So in case you’ve missed it, superheroes are a pretty big deal right now for movies. And they’re only getting bigger. Which of course means their confrontations have to get bigger too, pulling in more heroes to put an end to whatever crisis has emerged. We’ve moved into an era beyond simple solo hero films, and now it’s all about the teams. It started with The Avengers movie in 2012, and grew into even bigger names crossing paths with this year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War. Those three movies together have made billions at the box office, so obviously they’ve gotten fans excited.
And now we’re poised for the biggest superhero teams of all time to appear on the big screen in the next year or two. The Avengers will assemble once more in Infinity War, and the Justice League is on the verge of coming together for the first time in the DCEU. With some of the best known groups of heroes set to take over theaters for the foreseeable future, we’re looking at all the groups that could have theaters selling out of tickets for the 15 Best Superhero Groups Of All Time.
15. THE FANTASTIC FOUR
Kicking things off is one of the most recognizable groups from Marvel, even if their last three movies don’t exactly reflect that prestigious lineage. But it’s not that the characters are bad, it’s just that they were placed in disappointing stories. So maybe Fox needs to take a cue from what Sony is doing with Spider-Man, and let the better established MCU take a crack at making the Fantastic Four look a little more, well, fantastic.
Regardless, Mister Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Thing, and the Human Torch have been collaborating together since the ‘60s, and their comics were immediately a hit among fans. And best of all, once a good Fantastic Four movie does come around, it won’t require years of set up to do solo films for each of the characters, because these four have always been a package deal. These are one of the teams on this list that work so well together, it’s impossible not to picture them as a unit.
14. THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
When the Guardians of the Galaxy movie was first announced, many viewers could only react by asking, “Who?” It also didn’t help that many of the actors were buried under elaborate makeup, or transformed into different species via CGI, lending the film few familiar faces to draw in non-fans. And yet, its attitude of old school fun and adventure hooked moviegoers, and elevated this group of unknowns into one of the most talked about films of 2014.
While the original group formed in 1969, the team as we know it today, with the likes of Groot and Rocket Raccoon, became active in 2008. The movie drew some comparisons to the Star Wars films, but this team of interplanetary superheroes made space travel an adventure years before the first lightsaber was ever wielded. And though they haven’t gotten as much mainstream attention until recently, they’ve nonetheless had many big encounters, including alliances with the Avengers.
13. THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN
As most people know, there’s another graphic novel with a team of superheroes (which will come up later) that is typically considered Alan Moore’s magnum opus, which is likely why The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen doesn’t get mentioned as much. It also probably didn’t help that its cinematic adaption wasn’t very good, but at least they’ll get another shot at success if the talk of a reboot winds up coming to fruition.
The group merges supernatural characters from literary novels like Dracula and the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde into a team of Victorian era crime fighters. It’s an oddball mixture, yet also compelling, which is in line with Moore’s typical contributions to the comic world. Again and again, Moore has asked us to reexamine what characters are capable of, such as his huge contribution to the dark evolution of the Joker in The Killing Joke, and his Extraordinary Gentleman graphic novels are no different. They teach us the heroes don’t always wear red capes, and can even be literal monsters.
12. THE TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
The ’80s and ’90s were an odd time for new kid’s characters, as demonstrated by this bunch of giant teenaged turtles who live in the sewer, munch on pizza, and use ninja weapons to take down their foes. And yet, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles proved to be something special, possessing some unique spark that their copycat competitors (including giant sharks, giant mice, and pachyderms) were unable to recapture.
Today, we think of our crime fighting turtles named after painters as whacky heroes who save the day while shouting some ’80s slang like “cowabunga!” But during their inception, the Ninja Turtles comics were actually more violent, and it wasn’t until the debut of the cartoon that they were toned down for a younger audience. Not everyone was a fan of the change at first, but looking at their longevity, it doesn’t seem to have hurt their popularity over the years.
11. THE DEFENDERS
Say one thing for Marvel, they sure know how to invest the time into a slow-build leading up to the formation of a super team. Rather than rush into a Defenders TV series, we’ve instead had Netflix’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and soon Luke Cage and Iron Fist as well. This will ultimately build into the formation of a supergroup comprised of the four heroes, Avengers-style, known as the Defenders.
The original members — Doctor Strange, the Hulk, the Silver Surfer, and Namor — have all been pulled into storylines elsewhere, so the Netflix incarnation won’t feature the classic team. And yet, going by the praise Daredevil and Jessica Jones have both received so far, that doesn’t look like it’ll be a problem. A particular bonus about this supergroup being part of Netflix rather than the MCU is that we’ve clearly seen the Netflix Marvel characters get a lot more leniency in what type of content they can be involved in. You’re not going to find any heavy violence or cursing, beyond a couple uses of four letter words, in The Avengers franchise, since they want to stay marketable to kids. The upcoming incarnation of the Defenders immediately differentiates itself by appealing to a more adult audience with its story and content.
