One of the most important and common concepts in superhero lore is the secret identity. The idea that these heroes cannot fight for justice as regular people and must instead don disguises is an interesting one and it still prevails in many of the superhero films today. It also becomes a regular story point in many of those films. Everyone wants to know who is under the mask, be they the love interest, the villain or just the public at large.
The concept of the superhero mask has led to a lot of great unmasking scenes in movies. Those moments when the hero’s (or villain's) identity is revealed, be it on purpose or against their will, can be depicted in so many ways. It can be a romantic moment, a touching moment, a tense moment, but the best ones are always epic in some way.
While moments like the famous upside-down kiss in Spider-Man are iconic, we’re looking for those moments where the hero’s identity is revealed. These can be literal unmaskings or the broader moments of when the guise of the hero is striped away. So let’s take a peek under the cowl with the 15 Greatest Unmasking Scenes In Superhero Movies!
15. Batman in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice had a lot of messy moments but the one that stands out as the most bizarre is Batman’s post-apocalyptic "dream" sequence. But there were some undoubtedly memorable moments in this sequence, especially when the Batman and Superman finally come face-to-face.
After getting ambushed by Superman’s thugs and some Parademons, Batman and his army finds themselves in some sort of cave prison. Superman then arrives and proceeds to roast Batman’s men with his laser vision before turning his attention on the Caped Crusader. He rips his famous cowl off with disgust before shoving his arm through Batman’s chest.
A lot of the impact of it is lost as we’re pulled out of the dream sequence and thrown right into another one, but it is a cool moment between the iconic heroes. Batman’s cowl is not only a way to conceal his identity but a symbol of fear and the fact that Superman takes that from him, for even just a moment, is powerful.
14. Buddy in The Incredibles
Unlike the other films on this list, The Incredibles is an original superhero story and yet it remains one of the best films in this genre. While the action scenes are brilliant, the film really succeeds in how it subverts superhero tropes, such as with its villain.
A bored Mr. Incredible finds an opportunity to escape suburban life after receiving a mysterious job on an isolated island. Of course, it proves to be a trap designed by his arch-nemesis who calls himself Syndrome . Mr. Incredible has no idea who this madman is until Syndrome insists he is Mr. Incredible’s biggest fan. It is then that our hero realizes this is the young boy named Buddy who wanted to be sidekick years ago. After being insulted by Mr. Incredible, Buddy decides the best way to get his hero’s respect is by defeating him.
We don’t get those villain reveals too often in superhero film and this is an especially creepy one. The notion of someone going from fanboy to full-on enemy is an unique take and just one example of how clever this film is.
13. Superman in Superman II
Superman’s secret identity has long been a source of comedy. The fact the investigated journalists at The Daily Planet can’t recognize that one of their colleagues is Superman just because he wears glasses. So it was only a matter of time before the secret comes out in a film.
In the Christopher Reeves' second outing as Superman, Lois Lane is beginning to notice Clark Kent is never around when Superman shows up. In a scene not shown in theaters but restored for the Donner Cut, Lois is convinced Clark is actually Superman and decides to prove it by shooting him. Clark tries to reason with her but she fires. With the charade now over, Clark takes off his glasses and confirms he is the Man of Steel. He then points out that Lois could have killed a man only for her to reveal the gun is loaded with blanks. Face-palm!
It’s a shame this scene wasn’t included in the original film because it’s a much more interesting version of the scene what was used. It also showcases the wonderful humor from the Donner films that is, to date, sorely missed in the DCEU films.
12. Deadpool in Deadpool
Most heroes wear a mask to hide their true identity so they can safely fight crime. Deadpool separates himself from the pack by doing it to hide his deformed face.
After being tortured by the villainous Ajax, Wade Wilson is left permanently disfigured. Seeing himself as a hideous creature at this point, Wilson can’t cope with facing his old flame, Vanessa. So Wilson dons the mask and becomes Deadpool as he seeks revenge. Once he finally reunites with Vanessa at the end, she convinces him to finally remove his mask so she can see his face again. Of course, being that he’s wearing a Hugh Jackman cut out underneath the mask.
Beneath all the blood and jokes, Deadpool does actually have a nice message at the center about how looks aren’t everything. This moment very much emphasizes that theme while still being hilarious. The added brilliance of having Hugh Jackman be the first face beneath the mask is just a wonderful touch.
