Superhero movies have been a staple at the box office for over a decade now, and it seems like its time to Critically Rate them. To make this list the main character(s) must be a superhero. For the purposes of this list, a superhero is someone who has superpowers OR wears a costume/disguise and they must fight crime/bad guys/or a main villain. The film doesn’t need to be based on a comic to qualify; it just needs to be awesome. Here is my list of the Top Seventeen Superhero Movies of All Time.
17. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This 1990 film is one of the oldest movies on the list, but it was a successful start to a cinematic franchise. It has comedic moments but it also takes itself seriously. The Shredder is a genuinely scary villain, the teenaged turtles are full of angst, and the action scenes pass the test.
16. The Incredible Hulk. The 2008 film was a sequel/reboot of the 2003 Hulk, and it was a much more satisfying movie. Edward Norton is always solid, Tim Roth plays a great foe, and the special effects were miles ahead of any other Hulk adaptation at that point.
15. Thor. Thor is not just a superhero, he is a god. The 2011 film brought Thor to the big screen for the first time. Kenneth Branagh directed a Shakespearean-style superhero movie that had two powerful brothers facing off. Chris Hemsworth is a picture perfect Thor, but this film gets more credit for introducing Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston) who has so far proven to be the best villain in any Marvel movie to date.
14. The Amazing Spider-Man is the 2012 reboot starring Andrew Garfield as your friendly neighborhood Spider-man. Sure, this movie was only made so that Sony could hold onto the movie rights to the character, but it was better than the Sam Raimi directed films in almost every way. It had better casting, better special effects, a better story, and better action scenes. People just didn’t want to watch it because Tobey Maguire is still fresh in their minds. Fuck Tobey Maguire. Give Andrew Garfield a chance.
13. Watchmen. This adaptation of the beloved graphic novel is not perfect by any means, but it deserves a spot on this list. It was thought to be unfilmable but Zack Snyder managed to capture the general essence of it. The most frustrating thing is that he got so many things right, but he still felt compelled to change the storyline. Don’t be fooled by the theatrical release, the director’s cut is better and the ultimate cut is even better than that.
12. Kick-Ass was a good superhero because it was a wry commentary on superhero movies. It made fun of superheroes while celebrating them at the same time. It was hysterically funny and extremely violent. That’s a good formula for entertainment.
11. X-Men was the first film of the X-Men franchise, and its success at the box office paved the way for all the superhero movies to follow. It’s not a faithful adaptation, but it’s an honest one. And the world got to see Hugh Jackman as Wolverine for the first time.
10. Batman Returns is another film that took a lot of liberties with the source material, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best Batman movies. Tim Burton, Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken, an army of penguins, and Pee-wee Herman? What more do you need?
9. Iron Man is a great movie because it was so unexpectedly enjoyable. Iron Man is a famous comic book character, but he doesn’t have the prestige that Batman, Spider-man, and Superman enjoy. Robert Downey, Jr. was a bit of a gamble, director Jon Favreau was a bit of a gamble, but everything clicked and fell into place and the seeds for The Avengers movie were planted.
8. Man of Steel. This was the Superman movie that I was waiting for. I honestly enjoyed Superman Returns, but even I have to admit that it was a boring movie. Man of Steel was not boring. And it might not have been Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve’s version of Superman, but it was still Superman. Even if you hated this movie, you still have to admit that the action scenes are more than exhilarating.
7. X2: X-Men United is a superior movie to the original in every single way. It has more mutants, more powers, more action, and a better story. The opening scene with Nightcrawler is reason alone to warrant a spot on this list. It made you think that the X-Men franchise was going to be one of the best series of all time. And then the third one came out and shattered your belief system. Fuck you Brett Ratner. Fuck you.
6. Superman. This is the oldest film on my list and it’s one of the most important. Richard Donner’s film has been the model for every successful superhero movie to follow is. He set the template for superhero movies. He respected the source material, and more importantly, he respected the audience. Christopher Reeve was Clark Kent. He was Superman. And he will always be the standard.
5. Spider-man 2. Tobey Maguire’s second venture as Spider-man will always be one of my favorite sequels. It’s a fun ride from beginning to end and you hardly have time to catch your breath. There’s humor, there’s despair, there’s action, and there’s romance. It’s everything that you want from a Hollywood blockbuster.
4. The Matrix. Yes, Neo is a superhero. He has powers, he has an alter ego (his real name is Thomas Anderson), he has a costume (black trench coat and sunglasses), and he fights the evil Mr. Smith. He’s a superhero, and he’s a badass, and he’s The One.
3. The Incredibles isn’t based on a comic book, it’s not live action, and it’s still a great superhero movie. You could say it’s the best and you would have a valid argument. It’s about a family of superheroes with really cool superpowers and they face off against an interesting supervillain. It’s funny, it’s heartwarming, and it has some amazing action scenes.
2. The Dark Knight is not only the best Batman movie, it’s the best DC movie. Christian Bale deserves some credit, but everybody knows that Heath Ledger carries the movie. His Joker is perhaps the best villain in any superhero movie. Christopher Nolan crafted a great trilogy, but this is the highlight by far. It’s The Dark Knight Trilogy for a reason, not The Batman Begins Trilogy or The Batman and Bane Trilogy.
1. Marvel’s The Avengers. Was there ever any doubt that this would be the best superhero movie of all time? You have Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, and (to a lesser extent) Nick Fury Hawkeye, and Black Widow fighting to save the planet. There are tons of characters and powers, plots and subplots, and somehow Joss Whedon manages to weave everything together to create a fun, entertaining, and satisfying blockbuster. The climactic battle is beyond description, a joyous showcase of special effects and sheer spectacle. It’s why you go to the movies. It’s why you justify spending $20 to watch something in IMAX 3-D.
So that’s my list. I hope you like it or at least respect it. If I missed anything that you think deserves to be on here, let me know and I’ll either add it or tell you why you’re wrong.
Critically Rated at 15/17
Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young