Poll Position: All-Time Great Super-Hero Movies

Continuing our "Best Of" series of questions, this week I'm going to take a chance and open up the list to allow you to add your own entries to the ones I nominated. Please be responsible with your newfound power! The question is simple:

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Brief discussion after the jump, or jump right to comments to tell me what you think! Also, note that I am not a film critic, I'm just a guy who likes super heroes. So take my observations for what they are -- uninformed, yet published anyway. Thank goodness for the Internet!

  1. Batman (1966): This was the campy movie based on the just as campy TV series starring Adam West as Batman. You might question its inclusion on this list, but it was for all practical purposes the first big super-hero movie that showed the genre could, in fact, make money on the big screen, stupid as it was. Plus it featured Lee Meriwether as Catwoman, which alone makes it worthy of adoration.

  2. Superman (1978):For my money, the best summation of what the super hero genre is all about comes from this movie's tagline, "You will believe a man can fly." And holy cow, did it deliver! Were it not for Margo Kidder, who frankly made me want, even at the tender age of 11 years old, to punch her in the face for her terrible Lois Lane, I'd be tempted to go with this one. Gene Hackman made a great Luthor (attention Kevin Spacey!), Ned Beatty was a great henchman, and the film managed to make a guy in a red cape and underwear with blue tights believable flying around in the real world. The first great "serious" super hero movie that set a lot of the standards for what would come after.

  3. Superman II (1980): On the plus side, this movie had a LOT more super-heroic action than the first one. Guys flinging each other around into buildings, destroying Army tanks, heat vision, and cellophane logos. OK, so it wasn't an unmixed bag. On the other hand, there were some really disheartening moments, particularly the unfortunately trend-setting idea of having the hero reveal his secret identity and/or give up his powers for a woman. However, this movie gave fans fast-paced, interesting, and fun big-time super-hero fights with full Hollywood magic, and for that we must thank it. Also, KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!

  4. Batman (1989): Looking at Wikipedia's list, I find it astonishing that it took eleven years between the first Superman movie and this one, with only other "Superman" properties being released in the meantime. Well, except for Condorman, but come on, let's be real here. Especially considering the massive box office "Superman" did, it's startling that it took so long to follow up with another character. Granted, Superman at the time was head and shoulders above anyone else in terms of name ID, and further granted, Batman as the next name on the list had in the past decades been used more for ridicule than for quality. OK, maybe the long interval isn't that surprising after all ... Anyway, I remember this movie for two things. First, how outraged everyone was over the casting of Michael Keaton in the lead role. Too wimpy, too small, too pouty, too silly, too wrong! And then he nailed it. Flat out nailed it. Second, I remember how over the top awesome Jack Nicholson was as The Joker. Finally a character besides the universally recognized and beloved Superman had hit the big-time, proving that the genre was more than a one-trick pony. Plus, it's just a fun, crazed, well-done ride.

  5. The Rocketeer (1991): I know this isn't the mega-hit of the mainline movies on the list, but I just love it. The whole aesthetic of the movie rocks, from the incredibly set and costume designs to the poster to the casting to the cinematography, it's amazingly well put together and fun. 1940s era pulp action at its best.

  6. Mystery Men (1999): One of two outright comedies on the list (along with the original Batman), there is so much win in this movie. From Invisible Boy who's only invisible if you don't look at him to Hank Azaria's fork-throwing Blue Rajah (who doesn't wear blue), they managed to make a comedy featuring super-heroes that doesn't feel like they're making fun of super-heroes so much as celebrating their zaniness. Plus, I love Ben Stiller.

  7. X-Men (2000): Marvel's first quality movie offering after the execrable "Punisher", "Captain America" and "Fantastic Four". What, you don't remember those? That's because they sucked so bad they pulled themselves into a singularity, never to be seen again. However, Marvel managed to finally get its act together with this one in a big way. For my money, Magneto was at the time the most compelling and complex super adversary we'd yet seen. And they managed to pull off an "ensemble" movie featuring lots of characters with powers in a way that wasn't confusing or silly. Granted, Joel Schumacher had crammed an astounding number of costumed characters into his later Batman movies, but they ended up mudding the plot, the action, and the bounds of fetishism, ruining the films. Well, helping to ruin the films, because there was a lot wrong with them otherwise, too.

    Part of what made "X-Men" work as an ensemble movie was that they were a team to begin with, from the ground up. The Batman cast had mostly been added on as the comic evolved, and as a result they didn't look like they all went together. Add in the hodgepodge of villains in equally garish (and clashing) outfits, and it was just a mess. But the costumes of the X-Men were consistent and looked good together, and with their muted colors and fabrics were meant to be seen on real life actors all in one shot without looking stupid.

    All of that aside, this is a fun, entertaining, and well done movie.

