We live in exciting times, I’ll tell you what. The nerds have successfully overthrown society and everyone seems cool with it. There was a time, not too long ago, where the idea of being openly a fan of comic books, video games, superheroes, and science fiction would be a one-way ticket to the shadow realm… err, I mean a one-way ticket to the bottom of any social food chain. I may have mentioned it before, but my mother still thinks nerds are getting their lunch money stolen on a daily basis, and while I don’t mean to belittle any of our people still enduring the age-old war, we have certainly come a long way from my mother’s suspiciously detailed memories of nerds being bullied in public schools. What was once a functioning hierarchy that comfortably suppressed nerds from rising in the ranks until well into our 40s when the big fellas’ physical advantages begin to atrophy, or far less likely, everyone matures enough to accept people with different interests, now has nerds ascending to the throne of social prominence with far less interreference than ever before. The reason for this glorious change in the world is that nerd culture has infiltrated the mainstream and usurped whatever forgettable fad was sitting in its place as the people’s champion in pop culture.
The most effective medium for the invasion of the nerds is film, particularly superhero films. Modern filmmakers have the ability to construct absurdly fantastic scenes on the silver screen which allowed creations that were only seen in the 2-dimensional drawings of comic book panels to grace audiences with a realistic charm for the first time. And, as it turns out, everyone has an imagination and everyone wants to have a good time. Who would have thunk it? We now see trailers for superhero movies be the major attraction during the Super Bowl. Could you imagine explaining to someone 15 years ago how more people were interested in 40 seconds of teaser footage for a comic book movie than they were for the biggest sporting event in the world? But these are the times we are living in and it is phenomenal stuff.
As I do and as the title suggests, I am going to rank my Top 10 Superhero Movies of All Time. And as always, my opinions and rankings are gospel and should be considered nonfiction at your local library. Honorable Mentions go to “Captain America: Civil War”, “The Dark Knight Rises”, “Thor: Ragnarok”, “Black Panther”, “Batman Begins”, “Batman”, and “X-Men: Days of Future’s Past”.
****NOTE: This list was made prior to the release of “Avengers: Endgame” and therefore it will not appear here, although it undoubtedly deserves to be****
POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD
10. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (2018)
I am starting out with a major curveball. This is why I am up here, and you’re down there. What you consider audacity, I consider courage. You cowards lack the conviction to make this pick. I have the fortitude to do what is necessary, while you flounder in a shallow pool of your own cowardice. Pathetic.
If you took the time to see this movie, you would definitely have been rewarded with a fun take on the superhero genre. If you didn’t see it, then I am sorry you don’t know what it means to be cool. While it may not be known as a classic or have the reputation of other films, this one deserves recognition.
“Teen Titans Go!” has had a successful run as a TV show on Cartoon Network that has probably not gotten the respect and praise it deserves. As a show, it follows in the footsteps of the “Teen Titans” show that was a more serious anime-style show that won over fans in the early 2000s, but behaves so differently. Instead of taking itself seriously, it is gratuitously self-aware that it is a cartoon and meta humor ensues. Using the same voice actors from the original show, this style could rub die-hard fans the wrong way, but if you watch it with an open mind, I promise you it is one of the funniest shows on television.
“Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” takes the working formula from the show and dials it up past 11. The film follows the Titans as they help Robin achieve his dream of starring in a movie because all real heroes have movies about them. Just the fact that they live in a world where Robin is both aware that he is in a show and that superheroes know about and star in their own films is incredibly meta. It takes seriously clever writing to be able to create a story that effectively blends so many planes of culture and reality into a narrative that people understand.
The actual content in the film is shamelessly “wet your pants” funny. There is a sequence where the Titans try to prevent all the other superheroes from going down their heroic paths so Robin could be the only hero and get his movie, and we are shown the team reversing all of our favorite origin stories like Superman’s and Batman’s. But after it is shown that they destroyed the world, they have to go back in time and undo that AND THEY SHOW ROBIN GETTING BATMAN’S PARENTS KILLED AND BLOWING UP KRYPTON BASICALLY ON SCREEN WITH A SMILE. It is deranged and some of the best humor I have seen in any film, let alone a superhero film.
