We’re deep into the magic of awards season, and as usual, we doubt that many superheroes are going to be making an acceptance speech. Despite the vast popularity of comic book movies and TV series over the past decade, our favorite caped crusaders are usually overlooked when it comes to accolades, although it does look like that is slowly starting to change. This year, Ryan Reynolds might just be making his way to the stage with a Golden Globe nomination for Deadpool, which is huge news for comic book fans. Red suits and R-ratings aside, though, superheroes always seem to get left out come awards time.
So we’ve decided to fix that. Screen Rant might not have any say in the nominations room for golden statuettes, but we can celebrate some of our favorite superheroes of 2016 just the same. From DC and Marvel’s live-action offerings on the big and small screen, we’ve pulled together the best characters and moments of the past twelve months.
Here are Screen Rant's 2016 Superhero Awards.
Most years, Steve Rogers would win this category with his hands tied behind his back, but 2016 saw a few changes in the loyalties of the super-soldier. Captain America: Civil War found Steve (Chris Evans) at odds with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and the US government as a whole. Despite his move into the more shady areas of heroism, and his decisions to protect Bucky (Sebastian Stan) rather than obey government officials, we still think that he deserves to keep his patriotic title. His beef with the men in charge was borne out of his own kind of patriotism and self-sufficiency, as well as his experience of corruption in the past. Captain America is still 100% American in the MCU – even if his comic book counterpart shocked fans with a reveal that he supports Hydra!
While Steve Rogers retains the patriot title, Stark very nearly took it from him this year. The billionaire tech genius is dealing with the guilt of his part in Ultron’s rise, and has become very loyal to the government this year. It’s a big turnaround, as most would assume that such an arrogant individual would be eager to throw off government control, but this inversion is key to what makes Civil War (both the movie and the comics) so fascinating.
It’s been a good year for women in comic book adaptations – and although there aren’t nearly so many contenders for this category as we would like, we’re happy to see more each year. The breakout female star for 2016 is, of course, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). One of the best parts of Suicide Squad, Harley might be crazy, but she certainly knows how to use that baseball bat! A talented acrobat, she kicks ass in stilettos and is a firm believer that being a badass doesn’t necessitate a boring black outfit. In addition to the character’s general awesomeness, let’s not forget that Robbie did almost all of her own stunts, which is jaw-droppingly impressive.
A close second for our favorite lipsticked hero of the year has to be Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Although Agent Carter ended in 2016 (after only two seasons), Peggy remains one of Marvel’s most stylish heroes. She manages to take down her enemies in heels and skirts, all without a hair out of place. It’s amazing, and it’s all topped off with her signature bright red lipstick.
Not all good guys have always been good guys – and both the MCU and the DCEU are peppered with reformed criminals and redemption arcs. While there are plenty to choose from, the standout (who is only barely reformed, if we’re honest) is Mick Rory, aka Heatwave (Dominic Purcell). One of the headlining stars of Legends of Tomorrow, he first appeared alongside his partner in crime Leonard Snart/Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), and last year was all about Leonard’s journey from criminal to hero. This year, Mick has been doing some developing of his own, and while he still takes great pride in his criminal heritage (to phenomenal comic effect), he’s definitely become a hero in his own right, and we can’t wait to see where he goes from here.
Coming a close second is the star of Marvel’s best show of 2016: Luke Cage (Mike Colter). The protagonist of the Netflix series of the same name, Luke isn’t just a reformed criminal, but a man on the run. He gets the silver medal on this one because he’s not really a criminal; at least, not in the same sense that Mick is. Luke was wrongfully convicted, and his actual crimes (his escape, and his actions as a vigilante) were entirely justified.
There has actually been more than one Alfred Pennyworth on screen in 2016 – the Alfred in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (played by Jeremy Irons), and the Alfred in Gotham (played by Sean Pertwee). While both have their charms, it’s Pertwee that really knocked our socks off (for the third season running). Gotham’s Alfred is younger, tougher, and much darker than most previous Wayne manservants, and does as much to physically protect the young Bruce (David Mazouz) as he does to train and care for him. His violence is balanced by a dry wit that is a joy to watch, making Alfred the surprise stand-out character of the show.
A close second is the original Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), who teamed up with Peggy Carter to kick ass, stop criminals, and still cater to Howard Stark’s (Dominic Cooper) bizarre whims. Last year (season one of the show), Jarvis struggled to balance his desire for calm and order with his desire to help the headstrong Peggy. This year, however, Jarvis truly came into his own.
Marvel truly took a dive into the psychedelic this past year with the introduction of the Sorcerer Supreme. The origin story of Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) was both a return to the early days of Marvel heroes (with many comparing it to Iron Man), and the start of a new chapter for the MCU – now with time travel!
