As a genre, the superhero movie is extremely versatile. Most superhero movies emphasize action and adventure, but they also commonly include elements of crime thrillers, science fiction, and fantasy. Horror, unfortunately, is a genre that is greatly underexplored in big-budget superhero movies.
Early examples of superhero stories that toyed with incorporating horror include film serials like The Spider’s Web (1938) and The Shadow (1940). However, the superhero/horror formula remained rare on film. In the 1980s, graphic novels such as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and characters like The Punisher pushed comics towards an edgier tone. The trend of antiheroes flourished in the 1990s, and movies, especially low-budget movies, began to capitalize on the shift.
Today, the superhero movie is the most dominant force in the box office, but the MCU and DCEU are hesitant to embrace the potential of horror. To satisfy the very specific craving of fans of superheroes and horror, ranked here are some of the best live-action superhero horror movies ever made. Keep in mind, to make a list like this you have to be somewhat lenient with your definitions of both “horror” and “superhero.” Also, this ranking is based on a highly subjective combination of evaluating the quality of each movie, its adherence to a traditional superhero plot, and its attempt at being a full-fledged horror flick.
Superhero Horror Movie Ranking
Vampirella may not be a great movie. It may not even be very good by most people’s standards, but it is a fun, schlocky bit of horrific superhero pulp. Vampirella (Talisa Soto), or Ella for short, is a scantily-clad vampire from the planet Drakulon where blood flows in rivers across the planet’s surface. Another of Drakulon’s denizens, Vlad (Roger Daltrey of The Who), prefers drinking blood straight from the source (i.e. people), so he takes a spaceship to Earth so he can enjoy a never-ending supply of fresh necks to bite. Vampirella follows Vlad to avenge her stepfather (Angus Scrimm) whom Vlad killed on his way off-planet. What follows is a silly collection of bared fangs, goofy fight choreography, and gloriously over-the-top performances.
Filled with lots of violence and low-budget gore effects, Robot Ninja is the story of a comic book artist, Leonard Miller (Michael Todd), who takes his obsession with his own creation too far. One night, Leonard stumbles across a double murder on his way home. Leonard uses the experience as a story in his comic series about a violent vigilante called the Robot Ninja, but that’s not enough for him. Leonard has a Robot Ninja suit made for himself, and he takes to the streets as a real-life superhero. Unfortunately, superheroics are much more difficult in the real world than they are on the printed page, and the real Robot Ninja’s actions lead to horrifically gruesome results for everyone involved.
Faust: Love of the Damned certainly feels like a product of the late-90s style of trashy moviemaking. Extreme gore effects and gratuitous nudity are presented with lighting-fast editing and generic metal music in what amounts to a laughably cheesy experience. The story involves John Jaspers (Mark Frost) selling his soul to a creepy guy named M (Andrew Divoff) for the power to get revenge for the murder of his girlfriend. John’s deal turns him into the demon-fueled antihero Faust who chops his enemies into bloody chunks with his bladed gauntlets. Brian Yuzna (Return of the Living Dead III, Society) directed Faust, and Screaming Mad George provided the wonderfully gruesome special effects.
Though Earth vs. The Spider (2001) shares its title with the 1958 giant spider movie by director Bert I. Gordon, it is not a remake of the earlier film. Instead, the 2001 movie starts as a superhero origin story before turning into a body-horror monster movie reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986). Quentin Kemmer (Devon Gummersall) is a mild-mannered security guard obsessed with a comic book superhero called The Arachnid Avenger (who is basically Spider-Man when he briefly had six arms). Through some sci-fi shenanigans, Quentin is granted the powers of a spider which include enhanced senses, super strength, and the ability to produce webbing from his body. Unfortunately, the spidery transformation doesn’t end there.
21. Morbius (2022)
Panned by critics but generally successful at the box office, Morbius stars Jared Leto as the titular “living vampire” Dr. Michael Morbius. Morbius is an origin story that follows Michael as he searches for a cure to the blood disease that afflicts him and his friend Milo (Matt Smith). Michael finds a cure of sorts, but the side effects include bat-like superpowers and a continual craving for blood. Cursed with vampirism, Morbius must fight his urges to drain humans of their blood while struggling with the decision of whether or not to let Milo know of his discovery. Morbius delivers on its promise of vampire-like superpowered action, and Jared Leto and Matt Smith work well as good friends and bitter enemies.
