Back in the “Good old days” of cinema (or in general), people grew up during an era where most every big budget studio movie was a Western. Since then, Hollywood has diversified their offerings to include movies of all kinds, or at least… they used to. Since 2008 almost every major Hollywood studio has been increasingly turning out movies based on comic book Super Heroes at a rate that would make even John Wayne call for diversification. So, since we’re living in the age of Super Hero movies (as well as TV and Video Games) here’s the Top 15 Super Hero movies of all time… So far.
15. X-Men Days of Future Past
Days of Future Past (DOFP) did a great job of weaving together two separate X-Men timelines and while it wasn’t perfect, it fixed a lot of problems that the X universe had; namely killing off most of its characters/credibility in The Last Stand. It also gets kudos and this spot over the similarly stellar X-Men First Class because it had Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine (For more than what amounted to the best Cameo ever in First Class). Fox has taken a lot of heat for their handling of the X-Men franchise, and while things can get sloppy at times (like Deadpool says in… Deadpool: “These timelines are so confusing”), but when the X-Men films are firing on all cylinders like they were during Days of Future Past, it’s really fun to watch.
14. The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises had so much going against it. The tragic death of Heath Ledger almost ended this film before it began and despite the decision to completely ignore his character, the Joker, in The Dark Knight Rises, his presence still loomed large over the film. Just knowing that the Joker was alive in the Nolan-verse and that according to The Dark Knight co-writer David Goyer, the initial outline for the sequels to Batman Begins included two Joker films, made some wish they were watching those movies instead of the one on the screen. While it’s completely understandable why it didn’t happen, the rumor of a scene that had Tom Hardy’s Bane walking through the prison that he was releasing prisoners from, only to reach the Joker’s cell, make eye contact and then continue walking would’ve been amazing and tied all three movies together even more than The Dark Knight Rises did. Ignoring the Joker, though, The Dark Knight Rises was a great way to end the Dark Knight Trilogy. While the Joker wasn’t in the film, his presence is felt in the way that Bruce Wayne is just so broken, both physically and emotionally. The decision to tie the final film to the first one also made a lot of sense considering how they built up the League of Shadows in Batman Begins. And while Tom Hardy had the next to impossible job of following Ledger’s Joker as the “main” villain (at least in terms of marketing), he did an amazing job and did create a character that still resonates in pop culture.
13. The Wolverine
You probably expect Deadpool to appear somewhere on this list, but the choice had to be made to include The Wolverine over Deadpool as it is an extremely emotional movie that deals with Logan’s guilt and regret over having to kill his love, Jean Grey, at the end of The Last Stand (As opposed to what amounts to mostly a spoof of the comic book genre that is pretty formulaic in and of itself). She essentially haunts him throughout the movie as he deals with losing his powers and countless Samurai after he visits a soldier that he saved from the atomic blast in Hiroshima during World War II. You’d think after the awesomeness that was the Spidey vs. Doc Ock fight atop the Subway Train in Spider-Man 2 that no comic book property would touch another fight atop a commuter train but somehow The Wolverine does the unthinkable and actually one up’s Spidey’s version by having Wolverine fight atop a bullet train. While some complained about the third act of the film, the ending did actually make sense in the context of the story in that it was a cool way to bring an iconic Wolverine villain like the Silver Samurai to the big screen. After the disaster that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it was great to see Wolverine get the type of movie he deserved and it was the first time that Fox, Hugh Jackman, and Writer/Director James Mangold all worked together. So, you can also thank The Wolverine for the awesomeness that is Logan.
12. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2
The first Guardians of the Galaxy was a huge surprise hit for Marvel Studios back in 2014 and it’s recently released sequel had a ton of pressure to live up to. For the most part, writer/director James Gunn fulfilled the hopes and dreams of the Marvel faithful with this extremely emotional sequel that focuses mostly on family and what that means to both the characters in the film and people in general. While Ego may have been Peter’s father, he wasn’t his Daddy. That role belongs to Yondu, the blue alien that can control an arrow of death by whistling (and with his heart!). Without sharing spoilers, this movie easily has the most emotional scene of any Marvel Studios property and in that way, it does surpass its predecessor. Like Avengers: Age of Ultron, it really had an impossible task at hand in following up on an instant classic. Similarly to The Avengers, the first Guardians was described as “Fresh” and “Never seen before” and so it was impossible for the sequel to be fresh or obviously “never seen before” by definition. Perhaps not surprisingly, that’s one of the few gripes critics had with the movie. But considering how amazing the first movie was, if it’s more of the same, with some new stuff (which it is), how can you not love it?
