The whole damn movie world has gone superhero crazy in the last decade. Between Marvel’s supremacy and DC’s scrambling (apart from Batman) the world of comic books are dominating cinema screens and the box office like never before. Time to ask the question: What are the greatest superhero movies ever? And after 1,998 votes were cast, you answered…
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
“Why so serious?” asked Heath Ledger’s Joker, in what would become a tragically career-defining performance that brought even more real-world gravitas to the ambitious Gotham built by Christopher Nolan. With the strongest blend of superhero antics and grimy drama of Nolan’s trilogy, a bleak tale to tell, and rare praise from the Oscars, The Dark Knight succeeded in legitimising superhero movies as sophisticated drama, if inspiring much brooding in its wake – not to mention gruff-voiced Bat-imitators.
“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” -Batman (Christian Bale)
2. The Avengers (2012)
Here’s where Marvel’s planning would sink or swim. After building a universe shared by single heroes, it was time to team ‘em up, and Joss Whedon was the perfect guy for the job. Masterful at maximising ensembles in his TV efforts, if not necessarily boasting the most cinematic stylistic flair, Whedon brought balance to what could have easily been a film overstuffed with heroic egos, and injected trademark humour to create a true team dynamic. The yardstick future team-ups will be judged by.
“The Avengers. That’s what we call ourselves; we’re sort of like a team. ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ type thing.” -Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr.)
3. Superman (1978)
Richard Donner’s Superman is certainly from another era, but Christopher Reeve’s committed performance, John William’s soaring score and the first believable images of a man flying make it still – after nearly 4o years – a bonafide classic of the genre. It’s the original modern superhero film, and DC/Warner Brothers have never been able to capture the spirit of the Big Blue Boy Scout again (apart from the also excellent sequel, Superman II).
“Even though you’ve been raised as a human, you are not one of them. “ -Jor-El (Marlon Brando)
4. Batman Returns (1992)
Accurately predicting the fate of future Bat-sequels, Tim Burton was initially tepid on returning to direct Michael Keaton, stating that if it offered nothing new and exciting “it’s a most dumb-founded idea”. Between Michelle Pfieffer’s Catwoman and Danny DeVito’s Penguin, though, there was plenty to excite, the former offering Keaton a stronger foil than Vicki Vale, and the latter benefiting from a trademark-crazy Burton design aesthetic. And even Halle Berry years later can’t ruin this take on the Catwoman costume…
“You’re catnip to a girl like me. Handsome, dazed, and to die for.” -Catwoman (Michelle Pfieffer)
5. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Doing everything that Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man 2 did not, Sam Raimi improved upon his 2002 original in every way with this sequel. The action sequences were tighter, the CGI was sharper, and Alfred Molina’s Doc Oct was both as frightening as he was sympathetic. But most of all, it never forgot Peter Parker’s struggle to balance superheroism with everyday life, opening with Spidey swinging across New York to deliver eight pizzas on time.
“[The suit] is kind of itchy, and it rides up in the crotch a little bit.” -Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire)
6. X2 (2003)
Reckon Avengers: Age of Ultron squeezed in more superheroes than a sardine can factory? Bryan Singer already did that over a decade ago with his much-improved sequel, ushering in a whole new crop of mutants (Nightcrawler, Lady Deathstrike, Colossus – just to name a smidgeon). Singer knew how good his sequel was, going so far as to completely remove the abysmal X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Last Stand from X-Men continuity with Days of Future Past.
“Most people will never know anything beyond what they see with their own two eyes.” -Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming)
7. Iron Man (2008)
A considerable part of Marvel’s cinematic empire-building has been their knack of matching the perfect talent, both behind the camera and in front of it, with their vaults of characters and stories. Immediately seeming a genius decision, Robert Downey Jr.’s casting as Tony Stark is so perfect that he’s now synonymous with the role. His days in the suit may be numbered, but Downey Jr. and director Jon Favreau nailed a tone here that has carried Iron Man through plenty of subsequent screen time.
“They say that the best weapon is the one you never have to fire. I respectfully disagree. I prefer the weapon you only have to fire once.” -Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr.)
8. The Incredibles (2004)
Brad Bird’s love for superheroes and masterful talent for storytelling are both in full force with this Pixar classic. What could have been a good-versus-bad family fluff piece turned into a surprisingly honest observation on pride, one that clicked so well with the film’s Watchmen-like world where the relevance of superheroes is questioned. There’s also a generous smattering of awesome action set pieces and Samuel L. Jackson’s scene-stealing line “Where… is… my… super suit!?”
“No capes!” -Edna ‘E’ Mode (Brad Bird)
9. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Last year Marvel gave a talented but commercially untested director nearly two hundred million dollars to make a hilarious action space epic with major roles played by a wisecracking raccoon and a walking tree with a limited Vin Diesel-friendly vocabulary. It’s the stuff of studio nightmares, yet James Gunn turned in one of the most enjoyable Marvel films yet, thanks to the assistance of a newly-ripped Chris Pratt, a kickass soundtrack, and all with nary an actual superhero, let alone their angst, in sight.
“I have part of a plan.” -Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)
10. Unbreakable (2000)
M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable is the superhero film as drama. It asks: What if a superhero’s existed in the real world, and what if Bruce Willis was that superhero? An uncommonly engrossing film, it plays out in long takes with precise camera movements and slowly pushes Bruce Willis’ David Dunne toward the realisation of his powers. In a genre not noted for its subtlety, this is the one film on this list you would describe as thoughtful and understated.
“Do you know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in this world, to not know why you’re here.” -Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson)