So, I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but superhero films are quite popular at the moment. Shocking, I know, but they’re all over the place right now. With Marvel and DC both reliably churning out movies of varying quality, and given my longer editorial pieces like this tend to get more views, I thought it was time to compile my own list of what I consider to be the best superhero films.
Some house rules before we start:
- This is a list of MY personal favourite Superhero films, based on my own enjoyment of the film and NOT its Rotten Tomatoes score.
- Some of the film rankings are inconsequential, as I like the films equally, so I’ve taken into consideration its impact on the broader world of superhero films and films in general.
- And, finally, I’ve tried my best to not linger too much on one particular franchise of films, and have done my best to make it balanced, that being said, if one franchise is named more than others, its because I enjoy those films more, not because of any bias to any particular brand, I want as many great superhero franchises as possible.
With that being said, let’s get started… with some honourable mentions! (Give me a break it’s difficult to just pick 10)
The Incredibles (2004) – Directed by Brad Bird
Now, I love Pixar and Disney, and I love superhero films, so a superhero film made by Disney/Pixar? Count me in. But besides this, it has a genuinely interesting story and complex characters, especially the films villain, Syndrome. However, however much I like it, there are others I like more, and I couldn’t justify putting it in my Top 10.
Avengers Assemble (2012) – Directed by Joss Whedon
We have a lot to thank the first Avengers film for, it’s the first of its kind, the massive blow-out epic team-up movie that managed to be both enjoyable and re-watchable. I do feel like there has been better MCU movies since, so this just makes my honourable mentions. Also, I’d like to mention two other really strong MCU movies that didn’t make the list, Iron Man, which kicked the whole party off and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a film that finally made me care about Captain America, which given how dull I found the character in the preceding films, is an achievement all of its own.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – Directed by Bryan Singer
The X-Men prequels really breathed new life into the series; after the disappointment that was X-Men: The Last Stand and the cinematic dog turd that was Origins: Wolverine, it really did seem like there wasn’t much life left in the series. Enter Bryan Singer, who successfully got it back on track with the also excellent First Class and then topped even that by producing this, a time-travel plot that has high stakes for both the present and future, Singer really showed us how to properly refresh a series. It isn’t my favourite X-Men film however, and only just missed out on the final 10.
Batman Begins (2005) – Directed by Christopher Nolan
My love of Christopher Nolan is well documented, given how much of my saliva ended up on Dunkirk last year, and his Batman films are some of my favourites, it was the series that showed us that superhero films can be dark and gritty (for better and worse). I did also really enjoy The Dark Knight Rises, although I do think it’s the weakest of the trilogy, and who knows, we may end up revisiting this trilogy by the end of this list.
The List Itself
10. Wonder Woman (2017) – Directed by Patty Jenkins
With the DCEU being the hypothetical consolation prize that it is, expectations weren’t exactly high for Wonder Woman. However, her arrival was one of the few things usually liked in Batman v Superman (which, by the way, I don’t really think is that bad) so maybe we should have known better.
For me, Wonder Woman is the very best of the DCEU (which is a bit like being the best looking patient on the burns ward) it’s action is tight and exciting, it’s direction is a bit brighter than other DC films and it’s story actually manages to be comprehensible for the entire film.
While I will freely admit to exaggerating the low quality of the DCEU for comic effect, but I will always have hope in the series because of this film.
9. Guardians of the Galaxy (2015) – Directed by James Gunn
Guardians was one of the biggest surprises of the last decade. It’s safe to say that anyone who says they knew about the Guardians prior to film release was incredibly dedicated comic fans or liars.
Unlike other films, Guardians isn’t here for its stellar storytelling, because truth be told it’s nothing new, especially in the villain stakes, but it is the film I go back to whenever I want to watch a superhero film I can really, really enjoy, with characters I’ve come to like over the length of the film, it also does an excellent job of world building, and genuinely seems like a product of passion, which is a rarity in this nightmare-ish 1984 existence we have.
Guardians was a true watershed moment in superhero films, as it reminds us that no matter how minor the character, Marvel can be trusted to give us entertaining movies, and also, the turning point for comedy in superhero films, it’s a compact, easy story with likeable characters with great world-building and genuinely funny and exciting set-pieces that made us wish we’s known the Guardians sooner.
8. Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not all that into Captain America character, he has the same character traits I don’t like about Superman. He’s (mostly) a bland, all-American white-bread hero and that is incredibly dull in a character.
Having watched The Winter Soldier and seeing that he can be interesting at times, I was still firmly in Team Iron Man come Civil War time, co=incidentally, it’s a point in the films favour when hype is at such a peak that people are picking sides between two fictional characters, it shows how the MCU has pulled the audience in in the past 10 years.
It is a prime slice of Marvel-branded fun that we’re all used to now with the added tension between Cap and Iron Man, and it manages to pull us into the fight, making both sides of the argument make sense in their own way, as well as introducing two new key characters in Black Panther and Spider-Man, both introductions are well handled and well executed, the first time we meet Black Panther is in a high speed intense chase with Cap and Bucky, a great introduction to lay out what we can expect from the character.
