Hollywood has looked to superheroes and comic books to inform their stories since the Golden Age of both industries when characters received serials. Although Marvel and DC's properties have dominated the genre on film, there have been plenty of independent and alternate superhero stories just as good. Some of these films went so far as to alter the direction of superhero cinema, and quite often, for the better.

Superheroes have secured an incredibly strong following in cinema, and have become the dominant genre of the 2010s to present. Their impact on modern storytelling has been profound; even stories some wouldn't have associated with superheroes have found new life in the genre. Independent superhero movies have been especially successful in mixing genres and earning acclaim. Everything from darker examinations of superheroes to making the genre more accessible to kids has changed what it means to tell a superhero story.

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10 Watchmen

The original Minutemen group having their photo taken in Watchmen opening montage

Taking directly after the original graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Zack Snyder's Watchmen brought something fresh to superhero cinema when it was released in 2009. The movie takes place in an alternate timeline where the threat of nuclear war looms, and a team of superheroes sets out to solve the murder of a former teammate.

Watchmen is considered by many to be the greatest superhero story ever told, thanks to its dark depiction of superheroes and interesting character motivations. The movie helped establish Zack Snyder's career as a superhero movie director, setting the tone for the entire DCEU.

9 Megamind

Megamind dueling Tighten in Megamind movie

Megamind helped begin one of the most popular trends in superhero movies, the overly sympathetic villain. The story follows the villain after he defeats his heroic arch-enemy, Metro Man, and is left to question the meaning of his new existence as a villain without a foe.

Megamind also set a key precedent in stories that are ultimately about the villain, casting the superhero as more of an afterthought. Though the idea has had more of an impact on kids' movies than anything else, and also helped begin the trend of meta-commentary stories.

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8 A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors

Freddy Krueger Dream Warriors

A Nightmare on Elm Street was never intended to become a superhero franchise, but its mediocre movies were precisely that. In the third movie, Dream Warriors, Freddy faces a new threat, a band of teenagers who have perfected their ability to control their dreams.

Dream Warriors made little secret about its use of the superhero genre, with comic books and superhero costumes featured in the story. In the next two installments, Freddy battled other Dream Warriors. The idea actually kicked off a trend of super-powered heroes in horror, also seen in Friday the 13th Part VII.

7 Darkman

Dr Westlake Emerges From The Fire in Darkman

Sam Raimi's Darkman wasn't a hero with a superpower, but rather one who depended on technology and disguise to fight crime. One of Liam Neeson's first big performances, the movie followed a scientist who used synthetic skin to create face masks after he was burned.

Darkman's origin borrowed inspiration from characters like Man-Thing, Swamp Thing, and even elements of The Shadow and The Avenger. When put together, it created a uniquely dark superhero thriller that normalized the comic book theme as the backdrop for a crime movie.

6 Dredd

judge dredd with a flag in the background

2012's Dredd was remarkable for two reasons. First, it took a character whose previous foray into live-action had garnered a reputation for being campy and over-the-top and redefined what his story could be. Second, it showed how many comic book movies were better off with an R rating.

Dredd abandoned the cheesy '90s tone of the Stallone movie in favor of a grounded and gritty feel that would later serve as the basis for films like John Wick. It helped normalize the idea of some comic book movies as adult entertainment, as seen in projects like Invincible and Logan.

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5 Brightburn

Brandon Breyer In Brightburn

Brightburn followed in the wake of the huge success of DC's Injustice stories, which had Superman fall to villainy after tragedy. Brightburn explored that idea, but retold the origin of Superman as a young child who was a horror movie slasher villain.

The idea of a movie's superhero not just being a villain but actually being a slasher isn't something often seen in cinema. There was no superhero protagonist to counter the threat of this evil child Superman. The idea of appropriating superhero stories into horror could be a great trope going forward.

4 Army Of Darkness

Ash screams in terror in Army of Darkness

The third entry in Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series, Army of Darkness, took Ash Williams away from the cabin in the woods and sent him back to medieval times. The first two movies had been more full-on horror, but the third movie leaned into a comedic tone that recast Ash as a superhero figure.

The move made in the third film completely changed the franchise from isolated horror to a comedy/horror superhero, with Ash having decades of comics chronicling his adventures. The franchise's evolution paved the way for combining unlikely genres into crafting a superhero.

3 The Incredibles

The Incredibles running from fire from The Incredibles movie poster.

The Incredibles gave audiences something so obviously ideal for superheroes that it was a box office smash hit: a family of superheroes. Throughout all the Marvel, DC, and even indie superhero movies, little attention was paid to a family who doubles as heroes.

The Incredibles included all the fixtures of the superhero genre, from a variety of powers and a cool set of gadgets to a compelling supervillain. It paved the way for other animated superhero movies like Megamind and League of Super Pets.

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2 Hellboy

Hellboy holding his Good Samaritan gun. 

Hellboy came along after the hero had been one of the hottest new comic book characters in the late 1990s. Based on his breakout miniseries, Mike Mignola's Seed of Destruction, the first movie brought the occult detective superhero to the big screen, and basically set the precedent for good indie comic movies.

Despite being a relatively new character, Hellboy managed to achieve a surprisingly strong spot in pop culture. This rise to pop cultural prominence rose with the character's 2004 movie, and the hero has stayed relevant ever since. Thanks to Hellboy, the idea of a thankless and even indifferent hero with a bad attitude has become a staple across superhero cinema.

1 Unbreakable

Elijah Price Mopes In A Comic Shop In Unbreakable

Unbreakable is one of the most important and compelling superhero movies ever made, despite having no ties to any comic book. M. Night Shyamalan crafted his own superhero mythology in a world where superpowers are just humans on far ends of the spectrum of natural abilities. The idea has been carried forward into later films, especially those that strive to feel realistic.

Unbreakable was simultaneously a deconstruction of the superhero genre and a genuinely hopeful story of a family man growing closer with his wife and son as he finds a new purpose in his life. Even Quentin Tarantino labeled it one of the most important superhero movies ever.