These days, the number of superheroes we can watch is always expanding. Superheroes of all kinds grace our screens, both large and small. And they almost never fight alone. The steady stream of movie series and TV shows centered on superheroes inevitably leads to more and more familiar characters joining the mission and battling for truth and justice any which way they can. Sometimes this involves superpowers, sometimes it’s exceptional physical training or really cool tech. Either way, the one thing all these characters have in common is that they’re willing to literally put themselves between a bad guy and the rest of humanity.
With so many superheroes to choose from, it’s inevitable that some would be more rewarding to watch than others. While we can’t get enough of certain superheroes, others have outstayed their welcome and exhausted our patience. With the constant sequels, reboots, and recastings of the characters, it’s not surprising that some of these superheroes have started to lose their luster. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and we can’t miss what never leaves. On the other hand, some superheroes are nuanced and layered enough to keep us interested well after their debuts. Here’s our list of superheroes we love to watch, and those who could use a break. Regardless of which category they fall into, however, one thing seems certain in our superhero-saturated era — we’ll see each of these characters again sooner or later.
20 HANG IT UP: IRON MAN
We love Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man. The genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist who kicked off the MCU will always have a place in our hearts. Yet, it feels like over the past 10 years, the character has run his course.
We’ve seen pretty much every permutation and shade Tony Stark is capable of. Even in Avengers: Infinity War, Tony himself seemed ready to settle down, discussing kids with fiancée Pepper Potts. Robert Downey, Jr. nixed the idea of more standalone Iron Man movies after Iron Man 3 in 2013 and now it looks like he’s planning to leave the MCU entirely. The character deserves the rest.
19 LOVE: CAPTAIN AMERICA
Of the original MCU characters, Captain America may have turned out to be the most interesting. Despite the fact that he comes across as the most vanilla of the group, his movies have shown him grappling with important and timely issues about power, privacy, and control in a way that has made his Man Out of Time one of the most fascinating Avengers.
Steve Rogers has also shown himself to be a talented leader and loyal friend. Whether we agree with his conclusions or not, as an individual, he’s someone we should all aspire to be more like. Genuinely good characters are few and far between in this age of anti-heroes. We could use more Captain America in our lives.
18 HANG IT UP: WOLVERINE
We have to agree with Hugh Jackman on this one. After Logan, it’s time for Wolverine to retract his claws for a while. Jackman has played the character in every live-action X-Men film since the very first movie in 2000. Jackman IS Wolverine. He’s irreplaceable in the role and the character needs a substantial break before audiences will accept a new actor as the character.
Besides, Logan served as a moving swan song for Wolverine. A fitting tribute to a character we’ve come to know and love over almost 20 years. After that movie, there isn’t anywhere to take the character that would seem as substantive. It’s time to let Wolverine go.
17 LOVE: SUPERGIRL
When it was announced that Supergirl would be flying onto the small screen in 2015, audiences were unsure what to expect. Would we want to see a series about Superman’s less famous cousin? Over the past three seasons, however, Supergirl has blossomed into a nuanced, hopeful character who’s a joy to spend time with.
While she’s made some missteps, she usually recognizes and admits to her mistakes. In addition, Melissa Benoist does an excellent job depicting Supergirl’s conflict between her human side and her Kryptonian side, between being an average twenty-something and a hero and role model. We’re looking forward to her future adventures.
16 HANG IT UP: BATMAN
Batman is one of the most well-known and best-loved superheroes today, and for good reason. Batman is only slightly less damaged than the villains he battles against. He’s someone who takes justice into his own hands and fights for what’s right, despite having no real super-powers (outside of extreme wealth, of course). This makes him fascinating and relatable.
Audiences have shown up in droves to see him onscreen for decades. Yet, the unrelenting pace of Batman screen adaptations, and the numerous actors who’ve depicted him, have diminished how special this character can be. We love Batman, but we also need time to miss him. Audiences need a break from Batman.
15 LOVE: CONSTANTINE
When Constantine’s self-titled series debuted in 2014, viewers fell in love with Matt Ryan’s spot-on depiction of the irreverent demonologist. Unfortunately, the show that was built around him proved to be less than the sum of its parts and it was quickly canceled.
