Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… a well-honed comedian?
The 21st century (which we’re counting as 2000 to the present) brought us into a whole new realm of pop cultural understanding and fluidity, especially as it related to the superhero genre. We were used to the ideas and tropes presented in comic books and in superhero cinema. We didn’t just need them given to us straight anymore. We were ready to see superhero stories chopped, sliced, diced, and presented in wild ways. We were ready to laugh!
In honor of Thunder Force, the new Netflix superhero comedy that aims to split our sides with its genre deconstructions (while still fulfilling what we love about the genre), we’ve got the best superhero comedies of the 21st century so far. From the goofiest entries in the MCU to hard-R rated pieces of provocation and everything in between, if you need a movie where superheroes save the world and give you a tight five, too, assemble these action-comedies, pronto.
A surprisingly large amount of Ant-Man‘s inherent humor is powered by its wildly charismatic cast, which steps up to follow Paul Rudd‘s earnest yet irreverent take on a well-meaning guy thrust into the superhero game after he acquires Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) incredible shrinking suit. Plus, not only is the ensemble, including Evangeline Lilly, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Anthony Mackie, Wood Harris, Judy Greer, and David Dastmalchian very game to ensure that this film has a lighter tone than other Marvel entries, but Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Rudd’s script is packed with witty banter and playful takes on the possibilities inherent in an incredible shrinking superhero. (Even Corey Stoll, while playing a relatively generic villain by MCU standards, still has fun finding moments of evil flare in his scenes.) Few comedic sequences in a superhero film have been as instantly iconic as Peña’s wonderful expositional rambles — and it was great to see them return for Ant-Man and the Wasp, which continued to ensure that Scott Lang’s superhero adventures will be this franchise’s most enjoyable. – Liz Shannon Miller
Imagine, for a moment, that during the earliest days of the comic book movie boom I told you an Aquaman solo movie would not only exist, but it would also explode past a billion dollars at the box office, out-earning a movie top-lined by Batman and Superman and the Justice League movie that followed. That’d be extremely funny, right? Well, everything is funny about Aquaman, James Wan‘s technicolor underwater epic that exudes the energy of an Indiana Jones movie remade with labrador puppies. Aquaman might just be the only film in which no idea in the pitch meeting got turned down. The opening fight scene features a hard-zoom into Jason Momoa‘s face followed by a guitar riff not once, not twice, but three times. An octopus plays the drums. Patrick Wilson is rocking a top-knot that isn’t tight enough to stop him dead-panning the words “call me Ocean Master” right into the camera. Julie freaking Andrews provides the voice of a Lovecraftian sea monster who erupts from the Earth’s core, and you better believe Momoa is riding on her back like a deep-sea cowboy. Aquaman is two-and-a-half hours of exclamation points, but one with a real heart at its center, thanks in large part to Momoa’s infectious, deeply earnest energy. – Vinnie Mancuso
Big Hero 6
There’s a certain kind of laughter and love that comes from a deeper, bittersweet place of reaction to life’s most troubling circumstances. Big Hero 6, a Disney animated adaptation of a Marvel comic, mines the depths of grief, depression, and quest for revenge to earn these huge laughs — and manages to do it all with a sense of storytelling fleetness the live-action MCU has still yet to touch. Big Hero 6 is so, so funny — Scott Adsit‘s robo-take on the “fist bump noise” wrecks me to this day — and so, so action-packed — its set pieces feel inspired by anime in the absolute best way. But above all, it does it with a welcome maturity at its foundation, a sense of stability that gives the film permission to let its goofy flag fly boldly. The thing’s remarkable! – Gregory Lawrence
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Beyond the sheer bliss that is getting to see a superhero movie acknowledge that yes, having long hair flip in your face while fighting bad guys is annoying as hell, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is such a joyful, hilarious romp that perfectly mirrors the chaotic energy of its star. Yes, that title’s a mouthful, but I kind of love it, as it captures this film’s silly, irreverent, yet still heartfelt and character-focused vibe. The whole cast matches the tone established by Margot Robbie, who brings exactly the right sort of pathos and humor to Harley’s post-breakup ennui as well as her giddy delight over finally making some friends — even if (or perhaps because) her new pals are equally off-kilter oddballs in their own unique ways. You can maybe make the argument that this isn’t a perfect film. But try to say it’s not a comedic delight, and I’ll kick you in the face with a roller skate. – Liz Shannon Miller
The impact of Deadpool on Hollywood and the superhero genre as a whole cannot be overstated, but it also did not come easy. 20th Century Fox sat on the property for years, unconvinced an R-rated superhero movie that breaks the fourth wall would be a financial hit. And when they finally greenlit it, they did so with a budget that was the fraction of their other Marvel Comics adaptations. But that gamble paid off to the tune of over $780 million worldwide and a game-changer for studios looking to diversify their superhero offerings. Without Deadpool there is no Logan, even though the films could not be more different from a tonal standpoint.
