When we look to superheroes, we think of someone like Superman, who has abilities granted to him as a son of Krypton that human beings simply don’t have. He can fly, shoot lasers out of his eyes, and has incredible strength, along with a host of other abilities. Or maybe we think of Spider-Man. Thanks to interacting with a radioactive spider, his whole world changed and he became the kid who could climb walls and shoot webs. But not every hero is born (or enhanced) with special abilities. In fact, some of the very best don’t have any enhancements at all.
Here, we’re going to honor some of the best heroes on the small screen who don’t have a genetic affectation that allows them to bend reality to their will or walk through walls. You won’t find mutants, Inhumans, or Metahumans here. Instead, these are the heroes who have trained for close combat or learned how to use expertly their favorite weapons, relying on nothing but muscle memory.
If the hero hasn’t been on the big or small screen, they won’t have made the list, and not every non superpowered person earned a spot. Check out the 18 Best Movie and TV Superheroes Who Don’t Have Superpowers!
The one guy in the Avengers confirmed to have a wife and kids, Hawkeye is the everyman – if the everyman was a secret agent whose weapon of choice happened to be a bow and arrow.
As one of the few members of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes who doesn’t have super strength or magic powers, Hawkeye has to work a whole lot harder to keep up with the pack. We saw how much of a disadvantage he had in The Avengers, when he was easily controlled by Loki, or in Avengers: Age of Ultron when he couldn’t keep up with the likes of flying heroes or those with superspeed.
Hawkeye has proven again and again that he has what it takes to be a hero, willing to sacrifice himself to save innocent lives, and always ready with a quip and unwavering aim to take down the bad guy with an exploding arrow or two.
17. The Crimson Bolt
Not familiar with Crimson Bolt? That’s understandable considering the film that featured the character, Super, didn’t cross the $500,00 mark at the box office. An original superhero idea, the movie was written and directed by Guardians of the Galaxy‘s James Gunn, and starred Rainn Wilson as the ordinary man who became a very unordinary hero.
When short-order cook Frank Darbo thinks he’s been compelled by God to do good work, he decides to create his own crimefighting persona. He’s supposed to be the everyman who wants to change the world, but that’s marred slightly by him really being out for revenge against the guy who stole his wife. He initially begins his quest with a pipe and some violent beatings, taking on local thugs, and eventually earns the respect of the public.
Of course, Frank makes some serious miscalculations with an unhinged sidekick who ends up getting herself killed, and there is that obsession with the wife that left him, both of which keep him near the bottom of our list.
Mindy Macready never had the chance to be a regular kid. Her father was framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and her mother committed suicide when she was born. As a result, Mindy spent her younger years raised by a police officer, and her tween years raised by her father following his prison release.
It was her father, who become a vigilante named Big Daddy, who taught her how to use almost every weapon known to man, withstand the impact of a fired gun while wearing a bulletproof vest, and made sure she was proficient in hand-to-hand combat. As a result, Mindy became Hit-Girl, and could probably clean up the streets of any city singlehandedly.
If she’s so great, why doesn’t she rank higher on this list? Because despite all of her skills, Hit-Girl is still a kid with the boatload of immaturity that comes with it, which allows for hormones and high school spats to get in the way of her being the best.
John Diggle used to be a bodyguard, but now, he’s got his very own codename!
Before he knew that Oliver Queen was the Arrow, Diggle was constantly being evaded and left behind by the guy he was supposed to be guarding. Once he found out the truth, though, he became instrumental in the formation of Team Arrow to fight the bad guys of Star City.
Diggle was initially hesitant to sign on for vigilante work, and he didn’t want a mask or a codename, but to protect his family, additions to his ensemble became necessary. He prizes loyalty and trust above all else, and as a result, he’s frequently clashed with his main teammate, but the two always have each other’s backs, even if Spartan sometimes has to take a break from being in the field.
One of the only Watchmen heroes to be truly committed to saving the day — even when it was outlawed by the government, and even if it meant the rest of the good guys didn’t agree with him — Rorschach definitely deserves a spot here.
Rorschach was a hero during the alternate reality presented by the Watchmen universe, and he maintained his vigilante activities even after vigilantes either became government agents or retired out of fear of being imprisoned. It was Rorschach who began an investigation into the deaths of former heroes and kicked off the events of the movie.
