Black superheroes were once fodder for blaxploitation films or relegated to novelty casting like Shaq. The truth is that there have always been great black superheroes. Most didn’t get much as much attention as their white counterparts and didn’t get the budget for big name stars.
Then actors like Don Cheadle and Halle Berry kicked in the door and elevated black superheroes to new heights. In honor of Black History Month and because so many people still don’t know some of these characters, let’s change that.
Which ten are the best? Who could star in a movie all their own? Let’s find out.
- They must be a hero or anti-hero, no assassins or villains.
- Extra points if they aren’t based off another hero.
#10 – War Machine
As played by Don Cheadle
“Yeah, well, that’s two problems down. The World is saved, again, and I’ve made up with Tony Stark. Now I got to solve my own problems.” – War Machine, War Machine #11
Colonel James Rhodes was an average soldier until a mission went bad. He was investigating reports of a secret Viet Cong base when his helicopter was shot down. He survived and found the base, but was surprised to find it already under attack by a metal man. He and this ‘Iron Man’ destroyed the base and Rhodes returned to his unit, where he met Tony Stark. Tony thanked Rhodes for helping his bodyguard* and offered him a job as a pilot once the war was over.
Col. Rhodes eventually learned Iron Man’s identity when Stark passed out during a fight. Rhodes became Iron Man when Tony descended into alcoholism. While Tony recuperated, he created a similar suit for Rhodes, the War Machine.
Solo Movie Chance: 30%. War Machine’s story is too intertwined with Iron Man to make a solo movie.
Best in the role: Don Cheadle
#9 – Steel
As played by Shaquille O’Neill
Irons: “I owe you my life!”
Superman: “Then make it count for something!” – The Death of Superman
Regular guy construction worker John Henry Irons saw Superman knocked down while fighting Doomsday. Irons tried distracting Doomsday and wound up in a coma for his trouble. When he awakened, he learned that Doomsday had killed Superman in the fight.
Irons realized that Metropolis needed a Man of Steel after Superman’s death and built his own suit of armor to become the new MOS.
Solo Movie Chance: 40%. Steel was released in 1997, but was garbage. I don’t think Steel will get a second movie, but he might appear in a Superman movie.
#8 – Blade
As played by Wesley Snipes
“I’ll take help from the devil himself to find you, Frost. And when I do find you, I’m gonna bury you.” -Blade, Blade (2011 TV)
Blade’s story is not a happy one. Eric Brooks’ mother was being killed by a vampire named Deacon Frost as Eric was being born. He survived, but his blood was tainted and he developed all the strengths of a vampire with none of their weaknesses.
Eric sought revenge and hired a retired vampire hunter to teach him. He became skilled enough to gain two nicknames. His prey call him Daywalker; everyone else calls him Blade.
Solo Movie Chance: 60%. There was a Blade movie trilogy in the early 2000s. I’m not sure he’d get a movie, but could easily see a new Netflix show.
#7 – Black Lightning
As played by Bumper Robinson
Black Lightning: “ So you really call yourself Mr. Terrific? ”
Mr. Terrific: “ You really call yourself Black Lightning? ”
Black Lightning: “Hey, back when I started in this business, I was the only one of us around. I wanted to make sure everyone knew who they were dealing with. ” – Infinite Crisis
Black Lightning was the first black superhero to star in their own comic book series. Jefferson Pierce was an Olympic champion who returned to his roots and became a high school principal. He was born with the power to shoot electricity like Spider-Man shoots webbing, but early books said that he made a belt to generate the electricity. It doesn’t really matter. The guy could shoot electricity, okay?
Due to legal issues, DC couldn’t use Black Lightning in TV shows or movies. They wound up creating so many stand-ins for Black Lightning that “electric black guy” became a trope.
Solo Movie Chance: 50% The restriction has been lifted in recent years. Black Lightning has a TV show scheduled for Fox. If it’s successful, we might see Black Lightning on the silver screen.
#6 – Static Shock
Played by Phil Lamarr
“ The name’s Static! I put a shock to your system! ” – Static’s catchphrase
Huh, a hero who isn’t (originally) from DC or Marvel and one inspired by Black Lightning to boot!
High schooler Virgil Hawkins was caught in the crossfire of a gang war. A stray bullet caused a new chemical weapon to be released. Everyone caught in the blast gained superpowers. Virgil’s were electric. I told you that black guys and electricity became a trope. He made good of the accident and began fighting crime using the name Static Shock.