The Guyver is a science fiction/monster/superhero movie based on the Japanese manga series Bio-Booster Armor Guyver. In the movie, a student named Sean Barker (Jack Armstrong) discovers a stolen device that, when activated, covers him in a suit of armor that drastically increases his durability and strength. It’s not long before Sean is forced to fight against the villainous zoanoids (biologically altered monsters) who kidnap his girlfriend. The Guyver is pure 1990s camp and cheese, and half the fun comes from the movie’s cast which includes Mark Hamill, Michael Berryman, Jeffrey Combs, Linnea Quigley, and Jimmie Walker.
19. Spawn (1997)
One of the biggest developments in comic books during the 1990s was the formation of Image Comics by a group of the hottest comic creators of the decade. Spawn, by Todd McFarlane, quickly surged to the front of the pack of popular new characters created by Image, and it didn’t take long for Spawn to become a multimedia sensation. The movie version of Spawn may not have lived up to every fan’s expectations, but its campy digital effects combined with unpretentious comic-inspired visuals makes Spawn a great time. Plus, Michael Jai White is wonderful as Al Simmons/Spawn, and John Leguizamo is truly something to behold as the Clown/Violator.
18. WolfCop (2014)
WolfCop is one of those movies that is intentionally kind of dumb and cheesy in an attempt to evoke a retro, grindhouse style of movie. If that’s your thing, and you like unconventional superheroes, then WolfCop is for you. The movie is about a police officer in a small town who turns into a werewolf during an investigation into local occult activities. The cop then goes about his duties as a police officer, fighting crime using his new wolf powers, unaware that he is part of a larger plan going on within his city.
High-speed revenge from beyond the grave is the basis of The Wraith. The movie takes place in an Arizona town where the quiet of the desert is disturbed by a gang of hoodlums whose specialties are intimidation and street racing. A helmeted figure dressed in black arrives in town driving a sleek sports car, and one by one he goes after the local gang. The mysterious figure, referred to as a wraith by one of the gang members, can disappear and reappear in a flash of light, and even though he is in multiple (intentional) car crashes, he cannot be killed. Most of The Wraith isn’t very horrific, but it contains dark imagery and some rather violent and bloody flashbacks which give it just enough horror to be included on this list.
The final movie in Fox’s long-running X-Men franchise, The New Mutants is a valiant effort to fully integrate the superhero and horror genres. The movie focuses on a group of young mutants who are confined to a hospital in an effort to help them control their emerging, and dangerous, powers. The characters, including Mirage (Blu Hunt), Magik (Anya Taylor-Joy), Wolfsbane (Maisie Williams), Cannonball (Charlie Heaton), and Sunspot (Henry Zaga), believe they are being trained to join the X-Men, but they discover that their doctor has other plans for them. The New Mutants had a troubled production that involved Fox’s hesitance to release a straight horror movie under the X-Men banner, as well as Disney’s acquisition of Fox during the film’s production, but the end result turned out to be an interesting and unique entry in the X-Men film franchise.
Starring Ray Wise and Adrienne Barbeau, Swamp Thing is a superhero/monster movie written and directed by Wes Craven. Though Craven was already well established as a horror director by 1982, he saw this as an opportunity to expand his filmmaking reputation with a bigger budget, bigger stars, and more action. Craven largely succeeds by focusing on the heart of the character Alec Holland (Wise) who is turned into a plant-based monstrosity during an attack on his science lab, but who still has the feelings and desires of a human. Also, sure, there are a lot of guns and explosions.
Buffy Summers (Kristy Swanson) didn’t ask to be a superhero. Before Merrick (Donald Sutherland) showed up in her life, she was a popular cheerleader whose main activities included shopping and hanging out with her friends. But now she’s been blessed/cursed with superhuman abilities that make her The Slayer, the one girl in the world mystically chosen to wield the power to fight vampires. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) may not reach the same heights of emotion and depths of darkness as the later television series, but it’s still a great horror comedy supported by memorable performances from Rutger Hauer and Paul Reubens as Buffy’s main vampiric antagonists.
