50 Best Superhero Movie Performances of the Last 50 Years, From Ben Affleck to Zendaya

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. To celebrate the return of the San Diego Comic-Con on July 20, Variety ranks the 50 best superhero performances, in movies, of the last 50 years (post-1972).

While Hollywood royalty staples such as Martin Scorsese have been outspoken and critical of the superhero machine, the industry has been making progress 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, with hopefully a preview of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and crossing our fingers at first glimpses at the Zachary Levi sequel “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” and more.

San Diego-Comic-Con runs from July 21-24 at the San Diego Convention Center. Read all the latest news and information on future Marvel Studios projects on Variety’s regularly updated list.

Honorable mentions: Brad Bird, “The Incredibles” (2004); Brian Cox, “X2” (2003); David Dastmalchian, “The Suicide Squad” (2021); Chiwetel Ejiofor, “Doctor Strange” (2016); Scarlett Johansson, “The Avengers” (2012); Florence Pugh, “Black Widow” (2021); J.K. Simmons, “Spider-Man” (2002); Sebastian Stan, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) and Benedict Wong, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (2022)

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