11. Spider-Man 2
Many, many people remember Spider-Man 2 fondly and hold it in the highest esteem as far as superhero movies go, typically ranking it in the top three of comic book movie properties (essentially since it’s release way back in 2004). However, especially when compared to the slew of new superhero movies, it hasn’t held up perfectly as it’s aged perhaps as well as people remember. It’s by no means a bad movie, it’s still really, really good (especially considering when it was released), but it’s still got some of those early 2000’s comic book movie tropes that all superhero movies had back then. It was almost as if the comic movie directors back then were attempting to be too clever. They knew that comic book movies outside of maybe Superman (One and Two) and Batman (One and Two), had a pretty bad wrap. So, they addressed it with oftentimes completely over the top nonsense that was an attempt to say “We get it, see?”. While this movie has far less of that than Spider-Man’s 1 and 3 (I still get heartburn when I think of Emo-man dancing while walking down the street), it’s still campy enough to be 10th on this list.
10. X-Men 2
Alongside Spider-Man 2, X-Men 2 (or just X2), is another movie that I’m sure many are surprised is not higher on this list. Unlike Spider-Man, the original Fox-owned X-Men movies weren’t as campy or even really that child-friendly. Sure, they’re both PG-13 films, but the violence in the X-Men movies had real consequences and in the case of anyone that ran into Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, permanent ones. X2 is a great film, and it holds up really well even when compared to superhero films of today. So why isn’t it higher on the list? For those that grew up watching the classic X-Men cartoon or reading the books, there’s this feeling that they could never shake that the X-Men in the movies deserved more. Not that the budget wasn’t big enough or the actors great enough, it was just that it didn’t feel like the X-Men many grew up loving. A prime example would be how the films treat Cyclops. Growing up, all the “cool kids” would abhor Cyclops and his “rules” and thought that Wolverine was the jam. But everyone who follows the X-Men knows that Cyclops is the leader of the X-Men. He is alluded to as such in the films but that’s about it. You learn nothing of his backstory, really, or what drives him outside of his apparent love for Jean Grey. While not in X2, his death in X-Men: The Last Stand was essentially done off screen, something they’d clearly never do with Wolverine. So, while the film itself is great, it just didn’t feel like the X-Men movie kids had been making up in their heads since the early 90’s.
9. Avengers: Age of Ultron
While many people point out that Avengers: Age of Ultron was not as well-received critically (nor at the box office) as it’s predecessor and thus somehow considered a failure, people are basically ignoring the fact that it would’ve been nearly impossible for it to be better received. The expectations were too high and like they say, it’s nearly impossible to catch lightning in a bottle twice. Because the first film had the novelty (and accompanying excitement) of seeing something brand new in cinema for the first time (since the advent of Technicolor) and an amazing domestic box office total of over $600 million (which is incredibly rare), it was going to be hard for the sequel to surpass the original despite the flawless run of nearly perfect films that lead up to its release (in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy). Despite those expectations, Age of Ultron was a better movie than people either remember or are giving it credit for. Sure, Jame Spader’s Ultron was a bit more sarcastic than people expected for a murderbot, but they’re missing the key fact that his personality was modeled after his creator, Tony Stark. That’s why they included the “Oh, Junior, you’re breaking my heart” line after Ultron says a one-liner a second before Stark can say the same. In the comics, Ultron was based on the personality of Hank Pym, a character that had yet to be introduced in the MCU in 2015 and who in the comics has a much darker personality. Beyond that, it had everything you’d want in a superhero film. It had a compelling villain, it had a lot of character development especially for characters that didn’t receive a lot of attention in the first Avengers movie (namely Hawkeye), and it introduced new, core members of the Avengers team seamlessly. What more could you want?
