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Top 10 Best Super Hero Movies

As with any Top 10 list, there are provisions.  This is a list of super hero movies, not movies based on comic books.  So, no Men in Black.  No, Road to Perdition or History of Violence.  No, The Mask who was certainly a colorful comic book character, but was not a super hero.

With that in mind, here are my picks for the 10 best super hero movies ever made:

MANHATTAN

10. Thor (2011)

There was no reason to think a solo Thor movie would work.  Even in comics, Thor with his cosmic origins and rainbow bridges, barely works as a compelling solo character.  But Kenneth Branagh deftly blended Thor’s Shakespearan and fantasy elements with a fish-out-of-water story that moves along fast enough to keep you from noticing how silly it all is.  Chris Hemsworth’s winning performance as the disarmingly charming god of thunder certainly helped.

 Captain America The First Avenger

 9. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

For a long time, I held up The Rocketeer as an under-rated entry in the super hero genre.  Now, The Rocketeer director Joe Johnston has brought the same old fashioned story-telling to a more familiar character with Captain America.  It’s basically Indiana Jones in red,w hite and blue tights.  But it’s also a fun adventure yarn.  And Chris Evans makes an endearingly humble hero.  I’ll be the first to admit I may be over-rating this one just a bit due to my affection for the character.  But Captain America is definitely a worthy super hero movie.

Batman Begins

8. Batman Begins (2005)

Following 1997’s Batman and Robin, the Batman franchise was so toxic that the only way to revive it was to start from scratch.  Christopher Nolan went back to the beginning of the Batman tale and grounded the Dark Knight in a world that was more realistic.  Or at least as realistic as a world that includes Batman could possibly be.  Batman Begins isn’t as much fun as it could be and it’s not as complex as its sequel.  But it set a solid foundation Nolan would later build upon.

dunst - spider-man

7. Spider-man (2002)

Sam Raimi’s Spider-man kicked the super hero movie genre into high gear.  While the Green Goblin costume left something to be desired, Saimi and company get a lot right.  The first film takes its time introducing us to its every-man protagonist, Peter Parker.  The love story between Maguire’s Peter and Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane is genuinely engaging.  Everyone remembers that up-side down kiss in the rain.

Maguire - Spider-man 2

6. Spider-man 2 (2004)

There was a lot to like about Sam Raimi’s Spider-man.  But the 2004 follow-up improved on the original formula with a superior villain (who could actually move his mouth when he talked) and a more emotional character arc for Peter Parker.  The CGI hasn’t aged especially well and I wish Peter wouldn’t loose his mask quite so often.  But Spider-man 2 raised the bar on super hero movies in general and sequels in particular.

Iron Man

5. Iron Man (2008)

Iron Man is a second stringer among super heroes.  But Jon Favreau’s simple retelling of Iron Man’s origin is a lot of fun.  Credit for that goes largely to Robert Downey Jr.’s charismatic performance as the devil-may-care Tony Stark.  Downey fires off quips like Iron Man fires off repulsor blasts.  The straight-forward action sequences with Iron Man effortlessly blowing up tanks are real crowd pleasers.  A lot of super hero movies get bogged down with decades of comic book history compressed into 2 hours.  Iron Man shows that simplicity can really work.  The sequel, fell into the trap of being overly complex.

4. X-Men 2 (2003)

Bryan Singer’s first X-Men film had to do a lot of heavy lifting.  By the time Singer had introduced his world of mutants and a large cast of heroes and villains to audiences who didn’t know a Wolverine from a Sabertooth, there wasn’t a lot of time left to tell a story.  With introductions out of the way, Singer got right to the story-telling the second time around.  X-Men 2 delivers everything fans wanted from the first film from Wolverine breaking loose to Nightcrawler bamfing.  The movie ends with a moving sacrifice that is rare in super hero films.  We’ll just ignore that the third film negated everything that was good about the second.

The Incredibles

3. The Incredibles (2004)

Brad Bird’s The Incredibles is the movie that Fantastic Four should have been.  Don’t let the animation fool you.  The characters and relationships in The Incredibles are more fully developed than in most live-action super hero movies.  The Incredibles works on all levels; comedy, adventure, family drama.  Plus, Samuel L Jackson yelling for his super suit!

Joker Dark Knight

2. The Dark Knight (2008)

Nolan breathed new life into the Batman franchise with Batman Begins.  His more realistic take on Batman was a welcome change after the camp of the Schumacher Batman films.  Having established the tone of his Batman in the first film, Nolan was free to cut loose in the sequel.  And the end result, The Dark Knight, is the darkest, twistiest super hero movie ever made.  Take off the make-up and The Dark Knight could easily pass for a Michael Mann crime drama.  Mix in Heath Ledger’s electrifying turn as the Joker and you have a super hero movie that redefined what a super hero movie could be.  Almost four years later, the genre is still playing catch-up.

 

Reeve - Superman

1. Superman: The Movie (1978)

That picture says it all.  In 1978, Superman: The Movie promised to make audiences believe a man could fly.  And it delivered on that promise like no movie before or since.  I have a sentimental attachment to the first Christopher Reeve movie that blinds me.  There are parts of Superman: The Movie that haven’t aged well.  Lex Luthor (as played for laughs by Gene Hackman) isn’t a very big threat for the Man of Steel.  And the finale is pretty ridiculous.  But at its heart, Superman: The Movie is all about the fantasy of flight.  And it gets that fantasy right.  The John Williams score still makes me feel like I am soaring.  And the chemistry between Reeves and Margot Kidder is pitch perfect.  Flaws and all, Superman: The Movie puts a big, childlike grin on my face every time.

I have to admit, there were some tough calls when compiling this list.  Especially at the upper levels, there were some incredibly tight races.  I could see nudging Spider-man 2 over Iron Man or X-Men 2 on another day.  And with new entries in the super hero genre flooding the market every summer, the list is bound to change.  Hopefully, future lists will include some of 2012’s offerings.

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Posted on January 10, 2012, in Movies, Super Heroes, Top Ten and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 87 Comments.

  1. Good list, personally I’d have probably had Watchmen in there but I’m glad to see someone else likes Superman The Movie as much as I do!

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    • Watchmen was a candidate. I go back and forth on Watchmen. Sucker Punch left a bad taste in my mouth and has me down on Snyder. Also, I tend to like my super heroes more bright and colorful (Superman, Captain America) over dark and gritty. Watchmen works great as a deconstruction of comic books. But when you change genres, it loses something. In a lot of ways, the film works at cross purposes with Moore’s original story. It glorifies the violence Moore intentionally left off panel. The movie celebrtes Rorschach in a way the comic does not.

      Glad you liked the list. Thanks for reading!

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      • Good list, here’s mine:

        10 Fantastic Four II
        9 Iron Man II
        8 Superman II
        7 Batman Begins
        6 Spider-Man
        5 X-Men II
        4 The Dark Knight
        3 Iron Man
        2 Spider-Man II
        1 Superman

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        • Also a very good list. We have lots of overlap 😉

          I never did see the second Fantastic Four. I didn’t love the first one. But I didn’t hate it the way a lot of people did.

          I was mixed on Iron Man 2. About 2/3rds in, it kind of lost me. I need to go back and rewatch it.

          Superman 2 is a childhood favorite. I considered letting it share a spot with Superman: The Movie. But then you get into the whole mess with Richard Donner being fired by the Salkinds. If I had a time machine that could only be used to go back and right cinematic wrongs, the first thing I would do is go back and let Richard Donner finish making his version of Superman 2. And hopefully Superman 3 as well. I still love Superman 2. But the back story tarnishes it for me somewhat.

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      • Yeah, I picked up Superman II last year (hadn’t seen it in decades), and unfortunately my memory of how great it is was no longer totally accurate. It starts out very strong, and you’re looking forward to this huge showdown, and then it gets really corny toward the end. I’m sure that has a lot to do with the Donner situation. Thankfully we have the first one which is the quintessential superhero movie.

        The FF’s were highly flawed movies. FF2 barely makes my list. Michael Chiklis’s portrayal of The Thing is perfection. The suit is not perfection. But, for a man-in-a-suit effect…I’m ok with it. Of course they’re now rebooting this and planning to CG The Thing making him oversized based on the more recent depictions of him in the FF comics. It is possible that Chiklis will voice the character. I also thought that the Silver Surfer was done perfectly. Doctor Doom is a complete disaster in both films, which is what ruined the franchise for most fans (myself included). The casting of Richards was not great. I know that everyone hated Alba being cast as Sue, but most of the complaints that I’ve read were based on prejudicial arguments…she’s too tan, her eyes aren’t blue, she’s not “white”, etc. I mean, it’s not like they didn’t try to make her look like Sue. Her acting is ok, not exactly Sue Storm though. And of course Johnny Storm became Captain America and that’s the end of that. Chris Evans did a good job though, despite fans crying over his hair color!

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        • The Salkind/Donner thing was just stupid. The Salkinds were crooks. They fought over every last cent Donner spent on Superman. So when it was a big hit, did they apologize for doubting him? Nope, they fired him and replaced him with Richard Lester. Despite the fact Superman 2 was mostly finished. Then, in order to name Richard Lester as the director, the Salkinds were obligated to have Lester film more than half of the final product. So they went back and did shot-for-shot reshoots of some of Donner’s stuff. Which obviously cost them more money (which is what they were upset about to begin with).

          Gene Hackman flat out refused to do reshoots. So anything in Superman 2 with Hackman in it is Donner footage. Margot Kidder got lippy to the press about the way Donner was treated. So the Salkinds had her part cut down to a cameo in Superman 3 – which is probably for the best. Superman 3 is pure Richard Lester. So you see what happens without Donner on board.

          I have a copy of the Richard Donner version of Superman 2. Sadly, they had to reuse footage from Superman: the Movie and from some audition tapes to fill it out. It’s not really a satisfying viewing experience. But it gives you a glimpse of what might have been.

          I’m with you on FF (the first one anyway as I never saw 2). Flawed, but not a crime. I agree Evans was good in it. It makes his humble Cap even more impressive by comparisson.

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      • I don’t think they did any “shot-for-shot” reshoots of Donner’s Superman II footage. As you can see in the Donner cut, they did some rewriting, like moving Lois’ life-threatening attempt to make Clark Kent reveal his Superman identity from the Daily Planet to Niagara Falls. Part of that was because the beginning of the movie had to be rewritten in order to find a way to blow up the Phantom Zone, since it was no longer done at the end of the first movie using the nuclear missile Superman launched into space. Hence we got the nuclear bomb in Paris. Also, some of Brando’s scenes were reshot with Susannah York since they didn’t want to have to pay Brando a percentage of the sequel’s gross. But I see no evidence of arbitrary reshoots just to get Lester’s percentage of the footage up.

        We also have to keep in mind that Donner apparently said in public that he would not return for the sequel if the producers didn’t fire one of their partners Pierre Spengler. Donner had a toxic relationship with the producers and wasn’t even speaking to them near the end of shooting Superman. I think without question all the interviews show that he hated them more than they hated him. Ultimately he was let go for pretty much the same reason Charlie Sheen was, he insulted his bosses. Even if he had come back to finish part 2, it’s doubtful Donner would have been willing to work with the Salkinds again on an entirely new sequel.

        I think Lester did a good job of finishing up the sequel and staying relatively true to the original vision. Some of the things he changed would likewise have had to have been changed by Donner to make it consistent with the last-minute changes on the first film. I can see Donner ending up with the same “Super kiss” at the end to wipe out Lois’ memory. They always say Lester was too cynical to do a Superman film, but that’s not a cynical moment, that’s pure fairy tale magic, albeit perhaps a logical stretch of Superman’s powers.

        Ultimately Lester would prove to be a bad director for the franchise with part 3, but part 2 was a success on every level, critically and financially. Reportedly Lester received the biggest paycheck for a director ever at that time to come back and do the 3rd film and the studio had to beg to get him back even then since he was reluctant. Perhaps the studio erroneously thought he was more responsible for how well the 2nd film turned out than Donner.

