Superhero movies are well-known for the climatic final battles: continuous shots of dazzling heroes finally letting loose with their full powers on villains who have spent the entire plot earning their beat down. On occasion, rather than simply fighting to defeat their foes, heroes are cornered into a back-against-the-wall last stand. These fights carry more emotional weight with the possibility of defeat, audiences on the edge of their seats to see if the heroes will make it or if someone will make the ultimate sacrifice. If we knew that the heroes would win every time, our movie-going experience would end up a little dull.
The last stands on this list encompass a variety of plots, both successful films that slowly build to the nail-biting conclusion and... less successful films that treat the last stand as a Hail Mary play to save a plot otherwise devoid of emotional drama. Either way, the featured scenes showcase our heroes digging in to stave off defeat and destruction when the odds are stacked against them. But as Thor reminds us in Thor: Raganrok, “that’s what heroes do.” If being a hero was easy, everyone would do it. What makes the heroes on this list special is their willingness to stand in the face of evil and stop the tide of enemies threatening the lives of those they are sworn to protect. With the threat of defeat looming large in the background, dig in to our list of the greatest last stands in superhero movies!
20 WONDER WOMAN
Female fans were ecstatic to finally see a female-led superhero film. Wonder Woman gave them a classic heroic tale as it chronicles Diana’s journey from favored Amazon to superhero of WWI. Unfortunately, the villains seemed to belong to a different, more campy movie.
In the climax of the movie, Wonder Woman finally comes face-to-face with her true foe, Ares, God of War. The battle shows off Diana’s skill and ferocity, along with her classic Lasso of Truth. Sadly, Ares ends up delivering an overly-dramatic supervillain monologue while... telekinetically tossing tanks, which is not usually a power in his wheelhouse. With Ares dropping his end, the fight falls flat, but Wonder Woman’s performance is enough to give it first spot on our list.
19 DOCTOR STRANGE
Marvel continued its big screen adaptations of major origin stories with Doctor Strange, a cross-dimensional trip that introduced magic to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Dr. Strange was a welcome addition to the MCU, his origin story wasn’t as well received, in part because of the controversial casting choice for the Ancient One.
The final face-off between Dr. Strange and his nemesis from the Dark Dimension saw the good doctor unleash the full power of the Eye of Agamotto and the Time Gem. The battle lands on this list simply for Stephen’s audacity to defeat Dormammu through sheer annoyance by trapping them both in a time loop.
18 BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
The title fight of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ended in an unexpected moment that went down in meme infamy. It wasn’t until the real enemy showed up in the form of Doomsday that the action took off.
Batman and Superman quickly bury the hatchet to take on the new threat as Doomsday begins his reign of terror under Luthor’s direction. When Wonder Woman finally shows up to the surprise of both male heroes, the fight finally feels like the dramatic stand-off that audiences were waiting for. Diana steals the scene as she attacks Doomsday with her Amazon fury.
17 IRON MAN 2
Robert Downey Jr. launched the Marvel universe onto the silver screen with his second-nature portrayal of Tony Stark in Iron Man. The sequel didn’t quite land the same punch with its one-dimensional villain, Whiplash. But it did introduce the highly-anticipated War Machine.
After Whiplash takes control of Hammer Industry’s armored drone (based on Tony’s suit) and Rhodes’ War Machine armor, Black Widow returns control of the War Machine armor to Rhodes, but he and Tony have to stop the army of drones from attacking the Expo. In a climatic hilltop last stand, Iron Man and War Machine show what two suits of armor working together can do.
16 JUSTICE LEAGUE
Fans generally agree that Justice League was... not that great. Aside from #mustachegate, the film suffered from an incoherent plot before culminating in a Supes ex machina that rendered the entire premise of putting together a team entirely moot.
Early in the film, however, the Amazons make a thrilling last stand against the return of Steppenwolf. Led by Hippolyta, the Amazons fight across Themyscira to keep the first Mother Box out of Steppenwolf’s hands. The action shows the Amazons’ strength, skill, and most importantly teamwork in a dazzling battle that they eventually lose. Later, Diana tells of the last stand made against Steppenwolf’s first attempt to conquer Earth with Amazons, Atlanteans, mankind, Olympian gods, and even Green Lanterns in an equally impressive display.
15 THE INCREDIBLES
Pixar took its first foray into digitally animated humans with the super-family adventure The Incredibles. The film focused on the conflict between supers and the government during a time when the public became distrustful of heroes.