8. Batman Begins
Warner Brothers sat on arguably it’s most popular franchise (depending on what your thoughts are on the Harry Potter-verse) for nearly a decade thanks to the movie that made the 60’s TV show look like The Dark Knight, in Batman and Robin. So, people really didn’t know what to expect when it was announced that the director of serious dramas like Memento and Insomnia was in charge of rebooting the Batman franchise. When Christian Bale (who did mostly serious dramas), was cast as Batman/Bruce Wayne, as opposed to a few larger named actors that fandom was pining for, responses were equally mixed. Throw in the announcement that Batman would be battling the Scare Crow and Ra’s Al Ghul and the response ended up being more of a mix of confusion and cautious optimism than pure excitement. That cautious optimism ended up winning out as the first entry in what is the best trilogy of all time ended up being a smash hit. What was most important, especially to Batman holding company-DC Comics, was it brought credibility back to their most important character. And, while definitely the least child-friendly of movies on this list, it increased merchandise sales across the board. In fact, it could be argued that the Nolan trilogy removed the mantle of most important DC Character away from Superman himself (Nolan = kryptonite) and passed it to the Dark Knight himself. Moving away from the camp and completely over the top nature of the Joel Schumacher films (and even some aspects of the Tim Burton Batman films, namely the set pieces), Nolan grounded his Gotham in gritty realism. So much so that the term gritty has acquired a negative connotation based on the number of movies that came out after Nolan’s trilogy that branded themselves as gritty. This film was that good.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
2014 was perhaps the best year critically for Marvel Studios, thus far. They released Captain America: The Winter Soldier in March of that year and followed it up with the movie that people were predicting would be the first flop for Marvel Studios, The Guardians of the Galaxy in July. While they were proven horribly wrong, in retrospect it’s hard not to see where they were coming from. Up until that point, outside of a few talking points in the Thor movies, the MCU had focused solely on earth based heroes and conflicts. So, when it was announced that Marvel was going forward with a space-based/cosmic movie not with more well known cosmic Marvel characters like Captain Marvel or even Nova, but instead with the Guardians of the Galaxy, people scratched their heads. When the roster for the Guardians was announced, they scratched down to their skulls, as the film was going to include a talking raccoon and Groot, the talking tree who only says “I am Groot”? What? Beyond the confusion about the source material itself, the choice to cast Parks and Rec alum Chris Pratt was also a sign that Marvel was primed for a flop. Sure, Pratt was hilarious on the NBC Sitcom, but he was overweight and best known as the chubby best friend in romantic comedies, not as an action movie star. However, Pratt, like the movie itself, defied expectations and with his charisma and a newly acquired six-pack, became a Hollywood A-Lister after the movie premiered. Guardians, on its own, is one of the better Sci-Fi movies that have ever been made and one of the top Marvel Studio offerings as well. And it’s that great because of the genuine care that went into it thanks mostly to writer/director, James Gunn. The movie is well-known for its soundtrack, a mix of songs from the 70’s that have a special place in Pratt’s Star-Lord character’s heart. Each song was written into the script by Gunn, as every aspect was considered by the former director of Troma Entertainment movies and the scribe for the… Ugh… Scooby-Doo movies. As he clearly knew that this was a big opportunity for him and really crafted a complete movie. You can feel his commitment if you follow him on any social media, he takes the Guardians of the Galaxy canon very seriously and is constantly responding to questions, rumors and correcting statements about characters, Easter eggs, etc. Because of that care, Guardians has emerged as one of the best MCU movies to date. It’s a surprisingly emotional movie that felt like the Star Wars for a new generation before Star Wars returned. Even with the return of Luke Skywalker and company, as the newly released Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 showed, Gunn has forged his own unique path that has resonated with movie-goers worldwide.
6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
With the second Captain America movie Marvel did the impossible; They made Captain America cool. They accomplished it right from the (literal) jump, in a scene where Captain Steve Rogers quickly, violently and single-handedly takes down an entire ship of baddies after diving from a plane into the ocean without a parachute. It was a great way to introduce us to the Russo Brother’s vision of Captain America, showing how powerful he is versus the average or even above average man while also showing how powerless he can be in the face of a gigantic threat like Hydra. The action was amazing and compelling and it solved one of the bigger complaints that people have of the MCU. That their movies have no lasting consequences. Like an episode of The Simpsons, it had been as if everything was back to normal by the end of the movies that preceded ‘The Winter Soldier’. While it did pull the loathed “fake death” move (twice, with both Bucky Barnes and Nick Fury) it did essentially destroy one of the larger constructs in the MCU, SHIELD, while also providing an entirely entertaining, and most importantly, stand-alone movie. This is the movie that made Captain America as popular/important as Iron Man in the MCU, and he earned it.
5. The Avengers
The Avengers was a phenomenon that transcended just general comic book movie hype and ended up crossing over into broader pop culture itself. Outside of that aspect, it’s still just a downright great movie. It does everything right and balances each character with care. Considering the number of boxes writer/director Joss Whedon had to check, he gets major kudos for creating a movie that changed the film industry forever. The reason that this movie stacks a lot higher than most MCU offerings isn’t just solely based on the fact that it brings characters from different movies together for the first time, but because it does one thing that a lot of MCU movies don’t do, it has a complex/compelling villain. Loki. While I would argue that he was an even more compelling villain in Thor (that scene where he discovers his true ancestry still gives me goosebumps), he still steals the show as a character that could’ve easily ended up being a laughing stock (I mean, what other actors can make a line like “I am Loki, from Asgard, and I am burdened with glorious purpose” sound threatening?), but instead ends up being one of the many highlights of the film and a movie villain for the ages. In addition to solidifying the MCU as the biggest studio in Hollywood, the movie essentially set up the entire post-Avengers phase(s). The post-credit scene that showed Thanos smiling at the idea of being able to “court death” and the implication that he was pulling the strings behind the scenes in an attempt to collect all six “Infinity Stones” sent fans into a frenzy and is something that new Marvel offerings are essentially still building towards.