I also hold up the airport fight scene as a high-point in superhero action set-pieces, it’s perfectly choreographed, directed and performed, and my respect for the Russo’s knows no bounds.
7. Black Panther (2018) – Directed by Ryan Coogler
Okay, so I’m leaning heavily on Marvel at the moment, which I promise won’t make up the rest of this list there are other films to talk about. However, I make no apologies for including this film, which blew me away the first time I saw it, and just gains depth with each watch.
What really drew me in to the film was the way it built the world of Wakanda, it made it feel completely new in the Marvel universe, not only did it take us to Wakanda, it took the time to introduce us to its traditions and rivalries, all wrapped up in a neat, two-hour package.
Lets also talk about the ‘villain’ of the piece, Erik ‘Killmonger’ was a deep, complex character with relateable problems, Marvel had been criticised for shallow, uninteresting villains, and in one year they gave us Killmonger and Thanos, granted Thanos had been built for years, but Killmonger had a smaller, personal story that made you care for him, despite his villainous behaviour, it was pure magic from Marvel.
Special mention should also go to its direction, from Ryan Coogler, a great leading performance from Chadwick Boseman, as well as the rest of the incredibly strong cast, and finally, its visual effects, which at times, were absolutely breathtaking, an all round stellar effort from all involved.
6. X2 (AKA X-Men 2) (2003) – Directed by Bryan Singer
The first X-Men film changed the game for comic-book adaptations. It successfully made a comic-book movie that was interesting to both an older, mature audience and a younger, impressionable ones. Of course, people had tried making darker comic-book movies, but none had found the right balance, and more importantly, made an actually decent film.
X2 is everything a sequel should be, it takes what was built in the first film and expanded on it, starting with an incredibly exciting action sequence in the White House with Nightcrawler, who is introduced in this film.
Its story also builds on the original and raises the stakes, putting all of mutant-kind in danger from a power-hungry, paranoid military General, it also gives purpose for Magneto and Professor X to work together, and their relationship is the one I find the most interesting. They’re two people with similar goals, but go about it in two diametrically opposed ways, Xavier wants to integrate mutants and humans, Magneto wants to make mutants the superior race, by killing any humans that stand in his way. However, their background gives them extra dimensions and their on-off friendship makes for entertaining tension.
X2 is an early high-point in the early development of comic-book movies and we have a lot to thank it for, let’s just forget the third instalment, yeah?
5. Deadpool (2016) – Directed by Tim Miller
For a while, it was a universal truth held by Hollywood executives that R-Rated superhero movies didn’t sell, of course this isn’t true, as Blade did alright for itself in the early 2000’s but that didn’t stop the crotchety old men I imagine make up the Hollywood powers that be believing it. Then Deadpool walked in, farted in their face and defiantly had sex with all of their mothers.
Deadpool is a jolt of light in a landscape that increasingly gets darker and darker, while other films tests boundaries in storytelling, Deadpool joyfully skips along and laughs, and that’s what’s great about it, it shows that you don’t always need dark, gritty stories to make a good movie. Sometimes all you need is a wise-cracking smart-ass in a skin tight suit.
While it wasn’t tremendously deep, it was still engaging, to the point where you actually cared for Deadpool and wanted him to rip Francis’ spine out, whether the smug prat felt pain or not. It also pushed the boundaries of love interests in superhero films, neither Vanessa or Wade are particularly good people, but they’re both still incredibly lovable and their chemistry pops off the screen.
Besides the humour which lends Deadpool its unique charm, it was also proficient at stringing together a great action scene. Whether that be the opening fight on the bridge (which I love for the uniqueness of his lack of bullets factoring into the fight) to the balls-out final fight with Francis, it didn’t have the biggest budget, but it made-do with what it had until it was fit-to-bursting with charm, humour and most importantly, violence. It’s a rainbow-patterned unicorn in a world of dull, grey horses, and I love it.
4. Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Directed by Sam Raimi
Spider-Man is one of Marvel’s most popular characters, arguably THE most popular, so his transition to screen was always going to be closely scrutinised. Thankfully, his big-screen debut in 2002’s Spider-Man was well-received by fans and critics alike, and despite being a bit flabby at times, could well have ended up on this list too, eventually though, I realised that I much preferred its sequel, so here it is.
Spider-Man 2 was a perfect storm, and in many ways, the perfect formula for a sequel, as I said in an earlier entry, a good sequel builds on the originals formula, however, it’s also important that the original’s focus isn’t too large as to over-shadow any potential follow-up. In the first, the larger series plot-line – Harry Osbourne’s hatred of Spider-Man – is established in given context, here, not only is it expanded and given more depth, but a more powerful threat emerges for Spider-Man, one that is his intellectual and physical equal.
Dr Octopus’ origin is tragic to the point of us sympathising with him, only for that sympathy to drain away as his villainous actions ramp up, only to bring us full circle into sympathising again by the end, all while not feeling rushed, as some films with a one movie arc might do. It’s extremely well-paced and has enough emotional-heft for us to sympathise, and demonise him, all within a two-hour run-time. Now that’s a masterclass in pacing.