10. THE X-FORCE
Any team that includes Deadpool, Psylocke, and Wolverine fighting together would have to try pretty hard to suck. Sure, they’re just part of the more recent Uncanny X-Force, but that’s also the iteration that makes the most sense to base a movie on right now. Thanks to the X-Men film franchise, we’re well-acquainted with Wolverine, we just saw what Psylocke could do in X-Men: Apocalypse, and of course everyone knows about Deadpool by this point. There’s definitely the potential to bring those characters together and give fans a treat.
But the X-Force comics did not begin with the wise-cracking Deadpool, much as he might wish to the contrary. The team first formed up in the early ‘90s as an offshoot from the X-Men, which naturally explains the heavy mutant presence in the alliance. X-Force teams are less restrained than the Cyclops-led X-Men, and are great for characters who excel at creating a bit more havoc in their approach. As such, rumor has it that if an X-Force movie does happen, it might be R-rated to make it a counterpoint to the X-Men films.
9. THE INCREDIBLES
Just because superheroes and super villains have such a strong history in comics doesn’t mean they can’t originate from other mediums as well. Any Batman fan knows that Batman: The Animated Series brought us Harley Quinn. So it’s not too surprising that hit characters should be able to come from movies as well, such as 2004’s The Incredibles. In fact, the timing of the film may have been a big help to its warm reception. Remember, in 2004, we didn’t have the variety of comic book movies we have today. No topical plots like 2005’s V for Vendetta, or audacious comedies like this year’s Deadpool. We pretty much had Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, and the early X-Men films.
The Incredibles was a superhero movie with fun characters, good jokes, and some memorable critiques of the genre. Anyone who’s seen the film knows the significance of the family’s costumes not having capes. In an era where comic movies were just starting to find their footing, The Incredibles was a reminder that superheroes can be amusing, but also have a relatable core to their journey. That’s what has a lot of fans excited about the announcement of The Incredibles 2.
8. THE POWER RANGERS
Speaking of unusual introductions to a group of heroes, who ever would have thought that what was essentially a live-action cartoon from Japan would acquaint audiences with one of the most recognizable groups of characters to come out of the ‘90s? Not only that, but this admittedly cheesy show about rainbow-colored warriors would go on to span decades with new TV series, and a story that still references back to the original show even today.
Sure, Rita Repulsa, Lord Zed, and the struggles of the Power Rangers doesn’t make as thought provoking a story as the encounters someone like Batman has, but they’ve clearly struck a chord with fans. The Rangers have continuously been reinvented for young generations, with space adventures, dino Rangers, and ninjas. Even full grown fans can’t resist the nostalgia of the Rangers and getting pumped for the new Power Rangers movie in 2017. It’s okay if you know all the words to the original theme song, no one who matters will judge you.
7. THE BAT FAMILY
You’ve got to admire the parenting skills of a man who adopts strangers and dresses them in bat-related costumes to help him fight crime. From Nightwing, to Batgirl, to all the different Robins, probably no other character has helped create as many noteworthy heroes as Batman. Despite Batman’s well-known reclusive nature, he understands the need for successors to whom he can entrust the safety of Gotham should he ever have to step down. And through that planning for the future, he’s wound up creating a pretty effective team of heroes to rely on for the present.
The word family is pretty appropriate when describing this group, since like many biological families, they’ve had a lot of fights and disagreements that have led to not everyone getting along. But also like blood families, they pull together in times of crisis and put aside their differences for the greater good. These bonds have been exploited by villains like the Joker to distract Batman, but they have also given him reassurance that if something happens to him, Gotham won’t descend into anarchy.
6. THE TEEN TITANS
It might hurt Batman’s feelings, but it’s arguable that Robin’s greatest success came after he stepped out from the shadow of the Dark Knight and instead took the lead in his own group of heroes. Fans of the Teen Titans show (no, not Teen Titans Go!) will know the line up as Robin, Cyborg, Starfire, Beast Boy, and Raven, but the group has actually been a sort of junior Justice League for many adolescent heroes.
The original group started in the ‘60s (and we’ll start getting into why so many superhero teams were cropping up during this decade soon), but it wasn’t until the ‘80s that the team really found its stride. And it makes sense for the younger heroes to team up since their powers are still developing, and they are less experienced at dealing with villains. Someone like Batman has taken on Deathstroke on his own, while Deathstroke has nearly taken down the entire team of Titans on his own. The group is a logical and necessary training ground for heroes, and has been great for allowing side characters like Robin to really come into their own.