It was also Rorschach who was willing to threaten the newfound peace brought about by a conspiracy in the film, because he believed the truth was more important than making a truce built on lies. He lost his life in the end, but he went down fighting for truth and justice, as always.
The ’90s version of TV’s The Flash featured someone other than the metahuman speedster cleaning up the streets. In fact, Nightshade was a vigilante way back in the 1950s before deciding to put his alter ego to rest and become a doctor.
Nightshade wore a trench coat, gloves, mask, goggles, and hat to not only hide his identity from people in Central City, but also to hide the fact that he was a black man saving the day in the turbulent decade. He went up against members of organized crime using a tranquilizer gun and an armored car before trading all that in for medical school.
Dave is just your average high school student who decides to do what pretty much every comic book fan has dreamt about at some point: create an alter ego and set out to be a superhero. Initially, Dave gets stabbed and hit by a car, but he doesn’t let that slow him down.
Dave creates his own costume, puts in the effort to learn how to fight and use various weapons, and even gets some advice from fellow vigilantes when he ends up in over his head. Christening himself “Kick-Ass,” Dave might not be the best superhero, but he is definitely one of the most committed.
11. Tank Girl
Tank Girl isn’t the best known of heroes pulled from the pages of a graphic novel, but she’s one of the most unique.
Tank Girl’s story takes place in a dystopic future where a drought has been going on for a decade, leaving the water supply in the hands of a corporation that rules with an iron fist. Tank Girl is one of the few who doesn’t allow herself to be controlled. Despite being captured more than once, she fights back however she can.
Eventually, she arms herself with a tank she outfits herself, hence her name, and her quest for freedom and justice goes beyond breaking rules and living life her way. She uses her tank to take on her oppressors directly and save the lives of her friends.
A man who can shrink down to the size of an ant or grow to the size of a giant might seem like magic, but really, his abilities are all down to the science of the suit.
Scott Lang holds the Ant-Man mantle now, and all of his abilities are ones developed by Hank Pym’s genius. The suit allows the wearer to not only communicate with ants, but also to change size and strength level. He even carries discs that can be used to shrink or grow other people/animals/Thomas the Tank Engines.
He makes his way into the top 10 simply because what he lacks in heroic experience as a former thief, he makes up for with one of the best senses of humor of the heroes on screen. Ant-Man knows when to get the job done, but he’s ready with jokes to alleviate the tension.
9. War Machine
He might have gone through an actor change in the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but War Machine has become an integral grounding force in the movies — even though he wears armor that allows him to fly.
Before he put on the metal suit that gave him access to plenty of weaponry and flight, Rhody was a soldier. Colonel James Rhodes has always taken his job working for the United States government very seriously, and he’s always had the best interests of the public at heart. The audience might not agree with him when he’s testifying against Iron Man, or when he’s going up against Captain America in a Civil War, but they understand him.
8. The Punisher
Calling the Punisher a superhero might not be the best choice of words, since this antihero is more willing than most to get his hands bloody and cross lines that superheroes try to avoid. He’s still got a moral code, though, and that’s what lands him so high on this list.
In every live action incarnation of the Punisher we’ve seen so far, he stays pretty true to the broad strokes of his comic book origin story: a tragic past causes him to decide to clean up the streets by whatever means necessary. He might be bloodthirsty, but that violence manages to scare plenty of villains to the point where he can get the job done on intimidation alone.
Given that he’s survived falls from cliffs, multiple stabbings, gunshot wounds, and a few explosions, it might seem like the Arrow has some sort of supernatural healing abilities, but so far, his series hasn’t revealed any.
Oliver Queen has been through more hardships than most people: stranded on an island, trained by a militia, forced to work with the Bratva, conscripted into duties for secret government organizations, and then returning home to keep it all a secret and become a vigilante to save a city gone to hell. All of those hardships helped him train for the hero he’s since become, and that includes being the mayor of his hometown and realizing that he isn’t always the right hero for the task at hand.
An inactive solider when he was introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Falcon has become the right hand man to Steve Rogers since debuting in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
He cracks jokes, he cooks, but he’s also ready to save the world when two people he barely knows show up on his doorstep and tell him that everyone they know is trying to kill them. He’s also got some pretty sweet mechanical wings that allow him to fly directly into danger if he needs to, and a drone that lets him know what’s up when the situation is too dangerous.
