We live in a world full of heroes. The golden age of superhero films is upon us, and I for one am OK with that. But variety is the spice of life. I don’t want all of my superhero films to be in the vein of the Mickey Mouse train. I want some to be dark. Give me some superhero horror films, you know? I want to see that with great power, comes great responsibility… and that some people just don’t give a damn. I’m happy to say I’m in luck! Here’s my 10 favorite superhero horror films for horror fans.
While most people were critical of Brightburn upon its release, I never quite understood why. I get superhero fatigue, but if any film was going against the trend, it was Brightburn. This is not your Disney-flavored superhero flick. This is a pretty hardcore take on the Superman mythos. Though certainly not a perfect film, Brightburn is a film I love, and in no small way the reason I wanted to write this list. The world needs to see what evil people might do if they had superpowers. Which brings me to…
What do you get if you combine the acting prowess of Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand in a film directed by Sam Raimi? Well, you get Darkman, of course. Darkman belongs to that very select group of films, which also includes The Rocketeer and others in this list: superhero films released in the 90’s which were actually good. And which, sadly, have mostly been forgotten. Do remedy that today, though. Darkman is a fantastic tale of revenge and it features quite a few Nicolas Cage-worthy moments of outright delirium. Great stuff.
The Invisible Man (2020)
The Invisible Man holds the somewhat dubious honor of being the last film to hit it big before we descended into the pandemic. However, I believe Leigh Whannell’s entry into Universal’s MonsterVerse (yes, really) is one of the all-time great superhero horror films. It will definitely hold its own and will age like a fine wine. Elisabeth Moss delivers a career-best performance, which for Elisabeth Moss, really is saying something. She is great in basically everything.
There’s a lot of love for HBO’s recent Watchmen revival. And rightfully so: it’s fantastic. But Zack Snyder’s 2009 opus is, in my eyes, just as good. If ever there was a superhero property which fits Snyder’s visual language like a glove, it’s Watchmen. Perhaps, had he been able to get it cut to around 2 hours of running time, rather than the nearly 3 hours it shipped out with, people would have been more receptive of its pace. Regardless, it’s a great film, and definitely one which showcases the potential contained in the founder of the Snyderverse.
Some love it, some hate it. But nobody’s ever really ambivalent or indifferent about Spawn. Quite obviously the result of a director who’s known mainly as a visual effects artist, Spawn is weird, violent and sometimes downright disgusting. This made it totally tank at the box office. It also makes it a total winner in my book.
Sin City (2005)
Before you start arguing that Sin City is a comic book film but not a superhero film, I have two words for you: Mickey Rourke. This absolutely bananas adaptation of Frank Miller’s landmark graphic novel was taken to the screen by Miller himself, and it shows. There are no compromises here. This is Sin City through and through. For better, and sometimes for worse. Revisit Basin City in all its awful, violent and gory glory today!
When it comes to Freaks, the less you know going in, the better. But let me assure you: this little independent film will knock your socks off. It’s a very intimate take on a tale as old as comic books themselves, and this makes it succeed where others on this list (looking at you, Brightburn) perhaps falter. Freaks punches way above its weight.
It’s very difficult sometimes to separate creators from their works. But the truth is, a lot of people are involved in making most films. If one were to put this aside, though, Chronicle is a refreshing look at the superhero trope. Approached as a found footage film, it features an amazing performance by Michael B. Jordan and fantastic camera work. Truly unique.
The Butterfly Effect (2004)
Ashton Kutcher’s time-travelling adventures have real horror pedigree, as The Butterfly Effect was co-written and co-directed by some of the same people behind the Final Destination series. Not all superhero horror movies need to be grandiose in scope, either. Kutcher’s character doesn’t need to go back to change world events. He just wants to make a positive impact on the lives of the people he loves. And as it’s usually the case, it all goes horribly wrong.
Way before he was Captain America, Chris Evans starred as Nick Grant in Push. The film, which also features Dakota Fanning and Djimon Hounsou, appears to have drowned in the noise of Marvel and DC superhero films of the past decade and a half. But Push is truly different in its approach, feeling a lot more like a bloody action film than a neutered, Mickey Mouse-approved multiverse romp. Not for everyone, but definitely super fun.