        I certainly don’t get the negativity that has developed around the 2nd film, other than fans channeling their anger over Donner being fired. Many of Donner’s scenes remain, and they arguably are some of the best scenes in either film. And the much-maligned humor that Lester added was not much different than the comic relief Donner put in the original film with Lex, Otis and cameo characters like the cop and pimp on the street. The movie takes the romance between Superman and Lois just as seriously as the original did and brings that plot to a very logical and moving conclusion.

        Aside from cutting Brando, which was not Lester’s decision, the only real mistake I see is Lester cutting the scene where Lois threatens Clark with the gun, done apparently due to his irrational European disdain for firearms. The movie is overall a wonderful comic book film, probably more entertaining than the original, and still has the greatest, most exciting superhero brawl ever put on film with its final battle on the streets of Metropolis, which as far as I’ve ever heard Lester is largely responsible for shooting. Sure Avengers has a big final battle in a city, but fighting mindless alien drones is not as entertaining as the truly dramatic showdown between Superman and General Zod’s gang. The way the extras get involved in cheering on Superman during this fight is its masterstroke.

        I don’t fault Lester and the Salkinds for cutting Kidder’s part down in part 3. Her story had been told, at least for the time being. The James Bond/action picture tradition was always to bring a new love interest in for a sequel. Bringing Lana Lang back into the picture was the right move to make and was true to the comic books, where Lois and Lana would always compete for Superman’s affections. The mistakes made on Superman 3 were many, but Lana Lang was not one of them.

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        • In order to receive sole director credit, Lester had to film a certain % of the film. Donner had nearly completed the film, so Lester scrapped and reshot many scenes. Hackman, Valerie Perrine and Ned Beatty refused to participate in the reshoots and were replaced with body doubles in certain scenes. Brando was cut for budget reasons.

          I think you have provided a good defense of Lester and a counter point against my pro-Donner stance. I will admit, I have never seen interview footage of Donner trashing the Salkinds until after he was replaced. Maybe that would change my perception. But to me, Donner got Superman. The Salkinds were clueless. Lester, I don’t know. Maybe he was caught in the crossfire. I think Superman 3 proved he wasn’t the best choice for the material.

          But you are correct that Donner and Mankiewicz were going to have to scramble to come up with a decent ending for Superman 2 since they used their original ending for Superman: the Movie. I doubt Donner would have directed Superman 3. I think Makiewicz would likely have done it. With Donner possibly coming back for 4 if he could mend fences with the Salkinds.

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      • daffystardust

        Best super hero action sequences? The fight you mention in Superman II certainly is in the discussion. I’d also include the Spider-Man/Doc Ock battle in the middle of Spider-Man 2 and the mind-controlled Nightcrawler scene at the beginning of X2. Anything else stick out?

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        • Wolverine cutting loose in X2?

          Lots of stuff from Avengers. Practically the whole movie.

          And while I don’t care for Superman Returns, the plane rescue is pretty awesome.

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      • Just to be clear, Hackman not participating in reshoots for the sequel was not a result of Donner’s firing. Even Donner knew Hackman (and Brando) were not going to do any reshoots for the sequel, so he got all their footage in the can before filming wrapped on part 1. That did result in the rewritten scenes for part 2 being unable to include Lex Luthor, and a few shots from the back of a Hackman body double to bridge some of the gaps. This is why Ursa has to drop Lex (a Hackman body double) randomly in the Fortress of Solitude before their initial fight with Superman there, since that fight was newly scripted under Lester’s tutelage. He then reappears on the scene for the final “crystal chamber” showdown which was shot by Donner.

        I’ll stand by my contention that scenes in Superman II were not arbitrarily reshot just to increase Lester’s percentage of the footage. That is more of a fandom urban legend which has never been backed up by any of the cast and crew. For example, the above action scene was added, according to the Salkinds, because they felt the Fortress showdown needed some action instead of just jumping right to the dialogue-heavy conclusion. From a pacing standpoint, that new scene does add something.

        There was plenty of footage that Donner did not get to shoot which Lester had available to fill out his time. The Metropolis battle and Superman/Lois scenes at the hotel and fortress happened to stay closer to Donner’s script than did the Niagara Falls jump and the arrival of the villains on Earth. The Daily Planet scenes were reshot, but changed significantly due to the need to blow up the Phantom Zone in a different way and change the time travel ending. There is no case where a scene was simply reshot the same way that it was shot under Donner.

        The relationship between Donner and the Salkinds was extremely contentious during filming of Superman and Donner expected that he might get fired well before shooting on that film was completed. Donner and the producers were not speaking near the end of filming, and Richard Lester was already on staff acting as a go-between for them. I believe it was Lester who suggested that the “turning back the world” scene be moved to Superman I so that Lois could die and be brought back to life, after all of them had agreed that the movie needed some kind of extra punch for the ending.

        No question that Donner was responsible for the quality of the Superman movie. What the Salkinds and Lester did on part 3 and on Supergirl prove that. I only argue that Lester didn’t ruin Superman II. That certainly wasn’t the perception at the time, when Superman II seemed to be widely regarded as more entertaining than the original. I think the final film is not that different from what Donner intended and it was still done by a cast and crew that had been well-trained by Donner.

        Another interesting fact noted in the recent soundtrack liner notes is that John Williams was brought back for a meeting with Richard Lester in regards to scoring Superman II. They had one meeting after which Williams walked out and said he can’t work with Lester. Apparently because Lester had been so successful on the Beatles films, he liked to micro-manage how the music was scored too much for Williams’ tastes.

        Another note of trivia, Donner and Mankiewicz were asked to return for Superman IV, but declined, apparently because they felt they had already climbed that mountain, and coming back to the series didn’t interest them on a creative level. Obviously this was a good choice for Donner if it would have prevented him from directing Lethal Weapon that same year. Likewise Mankiewicz directed Dragnet that year, which was actually successful enough to have the 4th biggest opening weekend of the year, and did respectable overall box office, about the same as Predator, despite it not being a particularly well-regarded film now.

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  2. wow, that was fast!
    I need to get on my horse!

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    • Like I said, half the work was already done.

      I’ve been thinking about writing up my favorite super hero movies for about a year. But I put it off until I could see all of the 2011 crop.

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  3. Did everybody forget that the animated “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” was a theatrical release, or does nobody like it as much as I do? In my opinion, it was the best Batman film until “The Dark Knight” was released.

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    • I must confess, I did forget Mask of the Phantasm.

      It’s a good flick. In it’s day, I would agree it was the best Batman movie. I would definitely recommend it, but…

      I don’t really love it. I want to love it. But it’s a little dull. It only really picks up when Mark Hamill’s Joker shows up. And by then, it’s a little too late. Again, I like it. It’s good. But I’d have liked to see them have a little more fun with it.

      By the way, Kevin Conroy is the best Batman period.

      Now that MotP has been pointed out, I still don’t feel the need to include it in my list. I think The Incredibles fills the animated film slot. And I wouldn’t bump either of the Nolan Batman films to make room for MotP.

      I do look forward to seeing your list, however… (hint, hint)

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  4. Your wish is my command!

    10. Spider-Man
    9. Superman 2
    8. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
    7. X-Men 2
    6. Unbreakable
    5. Watchmen
    4. The Incredibles
    3. Iron Man
    2. The Dark Knight
    1. Spider-Man 2

    Advanced special effects technology has clearly made this into the golden age of super hero movies. Only 2 of the above movies were released prior to 2000, and one of those was animated.

    “Unbreakable” is sort of a sneaky one, since you’re not really supposed to know you’re watching a super hero movie.

    I can certainly understand the arguments against my #1 choice, but when I ask myself which of the above I would choose to watch once a month for the rest of my life, if I had to, that would be it.

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    • I think everything on your list is worthy. Unbreakable was a movie I considered. But for my list, I prioritized traditional, spandex-clad super heroics. I decided I’d rather keep “fun” movies like Thor and Cap over Unbreakable. But Unbreakable or Watchmen definitely make for a more varied list.

      We discussed Mask of the Phantasm already. Twas a time when it would have been #2 on my list. Like you said, we are in a golden age of super hero movies.

      Spider-man 2 is an excellent choice for the number one spot. Many critics called it the best super hero movie of all time when it was released. It’s a fun movie and not as dated as Superman: The Movie. If you’re willing to live with Raimi’s departures from canon, it captures a lot of what makes Spider-man work. It was the first movie that made me question whether or not Superman: The Movie was still the greatest.

      And I have to admit, my ranking of Superman as the best is completely biased. It’s one of those movies that transports me to my childhood. I can’t view it through the eyes of an adult or a contemporary viewer. So if I am allowing myself that kind of attachment, I have to allow the same for Spider-man.

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      • Yes, good lists from all. The fact that I rank Spider-Man II as my 2nd choice even though I didn’t love Raimi’s take overall, is saying a lot!

        Had you allowed it LeBeau, Hellboy would have been on my list.

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        • Hellboy is a good flick. I think it has enough super hero DNA to count. I disqualified The Mask because, he really isn’t a hero at all.

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      • My new list:

        10 Superman II
        9 Hellboy II
        8 Batman Begins
        7 Spider-Man
        6 X-Men II
        5 The Dark Knight
        4 Iron Man
        3 Hellboy
        2 Spider-Man II
        1 Superman

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    • daffystardust

      Lynn and I sat down and watched both Captain America and Thor last night in preparation for seeing The Avengers on Sunday.
      Based on those viewings, here’s my revised list:
      10) Superman 2
      9) Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
      8) Captain America
      7) X-Men 2
      6) Unbreakable
      5) Watchmen
      4) The Incredibles
      3) Iron Man
      2) The Dark Knight
      1) Spider-Man 2

      So basically, Captain America moves in at #8 and Raimi’s first Spider-Man gets bumped out altogether. I really liked the Captain America movie, in part because of the period details and the likable cast. The Bucky situation got altered a little, which was weird. They didn’t have time to give that storyline what it deserved if they were going to change it in the way they did. The Red Skull was pretty great, and all of the nods to Cap’s history were nicely done. I loved seeing the human torch canister on display at the fair.

      Thor was a little scattered for me. The action sequences were fun, and Tom Hiddleston was truly excellent as Loki, but Thor’s “fish out of water” storyline left me cold. I guess they did what they could with the source material. The books were pretty much action/intrigue stories when at their best, leaving very little space for the kind of character development that would appeal to a mainstream audience and lead into The Avengers movie effectively.

      I am hoping to have to re-revise my list after seeing The Avengers on Sunday.

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      • Just got back from Avengers. You will be revising your list! Enjoy. And stay to the very end of the closing credits. There’s a teaser 1/2 through the credits and a lot of people will clear out. But the second scene at the very end is priceless.

        Enjoy! Can’t wait to compare notes!

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    • daffystardust

      I will, indeed, re-revise my list, but perhaps not as dramatically as some others might. The Avengers is a top-notch crowd pleasing action flick with enough character development to make you care about what happens to most of its participants.The sheer number of characters, however, limits how much you really get to inspect some of them.

      Thor probably shouldn’t change much more than he already did in his solo film, but the ‘brother’ angle with Loki, while mentioned constantly, was never used as anything more than a plot point.

      Was Hawkeye based on some ‘Ultimate’ reboot version? The character in the movie didn’t really resemble the tall, preening, hothead I remember from the books. Jeremy Renner could’ve knocked that guy out the park (except for the tall part). As it is, Renner is given little acting to do and Hawkeye is sort of a cypher, defined only by his role in the action and some previously existing relationship with one of the other characters.

      Cobie Smulders’ Agent Maria Hill is apparently a brand new character in the books. Is she important? I didn’t really understand her significance outside of getting to see Smulders in that outfit.

      That said, I had a great time at the movie, which had awesome action and some very funny moments.

      Re-revised list:

      10. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
      9. Captain America
      8. X-Men 2
      7. Unbreakable
      6. Watchmen
      5. The Incredibles
      4. The Avengers
      3. Iron Man
      2. The Dark Knight
      1. Spider-Man 2

      These things are always fluid, but this is how I feel now.

