The best R-rated superhero flicks, ranked

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Jul 14, 2016, 6:24 PM EDT

Deadpool’s unexpected success at the box office has earned it all sorts of accolades from being the biggest-grossing R-rated film of all time to opening the floodgates for R-rated superhero movies as the new trend. While, technically, both claims are not completely accurate (once adjusted for inflation, its final haul drops from second place to 17th highest of all-time grossing for R-rated movies), Deadpool’s success was still incredibly impressive, especially when measured up against the expectations. But long before the Merc With a Mouth made his big-screen debut, there were a number of R-rated superhero films that came before him. And while he still holds the number-one spot among highest grossing R-rated superhero films, it’s still worth taking a look back and seeing just how good (or bad) they rank against each other, regardless of ticket sales.

*For this list, I only ranked films that had a wide-release in American theaters (i.e. no straight to video or films only released internationally) and/or were either critical or box-office successes, and/or notable within the overall superhero genre. For example, while the original The Crow is listed, nothing that followed is. Same with the Toxic Avenger sequels.

16. Spawn

Spawn didn’t get much love from fans or critics, and for good reason. It’s a bit of a mess, with its story getting buried under an avalanche of special effects and violence. Also, the flick did not hold up well over the years, all of which is disappointing considering how well received the source material was and how popular the character is to comic book fans. Hopefully, some of the missteps will be corrected in the reboot (like making Terry Fitzgerald white so as not to have “too many black characters”).


15. Watchmen

I admit I have a bias against Zack Snyder. But despite my feelings about his storytelling ability, I promise I went into this with as clean a slate as possible. That being said, it’s easy to notice the same issues in Watchmen that exist in Batman v Superman. The backstory and choppy editing make it hard to follow, or really engage, with the storyline, especially if you haven’t read the graphic novel. Too many parts are miscast, none more than Matthew Goode. The movie doesn’t live up to the standard of the source material and deserves a reboot by someone whose attention and dedication to character-driven storytelling is a bit cleaner than Snyder’s.



Poor Constantine can’t catch a break on the big or small screen. Is it that difficult to adapt the heaven and hell concept in a way that works on screen? Or is Constantine just better served as a secondary character in an already established lineup?


13. Blade Trinity

Even Ryan Reynolds abs weren’t enough to bolster the final installment in the Blade trilogoy. However, it does just further cement how no one was better to bring Deadpool to life.


12. Kick-Ass 2

The sequel to Kick-Ass was anything but. It lacked the originality and tone of its predecessor far too much, making it feel more like a wannabe than a follow-up. The additional "supers" gave the movie a Mystery Men knockoff vibe and just distracted away from the best part of the first movie: Hitgirl. She was the clear breakout in the original. I would be so here for a Hitgirl solo flick.



11.V for Vendetta

Admittedly one of the worst parts of this movie is Natalie Portman’s British accent. V still looks cool on screen, and even after dystopia fatigue has set in, Vendetta doesn’t feel like another same old same old. It holds up well, especially since the story is more character driven and didn’t heavily rely on big action sequences or CGI. Plus when doesn’t a Guy Fawkes mask send chills?  


10.Blade II

The fight scenes alone make Blade II worth the watch. Of course, even with a weak-ish script, Del Toro never disappoints when it comes to making a visually appealing movie, so much so that it almost tricks you into liking it more than you maybe should ( looking at you, Pacific Rim).


9.The Toxic Avenger

The sheer fact that the Toxic Avenger is a superhero from Jersey whose powers come from toxic waste is hilariously for a number of reasons, namely because of the Garden State’s rep for being home to so much of it. The campy cult classic still holds all the B-movie charm and humor that made this a surprising, cross-genre success.


8.The Punisher

Look, I know this is not a perfect superhero movie. And overall, Punisher isn’t really that great of a character. I mean, Frank Castle isn’t super deep or nearly as faceted as plenty of other supers in the world. And while Jon Bernthal’s version is definitely worthy of all the praise, Thomas Jane set a very high bar to meet. Also, Travolta as a villain never not works. How isn’t he cast in more evil roles?



I'm not alone in thinking Blade is an underrated movie, and that the movie doesn't get the respect it deserves for reviving the genre as well as Marvel Studios. If you haven't taken the time, read Krystal Clark's piece on how it was Blade and Snipes, not X-Men or even RDJ, that were instrumental in kicking off the Golden Age of superhero movies. 


6.The Crow

To be honest, The Crow benefits from nostalgia factor big time. Even more so, Brandon Lee’s Eric Draven is still mesmerizing and without a doubt the best part of the movie. Well him and the soundtrack.



Certain aspects of Darkman didn’t age too well, which is bound to happen with any older genre film that includes computer effects. But as far as a classic superhero flick, it follows the tried and true premise well and delivers exactly what a decent comic book movie should, with a twist: Darkman isn't actually a good guy. Unlike the classic mantra of supers to never give into hate, vengeance, or anger ( at least not too often) Darkman doesn't pretend he isn't fueled by all of those things. This is still one of the best adultified versions of a superhero. Also, Liam Neeson is one of those actors whose mere participation gives any property extra cool points.



I went back and forth on whether Super qualified for this list. Technically, Frank Darbo isn’t really a superhero. But he is a vigilante along the same lines as Batman et al, even if he is far less successful at it. I’m a sucker for dark comedies, and I think Super is an underrated flick. The story is sweet and sad, plus Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page’s twisted dynamic is entertaining.



Wanted is the Fight Club of superhero movies: James McAvoy is Edward Norton’s unnamed narrator and Angelina Jolie is his Tyler Durden. Also, I totally forgot Chris Pratt was the jerk best friend sleeping with Wesley’s girlfriend! Starlord, how could you?



The first time I saw Kick-Ass made me want to have a daughter just so I could turn her into a foul-mouthed little super like Hitgirl. Hitgirl is still one of the best - and possibly underrated - female characters in genre.



Box office aside, Deadpool does so much right, R rating or otherwise. It's the most original origin story that never feels like you're sitting around  waiting for the cool sh*t, aka the superhero them self, to get on screen. And any movie that pays homage to the orginal after credits scene gets a gold star. Oh Deadpool, you had me at Bea Arthur.