This movie also doubles as a fun musical, which is usually hit or miss, as the songs could drag on and remove the audience from the action. But that is not the case here. The songs are really funny and catchy, sung by brilliant artists like Michael Bolton. I honestly cannot say enough about how funny this film is. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend that you drop whatever it is you’re doing at the moment and go watch it. Nothing could be more important than this.
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
This one is more predictable than the last one. Marvel Films will be very prominent on this list and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is amongst the elite of the franchise. The character of Captain America is usually likeable enough, albeit, reminiscent of that one kid in class who reminds the teacher that they did not collect last night’s homework (You know, that one kid we all hate and hopefully will get what’s coming to them), but it was not until this film that we got a personal story about Cap that actually got us excited about him.
On a mission, Cap and Black Widow discover that S.H.E.I.L.D. has been infiltrated by the Nazi-splinter group Hydra ever since the end of World War II, essentially showing us that the organization whose sole goal was to protect humanity from threats that the heroes fought for was really trying to get the world to militarize and sacrifice its freedoms in the name of security. There is a lot of political commentary there if you really want to look at it.
It also turns out that the mysterious Hydra assassin, dubbed “The Winter Soldier”, is actually Steve Rogers’s childhood best friend, Bucky Barnes, whom was supposedly killed on a mission, but instead brainwashed and physically altered by Hydra. It’s like a damn soap opera in here with how dramatic this crap is.
What makes this film so compelling is the personal stakes displayed and the major changes in the grand status quo. Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, and new recruit Sam Wilson play the roles of spies and superheroes, creating a farm more intimate approach to storytelling that is not often seen in the extravagant Marvel films. In fact, the reason why I rank this above “Captain America: Civil War” is that it achieves stakes with incredible action scenes without having to resort to bringing in every hero for a battle royale spectacular to be great.
8. The Avengers (2012)
I remember when the first “Avengers” film came out. I was still in high school, flaunting an innocent naivety that would melt even the coldest bastard’s frosty heart. It was a time when I thought I knew everything, as opposed to now when I know I know everything. Up until this point, every Marvel film was produced by Universal, and outside of “Iron Man”, the franchise was not yet a bonafide juggernaut. “Thor”, “Captain America: The First Avenger”, and “Iron Man 2” were just average, and “The Incredible Hulk” was so forgettable that they changed Ed Norton into Mark Ruffalo and I didn’t even notice for several years. There was no telling if Marvel could pull off a team up movie of this caliber.
Sweet baby Jesus, was my concern misplaced. Being the first MCU film produced after Disney purchased Marvel from Universal, “The Avengers” completely set the tone and direction for the MCU from that point on. For the first time, we saw multiple superheroes work together on screen to fight a foe that posed a greater threat than any that came before it. You want stakes, well, you’ve got them.
The ensemble cast is topped off with one of Marvel’s most memorable performances from Tom Hiddleston, as Thor’s adopted brother Loki, who returns from his appearance in “Thor” to serve as the exceptionally British and charming primary antagonist. The alien invasion of New York, led by Loki, is one of the most impactful moments in the MCU and perhaps the greatest moment of character growth for Tony Stark, who is one of the giants that the franchise so heavily relies upon.
The action is riveting and brilliantly choreographed. The dialogue is witty and the chemistry between each actor is palpable. What began as a major risk to produce such a large budget film with unprecedented circumstances turned into one of the most important cinematic achievements in recent memory.
7. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Full disclosure: on an earlier draft I had relegated “Spider-Man 2” to Honorable Mentions limbo. But after vigorous negotiations with a group of rabid, concerned citizens over a several tacos and margaritas, I have succumbed to political pressure and made this concession. It is not that I don’t like this film (I had it at the unofficial 11-spot before those meddling kids intervened), it is just that the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy doesn’t connect with me on a personal level the way some other films do. But I have seen the light, and while it might not be my particular favorite, I would be ignoring an objective titan of the genre and that would be irresponsible.