Troma Entertainment is known for its long history of producing extremely low-budget movies filled with gory violence and the broadest of broad comedy. The Toxic Avenger fits the Troma mold perfectly, so much so that its star, Toxie, became the mascot for the company. The movie is about a nerdy weakling, Melvin Ferd Junko III (Mark Torgl), who is so embarrassed by a group of drive-by murderers that he accidentally falls into a barrel of toxic waste. Though he’s horribly disfigured, Melvin also gains size and superhuman strength. Ostracized by everyone, Melvin fights crime as The Toxic Avenger, brutally and bloodily killing any criminal in his path.
From the Shaw Brothers, a Hong Kong production company primarily known for its kung fu movies, comes one of the strangest supernatural superhero revenge horror flicks ever: The Oily Maniac. Sheng Yung (Danny Lee) is a disabled man whose desire for revenge against local criminals leads him to a black magic spell that periodically turns him into a superpowered, oil-covered monster. Now Sheng Yung has the power to fight crime, but his transformation also unleashes a wildly violent side of himself that turns his crime-fighting quest into a rampage of murder.
Nightbreed may not be a superhero movie in the strictest sense, but its parallels to comic book characters (specifically the Morlocks from the X-Men comics) make it close enough to earn a spot on this list. The Nightbreed of the movie are humanoid creatures whose bizarre appearances have forced them to hide from the human society that would persecute them. Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) is framed for murder by his psychotherapist (played by David Cronenberg), and, with no one to turn to for help, he finds himself drawn to the Nightbreed with whom he shares a common enemy. If you’re going to watch Nightbreed, make sure you check out the Director’s Cut which is closer to Barker’s original vision for the movie.
10. Split (2016)
Split is the middle movie in M. Night Shyamalan’s dark superhero trilogy, and it is the most horror-forward film of the series. James McAvoy stars as Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man with a split personality. In fact, he has 23 different personalities with a dangerous 24th personality called “The Beast” on its way to take over. Most of Split‘s runtime is a psychological thriller that follows teenager Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) after she is kidnapped by one of Crumb’s personalities as a sacrifice for The Beast. But true to Shyamalan’s reputation as a filmmaker who loves a good twist, the final scenes transform the movie into a supervillain origin story.
Marketing and interviews for The Batman prior to its release teased that director Matt Reeves’ vision of the caped crusader would be, at least partially, a horror movie. And though the movie may not really be a full-fledged horror film (or else it would’ve been higher on this ranking), there is a lot of violence and darkness in Robert Pattinson’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne. Going even further, the overall tone of The Batman feels somewhat similar to Se7en (1995), and Paul Dano’s Riddler bears a resemblance to the Zodiac Killer. When you add all of that up, you get a fantastic Batman movie that is arguably the darkest live-action portrayal of the character to date.
Constantine is a supernatural action/horror movie starring Keanu Reeves as John Constantine, a demonologist who banishes demons back to Hell in an attempt to earn a spot in Heaven once he dies of terminal lung cancer. When Constantine takes a case helping a woman (Rachel Weisz) investigate her twin sister’s apparent suicide, he finds himself being the world’s only hope to stop literal Hell on Earth. Though a live-action sequel to Constantine hasn’t been made, the popularity of the character led to his appearance in multiple animated movies in the acclaimed DC Animated Movie Universe.
Though it is not officially connected to Superman in any way, Brightburn is very obviously a spin on Superman’s origin story where, instead of becoming a hero, he becomes a murderer. Tori and Kyle Breyer (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) adopt an alien infant whose spaceship crashes onto their farmland. Twelve years later, the boy, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn), develops various superpowers which he uses to get revenge on the people who have treated him poorly. Though it didn’t get the greatest reception when it was released to theaters in 2019, Brightburn is a good movie that, at the time, was the most high-profile attempt at combining traditional mask-and-cape superheroes with straightforward horror.
While the first Hellboy movie from 2004 was excellent, the sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), is even better. Writer/director Guillermo del Toro was able to expand upon what he did with the character just a few years earlier, and the result is one of the visionary director’s finest movies. Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, and Doug Jones all return as Hellboy, Liz, and Abe Sapien respectively, and they must stop the evil Prince Nuada Silverlance (Luke Goss) from taking control on an army that will overrun the entire world. Hellboy II is a gorgeous fantasy action movie with horror elements that fully embrace Guillermo del Toro’s dark and beautiful sensibilities.