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      • I am not going to revise my list until after the current summer crop has come and gone. I think Dark Knight Rises and Amazing Spider-man all both candidates for the top 10. And Avengers will certainly take a spot. Not the top spot. But I think it is currently my favorite Marvel movie.

        I plan to write up a review later today, so I’m going to keep my response to the points I don’t plan to address in my review.

        I slightly disagree with you about the Thor/Loki brother angle. Like you said, it was brought up quite a bit. I think the scene between Thor and Loki where Thor tried to bring Loki back into the fold was rather touching and tragic in the “Shakespeare in the Park” way that Thor stories are told. It wasn’t the focus of the movie. But I thought it was given its due.

        I stopped reading The Ultimates before Hawkeye made his way onto the scene. I think the costume was a little more Ultimate than traditional purple. But I don’t think the character had his roots in any rebooted version of Hawkeye. The Ultimate Avengers were “extreme” to the point where the Hulk ate people and talked about rape a lot.

        Basically, Hawkeye was a bit of an afterthought. But I thought they made the most of his limited screen time. Renner basically made it worthwhile. And the door is open to give the character a spotlight later on. I felt like they were trying to sell us on a Black Widow/Hawkeye movie. And they were successful. I’ll buy a ticket for that movie right now.

        I will say I don’t think Maria Hill is any more important than she was in the movie. She is basically a high ranking SHIELD agent. She has filled in for Nick Fury when he has “gone missing”. My guess is she was included in the movie for 3 reasons. One, she filled out the costume nicely. Two, she added a little estrogen to a predominantly white, male cast. And most importantly, she can fill in the Shield agent role in upcoming Marvel movies.

        Contract negotiations between Samuel L Jackson and Marvel were famously heated to the point where Jackson almost walked. Should that happen again, Marvel can now say that Nick Fury has gone missing and put Smulders in his place. Also, if Agent Coulson should be unavailable for any future Marvel movies for any reason (…) Agent Hill can fill that role going forward.

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  5. Hey, glad I wasn’t the only one that appreciated Thor a little bit more than the norm. Maybe it was having no expectations going in, but I came out of that movie having had a good time. Only the first Iron Man had me smiling more upon the theater exit.

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    • Low expectations definitely helped. Same with Iron Man and Cap. On the other hand, I think high expectations made X-Men: First Class something of a let-down. Thor was more fun than it had any right to be. I mean, it’s freaking Thor! What’s next? Hawkman?!?

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  6. Well I can’t chime in with a top 10 list because I don’t think there have been 10 super hero movies that I liked that much. I can get onboard w/ Superman 1 because I was a kid and it was the first live action comic character I saw brought to life. So it was cool. I didn’t think the reboot a few years ago was that bad either. Not a barn burner, but not bad. Obviously it didn’t catch on as there have been no sequels which I’m sure they were banking on.

    The Iron Man movies were quite good as was the Norton version of Hulk. I attribute both to good leading men. Downey Jr. and Norton are just fine actors who can pull off a range of roles and both got their respective roles in these films spot on.

    I think my number one spot has to be reserved for the Batman reboots. Not the god-awful, schlocky, Tim Burton messes from the 90’s. Oh, those were so bad. Nolans’ Batman however more captures the charcter as I envision him. A pissed off, brooding, bad ass out for vengence. And Bale is perfect in the role. Like Norton and Downey did in their roles, Bale perfectly captures the dark persona that is Batman. I’m looking forward to the next installment and was very sorry to hear Bale wants out of the franchise after that. Yep, my vote goes to Batman.

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    • Coming up with 10 was a bit of a stretch. 5 years ago, I wouldn’t have bothered.

      Superman Returns wasn’t horrible. But some of the choices were just so wrong-headed I marvel that WB actually agreed to let Singer do them. Superman as a deadbeat dad? The over the top Christ imagery? An over-stuffed running time with Superman throwing almost no punches? I appreciate Singer’s ambition. But this was not what fans wanted from a Superman movie.

      I did think Routh was great as a Reeve stand-in. Loved the reuse of the John Williams score. And that airplane rescue was amazing. If the movie had been more like that scene, it would have been a huge hit. Also, as much as it pains me to say it, Singer did too much of an homage to Donner.

      I wasn’t a fan of either Hulk movie. For one thing, Hulk just kind of leaves me cold. The first Hulk was too cerebral. And it had Hulk fighting a poodle which is just wrong. I guess the Norton Hulk was an improvement. But eventually, I found myself bored with it too. Turns out you can have too much of Hulk fighting. But I agree, Norton was good in it.

      I have a fondness for the Burton Batman films. I don’t think they have aged well. And they were flawed to begin with. But as a Burton fan, I still enjoy them. They are kind of lousy Batman films though. But if you compare them to the Schumacher films, they shine.

      I like the Nolan Batman too. But I’m perfectly okay with them ending with a trilogy. Hopefully they will give their Batman story a proper ending. I think Bale would stick with the franchise if Nolan was sticking around. But Nolan won’t direct another Batman. So, Bale’s out too. The plan is to relaunch the series after Dark Knight Rises. I’m guessing Nolan will have some hand in the new direction of the franchise as a producer. But I’m perfectly okay with seeing a new take on the character after three Nolan films.

      I am just hoping Dark Knight Rises isn’t Nolan’s Spider-man 3!

      Can’t wait for Avengers. They are my favorite Marvel characters and I am a Whedon fan. I’m cautiously optimistic for Dark Knight Rises, Amazing Spider-Man and Man of Steel. Secretly, I hope Snyder pulls off an amazing Superman film that blows everything else away. But I don’t really expect that to happen.

      Like

    • tbob, you’re pretty close to 10 movies right there (6, anyway).

      Like

  7. Wow, lots of comments (that I won’t read). Thor I heard someone refer to him walking around shirtless half the time looking like Kurt Cobain on steroids. Captain America I almost feel sad isn’t higher up. I actually saw it 5 times in theaters (and for that matter paid for it 4 for times >.< ). I've never gone that many times to any other movie in the theater. Spiderman 1 at least I'd have put behind Captain and Batman.

    I almost wanted to see Superman Returns on here too, though looking at the others in the list I don't really know what I'd have tossed out to fit that one in myself. Personally I find it to be a sadly underrated movie that really was wonderfully done; especially when looking at the fact it was a sequel about 20 years later.

    Surprised to see Incredibles btw. Also with the list of soon to be super hero movies coming out, it almost feels too early for this list. At least assuming you that you don't do this yearly or so…

    Like

    • Oh c’mon…please read our comments!

      Like

      • Fine fine, I’ll read them (as I have time atm to do so 😛 )

        Hearing the Watchmen comment oddly made me think about Kickass as a rather more realistic super hero movie that if isn’t on the list, I think should at least have been a runner up.

        I do have the Superman boxset, but still need to see the Superman 2 Donner cut or whatever it was called.

        FF films I only saw part of 2, but what I saw at least Silver Surfer was done nicely. I’m not big on the FF, but I did enjoy Johnny’s portrayal and I didn’t like Alba for I thought she was casted more for her looks than her acting ability (which I think isn’t too great, and didn’t do great as Susan).

        I admit running out of time I skimmed the last couple.

        Like

        • Maybe I’m an old man (okay, I am) but I had problems with Kick Ass that kept me from enjoying it. There were parts of it I enjoyed. But as the movie progressed, it just got uglier and uglier. I couldn’t get past the image of a young girl sexualized in a fettish school girls costume engaging in graphic violence. Once they raised the staked by killing off her dad, it wasn’t even cartoonish anymore. It was just offensive. There was a lot of artistry in Kick Ass. But it was in service of an ugly story.

          I did really enjoy Cage’s take on Adam West though.

          Like

      • Thank you, I think we agree on pretty much everything. I would have loved for Alba to do a great job as Sue but she just couldn’t hack it. Chris Evans did a darn good job as Johnny.

        I also don’t have the Donner cut of Superman II. In fact I didn’t even know about it until LeBeau mentioned it. I’m a little hesitant to pick it up because he said that parts were pieced together with audition tapes and so forth. That doesn’t really appeal to me.

        Like

        • The Donner cut is worth a rental if you’re curious. But it ends with footage from Superman: The Movie. Same flying around the world to turn back time stuff. And one early scene is from Christopher Reeve’s audition footage before he bulked up for the role. So, it really stands out.

          It’s interesting if you’re a fan who loves all the back story. But Donner does a commentary along with the great writer Tom Mankiewicz and they spent the whole time talking about how sad it is they never got to complete their film. By their own admission, this is a best efforts deal and it falls short of what they would have done.

          I wish you guys lived close by. I’d loan it to you.

          Like

      • Alba is okay, but there are few roles that I think she really did a good job in. Mostly I think she gets pulled through on her looks >.> Evans though is a good actor, though I sort of wonder how he’ll be in the Avengers movie. I say that mostly for I’m wondering if Robert Downy Jr. will steal the show as out of the Marvel movies leading up to Avengers, I’d place him a good step ahead of the others. Shame Norton won’t be coming back either as I completely loved him in the Hulk, and think he’s a great actor too.

        I think I saw the Donner cut in some Superman 2 collector edition that having already owned the 4 movie set I didn’t want to pay the 30 or so bucks it costed at the time to own a movie I already had but with the extra Donner version with it. I did hear though that many scenes were reshot, and a good amount even changed. I also heard the Donner cut uses more Brando footage that got cut out. Can’t recall but I heard he got fired after problems with his drinking, though I could understand if it was arguments over the mass changes in the movie too.

        I suppose though if I made a list:

        10. X2
        9. Thor
        8. Spiderman
        7. Superman Returns
        6. Spiderman 2
        5. The Dark Knight
        4. Captain America
        3. Iron Man
        2. Batman Begins
        1. Superman: The Movie
        Honorable Mention: Kickass (guess I didn’t get it on my list after all)

        Hero films my favorite two at the moment really would have to be #2 and 3 on my list, Superman mainly beating them for Reeves is a great actor in it and the entire childhood memories thing. Dark Knight is a bit lower up for I felt it was a little long, despite the otherwise great story and acting. I remember actually being pulled out of the experience for a moment in the theater after the Joker was caught to think “how much longer is this?” Of course, list probably would change on my mood/time of year.

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        • Alba is a pretty face and she’s fine in roles that require nothing more. Sin City, Machete… I think she was fine for FF. She just didn’t bring a lot to the table.

          I’m not concerned about Norton being replaced as Hulk. Yeah, he’s a good actor. So’s Mark Ruffalo. Norton’s a pain in the ass to work with. That’s why he’s practically in exile these days.

          The Brando footage! Yes, the Donner cut uses Brando footage. Here’s the deal. Brando filmed scenes for both films at the same time. He got paid an ungodly sum of money for doing so. The Salkinds balked at the idea of paying Brando to appear in the sequel, so they wanted Donner to reshoot the scenes with Susannah York (who played Lara) to save a few bucks. It was one of the many Donner/Salkind conflicts.

          Donner definitely wasn’t fired for drinking. The film was mostly done. And Donner is a consumate professional. The Salkinds sandbagged him out of revenge. They figured since the first movie was such a big hit, they didn’t need Donner any more. You see what that got them.

          Like

      • Don’t know if you’d be willing to mail it LeBeau, but I’d certainly send it back within a week (it’s ok if you don’t want to, I know that mailing a part of a dvd set is probably not a fun thing for a collector).

        Yeah, I had no problem with Alba’s look as Sue Storm and I think that was the biggest complaint that I heard about her being cast in the role. I just thought her portrayal was very weak. She really just seemed like Sue Alba to me. I mean I’ve seen her in interviews, and it just seemed like she wasn’t doing any acting. Whether or not that means she’s a great actress and I just can’t tell because she’s so smooth at it, I don’t know. Either way, she did not nail the Sue Storm role. I’ll go so far as to say that both Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans nailed the roles.

