1990s Superhero Movies Ranked

14. Steel (1997)

Following a disastrous weapons test, friends and R&D engineers for the army John Henry Irons (Shaquille O’Neil) and Susan “Sparky” Sparks (Annabeth Gish) quit the military and begin life as vigilantes, using an advanced suit of armour to fight against criminal gangs in Los Angeles who are using the same experimental weapons that left Sparky in a wheelchair.

This was a Quincy Jones production, but he didn’t lend any of his own music to the score. The second big screen black superhero (beaten by a matter of weeks by Spawn) doesn’t do justice to an important Superman comics supporting character and it’s no real surprise Shaq’s post-NBA acting career never really took off. And yet, there are a couple of things going for it including a prominent disabled superhero supporting character in Sparky.

This is unfortunately a pretty clumsily told story with few surprises, and the action leaves a lot to be desired. Poor Shaq, despite his imposing seven foot frame, is left staggering around in an awkward and unwieldy metal superhero suit for much of the runtime, and the film comes to a screeching halt after a bare minimum runtime is delivered.

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13. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Four mutated turtles, trained in the art of ninjitsu by a likewise mutated rat originally from Japan, fight the elusive Foot Clan in New York City.

TMNT as a franchise is one you either really get or you really don’t. The film was released at just the right time with the comics and animated series at their popular height, and fans doubtless praise its faithfulness to the source material. The action is serviceable more than remarkable even if some of the visuals remain pretty iconic, but you’ve got to put up with a lot of broad Japanese cultural stereotypes and outdated ideas of what teenagers in the 90s sounded like in order to have fun. 

Say whatever else you will about what works and what doesn’t in the film; the animatronic turtle suits by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop still look amazing three decades on.

12. The Guyver (1991)

A powerful sentient alien suit of armour chooses its latest bearer, Sean Barker (Jack Armstrong), and fights extra-terrestrial Zoanoids disguised as humans and bent on world domination.

Taking the lead character from a popular Manga series and transposing him stateside to tell a very loose version of the comics story, The Guyver is an admittedly pretty strange beast.

Most of the cast you’ve never heard of, but you do have two actors from Re-Animator (David Gale and Jeffrey Combs) gamely hamming it up for the camera, and Star Wars Mark Hamill fighting for screen time with a terrible moustache. About the only thing that really makes The Guyver worth a look are some cool practical creature effects from Screaming Mad George (who also directed) that somehow survive the film’s many fight scenes, work that frankly makes the same efforts in Power Rangers look embarrassingly amateur in comparison despite costing quite a bit less to make.

11. Spawn (1997)

Successful hit-man and mercenary Al Simmons (Michael Jai White) is betrayed, murdered and forced to make a deal with dark powers in order to return to Earth to save his family and stop his killers from unleashing a new hell on the world.

Spawn had vividly memorable production design throughout and the effects are still interesting enough to (mostly) hold up, but the ambitious themes and scale are not quite delivered on and the screenplay could do with some refinement – being a comic book adaptation is not an excuse to completely lack nuance. Michael Jai White is OK in the lead, and John Leguizamo is funny in an irritating way that fits his demonic clown character, but Martin Sheen (Badlands) is God-awful even as scenery-chewing baddies go.

There are potentially some great ideas here, but too few of them are executed well. The visual effects are undeniably influential on both good films (Hellboy) and bad (Ghost Rider), and a superhero’s suit has rarely looked so comic-accurate and awesome on film. As the first big screen live-action African American superhero, and an R-Rated one at that, it is arguable that without Spawn you might never have had Blade.

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