11. Batman in Batman Returns
For a secret identity, Batman sure does reveal to a lot of people that he’s Bruce Wayne. Especially in the films, the secret seems to be exposed quite frequently. Sometimes a villain uncovers his deepest secret, and sometimes Wayne just decides to reveal the truth himself, like in Batman Returns.
After an encounter earlier on in the film, Selina Kyle and Bruce realize each other's alter egos, putting them in an awkward position of being enemies and also lovers. However, Bruce can’t fight his feelings for Selina. Trying to convince her to shed her Catwoman persona, Batman rips off his cowl, leading to Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) to ask, “Bruce Wayne, why are you dressed like Batman?”
It’s a pretty big moment as Bruce is willing to put aside his crime-fighting identity for love. However, the moment is more remembered for the fact that Michael Keaton’s prominent black eye make-up disappears just before he removes the cowl. It’s a pretty obvious, but it’s also understandable. The moment wouldn't have landed the same if Keaton had big raccoon eyes in the scene.
10. Green Lantern in Green Lantern
Just so no one is confused, Green Lantern is a bad movie. From the cheesy CG, to the bland villains, to Ryan Reynold’s over-the-top performance, it’s just a mess. However, under all the garbage, there are one or two bright spots, including the admittedly clever unmasking scene.
After Hal Jordan, under the guise of the Green Lantern, saves his old flame, Carol, he visits her on her balcony in full animated costume. After a quiet moment between them, Carol gives the hero an odd look and says “Hal?” Busted, Hal asks how see possibly could have known. She responds, “I’ve known you my whole life, I’ve seen you naked. You think I wouldn’t recognize you because I can’t see your cheekbones?”
It’s one of those great moments that deconstruct one of the most common jokes about the genre. Of course to anyone who knows someone well, a small mask covering the eyes isn’t going to be much of a disguise. If only the rest of the film had this much originality.
9. Spider-Man in Spider-Man 2
Peter Parker is a hero whose alter ego has always been a major secret. Peter keeps his identity a secret in order to protect, not only himself from his many enemies, but also his loved ones. But what happens when one of Peter’s closest friends unmasks Spider-Man?
In Spider-Man 2, Harry Osborn is on a crusade to kill the wall-crawler, blaming him for his father’s death. After partnering with Doctor Octopus, Harry has Spidey completely at his mercy. Ready to kill his sworn enemy, Harry first decides to see who is under the mask, only to be horrified that it's his best friend, Peter Parker.
Usually when an enemy unmasks a hero, it is simply a way of putting the hero at a disadvantage, but in this case it was a moment that forever changed the relationship between two friends. Although Harry initially spares his friend, this is the catalyst for him becoming the second Green Goblin and waging war on Spider-Man and Peter.
7. Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War is a movie packed with heroes, so to have a specific unmasking stand-out is impressive, especially since the MCU is not particularly interested in secret identities. But the film’s introduction of a new hero in the universe allowed them an awesome unmasking.
When we’re introduced to Prince T’Challa, he accompanies his father outside their native Wakanda for the signing of the Sokovia Accords, where his father is killed in a bombing. Bucky is named prime suspect and the authorities quickly close in on him. However, the real threat comes when Black Panther arrives on the scene and seems to have no intention of bringing Bucky in alive. After an epic chase through Budapest, the authorities finally step in. Then Black Panther removes his helmet and reveals he is, in fact, T’Challa.
No, this isn’t a surprising reveal for any comic book fans (or anyone who's ever seen a movie), but it is a real badass moment. Usually, a hero removing a mask is a moment of vulnerability, but T’Challa does it in a way that shows he doesn’t care who knows who is under the mask. It’s a great introduction to one of the MCU’s most exciting new heroes.
6. Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man
Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man had a lot of issues, but most people would agree that one of the strongest aspects of those films was the relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone had excellent chemistry which gave a lot of life to the film and also led to this memorable identity reveal.
After a disastrous first date, Peter struggles with how to juggle his new career as a crime-fighter and his relationship with Gwen. Finally, he uses his web shooter to grab Gwen and pull her in for a kiss as she freaks out about the revelation.
While the romantic moment doesn’t hold a candle to the iconic upside-down kiss from Raimi’s Spider-Man, it is pretty sweet. It’s also pretty realistic because any high school guy who is secretly Spider-Man would immediately reveal that identity in order to impress the prettiest girl in school. And the whole thing is only made better because of Stone’s hilarious reaction.