        Like

      • Wow, some reason when I made my last post, the comments Lebeau made didn’t show (unless he snuck them in after…?) In regards to Kickass, I enjoyed it for what it gave. And yes, despite what Lebeau consideres a sexualized 11 year old or whatever her age was, I enjoyed it. For one, I don’t find fault with Damian killing, why should I for a girl considering how they did her backstory? Second, maybe you are old? Girls or even women made to look like they are prepubescent get sexualized a lot worse in many places.

        I was too young to see Superman when it was in theater, but its one of the first movies I recall watching (VHS) as a kid. And I watched it a lot. Sadly I use to love the 3rd movie as a child too, which when I got the DVD set really did not hold the same light that it use to. Earliest in-theater film I recall seeing was the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, which I don’t think fully fit as your definition as a superhero film for the point of this list.

        read/RANT tends to only get huge talks on controversal things (ie: new Starfire). I only tend to come over here for a while though if one of your posted reviews catch my eye.

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        • Yep, I snuck them in later. And yep, I’m old. I think the fact I have two daughters impacts how I view Kick Ass. I wasn’t horribly offended by it. But I couldn’t really enjoy the movie either. It just wasn’t fun for me. I certainly don’t fault anyone for liking it. It just wasn’t my thing.

          TMNT counts as a super hero flick in my book. I saw it in college and thought it was fun. But I was too old to really get into it. I honestly forgot all about it until you just mentioned it. If I were making a list pre-Marvel movies, TMNT would have been on it.

          Like

    • We’re a chatty bunch over here. It’s a smaller community than we have over at read/RANT, but we really mix it up. Which is fun.

      Sounds like someone mislead you about Thor. I don’t want to oversell it, but it’s worth checking out. I almost ranked Cap higher. I really loved it, but I am assuming that is largely due to my pro-Cap bias. I’ll have to reassess it on second viewing.

      I’m sure once the 2012 crop hits theaters, the list will change. I put off writing this up until I saw all the 2011 films. I’ll revisit the list next year. It could become an annual thing.

      Like

  8. Superman will always be number one for me too!
    I’ve got fond memories of watching it at the cinema when I was a child and those experiences tend to stay with you.

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  9. Back to this… 🙂

    Does Robocop or Darkman qualify?

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    • Robocop is a bit of a stretch. But in the loosest of definitions, sure. Darkman’s a bit of an anti-hero. But he’s got a lot of superhero DNA in him. I’d say he counts. Once upon a long time ago, Darkman would have been on my list.

      Like

      • Well, I recently watched Darkman for the frst time since the 90’s and I was completely impressed. It’s corny as hell and totally flawed, but somehow it’s better than many of the superhero movies we’ve been discussing here. Let me put it this way, Darkman is totally entertaining.

        Does Robocop being a stretch mean that it technically counts? I need to redo my list for Darkman, and if Robocop counts it will go toward the top of my list.

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        • I take a pretty narrow approach to what I consider a super hero movie. But I wouldn’t quibble with anyone including sci-fi action heroes like Robocop. The only difference between Robocop and DC’s Cyborg is licensing.

          I haven’t seen Darkman since it was in theaters. But your description matches my memories of it. It’s Raimi! The story is totally nuts. But it’s so energetic and entertaining, you just go with it.

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      • Oops, you already said ok to Robocop, so here’s my revised list:

        10 Hellboy II
        9 Spider-Man
        8 Darkman
        7 X-Men II
        6 The Dark Knight
        5 Iron Man
        4 Hellboy
        3 Spider-Man II
        2 Superman
        1 Robocop

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      • The remake is still listed at IMDB for 2013. There’s nothing they can do to improve on the original, and, more likely, it will be a horrible movie. There are a handful of films that need to be left alone. Robocop is one of them.

        The sequels to both Robocop and Darkman were pretty much awful, in my opinion. I never saw Robocop: Prime Directives.

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        • Yeah, I see very little reason to remake Robocop. It was perfect for what it was. Without Verhoven, there is virtually no chance they will get the satire right. Robocop 2 was written by Frank Miller and they butchered it. So Robocop 3 was written and directed by Frank Miller and he butchered it.

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      • Yep, and Raimi and Neeson were both absent from the Darkman sequels. The only thing good about Part 2 was that Larry Drake reprised his role. I know I suffered through Part 3 when it came out but I can’t remember much about it (other than it being the worst one). These were direct-to-video though, and the Robocop sequels were theatrical releases.

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      • Robocop 3 was directed by Fred Dekker, not Frank Miller. The Spirit is the only film Frank Miller has directed himself, besides his co-directing credit on Sin City.

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  10. I just can’t get behind a list that has Thor on it.

    That movie was all kinds of awful.

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    • I think you’re being a little harsh on the god of thunder. Thor was a fun fish out of water movie and Hemsworth turned in a winning performance. What did you think was “all kinds of awful”?

      I could trade out Thor for some others. Others have included Hellboy on their lists. I could see giving Hellboy the nod, but I’m being fairly narrow in my definition of “super hero”.

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      • I liked the Thor movie. Nearly fell asleep during Captain America. Loved both Hellboy movies and wonder why Del Toro can’t finish the trilogy. Oh, that’s right, 40 projects all at once. Anyway, everytime we come back here I change my list slightly. This time no new films but a re-ordering:

        10 Spider-Man
        9 Darkman
        8 X-Men II
        7 The Dark Knight
        6 Iron Man
        5 Spider-Man II
        4 Hellboy II
        3 Hellboy
        2 Superman
        1 Robocop

        Yeah, I watched Hellboy II the other night and liked it more than ever.

        Like

  11. Wasn’t the point of the Thor movie really only to set up The Avengers anyway? I mean on it’s own Thor was ok I guess. Nothing great, kind of a weak story and plot but ok to kill some time. I didn’t look up it’s box office numbers but did it make enough to warrant a sequel on it’s own? I wouldn’t think so. But used as a vehicle to introduce the character and prepare/tease audiences for The Avengers maybe it works better.

    I’m curious about this upcoming Avengers movie because so far the only one that worked really well on it’s own were the Iron Man films, and Downey Jr. is the main reason for that I think. I kind of liked the Ed Norton Hulk but obviously no sequel ever came so it must not have resonated. Speaking of Norton will he be in this new one or is Hulk going to be all CGI’d? And I do like Josh Wheddon so it’ll be interesting to see if they pull it off.

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    • I actually think Thor worked well as a standalone movie. Maybe a bit light. It was kind of like Crocodile Dundee with Norse mythology in place of the Aussie vibe. And I loved Captain America. I’ll give Iron Man 1 the nod over Cap and Thor. But I preferred both Cap and Thor to the over-stuffed sequel.

      Yep, Thor was a big hit. Sequel-worthy all on its own. Cap was right behind it. But his sequel hasn’t been greenlit yet. So, Thor was right on the cusp. I think with the Cap sequel they are having a tough time deciding what to do since the first movie was set in the 40s.

      Ed Norton won’t be in the Avengers. Long story short, he and Marvel didn’t get along. At all. Which isn’t surprising because both Norton and Marvel have bad track record. (Norton in particular.) The backstory on the fight for control over Norton’s Hulk film is pretty interesting stuff. Norton’s been replaced with another talented actor, Mark Ruffalo. So, I’m cool with it.

      Both of the Hulk movies did okay at the box office. They both did about the same amount of biz. But the first was considered a disappointment (due to high expectations) and the second was considered a base-hit (due to low expectations). If Marvel and Norton had gotten along, a sequel might have been made. But Marvel didn’t want to have to reboot the franchise yet again. There’s been some talk of a Hulk TV show. Or, maybe if Avengers is a big hit and people like Ruffalo as the Hulk, there could be a movie with him in the lead.

      If anyone can pull off the Avengers, I think Whedon can.

      Like

      • Thor being a hit surprises me. Especially when the Green Lantern bombed. I found the two to be very similar. Kind of light, tongue in cheek, not too deep, etc. Heck both films even featured an alternate reality aspect in addtion to Earth. I would not place one above the other in ranking. Obviously I’m in a minority with my opinion. Doesn’t surprise me though. Lots of movies that I think are just average do very well at the box office. Especially this whole superhero genre that has stormed Hollywood the past decade.

        It’s not that I flat out don’t like them. Most of them are entertaining enough and are worth the price of a rental. I just don’t get wowed or engrossed by most of them. A truly pleasurable movie experience (for me) is when it immerses you in its world and kind of takes over. The first Matrix is an example. The new Batmans. The first Superman. Most of the rest I place in the ‘just average’ category with some being better than others. No real complaints but no big praises either. I feel that way about all this most recent crop of movies: Thor, Green Lantern, Green Hornet, Capt. America, Iron Man 2, most of the SpiderMan’s (1 was pretty good but Tobey McGuire was miscast in this series I think). Anyway, that’s just me. But I’m still surprised Thor made a bunch of money.

        Like

        • Here’s some BO numbers for ya:

          Thor – 181 mil domestic, 268 mil worldwide
          Green Lantern – 116 mil domestic, 219 mil worldwide
          Captain America – 176 mil doemstic, 368 mil worldwide

          They are all 3 in more or less the same ballpark. But GL is decidedly behind the other two. That’s a problem because GL was substatially more expensive with all that CGI work. Plus, the studio was retooling it right up till the release date. It was a troubled production and that inflated the cost. Thor and Cap were made for a moderate price (some may even say “on the cheap”) and delivered nicely.

          The worldwide figure for Cap surprises me. I had no idea it was so high. I’m guessing Marvel will wait to see how Avengers does before deciding whether or not Cap should have a sequel (and if so, what time period it should be set in).

          Also, Chris Evans has talked about the terms of his contract. He has to make a certain number of Marvel films. If he so much as does a cameo, it counts towards his contract. He said Marvel is being very cautious about using him so as to get the most bang for their buck.

          In terms of quality, I though GL was pretty horrible. It was lacking in any real human emotion – something I though was surprisingly abundant in Cap and Thor. Plus, I just found Cap and Thor to work on an entertainment level whereas GL was a CGI-filled snooze. But I could see how someone would see them all as equally mediocre. Especially someone who isn’t a big fan of the genre to begin with.

          I agree that the Matrix and the Nolan Batman films are immersive on a different level. But I think that’s partially because the Avengers flicks are working in a shared universe with pieces each being handled by different creators/directors. That necessitates a certain “generic super-hero” type of world. If that’s not your thing, it can seem a little bland.

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      • That Thor number is incorrect, it was $449 mil worldwide. I think it did better because it did get that early May release with little competition out there. In terms of recent superhero movies released on that date, Thor is at the bottom below Avengers, the Iron Mans and Spider-Man 3, but it did beat other recent action movies released on that date, Star Trek and M:I 3, in worldwide gross.

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  12. I have heard on and off over the years how difficult Ed Norton is. Too bad really because he’s a fine actor. Can’t think of a bad performance from him off the top of my head. But nobody likes a diva. Fans don’t respect it and studios don’t want to deal with it. I guess that’s why we don’t see much of him. He’s one who prob could have been A list but never quite broke through due to his own personality. How sad.

    Maybe a candidate for your “Fetch” series? Haven’t had one of those in awhile.

    Like

    • Sooner or later, I’m going to have to write about Norton. He’s kind of on the edge. You could argue he was A-list there for a while. He even got a chance to direct (although Keeping the Faith was awful).

      I can’t blame Norton 100% for the Hulk situation. I suspect Marvel was largely to blame as well. They chased off Terrence Howard from the Iron Man movies and very nearly lost Samuel L. Jackson too. Both parties have reputations for being difficult.

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      • They also almost didn’t bring Jon Favreau back for Iron Man 2. And Branagh and Johnston are NOT returning for the Thor and Cap sequels. Marvel Studios behaves very much like Marvel the comic company. Creators are simply interchangeable cogs working for hire. Only their characters are king. Of course what this really means is that the producers or executives at the company are king, and basically means Marvel is running their studio the same way that the Salkinds ran the Superman franchise, assuming that the characters will bring butts to the seats and that and old schmoe can do the directing or acting.

