While most superhero movies occupy the Action/Adventure genre, their absolute explosion over the last 20 years has resulted in them branching out into different subgenres.
It’s party what keeps fans interested as a franchise like the MCU can have a variety of different tones and vibes (i.e. Captain America: Winter Soldier being a spy thriller, Guardians of the Galaxy being a Star Wars comedy, and Spider-Man Homecoming being a high school teen comedy).
But that also includes dabbling in horror from time to time. So with the MCU poised to launch its first “official” horror movie in the form of Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, we thought it would be fun to look back on previous superhero movies that were also in the horror genre, or at least horror-adjacent!
Note: We are only including “superhero” movies, which we’re defining as a movie featuring some sort of superpowered individual and/or vigilante crime fighter. Horror media like 30 Days of Night, From Hell, The Walking Dead, and Creepshow will not be counted. Because while they are based on comics/graphic novels, they don’t really fit the superhero genre in any way, shape or form.
The Batman (2022)
This most recent movie on the list quite literally opens on Halloween night and its entire vibe is that of Se7en, Zodiac, and other David Fincher “horror” movies. Batman has always been dark, but this one plays out like a gritty serial killer/detective thriller and at times, the Riddler almost makes us feel like we’re watching a Saw movie.
Director Matt Reeves even admitted that it’s “almost” a horror film and we’re just taking him at his word for that. Even the way that Batman moves and ambushes criminals is reminiscent of how the killer in slasher movies stalks their victims. If you’re interested, we devoted an entire episode of our weekly Dead Talk to this very topic!
Blade franchise (1998, 2002, 2004, 2023?)
Not only did this late 90s gem arguably inspire the look and feel of The Matrix, but it remains several “firsts” that other movies get credit for. Deadpool is often credited as the first R-rated superhero film (there were many before that), and Black Panther is often credited as the first black superhero put on film, but Blade predates both of them.
It’s fair to count Blade as a superhero film because as the “Daywalker” he possesses a special ability that vampires don’t, as well as special powers humans don’t, and no one will argue that it’s not horror given all the bloody and gory vampire slashing.
While the sequels came back with diminishing returns (the 2nd one is at least decent due to Guillermo Del Toro), that original movie remains a fun, action-packed vampire movie that Wesley Snipes was absolutely perfect for (back in 1998). Hopefully the character gets a fitting revival in the MCU with Mahershala Ali taking on the role.
There’s a conversation in Suicide Squad, which despite its flaws, is actually pretty thought-provoking. Amanda Waller asks what would have happened if Superman had been hostile and Brightburn is the answer to that. It’s a fascinating subversion of the Superman story with a slasher movie twist and kills that are just downright nasty and brutal. We’re used to seeing beings with super strength and flight saving and helping people, so it’s particularly unsettling to realize how helpless we are when that person is homicidal.
Sort of a more action-packed version of The Devil’s Advocate, we’ll count Constantine as a “superhero” movie in that it deals with a character who does have some sort of special talent who uses that talent to fight evil. Keanu Reeves is still in his action element here, but there’s enough hell and demonic material that this can still be considered horror. We also get one of the best portrayals of Satan ever in the form of Peter Stormare. He’s only in one scene, but absolutely steals the movie in that short amount of time.
The Crow (1994)
In his tragically final film performance, Brandon Lee was absolutely amazing in this beyond the grave revenge story. It’s the epitome of early 90s grunge and feels like a fascinating time capsule today. It’s your classic revenge/antihero story but with that darker horror edge. Storywise, it’s not really trying to scare you, but it oozes in horror aesthetic.
Darkman franchise (1990, 1995, 1996)
Serving a bridge between Evil Dead and Spider-Man, Darkman is the perfect blend of horror and superhero. Sam Raimi was inspired by the Universal horror films of the 1930’s and you really feel that old school monster vibe, but coupled with a crime fighting vigilante. Initially Raimi tried getting the rights to either Batman or The Shadow, but when he couldn’t, he gave us this original creation which worked out for the better.