Tim Burton set a new standard for the caped crusader in 1989 with the crime/superhero movie Batman, but the sequel, Batman Returns (1992), leans even more heavily into the style of expressionistic horror Burton is known for. From the scary circus-themed criminals of the Red Triangle Gang, to the ruthless and murderous Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), to the grotesque, baby-stealing Penguin (Danny DeVito), Batman Returns is a dark, dark movie. Also residing within the darkness are Batman (Michael Keaton) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) who form a tentative bond while standing against their common enemies.
4. Blade (1998)
Following a trend in the 1990s of edgier comic-inspired heroes like The Crow (1994) and Judge Dredd (1995), Marvel brought its somewhat obscure vampire hunter to the big screen in Blade (1998). The character Blade had relatively few solo comic series prior to his film debut, but the sheer fun of this action/horror movie helped propel the character into a newfound prominence. The movie follows Blade (Wesley Snipes) as he fights against Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), a vampire who craves ultimate power over humans. Blade is loud, bloody, and an absolute blast. It was followed by two sequels, Blade II (2002) directed by Guillermo del Toro, and Blade Trinity (2004) which failed to reach the same level of quality as the first two films.
The Marvel Cinematic Multiverse is a terrifying place (or rather, places) in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Directed by the great Sam Raimi, this is the first movie in the Disney’s MCU to truly embrace overt horror elements. Early in the movie we see the one-eyed tentacle-monster Shuma-Gorath rampaging through New York City, and it only gets darker from there. The battles feature the main villain in the film casually murdering people in terribly gruesome ways, at times the movie draws inspiration from gothic horror, and there’s even a zombie powered by the souls of the damned. With any luck, this multiverse movie will open up even greater possibilities for more horrific stories within the MCU.
Long before his Spider-Man trilogy (2002 – 2007) and even longer before he helmed Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), Sam Raimi ventured into superhero movies with Darkman (1990). The movie stars Liam Neeson as a scientist who seeks revenge on a group of criminals after he is left for dead in an exploding building. Darkman’s powers include enhanced strength and reduced sensitivity to pain, and his scientific discoveries allow him to create lifelike masks that can make him look like anyone for a brief period of time. As a character, Darkman feels like a superhero inspired by sci-fi/horror characters like Universal’s Dr. Frankenstein and The Invisible Man. And as a movie, Darkman looks like its visuals popped right out of the pages of a classic comic book.
The Crow blends gothic horror, crime, and revenge into a superhero movie like no other. Brandon Lee is Eric Draven, a man murdered along with his fiancé Shelly (Sofia Shinas) on Devil’s Night (October 30). One year later, Eric rises from his grave and goes on a two-day quest to kill everyone responsible for ending his and his love’s lives. The Crow is the best superhero horror movie thanks to its combination of grittiness and stylized visuals, its memorable battles between Eric and his enemies, and its powerful story treated with respect by a phenomenal performance from Brandon Lee.
More Fun Superhero Horror Movies
- KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978) – The superpowered members of the rock group Kiss battle an evil inventor in this goofy attempt to cash in on the band’s popularity.
- Doctor Mordrid (1992) – Jeffrey Combs plays a wizard who bears more than a passing resemblance to Marvel’s Dr. Strange.
- The Demolitionist (2005) – Nicole Eggert stars as police officer turned into a Robocop ripoff in this violent sci-fi action movie.
- Bloody Mallory (2002) – The pope is kidnapped and must be saved by a team of supernaturally-powered heroes in this campy action horror movie.
- Man-Thing (2005) – More of a monster movie than a superhero movie, the supernatural swamp creature Man-Thing protects its land from a greedy oil tycoon.
- Ghost Rider (2007) – Nicolas Cage plays Johnny Blaze in this questionable adaptation of Marvel’s flame-skulled antihero.
- The Dead One (aka El Muerto, 2007) – Based on the independent comic El Muerto, this movie follows a man brought back from the dead and controlled by Aztec gods who require a sacrifice.
- All Superheroes Must Die (2011) – Superheroes are forced to play a game of death in this extremely low-budget indie movie.
- Hellboy (2019) – Director Neil Marshall’s reboot of the Hellboy films is fun even if it didn’t live up to people’s lofty expectations.
- Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) – Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Woody Harrelson, and Naomie Harris star in this crazy sequel to Venom (2018).