But even setting aside the impact and influence of Deadpool on the industry as a whole, the film itself is pretty darn great. The script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is acerbic and profane while still providing genuine emotional stakes; director Tim Miller makes $60 million look like $160 million; and the heart of the franchise, Ryan Reynolds, brings the foul-mouthed titular antihero to life in endearing fashion. Deadpool is juvenile to be certain, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also f*cking hilarious. – Adam Chitwood
Flora & Ulysses
Right from the jump, Flora (Matilda Lawler), one-half of the title pair of Flora & Ulysses, announces, with clinical resignation, that she’s a cynic — and she is only 10 years old. I wish I could’ve watched this film when I was 10 years old, because it would’ve put a lot of helpful words to a lot of unhelpful-feeling feelings. It’s an atypically sensitive family film for Disney+, one interested in plumbing the depths of cynicism versus hope, and how far a family unit can bend until it breaks. And oh yeah, it’s also a silly superhero comedy about a dang flying squirrel!
Flora’s dad (Ben Schwartz) is an aspiring comic book writer, giving Flora a particularly genre-savvy lens of viewing the world. So when this magical squirrel Ulysses comes into her life, she defines him as only a cynic can — taking in the observations that it’s behaving like a superhero — and applies her worldview to their relationship. Along the way, this new force opens up her heart, helps bridge the gap between her father and mother (Alyson Hannigan), and gives an ample supporting cast room to play big and bold (I especially love Danny Pudi as an ultra-macho animal control antagonist). Get your tissues handy; once you start crying at Flora & Ulysses, you will not stop. – Gregory Lawrence
Guardians of the Galaxy
MCU movies were funny before Guardians of the Galaxy, but James Gunn’s 2014 superhero space adventure pushed in exciting new directions, both in terms of narrative in tone. And by that, I mean that Guardians of the Galaxy is very, very funny. There’s a lot of inspired casting here, most notably Parks and Recreation favorite Chris Pratt, who sets an immediate tone as Star-Lord with his well-known knack for timing and improv. But, every player is perfectly cast for peak comedic payoff, from Dave Bautista’s impeccable dry delivery as the hopelessly literal Drax, Bradley Cooper’s cynical (and tortured) snark as the voice of Rocket Raccoon, Michael Rooker’s rascally mischievousness as Yondu, and Zoe Saldana as the straightest straight man in space, surrounded by the “biggest idiots in the galaxy.” And then, of course, there’s Gunn’s script and filmmaking, which lean all-in on embracing oddity, fusing comedy with character, lacing it all into the action, and never letting a good bit slip through the cracks. – Haleigh Foutch
Up until 2004’s The Incredibles, almost all of Pixar’s movies were buddy comedies. Filmmaker Brad Bird’s ode to the superhero genre broke from that mold by telling the story of a family, but not just any family – a superpowered one. As evidenced by the litany of forgettable DreamWorks Animation films over the years, there are a number of ways The Incredibles could have gone wrong. But Bird’s meticulous ode to 1960s spy thrillers stands tall as a unique, daring, and incredibly funny family adventure. The humor comes entirely from character, not gags like so many other animated family films, and that makes it all the more memorable. We laugh because we know this family inside and out – we see ourselves in them, and relate wholeheartedly to the mundanity of everyday life (if not exactly life as a superhero incognito). Special credit goes to the phenomenal voice cast, whose acting is an undervalued yet essential part of what makes The Incredibles work so well. – Adam Chitwood
The new modern era of superhero movies was already a couple of years old when Iron Man came out in 2008, but that didn’t stop Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau from changing the name of the game so permanently with the first Iron Man film. The first official entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe felt new and different for many reasons, but chief among them was the loose, improvisational feel for any scene that didn’t require heavy-duty CGI (and even a few of them that did). Downey Jr.’s natural wryness helped bring just the right amount of levity to even the film’s darkest moments, with bits like Tony Stark’s post-captivity need to devour cheeseburgers fitting just right with the occasionally ironic yet heartfelt tone that would become a cornerstone of the franchise. Plus, “Dummy” is one of the all-time great comedic foils not just in superhero movies, but film in general. – Liz Shannon Miller
Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 is hilarious, and yes, that includes the controversial “Mandarin twist.” Of course that was to be expected when Robert Downey Jr. enlisted his Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang filmmaker Shane Black to co-write and direct the highly anticipated Marvel sequel, which finds Tony Stark dealing with PTSD from the events of The Avengers and eventually strips him of his expensive toys in a brilliant twist that makes Iron Man 3 all the more compelling. By forcing Tony to invent cheap ways to get out of various jams (and investigate terror acts perpetrated by The Mandarin), Black delights not only in some incredibly funny practical set pieces, but puts Tony on a path of personal growth as he’s laid bare and exposed to the world.
