Disclaimer: This list is not really objective. In fact, it’s very subjective. The opinions expressed here are my own–even the bad ones.
It’s a good time to be a fan of superhero movies. Marvel has more than a dozen flicks planned, and enough ideas to carry them through the late 2020s. DC is rebooting everything and murdering everyone. And, of course, nobody’s going to stop you from revisiting the great superhero movies from the past: those 1970s and '80s DC gems, those pre-Cinematic Universe Marvel efforts, and so forth. But there are just so many superhero movies. Won’t someone come and explain which ones are the best superhero movies?
Someone can! And that someone is me. I’m here to deliver the definitive, authoritative, indisputable, and essential guide to the very best superhero movies ever made. It’s completely unbiased and totally correct in every way. I have nothing to fear except for your angry Twitter responses. Let’s dive in.
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No, no, I’m just kidding! That movie was terrible.
Sorry. Let’s start over.
Reddit didn’t lie to you. The internet’s favorite cheeky superhero movie really was funny and awesome. Deadpool parodied the superhero formula even as it was perfecting it, and–most importantly–it was a heck of a lot of fun from start to finish.
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Winter Soldier is the second Captain America film, and it’s one of Marvel’s best offerings. The Winter Soldier keeps the cast and feel of a typical Marvel movie, but it’s also a political thriller. It’s one of Marvel’s smarter movies, and it’s a really great example of a superhero move that’s not afraid to be a little more than just, you know, a superhero movie.
8. The Avengers
Everything that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice got wrong, The Avengers got right. Marvel brought the whole MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’ll recall) off the bench for a glorious mega-movie. It’s loud, it’s sometimes silly (like many superheroes, the Avengers seem to “save” cities by letting half of the buildings get blown up), and it’s a whole lot of fun. Also, Joss Whedon directed it, and Joss Whedon is great.
7. Superman II
The second great Superman movie was also, unfortunately, the last great one. The Christopher Reeve movies spun out after II, and revivals like Superman Returns and Man of Steel have been lacking. Superman II has more action than its predecessor, but just as much heart. DC hasn’t managed to put their flagship hero in a decent movie since Reagan was inaugurated, but we’ll always have the first two Christopher Reeve masterpieces, and that’s more than some people get (looking at you, Green Lantern). I could go on for a thousand words about how criminally underappreciated Superman is, but I actually already did that.
Batman is at his best when things are a mix of gloomy and weird. And nobody is gloomier or weirder than Tim Burton, whose 1989 masterpiece was the best Batman movie until Christopher Nolan rebooted things with his The Dark Knight Trilogy. While we’re talking Burton, by the way, let me just put in a word for Batman Returns–though it didn’t quite make our list, it’s gloriously bizarre and happens to be a personal favorite of your faithful blogger.
5. Iron Man
Iron Man is one of Marvel’s crowning achievements. Robert Downey Jr. kills it as Tony Stark, the billionaire engineer who (spoiler alert!) becomes Iron Man. And this is a landmark film for another reason: it kicks off Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Since 2008, Marvel has taken great pains to tie its films together. Downey Jr. has played Stark in two sequels, but he’s also popped up in The Avengers and Captain America: Civil War, among others. Synergy!
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
After a few years of watching DC murder everyone in gray tones and Marvel try to connect every film to six others, I think we were all more than ready for Guardians of the Galaxy–a standalone romp through outer space with a talking raccoon, a dancing tree, and a few other interplanetary oddballs. Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the most fun superhero movies in years, and isn’t that the point?
3. Spider-Man 2
Marvel Studios has been dunking all over DC in recent years, thanks in part to Marvel’s ability to keep a consistent universe throughout their movies. But for my money, the very best Marvel adaptation is still Spider-Man 2, the middle chapter in the Spider-Man trilogy that predates Marvel’s unified Cinematic Universe. Spider-Man 2, like most great superhero films, balances fun with serious stakes and thrilling action. It’s got a compelling villain (Doctor Octopus), it’s perfectly cast, and it’s even better than Spider-Man (which you should also watch, by the way).
2. Superman: The Movie
The Man of Steel hasn’t had a lot of luck in Tinseltown lately, but it wasn’t always like that. Superman was DC’s golden boy on the silver screen back in the 1970s and 80s, when Superman: The Movie and Superman II became the first two great superhero movies. This first installment is light, funny, and uplifting–not exactly words you’d use to describe the current DC cinematic universe. Plenty of my readers will think Superman II should be the leader of the Superman pack. They’ll say that there’s not much action in the original, and that the ending is kind of goofy. True! But to them I say: come fight me on Twitter.
1. The Dark Knight
I’ve ragged on DC’s grim-and-gray aesthetic a few times here, but there’s a reason they keep coming back to that well. Their box office bread and butter is Batman, who excels in gloomy movies. The Dark Knight is the pinnacle of this style. Heath Ledger’s Joker is unforgettable, and the film deals with subjects like terrorism and kidnapping in a way that a less serious superhero flick never could.