When Mr. Incredible finds himself captured by his boyhood-fan-turned-nemesis, Syndrome, ElastiGirl comes to the rescue, and the kids stow away on the flight to Syndrome’s island. United and free, the super-powered family squares off against Syndrome’s goons, showcasing their powers and giving us the classic team pose before launching into a resounding defeat of the goons... until Syndrome himself shows up. The classic scene takes an early spot on our list only to leave room for the sequel.
14 JUSTICE LEAGUE: DOOM
Justice League: Doom was an early success for DC’s animated films. Adapting the successful plot from the comics, the movie shows the Justice League falling under attacks uniquely designed to take out each member, attacks that turn out to be designed by Batman.
With the help of Cyborg, not an official member of the team and thus left out of the attacks, the heroes recover and take the fight to Vandal Savage and his Legion of Doom. Each hero pairs off against their nemesis in a no-holds-barred smackdown around the Legion’s base. The fight culminates with Batman phasing the Earth to prevent destruction from a targeted solar flare.
Without Ryan Reynolds leaking test footage, Deadpool might never have seen the light of day. With its R-rating and off-the-fourth-wall antihero, the movie seemed like a long shot. But the Merc with a Mouth proved a huge success in Hollywood and even earned a sequel.
In the final scene of the film, Deadpool fights to save Vanessa from Ajax, the man responsible for his powers in the first place. As they face off, Deadpool taunts Ajax in a typical manner until a pole to the head triggers a trippy, mid-fight aneurism. Deadpool manages to recover and switches from laughs to gasps as he, Vanessa, and Ajax are sent tumbling off their perch on a collision course with the ground.
12 CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
The Avengers brought Captain America and Iron Man together, and Civil War tore them apart. Almost an Avengers movie in its own right, Civil War tried to bring the classic comic story to the big screen. While the giant hero-on-hero battle left many fans wanting more, the final half of the movie more than delivered on its promise.
As the political tensions between Cap and Iron Man boil down to the personal strife at the heart, Zemo brings the heroes to the Winter Soldier base. When Zemo reveals it was Bucky who killed Tony’s parents, Iron Man finally snaps and turns on both Cap and Bucky. The ensuing fight is brutally choreographed as Cap and Bucky pummel Iron Man to the ground.
11 THE AVENGERS
Marvel brought the shared universe of its comics to life with The Avengers, the first time a movie featured heroes and stars from previous solo titles in a team film. And as in the comics, Loki is the catalyst to bring the Avengers together.
The plot centers on Loki’s mysterious plans for the Tesseract. When the Avengers finally learn his scheme, they are too late as Loki opens a portal for the Chitauri to invade Earth. The only thing between the alien fleet and a helpless New York City is the Avengers as they finally band together to face the threat. In what now seems like a classic scene, Iron Man coordinates as the Avengers take down the invading army and, eventually, Loki.
Logan is a departure from the previous Wolverine movies with its pessimistic plot and moody visuals. Based on the comics series Old Man Logan, the film is set in a dystopian future that sees mutants going extinct. When Logan and Xavier find the young Laura and learn she is a clone of Logan, they agree to take her to a refuge with other young cloned mutants.
When the children are captured in their bid for freedom in Canada, Logan uses a serum to supercharge his failing powers and attacks the Reavers with Laura’s help. But Donald Pierce calls out X-24, a feral clone of Logan. X-24 impales Logan on a branch before Laura can shoot the clone with an Adamantium bullet.
9 BLACK PANTHER
Black Panther became a runaway success, prompting many fans to call for an Oscar. Detailing the backstory of T’Challa, who first appeared in Captain America: Civil War, and his home nation of Wakanda, the film is a startling vision of Afro-Futurism.
When Killmonger comes to Wakanda to take the throne by challenge of combat, T’Challa is thought lost. But he returns to face his brother in an epic battle between two Black Panthers, both wearing advanced suits of Shuri’s design. T’Challa and Killmonger fight as equals until they fall into the Vibranium mine. T’Challa is finally able to disrupt Killmonger’s suit to deliver a final blow.
8 THE INCREDIBLES 2
Only 14 years after the first movie, Pixar brings back their superhero family in The Incredibles 2. This time, ElastiGirl takes the superhero spotlight while Bob stays home with the kids. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
When Screenslaver traps Bob and Helen, along with a slew of international supers, under mind control, only Violet and Dash are left to stop her. And Jack-Jack. While the baby cuts a swath of super-destruction, Violet and Dash take on the controlled heroes. Violet pairs off against Voyd, who can open two-way portals, in a mind-bending fight sequence that could have taken the entire 14 year delay to animate. We kid, of course. But seriously, kudos to those animators.
