Trailers for Captain America: Winter Soldier have revealed images of the winged superhero Sam Wilson. His presence in the movie highlights the dearth of black superheroes, both in the genre, and specifically in film. Despite superhero movies having been around since Superman and the Mole Men was released in 1951, black superheroes didn’t arrive on the silver screen until the 1990s. Over the next few decades, they became more common, though only about 20 appeared on screen over the next two decades and DC has produced only a single movie with a black superhero. Despite the low numbers, some have truly stood out. Listed below are the seven greatest black superheroes in film.
7. Frozone (The Incredibles) – Voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, Frozone was almost a sidekick in terms of the story of the movie. Side kick or not, his snappy lines makes him a memorable character, despite the limited time he spends on the screen. He also, honestly, has the coolest powers of any character in the movie.
6. Steel (Steel) – This Shaquille O’Neal vehicle is based around a character that first appeared in the Superman comics. Despite this, neither Superman nor any other vestige of the DC universe appears anywhere in this movie. Shaq was a pretty terrible actor in a rather terrible movie, but he is historically important because he is the first major black superhero to appear on film.
5. Storm (X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand) – Storm is one of the earliest black superheroes in comic book lore and the first major black female superhero. She appeared in all three of the original X-Men movies, taking the reins as leader of the X-Men in X-Men: The Last Stand and will return to the screen in X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2014.
4. Hancock (Hancock) – Hancock is a rare superhero not based off of a comic book. The movie tells the story of a guy who is essentially a god among men, but without the moral compass of a hero like Superman. He isn’t evil, just uncaring. The story follows his path to learning compassion and discovering his past. Will Smith really sells the story of a man who is alone because of his power and what being a superhero in the real world would actually mean.
3. War Machine (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3) – War Machine is the perfect counter to Tony Stark’s Iron Man. He is a serious, rules abiding military soldier that truly understands the power of the armor that he wears. His responsibility highlights the lack that Tony has, making him less of a sidekick and more of a reflection of the title character. Both Howard Terence and Don Cheadle portray the role near perfectly, which is critical given how perfectly Robert Downey Jr. portrays Tony Stark.
2. Blade (Blade, Blade II, Blade: Trinity) – The Marvel half-vampire known as a day walker, starred in three movies focused on his personal story of finding the vampire that killed his mother and destroying all vampires on the planet. Blade is gruff, arrogant, and without compassion, which really is part of his charm. Wesley Snipes’ delivery of witty lines during the heavy action sequences is primarily what makes this character stand above almost all the rest.
1. Nick Fury (Iron Man 2, The Avengers) – Samuel L. Jackson bookends this list with his most famous superhero role: Nick Fury. The stern, brooding, and direct Fury is the polar opposite of Jackson’s Frozone. While he rarely gets to engage in action, he is the primary vehicle for forwarding the Marvel Universe films since Iron Man. He has actually appeared in four other Marvel films either uncredited or in a post-credit’s scene as well as having a cameo in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. His post-credit appearance in Iron Man, introduced the concept of an Avengers movie and he has been one of the most popular characters in Marvel movies ever since.