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        • This is true. Although so far they have done a pretty good job lining up talent and with the right projects. I’m a little concerned about their choice for Cap 2 though.

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  13. http://kristenstewartwantsit.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/thor-sucked-the-movie-review/

    Don’t agree with everything here but this link sums up my feelings pretty well.

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    • I get it, but that’s one tough review to get through.

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      • I couldn’t get through it. I had to stop before they even got to really talking about Thor. But apparently, they thought it was bad. I wasn’t interested enough to make the effort to figure out what they didn’t like about it.

        I do agree that The Mummy movies were bad though.

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  14. i have to agree with geo on the first robocop. paul verhoeven did a great job directing it as well as peter weller’s performance as robocop. they should have peter weller back as robocop only this time he is up against the terminator played by schwarzenegger. that would be very interesting. i think captain america was brilliant from beginning to end same with thor, the original conan the barbarian, and the two batman films from tim burton and michael keaton. batman begins was good from nolan, but the dark knight was hard to understand like i said. heath ledger may have been a great joker, but nobody could beat a fellow jersey boy like jack nicholson. but if the dark knight rises is going to be good that’s on the list of movies to see. lebeau, i will name the list of movies with action that i’m going to see in theatres

    1. the avengers
    2. men in black 3
    3.dark knight rises
    4. gi joe
    5. expendables 2
    6. bullet to the head.

    Like

  15. edward norton he was good in fight club, rounders, pride and glory and american history x and primal fear. red dragon was ok because of norton. but i like william petersen’s performance in manhunter as will graham and brian cox doing lector in manhunter. hopkins, he was good in silence of the lambs and hannibal as lector. but brian cox did a great job in manhunter.

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  16. Ed Norton automatically makes a movie better. Love that guy.

    Like

  17. http://io9.com/5908428/10-best-comic-book-movies-of-all-time

    “Batman” page I liked on Facebook posted that link. Its a little more open with the concept just using “comic book” instead of “superhero” but thought you folks may be interested in checking that out.

    Like

    • Personally I think the list should be even more narrow, live-action superhero movies based on actual comic book characters. No rule is perfect, since I really have no problem including Darkman on a list, but Robocop, no, definitely not. A hero in a science-fiction movie does not qualify as a superhero. The inspiration for the character had to have come from comic books, which Robocop’s did not. Otherwise we could say Zorro, Tarzan and John Carter can be included because they’re not substantially different from Batman. So my rule listed above does the best job of defining the category for me. Animated films are simply too different from live-action films to be compared on the same list. Here are my favorites.

      1. Spider-Man 2
      2. Superman
      3. Superman II
      4. Watchmen
      5. Batman Begins
      6. X-Men 2
      7. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
      8. Iron Man 2
      9. Spider-Man
      10. Dark Knight

      Captain America, The Rocketeer and Avengers are runners-up. I’m pretty sure of my top 6, but after that it gets hard for me to nail down my choices. If I sat down and watched all the films again to refresh my memory it might help.

      Spider-Man 2 simply captures the essence of the original comic book character and its overall mythos in every important way better than most other comic book movies really have. It understands how complicated Peter Parker’s life gets even when he’s outside of the superhero costume. It gets that putting on the mask is almost a relief for him. His life is a lot easier as a superhero than it is as a human being. At the same time it brings the characters to life with some very authentic, full-blooded performances by all of the actors and has some terrific action scenes. The first Spider-Man is a really satisfying and sincere origin story but has trouble figuring out what it wants to be about besides that.

      The first two Superman movies achieved something that in a way every superhero movie is still trying to match. They set the bar very high, very early on, even a decade or two earlier than people really appreciated at the time. In truth, they weren’t incredibly accurate translations of the comic books. But comic books in general and especially DC comic books and especially Superman comics weren’t all that interesting at the time, so the movie had to elevate the material. So the movies owe as much to the James Bond series, Disney musicals and inspired, scenery-chewing acting in the vein of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka performance as they owe to the comic books. Their masterstroke which seems so obvious now but wasn’t then was to take the characters much more seriously than audiences at the time even wanted them to. People scoffed at the way they treated Superman as a godlike Christ figure, but now so many people have grown up on superheroes that we do revere the characters on that powerful, mythic level.

      Batman Begins is the only real good BATMAN movie. Dark Knight had great villains, but the characterization of Batman was back to being really dull and shallow. The plot is too labyrinthine and overwhelms Batman and almost all of the side characters. Nolan is also NOT a great action director. He flubs most of his action scenes in real amateurish ways. Nevertheless Dark Knight is enthralling every time the Joker is on screen and Two-Face also makes for the most dramatic part of the movie.

      Many people would have said before it came out that if Watchmen had been half as good as the comic book, it would have been a great movie. It was and it was. Sin City was just about as visually stunning and narratively brilliant and would be in about the same position on this list if this was for all comic books, not strictly superheroes.

      Most of the other movies on the list are not great stories, but work as entertaining and funny action pictures. I think Iron Man 2 is the best of the Marvel Studios crop so far. The first Iron Man is one of the most overrated superhero movies, having really bland and unoriginal action scenes, a really boring villain and jokes that mostly fall flat. It’s a little more competent and smart than the Fantastic Four movies, but otherwise not much better. The sequel is so much more interesting visually, has many awesome slam-bang action scenes, and has a great and laugh-out-loud hilarious villain in Sam Rockwell. Hellboy II is very similar in its entertainment value, although it makes for a more direct comparison to Ghostbusters and Men in Black due to the paranormal investigation angle. Beyond the funny lines and great action scenes, Hellboy II is a truly imaginative visual spectacle. I love the middle of the Avengers while they’re on the heli-carrier but it falls apart at the end like a Michael Bay Transformers film. Captain America has probably the smoothest, most consistent storytelling of all the Marvel Studios movies and definitely has one of the best superhero origin stories that we’ve seen, but it has too many underdeveloped side characters and a villain that doesn’t live up to his potential. Rocketeer is good, clean fun, with its stiff lead actor being the one serious weakness.

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      • daffystardust

        It is totally valid to limit the list in the way you have suggested. I just really liked the films I listed that would not fit in with your criteria (unbreakable, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, The Incredibles). Each was either directly about an established comic book character, or was very clearly inspired by traditional comic book characters and conventions. I personally would not have included Robocop based either on its comic book pedigree or on its quality.
        I find some of your ordering interesting.
        While I understand your criticisms of Dark Knight, I had more serious misgivings about Batman Begins. The primary villanous plot made no sense. I also am frustrated by the way that film wasted the Scarecrow character. That is a villain who could carry a film on his own. He is practically MADE for a film treatment and could inspire some truly fantastic hallucinatory special effects segments. The way they have treated the character in the Nolan films has been an underestimation of his potential. I almost feel the same about Two Face in Dark Knight, but was so entertained by that film that I’ve given that quibble a pass.
        I disagree with you about the Iron Man movies. I enjoyed the more simple, linear storytelling of the first Iron Man and felt that approach made the most sense in the context of the world that first film was living in. I did not find Jeff Bridges to be boring at all. Count me among those who would not have minded seeing him survive. On the other hand, I thought that Iron Man 2, while entertaining in some of the ways you mentioned, was trying to do way too much all at once. In the process, it short-changed one of the character’s iconic storylines. It seems to me that if you’re going to do the Tony Stark alcoholism/Rhodey takes over plotline, you’re going to need 2 films to do it in, and I think today’s audiences would’ve gone for that. The Avengers schedule may have gotten in the way of that happening, though.
        Thanks for your thoughts. They are well conceived and intelligently written!

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        • I agree with most of what you say here.

          One thought on the Iron Man films. How great would it have been to have Iron Man 2 end with Stark at a low point? Sure, he vanquishes the bad guy. But if he had been disgraced and had something to prove at the start of Avengers, that would have made his hero turn in that film all the more satisfying. I do think IM2 dealt with the alcoholism way too fast. Either take some time with it or don’t do it at all.

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      • I felt like Iron Man 2 was written in more of a comic book fashion, where subplots are introduced without the intention of wrapping them up by the end of this particular story. I would expect the alcoholism and Rhodey will still be key factors in the next film and were only meant to be introduced in this one. I think just like with The Empire Strikes Back, the success of the franchise meant they could guarantee a third film and wouldn’t need to wrap everything up in this one.

        As for Scarecrow, it seems like one villain always has to play second banana in the Batman films. I thought he was interesting enough in Batman Begins, but it didn’t make me wish he would have carried the whole film. Nolan’s Batman films are ensemble pieces so that’s not really possible the way he does things. I would have rather they took him out at the end of Batman Begins if all they were going to do in Dark Knight is have a quick opening scene where they captured him. But that is more a criticism of Dark Knight than of Batman Begins, and one more reason I rank Batman Begins higher.

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      • Wow, so someone besides me enjoyed Batman Begins more than Dark Knight. Daffy does have points on Scarecrow, but I enjoyed the rest of the film to go along with it. Not to mention, while Scarecrow can carry his own film and would make a great Batman/horror picture, how they wrote him into Begins was nicely done and did not feel a waste of the character (even if they barely gave him time in his mask). Personally, it seemed a good start up for the character, and I’d much rather see that and then show him come back as the main villain in a different movie, but as supposedly this upcoming film is the last Batman, that won’t matter. If anything, one should be upset about Scarecrow’s meager cameo in the start of Dark Knight.

        Terms of Iron Man, I do prefer the simplicity of the first film. The getting to know Stark and just loved watching him create the suit. The second one had its points (and the villain was overall better than Bridge’s) but there was a lot going on in it and felt to me they were trying for a bit too much for an ‘extreme’ feeling having everything go fast paced. Kind of similar actually to Batman Begins and Dark Knight, though Iron Man 2 didn’t quite try to shove as much into it as Dark Knight I feel. Plus, while both are good actors, I much prefered Howard’s Rhodey over Cheadle.

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  18. This list reminds me of why I don’t make such lists! Even I couldn’t write one with which I would entirely agree.

    As for this one, I always seem to be the contrarian when it comes to the popular. BATMAN BEGINS and SPIDER-MAN 2, both widely hailed (especially the Spidey flick), are just plain bad, and MST3k went after better movies than CAPTAIN AMERICA (you are right about THE ROCKETEER, though, Lebeau, but that appears to have been merely a happy accident). None of those belong anywhere near a “best” list. Rating all of them above THOR? No. Not even close. I have the same affection for SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. I’m not sure I’d say it was the best super-hero movie, but it’s in the upper echelon. I should add that this ranking isn’t because of that youthful attachment to it. It’s because it genuinely is a great, great movie. SUPERMAN II was better rated by contemporary critics, but this has always seemed to me a make-up vote for so entirely missing the boat on the first one, which absolutely destroys the second in every substantial way. Critics did the same thing with SPIDER-MAN 2, which, likewise, was significantly inferior to the original in every way, yet was wrongly held up as not only better, but as one of the great comic movies of all time (it would actually be better titled SPIDER-MAN 1 FOR MORONS).

    I don’t have a personal “best of” list. I have written a bit about some of these movies, and, though throwing out links as I seem to regularly do here amounts to a bit more self-pimping than I’m entirely comfortable with, I’ll offer one anyway. I don’t usually like most of what I write, but my article on SPIDER-MAN 2 is actually one I sort of do:
    http://comicscomments.blogspot.com/2005/10/tangled-web-of-spider-man-2.html

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  19. My blog gets little views, so I figured I’d come here for this comment as I’m watching G4 air Keaton’s Batman.

    I’ll still give it to Bale for the character, though Keaton does do a good job. He’s too stiff as Batman, and while Bale wasn’t perfect either, Keaton really doesn’t move like Batman. I’m sure part of that at least goes to the suit and the directing, but still. One thing Keaton does amazingly though is his voice. He has a gentler voice for Bruce, and he has a good deeper voice for Batman. Granted, not Kevin Conroy great, but he still does a good job with it.

    Like

    • Always happy to have you drop in!

