Superhero movies are definitely in the mainstream these days. Since 1998’s Blade, the comic book genre has flourished to the point where they are now award winning masterpieces that you can take your girlfriend to. In honor of 2010’s Kick Ass, The Losers, Iron Man 2, Jonah Hex, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, The Green Hornet and Dead of Night (based on Dark Horse Comics’ Dylan Dog series), I bring you the list of Top 10 Best Superhero Movies Ever.
10 Best Superhero Movies
As the name implies, these are specifically superhero movies and not simply comic book movies. So, you won’t find Ghost World, Road to Perdition, A History of Violbelief in people was more accurate.ence, Sin City, or American Spendor on this list. Those are all fine examples of how comics books can be adapted to the big screen, but superheroes make for a much tougher assignment. They build such a history with their readers that condensing it down to 2 hours can create such high expectations with hardcore fans that finding the balance between attracting the general population and pleasing the longtime fans can often become difficult and frustrating. Fans can become so critical that even a small change in the superhero costumes can cause an outrage. So without further delay, let’s jump right in…
When word got out that Tim Burton was planning on making a movie about Gotham’s caped crusader, fans were excited that the 1960s campfest starring Adam West and Burt Ward was finally going to be washed away. When it was revealed that Jack Nicholson was going to be playing the Joker, instant legitimacy was given to the project. But when Michael Keaton was selected to play Bruce Wayne/Batman eyebrows started to rise and worries that the main character was terribly miscast, not to mention that Prince’s song score was also a very odd choice. On June 23, 1989, all worries were wiped away when Batman came to theaters to record breaking box office numbers. Though not in the same vein as Christopher Nolan’s Bat movies, this one put an exclamation point on a decade of big time movies and a nostalgic favorite of comic fans everywhere.
Academy Award winners Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando, two of the biggest stars of the 1970s, may have had top billing over the actor who played the man of steel, but Christopher Reeve became an international superstar as Superman. For an entire generation of people, he was Superman. Whenever the character was mentioned, Reeve’s image was the only person we could see. His extraordinary performance as both Superman and Clark Kent outshines his co-stars and won our hearts. Richard Donner’s decision to tell a comprehensive story of Superman’s origin stood alone in comic movie history until 2005 when Batman Begins hit the screen. Memorable scenes include the destruction of Kal-El’s homeworld, Krypton, Superman’s debut by saving Lois Lane as she fell from a helicopter, and turning back time in order to save Lois from dying from Lex Luthor’s (Hackman) diabolical plan by flying around the world so fast it turns the rotation of the planet the other direction. As silly as the idea of time travel by these means may be, every single one of us has a moment in our lives in which we wanted to do the very same thing.
See Our 10 Worst Superhero Movies Here
Alan Moore’s classic mini series about washed up superheroes wrapped up in a mystery and fighting to prevent World War III comes to life in Zach Snyder’s epic film. Being based on a classic story that has so much detail it nearly makes people’s brains melt, the film version is not without its haters and critics. After all, Snyder’s decision to change the ending left a bad taste in many fans’ mouths, but the casting of Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (the Comedian), and Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl) were inspired. Walking into the movie, I knew not everything was going to play out like the 12-part series did in printed form (there was absolutely no way to be able to do that without making at least two movies), but the stunning visuals and brilliant performances by the previously mentioned actors makes this movie a purely special experience. Snyder brings Moore’s alternate 1985 world to life by using frames from the comic as the source material for the art direction. The film begins with perhaps the most amazing sequence in any comic book movie to date – the opening credits sequence that gives the entire history of this alternate reality. It never slows down from the beginning and draws the viewer into the world. Haters and conservatives may have despised the movie and the themes, but I loved it.