5. THE JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA
Dating back to the early ’40s, the Justice Society of America is mandatory for inclusion in a topic like this since they were the ones who started it all. Before the Justice Society, there were no superhero teams in comics. For those of you less familiar with the group, you’re probably already wondering at a connection to the Justice League. And the answer is yes, the Justice Society was a precursor to the Justice League, and even had some of the same members. But that doesn’t make them the same entity.
For starters, the Justice Society was arguably more powerful than the Justice League. Doctor Fate especially was a hero who was so multitalented that he could be considered one of DC’s strongest heroes, even more so than Superman or Wonder Woman. And now with the events of DC’s Rebirth event, the old and the new are intersecting, and the Justice Society could return to renewed popularity in this era of superhero blockbusters.
4. THE WATCHMEN
Due to the consolidated nature of their story, The Watchmen are one of the less talked about groups of heroes out there. There’re no more movies that can be told about their story, no more years of comics of them as a team, and certainly no cartoons. And yet, the lone graphic novel they starred in has gone down in comics history as one of the most influential and revolutionary works in the genre.
This isn’t a group that deserves recognition because of their cohesion as a team (which was shaky at best) or because they have such impressive powers (especially since Dr. Manhattan was basically the only super powered one). But The Watchmen are a testament that it doesn’t take hundreds of years to leave a lasting impression. The likes of Rorshach and the Comedian redefined the perception of what heroes were, telling a more human, morally grey story. They don’t have the long history of Batman or Superman, but still managed to have about as much of an impact on the world of comics. And with the events of DC Rebirth, that impact is getting bigger.
3. THE X-MEN
When you can overcome ostentatious yellow jumpsuits, and have fans be cool with there being blue furries in your superhero group, that’s a good sign your team has made it to the big time. Even more impressive is that while the next two entries will talk about groups that formed after the individual heroes were already popular, the X-Men are arguably just as popular as either of those teams, despite the original members all being introduced at once and having to fight for the spotlight. It’s hard enough getting one character to catch on at a time, let alone half a dozen.
Obviously in light of the cinematic franchise, Wolverine has taken center stage in more recent years, but movie goers are finally getting introduced to the other members with big followings thanks to the Deadpool movie, and the upcoming Gambit movie. There are so many different X-Men with all kinds of powers that you’d be hard-pressed not to find at least one you like. The mutants have featured in some of the most iconic stories in comics, and Charles Xavier’s mutant academy has produced numerous formations of the group to tackle superpowered tyrants, as well as topical issues like discrimination. The X-Men are easily one of the top teams at Marvel, and comics in general.
2. THE AVENGERS
You knew from the intro that the Avengers were going to rank highly here, and it was really just a matter of whether they’d be number one or number two. A great case can be made for either spot, regardless of whether you cling to some strict allegiance to DC or Marvel. The Avengers have a long history together in comic books, but they got edged out of the top spot by just a hair here– by a group that’s been around slightly longer.
But we don’t want this to turn into some competition. All the teams in this article have made a huge impact with their stories, and the Avengers especially have an enduring legacy. Dating back to 1963, the team has come to collect the biggest names in Marvel under one banner throughout its iterations over the years. Of course some of the most well-known members, thanks to the movies, are the Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, but everyone from Spider-Man, to Deadpool, to Squirrel Girl has fought with the team at one point or another. And pretty soon, the movies will give fans everywhere a taste of the most powerful villain seen yet, in Thanos.
1. THE JUSTICE LEAGUE
And finally we come to the group of heroes with one of the longest histories together, and also quite possibly the best group out there. Like many long running teams, the members involved have changed drastically over the years, to the point that all the founders have eventually been swapped out for other heroes. But for this entry, we’re focusing on the original team, comprised of Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Batman. Separately, they are some of the most powerful heroes in existence. Together, you really can’t find a more powerful group.
Individually, all the heroes had to deal with threats who were more like “villains of the week” than any serious danger to the planet. But characters as powerful as Superman or Wonder Woman need powerful antagonists, so eventually the likes of Lex Luthor and Darkseid became the norm amongst villains. Superhero team-ups went from being a one-off thing to being a necessity to preserve peace for the League. The union of the original Justice League raised the stakes for superhero stories, and set a precedent for many other heroes to join forces, including many of the previous groups on this list, such as the Avengers. Between their power and their influence on other teams, the Justice League ranks as the best.
Who is your favorite team on this list? Tell us about your favorite team of heroes in the comments! Justice League will be arriving in theaters on November 17, 2017 and Avengers: Infinity War on May 4, 2018.