Many would exclaim that we are currently in the “golden age” of superhero movies with multiple high profile films coming out every single year. That being said, there’s been plenty of great superhero movies over many decades, making ranking them quite a difficult task.
Before we get to the real list, let’s look at some honorable mentions:
M. Night Shyamalan’s most underrated film has aged beautifully. Based in a realistic setting, Unbreakable deconstructs what it means to become a superhero. It creates an amazing balance between the hero and villain while explaining the relationship between the two.
Bruce Willis has never been better, acting as a subdued, broken man with a troubled past. You won’t find any over-the-top action sequences here, but you will find great characters and a subdued storyline.
The film that made superhero movies cool, Superman is filled with memorable performances, especially from Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman. Although the reversing of time by rotating the Earth the opposite direction in order for Superman to save Lois Lane has lost its luster over time, the ending works well in context of the rest of the film. At this point, the ending has a certain charm about it that’s almost adorable.
Superman was created in a time where we did not want our superhero movies to be wrapped up in realism and and seriousness. Above all things, Superman made people smile while containing the best Superman to date (sorry, Henry Cavill).
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
A movie that improves upon the original in almost every way, Spider-Man 2 takes the web-slinger to a whole new level. What really takes this movie to the top is Alfred Molina’s portrayal of Doc Ock. Doc Ock is the rare villain that you can sympathize with as he continues to terrorize the city. The film is also full of great action set pieces and set a new standard for special effects.
Iron Man (2008)
The movie that everyone needs to thank for the success of MCU, Marvel Studios took a chance casting Robert Downey Jr. as the title character and it paid off in spades. The origin of Iron Man is so compelling and plays really well in the post-Iraq War hysteria of 2008. Despite robots fighting throughout the Los Angeles area, Iron Man finds a way to feel grounded and, above all, very fun with RDJ quipping with the best of them.
*To read my full review for Iron Man, please click here.
X-Men: First Class (2011)
The X-Men franchise was practically dead after X-Men: The Last Stand came out in 2006. With impeccable casting of James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr, the X-Men franchise came roaring back to life with a fun twist on the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s packed with raw emotion, most notably from Erik Lensherr/Magneto as we see his beginnings in a Nazi concentration camp and (my personal favorite scene) as he turns a satellite as he’s full of emotion after Charles helps him to remember a beautiful moment from his childhood. X-Men: First Class is emotional, fun, and action packed.
Now that we’ve covered the best of the rest, here’s the 10 best superhero movies of all-time:
#10: Batman (1989)
1989’s Batman could be the first the first incarnation of fanboy hysteria. It was easily the most anticipated comic book movie yet at the time. Tim Burton’s signature directing style is a perfect match for Batman’s dark nature and is a welcomed change of pace from the campy Adam West Batman series. Jack Nicholson was also the perfect casting for the Joker and truly shines, providing an extra bite that truly makes the film iconic.
#9: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
No one had any idea what the hell Guardians of the Galaxy was before 2014. James Gunn along with the undeniable fun cast led by Chris Pratt brought enough heart and humor to make Guardians of the Galaxy an instant hit. While the movie does suffer from a typical lack-luster MCU villain in Ronan, the Guardians themselves are so magnetic and hilarious that you as the viewer could care less.
Plus, the film that made Chris Pratt a leading man in Hollywood should most certainly be thanked.
#8: Batman Begins (2005)
After the disasterous Joel Schumacher directed Batman movies, Christopher Nolan directed the next attempt at the Dark Knight, bringing it back to its grounded, gritty roots. With Christian Bale as the caped crusader, Batman Begins ditches the campy tone of previous movies and offers the best origin story of one of the most famous comic book characters ever. Although it takes approximately an hour for the actual character of Batman to show up, you’re completely sucked into the development of Bruce Wayne as a character.
#7: The Incredibles (2004)
Easily the best Fantastic Four movie ever, The Incredibles is also easily one of the best Pixar movies and it is a crime that it will take until 2018 for there to be a sequel. While the film is definitely the most violent Pixar film to date, it keeps its charm by being super fun and witty. Each member of the family is given a chance to shine and be memorable. Brad Bird does a fantastic job directed the film and took animation to new heights.
#6: Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
This is the film that has every major studio rushing to create an extended cinematic universe. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe was still very profitable, many were still skeptical that a massive team-up movie of superheroes could be done. The Avengers does an incredible job of making every character feel important while also not feeling jumbled and messy. The Avengers is undeniably fun and utilizes the best villain Marvel in Loki.
#5: Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Civil War does an even better job of making every character shine than The Avengers with practically double the characters. The film is basically an Avengers movie, but it absolutely feels like a Captain America story. Civil War has arguably the best action scene ever with the airport scene while also having a ton of emotion. Each hero involved is most definitely going for blood and you can really feel the anger in each character. Unlike Batman V Superman (which has striking similarities to this film), Civil War tackles mature themes while also keeping some levity and fun involved.
#4: Deadpool (2016)
Deadpool uses its hard R-rating to its benefit and makes fun of every superhero trope along the way. Some actors were born to be a character, and Ryan Reynolds was undoubtedly born to play Deadpool. He had worked so hard on the project for over a decade. We finally saw it pay off and become the highest grossing R-rated movie of all-time. Deadpool is hysterical, cracking dick jokes and fourth wall breaking quips for the entirety of its run time in the most stylized of manners. Deadpool holds nothing back and is one of the best examples of letting creativity run wild, a trait that is certainly missing in many of today’s superhero movies.
#3: Logan (2017)
Upon more repeat viewings, Logan may find itself at the top of this list before all is said and done. Logan acts more like an indie character drama that just so happens to have superheroes in it. Each character (especially Logan himself) has clear motivations and a great character arc, leading to possibly the most emotional final act in a superhero movie. Patrick Stewart is out of control as Charles Xavier, supplying an unbelievable performance in a supporting role. Director James Mangold deserves a ton of credit for creating such a different superhero movie that may spur change to the genre as a whole.
*To read my full review of Logan, please click here.
#2: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is as much a spy thriller as it is a superhero movie and is a stark contrast from Captain America: The First Avenger. It also has some of the best onscreen Marvel villains in The Winter Soldier and Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce. The Russo Brothers directed this movie to perfection, creating memorable action sequences like Cap fighting multiple people inside an elevator as well as the opening set piece on a ship while showcasing some amazing hand-to-hand combat.
#1: The Dark Knight (2008)
No surprise here.
The Dark Knight contains the award-winning performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker. But, The Dark Knight succeeds mostly as a crime drama. Christopher Nolan perfectly captures the essence of Batman in this film while creating iconic scene after iconic scene. The Dark Knight is one of the best studies of the goodness of humanity and is not afraid to tackle other heady themes.
It’s an easy choice to put atop the best superhero movies, but it’s the correct one.
Thanks for reading! What do you think are the best superhero movies? Comment down below!
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