Ok, big list this. Really, you should never do "Best" lists because someone is always going to say that you're wrong, but hey, I'm going to because I can and, to be honest, I don't think there's going to be much disagreement with what I put on the list. People might disagree with a few films on the list, but I think the majority of them will be acceptable. Also, warning, there's only one pre-millennium film on this list. Whilst I do like Christopher Reeve's first two outings as Superman neither of them will be on this list and I had to choose between Tim Burton's two Batman films, mostly because the Superhero film genre really hit its stride after the first X-Men film and there have been more high quality films released since then than before.
Warning: This list contains opinions. Do not take if allergic.
10. Spider-Man 2
Easily the best Spider-Man film made thus far (we can only hope about Homecoming), Spider-Man 2 finds a good balance when it comes to mixing action and drama. Following one of the classic Spider-Man stories, Spider-Man No More, we see Peter Parker starting to lose faith in himself as Spider-Man and, as a result, his powers. We are also treated to the introduction of one of Spidey's greatest foes, Doctor Octopus, played to perfection by Alfred Molina, who portrays a much more sympathetic side to the villain, but yet still manages to be threatening. The film also contains one of the greatest and most memorable action set pieces in superhero movie history, with the train fight. And say what you like about Toby Maguire, but he is really believable as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, even if he is lacking in the humour department.
9. Batman Returns
So, why pick this over its predecessor? Well, as great as Jack Nicholson's Joker is, this film contains two character defining villain roles which just slightly edges it ahead. Danny DeVito's Penguin really steals the show here, bringing a character that really should be too ludicrous for live action and brings him to life with such menace and depth that you forget that it's just a short guy with a weird nose and an umbrella fetish. And then we have Michelle Pfeiffer. I will take no arguments (and I doubt I will get any) that this is the best Catwoman interpretation in any medium that isn't printed. The character oozes a creepy yet seductive charm that is captivating, and she gets some of the best moments in the film. We also have the wonderful atmosphere and ambience that Tim Burton brought to Gotham. The sets and the lighting are just perfection in both films and the Batmobile is a classic. Oh and this film contains Christopher Walken as an evil businessman who plans to monopolize the city's electrical supply. What's not to love.
8. Batman Begins
Just edging out ...Returns however, is the film that borrows heavily from the definitive Batman origin story, Year One, to bring us the reintroduction to the big screen Caped Crusader after almost a decade and kick-started the best superhero trilogy of all time. So, what makes this film better than Returns? Both casts are great, Bale is a great Batman but so is Keaton. Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy match DeVito and Pfeiffer. However, having such actors as Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman in supporting roles, giving their usual excellent performances, does give this film the edge. Bringing lesser known characters such as Ra's Al Ghul, Scarecrow and Carmine Falcone to the big screen must also be praised. Everyone knows The Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, The Riddler etc. but this film dipped deeper into the rogues gallery and pulled out gems. Plus obviously Christopher Nolan is a genius, the sets are perfect, the lighting, costume, action choreography, effects, you get the idea. Oh and the script isn't that bad either. Shame it get overshadowed a lot by a film we'll discuss later.
I have just one thing to say. Nightcrawler. Is there a better action scene or opening scene in any film (not just superhero film) than the attack on the Pentagon? I can't think of one. And the fact that the film that follows is the best X-Men film of the series just adds. Ok, you've still got Halle Berry as Storm, a hideously underused Cyclops (who disappears for half the film and is generally useless otherwise, which is insulting), but still. Hugh Jackman is as good as he ever was, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are as good as you'd expect them to be (i.e. these two people might as well actually be the characters they are playing) and there's a small matter of actually taking a fairly unknown X-adversary in William Striker and making him Brian freaking Cox. And of course, all the allegories, which is basically what the first two X-films are about. Yep, they work pretty well, being both thought provoking and, in certain places, intentionally hilarious.
6. Iron Man
And now, the MCU begins. Yes, this film is surprisingly low on my list, but that should tell you the quality of the next 5 films. This film took a character that the mainstream did not care about at all and made him, not only relevant, but possibly second only to Batman in terms of current popularity. I could say that it is all down to one thing, but really it isn't. It's down to a number of things. Firstly, everyone working on this film seems to have a common goal, make the best film they possibly could (not the best superhero film, the best film) and everyone seems to have a deep understanding of the character and the world they were trying to build. The amount of care that went into this film is unreal and you can see even from here that Marvel had big plans. And of course, has there ever been a more perfect casting choice than Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. He doesn't even appear to be acting. And we also have to respect Jeff Bridges for setting a bar so high for future MCU villains that only one has been able to even reach it so far, let alone top it. They set the bar very high with the first film of the franchise.
