It’s a superhero’s world, and we’re all just living in it. This is very much true for the poor, ordinary folks who constantly find themselves at the mercy of superheroes, villains and their battles. But it also rings true for us — the humans on the other side of the screen. Hollywood today is dominated by intellectual property and franchises. The superhero genre is the most prevalent example of both (check back in a few years when it’s Barbie and other Mattel products). Very rarely do we just get one superhero film, unless it’s a box office bomb. Instead, we’re flooded with too many sequels, prequels, and spin-offs to count. Some of these films, though, can be enjoyed as stand-alone stories. You don’t need additional films to provide context or continue the story; these movies are perfect as is. And in some case, they would’ve been better off untouched. If you ever feel overwhelmed by the superhero genre and just want to watch one movie, then here are ten films that work perfectly fine as stand-alone stories.

10 Superman Returns (2006)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Most entries on this list are the first movies in their respective franchises, which makes sense. The first movie introduces the hero, the world they live in, and usually their origins; these tend to work better as stand-alone films than their sequels. Superman Returns, however, is an exception. It’s the first Superman film since 1987’s abysmal Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. There are so many reasons why you don’t need the earlier films to enjoy, or at least to understand, this movie.

For one thing, Superman Returns ignores the events and existence of the last three Superman movies; you literally don’t need to watch them. Secondly, the movie opens with text that explains everything: Superman is a superhero from another planet, and he’s disappeared. We’re immediately introduced to a world that’s been adjusting to life without Superman — a world that gets rocked upon his return. Thirdly, with the exception of Marlon Brando’s Jor-El, most of the characters — from Superman, to Lois Lane, to Lex Luthor — are played by new actors, which sets it a part from the previous films. Now we’re not claiming that Superman Returns is an incredible movie, but it does work as a stand-alone film.

9 Hellboy (2004)

Sony Pictures Releasing

Guillermo del Toro’sHellboy is a cult favorite among fans of the superhero genre. It’s the first the film in a franchise that’s been overdone with reboots. The 2004 original follows Hellboy (Ron Perlman), a demon summoned to Earth by the Nazis during World War II, who grows up to become a paranormal investigator for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.).

The movie combines elements of action, horror, and dark fantasy to create a visually stunning and engaging experience. It works well as a stand-alone story, especially given the movie’s final monologue: “What makes a man a man? A friend of mine once wondered, is it his origins? The way he comes to life? I don’t think so. It’s the choices he makes. Not how he starts things, but how he decides to end them.”

8 The Incredibles (2004)

Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Within its first 15 years, Pixar had refrained from creating sequels and produced only quality standalone films with the exception of Toy Story. The Incredibles was one of those stand-alone films. This animated take is even more family-friendly than the MCU, though that doesn’t make it any less good. It’s an intriguing look at a world that bans superheroes and at a superhuman family that grapples with this reality.

As far as superhero movies, it’s original, inventive, and loads of fun. Since 2011, Pixar’s filmography has been littered with sequels and spin-offs for Cars, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. The Incredibles 2 was solid, but most critics felt like it didn’t live up to the original. The Incredibles was just fine by itself and, in hindsight, really didn’t need a sequel.

7 Spider-Man (2002)

Sony Pictures

Once upon a time, 2002’s Spider-Man was the biggest film in Hollywood. This gem has influenced every superhero movie since, particularly the most recent Spider-Man installment No Way Home. From its visual effects to its all-star cast to its stellar plot, Spider-Man still holds up as a great superhero film — and also as a great stand-alone story. It tells you everything you need to know about Marvel’s flagship character: his origins, the key players in his story, and the mantra behind all Spidey movies: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

If this were a stand-alone movie, Spider-Man would end with Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) walking away from the love of his life, and things would be left open with Harry Osborn (James Franco) and his vengeful vow on Spider-Man. And sure, that’s a little dark and ambiguous. But it also shows Peter Parker embracing his new identity as Spider-Man and all the hardship that comes with it.

6 Unbreakable (2000)

Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Because the superhero genre is dominated by Marvel and DC, it’s easy to overlook films like Unbreakable. This movie sneakily toes the lie between drama/thriller and superhero. But make no mistake: this M. Night Shyamalan masterpiece is a superhero movie. Its entire story is founded on comic books; through a series of events, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) comes to learn that he may have superhuman abilities and just might be a real-life superhero.