  8. Spider-Man (2002): Marvel might have fumbled the ball early on, but once they figured out how to make (or how to get SONY to make) a good super-hero live action film, they ran with it. Like the first Batman, the casting of the lead caused a lot of controversy at the time, with many of the same criticisms. And again, the lead hit it out of the park. Tobey Maguire's understated, slightly bemused performance was perfect for the perennially troubled Peter Parker, and Kirsten Dunst was a great MJ. The costume rocked, the special effects were outstanding, and the plot thoroughly enjoyable. The only negative for me in this movie was the Green Goblin, who I thought was so overacted and shoddily-garbed it almost dragged down the whole film. Word was that Dafoe's performance was so over the top that ham production was destroyed in a tri-state area.

    Plus, "The Kiss" finally made super-heroes sexy. We came a long way from Superman flying around Metropolis with a tablecloth-wearing Lois Lane.

  9. X2: X-Men United (2003): Like "Superman II", this sequel features some high-powered, very cool super-hero battles. Unlike "Superman II", very few of the characters are wearing vinyl. The scene with Nightcrawler teleporting around the White House alone is worth the price of admission, but there's a lot more where that came from. Great sets, costumes, writing, and directing made for an eXtremely entertaining movie.

  10. Spider-Man 2 (2004): A strong performance by Alfred Molina as Doc Ock and outstanding CGI effects both with Spidey swinging around NYC and Doc's arms, made for an action-packed ride that still provided great character development and romance. The absence of Willem Dafoe in a featured role also helped.

  11. The Incredibles (2004): I can hear it now -- "This is an animated movie, it doesn't count!" Hogwash, I say! They're super-heroes, in a movie, therefore this is a super-hero movie. Period. Not only that, it's a great super-hero movie. Tons of action, an incredibly cool design style, interesting characters, gripping plot, fantastic action scenes, and a stellar supporting cast combine to make a fun, involving, top-notch film. One of my criteria for judging a genre movie is whether or not there are any what I call "Godzilla Moments". Let me explain. No, that will take too long. Let me sum up.

    In the 1998 version of Godzilla, you have this enormous fire-breathing lizard rampaging through downtown New York. And right in the middle of the movie, we take a half-hour break to deal with the emotional trauma of the relationship between the two human leads.

    So I checked my watch because I was bored out of my gourd, and that is what I call a "Godzilla Moment" -- serious gaps in the flow of a movie that make you check your watch, wondering why in the name of all that's good you're having to sit through this dreck when there's a fifty foot fire-breathing lizard rampaging through downtown effing New York!! Show me some Godzilla already, dammit! Note that the Ang Lee "Hulk" was mostly Godzilla Moments with the occasional cool scene thrown in to keep you in the theater.

    My point (and I do have one) is that "The Incredibles" has no Godzilla Moments. It's pure, unadulterated, awesome super-hero stuff from the opening credits till the end.

  12. Batman Begins (2005): Look, you don't need me to tell you how awesome this movie is. Because it is. A truly "adult", mature film about a guy in a cape that manages to give us cool gadgets and comic book action without feeling in any way like a "kids" film. My only criticism is that for me, it dragged a little at times. When I think of going back and re-watching it, I feel like it's going to take an effort. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because great films should make you work a little for them, but for me and super-hero movies, not so much.

  13. Iron Man (2008): Three words -- Robert. Downey. Junior. Best lead actor in any super-hero movie ever. This may be the perfect super-hero film, from the special effects to the casting to the acting and directing to the set design to the story, it gives you everything you'd ever want in a super-hero movie and more. I think there are better climactic fight scenes than you find here, but other than that I'd put this one up against anything else on the list with confidence.

  14. The Dark Knight (2008): A better movie than "Batman Begins" in my opinion, partly due to the unbelievable performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker. If Robert Downey Jr. is the best-cast leading man of any super-hero movie, surely Ledger is the best villain. This movie seriously disturbed me, and for any form of art to move a person like that is a real achievement.

  15. Iron Man 2 (2010): I'll have to confess, I'm not actually that big a fan of this movie. It was good, but the character development arc of Stark just didn't do it for me like the first one. Seeing him go from unprincipled corporate tech whore to a crusader was gripping. Seeing him go from crusader to self-absorbed drunk and back, not so much. Don't get me wrong, it's still an enjoyable film, just not nearly as much so as the first one.

Man, those are some good movies! I suspect that what answer you give as to which is the greatest will depend on several factors unrelated to the actual quality of the film. Like, how old you were when you first saw it, where your life was at the time, whether you generally prefer comedies or darker fare, etc. Those certainly play a part for me -- I saw the first Superman at 11 years of age, a deeply impressionable time and it was the first time I'd ever seen one of my heroes handled so incredibly well.

Which is all totally legitimate! I'm just saying, I don't think there is any way to really decide which is "the" greatest for everyone, because it's so inherently subjective an exercise.

By which I mean I am right and you are wrong, of course, in the finest Internet tradition. Ahem.

I'd probably narrow my list down to "The Incredibles", "Iron Man", and "The Dark Knight". And which answer I ultimately give will depend on how I feel that day (witness). Still, last time I said "Iron Man" was my favorite, and I'll probably stick by that this time, with "The Incredibles" coming in a close second.

Now get out there and tell me why I'm wrong!

38 Responses to Poll Position: All-Time Great Super-Hero Movies