“Spider-Man 2” is a superhero film that was made before the rise of the MCU, and if you pay attention to the release dates, it is the oldest film on this list. Being the geriatric patient of the group, this film does not have many models to imitate, so instead it needed to innovate. An issue of early superhero films is that they created many of the clichés we see in the genre as a whole, and with the exception of Magneto in the “X-Men” franchise, there were not many deep or complex supervillains on the silver screen. That is, until Alfred Molina showed us his version of Doctor Otto Octavius.
Doc Ock is one of the earliest sympathetic supervillains we’ve seen in film, breaking the mold and setting a standard for many films to come. He is a man tortured by his own creation and ambition and makes for a compelling nemesis for Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker, both mentally and physically. Meanwhile, Peter has a mental crisis of his own, even losing his powers due to his inability to cope with the struggle of sacrificing so much of who he is as a person to be Spider-Man. The film gives us the main two characters as reluctant participants in their own schemes, and the conclusion where Peter is finally able to break through to Doc Ock’s fading humanity is incredibly satisfying and legendary for superhero movies.
No entry about this film would be complete without mention of the most iconic scene: where Spider-Man has to use all of his strength to stop a runaway train full of passengers. After the train is stopped and the passengers see Peter underneath the mask, they all realize that he is just a kid who is willing to die to protect them. It is a very touching scene and a major reminder of the humanity of this story. That is without question what makes this film standout among the plethora of films in this genre.
6. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Dare I say it? This is the best Spider-Man film ever created. Considering how popular Spider-Man is as a character and how long they’ve been making movies about him, it is very impressive to be the cream at the top. I watched this with my dad and his words to me right be fore we entered the theater were “Wait. This isn’t a kids movie is it?” Oh, poor, sweet, innocent, naïve, uniformed, ignorant, dad. How foolish you were to be afraid. For anyone who cares, he actually really loved the film and he was pretty forward that he went in with a closed mind, for what that’s worth.
Being an animated feature, “Spider-Verse” has much more freedom to explore creative mediums of storytelling that would not translate as well into live-action, such as the brilliant inclusion of Spider-Ham, voiced by John Mulaney, which is a character that proudly embraces its cartoon status to tremendous comedic returns. The whole film looks like a living comic book panel, which is objectively very beautiful to watch. Especially when viewed in IMAX, the whole film is breath taking to see.
As I write this, I am getting crucified by my friends who think I am a traitor for putting this film over “Spider-Man 2”. But I will not cease! I stand by my pick with a proud, up-thrust bosom and a steady hand. I am ready to die for this pick. What are your plans tonight, boys?
Back to what I was saying about the film. Embracing the animated aspects of the film allows for the story to focus on shifting dimensions without seeming out of place or too wacky. Also, by centering around Miles Morales as the primary Spider-Man, rather than Peter Parker as we are so used to, we get a different perspective to view a hero that has seen a lot of mainstream mileage. We are given a myriad of possibilities as to what it means to be Spider-Man, all with complex backstories that are not usually afforded to ensemble films, let alone animated ones. The film also sports a series of creative twists to familiar characters that work effectively in keeping stories fresh.
The task that the film was burdened with of providing a different avenue for Spider-Man to thrive in a world where we have seen so many mainstreams takes on the character already exists is somewhat of an underappreciated factor. What we have is an adaptive yet original story with tons of humor and a lot of heart. You know how much I love stakes, and “Spider-Verse” has got those too. I know my friends have disowned me, but I will not concede my pick to the mob and if I have to, I will go down in a blaze of glory with “Spider-Verse”!
5. Deadpool (2016)
I think we need a soft-landing spot on some fat, juicy common ground. Nothing too controversial here, unless you count the actual content of the movie itself. At least I know everyone loves this film, because what is not to love about it?
I’ll be damned if Ryan Reynolds is not the most charming asshole to ever grace our screens. He’s definitely in the elite category with George Clooney, Matthew McConaughey, and Hugh Jackman. These guys could just stare at me with a smile and I would be quite satisfied for an embarrassingly long amount of time. Anyways, Reynolds is the perfect incarnation of the character (we wont talk about the time he played Deadpool in “The Wolverine” because that never happened). He’s a jackass that is surprisingly sympathetic considering just how unapologetically violent he is. Perhaps the greatest deliverer of witty one-liners that has ever walked this desolate blue rock, Reynolds is able to turn this film into a genuine top-tier comedy with great action.