5. Captain America: Civil War
So, you base a film on one of the most divisive storylines of the last 10 years, put it into a cinematic universe that hasn't been built up to the level of the comics universe and what happens? Well you receive massive critical acclaim and huge box office sales that's what. By rights, this film should not have worked, but by having a smaller roster of characters to work with, it simplified the story and made it better for it. The chemistry between Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. really drives this film and really gets the viewer invested. Even though there is an Avengers size cast involved in the film, the focus of the film is on those two guys and it's their story that is being told, their characters that are being developed and their friendship that is being tested, all set against a cast that encompasses almost every film that has gone before. It's a Captain America film that feels so much bigger. You also have all the action set pieces you could want, Ant-Man becoming Giant-Man, Scarlet-Vision (which is wonderful to see) oh and I don't know if anyone noticed that Spider-Man and Black Panther were both introduced in this film?
4. The Incredibles
Yes, it counts.
Let me just say this, in terms of putting out consistently amazing films, Pixar have a batting average that would put anyone else to shame. When you've released 17 films and had only 2 duds, you know you're good. So when Pixar decided to do a superhero film, of course it was going to be, well, incredible. This film encompasses so much, the themes of family, discovering were you fit in to society, the effect your actions have on others, learning to be happy with who you are, learning not to cling to the past etc. etc. etc. Everyone who worked on this film seemed to be having a blast. The writers, squeezing in all the homages and pastiches they could. The animators, bringing amazing character designs, locations, action and emotions to the table. And the voice actors, especially Jason Lee as Syndrome, who steals every scene he's in, and Brad Bird as Edna Mode, who steals the entire movie. The characters are wonderful and relatable, the story is engaging and the animation beautiful. If you don't like this film, there's something wrong with you. Just ask our great and powerful overlord, Jeff. It's his favourite superhero film of all time.
3. Guardians Of The Galaxy
So, how do you make a comic that's only a few years old and turn it into the breakout hit of the MCU. Well, you get Vin Diesel, turn him into a tree and have him only say four words through out the entire film. Oh and then you pair him with a loudmouth Raccoon played by some guy from the Hangover, the chubby one from Parks And Rec, a former professional Wrestler and some green chick. The great thing about this film is, because the comic isn't that well know, there were no expectations. And because there were no expectations, they could just go wild. The laughs are great, the main characters are perfect, the visuals stunning (as you'd expect from Marvel/ Disney) and it's just an all out fun ride. Sure there are some missteps, Ronan and the Nova Corps, but the rest of the film more than makes up for it. And how can you not like a film where you see a tree stab its arm through 10 people, slam them around a corridor for a full 5 minutes and then turn and give the world most innocent smile to the camera. Plus, it has one of the best soundtracks of any film ever.
2. The Avengers/ Avengers Assemble
An experiment that no-one thought would work, that took 5 films worth of build up to get to and then smashed numerous box-office records like a Hulk in a china shop. Ok, Loki's plan makes none of the sense, but the rest of it. It's great. RDJr. is great, Mark Ruffalo is great, Tom Hiddleston is great, Chris Evans is great ("it appears to run on some sort of electricity"). It's just great. You've got classic MCU moments, like Black Widow's interigation technique, Hawkeye's blind shot, everything Hulk does in the final battle. Because these characters have been built up prior to the film, there's no need to waste time introducing them, the audience already knows who they are, so the story doesn't suffer from needless filler. Not only is it still the benchmark for the MCU, but also it's set the benchmark for DC to try and reach when the Justice League finally hit the big screen.
1. The inevitable...
Yes it's obvious. But has anything bettered it since? Because nothing prior was as good. This film has everything that made Batman Begins so good (with the exception of Liam Neeson) and just adds Heath Ledger, in what could quite easily be stated as the best interpretation of a comic book character in movie history (if not the most faithful). Really, what is there to say about this film that hasn't been said before. Aside from Ledger, Aaron Eckhart is a great casting choice as Harvey Dent/ Two-Face, the returning cast are spot on, the action set-pieces are ramped up a notch from the previous film and the atmosphere is decidedly bleaker, despite the stylistic choice to set more of the film during the day. Oh, and the cinematography is excellent. I mean, just look at the opening bank heist scene.
So, do you agree with my list. Please feel free to tell me how obvious it was that The Dark Knight was going to be number 1 and how stupid I am for not including *insert film here* on the list.
And with that.
Lol, Not allergic to Opinions, I even have some myself! 🙂
Spiderman 2 – It was pretty good, my main issue with it was that Doc Ock wasn’t the bad guy. It was the tentacles that drove him…insane? He seemed to overcome it at the end, just before his death. I dunno, I was conflicted with him as the villain throughout the movie. I like the character and the way Alfred played him, I just didn’t care for the Dock Ock origin story itself. And then to kill him off seemed like a waste.