      If I were making my own Batman movie, I wouldn’t cast Keaton as Batman. But I do think he was perfect casting for Burton’s Batman. Keaton makes a great Bruce Wayne. His eyes are so interesting. There’s always more going on behind them. I wish he had gotten more to do in his Batman movies.

      As Batman, he gave good voice. That’s about all you can expect in a suit that won’t even allow you to turn your head.

      I am a big Keaton fan and I think he did a fantastic job with the role he was given. I just wish it was meatier. I could have done with a lot more Keaton and a lot less Penguin in Batman Returns.

      Like

  20. Ranking All 31 Marvel Comic Book Movies – From Worst To Best:
    http://whatculture.com/film/ranking-31-marvel-comic-book-movies-worst-best.php

    Howard The Duck (1986)

    Ironically, the first Marvel property to get a feature-length adaptation remains the worst. When your roster of heroes contains iconic characters like Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Incredible Hulk, Howard the Duck was clearly the obvious first choice for the movie treatment.

    Originally pitched as an animated feature, a contractual obligation saw Lucasfilm and Universal make a live-action version instead, with the result being a total shambles. While some of the effects are solid given the time period, the tone of the movie is all over the place and Howard the Duck deserves its reputation as a horribly misjudged piece of film-making.

    Unsurprisingly, the movie wasn’t well-received by critics or audiences, with the theatrical release barely clawing back the $37m production budget before it landed four Razzie Awards including Worst Screenplay and Worst Picture. Something of a curiosity these days, Howard the Duck will take some beating as the worst movie based on a Marvel comic book.

    Elektra (2005)

    After the positive reception to Jennifer Garner’s portrayal of the character in Daredevil, Elektra was brought back from the dead and rewarded with her own spin-off movie. Despite the best efforts of Garner in the title role, the end result is an interminably tedious affair.

    For a movie that clocks in at just 96 minutes, Elektra doesn’t half drag on. Filled with one-dimensional characters, wooden performances and some ropey visual effects, matters aren’t helped by a stilted script that bogs down an increasingly-contrived plot. Goran Visnjic projects all the charisma of a kitchen table and fails to muster any chemistry whatsoever with the leading lady, while Terrence Stamp sleepwalks through his exposition-delivering role.

    It seemed that audiences had little interest in the spin-off to begin with, and Elektra could only manage to open in fifth place at the domestic box office. Worldwide, the movie earned a terrible $56.7m against the $43m budget. As well as becoming the lowest-grossing Marvel movie since Howard the Duck almost 20 years earlier, director Rob Bowman hasn’t made a feature since.

    Blade: Trinity (2004)

    After writing the first two installments of the franchise, David Goyer pulled double-duty on the trilogy-closing chapter and comfortably delivered the worst Blade movie by some distance. Watching Blade: Trinity definitively proved that Goyer is a much better writer than he is a director, and I’m not sure that’s even a compliment.

    Gone was the visual flair and visceral combat of the previous two movies, replaced by a lifeless, blatantly commercial exercise that shoehorns Dracula into the mythology as well as introducing a pair of young, good-looking sidekicks for everybody’s favourite vampire hunter. Wesley Snipes shows no enthusiasm in his signature role, with Parker Posey the only member of the cast that seems to be having any fun at all.

    Snipes was reportedly unhappy with the final product (for good reason), and even sued the studio for cutting him out of the creative process altogether despite his role as producer. Still, based on the goodwill built up by the first two movies Blade: Trinity earned $128.9m at the worldwide box office, over double the budget but the lowest grosses in the franchise.

    Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

    Five years after the first Ghost Rider movie had arrived to general indifference, along came the sequel that nobody had been begging for. With half the budget of the original, it was hoped that directorial duo Neveldine and Taylor would bring the low-fi insanity of their Crank movies to the world of Johnny Blaze. They didn’t.

    Anticipation for Spirit of Vengeance rose when the trailer dropped, making this movie look much more interesting than its predecessor. Unfortunately, despite a few visual flourishes and some great CGI it suffers from the same problems as the first Ghost Rider; a nonsensical plot, underdeveloped characters and Nicolas Cage at his most irritatingly Nicolas Cagiest. The only things to gain pass marks are the production design and the always-reliable Idris Elba.

    Although Spirit of Vengeance grossed less than half of the first Ghost Rider through its domestic opening weekend, the lower budget (and 3D surcharge) saved it from being a financial disaster. The movie ultimately earned $132.6m worldwide, a disappointing return that nixed the idea of any further adventures for Johnny Blaze before the rights reverted back to Marvel in May last year.

    Fantastic Four (2005)

    After years in development hell, the Fantastic Four finally hit the big screen in 2005 with Tim Story’s brightly-coloured adaptation of the superhero team. Although it was an undoubted financial success, the movie itself is mediocre at best and a high-camp atrocity at worst.

    The problems with Fantastic Four are numerous; Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba and Julian McMahon are incredibly miscast in their roles (although Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis are never less than entertaining), the script is awful and features reams and reams of clunky exposition, and for a movie with such potential for thrilling CGI set-pieces it is often crushingly dull, with no sense of urgency that causes the plot to move at a snail’s pace.

    Nonetheless, the popularity of the characters and audience appetite for superhero movies saw Fantastic Four open to an impressive $56m domestically, and the movie would earn over $330m worldwide which was more than enough to guarantee a sequel. More on that later…

    Punisher: War Zone (2008)

    After 2004′s version of The Punisher failed to gain much traction, the character was rebooted in the first release to fall under the Marvel Knights banner. An incredibly violent throwback to the ‘one man army’ action movies of the 1980s, despite some ridiculously over-the-top set-pieces War Zone takes itself far too seriously and is often shockingly dull for a movie that features such high volumes of bloodshed.

    Knives are embedded in skulls, free-runners are blown up with bazookas and faces are literally punched in, but besides the glut of laughably violent scenes there really isn’t much to recommend. Ray Stevenson makes for a solid Frank Castle but the script never attempts to make him more than a two-dimensional killing machine, with director Lexi Alexander shooting the movie in often-impenetrable darkness.

    War Zone tanked at the box office and remains the lowest-grossing Marvel movie ever, earning just over $10m worldwide on a $35m budget and marking the third outing for The Punisher that couldn’t make it past one movie, with the rights to the character ending up back at Marvel in 2010. However, since its release the movie has gone on to become something of a cult favourite amongst fans of ultraviolent shoot-em-ups.

    Ghost Rider (2007)

    After Daredevil, Mark Steven Johnson was again handed the reins of adapting a Marvel character for the big screen and delivered a movie that was somehow even more bland and disappointing. When you have Nicolas Cage playing a motorcycle-riding stuntman that transforms into a vigilante with a flaming skull for a head, it should be entertaining at the very least. Ghost Rider isn’t.

    To be fair, watering down the character for a PG-13 blockbuster doesn’t make things any easier but there are just too many problems with the movie. Nicolas Cage brings his usual eccentricity to the role, but is overshadowed by his hairpiece. The script is so weak that it seems the actors are trying to chew on the scenery to compensate, Wes Bentley’s hammy villain isn’t threatening in the slightest and despite some impressive CGI the action scenes are lifeless and often outright boring.

    Ghost Rider grossed $45.4m in its domestic opening weekend, but quickly petered out once audiences realized that the movie wasn’t very good. It went on to earn a respectable $228.7m worldwide, which is still a little disappointing given the $110m budget. It did manage to spawn a belated sequel five years later, which turned out to be even worse.

    Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer (2007)

    source // Twentieth Century Fox
    The financial success of the first Fantastic Four movie guaranteed a sequel would be made, and two years later the follow-up was released. Although it was more entertaining than its predecessor, that isn’t really saying much. Rise of the Silver Surfer retains many of the problems that the first movie had, but does manage some slight improvements.

    As a director, Tim Story just isn’t suitable for this kind of material and brings very little style or verve to the proceedings, which end up as a succession of dreary CGI action scenes. Much like the first movie, the narrative suffers from a poor script and several wooden performances, with some attempts at humour that fall painfully flat. The Silver Surfer himself is the best thing about this sequel by some distance, especially with the all-powerful Galactus being reduced to a cloud.

    Rise of the Silver Surfer did open to $58m domestically, but ultimately fell short of the first movie and grossed $289m worldwide. The unenthusiastic reception to the two Fantastic Four movies saw the franchise stopped in its tracks, with a reboot hitting theatres next year.

    The Punisher (2004)

    Fifteen years after Dolph Lundgren’s forgettable straight-to-video take on the character, The Punisher was given the big-screen treatment in a modestly-budgeted R-rated actioner. A bog-standard tale of a man’s violent revenge, the movie’s real saving grace is Tom Jane’s great performance in the title role.

    For a movie with such thinly written characters, it’s strange that one of the few meaningful backstories goes to The Punisher’s iconic t-shirt. John Travolta’s ridiculously OTT turn as the villain seems completely out of place in a movie where everything else is played completely straight, with the po-faced seriousness rendering things unrelentingly bleak, with very little levity. There are some good weapons-based set-pieces but a few enjoyable moments fail to cover up the rest of The Punisher’s shortcomings.

    Theatrically, The Punisher was a disappointment and grossed just $54.6m against a $33m budget. However, the movie did become something of a cult favourite and made more money on home video than it did in cinemas. There was talk of a sequel over the next couple of years but nothing ever materialised, and the character was rebooted instead.

    X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

    Hugh Jackman’s first solo outing as Wolverine was a massive disappointment, and one that never lived up to the potential of the brilliant opening. Despite a typically dedicated performance from the star, the movie suffered from some ropey CGI and narrative problems, with the final product bearing the hallmarks of studio interference.

    Things get off to a great start, with the opening credits showing us Wolverine fighting from the American Civil War through to Vietnam in a thrilling sequence. From there, things quickly go downhill. Ryan Reynolds makes the most of his limited screentime as Wade Wilson and Liev Schrieber is a suitably menacing Sabretooth, but the rest of the movie is all over the place. What we get instead is plenty of shouting, an abundance of poor CGI and a ton of exposition, held together by a terrible script and a hugely unsatisfying third act.

    Still, the popularity of the character saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine score a huge $85m domestic opening weekend and it ultimately grossed $373m worldwide. The infamous leaked workprint didn’t impact the movie’s financial success, neither did the fact that it was a bit rubbish. Jackman himself admitted that the project wasn’t up to scratch, with the next Wolverine movie being a marked improvement.

    Daredevil (2003)

    The movie that swore Ben Affleck off making comic book movies (remember?) was the first Marvel adaptation to follow in the massive footsteps of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and while it isn’t as downright awful as many people would have you believe, the project completely botches the massive potential of a Daredevil solo flick.

    The script by director Mark Steven Johnson doesn’t do the movie any favours, a cavalcade of cliched dialogue and thinly-written characters that sees the tone veer uncomfortably from darkly serious to overtly comic-bookish. Affleck is no more than okay in the title role, acquitting himself better on the physical side of things than the dramatic. Jennifer Garner and Michael Clarke Duncan provide solid support, while Colin Farrell completely steals the show as the demented Bullseye.

    Anticipation for the movie saw it open to $45m domestically and it eventually crossed the $100m barrier in the US, but poor international takings saw Daredevil finish its theatrical run with $179.2m, a disappointment given the $78m budget. For the record, the director’s cut of the movie is much, much better and would have placed a lot higher on the list.

    X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

    After Bryan Singer decided not to return to the franchise in favour of making Superman Returns, Matthew Vaughn was initially hired to direct the third X-Men instalment. However, he departed the project mere weeks before principal photography and Brett Ratner was quickly drafted in. The result was the weakest entry yet, sacrificing plot and character in favour of mindless spectacle.

    Ratner has always been a director that preferred style over substance, and The Last Stand unfortunately continued this trend. Completely mishandling the iconic Phoenix storyline, the movie is full of half-baked ideas and sprints through the multiple plot threads to get to the next action sequence. Although these set-pieces are admittedly impressive (the Golden Gate Bridge being a particular standout), any underlying themes or character moments are ignored in order to provide the next big explosion.