“Deadpool” wasn’t technically the first R-rated superhero film, but it was the first one that attempted to be a blockbuster with mainstream appeal. Because executives at FOX did not know if audiences would turnout for an ultra-violent, hyper-profane adventure, they did not give it much of a budget. As a result, the film was sort of a Ryan Reynolds passion project, where he was so dedicated to getting the character just right, and the end result is inarguably perfection.
I genuinely wish more films would take risks like “Deadpool” did. It is so curious to me why studios fear something new when the best films we have are those who do things we haven’t seen before. Also, why don’t more films break the fourth wall? It’s an easy trick and it rarely fails to get the reaction it is looking for. Just food for thought.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Talk about unexpected gems. I remember distinctively telling people that I had no intention of seeing this film upon its release. The trailers made it look so goofy and I was feeling Marvel was growing a bit stale at the time. If there was ever a time to take a break and catch my breath, a film about a bunch of random people who I never heard of seemed like the ideal time to do it. But then everyone else saw it and loved it, and I’ll admit that my curiosity was piqued. I had to see what all the hoopla was about, and on a rare win for the public, they were right about this film and I was wrong.
It is a true testament to the writing of this film that a bunch of no names were able to lead a film into the upper echelon of superhero films of a very saturated field. But now, everyone knows Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and of course Groot. They are household names straight from obscurity. Each one of the heroes was played perfectly by their actors and they all have exceptional chemistry with one another.
What the film really is though, is a fun time. There are relatively tense moments, but the film is just a wild sci-fi adventure with a fun 80s soundtrack and amazing dialogue. Everything is fulfilling and nobody leaves the theater in a bad mood. There is nothing to debate as far as quality goes.
What is most underrated about the film though is that it created a new story in the MCU that rarely has any Earth presence, meaning the types of adventures that this crew can have is not limited to the consequences of the other stories, while still simultaneously having the ability to interact with them. It’s a brilliant addition that came from a risk that paid off big time.
3. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
This one still blows my tiny little brain. I was expecting something big, but it would have been criminally unfair of me to expect anything on this scale. “Avengers: Infinity War” is the largest cinematic feature in history, to date. Other films might have been longer but no film has ever combined so many different properties and combined them into such a widespread and functioning story. I had my doubts that a venture of this magnitude could even succeed. How could that many characters all share the same screen and get appropriate amount of time for them all to serve a real purpose? This is how.
Somehow this behemoth balances major character arcs as well as the addition of the first real appearance of the central villain of the entire franchise. You can understand why I was nervous, because that is a major task to take on. So, what did it do right? Well, Thanos is one of the finest additions to the MCU imaginable. What could have just been a simple premise of an uber-powerful purple god hellbent on destruction ended up being a layered character of complex motivations, who has lived a life of heartbreak and sacrifice. It is one thing most people in the audience did not see coming. We would have all been satisfied if he was simply charismatic and powerful. Motivations were not really a necessity for Marvel villains at that point. But goddamn were we blown away.
Furthermore, it is always fun to see characters interact with new friends and foes. To see Dr. Strange team up with Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy is something that I once only considered possible in a video game or in the panels of a forgotten comic. Also, seeing sexy, depressed, bearded Steve Rogers kick ass was awesome. On an unimportant side note, I am sad that he is shown to have shaved in the “Avengers: Endgame” trailer.
But the lasting legacy of this film is obviously the snap. In what is unquestionably the most single devastating moment in my life, Thanos’s snap to wipe out half of all life, including major heroes that I love like family, especially after it appeared Thor saved the day at the last minute, is a real hefty kick to the gonads. I am still not over it, and even if “Avengers: Endgame” solves this, the pain of witnessing Spider-Man turn to dust in Tony Stark’s arms will never leave me.