Luckily, that wasn’t the last we saw of John Constantine, after reprising the role on Arrow and then Legends of Tomorrow, Ryan is set to become a series regular on Legends in season 4. Constantine’s presence has always goosed the dynamic among the quirky show’s band of rogues and we can’t wait to see how things go when he joins the team full time.
14 HANG IT UP: BLACK WIDOW
There’s no denying that in many ways Black Widow has gotten short shrift in the MCU. For a long time, she was the Smurfette of the group, the lone woman on a team of men. We knew she could fight well and hold her own in a battle but we didn’t know much else about her. So, the calls for a standalone Black Widow movie made complete sense.
The Powers That Be at the MCU dragged their feet, however, and now Black Widow has appeared in so many movies, we’re not clamoring for that standalone movie the way we once were. We even got to see the character's backstory in Avengers: Age of Ultron. While it’s a shame Black Widow didn’t get the treatment she deserved from the beginning, at this point, we’re not that invested in seeing more of her.
13 LOVE: THOR
Sometimes it only takes a single movie to revitalize a character. After Avengers: Age of Ultron it felt like Thor might have worn out his welcome in the MCU. After the less than stellar Thor: The Dark World, the random vision quest he went on in Age of Ultron, and his absence from Captain America: Civil War, it seemed like the character might be done for.
Then came Thor: Ragnorak. Suddenly Thor had matured enough to call out his brother and lead his people. Best of all, he was funny. The movie gave new layers to the character and left audiences wanting more.
12 HANG IT UP: ARROW
When Arrow first premiered on the CW in 2012, watching Oliver Queen’s development into a superhero made for interesting and exhilarating television. Oliver had to assemble a team, determine his mission, and decide how to best carry it out. At the same time, we got to see the story of how he went from an irresponsible rich kid to a masked vigilante in flashbacks.
Yet, over the last several seasons, the character has become a self-righteous and secretive control freak. Many on his team have called him out for it, and for audiences, he’s become less and less fun to watch. After years of being Arrow, Oliver is beaten down by his mission. The man needs to walk away.
11 LOVE: HULK
While technically the Edward Norton-starring The Incredible Hulk is considered part of the MCU, Mark Ruffalo’s depiction of the character seems to have very little to do with that movie. So it’s not surprising that since Ruffalo’s Hulk was introduced in The Avengers, the character came across as a reliable supporting player, but not strong enough to be the main character.
After the one-two punch of Thor: Ragnorak and Avengers: Infinity War, however, we’re starting to rethink that assessment. Not only did Ragnorak offer a talking Hulk’s perspective on the world, but Infinity War also showed us a surprising disconnect between Bruce Banner and his angry green alter-ego. It seems Hulk is about much more than just smashing and we can’t wait to see more.
10 HANG IT UP: SPIDER-MAN
Spider-Man is one of the most beloved superheroes, so popular that even non-comic book fans know all about him. Yet, since 2002, when Tobey Maguire first portrayed the character on the big screen, we can’t seem to get away from him. In the past decade and a half, three actors have portrayed Spider-Man in three separate series.
While Tom Holland brought a youthful energy and juvenile spirit to the character in Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man is beginning to feel a little, well, old. This isn’t Holland’s fault. His death in Avengers: Infinity War was that film's most touching moment. But after so many Spider-Man stories the character is beginning to feel tired.
9 LOVE: DAREDEVIL
After Daredevil’s 2003 movie outing with Ben Affleck in the lead role, we didn’t think we’d want to see this character onscreen again for a very long time. When the Marvel series Daredevil hit Netflix in 2015, though, it swept away any misgivings we had. We were pleasantly surprised to find the series featured a much grittier, naturalistic depiction of the character.
Now, we’re excited to binge the character’s latest exploits in Daredevil's third season. The trailer for the new season showcases an angstier, more conflicted Matt Murdock, and we’re stoked to see how his story continues to develop.
8 HANG IT UP: MYSTIQUE
Jennifer Lawrence is a major movie star. During her career, she’s been critically lauded, showered with awards, and scored major hits at the box office. So, when she was cast as the new Mystique it seemed like the character was in good hands.
However, since her first appearance in X-Men: First Class, Lawrence’s star power has led Mystique to become a major player in the X-films. When she was played by Rebecca Romijn in the previous X-Men trilogy she was a supporting player, a sidekick to Magneto. Beefing up the character’s screen time has exposed her weaknesses and even Lawrence herself seems a bit bored of the character.