Ghost Rider (2006)
Nicolas Cage playing a man whose head catches fire and turns into a skeleton is a sentence that’s not even that weird. Granted the movie had its flaws (and its sequel was downright awful), but Cage is a solid lead and he’s just strange enough to make the material work. Couple that with Sam Elliot in a supporting mentor role and Ghost Rider both satisfies superhero fans with its unique take on a supernatural vigilante, as well as horror fans with all the demonic hellfire.
Hellboy franchise (2004, 2008, 2019)
If there was ever a role Ron Perlman was born to play, it’s Hellboy. The first two films are an amazing cross between superhero and dark fantasy. The fact that our lead is literally a demon from hell sort of automatically qualifies it as horror too. They’re full of imaginative creatures, gorgeous production/art design (a staple of Guillermo Del Toro). The 2019 reboot was a noble effort and David Harbour is a brilliant actor, but it just didn’t quite feel right. Much like how Robert Englund is Freddy Krueger, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Perlman playing Hellboy.
No, it’s not a great movie. No, it’s not even so bad it’s entertaining. But we can’t discuss horror superhero movies without mentioning this massive misstep for Sony. On paper, the concept of a Marvel vampire movie was really promising. And given how creepy Jared Leto is in real life, it’s kind of amazing that he comes off so dull. Anyways, if you’d like to see us at Halloween Year-Round talk all about what went wrong with this movie, check out our weekly Dead Talk episode about it on YouTube.
New Mutants (2020)
Unpopular Opinion: New Mutants is not as bad as everyone says and it’s not even actually a bad movie. Sure it has its flaws, and it never fully realizes its ideas. But it gives us a host of interesting characters that are genuinely relatable, while also delivering on a Pennywise-inspired course in overcoming our individual fears. The whole concept of superpowered young people still being plagued by the trauma of their pasts in the form of supernatural terror kind of works because it makes them seem more human.
Predating Blade by a year, Spawn featured the actual first superhero movie with a black lead actor in the form of Michael Jai White. Yes, the CGI hasn’t aged great, and parts of it are a bit cheesy, but this movie is what it is and unapologetically so. One part epic action superhero, one part demonic Hell army, it’s a great blend of both genres and with a bigger budget and modern effects might be due for a reboot any day now.
Split/Glass (2017, 2019)
If you’re watching Split for the first time, you’re probably not even categorizing it as superhero, but those last few minutes make all the difference by presenting a new context. Kevin Wendell Crumb is certainly a terrifying horror villain when he’s in beast mode (literally), but the inclusion of David Dunn and Elijah Price in Glass creates this fascinating comic book universe in which heroes and villains exist, but the 2nd chapter of the story is told more as a horror film.
Swamp Thing (1982)
An often overlooked entry on Wes Craven’s filmography, it’s easy to see why Swamp Thing became something of a cult hit in the 80s. Taking what at first appears to be a villainous monster but making him the hero is something that’s been done a lot more frequently but decades ago, it was quite the subversion of story. It’s from an era where practical effects were everything, and there’s just something “pure” about it now, particularly for fans of early 80s horror films.
The Toxic Avenger (1984)
Troma movie are almost a subgenre on their own. Known for their ultra-low budgets, cheesy everything, but still wildly entertaining, it feels wrong not including them on this list. Toxic Avenger is certainly more a superhero movie than a horror movie. But it has certain elements of splatter gore that make it at the very least horror-adjacent. The titular hero fights bullies, saves innocent people and winds up being the hero that we need.
Speaking of superhero horror movies so bad they’re entertaining, the 1996 Roger Corman produced movie Vampirella is based on a 60s comic and has been disowned by director Jim Wynorski. To this day, he says it’s the one movie that he regrets making. Reportedly, he wanted to make a comic accurate film while the producers just wanted “something sexy”. He also alleges that people were embezzling as well. And a movie this absurd and steeped in production troubles merely has to be seen.
What are your favorite horror/horror-adjacent superhero movies? Let us know in the comments!