Tobey McGuire is nostalgically labelled by fans as the ‘best’ Spider-Man, while I don’t completely agree, I will say he was the perfect Spider-Man for that time, someone who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders all while lacking the crucial experience afforded by age, and Tobey finds his peak in his performance here, his relationship with Mary-Jane is explored in depth, his devotion to being Spider-Man and maintaining a healthy home life is tested, as well as his strength and intelligence in the face of an equal threat. It is a Spider-Man that struck the perfect balance of showing both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and still holds up as his best solo outing to date.
3. Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Okay, okay, I’m indulging one more film from the MCU, but in my defence, it isn’t any old MCU movie, it’s THE MCU movie.
Ten years, and nineteen movies of varying quality, lead us here and it could have quite easily have played it safe, but instead it gave us the most epic superhero film in history in scale and in quality.
I could go on singing the films praises, but I’ve already said all I wanted to say in my review of the film earlier in the year, which can be found here: https://majorfilmreviews.wordpress.com/2018/05/17/avengers-infinity-war/
All I have to add is that ten years of ups and downs lead us to the most ambitious superhero property of all time, and showed that in the hands of a competent studio, a superhero team-up can be the most epic movie in recent memory.
2. Logan (2017) – Directed by James Mangold
Oh, how I agonised over my top 2. You see, when I started this list, I knew my Top 2 would be set in stone, and the rest would fall into place, but how to separate two films that I love so dearly, well in the end, I left my choice up to fate, and flipped a coin. That was the only way I could decide which order to put the top two in.
Where to begin with Logan? It served as a perfect swansong for Hugh Jackman’s almost two-decade stint and the regenerating mutant, and he delivered the performance of a lifetime.
It wasn’t just Jackman that made this the masterpiece that it is, it was all the factors the film juggled, which came together so perfectly on film. The post apocalyptic setting with no mutants, the culmination of the father-son dynamic between Logan and Charles Xavier, the tight brutal action and most of all, the gorgeous direction. Despite a dystopian future being somewhat overdone at this point, this film still manages to make it look like a work of art.
Logan may not have the scale of Infinity War, but what it has in spades is character and emotion, every person in the film seems broken, and this film isn’t showing how they become fixed, but how they cope with being broken in a dying world. It shows that a family is more than just blood, it’s who you love and who you trust. It’s a smaller, more personal story, a story fronted by a character we’ve come to love over nearly 20 years of films, this wasn’t just the perfect end for Logan, but the perfect way for Jackman to hang up his claws and ride off into the sunset. It was a well-deserved final piece of cinematic gold that was the final piece of the larger jigsaw that is Logan, the character, by the end he was a redeemed man, and even in death, fulfilled.
1. The Dark Knight (2008) – Directed by Christopher Nolan
As I say, this and Logan were nailed on for Top 2 the second this idea crossed my mind, and this eventually won my game of eenie-meanie-miney-mo. However, it is not an undeserved victory, as The Dark Knight is the absolute pinnacle of superhero films, and arguably, films in general.
It’s a rare merit to find a superhero film that appeals to hardcore comic-book fans, film fans and general movie goers in general, and that’s because of its incredibly compelling nature.
It is a flaw of deep films that multi-layered story can turn off casual movie-goers, but The Dark Knight is such a good time that it’s enjoyable no matter what your grasp of the story is, after all, the film is almost worth it for just one performance.
It feels like we were robbed out of the follow-up that this film was supposed to have (not that its actual follow-up was bad) because another chance to spend two hours with Heath Ledger’s Joker would have sold a ticket to me alone. It’s one of those performances that you can’t tear your eyes from, every aspect gives a new depth to his character. The little quirks added by Ledger himself only add to his magnetism.
It’s not just Ledger that gets this film top spot, but the all-round package The Dark Knight provides, it’s beautifully shot (as can be expected from Christopher Nolan), keeps a good pace so there’s no chance of getting bored, the performances are staggering and just as an extra cherry on the cake, it has a wonderfully atmospheric score, that makes Gotham City feel that bit more dangerous.
Another thing I really love about the film is the Harvey Dent/Two-Face origin that happens both alongside and together with the main plot, the wires cross over from time to tie and tie the story together, but it never feels like Harvey is overshadowing the Joker, and vice versa, they exist within the same vacuum, yet are still equally compelling, this is how you pull off a narrative with more than one villain, you don’t have to clutter your movie, and this shows how screen time can be properly shared between two equally relevant villains, even if Aaron Eckhart gets somewhat forgotten, unfairly I’d say.
Overall, The Dark Knight is as close to a perfect superhero package as you’re going to get, each aspect weaves itself together to create something truly special, a once in a lifetime movie made by the perfect cast, and the perfect filmmaker. It just doesn’t get better.
So that’s my list, feel free to comment on this with your own ranking, and please remember this is just a bit of fun, and just because a film didn’t make the list, doesn’t mean I don’t like it.
Keep your eyes out in a few weeks as I’ll be compiling the opposite list, My Top 10 WORST Superhero Films, boy oh boy has there been some bad ones.
Hope you enjoyed reading!