Top 19 Superhero Movies

This week, we ranked our 19 favorite superhero flicks. Did yours make the cut? Find out below!

19. Kick-Ass

18. X-Men

17. Batman Returns

16. Blade

15. Hancock

14. Mystery Men

13. X-Men 2

12. Watchmen

11. The Crow

10. Unbreakable

9. Spider-Man

8. Batman Begins

7. Superman II

6. Superman

5. Spider-Man 2

I can't exactly pinpoint when it was in my childhood that I started liking comic books, but I guess I was pretty young. I suspect that from the first time I read a comic book, I was waiting for the perfect adaptation to the screen... any sized screen.

It started out for me with TV shows like the 1950s Adventures Of Superman (reruns, of course); the cartoon Superman/Aquaman Hour Of Adventure (which also featured Batman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and other heroes occasionally); and, of course, The Superfriends. I guess those were okay, but even as a kid I thought the Adventures Of Superman looked pretty fake, and the cartoons--while not terrible--were pretty light and fluffy plot-wise. (I also loved the 1960s Batman series, but obviously, that was no superhero epic.)

When Superman The Movie hit the big screen in 1978, I was pretty impressed, but not overly so. The promos said "you will believe a man can fly." Unfortunately, being a movie geek, I was pretty up on how blue screens and mattes worked, and even then I could spot them a mile away. It was the most epic superhero movie of all time at the time, but it still wasn't quite there.

In the intervening years there were, of course, a LOT more superhero movies, and they got gradually better as the years went on. My high expectations were that, someday, someone would bring a comic book to life with all of the excitement on the page translated to full audio-visual glory. And Spider-Man 2 was it.

As CG took over for mattes and blue screens, I often found myself faced with the same problems I had in the '70s: I could spot the fakery a mile away. The first Spider-Man, good as it was, had that problem. But the tech had improved by the second movie. And I totally got lost in the wonder of it all. The first time I saw it in the theater, during the battle between Doc Ock and Spidey at the bank, my jaw almost literally hit the floor. None of the lifting cars and bending steel bars and penny-ante stuff that passed for superheroic acts back in the day. Here were heroes and villains smashing down entire walls and tossing bank vault doors like Frisbees, just like in the comic books! I leaned over to my wife and said, "This is it. It's a moving, living, breathing comic book come to life!" It was the first time for me that a movie ever matched the over-the-top antics of superheroes on the printed page. It literally took my breath away!

Sure, the fact that the story was decent and the acting was good helped...but superhero movies (and comic books) are about the action for me. And Spider-Man 2 delivered. It was something that really couldn't have been done technologically before then. And, despite the fact that the movie is now seven years old (an eternity in the CG age), it remains the standard by which I judge all superhero movies.--Dave

4. Batman

Tim Burton's Batman came out in 1989. I was a teenager when I saw it. Before then, I had only a mediocre awareness of the Gotham City mythos. I knew the basics: Bruce Wayne adopted a tights-wearing alter ego, and cruised around town at night nabbing garish bad guys, with nifty gadgets clipped onto a bright yellow belt and a chirpy, wise-cracking circus brat sidekick. That's what I knew.

Burton turned me around. I had never seen anything like it. Totally different from what cartoons had taught me, not to mention reruns of the cheesy TV series starring Adam West. Burton's Gotham was dark and brooding, a city that cast long shadows, making plenty of places where criminals could hide and plan. Michael Keaton's Batman was cold, conflicted and kickass--despite the fact that he had limited mobility in his rubber suit. And the Joker? Jack Nicholson's paunchy, bipolar-grandpa Joker with the uncontrollable giggle?


I'm not saying Heath Ledger didn't turn out a better performance decades later. Of course he did. But Nicholson was the first Joker I saw that freaked me out, and the one that made an indelible impression. With that wonderfully wicked gleam in his eye, and maniacal mood swings... I'm just saying when he threw down with Keaton's Caped Crusader, I honestly wasn't sure who would win. I'm still not totally convinced that that Joker actually died in the end.

