Fandom is in an age where there is no shortage of superhero movies and tv to consume. In fact, as of 2023, Marvel and D.C. studios are both averaging about three movies a year. However, there was a time when fans were lucky to see one superhero film a year and even luckier if it was good.

After the success of Superman in 1978, studios would spend the next decade trying to perfect the formula of a perfect superhero movie. While the studios’ results over the 80s varied, the decade ended with the quintessential superhero film in Batman, and Hollywood was never the same.

8 Swamp Thing (1982)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 60%

This superhero horror based on a D.C. comic about a scientist genetically turned into a swamp creature offers both horror and heroics.

Swamp Thing begins like a legitimate horror movie with its moody atmosphere and mysterious occurrences around the swap. The spectacle of this film is sensationalized in the vein of 1950s scary movies like Creature From The Black Lagoon. There’s also tons of grotesque body horror that’s both disgusting and intriguing to look at and like Godzilla, audiences root for this hideous being. These horror elements separate Swap Thing from most superhero films before or since.

7 The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

Image via 20th Century Studios

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 66%

This film is based on a Marvel comic about a scientist who’s also a rock star and surgeon who must save the world from interdimensional aliens. This underrated film is so insane it must be seen to be believed.

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This little-known movie is strange in all the best ways, with peculiar costume changes that go unexplained, a seemingly important character dying from a slip and fall, and high-tech glasses that look like bubble wrap. With the plot and characters becoming increasingly more manic as the film goes on, viewers must pay close attention to not lose track of what’s happening as well as their sanity.

6 Hero at Large (1980)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 68%

John Ritter stars in this goofy yet realistic take on superheroes about an actor promoting a superhero movie who decides to fight crime.

Hero at Large almost feels like a precursor to Kick-Ass, with its feeble hero not having any powers to speak of, unlike his on-screen counterpart. This makes Ritter an underdog that audiences root for because of how vulnerable his character is as he drops like a fly after being shot and chases criminals with a taxi cab. Ultimately, this film’s sincere message of not needing superpowers to help people is what makes this film so charming.

5 The Toxic Avenger (1981)

Image via Troma Entertainment

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 70%

This body-horror film about a crime fighter transfigured by toxic waste is so overdramatic that characters often scream from excitement for no apparent reason.

This over-sexed, incredibly violent film has fun taking everything to the extreme with characters so over the top they almost seem deranged. Melvin is so geeky before becoming the Toxic Avenger he can barely communicate with ordinary people. Meanwhile, the villains are so evil they fatally run kids over for fun. Compiling on to the excessiveness is lots of body horror as Melvin is doused in toxic liquid, horrifically disfiguring his body. There are also plenty crime-fighting scenes where criminals’ arms and eyes are ripped out of the socket. While Toxic Avenger may be too crazy for its own good, it’s also a movie impossible to forget.

4 Superman II (1980)

Image via Warner Bros.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%

After much fighting with the studio, Richard Donor’sSuperman II may not have been his vision of the movie, but it still managed to become a classic in the genre.

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Superman 2 was already poised to be a big movie, continuing the story from the first film. While introduced prior Zod and his cohorts don’t wreak havoc until the sequel making for a more formidable and exciting foe than an underpowered real estate shark. We finally get to see Superman go head-to-head with his equals. This is only strengthened by Terrance Stamps’ performance as Zod that’s thrilling and a little intimidating. Clark and Lois are even more charming than the first as she finally starts to suspect Clark is Superman. This film is also very influential in the genre because it started the sequel movie where the hero loses his power trend. Donor cut or not, this gem will always be a classic.

3 Batman (1989)

Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%

In 1989, Batman returned to the big screen for the first time since 1966, but this iteration would trade hokey dialogue and onomatopoeias for a more gritty, grounded take on Batman.

This influential film looks like it’s ripped straight from a comic panel with its shadowy lighting, gothic set designs, and 50s fashion. All this and its decision to shoot on set make Gotham feel like an actual city with its own identity, not just a New York replica like later films. Also, unlike later movies, Batman strikes a serious tone without sacrificing fun, with the Joker’s hilariously dark sense of humor ironically being the comedic relief at times. Bruce, while gloomy, is always charming, distinguishing him from other iterations. That being said, Micheal Keaton’s quiet and subtle performance showed Hollywood it’s okay to take comic book movies and their characters seriously, changing the genre forever.

2 Flash Gordon (1980)

Image via Universal Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%

This sci-fi about a football player caught in a war on an alien planet is full of hokey comedy that did not land with audiences then but is why it’s now a cult classic.

Flash Gordon is as 80s as it gets, full of camp, hilariously cheesy dialogue, and amazing music. While it’s easy to laugh at the film Star Wars cinematographer Gilbert Taylor shoots amazing visuals with luxurious sets and costumes full of vibrant colors true to the source material giving this film real cinematic merit.

1 RoboCop (1987)

Image Via MGM

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

This futuristic superhero film about a dead cop whose brain is transferred inside a robot shell shocked viewers with its dark satirical look on society.

This classic’s world-building immerses audiences in this futuristic America that’s become lawless and desensitization to violence. Its now infamous ironic take on big business is hilariously parodied with tech companies buying police departments and commercials selling military-grade weapons on T.V. Viewers come for the action movie but leave with a stark warning about America’s future.

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 From Superman II to Batman, these are the best superhero movies from the 1980s according to Rotten Tomatoes.  Read More