7. Batman Begins
Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Batman movie franchise brought a new level of redemption to a series that had literally gone through the pits of hell under the direction of Joel Schumacher. After a long wait for someone to wash the horrific memory of Batman and Robin from our collective memories, I think the comic fans would have accepted just about anyone in the director’s chair with half a good idea. Little did we know that Christopher Nolan, director of the phenomenal Memento, would be so devoted to making a good Batman movie. Christian Bale is excellent as both Bruce Wayne and Batman (yes, even with his low and raspy Batman voice), and the additions of Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy as the heavies were inspired. The real excellence was in the supporting cast. Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman as Gordon, Alfred, and Lucius Fox, respectively, fleshed out a Batman world with strong performances and a true understanding of how important each of these characters are to the dark knight.
*Honorable Mention: Hellboy I & II
Mike Mignola’s Hellboy franchise is one of the most popular creator owned creations and it’s easy to see why. He’s just simply cool looking. His buddies are all sorts of genetic wonders. His adventures tickle that supernatural node in our brains that expose us to hellish beasts and funny little characters that pay tribute to our wildest imaginations. And, he loves cats – really, REALLY loves cats (like me!). When Guillermo del Toro brought Hellboy and his buddies to the big screen in 2004, we were treated to faithful recreations of the characters and really fun action and adventure. In 2008, del Toro blew us away again with the sequel that was even better than the first (already a tough feat to accomplish). These are just two solid movies helmed by the perfect director with a strong cast who make us believe that these creatures, good and bad, really do exist. Oh, and Ron Pearlman as the big red lead is just perfect.
6. Superman II
Much like how Star Wars was outdone by it’s own sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, Superman’s 1980 sequel surpassed the original. This time around Reeve’s Superman must battle escaped Kryptonian public enemies to save the world. It’s not just that Superman must outwit the maniacal genius of Lex Luthor, or have to stop disasters caused by Luthor’s scheming, but in this one, he must face three beings (led by the ridiculously awesome Terrance Stamp as General Zod) who all possess the same powers he does. But before he can face the three super-powered villains, he must come to terms with his feelings for Lois Lane and decide whether his powers are worth keeping in order for him to find personal happiness. Most of this film was completed by Richard Donner as he worked on the first film, but he would later be replaced by Richard Lester after conflicts with the producers. Still, this film shines and really helped the argument that sequels can not only be bigger, but even better at times.
5. X-Men 2
Much like the previous entry in the list, X2 exceeded all our expectations and blew X-Men clean out of the water. Bryan Singer’s ultimate superhero opus pits the X-Men against a crazy and dangerous military man (played by the brilliant Bryan Cox) who plans on using mutants in experiments and even going far enough to control them to create havoc in order to turn the government against those with powers. Not only that, but he has some serious history with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. So, in order for the X-Men to defeat the madman, they must do something they would never count on – team up with Magneto and Mystique. Though the first X-Men movie was as good as one could hope for, it pales in comparison to the sequel. X2 benefits from X-Men’s low budget blockbuster status allowing it to up the ante and have more cool scenes and special effects. The world expands as Colossus makes his first appearance in an X movie. There are several other characters that appear briefly here and there that puts smiles on many comic fans. But the best addition to the movie is Alan Cumming’s Nightcrawler. Cumming’s portrayal of the lonely and demonic looking teleporter is both funny and heartfelt with a touch of sadness that he’s really a good guy who just happens to be scary looking. The dramatic climax (which I have always referred as the Star Trek II Finale) proves that even people who shoot beams of energy from their eyes or has the ability to create storms or have claws coming out of their hands can carry a deeply emotional scene. Following the enormous success of Spider-Man, X2 let the world know that comic book movies were here to stay.
Not only was Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie a huge success (it was the first film to break $100 million for an opening weekend), but it also was one of the finest adaptations of a character to date. Tobey Maguire’s performance as Peter Parker was about as spot on as you could ever hope for as the awkward teenager in love with the girl next door and recent recipient of awesome super powers. This movie transcended the demographics and became a huge hit that both comic collectors and the general populace saw in repeated viewings. Marvel also made sure, if anyone wanted to either start collecting or return to Spider-Man, that the comics were top notch as well after some really poor storylines and some not-so-great sales. We may have had to wait a long time for ol’ webhead to make it to the big screen, but it was worth every minute of every day.