For me, Burton's vision still rocks. I've seen it several times and still love how every scene, every frame, is a stylized, gothic portrait. If you haven't watched it, you really should. Ignore Kim Basinger's irritating damsel-in-distress screaming, and the fact that Prince songs keep popping up at weird times. Just watch the Keaton vs. Nicholson throwdown against that moonlit stone-and-shadow backdrop, and tell me you're not watching the ultimate battle of good vs. evil. Rubber suit and all.--Didactic Pirate

3. Iron Man

Hmmm, Iron Man. Or is it Tony Stark? Or is it the idea of a man who is so smart, attractive, and a playboy that would make me swoon the way Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of Marvel super hero Iron Man does? There is just something about a guy who can roll up to a meeting in Afghanistan, pop open the trunk, serve you a drink, sell you a missile and then get wounded, kidnapped, and turn the tables on his captors, escape, then turn around and use his knowledge to do right. Yes sirree, that Tony Stark definitely makes me weak in the knees.

He's only human but yet he is super human. I mean the guy's got a glowing blue doodad in his chest that he designed to fend off Death. Yeah, DEATH, the guy that gets us all one day. Forget about the Iron Man suit. What kind of brain can come up with that, install it in his own chest to keep himself alive, and then design a suit of armor that flies? A genius, that's who. A very sexy, eccentric genius, I must add.

At the risk of repeating myself, Iron Man is one sexy humanitarian. With money. Who likes to party. He's flawed, just like me. Only I'm no genius but I'd like to be a humanitarian with money who likes to party.

I'd like to party with Iron Man.--A Vapid Blonde

2. The Incredibles

I love The Incredibles and as I've said on this site before, I consider it to be one of the best superhero movies ever. The classic comic book heroes, like Batman, Spider-Man and Superman, get more press. But that's only because they have a few decades head start. Rest assured, The Incredibles deserves to be high up on this list. It's no surprise that the movie is so good. It has an incredible pedigree (pardon the pun). It was made by Pixar, who have an unsurpassed track record for quality, and written and directed by animation auteur Brad Bird--who gave birth to the enchanting movie The Iron Giant. Put aside any preconceived notions that The Incredibles is just another kids' cartoon. It’s got more depth, more heart, and more humor than most movies out there. From the emotional scene when Mrs. Incredible tells her kids that the danger they face could be deadly to the joyous look on the young Dash's face when he turns up his powers full throttle for the first time, The Incredibles pulls no punches. It's rare that a movie works so well on every level and instantly set a bar that few superhero movies have been able to reach.--Daddy Geek Boy

1. The Dark Knight

Like everyone else with the skin tone and social skills of an internet denizen, I love Batman. He's the only DC comic character with any real sense of danger or swagger, and his super-power--beating the living fuck out of bad guys better than anyone else--is a power I can at least relate and aspire to, if not as useful as X-ray vision or super-bendy thumbs. He's been through so many evolutions over the years, but the latest and greatest succeeded in doing what I thought was impossible: it wiped the bitter, putrid taste of Joel Schumacher from our collective mouths. The Christopher Nolan iteration of Batman not only restores the menace and emotional complexity to the Dark Knight, but immerses him in a rich narrative dealing with the struggles of being a hero in a Gotham City which has the eerie familiarity of what any American city would be like after three days without power. And god DAMN does he have some bad-ass wheels.

But the hero is rarely the star of a superhero genre film. It's the villain that defines the movie, and has all the best scenes and lines. And in The Dark Knight, that is more true than ever. There's little I could say about Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker that hasn't already been said, but I'm going to say it all again anyway. I never understood why the Joker was such a big deal--or what true unvarnished psychosis looked like--until I saw Ledger's knife-wielding, lip-licking performance. Such dedication to pure chaos for its own sake! The Joker has all the confidence that pure evil and insanity bring with it, so creepily visible in his eyes and sudden bursts of violence, and the relish with which he plays his games and manipulates his enemies in the film is as frightening as the acts of destruction are themselves.

Beyond all this, and what elevates The Dark Knight above all other movies in the genre (and why it's #3 all time at the box office and currently #1 on Flickchart and #10 on IMDB) is that all these rich characters are expertly balanced and woven together by a narrative that never flags as it moves from one colossal set piece to the next. And it says as much about ourselves and our own sense of heroism and morality as it does about that of the characters. It may have one of the great vehicular battle scenes of modern cinema, but for me the heart of the film is in the Prisoners Dilemma on the two ferries. The Joker, in an effort to show that we are all self-serving villains at hear, challenges the passengers on both ships to detonate the other to save themselves. It's a beautifully choreographed exploration of people facing their own demise and forced to choose what it is to be human in our society. Most superhero movies would resolve this with a last minute rescue by our hero, but The Dark Knight allows the scene to play out, validating in the end what the hero is fighting for to begin with. And it leaves a knot in your stomach that doesn't unravel until long after the credits role.

Top that, Green Lantern. I dare you.--CroutonBoy


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