4. Captain America: Civil War
If there were one movie that proves to skeptics that universe building in movies is a good thing, it’d be the third Captain America movie, aptly sub-titled ‘Civil War’. Civil War is very much the sequel to 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as it focuses on the relationship between Captain America and his childhood friend turned brain-washed Hydra assassin, Bucky Barnes (aka the Winter Soldier). Unlike its predecessor though, it answered the question (complaint) that will increasingly be asked by viewers of these movies, “Why didn’t [Super Hero X] show up to help?” or “Why didn’t Super Hero X just call Super Hero Y?” This movie did deliver on its premise and in the process gave us probably the best overall fight scene in any comic book movie thus far. The scene at the airport was a jaw-droppingly amazing display of what Marvel is capable of and really was the payoff for the fans who have been with them since the beginning. It’ll be hard to top but considering the reported 67 characters the Russo Brothers initially claimed were in the third Avengers film, it looks like they’re going to try. And, if Civil War is any indication they just might pull it off.
Now, Logan was essentially branded as two things. The first was that it was (very loosely) based on the ‘Old Man Logan’ story arc from the 2010 comic book. Loosely because that book heavily relied on characters that Fox doesn’t have access to in its films (namely Hawkeye, the Hulk, Red Skull and my favorite, the Devil Dinosaur). The second was that this was Hugh Jackman’s last go as James Howlett, aka Logan, aka Wolverine. Jackman had said in the past that he’d play Wolverine until he died, but apparently, a conversation with Jerry Seinfeld convinced him to go out “On-top”, so he REALLY did. Thanks to an amazing story and the work of writer and director James Mangold (based on the initial “Idea” by Hugh Jackman), this third solo-Wolverine movie really hit the nail on the head and gave Wolverine the goodbye he deserved. The great thing about Logan is, it built off of what other films like the first Iron Man or The Dark Knight did, it completely changed the genre and most importantly showed that not every superhero movie needs a gigantic battle with some sort of laser shooting into the sky.
2. Iron Man
Iron Man is a property that was bounced around more studios in the 90’s than Steve Guttenberg. At one point Quentin Tarantino was attached to it (“You know what they call an Arc Reactor in Paris?”). Big name (at the time) actors like Nicholas Cage and Tom Cruise were also rumored to be interested in the lead role. Thankfully, the rights eventually reverted back to Marvel itself and they ended up taking a huge risk (at the time) by casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, the part he was born to play. Tony Stark is, in the comics, a lot darker than he is in the movies. That dark side is what got Downey Jr. the part as his past really aligned with some of the issues Stark has had in the comics (namely substance abuse). Regardless, Downey Jr’s performance was so well received that Marvel Comics changed the personality of Stark in the books to align more with the movie’s version. The story goes that director John Favreau and company were essentially writing the movie as they were filming. While that approach didn’t totally work for Iron Man 2, it made this film feel new and different. What they came up with is considered to be one of the crown jewels in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s platinum covered, golden crown, that sits atop a pile of money that’d make fellow Disney property Scrooge McDuck drown. It was the first movie based on a Marvel comic book character that was a real movie based in the real world and because of that, it really is a modern masterpiece.
1. The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight is an amazing movie that was carried in part by one of the best on-screen performances of all time in Heath Ledger’s Joker. Before the film was released, the hype surrounding his performance reached levels that haven’t really been seen before or since (sorry, Jared Leto). Some of that came from the fact that Ledger sadly died before the release of the movie, and the now debunked claims that he essentially went too far with his method acting style and ended up depressed because he spent too much time inside the Joker’s mind. But most of the hype came from early reviews of the film that rightly called his acting some of the best ever seen on film. While Ledger’s performance does completely overshadow the rest of the cast’s work, they all do deserve credit for their part in this amazing piece of art. Christian Bale’s performance as a man who is broken, after the death of the woman who represents his last chance to remain human, is underrated. As is Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon and Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent. But this movie is mainly about the Joker and Batman and their completely inverted worldviews. The main question/struggle being, which side will win? The answer ended up being… the audience.