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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.