In a world of expanding franchises and multiverses, character origin movies play a key role in the development of our favorite characters.
From heroic superheroes to dastardly villains and all the unusual characters in between, it's always interesting to see how these infamous figures came to be who they are. And in some cases, when one origin story fails, it's fun to see the next attempt at it.
Indeed, there are so many character origin movies out there, and plenty of them have bombed—or, at the very least, have been forgotten due to their extreme mediocrity and/or empty fan service.
It's rare for a character origin movie to be downright awesome, but it happens from time to time. Here are our picks for the best character origin movies ever made and why they stand out!
10. Cruella (2021)
The most recent film on our list is Cruella, a crime-comedy that's bursting with energy, wit, and a poppy soundtrack, which fits perfectly with its notorious protagonist: Cruella de Vil.
She first appeared as the antagonist of Dodie Smith's 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians, which was later animated by Disney in 1961 and brought to life by Glenn Close in 1996.
Cruella de Vil is known for her monochromatic fashion style and her eccentric personality. Emma Stone puts on her best British accent for her rendition of the villainous fashionista, who begins life as the orphan Estrella under Craig Gillespie's direction.
9. Iron Man (2008)
Every iconic Avenger has their own origin movie, but our favorite is still the very first MCU movie: Iron Man.
A billionaire playboy who made weapons for the US military, Tony finds himself ambushed in war-torn Afghanistan and almost dies. When a doctor implants an electromagnet into Tony's chest, he himself becomes a weapon and dubbed the first superhero of the world.
Made before the onslaught of Marvel sequels, prequels, and spin-offs, Iron Man remains one of the greatest superhero movies. Immortalized by Robert Downey Jr., Tony Stark was a wealthy prodigy of mechanical engineering before he was ever flying around in a suit of armor.
8. X-Men: First Class (2011)
There's more than one gang of superheroes (and supervillains) with cool superpowers in the MCU. Next to the Avengers, there's the X-Men.
The live-action X-Men movies first appeared on the big screen in 2000, but with X-Men: First Class in 2011, director Matthew Vaughn took us back in time to the 1960s to show us the beginnings of Charles Xavier and his recruiting for his school of mutant students.
Not yet bald or wheelchair-bound, James McAvoy plays the young British genius as he earns his doctorate in Oxford. Meanwhile, Erik Lehnsherr (played by Michael Fassbender) is hunting down Nazis in bloodthirsty vengeance.
The main goal of X-Men: First Class is to establish the legendary friendship-turned-rivalry between Professor X and Magneto, which is achieved by McAvoy and Fassbender's sparking chemistry.
7. Prometheus (2012)
Ridley Scott, champion of the sci-fi genre, brings us the ultimate origin story: mankind itself. Set in 2089, Prometheus follows a team of scientists who encounter a horrifying truth about the birth of humanity.
Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, and Charlize Theron make up the all-star cast, who venture into the deep and dark chambers of the universe. You can bet they wish they'd skipped out on this one!
Given that this is meant to be a precursor to the Alien franchise, we recommend starting with Prometheus for any Alien-themed movie marathon you might have, despite it being made later on.
6. Spider-Man (2002)
Tobey Maguire recently reprised his role as the original movie Spider-Man in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Alongside his fellow webbed gymnasts Tom Holland and Andrew Garfield, Maguire appeared as an alternate version of Peter Parker in Marvel's Spider-Verse.
However, there was a time when Maguire was the only big-screen Peter Parker around—long before Andrew Garfield swung in for a reboot in 2012, long before Tom Holland won over hearts in the MCU.
We're picking Sam Raimi's Spider-Man origin movie for this list, where the high school senior gets bitten by a radioactive spider.
5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
The original Planet of the Apes movie series from 1968 to 1973 was all the rage back in the day. Tim Burton tried to revive it in 2001 but flopped, and then Rupert Wyatt decided to give it another shot in 2011.
The result was Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which lays out the foundation for its following two sequels (in 2014 and 2017), where apes take over Earth from mankind.
Rupert Wyatt's origin story is much more nuanced than the apocalyptic war movies that came after it. It tells the touching story of a young chimpanzee who's raised like a human by his loving owner, played by James Franco.
Caesar (animated by motion capture pro Andy Serkis) is vastly intelligent due to being the product of animal testing, but that also makes him the victim of great injustice.
4. Casino Royale (2006)
"The name's Bond. James Bond."
We've all heard of the man from his numerous incarnations since 1961, but where did he really come from? No one truly knows, but the closest thing James Bond has to an origin story is Casino Royale, which is based on Ian Fleming's first Bond novel published in 1953.
As the first installment of the Daniel Craig line of James Bond films, we're considering it the root of the modern franchise—and it also happens to be the best one in the series.
Daniel Craig's rendition of the MI6 spy takes us through all sorts of action-packed thrills. Promoted to 00 Agent with a license to kill, the James Bond of Casino Royale is tasked with preventing a mob banker from winning a poker game. Easier said than done.
3. Joker (2019)
The Joker is arguably the most famous supervillain. Like, ever.
It's no wonder that fans were divided when it was announced that director Todd Phillips would take a standalone indie film approach to his origin story, deviating from the standard Hollywood blockbuster.
Joaquin Phoenix shed pounds and put on a happy face for his version of the iconic Batman villain, following legendary incarnations by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger. (Let's forget Jared Leto, if we can.)
Reminiscent of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Joker is full of grain, grime, and grit, in which failed comedian Arthur Fleck suffers with Pseudobulbar Affect, causing him to break down and adopt a clown alter ego.
2. Batman Begins (2005)
The inception of Batman was best told by auteur director Christopher Nolan, who's been hailed for his direction of The Dark Knight trilogy. The series begins with the (aptly titled) Batman Begins, in which Christian Bale stars as the rich businessman Bruce Wayne.
As Gotham City is worn down by its criminal underworld, Wayne is recruited by the League of Shadows to train in the art of fighting. Putting his money to good use, he hires an engineer to build all his super weapons and fights crime under the shadow of night.
Who needs magical powers when you've got wads of cash and six-pack abs? Batman Begins does the superhero justice.
1. The Godfather Part II (1974)
The Godfather is widely considered one of the best movies ever made, but its prequel is even better in many ways—so it's only fitting that this mafia character origin movie makes it on this list.
The Godfather Part II marks the second film in Francis Ford Coppola's trilogy, which follows the infamous Corleone crime family.
Switching between two timelines—before and after the events of The Godfather—this film takes us back to 1901, when a younger Vito Corleone (this time portrayed by Robert De Niro) escapes the Sicilian Mafia by taking a boat to New York City.
After going through the procedures of Ellis Island, Vito settles down to start a family—one that evolves into an iconic criminal empire.