Superhero Movies that Fight Toxic Masculinity

Superhero movies are an honest-to-God family event for me. It doesn’t matter that my brother and I are officially out of the house, working two to three jobs each, and live upwards of forty-five minutes away from our parents. When a superhero movie comes out–especially if it’s Marvel Cinematic Universe–we do everything in our power to see it with our parents, all four of us.

Well. Usually.

Everyone in my family is a feminist. Which means we really don’t like it when a movie promotes toxic masculinity. We thought Batman and Superman were pretty stupid for punching it out rather than talking like rational adults. Mom and I refused to see the nth movie reboot of Spider-Man in theaters, saving our money and energy for Wonder Woman instead. And we all have a dim view of the role women play in most of these films: that is, damsel and love interest.

Now, I’m assuming that everyone reading this column is familiar with what toxic masculinity is, especially when compared with healthy masculinity. If, however, you are confused as to what that term actually means, have a link or two! You can even check out this blog post I wrote on this very issue a couple years ago. And if you have any questions, please feel free to (respectfully!) ask them in the comments.

Okay, so we’ve all seen toxic masculinity in this genre, right? Superhero movies were basically designed to be the epitome of manliness by emphasizing violence, muscles, and sexual conquest. And most of us are smart enough to be sick of it.

So, what are some good superhero movies that don’t have toxic masculinity? Or even work to subvert it?

Look no further, friends! I have a list of just that! (Okay, maybe do look further, because these are just my opinions and you should think for yourselves.)

These movies are in order of their release date, not personal preference. Please don’t ask me to do that.

The Incredibles (both the first one from 2004 and the recent sequel)

How does it subvert toxic masculinity?

Bob Parr is an emotional wreck, and not just when he thinks his family is dead. (They couldn’t really show him breaking down, because kids’ movie, but we could still hear him crying.) It’s also not a situation that he can punch his way out of. At least, not on his own. He has to acknowledge that he needs his family and friends’ help in order to defeat the villain.

In the sequel, it has the traditional gender roles flip where Helen goes out to save the day while Bob is the stay-at-home dad. And he’s a great dad! Sure, he gets exhausted, but the man is looking after three super-powered kids. Also, Violet gets more screen time where she was kind of glossed over in the first one.

Iron Man 3

How does it subvert toxic masculinity?

Tony Stark gets PTSD and the only surprise is that it didn’t happen sooner. The movie shows him getting nightmares and panic attacks, how it affects him and his loved ones, and how he overcomes it. Yay, realistic mental health issues!

Wonder Woman

How does it subvert toxic masculinity?

Welp, in large part because it centers on a woman, not a man. But it’s not just because Diana is the star of the movie. It fights toxic masculinity because of how the men interact with her and each other. Steve and his friends gladly let her take the lead in missions, and support each other emotionally.

Black Panther

How does it subvert toxic masculinity?

The main character T’Challa very deliberately surrounds himself with powerful women. His general and main bodyguard is a woman, his little sister makes all of his tech, and his girlfriend is a total badass. He listens to their council and leans on them for support. More than that, while Killmonger is defined by hatred and cruelty, T’Challa is defined by his compassion and drive to protect his country.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

How does it subvert toxic masculinity?

Several men in this story–the main character Miles, his dad, his mentor Peter–openly show emotion in a healthy way. They don’t stifle it or hide from it when they’re hurting (well, Peter tries to, but it doesn’t work), and Miles and Peter especially share some touching moments. Also, while you could read that Miles has a crush on Gwen or vice versa, the movie shows an awesome, platonic relationship between a boy and a girl. That’s like spotting a unicorn in this genre!

And…yeah, that’s pretty much it. I’m assuming we’ll be able to add Captain Marvel when it comes out, simply because everything DC does, Marvel can do better.

Also, you could argue that Justice League should go on this list, since the team of superheroed manly men not only defer to Wonder Woman as their leader, but also have the Flash have a not-so-traditionally-masculine personality just by virtue of not wanting to fight and openly talking about his fears. But this list is for good movies.

So, this is depressingly short. If you have more suggestions, please let us know!

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