62 Best Superhero Movie Performances, From Heath Ledger to Angela Bassett

From the heroes like Batman and Wolverine to the terrifying villains such as Joker and Thanos, superhero movies have proven to be box office juggernauts, with the likes of Marvel and DC films leading the way. However, the artists who bring them to life, notably the actors who inhabit them, are often unappreciated at award shows.

Variety ranks the 62 best superhero performances in movies since 1970.

While Hollywood royalty staples such as Martin Scorsese have been outspoken and critical of the superhero machine, the industry has been progressing in seeing its actors’ artistic merits and contributions. Joaquin Phoenix won best actor at the Oscars for his turn in “Joker” (2019), which led the nomination tally with 11. Heath Ledger preceded him by winning best supporting actor posthumously for his work in “The Dark Knight” (2008), the film most responsible for the Academy expanding its best picture allotments from five to 10.

Unfortunately, and although this ranking doesn’t focus on perceived “Oscar-worthy,” the list of snubs is far longer, with iconic performances, such as Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in “Batman Returns” (1992) or Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger in “Black Panther,” (2017) failing to gain recognition.

While the definition of a “superhero movie” and “awards-worthy” varies, the impact of the characters and the actors who play them on pop culture is often undisputed.

Expect lots of Marvel Studios chatter within the confines of Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con, and the possibility of future inclusions with upcoming entries such as “The Marvels,” “Thunderbolts” and whatever James Gunn and Peter Sarfran are cooking up in their future DC Studio plans.

Read all the latest news and information on future Marvel Studios, DC and superhero-related projects on Variety’s.

NOTE: We only mention an actor playing their specific character once. Therefore, the correlating film mentioned is considered their best performance. The list includes films released up to June 5, 2023.

Honorable mentions: Brad Bird, “The Incredibles” (2004); David Dastmalchian, “The Suicide Squad” (2021); Michael Fassbender, “X-Men: First Class” (2011); Gene Hackman, “Superman” (1978); Samuel L. Jackson, “Captain Marvel” (2019); Famke Janssen, “X2: X-Men United” (2003); Dafne Keen, “Logan” (2017); Margot Kidder, “Superman” (1978); Ian McKellen, “X-Men” (2000); Elizabeth Olsen, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (2022); Chris Pratt, “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014); Florence Pugh, “Black Widow” (2021); Sebastian Stan, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014); Benedict Wong, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (2022);

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