We’re actually in a minor lull in superhero movies. That’s not to say it’s been long since the last release, or will be long until the next one (hey there, Aquaman). But these days, if there hasn’t been a new superhero movie in a month it almost seems like Hollywood has been paused.
Whether that’s a good thing or not can be debated to no end. What’s beyond debate however is that this new state of being for Hollywood has left us with a plethora of superhero movies to look back on. And it leads to a question that we can ask anew with each passing year. Combining this modern era of superhero films and the past, what are the best such movies ever made?
I could never pretend to have definitive answers. But for my money, the list ought to look somewhat like this….
10. Batman Begins
Batman Begins gets somewhat lost in the shuffle because its sequel (which may or may not top this list) was so good. But this was about as compelling as an origin story gets. Christopher Nolan completely rebooted Batman mythology, and this may have been Christian Bale’s best of three installments as Batman.
9. X-Men: First Class
There are plenty of reasons to consider this the best of the X-Men films. Its ‘60s setting was unique at the time among superhero films, its brand new cast of young X-Men had terrific chemistry, and it managed to lay the groundwork for the franchise to continue – usefully – far longer than we thought it might. Plus, thanks in large part to the dynamic between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), it’s just plain entertaining.
8. Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman is far and away the best DCEU film, and established Gal Gadot as a legitimate movie star. From its vaguely ancient Greek-like opening setting to the thick of the first World War, it was a film full of interesting sets and natural drama. Most importantly though, it showed little girls around the world that women too could be headline superheroes (as opposed to just supporting characters in sexy tights).
I maintain that First Class is the best X-Men movie, but the spinoff series revolving around Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) produced an unexpected gem in 2017. Up to that point the series had actually been something of a letdown, but Logan was brilliant – maybe the most successfully emotional film in the modern superhero era, and one of the few to deal realistically with the notion of an aging hero.
6. Superman II
Superman II is the oldest film on this list, but one that always feels relevant. This iconic sequel still has a video game at a popular and frequently updated online slot site, and even the game calls it by far the most enjoyable of the ‘70s and ‘80s series. We also recently learned that Henry Cavill’s run as Superman for DC/Warner Bros. is at an end, and we can now safely say this Christopher Reeve version is still the best Superman movie ever.
5. Avengers: Infinity War
Frankly, I was prepared to unleash one giant, 135-minute eye roll during this latest mega-combo of Marvel movies. It just seemed like too much, and the Marvel films are starting to blur together. I have little to say beyond that i was wrong, that this was spectacularly entertaining, and that I admired it more than any Marvel film in years.
4. Spider-Man II
I still have a soft spot for Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man. Yes, he was about a decade too old for the role the moment he stepped on set, and yes Spider-Man III was a horrible travesty. The first two movies, however, were brilliantly comic book-like, and almost seem to represent a more innocent brand of superhero film. It’s almost a toss-up between those first two, but the sequel just did everything perfectly, from the villain dynamic to the Peter Parker-Mary Jane romance.
3. Black Panther
We couldn’t wait from the moment we saw the Black Panther movie, and if anything it exceeded expectations. Black Panther gets a lot of attention for being the first superhero movie to revolve around African and African-American culture and actors, and that’s ultimately why it’s so important. But it was also a really good movie, with some of the freshest sets and concepts and most interesting action we’ve seen in a decade.
2. Iron Man
I still don’t think Marvel Studios has done better than its first effort. If you go by the comics, Iron Man was almost a strange place to start, and yet with one film the studio (and Robert Downey Jr.) turned him into the iconic hero of a generation, on a level with Batman, Superman, and Spider-man. The film was actually a bit lacking in the villain department, but Iron Man on screen was like going through a theme park ride (in a good way), and Downey Jr. was a revelation.
1. The Dark Knight
More than any other superhero movie, The Dark Knight stands out as a great film beyond its genre. As a thriller, a crime drama, a cop movie, and even in ways a light horror exhibition, it is simply spectacular. For my money, it should have earned a Best Picture nomination, and possibly a win. A fairly recent ranking named it the best superhero movie as well, and noted that it raised the bar for superhero films. If only another film could meet it!