2. Logan (2017)
If I haven’t made it clear yet, I favor superhero films that focus on personal journeys and growth over epic final showdowns with giant CGI space lasers. That is not to say those films are bad (Hell, I put a few of them on the list), but something about a human struggle in a world of mystic powers feels special to me, especially for so long the big appeal for the genre was the flashy powers. Films that break this mold have a uniqueness about them that I fear does not get enough love by my fellow nerds.
Sure, “Logan” is not a film about world ending alien threats but it is something that this genre has not seen before. This film is the realistic, western finale to the life of Wolverine, and the run of Hugh Jackman playing the role. I have taken a lot of unnecessary hard stances on this list for the sake of being difficult and stubborn, but when I say that I believe this is the most personal story in the entire genre’s repertoire, I stand by that wholeheartedly.
Maybe others don’t appreciate what I do about “Logan”. Maybe it is a niche of the genre that I am overvaluing, but I cannot get past how much this film makes me feel when I watch it. If this is just unique to me, so be it.
Hugh Jackman so perfectly portrays the atrophy of Logan that I, as the viewer, feel his pain. His loneliness, his frustration, and his love for Charles Xavier are poignant aspects of his character that totally drive the film. And when he finally learns to connect with Laura, it feels like a genuinely earned relationship. There is just an omnipresent feeling of immanent loss, of life, love, and purpose that follows him throughout the story that you almost feel relieved when he finally passes. He finally has peace.
What the writers did with Charles Xavier is also very creative. What happens when the man with the most powerful brain starts to lose his mind? Patrick Stewart’s swan song as Professor X is equally as heartbreaking as Jackman’s. Watching him have to apologize to the people in the casino after an involuntary seizure caused his psychic powers to harm everyone is devastating, as you see an old man come to grips with the fact that he is unintentionally dangerous and there is nothing he can do about it. And when he finally remembers that it was his first seizure that was responsible for killing everyone he loved, I definitely cried.
Everything that happens in the story feels real and is one of the rare films that the viewer can truly connect with. It is exciting at times, but it realistically is a tough watch considering how somber and depressing the story is. Maybe you do need to have a preference for that niche to appreciate “Logan” the way I do, but the film speaks to me in such a way that it has to be this high up on my list.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
Yeah, I know I don’t shut up about this film. It is only my third Top 10 list, and on all three, an entry from this film finished in the top 2. You can say I have a closed mind, but I will tell you that I have no reason to deny greatness when I see it. “The Dark Knight” is the magnum opus of superhero films and you can take that to the bank.
In what is a mind-bending mix of detective drama, psychopathic character studies, and action-packed spy movies, “The Dark Knight” sets a bar for superhero films that I do not believe will ever be reached again. I do not doubt that there will eventually be a movie worthy of overtaking it, but it seems very unlikely that it would be able to recreate the magic and expectation-shattering legacy of “The Dark Knight”.
This film sports one of the greatest villains in all of cinema. The Joker is a character that is fueled by chaos but is incredibly calculating in his execution. He is a man that has a logical ideology that he follows, but is so mysterious that you are never quite sure if he means anything of what he says or does. The scariest part is that he even makes sense sometimes.
The character of Harvey Dent is often not appreciated enough because it is overshadowed by the Joker. Harvey undergoes the most palpable character arc in the film, starting as Gotham’s white knight and ending as a madman on a killing spree obsessed with 50/50 random chance, the same odds that disfigured him and killed the love of his life.
The subtlety and nuance used in creating characters is what drives the film, and none are as important as Bruce Wayne. Aside from his scratchy voice, which was way better in “Batman Begins”, Christian Bale progresses with the roles of both Bruce and Batman to both of their breaking points. We learn what sacrifices are heroic and how much are you willing to be responsible for if it means doing what is right in the long term. There are serious moral quandaries presented to us through Batman’s interactions with the Joker that I guarantee we still could not get a consensus as to the correct way to handle it.
I have to applaud Christopher Nolan for creating so many layers to so many of his characters here. The story of Batman has been explored through so many on screen incarnations, it is so difficult to imagine a new way to go about executing a story. But Nolan did it, and like I said before, it is still the gold standard.