I had a conversation on Twitter a little while back with WJ Molinari and Dead Agent on which superheroes should be considered first tier and so on in terms of brand name. It was inspired by Iron Man being described as B-list, and Molinari wondering where that would put Captain Marvel. In the context that kicked off the conversation, I would agree that Iron Man and Thor were B-list until the movies did so well. Maybe they’re maybe A-List? I decided to put the recent promotions with a question mark since I don’t know if they will still be there when the dust settles and where they will be when the actors currently playing them are not playing them. I tend to be frugal with A-list status, but the Hollywood success of superhero movies, that list that used to be very short has been growing. Here are my definitions:
A-List: Instantly recognizable. Even people who aren’t superhero fans can tell you some things about the character. It’s not easy to not know who they are.
B-List: Pretty recognizable, but mostly as a costume and superpower (if any). You could probably swap out their identity or origin pretty easily. Anybody who is a fan will be able to tell you more.
C-List: Recognizable, has or could carry a movie or TV show but only if well done (not on brand name alone).
D-List: Characters you would need to explain to most people.
So my tiers would look like:
A) Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Captain America, Hulk, Wolverine? Iron Man? Thor?
B) Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Hawkman/Hawkgirl, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Punisher, Black Panther, Hawkeye?, Black Widow? Cyborg?
C) Martian Manhunter, Atom, Cyclops, Wasp, so many other characters
D) Booster Gold, Spectre, and the vast majority of characters ever.
I intentionally left partners and adjacent characters out. No Robin, no Supergirl, because those are special cases.
The Black Panther movie was so successful that I almost put it in A. But that’s all most people have. Of the recent promotions to A-List, I think Wolverine is the most sturdy. So sturdy I debated dropping the question mark. Without a doubt, he is the most recent character to become Really Big. Unless Black Panther.
Green Arrow’s TV show helped move him from C to B, and also Smallville and Brave and Bold, but really a lot of it was just the Robin Hood iconography. As soon as you see him you know who he is and what he can do. He may even be closer to A than C, in fact… but he’s still not A.
Captain America is an odd case where I’m not sure how many people could tell you his origin but he is so iconic I think that overcomes that. He’s the only one on the top list where you could change the origin pretty easily, if you wanted to.
I felt like Shazam was B just because there is something instantly familiar about his costume, but maybe it’s more of a C?
I struggled whether to put Spawn in B or C. There are other non-Marvel/non-DC heroes in B: The Shadow, Zorro, Green Hornet. Savage Dragon is in C.
What do you think?