*Honorable Mention – The Incredible Hulk (NOT the Ang Lee one)
In 2003, Ang Lee made Hulk starring Eric Bana as Bruce Banner and Jennifer Connelly as Betty Ross. I’d be giving it too much credit to say fans were a tad disappointed. Though the editing to make the film was interesting and really attempted to capture the feeling of reading a comic, the movie itself had no true sense of who the characters were, or what the Hulk was, or what to do with him that made the most sense. Enter Louis Leterrier and Edward Norton. When the character was brought back to the screen, everything seemed to fit so much better. Norton’s portrayal of Banner was far better than Bana’s (though Bana is a really good actor) and the treatment of the characters involved was a huge upgrade than Lee’s flop. We get to see the Hulk doing crazy Hulk stuff like hurling rocks at lightning, taking on an army and smashing up tanks, taking on the Abomination, and screaming “Hulk smash!!!” This is what the Incredible Hulk is all about.
3. Iron Man
You don’t have to look any farther than Robert Downey, Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark to see why this movie was so successful and so well liked by audiences. His cavalier and aloof Stark lends to the billionaire playboy who has everything he could ever want but nothing he really needs. He begins the movie without much conscience about the fact that he really is a war profiteer. He uses women as objects, but doesn’t realize the love of his life has always been right in front of him. Of course, by movie’s end, he’s moved toward striving to make the world a safe place and confronts his feelings for his assistant Pepper Potts (played nicely by Gwyneth Paltrow). Plus, the action scenes were really killer too. Director Jon Favreau, who had never before made an over-the-top action movie, does an excellent job of bringing a complex character and loads of adventure to the screens and it was really hard to find someone who didn’t adore the movie as the credits ran.
2. Spider-Man 2
Sam Raimi’s second outing with Spider-Man featured deep emotional drama, great performances (particularly by Alfred Molina), and brilliant action sequences. This movie is really about love and how far you can fall without it. Molina’s Doctor Otto Octavius (Dr. Octopus) is driven mad when a failed experiment causes the death of his wife while Peter Parker’s spider powers fizzle out on him when his broken heart can’t get over the loss of Mary Jane. This movie also features much more of the classic Sam Raimi style than the first – the dramatic raising of a surgical saw during an entire Raimi-esque operating room scene and, my favorite scene, Peter adjusting to life without his Spider-Man alter-ego while “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” plays to name a couple. This sequel from opening minute to the final, ominous shot of MJ watching Spider-Man head out to protect the city is funny, tender, and exciting all rolled up into a ball. It’s really my favorite superhero movie ever made, but you probably can already guess why it didn’t land at #1.
1. The Dark Knight
Part of me wants to say, “Because if I didn’t put this as #1, I’d be burned at the stake.” But there’s a really good reason why this tops this list even though I admitted that Spider-Man 2 was my favorite. Christopher Nolan’s follow up to Batman Begins is more than just a superhero movie. It’s a stellar example of excellent acting and brilliant scripting. This is more along the lines of art than entertainment and just missed getting a Best Picture nomination from the Academy – something no superhero movie had ever accomplished. Like I have to remind any of you, but Heath Ledger, in the role that might have led to his accidental overuse of sleeping aids, won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for playing the wildly entertaining and deeply frightening Joker. His performance was unlike anything seen before in comic book movies and set a new standard for how comic book heroes and villains are shown on the screen. But the real joy of the film was seeing the intensely heated battle between Batman and the Joker and how truly made they were for one another. On one side, Batman does whatever he can to keep order and punish the guilty without killing. On the other, the Joker does whatever he can to tear down the social standards and bring about anarchy. No number of dead bodies is too high a cost for the Joker to reach his end result. The only thing the Joker never counted on was the common good that really resides in each person. Just when he expected to make his biggest splash by pitting a boat full of law abiding citizens against a boatload of hardened criminals, their decency and humanity shines through proving that Batman’s belief in people was more accurate.
There’s no right answer to these kinds of lists though, so please leave a comment and give us your 10 Best Superhero Movies Ever.