Doctor Strange is packed with amazing visuals and trippy takes on the multi-dimensional magic of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), and we absolutely loved it. Bonus points for Dr. Strange’s emphasis on study and hard work, as he trained to become the magic wielder that took down Dormammu (or at least, annoyed him enough to make him go away). It’s an impressive change from the majority of heroes, who gain their powers through experiments and accidents.
Runner-up goes to Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), whose reality-bending abilities make her one of the most powerful Avengers in the MCU -- albeit one of the least-trained. Impressive as she is, however, 2016 didn’t see enough of her to warrant that number one spot.
Marvel and DC now both have a charming, brown-haired hero who dons a suit that allows them to shrink to a fraction of their normal size. It's all pretty impressive, really, given that ‘being really small’ is rarely something that comes up when discussing superpowers. Marvel’s Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) has the edge, though – even though his solo movie came out in 2015, not 2016. Not only is he funny and impressively capable, but he was a perfect audience surrogate in Captain America: Civil War, and we fell in love with him when he fanboyed over the other heroes.
In addition to Ant-Man’s general lovability, Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) is partially disqualified in 2016. While he spent a decent chunk of time on previous seasons of both Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow as a microscopic hero, he lost his suit this year. Ray’s story arc explored his place on the team when he is incapable of suit-based heroics, and although he managed to craft a second suit in recent episodes of Legends, he’s done surprisingly little shrinking in 2016.
The new leader of the Legends, White Canary is definitely one of the more underrated superheroes in DC’s Arrowverse. Initially the Canary on Arrow, Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) became the time-travelling assassin known as the White Canary while her sister Laurel (Katie Cassidy) became the new Black Canary. Laurel may have received the lion’s share of the attention, but we love Sara far more. She’s not only a league-trained assassin, but she’s a lot more comfortable with her dark side. She’s also a hard-drinking, card-carrying badass who found time to seduce the Queen of France and was nearly burned at the stake as a witch. This year, she’s come into her own as the Legends leader, and we can’t wait to see how she reacts to Rip Hunter’s (Arthur Darvill) return in 2017.
The Winter Soldier, meanwhile, gets the prize for Marvel’s best assassin – he may be enhanced and brainwashed, but he’s also incredibly good at what he’s been forced to do.
There were plenty of fiery superheroes on screen this year, and we do love the spectacle of superpowers engulfed in flames. By far the best new flame-thrower, however, was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Ghost Rider (Gabriel Luna). The vengeful spirit rode into Marvel’s flagging super-show and made a huge difference to fans who have been waiting since season one to get a well-known hero onto the small screen. The flaming skull of Ghost Rider certainly achieved that goal, and in addition, we got to see a fantastic arc of revenge and redemption as Robbie Reyes slowly learned to trust S.H.I.E.L.D.
Legends of Tomorrow also gave us a few favorite fiery heroes this year, with the brilliant odd-couple hero duo that is Firestorm (Franz Drameh/Victor Garber) as well as our favorite firebug Heatwave. Although both heroes are an indispensable part of the Legends team, and we loved hearing Mick describe his pyromaniac proclivities to Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), they just didn’t have the same impact on their series that Ghost Rider did.
As usual, plenty of new heroes joined the MCU and the DCEU in 2016, with each universe’s big ensemble movie bringing us a few new faces. The most exciting new hero of the year, however, was Batman V Superman’s Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). Fans were thrilled to see this third member of DC’s Holy Trinity finally get a shot at the big screen, and for many, Gadot’s performance was the highlight of the divisive film. We also get to look forward to her return in 2017, when Diana Prince will return for her own solo outing – the first female-fronted superhero movie in over a decade, and the only female-fronted superhero movie so far for the DCEU or the MCU. We were thrilled to see her do battle with the boys, and can’t wait to see more of this iconic superhero next year.
Another major introduction to a superhero cinematic universe was Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who made his debut in Captain America: Civil War, and who will also be getting his own solo flick in 2018. Keep your eyes peeled for that one, folks; it's shaping up to be one hell of a ride.
Deadpool might even win a legitimate award this year (and we sincerely hope that it does), but there was no doubt that on our list, Deadpool had to get the gold for Funniest Hero. The wise-cracking, fourth-wall-breaking Merc with a Mouth showed everyone the right way to combine humor and violence in 2016. In almost every scene, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) mixes gore with gags, joking his way through mass murder to get the girl. Even the promotional material was hilarious. We cannot wait to laugh our butts off again during the sequel (planned for 2018).
While Deadpool is the clear winner in this category, there was plenty of competition, especially among the Marvel heroes known for their humor. Our new Spider-Man (Tom Holland) also made his debut this year, and did it with his own brand of awkward teen humor that audiences loved. There’s little doubt that the quip-tastic hero will be in the running for funniest hero of 2017 (although the Guardians of the Galaxy may also put up some stiff competition).