There are some great comedic wordplay bits and visual gags throughout (everything with Happy Hogan is fantastic), but the cherry on top of the sundae of course is The Mandarin twist, in which we learn that The Mandarin is a façade – a role being played by a drunk, failed actor. Sir Ben Kingsley has an absolute blast with the role once Trevor is revealed, and while some fans were too hung up on comics fidelity to let loose, those who sat back and enjoyed the show were treated to one of the funniest third act reveals in recent memory. – Adam Chitwood
Looking back on my Top 10 list of 2010, I wasn’t surprised to find that Kick-Ass was my second favorite movie of the year, behind only The Social Network. Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman do a brilliant job of adapting Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.‘s comic book, which is as funny, heartfelt and emotional as it is profane and violent. Aaron Taylor-Johnson delivers a breakout performance as the titular crime fighter and Chloë Grace Moretz‘s foul-mouthed Hit-Girl steals every scene she’s in, while the D’Amicos, played by Mark Strong and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, are pretty fun villains. And yet, it’s Nicolas Cage‘s turn as Big Daddy that cements this film as one of the great superhero comedies ever made. Whether he’s teaching his young daughter how to take a bullet or taking out a warehouse full of guys to John Murphy‘s fantastic score, Big Daddy is an underrated comic book movie character, and a major part of his appeal is Cage’s commitment to the role. It’s a shame the Kick-Ass sequel was such a disappointment because I do think it reflected poorly on the first film, which isn’t fair. This is a landmark superhero movie in my book, one that makes me laugh and keeps me on the edge of my seat in equal measure. – Jeff Sneider
The Lego Batman Movie
Catch me in a wild enough mood, and you might get me to say that The Lego Batman Movie is the best Batman movie we’ve got so far, comedy or not. It is, at the very least, absolutely the funniest one, an imaginatively stuffed ride full of meta-jokes about the history of Batman films, visual jokes about a world made of Lego bricks, and wordplay jokes about anything and everything. But at its core is a beautiful arc for Mr. Wayne (Will Arnett), one that takes everything we love about Batman, explores it honestly, and takes him to a downright lovely endpoint. He might be vengeance, and he might be the night, but he still deserves love. – Gregory Lawrence
Megamind does everything Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice sets out to do better, funnier, and in half the length. The slept on DreamWorks animation arranges a cavalcade of comedy stars — Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, David Cross, and a very game Brad Pitt — and throws them with glee at a sharp, tight, and emotionally deconstructive screenplay from Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons. The picture gets into the symbiotic relationship a supervillain has with his hero, the paralysis of obligation that can affect a superhero, and the ever-shifting status of one’s moral center. It’s also very, very funny; Ferrell makes a lot of sense as a voice performer, and his winking take on Marlon Brando‘s father of Superman makes me cackle every time. – Gregory Lawrence
Comedy and horror are arguably two of the most primal, instinctive genres in filmmaking – the ones that drag a guttural reaction out of us, whether it’s a laugh or a scream – so it’s not exactly surprising that Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation filmmaker David F. Sandberg was able to make such a smooth transition between genres with Shazam!. But it is impressive, all the same. Carrying on the tradition of coming-of-age body-swap comedies, or to be crass, putting a superhero spin on Big, the 2019 superhero comedy stars Angel Asher as the youngster Billy Batson and Zachary Levi as Shazam!, his superhero alter-ego. Levi does delightful work embodying a teen in a tremendously powerful new body, and IT breakout Jack Dylan Grazer remains a scene-stealing up-and-comer to watch as his superhero enthusiast foster brother, Freddy. The script is sharp, the physical comedy is aces, and perhaps most importantly, it’s grounded in a heartwarming story about chosen family that would hold up even without the heroics. But slapping on a super-suit just makes everything grander, including the laughs. – Haleigh Foutch
The X-Men movies make an educational center for budding superheroes look downright emo compared to the joy, fun, and triumph vibrating off every frame of the delightful Disney live action Sky High. By mapping superhero specifics onto the time-tested and family-friendly genres of “high school coming-of-age” and “family outcast tries to fit in,” screenwriters Paul Hernandez, Bob Schooley, and Mark McCorkle ensure relatability and accessibility, giving the film a “what would I do” quality that adds emotional pathos to its deconstruction of superhero tropes. Add all of this to an unbelievable cast (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston as superhero parents, I mean come on), an unbelievable second act full of fun and games, and an eventually rich superhero adventure for our youngsters to go on, and Sky High earns its place in the superhero pantheon and thensome. – Gregory Lawrence
