We were impressed enough by the Thor sequel to begin pondering … which are the best superhero movies ever made?
10. Iron Man
Among the most inspired pieces of casting in cinematic history, indie film’s bad boy Robert Downey Jr. shoulders a blockbuster superhero flick and becomes the highest paid actor in history. He may even deserve it. Wry humor, believable bouts of self loathing and narcissism, and the intelligence to pull off the character of Tony Stark, he redefined superhero and caused a ripple effect still being felt in the genre.
9. The Incredibles
Pixar takes on the superhero with heart, humor and the kind of spot-on insight that made their image of toy life, robot romance, and elderly adventure so magnificent. Consistently fun and full of surprises and wisdom, The Incredibles rocks.
Back in the Eighties, goth-god Tim Burton breathed new life into the superhero concept with this dark, stylish, almost campy classic. It would be nearly 20 years before Jack Nicholson’s then-iconic version of The Joker was outdone.
7. X-Men: First Class
Michael Fassbender keeps his pants on for this inspired origins story. Writer Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn, who’d done the genre proud with Kick-Ass just one year earlier, re-team to collect mutants in time to thwart the Cuban Missile Crisis. A killer cast and really clever writing mark this as easily the best X-Men movie.
Hey, speaking of Kick-Ass – how great was that?! In a sea of mock superhero movies, this one turned out to be fresh, a bit twisted and incredibly funny. It also delivered on action. Endearing, relentlessly entertaining, fearlessly violent yet well-meaning, the film hits on all fronts. Plus, Nicolas Cage, with his Adam West impersonation, is utterly priceless.
5. Batman Begins
Talk about a game changer. When Memento director Christopher Nolan turned his attention to the genre, well, the genre was never the same. Any hint of camp is abandoned. Dark and brooding, the film is as interested in story and character as it is in action and bat-gizmos. For the first time, an outright brilliant actor is cast in the hero’s role, and the weight of the decisions made by a vigilante crime fighter is finally felt.
4. Spider-Man 2
Like Superman 2 back in ’80, the second of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man flicks ponders the ramifications of true love on superherodom. Tobey Maguire’s inherent tenderness helps the most moving scenes stick with you, in a movie that celebrates humanity in a way few films – superhero or no – have managed to do.
3. The Dark Knight Rises
Finally, someone gets Cat Woman right! Nolan’s trilogy capper is a wildly satisfying, emotionally resonant, dramatically impeccable ride. Every choice is as fitting as it is surprising. He’s responsible to the source material without giving an inch of his own creative control, plumbing cultural currency and comic ethos to create a movie that leaves a mark.
2. The Avengers
Joss Whedon, everybody! He’s every fanboy’s dream. If there any nerdy thing this man cannot do? Buffy, Serenity, The Cabin in the Woods – hell, he even made Shakespeare hip! Plus, he wrote Toy Story – how awesome is that? And while it looked like the Avengers franchise would amount to the gathering of multiple barely interesting individual heroes, plus another Hulk debacle, it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable, well crafted, character driven and fun superhero flicks of all time. And someone finally did the Hulk justice! Well played, Mr. Whedon.
1. The Dark Knight
For the first – and likely last – time in history, the villain from a superhero flick earned the actor an Oscar. And it was flat out obvious, because Heath Ledger’s hauntingly perfect performance as The Joker left a blood chilling impression. And though he is the best reason to watch The Dark Knight, he’s hardly the only exceptional element the film has going for it. The emotional weight to some of the scenes will leave you breathless, and though Nolan has established a very dark view in this series, there is a single, blistering scene in this film that emphasizes the deep optimism the filmmaker and his franchise have for humanity.