For sixteen years, this movie was a stand-alone film. But in 2016, in a classic Shyamalan twist, it was revealed that his thriller Split takes place in the same universe as Unbreakable, setting us up for a third film that would take Unbreakable from stand-alone film to the first movie in a trilogy. The twist in Split is one of Shyamalan’s best efforts, but it also wasn’t needed. Unbreakable worked just fine as a stand-alone movie for sixteen years, and it still does.

Related: 10 Times a Superhero’s Costume Changed Drastically from Movie to Movie

5 Black Panther (2018)

Marvel StudiosDisney

The MCU introduced Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in Captain America: Civil War, which provided some backstory on T’Challa and Wakanda. But you don’t need to see that movie to follow or enjoy Black Panther’s journey; 2018’s Black Panther is a strong enough starting point by itself. It also offers the first glimpse of the isolated, technologically advanced world of Wakanda, which is an incredible sight the first time you venture into it. Black Panther broke barriers and also records, becoming the highest-grossing film by a Black director. It’s noted for its cultural significance and is regarded as one of the MCU’s best movies.

4 Wonder Woman (2017)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Like Black Panther, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) was introduced to the DCEU (RIP) in a movie that wasn’t her own. We first meet the Amazon warrior in 2016’s Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, whose appearance as a supporting character is a major highlight of the film. And like Black Panther, you don’t need to see this movie or its direct sequel, Justice League, to appreciate 2017’s Wonder Woman.

Not only is this the first movie in her franchise, but it’s the first movie chronologically in Wonder Woman’s journey. It dives into her origins and training, flashing between her past and present-day storylines. If you’re seeing this movie for the first time, then it’s best to treat it as a stand-alone film. Its sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, was inferior and a far cry from the original.

3 Iron Man (2008)

Paramount Pictures

You don’t need to watch any film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to enjoy or follow Iron Man — and that’s because this is the first film in the MCU. As of 2023, the MCU has pumped out 32 movies, 32 superhero stories — and they all came from this little gem right here. That makes Iron Man the father of Marvel’s cinematic empire and the ultimate stand-alone film in the MCU. Sure, it’d be nice to see what happens after Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) shares his secret identity with the world. But if the franchise ended right there, it still would’ve been a satisfying finale.

2 Logan (2017)

20th Century Studios

Logan is the third and final film in the X-Men’s Wolverine trilogy. And as far as superhero movies go, it’s a breath of fresh air that’s been called one of the greatest superhero films of all time. But Logan’s past and the previous X-Men movies aren’t needed to enjoy or understand this film. Early on, we learn that the seemingly invincible and immortal Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is not only aging but dying, his blood poisoned by the adamantium metal that’s been surgically fused to his skeleton. It’s also in this film where we learn that Wolverine’s DNA was used to create Laura (Daphne Keen), a young girl who shares Logan’s mutant abilities and animalistic nature — and becomes something of a daughter to him.

You don’t need the previous films to understand the close relationship between Logan and Professor X (Patrick Stewart). You can see it in their tender interactions. And you certainly don’t need the earlier movies to know how powerful Professor X is; it’s clear that his mind, now suffering from dementia, has turned Professor X into a terrifying weapon of mass destruction. Although it’s connected to the Wolverine trilogy, Logan feels like an Elseworld story, a movie that exists a part from its predecessors. And because of this, it makes for one hell of a stand-alone movie.

1 The Dark Knight (2008)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Although it’s a sequel to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight stands perfectly well on its own. You don’t need to see how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman; we didn’t in the 1989 Tim Burton movie. Right off the bat, we’re introduced to Heath Ledger’s legendary Joker and then to Batman (Christian Bale) in two epic back-to-back action sequences.

The Dark Knight reminds us, over and over again, that Bruce Wayne is looking for someone to take up his mantle and replace him as Gotham City’s protector. And in doing so, it captures the entire story of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), from good guy to iconic Batman villain Two-Face. Sure, the ending is dark and would feel even darker if there wasn’t a sequel. But if Christopher Nolan’s movie ended with Batman on the run, with Commissioner Gordon’s (Gary Oldman) speech in the background, The Dark knight would still go down as one of the greatest superhero films of all time.

 You don’t need additional films to provide context or continue the story; these superhero movies are perfect as is.  Read More