    Despite being the worst movie in the original X-Men trilogy, The Last Stand became the biggest earner yet, grossing almost $460m worldwide. Although a massive disappointment, it still remains the highest-grossing movie in the entire franchise to date.

    Hulk (2003)

    After years in development, everybody’s favourite angry green monster finally got the big screen treatment in 2003. Ang Lee is a director that has no trouble switching genres, and his Hulk was a lot more thought-provoking than the usual summer blockbuster. However, the funereal pacing of the story and a couple of pitch-black action sequences result in a movie that is less than the sum of its often impressive parts.

    Visually, the movie is never less than engaging and often stunning. The use of split-screen is ingenious in creating something akin to a comic book being transposed to screen. Eric Bana gives a soulful performance as Bruce Banner, and the movie itself features deeper characterisation than most big-budget fare. Downsides include a bloated running time, a hammy Nick Nolte performance and occasionally distracting CGI, especially in the final action sequence.

    The creative team should be applauded for trying something different when it came to Hulk, but the commercial results were disappointing. Audiences expecting to see wall-to-wall action were left confused by the thematic depth and inner turmoil on show, and the $137m budgeted movie only earned $245.4m worldwide, failing to launch what many expected to be a huge franchise.

    Spider-Man 3 (2007)

    The cinematic equivalent of too many cooks spoiling the broth, Sam Raimi’s trilogy-closer suffers greatly from failing to balance the multitude of plot threads and characters. There is simply too much going on and although the action sequences are often great, the rest of the movie becomes bogged down by the interminable subplots.

    Three villains is far too many for any movie; a scarred James Franco wasting valuable screentime to revel in the delights of pie, Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman pointlessly retconned to fit in the trilogy’s narrative and the inclusion of Venom in particular being completely unnecessary. Then of course there are two love interests, the cringeworthy ‘bad Peter Parker’ scenes and innumerable tedious dramatic interludes. As you would expect from a movie with a budget of $258m, the CGI is stunning and the action scenes provide the only real thrills during the bloated 140 minute runtime.

    Although Spider-Man 3 is easily the worst entry in Sam Raimi’s trilogy, it proved to be the most financially successful by far. A domestic opening weekend north of $150m set the movie on its way to a mammoth worldwide total of $890.9m despite unenthusiastic responses from audiences. When the director and studio couldn’t come to an agreement over Spider-Man 4, Raimi left the project and left the character to be rebooted a mere five years later.

    The Incredible Hulk (2008)

    After Ang Lee’s more cerebral take on the character failed to become the blockbuster that studio executives were expecting, Louis Leterrier was handed the reins of the reboot and delivered an action-packed movie full of massive-scale destruction. However, much like the previous version The Incredible Hulk didn’t live up to its potential and is now regarded as the unwanted stepchild of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

    Edward Norton isn’t usually found appearing in superhero blockbusters but he gives a good performance as Bruce Banner, a quiet man trying to keep the monster at bay. The supporting cast is full of talented actors, which helps elevate the material as the script is fairly thin and merely serves to propel the story from action scene to action scene. After the more lo-fi set-pieces in Ang Lee’s version, Leterrier delivers several hugely entertaining showdowns involving the Hulk, with the climax in particular reducing Harlem to ruins.

    Despite tying into the MCU, teasing a sequel and featuring a post-credits cameo from Robert Downey Jr, The Incredible Hulk marked the second time the character had failed to start a franchise. Although the movie earned $263.4m worldwide and sold over 3.5m units on DVD the numbers were still disappointing, and Bruce Banner was recast yet again in The Avengers.

    Blade (1998)

    The first major theatrical release based on a Marvel character since Howard the Duck, Blade proved that there was still an appetite for comic book movies, even R-rated ones. Featuring one of the greatest opening scenes of any comic book movie that established the movie’s premise right off the bat, the increasingly-ridiculous plot is anchored by a thoroughly bad-ass Wesley Snipes.

    As you would expect from a superhero movie about a vampire-hunting vampire, the script is loaded with clunky dialogue and exposition to establish the mythology. Thankfully, the actors embrace the ridiculousness with Snipes being supported by enjoyable turns from Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Dorff and Donal Logue. The massively-stylised production design, camerawork and fight scenes only enhance the final product, and the end result is a movie equal parts violent and entertaining.

    Budgeted at $45m, Blade would go on to earn over $130m at the worldwide box office and ultimately spawn a trilogy of movies. Looking at the bigger picture, the success of this R-rated effort showed that there was still an audience for comic book adaptations, after Batman and Robin almost killed the genre entirely. Two years later, the real game-changer came with the release of X-Men.

    Iron Man 2 (2010)

    Iron Man 2 remains the most cynical entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as huge chunks of the story are dedicated to expanding the mythology of the MCU and sowing the seeds for the next batch of superheroes to hit the big screen, which often leaves the narrative of the movie woefully under-served. That being said, Iron Man 2 is still an enjoyable enough blockbuster.

    The action sequences are suitably spectacular (although once again the main adversaries are other people in metal suits) and Robert Downey Jr is brilliant as usual. However, there is so much going on here that everything seems rushed; the conflict with Whiplash and Justin Hammer, the introduction of Black Widow and War Machine, expanded roles for Nick Fury and Agent Coulson and Stark’s daddy issues are all squeezed into two hours which leaves many plot threads feeling half-baked. The movie ends with a disappointing climax, especially when all the trailers featured the Iron Man/War Machine combo as the money shot in what ended up as only a couple of minutes in the final product.

    The goodwill built up by the success of the first Iron Man saw the sequel open to a massive $128.1m domestically and the movie would end up grossing $623.9m worldwide, cementing Iron Man as the crown jewel in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and giving the upcoming Thor and Captain America a difficult act to follow.

    Thor: The Dark World (2013)

    With Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in full swing, Thor returned to the screen in a sequel that upped the stakes in both the drama and action departments. Although in the grand scheme of the MCU Thor: The Dark World is little more than a placeholder, the movie doesn’t rely too heavily on references to other movies and provides two hours of blockbuster action and surprising levels of humor.

    With Alan Taylor behind the camera, it was guaranteed that this sequel would take the tried and tested ‘darker, grittier’ route. Despite following these tropes of the genre, The Dark World benefits hugely from the sparkling double-act of Chris Hemsworth and perennial scene-stealer Tom Hiddleston. Drawbacks include the convoluted plot, Kat Dennings’ irritating comedy sidekick, Natalie Portman again being wasted in the love interest role and a one-dimensional villain that is about as generic as they get. Still, the movie provides enough spectacular action, witty remarks and visual gags to overcome these shortcomings.

    Benefiting from ‘The Avengers Effect’ at the box office, Thor: The Dark World opened to an impressive $85.7m domestically and earned $641.3m worldwide, almost $200m more than the first movie. The final shot of Thor: The Dark World also ensures that audiences will be eager to find out what’s happening in Asgard by the time Phase 3 comes around.

    The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

    A mere ten years after Sam Raimi had finally managed to bring the character to the big-screen, and only five years after his trilogy-closing Spider-Man 3, the iconic web-head was given the reboot treatment. Although the movie runs through the origin story again, The Amazing Spider-Man is still a well-acted and enjoyable blockbuster despite the familiarity of the plot.

    Spider-Man’s origins are as well known as any character in popular culture, so it was a bit tedious to see it played out for the second time in a decade. To be fair, the filmmakers needed to do this to establish their universe but it’s awfully clumsy hearing Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben stumble his way around not delivering his iconic speech. Rhys Ifans’ villain is also a little underwhelming and all promises of ‘the untold story’ in the marketing were completely abandoned by the time the movie hit theatres. However, the movie is elevated by strong performances from Andrew Garfield and his crackling chemistry with Emma Stone, and some thrilling action sequences that are enhanced by a surprising reliance on practical effects that overcome sometimes questionable CGI.

    Any Spider-Man movie is guaranteed to be a massive commercial success, and The Amazing Spider-Man was no different. Despite a disappointing $62m opening weekend, the movie held well and grossed $752.2m worldwide. Although this was the lowest total yet for a Spider-Man movie, it was a solid start for a reboot that came so soon after Sam Raimi’s three box office juggernauts.

    X-Men (2000)

    Given the continued success of the comic book genre, it’s easy to forget the impact of Bryan Singer’s X-Men. A risky project that featured a sprawling ensemble cast filled with characters that general audiences weren’t familiar with, the movie deftly handles elements of action, drama and underlying social commentary on themes including oppression and isolation, all wrapped inside a big-budget blockbuster.

    The stunning prologue immediately establishes that the movie is set in a heightened version of our reality, with the theme of persecution carrying through to the modern day and the Mutant Registration Act. Although the narrative pace can sometimes slow down, which is to be expected given the amount of exposition needed to explain the mythology, the action scenes and character moments ultimately delivered the best comic book movie since Tim Burton’s Batman. The serious approach to the subject matter could have ended in ridiculousness given the myriad of superpowers on show, but Singer’s impeccable direction and the performances from the cast elevate the material.

    A $54.5m opening weekend saw X-Men on its way to a worldwide total of nearly $300m and just like that, a slew of comic book adaptations were put into active development. With the universe and characters firmly established, the sequel-baiting ending of the movie promised bigger and better things from the franchise.

    Thor (2011)

    After the heightened reality of the first two Iron Man movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe moved to another dimension entirely with Thor. A potentially risky premise instead turned out as a unique and enjoyable hybrid of superhero origin story, Shakespearean drama and fish-out-of-water comedy, featuring a talented ensemble cast led by relative newcomer Chris Hemsworth.

    Kenneth Branagh seemed a strange choice to helm a $150m blockbuster, but his background in Shakespeare served the story well and lent a sense of gravitas to the Asgardian back-and-forths that could have produced some unintentional comedy. The amount of world-building required does involve a lot of exposition, but solid performances from the cast (especially Tom Hiddleston in his breakout role) ensure it never becomes too overwrought. Despite an over-reliance on canted camera angles and limiting the Earth-bound action to one small town in the desert, Thor provides a solid balance of humour, action, drama and fantasy and serves as an entertaining franchise-starter and a more than worthy addition to the MCU.

    Thor wasn’t a particularly well-known character to general audiences before the release of the movie, so credit must go to the marketing team and the goodwill built up from the other MCU movies that saw the God of Thunder’s first solo outing open to $65.7m domestically. Worldwide, the movie grossed almost $450m as the cinematic build to The Avengers continued at pace.

    Blade II (2002)

    After Stephen Norrington declined to return for the sequel, Guillermo del Toro stepped in to make what was only his second Hollywood feature. Improving on the sequel in almost every way, the Mexican director injected Blade II with his usual combination of stylish visuals, imaginative effects and a streak of dark humour.

    At its heart a glorified B-movie, Blade II excels in its numerous fight scenes that overcome the sometimes dodgy CGI to deliver a series of fast-paced, kinetic and entertainingly gory showdowns. Luke Goss makes for a surprisingly formidable villain, with the welcome addition of the Bloodpack expanding both the cast and the mythology, allowing each action sequence to serve a different purpose. As well as his mastery of both hand-to-hand and sword-wielding combat, Snipes utilises his screen presence and dry one-liners to cement Blade as one of cinema’s most iconic bloodsuckers. As you would expect, the script isn’t the movie’s strong point but Blade II still delivers two hours of expertly-staged, violent popcorn entertainment with an impressive sense of scale that belies the $55m budget.

    Released in March, often referred to as a cinematic dumping ground, Blade II managed to buck the trend and open at the top of the domestic box office with an impressive $32.5m. Worldwide, the movie improved on its predecessor and earned $155m, a solid number for a violent, R-rated hybrid of the superhero and vampire genres.

    The Wolverine (2013)

    After Wolverine’s first solo movie proved to be a huge disappointment, expectations were dampened for the inevitable follow-up. Hopes were raised greatly when it was announced that the sequel would follow Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s iconic Japan-set limited series. Originally announced with Darren Aronofsky behind the camera, eventual director James Mangold delivers a refreshingly introspective superhero movie, more focused on Wolverine saving himself than saving the world.