I could go on for ages about why I love Spider-Man: Homecoming. Yes, Tom Holland is a pitch-perfect Peter Parker; yes, filmmaker Jon Watts pulls of one heck of a coming-of-age/MCU hybrid; and yes, we absolutely do love to see Michael Keaton chewing it up as one of Marvel Studios’ best Big Bads yet. But I think the film’s secret weapon is its sense of humor and the fantastic supporting ensemble of ace comedic players, from the younger generation of standouts like Zendaya and Jacob Batalon, who turn what could be forgettable, familiar characters into distinct laugh-out-loud personalities, to seasoned comedy vets like Hannibal Buress, Donald Glover, and Martin Starr, who make the most of every bit of screentime, including some incredible throwaway lines. Tremendous casting and performance aside, all of Homecoming is infused with the good-natured humor that makes Spider-Man such an enduring, endearing favorite, and that’s why it’s one of the most rewatchable entries in the entire MCU. – Haleigh Foutch
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
When Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse came out, there had already been three different Spider-Men in the last sixteen years, averaging to about one cinematic Spider-Man appearance every two years. But instead of succumbing to possible Spider-Man fatigue, Into the Spider-Verse embraced the fact that literally anyone could wear the mask. Whether that person was Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), or the talking pig Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Into the Spider-Verse welcomed the sheer amount and variety of Spider-People, balancing a surprisingly emotional story of family with strange humor. Into the Spider-Verse is remembered for its stunning animation and its multiverse-bending narrative, but with a script co-written by Phil Lord, Into the Spider-Verse is the rare superhero film that could balance both a noir version of Spider-Man voiced by Nicolas Cage, and a Mulaney-voiced pig, while still telling a moving, unique and exciting story. – Ross Bonaime
Before James Gunn found his way into the bright, cosmic, and multi-colored world of the MCU, he created a fiendishly dark piece of muck in the world of “everyday vigilante comics.” Rainn Wilson is Batman without money or training; he’s The Punisher with even more delusions and amorality; he’s Super. Gunn’s work is shockingly violent, possesses sourness at every turn, and will hit you in the gut over and over. It’s also very, very, very funny; the central gag of Wilson just clobbering the shit out of people with a blunt instrument as his “superpower” is brutally hilarious, and Elliot Page‘s unstable obsession with Wilson is gleefully unhinged work. Combine all of this with a strong emotional anchor and a wholly gripping crime film narrative (Kevin Bacon playing everything deadly serious), and you’ve got yourself one idiosyncratic cult hit of an R-rated superhero comedy. You just might need a shower after. – Gregory Lawrence
Teen Titans Go! To the Movies
DC isn’t exactly known for its light-hearted approach to its properties, but Teen Titans Go! To the Movies more than makes up for it with its takedown of basically anything superhero. From pointing out the similarities between DC and Marvel characters, to making fun of the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is a treasure trove of jokes for anyone who is even remotely familiar with superhero films. But Teen Titans Go! To the Movies also gives us the story of Robin fighting for his own origin story, after everything from Alfred to Batman’s belt gets their own spinoffs. This journey involves Michael Bolton, time travel, and the killing of Aquaman using plastic beverage rings. Superhero parodies are rarely as good or dig as deep as Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. – Ross Bonaime
Thor: Ragnarok is the glaring exception to the rule that someone can’t be devastatingly hot and effortlessly funny at the same time. That’s…the entire cast here, from Chris Hemsworth at the top, over to Tom Hiddleston and Tessa Thompson and Mark Ruffalo, down to Korg, a CGI rock man with the voice of director Taika Waititi. This movie is a hand-wrapped gift to bisexuals across the globe that also happens to be a rollicking superhero adventure and genuinely funny. So much of that comes down to Waititi taking over helming the title character. The MCU had struggled to find a permanent personality for the god of thunder until Ragnarok, which unleashed Hemsworth’s natural charm and surrounded him with a colorful, Jack Kirby-inspired playground to mess around in. Thor describing his childhood memory of the time Loki pretended to be a snake just to stab him is a top-five funniest MCU moment and it’s mostly just Hemsworth riffing. (It helps that Hiddleston is a great straight man.) Another thing to consider about Thor: Ragnarok is that it shows the Incredible Hulk’s entire green butt. Pretty great movie, in my opinion. –Vinnie Mancuso
The colorful poster comes out just two weeks before Mortal Kombat comes to theaters.
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