Batman 2 – I never really liked this one. Penguin and Catwoman weren’t even the bad guys. It was Christopher Walken. He created Catwoman and Manipulated Penguin throughout the movie. I felt sorry for the two by the end.
*Sigh* I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but I didn’t like Batman TDK at all – no one in my house really did – and we are all superhero movie fans. Several of us fell asleep during it. It was just too long. They should have left the Twoface story out – maybe end it with him getting hurt, leading to him being the bad guy in the next movie. I dunno, it’s my go-to example for overrated. Yeah, Heath was great and all, but I don’t think it was that great of a superhero film.
I’d put the first Avengers movie at the top of my list – not just because it was a lot of fun and a great superhero movie, but because of what it represents – the culmination of years of movie making and story telling, all tied together.
List’s not bad, order might switch up . . . what IS it with so many villains dying their first time out? One of the best things about arch-rivals is that they find a way to come back. Why are these scripts written to prevent that? DeVito’s penguin in particular would’ve made a great revenge story post-Arkham, for example:
P: In that PLACE you put me, they did things– [umbrella sword jab and miss]
B: [interspersed with minor punches and one kick, sliding Penguin several feet] So did you. Your file said you bit a lot of them in the femoral artery. Six patients and two staff died.
P: All six of those patients treated me like a child! [hurls umbrella like a spear]
B: That — [dodge] doesn’t sound bad.
P: THEY WERE PEDOS, YOU FLYING R-RATT! [tantrum] They didn’t even give me any candy!
B: . . . and the staff? [dodges bit of flung debris toward flung umbrella as umbrella explodes, Batman goes flying against wall, next shot is Penguin coming into view with large object held over head hovering over Batman]
P: HE sold them performance enhancers instead of Thorazine and SHE took BETS on them against me. [Batman punches Penguins gut, Penguin drops whatever on his own head, falls on Batman, leaving him struggling against time to get back to whatever Penguin distracted him from . . . Penguin gets washed down sewer to come back another time.]
Isn’t it ironic that the one film on this list that has a clear main antagonist from start to end (I’m not counting Civil War here) that doesn’t kill off said antagonist at the end, the actor who played that role died, preventing the character from coming back in the next film.
I’ll have to say that I didn’t like The Dark Knight nearly as much as Batman Begins, largely because of Ledger’s Joker. I’m not a fan. I’ve like Ledger in other things, but this one fell flat for me. Other than that, I liked you other 9 and about in that order.
What? Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park didn’t make the list?!? The shame.
I like your picks, JR. My #1 is Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr. was no-brainer to play Tony Stark. He went above and beyond. The movie was done to near perfection. Everyone was on the same page on stage and behind the scenes. It elevated the MCU to the next level.
Of course, Batman: TDK. Christan Bale as Batman grated me at first. Heath Ledger stole the movie and will forever be the Joker. Two-Face didn’t get enough screen-time.
Love the Tim Burton Batman. The feel was not the typical Burton film. The elements are there; however, his Gotham is so smooth and stylized. The setting is an updated art-deco meets film noir. Michael Keaton is perhaps the best Batman / Bruce Wayne. He was an odd pick who I thought along with Tim Burton would turn the Dark Knight into a Beetlejuice slapstick. To the contrary, they made a serious effort and nailed it. My problem with the movie is Jack Nicholson played the role of Jack Nicholson not the Joker.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is up there. Mostly because, “Okay, we got past the origin story. Let the adventure begin!” The audience gets to know Cap better. The Winter Soldier is a formidable villain. The combat is epic. And, unlike most other MCU movies, the two parties survive to continue their story. The set up at the end leaves the audience wanting more.
The Crow is on my list. Sure, it’s an extended 1990s music video. If you were a goth or a club kid, this was your movie. To anyone who has never seen The Crow, promise yourself to never watch the sequels. If you don’t believe me, think how awesome Highlander is then how suffered through Highlander 2: The Quickening.
I count the commercially-underwhelming Dredd. No flying Lawmaster or ABC warrior, just a hardened street cop and his psychic rookie. The “real-time” feel and non-stop action give the movie a raw edge. I am also a fan of Judge Dredd with Sly Stallone. It was cartoonish, silly fun. I wish that the first 2000 AD movie would have launched a sequel or two or expanded to other titles like Strontium Dog.
Hellboy is another favorite just outside the Top 10. Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman? Say wha…! If only they would have closed with a trilogy. Golden Army left me hanging.
@Gene: I agree with your assessment of The Avengers. It works so well because they didn’t waste time on bringing the audience up to speed. Even if you never saw the MCU solo movies. Even if you never even heard of The Avengers, you could pick up the plot rather quickly then sit back and enjoy the ride.