Just because he’s a soldier doesn’t mean he’s afraid of defying authority, either. As audiences saw in Civil War, a little thing like government accords won’t stop him from doing what he thinks is right.
5. White Canary
Before Sara Lance was the White Canary on a time traveling ship, she was the Black Canary, putting her ninja-like-training to use as a vigilante in Star City. It’s as the White Canary that the character has really grown into her own, though.
There is a caveat here that Sara was brought back to life, but other than a bloodlust she had to keep at bay, she hasn’t been enhanced by the experience. All of those skills she has from her days with the League of Assassins are the result of heavy training.
When she came to the Waverider, the White Canary wasn’t the best team player, and she wasn’t great at following orders either. But these days, she’s become the leader everyone else turns to in times of trouble, even captaining the time ship. In addition to her kickass moves that allow her to take on even the toughest of enemies, she’s the one who makes the hard choices — like deciding not to save her sister on a trip in which she knew she would be killed.
4. Iron Man
The hero who started this golden age of comic book adaptations, Iron Man made his big screen debut in 2008, and most superhero fans would like to see him as a permanent fixture in the MCU.
Some might argue that Iron Man doesn’t deserve a spot on this list. After all, he does wear an entire suit that grants him superhuman abilities. Since all of his abilities are technology based, not permanent physical enhancements, it’s hard to keep him away. It also doesn’t hurt that the man inside the suit isn’t just working to save the world while he’s in it. Tony Stark is always on the cutting edge of science, trying to make the world a better place for everyone, and even contributing to the disaster relief when his own heroic acts cause destruction.
Stark might have a full suit of armor that allows him to fly, shoot, and perform spectacular physical feats, but as he told Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” Tony Stark is a whole lot, with or without his signature armor.
3. Black Widow
The top ranked female superhero on our list, Black Widow has more than earned her spot amongst the heavyweights. She’s the one character who fans have consistently asked about a solo movie for since her debut, and she’s the one character that has everyone wishing for more backstory.
Why? That’s because Black Widow is one very complicated woman.
A former spy for Russia, she was trained as a child in the mysterious Red Room (though the Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet to call it that). She was ruthless and has plenty of red in her ledger, but these days, she’s using her formidable skills for good — first for S.H.I.E.L.D., and then as more of a freelance operative and founding member of the Avengers.
Not only can she take on a hallway full of well-trained men twice her size, but she’s been able to take on aliens, magic users, and suped-up heroes like Black Panther. She knows how to blend in for undercover work just as well as she can stand out in a group of superpowered people with only a gun and her widow’s stingers.
Batman doesn’t just put on the cowl and head into dark alleys for a fight. He’s also got the money and the technology behind him to make sure that he’s able to keep innovating as the villains keep getting worse. The Caped Crusader’s also got some serious skills when he’s not in the middle of combat.
Batman is willing to put in the extra legwork as Bruce Wayne, a rich man whose money goes to fund various charities, a guy who plays the part of a playboy to keep his vigilante identity a secret, and a man who uses his brain more than his brawn to get the job done.
Sometimes, he’s a teenager digging into the mysteries of Gotham, and others, he’s a middle aged man breaking into locked vaults to uncover the secrets behind taking down a god (Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice). Either way, he knows how to use every facet of his skills to fight crime.
1. Nick Fury
What’s that, you say? Nick Fury is a spy, not a superhero? We beg to differ. Without Nick Fury, there would have been no Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., no Black Widow fighting for the good guys, no Avengers initiative, and really, no Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It’s Fury who has enough clout and skill to be the guy that brings all the heroes together, and he doesn’t just sit in an office and call the plays like your standard spy group’s leader would. Instead, he gets out in the field with his best agents, even showing up on television to help Phil Coulson shoot a few bad guys. He’s also willing to make the hard calls, like leaving agents to find their way out, determining acceptable losses to ensure a win, and bringing an agent back from the dead when necessary.
Fury has also managed to fake his own death multiple times and keep himself hidden thanks to an impressive network of contacts all over the world. He can make himself invisible without tapping into any unknown powers, and honestly, he may just be the most dangerous man alive.
Did we miss out on your favorite non-powered superhero? Or did our ranking leave something to be desired? Let us know in the comments!
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