5. Batman in Batman Begins
Here again, we see Batman revealing his identity, and like Batman Returns, he is again doing it for a woman.
An interesting aspect Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy explored that isn’t usually seen in the Batman lore is the idea that rich playboy Bruce Wayne is the real disguise and his true persona is the protector of Gotham. This is explored most in Batman Begins, with the relationship between Bruce and his childhood sweetheart, Rachel Dawes.
Once Bruce returns to Gotham after years, Rachel confronts him about tarnishing his parents’ legacy saying, “it's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you.” Later in the film, after Batman saves Rachel for the ninth time, she asks him who he is before he goes off the risk his life. He responds by repeating her line, thus telling her who she is.
It’s a wonderful way of relating the overall theme of the film into this small moment between two characters and gets to the center of Nolan’s Batman. This is a hero who understands he doesn’t need to be seen as a hero so long as his actions have the right effect.
4. Captain America in Captain America: The Winter Solider
Unmasking scenes are often a dramatic moment, such as a hero finally revealing their identity to their love interest, or the hero coming face-to-face with a villain. Captain America: The Winter Solider actually has a bit of both.
At the center of the movie is Steve Rogers’ struggle with stopping Hydra and saving his childhood friend, Bucky, who was brainwashed into becoming the Winter Soldier. The climax of this struggle comes when Rogers, wearing his classic Captain America costume, confronts his old friend. Bucky only sees his next target and so they engage in a brutal battle which leave both of them severely inured. Finally, Steve has enough and takes off his mask, refusing to fight his friend anymore, repeating Bucky’s promise from years ago, “I’m with you until the end of the line.”
For such a big scale film, it works remarkably well when it focuses on this relationship between two old buddies who are now at odds. Everyone knows Steve Rogers is Captain America, but this unmasking is about showing Bucky that he still has a friend.
3. Rorschach in Watchmen
Rorschach is one of the more deranged members of the Watchmen (which is saying a lot) and even his fellow crime-fighter don’t know what’s beneath his ink-blot mask. After getting deep into the investigation of The Comedian’s death, he finds himself framed with the cops closing in. He attempts to fight his way out but is overpowered by the police and taken down. As they rip his mask off, Rorschach screams, “Give me back my face!”
Firstly, this is a significant reveal because it’s the first time the audience sees who is under the mask and keen watchers will notice he is the homeless man we saw early in the film. But the real impact of the scene is how it shows Rorschach’s instability, playing on heroes like Batman and how they perceive their disguise as their real identity.
2. Spider-Man in Spider-Man 2
Spider-Man 2 remains one of the gold standards for superhero films. It is funny, action-packed and tells a great story of Peter Parker’s attempt to juggle regular life with being a superhero. It also has one of the most memorable action sequences in recent memory with the thrilling train fight.
Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus face off in the middle of New York City and the battle spills onto on a passing train. Taking advantage of Spider-Man’s heroic sensibilities, Doc Ock sabotages the train and leaves it hurtling to certain disaster. Spider-Man jumps to front of the train and uses his webs and considerable strength to slow down the train, losing his mask in the process. After collapsing from the heroic act, the train’s passengers, lay Spider-Man down, becoming some of the few people to see Spidey’s real face. Once he wakes up, they give him his mask back and promise to keep his secret.
It’s a great hero moment and a great moment in Spider-Man’s history. Everyone wants to know who is under the mask, but these people are only thankful for him saving their lives.
1. Iron Man in Iron Man
Iron Man is certainly a great popcorn film, but beyond that it has become quite an influential film, especially in the genre. It gave audiences the iconic performance by Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, it kick-started an unbelievable cinematic universe, and it’s unmasking scene will go down as one of the most important superhero moments on film.
After defeating Obadiah Stane and saving the day, Stark has to give a press conference about his connection to the mysterious Iron Man. He is given a detailed and secure alibi, but as soon as he’s in front of the cameras, he delivers the iconic line, “I am Iron Man.”
Never before has a hero so proudly put aside any notion of anonymity and owned his superhero mantle. And of course, it is all too appropriate for the character of Tony Stark and the MCU carries on the concept of him as a celebrity hero. It brings another interesting level to an already fascinating hero, and as a bonus, it perfectly sets up the Black Sabbath song over the credits.
Which superhero unmasking is your favorite? Share it in the comments!