The origin story is an inevitable part of the superhero movie, and so it’s become common for fans to look forward to a sequel which doesn’t waste the first hour or more with a story they’re already extremely familiar with. However, these are of course an essential device for introducing the regular movie-goer to such fantastical characters, and it’s not like they’re all bad!
In fact, some of them are downright brilliant, often going as far as improving on the source material with their contemporary take on often outdated origin tales (the majority of these character were created 50+ years ago after all).
For that reason, we decided to count down ten of the best superhero movie origin stories, sharing our thoughts on what distinguishes them from the many we’ve seen over the years. In fact, with reboots now becoming commonplace, we’re going to have to get used to seeing some of them more than once!
As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our suggestions, so be sure to let us know in the comment section below!
10. Man of Steel
It may not have been the wisest decision to slow down the first act of Man of Steel by delving into Clark Kent’s early years with the use of flashbacks, but what we got was still very effective and arguably one of the best live-action Superman origin tales yet. After an epic visit to Krypton and an in-depth look at Kal-El’s birth parents, the story of how the adopted son of Jonathan and Martha Kent becomes a hero hinged on the relationship that the young Man of Steel had with his father.
Kevin Costner is perfect in this role regardless of whether it’s when he’s interacting with the young or older Clark, and the scene in which he willingly sacrifices himself to help hide his son’s secret is truly heartbreaking to watch, but helps set the future Superman on the right path.
9. X-Men: First Class
Many fans were disappointed when it was revealed that Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men prequel wouldn’t focus on the actual “First Class” of mutant superheroes (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Angel, Beast and Iceman), but the messy continuity of the previous instalments in the franchise made that impossible anyway.
Despite those limitations, the Stardust and Layer Cake director crafted an effective origin story for the team, but was smart to focus mostly on the relationship between Magneto and Charles Xavier. It was handled in a way so that X-Men: First Class could join up with Bryan Singer’s X-Men movies, while the movie also succeeded at being its own thing as well.
8. The Green Hornet
The Green Hornet is very much one of those movies which people either loved or hated, but regardless of which side you fall on, there’s no denying the fact that The Green Hornet really quite perfectly handled the transformation of the irresponsible Britt Reid and his father’s mechanic (who just so happened to also be a skilled martial artist) into the crime fighting duo you see above.
The time they spend forging their new superhero identities in a typically bumbling fashion is an awful lot of fun, as is the scene in which they set out in Black Beauty for the first time to the tune of Gangsta’s Paradise. Shame that we’ll never get a sequel, eh?
Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. did something truly special with their Kick-Ass comic book series by taking real-life fanboys and having them suit up to fight crime…with realistically disastrous results of course!
The story of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Dave Lizewski is one that many of us should be able to relate to, and director Matthew Vaughn was the perfect person to bring this unique superhero origin story to the big screen. With a supporting cast which included crazy characters like Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, it was easy to feel like we were right there alongside Kick-Ass as he tried his best to emulate his favourite superhero comic books, and while the end of the movie had some significant differences to the source material, this was a near perfect adaptation.
Sure, Sam Raimi may have fallen out of the good graces of some comic book fans by doing away with Spider-Man’s iconic web-shooters, but he just about nailed every other aspect of the iconic Marvel superhero’s origin story. The spider may not have been radioactive, but Peter Parker was still the likeable nerd imbued with incredible powers that we’d all come to love over the years, and the fact that his first thought was to earn money by entering a wrestling contest paid homage to a more recent retelling of his early years (back in the ’60s, he appeared on television).
After letting a robber get away and losing his Uncle Ben as a result, seeing the rookie Spider-Man swing through New York in his homemade costume was a great moment, as was him later suiting up as a hero with Ben’s “With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility” message not too far from his thoughts. This one’s hard to beat!
If there’s just ONE thing that Daredevil got right, it’s the Man Without Fear’s origin. Kicking off with a flashback to a teenage Matt Murdock and the rough upbringing he had being bullied by the kids in his neighbourhood, the movie perfectly portrayed his relationship with his father (an uneducated boxer, the single dad wanted his son to be something better than him, which is why he insists that he study so much).
Tragically, when Matt discovers that his father is also an enforcer for the mob, it’s that which results in him losing his sight. The only bad part of this take is that Matt’s father dies when he was young; it would have been far more effective for this to happen to an older version, leading to him immediately becoming Daredevil. Still, a solid take on a classic tale!
4. Batman Begins
Christopher Nolan dedicated a significant portion of Batman Begins dealing with the Caped Crusader’s origin, and it’s hard to imagine it ever being topped. Taking us through Bruce Wayne’s childhood, right through to his adolescence and later his time with the League of Shadows where he learned the skills he would later employ as Gotham City’s protector, you couldn’t ask for a more in-depth take than this.
When Bruce does finally return home, we spend another good chunk of the movie seeing how he acquires each and every part of his suit and arsenal, before finally donning the iconic costume in an epic sequence. Throw in an ending which pays homage to Year One and perfectly set up The Dark Knight, and you’re left with one of the best origin stories in this list.
3. Iron Man
Just as the comics had done in recent years, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man made Tony Stark a captive in the Middle-East (rather than the original Vietnam setting), making the movie which kicked off Marvel’s Cinematic Universe extremely relevant to our times. Of course, regardless of the setting – which just so happened to work perfectly in this case – this take on Iron Man’s origin was ideal, with his time stuck in a cave alongside Yinsen arguably standing out as the best part of an otherwise still very enjoyable action-packed movie!
Paying homage to the classic Iron Man suit of the 1960s with a roughly put together prototype was fun, but we were then lucky enough to see Tony perfecting the armour and becoming the hero we all know and love from the comics. Skipping over the silly story that Iron Man is Tony’s bodyguard and finishing the movie with that “I am Iron Man” line was also a genius move.
It’s not based on a comic book movie and whether any of the characters could be classified as a superhero is debatable, but Josh Trank’s found footage movie about a trio who find themselves imbued with incredible superpowers is something really special and very much a modern day origin story for three contemporary Peter Parker-like teens. It was fascinating to see the different ways in which they handled their abilities (and the ramifications which accompanied them), with the character played by Dane DeHaan being particularly compelling as he descended into madness.
The final battle felt real, gritty and is arguably one of the best fight scenes from the genre, beating many we’ve seen even in the big budget movies which have pitted iconic Marvel and DC superheroes against their rogue galleries.
1. Captain America: The First Avenger
Tackling Captain America’s origin was perhaps Marvel’s greatest challenge to date back, but they succeeded wonderfully. By making Steve Rogers a part of a humiliating USO show (in which he actually got to punch Hitler, recreating the iconic cover of Captain America #1), Marvel gave him a reason to don a brightly coloured costume on the WWII battlefields.
The CGI which turned the super buff Chris Evans into a sickly and scrawny Steve was incredible, and while there were a few minor hiccups along the way – Hydra almost entirely taking the place of the Nazis and Bucky’s rushed “death” scene – this movie still succeeded in introducing us to Marvel’s most patriotic superhero, making him one of their most endearing characters in the process.