfully Creative Thor: Ragnarok. Feige called this creative signature “genre pieces– an expression of his personal love for cinema of all kinds. It’s something that allowed him to push the boundaries of what superhero movies mean, and those genre pieces have successfully yielded amazing results in subsequent MCU films.
However, while Feige perfected the superhero film for the modern era, films about caped crusaders have rarely been an isolated genre. Pioneering works in live-action comic book superhero movies have often branched out into exciting genres to create a distinctive style for themselves. And as with many multi-genre MCU movies, genre play helped those early superhero films gain longevity in pop culture. Here are 10 of the best multi-genre superhero movies, ranked.
ten Captain America: The First Avenger — Period Warfare
The fifth MCU film, Captain America: The First Avenger is the origin story of Captain America. The film is set right in the middle of World War II and organically explores various aspects of the war – the most significant being the origin of Captain America’s character as a wartime propaganda mascot. The chase scene right after Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers takes the super serum is a memorable action sequence probably in the entire MCU. The fast-paced scene with its shops and classic cars is a perfect reminder that the film is set in the 1940s.
9 The Raven – Gothic Horror
Cult classic The crow has acquired a sort of mythical status over the years. Released in 1994, the film starred Brandon Lee as rock musician Eric Draven, who is resurrected from death to avenge the murder of his fiancée and himself. Everything about the film, from its ambient visuals to Draven’s character designs, boldly embraced a gothic aesthetic, and it was Lee’s performance that sold the whole show. The crow is a film like no other – the combination of Lee’s inimitable acting and Dariusz Wolski’s tone-heavy cinematography resulted in a special work of art that has failed to replicate in the film’s sequels.
8 Watchmen—Film Noir
Director Zack Snyder imagined watchmen to be a very different class of superhero movies right off the bat. Based on the comic book series of the same name, the film is set in an alternate timeline where America wins the Vietnam War. It presents a gritty and realistic take on superheroes, where the masked crusaders are not super powerful beings but ordinary people. The characters operate on a dark and cynical worldview, and the film is all too eager to prove them right. watchmen can also be considered the greatest fan movie of all time. Snyder insisted on adapting the comics as faithfully as possible, recreating many iconic panels from the comic’s source material. This black take on the superhero genre is a must-have watch for anyone who enjoys tasteful subversions of the genre.
seven Spider-Man: Homecoming—High School/Teen Comedy
Fans were thrilled when Spider-Man was finally introduced to the MCU in Civil war. Spider-Man: Homecoming was the first standalone MCU Spider-Man film, setting Tom Holland in the character’s home territory as a high school student. Holland’s Spider-Man naturally embodied the key traits of the comic book superhero – he was wry, charismatic, and teeming with the teenage anxieties that made the character so relatable in the first place. Back home came with all the different parts that make a good high school movie. It offered comedy in heaps, mostly set against the backdrop of Peter Parker’s high school shenanigans. Coming of age was a central theme in the film, as Peter of Holland struggled to fit into the Avenger-sized hero shoes he was in.
6 Captain America: The Winter Soldier — Spy Thriller
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the most exciting solo movies in the MCU saga. The second movie of the Captain America trilogy, it featured considerably higher stakes than the previous film, The First Avenger. The events of this film feature all the elements of a classic spy thriller – double-edged, an intelligence agency infiltrated by foreign agents, and a central agent gone rogue. The film ties many threads to Captain America’s origins, bringing back a bygone threat and reintroducing Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes as the Winter Soldier. The ingredients in this movie are good enough to make it an entertaining watch even for someone who has never watched another MCU movie.
5 Guardians of the Galaxy — Space Opera
guardians of the galaxy was an important movie in the MCU because it laid the groundwork for the MCU’s deep space realities. Directed by James Gunn, the film also saw one of the MCU’s most drastic tonal shifts up to that point. Released after The Winter Soldier in 2014, guardians of the galaxy took itself much less seriously and was jam-packed with humorous exchanges between the main characters. The galactic antics of the film’s motley crew, accompanied by an infectious vintage pop soundtrack, was a gratifying new flavor of space opera that happened to be set in a fictional superhero universe.
4 Joker — Psychological Thriller
Joker is a unique entry in this list. Directed by Todd Phillips and starring acclaimed drama actor Joaquin Phoenix, Joker can be called Taxi driver located in Gotham City. A drama featuring a superhero character was a dream project for Phoenix and Phillips. This finally showed when DC allowed Phillips to create a standalone origin story for Batman’s iconic nemesis, separate from his DC Extended Universe. The role was written from the start with Phoenix in mind, and it does full justice in this film about a struggling comedian whose sanity slowly succumbs to the pressures of a crime-infested city.
3 Ant-Man – Heist Comedy
Whereas The ant Man feels much closer to the MCU artery compared to guardians of the galaxy, it’s still its own movie, combining the heist comedy genre into the superhero universe. Actor Paul Rudd was the perfect choice to lead the film as Scott Lang, the titular Ant-Man, and the addition of actors like Michael Peña and David Dastmalchian in the form of Lang’s heist gang made the even funnier movie. Peña’s performance spawned some of the funniest moments in the entire MCU in the form of Luis’ narration.
2 Logan — Neo-Western
Logan was called one of best superhero movies already. It marked the end of an era as Hugh Jackman hung up his clutches as Wolverine with this film. The film was a fitting farewell to his iconic run as the character, featuring a grizzled old version of Wolverine who is more or less facing the end. Directed by James Mangold, Logan was much more than just a superhero movie. The film poses well known x-men characters at the end of the line, treating this setting with great tenderness and equal brutality to speak of the themes of loneliness, death and redemption.
The recent version of the MCU Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was billed as the MCU’s first true horror film. There have been a number of other movies in the past that have been labeled as superhero horror. However, very few of them do the horror label justice. Released in 2019, Brightburn was a terribly effective game in a storyline where the invincible Superman is inherently evil. Rather than being a superhero movie with a few horror tropes thrown in, it’s a horror movie with a superhero origin drawn into it. The film pokes fun at the Superman archetype by showing many of his familiar motifs; an infertile couple living on a farm are lucky enough to have an invincible alien child to raise as their own. But what if the child is born with malevolent tendencies that he is too willing to give in to?