    The first two-thirds of The Wolverine are nothing short of excellent. In a world where superhero sequels must always go bigger, The Wolverine discards that notion entirely to focus on a smaller set of characters in a single location. This results in more developed relationships, fully fleshed-out characters and an increased sense of Wolverine’s isolation. Hugh Jackman arguably gives his best performance yet as the character, and certainly the most emotionally-charged. The action scenes are among the most visceral in the entire X-Men franchise, but unfortunately the movie loses its footing when the third act descends into a generic CGI showdown between hero and villain.

    After the negative reception to X-Men Origins, many people wondered if The Wolverine would be able to reclaim audience goodwill for the character. It didn’t look like it when domestic grosses came in at $132m, the lowest total for any X-Men movie yet despite years of ticket price inflation and a 3D premium. Internationally, the movie was received much better and its worldwide total of $415m is actually the second-highest in the entire X-Men franchise.

    Spider-Man (2002)

    After decades trying to get a cinematic adaptation of the character off the ground, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was one of the most highly-anticipated blockbusters in history by the time it was finally released in theatres. Thankfully, the movie did not disappoint.

    Raimi’s love for the character is apparent and the director brings a classical, almost pulpy, feel to the proceedings. Balancing action with emotion and humour with heart, the big-screen debut of Spider-Man is anchored by charming performances from Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, and never loses sight of the characters despite featuring some massive set-pieces laced with cutting-edge CGI. Although at times there are some cheesy moments and the movie can flirt with the overly saccharine, as well as Willem Dafoe’s turn as Norman Osborn being almost as over-the-top as his ridiculous costume, Spider-Man serves as an impressive launch pad for the franchise.

    As one of the most enduring characters in popular culture, the big-screen debut of Spider-Man was guaranteed to be a massive hit. The numbers certainly didn’t disappoint as the movie smashed the domestic opening weekend record with a colossal $114.8m, and crossed $400m in the US on its way to a worldwide total of $821.7m.

    Iron Man 3 (2013)

    After the $1.5bn success of The Avengers, Marvel Studios’ Phase 2 kicked off with a third solo outing for their most popular character. With Jon Favreau replaced behind the camera by Shane Black, there was a real freshness to the movie after the so-so Iron Man 2. Surprisingly character-centric for a superhero blockbuster, the movie also features plenty of snappy dialogue and explosive action.

    This was only Shane Black’s second effort behind the camera, but you would never have guessed from the confidence the sophomore director handles the $200m budget. Renowned as one of the best writers of his generation, the script crackles with his signature one-liners and witty exchanges, anchored by another effortlessly charismatic performance from Robert Downey Jr. Don Cheadle finally gets something substantial to do, and his double-act with RDJ is one of the movie’s highlights. Although a fire-breathing Guy Pearce and his underwritten minions are a little disappointing and giving Tony Stark a child sidekick is a strange move, the exhilarating mid-air rescue sequence and a titanic final showdown result in pure popcorn entertainment. And of course, the hugely divisive Mandarin twist instantly became one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most iconic moments.

    Coming off the back of The Avengers, Iron Man 3 was guaranteed to do big business. The knock-on effect from Joss Whedon’s superhero ensemble, as well as the popularity of Downey Jr’s Tony Stark, saw Iron Man 3 open to almost $175m at the domestic box office. The movie would go on to become the biggest hit of 2013 with grosses of over $1.2bn, which saw it become the fifth highest earner in history.

    X-Men: First Class (2011)

    Matthew Vaughn finally got his shot at making a movie featuring Marvel characters, and delivered an X-Men movie that was a marked improvement on both The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, remarkable given the insanely quick production schedule. Although it muddles the canon of the X-Men universe, First Class stands on its own merit as a confident, stylish superhero blockbuster. And of course, it features one of the best cameos in recent memory.

    The movie often plays like a light, breezy 1960s spy caper, albeit with superpowers, enhanced by Henry Jackman’s score and Vaughn’s confident direction. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender bring bags of charisma and screen presence to their roles as the young Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr (despite the latter’s wayward accent), with the connection and ultimately division between the two driving the narrative. Although the large ensemble cast leaves some characters by the wayside, the supporting players still manage to inject the proceedings with a sense of fun and urgency. Admittedly, Kevin Bacon’s villain isn’t a particularly strong one and the climax borders on CGI overload, but a strong script and distinct visual style result in a sparkling prequel/reboot hybrid that overcomes these minor problems to resurrect the X-Men franchise with a bang.

    With less recognizable characters, a lower-profile cast and the missing star power of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, X-Men: First Class became the lowest-grossing X-Men movie yet at the domestic box office, and the first that failed to crack $150m. Worldwide, the movie grossed $353.3m which was the lowest total since the original X-Men over a decade earlier. Maybe that had something to do with Fox’s decision to bring back the original cast and merge the two timelines in Days of Future Past…

    Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

    As the final Phase 1 movie before The Avengers, the cinematic introduction of the team’s leader had to be handled carefully. Captain America certainly isn’t the most interesting character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the premise had the potential to come off as a slice of overly-jingoistic Americana. Thankfully, The First Avenger delivered an entertainingly old-school adventure disguised as a superhero origin story.

    The all-American values of the titular hero could easily come off as two-dimensional and bland but Chris Evans brings a warm, easy-going charm to the character and is ably supported by a scenery-chewing Hugo Weaving and a feisty Hayley Atwell. The standout supporting cast also features small but important roles for Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Dominic Cooper and Sebastian Stan. With the story taking place during World War II, The First Avenger instantly differentiated itself from the rest of Marvel’s cinematic offerings and offered something fresh to audiences, both in the narrative and the action scenes. Director Joe Johnston gives the movie a distinctly retro feel, despite some anachronistic technologies, offering something akin to a pulp serial armed with a blockbuster budget.

    The First Avenger earned just over 50% of its worldwide grosses from overseas markets, a low number for a high-profile summer tentpole, although the stars-and-stripes nature of the character made the movie a potentially tough sell to international audiences. Still, it opened to a solid $65m domestically and finished with a $370.6m total. The positive reception to this movie plus the continued success of the MCU and a solid marketing campaign will see the upcoming sequel wind up a lot higher.

    X-Men 2 (2003)

    After the first movie had established the universe and resulted in both critical and commercial success, Bryan Singer was now able to make the X-Men movie he had always wanted to. Armed with a bigger budget and several new characters, the sequel increases the personal stakes while also spectacularly upping the ante when it came to the action sequences.

    Opening with Nightcrawler’s thrilling assault on the White House, the mixture of practical and CGI effects instantly establish that the scope of the movie has been expanded greatly. From there, the scale of the action keeps increasing; the attack on Charles Xavier’s mansion sees Wolverine go on the rampage in impressive style, before the extended third-act at Alkali Lake mixes close-quarters combat with superpowered destruction. It’s not all just mindless set-pieces, and much like the first movie the narrative carries undertones of love, loss, tragedy, and of course prejudice in Iceman’s famous ‘coming out’ scene. As emotional as it is action-packed, X-Men 2 is unquestionably one of the best comic book sequels ever made.

    The popularity of the first installment and the rise of the superhero genre saw X-Men 2 open to $85.6m at the domestic box office, and the sequel would significantly out-gross its predecessor on its way to a worldwide total of $407.7m. The quality of the movie, as well as the closing shot, ensured that the inevitable third chapter had a lot to live up to. Unfortunately, it couldn’t deliver.

    Iron Man (2008)

    At the time, a $140m movie based on a second-tier character directed by Jon Favreau (whose last movie, Zathura, had flopped at the box office) and headlined by Robert Downey Jr (an actor with a history of well-publicised personal problems) was certainly a risky venture, especially when it was the first production from the fledgling Marvel Studios. However, by the time the prologue had even finished, audiences knew they were in for something special.

    Completely embodying the role, RDJ’s Tony Stark instantly became the most popular and iconic blockbuster character since Jack Sparrow. The actor’s rapid-fire delivery and sardonic one-liners meshed perfectly with the traits of the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, resulting in one of the best performances of his career. The Afghanistan-set portion of the movie offers a fresh alternative to the glut of superhero origin stories put to screen over the years, although the plot becomes rather perfunctory later on, with the third-act climax a especially disappointing. The lightness of touch from both director and star, visually impressive action scenes, a smart and witty script and strong supporting performances from Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard create one of the most purely enjoyable superhero movies ever made.

    Iron Man opened to a huge $98.6m domestically, and ultimately grossed over $585m worldwide and just like that, Marvel Studios had become a player in the movie business. The introduction of Agent Coulson in the movie and the post-credits appearance of Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury also laid the groundwork for the rest of Phase 1, and began Marvel’s continuing run of box office dominance.

    Spider-Man 2 (2004)

    With the origin story firmly out of the way, Sam Raimi’s sequel was free from the shackles of world-building and able to truly let rip. The result is a movie that hugely expands the action and dramatic stakes, increases the level of humor and yet still manages to maintain the emotional undercurrent that was so important to the first installment. Bigger, better, darker, funnier; Spider-Man 2 remains one of the best comic book movies ever made.

    Spider-Man 2 improves on the original in numerous ways, not least with the villain. Far removed from Willem Dafoe’s scenery chewing, Alfred Molina gives a great performance as Doctor Octopus with a complex, layered turn. With the amount of subplots it would be easy for some of the narrative threads to get lost in the shuffle, but despite a couple of dramatic scenes falling flat Raimi generally handles the myriad of intertwined plotlines with aplomb. Aided by a talented ensemble cast, Spider-Man 2 often wears its heart on its sleeve but maintains the delicate balance between humour, heart and spectacle. Visually, the director really lets fly and offers several dazzling set-pieces enhanced by Academy Award-winning effects; the horror-influenced hospital scene, the expertly-staged train sequence and the emotionally-charged waterfront climax are all brilliant in their own way.

    The anticipated sequel took over $88m through its first three days of domestic release, which remained a record for the Independence Day weekend for seven years. Strangely, despite being the best movie in Sam Raimi’s trilogy Spider-Man 2 posted the lowest worldwide gross, although a $783.8m total is nothing to be sniffed at.

    The Avengers (2012)

    The culmination of Marvel’s wildly ambitious movie-making strategy, throughout Phase 1 The Avengers had been quickly becoming one of the most anticipated releases in history. Only Joss Whedon’s second theatrical effort behind the camera, the writer/director faced huge expectations and delivered in a big way. Not only did it provide 140 minutes of the highest-quality popcorn entertainment available, but as a box office monster The Avengers grossed more than the first Iron Man, Thor and Captain America movies combined.

    Given the way that The Avengers builds to a crescendo of city-destroying chaos, it’s worth mentioning that the first act of the movie is a little slow to get moving. Filled with dreary exposition and second-tier MCU characters, things don’t begin to pick up pace until the actual assembling begins. Once the team is gathered, the action just gets bigger and bigger; the assault on the Helicarrier looks positively miniscule compared to the spectacular third-act extravaganza that results in one of the most well-staged and crowd-pleasing action sequences in any blockbuster. However, The Avengers is more than just a visual feast; Whedon’s talent as a writer and skill with ensemble casts means that no one member of the team is given preferential treatment, each character gets their moment to shine and the script is loaded with witty asides and one-liners. Although human exposition machine Nick Fury and Hawkeye don’t have a great deal to do, The Avengers overcomes its minor problems to deliver escapist fun on a massive scale.

    After four years of post-credits scenes and references dotted across the MCU, anticipation was at fever pitch by the time The Avengers hit theaters. The movie would smash the domestic opening weekend record with a colossal $207.4m, and a worldwide total of over $1.5bn would see it become the biggest non-James Cameron movie in history. With shooting already underway on follow-up Age of Ultron, the expectations placed on the sequel are nothing short of massive.

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  21. so….those were clips of Ant Man they slipped in at the end there…

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