What’s the use of comedy without a little tragedy to balance it out? 2016 saw the demise of multiple characters on the big and the small screen, but we went through the most tissues when Captain Cold bit the big one. Leonard Snart went from petty thief to true hero, and his sass kept us smiling throughout season one of Legends of Tomorrow. We loved his friendships with Sara Lance and Mick Rory, his impressive talents, and his unique fighting style. But most of all, we loved seeing him become a good guy, and our hearts broke when he went back in time to give his younger self a pep talk. Those hearts were completely smashed, then, when the end of season one saw Leonard sacrifice himself to save his team. Thankfully, being a time travel show, he’s not gone for good… but his death was a huge bummer nonetheless.
A second death with real impact this year was the Ancient One’s passing in Doctor Strange. Although this wasn’t entirely unexpected, it was absolutely beautiful. Watching the world slow down at the moment of her passing made for a genuinely perfect comic book scene, all while showcasing the kind of visual effects that made this movie so impressive.
Heroes can be half-sized, as we saw this year with a slew of teen and pre-teen superheroes. The X-Men franchise in particular saw the return of the classic team in teenage form. Alongside the existing heroes of Fox’s superhero universe, new iterations of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) banded together to take down Apocalypse (Oscar Issac). Of these younger mutants, it was Jean Grey who was the most impressive (understandably), as she started to tap into the immensity of her power this year. It looks like we won’t be wasting much more time before Jean comes into her own as one of the most powerful X-Men, and we can’t wait.
In a different universe, there is another team of young heroes-to-be: Gotham. We were big fans of mini-Batman David Mazouz this season, as his take on young Bruce Wayne continues his training, develops his relationship with Selena (Camren Bicondova), and decides to take on the Court of Owls. However, he’s still got a long way to go before becoming the Dark Knight, and he's far from being the true star of this series.
Supergirl had a bit of a rocky start in 2015, but season two of the new series saw Kara Zor-El’s solo series join the Arrowverse on the CW, and things have improved hugely. Since the shift, Supergirl has fast become our favorite alien, taking on all kinds of threats to National City while attempting to build a career as a reporter, a friendship with Mon-El (Chris Wood), and still managing to find time for her friends and family. She’s sweet and conflicted and one of the more relatable superheroes, despite being from another planet. While there are plenty of other alien contenders on the series, Kara is the clear winner in our eyes this year.
Her cousin, Superman, is also a favorite for 2016 – although we are talking about the Supergirl version, rather than Henry Cavill in the DCEU. Tyler Hoechlin made his first full appearance on the show this season, and fans were thrilled to see a brighter, lighter version of the iconic DC hero. Hoechlin’s Clark Kent actually seems to enjoy his heroics, and is always ready with a wink and a smile after saving an innocent. He’s the Superman that comic fans know and love, and he very nearly stole the show from Kara in 2016.
There are plenty of predictable romances in comic book adaptations – after all, we all know who ends up together in the books! When a show decides to switch things up a little, that’s where things get really interesting (although the die-hard fans aren’t always happy with the changes). One of the best romantic storylines this year has been on Gotham, where Riddler’s (Cory Michael Smith) friendship with Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) took a dark turn. The devious Penguin fell in love with his friend, and (like a good villain) went from pining after Ed to murdering his girlfriend. It was a plotline that is both sweet and sad, while also managing to be dark, twisted, and mired in betrayals… and we love it.
Another unusual love story is at the heart of Deadpool, where the mercenary Wade Wilson falls in love with a prostitute named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). These two are like a rom-com couple with a big twist – that they both love booze, sex, violence, and competing to see whose life is the most messed up. We’re rooting for them in Deadpool 2!
Nerds are well-represented in the world of comic book adaptations right now, especially in the Arrowverse, where it seems like every hero has to have his tech support. It’s difficult to decide between Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards), Cisco (Carlos Valdes) and Winn (Jeremy Jordan), but for 2016, Cisco rose above the rest. Not only has Barry Allen’s (Grant Gustin) nerdy friend actually started to truly understand his own powers as Vibe, but he’s also gone through a ton of personal trauma this year. He lost his brother to Flashpoint, he has been on a non-stop rollercoaster of emotion around Barry and Team Flash, and he’s had to do battle his best friend Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker). Through it all, though, he’s remained the best interdimensional tech guy that a superhero could ask for.
Winn has also been experimenting with the superhero life, working aongside James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), who recently elected to dip his toes into vigilantism and became the Guardian. He hasn’t quite risen to the heights of Cisco for pure technical ability, but his new job at the DEO is definitely pointing toward a better use of his talents in 2017.