7 LOVE: AQUAMAN
Aquaman has historically been the butt of jokes about the most ridiculous comic-book characters. Enter Jason Momoa and his portrayal of the character in Justice League. Suddenly it wasn’t so hard to imagine taking Aquaman seriously. Not only was Momoa amazing to look at, but he also played the character with a combination of lightness and fighting skill that made him truly thrilling to watch.
Now, Momoa’s Aquaman is getting his own movie, and we’re excited to see the character take center-stage in his own story. The trailer looks promising — hopefully, the movie lives up to the hype and Aquaman remains a superhero we love to watch.
6 HANG IT UP: BLACK CANARY
Black Canary has become the superhero Arrow can’t seem to let go. First, Sara Lance held the title when she came back home after being shipwrecked. When Sara was dispatched, her sister Laurel took up the mantle. Finally, when Laurel lost her life fighting as the hero, Oliver and his team found Dinah Drake, a meta-human with screeching powers that made her perfect for the team's open position.
Now, Warner Bros. is making a Birds of Prey movie that will feature Black Canary as a major character. Yet, after all the permutations we’ve seen of her over the last several years, it’s time for Black Canary to give her voice a rest
5 LOVE: JESSICA JONES
On her titular TV show, we’ve seen Jessica Jones go through all kinds of trials and tribulations. The amount of trauma she’s suffered in her life has made her compelling to watch as she attempts to get over her past and move forward — or self-medicate and just get through the day.
Yet, her significance goes far beyond that. Jessica’s been an avenging angel for women who’ve suffered at the hands of bad men. Someone who rises above her circumstances and tries to help others, even if that means confronting the people who hurt and scare her the most. She’s a true hero and we’re happy we can join her on her journey.
4 HANG IT UP: HAWKEYE
Hawkeye has always been the Zeppo of the MCU. When he showed up in Thor he was a random guy with a bow and arrow in a unit full of gun-toting soldiers. In his numerous MCU appearances since, Hawkeye hasn’t evolved much. Of course, he’s quite good with that bow and arrow, but that in and of itself doesn’t make him one of the series’ stand-out characters.
Hawkeye is best in small doses. He’s not a leader and his character has typically been defined in relation to others. He’s best friends with Black Widow, he’s married with kids, he’s on Captain America’s side in Civil War. Outside of those surface characteristics, though, we don’t know much about Hawkeye and we don’t really care to.
3 LOVE: BLACK PANTHER
When Black Panther was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, he brought a crackling new energy to the MCU. Groomed to be the leader of a vibranium-rich African nation, T’Challa had a nobility to him that was a welcome addition to the franchise.
In his self-titled movie, we learned even more about Black Panther. From his uncertainty about becoming king before he’s ready to his ability to listen to different points of view and make wise choices, T’Challa was a superhero we could identify with and look up to. We anticipate watching many additional films where the character grows and evolves further.
2 HANG IT UP: IRON FIST
By the time Iron Fist arrived on Netflix, Marvel had a good track record with its streaming superhero shows. Iron Fist changed all that. While the show itself wasn’t exceptional, the title character made things so much worse — a problem that continued into the superhero team-up series The Defenders.
Iron Fist is supposed to be one of the best fighters on the planet. He’s also supposed to have all the dignity, self-possession, and self-discipline that goes with winning the battle to become the Iron Fist. Yet, in his television incarnation, he comes across as a whiny child who babbles about chi and the value of his fist of fury but is more talk than action. We’ve had more than enough of him.
1 LOVE: WONDER WOMAN
The DCEU hasn’t exactly scored with fans, but Wonder Woman has been the lone exception. Gal Gadot perfectly embodied the character — a combination of bravery, wits, heart, and humor that made her aspirational and inspirational all at once.
In the movie, she was a fish out of water. However, after being repeatedly told what she couldn’t do, at No Man’s Land she finally decided she was going to do what was right, even if it seemed out of the box. Wonder Woman’s ability to take matters into her own hands, to own her power, and take pride in her abilities make her an absolute joy to watch. We can’t wait to see more of her in her upcoming sequel, Wonder Woman 1984.