7 GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Guardians of the Galaxy made the idea of a fun superhero movie a success and confirmed the action-comedy as Marvel’s go-to approach. But the comedic moments center around a core plot full of drama as the Guardians fight to stop Ronan from using the Power Gem.
As Ronan approaches Xander, the Guardians rally the Ravagers and the Nova Corps to hold his ship from making ground fall. In the first emotional sacrifice, the Nova Corps form an energy net that only holds Ronan for a brief time. Then Groot sacrifices himself to save the Guardians as Ronan’s ship crash-lands. Finally Peter, with the support of the other Guardians, distracts Ronan with a dance-off before snatching the Power Gem.
6 JUSTICE LEAGUE: DARK
Set in the DC Animated Movie universe, along with Son of Batman and Justice League vs. Teen Titans, Justice League: Dark serves as a horror anthology of DC’s occult heroes. Batman finds himself cowl-deep in magic against a plot by Destiny (adapted from Dr. Destiny in comics to a more mystic origin).
When Destiny finally assumes his full power, the team has trouble doing anything to stop him... until Constantine tricks Swamp Thing into making an appearance. In a visual feast on par with Zatanna’s earlier beat down of Faust, Swamp Thing knocks Destiny across the city and shows him the power of The Green. But Destiny gets the upper hand when he forcibly separates Swamp Thing from his human host, Alec Holland.
5 X-MEN: APOCALYPSE
X-Men fans didn’t show much love to the third movie in the reboot trilogy, X-Men: Apocalypse, mostly because of the titular villain and his all-but-ignored Horsemen. The film ended up feeling like a lesser version of Days of Future Past. But Apocalypse does beat out its predecessor in final scene awe factor (though we might just have a bias towards Jean).
When the X-Men take the fight to Apocalypse and his Horsemen, all seems lost as Prof X struggles against the ancient mutant on the Astral Plane and the X-Men fail to physically harm him. And then Jean shows up. She begins to manifest the Phoenix as she rips Apocalypse apart, both mentally and physically.
4 THOR: RAGNAROK
Most fans thought Taika Waititi brought a breath of fresh air to the Thor films with Thor: Ragnarok, a psychedelic space romp paired with mythological destruction. When Thor is cast from Asgard by his sister, Hela, he finds himself stranded on Sakaar, where the Hulk has become a star gladiator.
To take the fight back to Hela, Thor forms the Revengers with Hulk, the last Valkyrie, and a reluctant Loki. Going toe-to-toe with his sister, Thor can’t win until he remembers his power as God of Thunder and sends Hela smashing into the Bifrost while the rest of the team takes on her undead horde, all set to Led Zepplin. (For bonus points, look up the scene set to “I Need a Hero.”)
3 THE DARK KNIGHT
If Christopher Nolan brought DC back to the big screen with Batman Begins, he cemented the company's place in superhero movies with The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger delivers a disturbing, unforgettable portrayal of the Joker as he seeks to take down Batman.
After torturing Gotham with rampant destruction, the Joker gives Batman an impossible decision between saving his friend Harvey Dent or his love, Rachel. Batman and Commissioner Gordan race to save them both, but Rachel doesn’t make it and Dent is badly burned. The Joker continues his campaign of madness until Batman arrives to stop him. But the Joker goes for the last laugh with a plot to tarnish Dent. Batman takes the blame instead and runs into the night, after an intricate last stand.
2 AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
Branded by Marvel as “the most ambitious crossover in event in history,” Avengers: Infinity War brought together the biggest roster of superheroes yet seen on the big screen (despite what the memes say). As Thanos makes his bid for the final two Infinity Gems, the universe-spanning Avengers mash-up team stands in his way.
First, on Titan, Thanos faces off against the Guardians and Spider-Man, led by Dr. Strange and Iron Man, before teleporting into the battle between his forces and the Avengers in Wakanda. From the moment Thanos lands on his home planet to the climactic finger snap, the Avengers and their allies fight tooth-and-nail to stop the Mad Titan from destroying half the universe.
1 X2: X-MEN UNITED
After the success of their first movie, Marvel’s Merry Mutants came back with the socially charged X2: X-Men United, banding together with Magneto and Mystique to face off against government agent William Stryker (incidentally the same guy who gave Wolverine his Adamantium).
When the plot leads the X-Men to Alkali Lake, base for Weapon X, the team manages to escape after defeating Stryker and his son, but not before the dam fails. The X-Men find themselves with a powerless jet against an imminent flood. Jean leaves the jet to simultaneously hold off an entire lake while lifting her team to safety with her telekinesis. We still get chills at the sight of Jean, flickering with Phoenix flame, surrendering to the water.