There are clear heroes, and then there are some of the murkier ‘good guys’. Vigilantes are always the target for ire, and often, that anger comes from other superheroes. Our new big screen Batman (played by Ben Affleck) is definitely winning the most misunderstood trophy this year – not only does he come with all the usual angst and darkness of the caped crusader, but Affleck’s Batman is older, more damaged, and much more bitter than some of his previous incarnations. We’re really enjoying this new take on Bruce Wayne, and can’t wait to see him in future Justice League and solo projects.
Coming in a close second to the Darkest Knight we've seen thus far is Bucky Barnes. The Winter Soldier is definitely misunderstood by the government in Captain America: Civil War, and his persecution as an assassin (when he really seems to be more of a victim) is one of the key plot points of this epic throwdown between the Avengers.
There are plenty of superheroes with quotable catchphrases. From small screen Oliver Queen’s "You have failed this city" (spoken by Stephen Amell), to the absolute classic "I am Batman", heroes have always been ready with a quip. Our favorite from this year comes from 2016’s Marvel/Netflix offering, Luke Cage. The titular star has a few fantastic lines throughout the series, but it’s his classic catchphrase that had fans cheering. “Sweet Christmas” has been Luke’s go-to exclamation since his days as Power Man in the comics, and we were beyond thrilled to see it brought to life on the small screen.
Of course, when it comes to superhero movies that are quotable from start to finish, rather than having just one fantastic catchphrase, we’ve got to talk about Deadpool. A key component of the character is his slightly manic banter, and Ryan Reynolds (and the writers, obviously) did a spectacular job of bringing this to life in the film. We couldn’t pick just one best quote, though, which is why Cage has the edge.
We got to see some fantastic new powers on display in 2016 – some coming from new characters, and others as part of the development of an existing character. Either way, it’s always exciting to see something totally new in a superhero series. Our favorite brand-new character and power goes to Steel/Nate Heywood (Nick Zano). One of the new additions to the Legends team comes with the ability to turn his skin to steel (thanks to an injection from Ray Palmer), and it looks fantastic. It’s also incredibly useful, as he's invulnerable in Steel form, a truly heavy hitter, and a useful shield for his teammates. It also makes him one of the few Legends to have a ‘natural’ power (admittedly one given to him through science), as the majority are either well-trained or well-armed, and otherwise human.
We also got to see an old friend show off a new trick in Captain America: Civil War, when Ant-Man revealed that not only is he capable of shrinking, but now, he's tapped into his suit's ability to grow to extraordinary sizes. We cannot wait to see more of this in Ant-Man And The Wasp, although we’ll have to wait till 2018 for that.
There were two obvious contenders for this one, and it’s hard to choose between such iconic pairings! Smaller-scale bromantic rivalries (like Wally West and Barry Allen, or Ray Palmer and Nate Heywood) just pale in comparison to these two pairs of heavy hitters. Although Batman and Superman definitely had an epic throwdown, it was Captain America and Tony Stark who came out on top for us. Fans had a hard time with the eventual bromance born of moms with the same name, and Bats and Supes are more like enemies than rivals for much of their big 2016 outing. Cap and Tony, on the other hand, have a long history together, have been teammates for years, and their issues came from a very different place. And, of course, who didn’t well up just a little at Tony’s shock and sorrow when Cap was willing to fire on him. We know, Tony. We thought he was your friend too.
Cap and Tony, on the other hand, have a long history together, have been teammates for years, and their issues came from a very different place. And, of course, who didn’t well up just a little at Tony’s shock and sorrow when Cap was willing to fire on him? We know, Tony. We thought he was your friend, too.
2016 wasn’t the greatest year for comic book villains, and fans were especially disappointed in the latest big screen incarnation of Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). There were a few stand out bad guys, though, and our favorite has to be the villain in charge of all the other villains: Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). Not only was she in command of an entire team of villainous criminals, but she was the epitome of a ruthless, heartless, government official. Waller has no sympathy for her team or the lives of the Suicide Squad's members, and she also has no compunction about putting potential killers to work (and keeping it a secret). She’s cold and brutal, and it’s gloriously terrifying. In a movie that seemed to define the term 'mixed bag', she stood out in a major way.
Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) and his cousin Mariah (Alfre Woodard) also made for wonderfully compelling baddies in Luke Cage. Both were their own brand of ruthless, as well as being complex villains with a wonderfully crafted backstory. These two represented the two extremes of crime in Luke Cage’s Harlem, and the way that they played off each other was pure magic to watch.
What say you, Screen Ranters? Was there a missing category you'd hoped would make an appearance? Disagree with any of our picks? Sound off in the comments.