2022 Superhero Movie Challenge, What is a Superhero?

List of Superhero Movies

There’s a list of 287 Superhero movies, and I’ve started watching them. This post contains my thoughts on this experience.

Consuming in Blocks

Often when I read books, I’ll read the same author or subject in “blocks.” Each author has their own voice, so once you adjust to it, it makes it easier to get into the next book faster, and from there pick up on themes and messages. With similar subjects, there is inevitably overlap (especially in non-fiction). This is helpful in getting multiple perspectives, but especially for allowing new knowledge to sink in. If you read a biography of Harry Truman (random example), you will retain very little of it after a while. But if you read two, you’ll likely retain much more because you came across the same information, and it will light up your brain as familiar (not a scientific fact, just an expression).

Movies are similar in some respect. I often work from checklists, usually with themes. I’ve done Alfred Hitchcock movies, Nicolas Cage movies (more on both of those in a future post), and stringing them together really allows you to see the themes in Hitchcock or the range of Cage’s acting. For 2022, I picked a different sort of theme: Superhero movies.

Superhero movies are not “my jam.” I grew up reading comic books and will defend comic books all day long. But for whatever reason, the adaptation to film fails more often than not. They’re either too cheesy, take themselves too seriously, or – worst of all, in my opinion – rely far too much on computer special effects, so every battle scene is just a blurry cartoon with no humanity left. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I find the superhero movies of the 1970s through 1990s are far superior to almost anything released today.

Gavin as Captain America

Gavin as Captain America

What is a Superhero Movie?

The most interesting thing to come out of this journey so far (a little over a month into a year-long exploration) is not even about the movies, but more fundamental: what is a “superhero” movie?

Working off an exhaustive list, there are some characters who stand out as blurring the line. First up was Zorro (affiliate link). He’s a guy in a mask with fencing skills. He has villains. He has a secret identity. But is he a superhero? I received a lot of pushback that he was a “vigilante” or a “badass” but not a superhero. And I can see it both ways.

But the problem here is, that opens a slippery slope. By that measure, the Green Hornet (affiliate link) is not a superhero because he just has nice gadgets. And then Batman (affiliate link). just a rich guy with a fancy car. Ditto Iron Man (affiliate link), a rich guy with a fancy suit. Are Batman and Iron Man superheroes? I would think most people would say yes (Wikipedia says yes, as do the comic book publishers). Do you need “super powers” to be a superhero? What is the line between Zorro and Batman, or Batman and Superman? Something to think about.

Perhaps in a future post I’ll reflect more on this and other topics about superhero movies. While so far my opinion that most of them are terrible has only been reaffirmed, it might be worth highlighting the exceptions and what makes a “good” superhero movie.

Other Definitions of “Superhero”

For what it’s worth, here’s how some sources define “superhero”. Encyclopedia Britannica even includes a list.

Encyclopedia Britannica

Superheroes have their antecedents in the semidivine heroes of myth and legend. Protagonists who exhibit feats of incredible strength, fighting prowess, and cunning are commonplace in both scripture and early secular literature.

Encyclopedia Britannica


A fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers



A morally righteous hero in a fictional work who possesses extraordinary abilities or supernatural powers and uses them to fight evil, as in comic books and movies.


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