Static Shock was Milestone Comic’s most popular character. An Emmy-winning Static Shock cartoon was made in 2000, introducing the character to people who had never even heard of Milestone or Static. Static joined the DC Universe following a 2008 merger.
Solo Movie Chance: 60%. Static was a popular character. Warner Brothers is reportedly making a live-action Static Shock television show.
#5 The Falcon
Played by Anthony Mackie
Sam: “I’m not perfect, but I’m not that person. I’m Samuel Wilson, raised by Paul and Darlene Wilson to fight people like you for a better world. Like it or not, Nazi, I am Captain America.” – All-New Captain America (yes, the new one!)
Sam Wilson was a social worker who rescued an injured Captain America from Red Skull. Cap inspired Sam to stand up to villains like HYDRA and offered to train him. Sam became The Falcon, Captain America’s partner. Black Panther later gave him a flight harness that allowed him to fly.
Falcon became an Avenger, even leading the team on occasion. When Steve Rogers lost his powers, Falcon became the All-New Captain America.
Solo Movie Chance: 70%. Falcon has been getting a lot of screen time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If Steve Rogers dies in Avengers: Infinity War, I could see Falcon becoming Captain America.
#4 – Cyborg
As played by Ray Fisher
Brother Blood: “Where in this vile contraption is the part that allows you to resist [me]! ”
Cyborg: “It’s not in the circuitry, is it? It’s not the machine that resists you. It’s me, my spirit, that’s the part you can’t break!” – “Titans East”, Teen Titans, Season 3, Episode 13
Victor Stone’s father was a prominent scientist who never had time for his son. While the pair argued after Mr. Stone missed one of Victor’s football games, a lab accident severely injured Victor. The only way Mr. Stone could save his son was to make him a cyborg, a human-machine hybrid.
Victor took the name Cyborg and ran away, eventually meeting the Teen Titans, a group of sidekicks and freaks who accepted him. At peace and with friends, Cyborg managed to graduate to the Justice League.
Solo Movie Chance: 100%. Cyborg’s origin was shown in Batman v. Superman. He will appear in The Justice League movie and is getting a solo movie in 2020.
#3 Luke Cage
As played by Mike Colter
“I don’t believe in Harlem. I believe in the people who make Harlem what it is.” – Luke Cage, “Just to Get a Rep” (episode 1, season 5)
Luke Cage started as a blaxploitation character, but has become something more. Luke has been everything from a Hero for Hire to an Avenger. Heck, he’s even been a symbol for the political movement Black Lives Matter. Read all about him in our exclusive Luke Cage backstory
Solo Movie Chance: 50%. Marvel will probably keep Luke as the star of a successful Netflix show.
#2 – Black Panther
Played by Chadwick Boseman
Klaw: (holding T’Challa’s mother hostage) “ I told you -”
T’Challa: “That you would kill my mother? You will anyway. That you would destroy my kingdom? You would do that, too. It doesn’t really matter what you do – I’m still going to kill you. So what’s your leverage?” – Black Panther, season 1, episode 6
T’challa is the king of Wakanda, a fictional nation known for its stores of the element Vibranium. T’challa is also the Black Panther, Wakanda’s mystic protector. He’s an Avenger and a member of the Illuminati, a group of heroes that manipulate other heroes from behind the scenes. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his backstory here.
Solo Movie Chance: 100%. Black Panther’s movie will be released in 2018, fittingly in February.
#1 – Storm
Played by Halle Berry
“I am a woman, a mutant, a thief, an X-Men, a lover, a wife, a queen. I am all these things. I am Storm, and for me, there are no such things as limits.” –X-Men: Worlds Apart
Our choice for the greatest black superhero. The X-Men’s weather witch, Storm.
Ororo Munroe was an orphan living in Egypt whose parents were killed in the Suez Crisis. She became a street thief and met her future mentor Charles Xavier when she tried to pick his pocket. Her weather-control mutation activated shortly afterwards. Local tribes believed her to be a weather goddess, which she believed until she met the X-Men and was chagrined to learn that she was a mutant instead of a goddess.
When the X-Men went MIA during a mission, Xavier recruited Storm to help find them. She succeeded and joined the team, eventually becoming its leader. She’s been an X-Man, an Avenger, joined the Fantastic Four, and even became the queen of Wakanda after marrying Black Panther.
Solo Movie Chance: 30%. Storm is too entrenched in the X-Men’s story for a solo movie.
Well that’s our list. Who do you think is the greatest black superhero? Let us know in a comment.
* Iron Man’s cover story at the time.
Jared Bounacos has written for Movie Rewind since 2017.