It seems like every year, there are at least three or four superhero movies that are released in theaters. It wasn’t always like this, and as a kid I often imagined what it would be like if there was, say, an X-Men movie. Theaters are flooded with superhero movies nowadays, but unfortunately most of them suck. The good ones, though, are really good, sometimes even great. I realized that as much as we talk about movies (and superhero movies) here at Unreality, we’ve never actually ranked the best superhero movies. Until now. After the jump, check out what I think are the top 10 superhero movies of all time, presented in reverse order.
From the opening blood rave to the climactic showdown with Deacon Frost, Blade is packed with violence and great fight scenes. Blade isn’t a classic, but it’s a fun movie with a very cool style and cool soundtrack. It was a vampire movie that featured old school, bloodthirsty vamps and not a bunch of de-fanged douches. Add the fact that back in the day Wesley Snipes was a badass mofo, and Blade is enjoyable and rewatchable enough to crack the top 10.
9. X-2: X-Men United
With the formation of the team being shown in the first X-Men movie, X-2 could focus more on the characters themselves. Magneto, Mystique, Nightcrawler and Wolverine were all given some depth, and using good actors like Jackman and Cumming helped make even the most bizarre-looking mutants believable. The Nightcrawler-infiltrates-the-White-House scene, Wolverine’s berserker rage, and Magneto’s escape from his plastic prison were all memorable scenes in a pretty good superhero flick.
8. Spider-Man 2
Like X-2, Spider-Man 2 was able to focus on its characters instead of taking time to explain an origin. We all knew how Peter Parker became Spider-Man, but effectively showing his struggles with his identity and the women in his life made for a superhero movie that wasn’t all dumb-looking costumes and mindless action. Toby Maguire is a pretty good actor, but Alfred Molina is excellent. Molina’s Doctor Octopus gave Spider-Man 2 a complex villain (notice the use of the singular, Raimi?) the audience could care about.
7. Iron Man
Iron Man is proof that not all superhero movies have to be “dark” in order to be good. I thought Favreau did a great job directing, especially considering how corny the source material can be, but there’s no doubt that Robert Downey, Jr. carries this movie. Downey gives a Depp-in-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean level performance, making all of us wish we could be Tony Stark. Simply put, Iron Man is a FUN movie, but you don’t have to turn your brain off to enjoy it.
6. Superman II
Significantly lighter than its predecessor, Superman II examines Kal-El’s role as protector of Earth and the burden of that responsibility. I’ve seen the Richard Donner version, which is much closer to the tone in the first movie (and why shouldn’t it be – Donner directed the first movie, and I think he was filming many of the scenes from Superman II simultaneously), but the “alternate” version, despite some of its corniness, is just as good. When I was a little kid, watching Superman fight Zod, Ursa, and Non in the streets of Metropolis was one of the coolest things I’ve ever see – especially when Superman flings Zod into the giant Coca-Cola sign. As an aside, Superman II is easily the most quotable movie on this list. “I see you are practiced in worshiping things that fly. Good.”
5. The Incredibles
I would have never believed that an animated family movie about superheroes could be any good before I saw The Incredibles. The superb animation alone makes this movie worth watching, but it’s also got a pretty cool story, too – a great blend of traditional superhero lore without being too cliche or vanilla. The voice acting is great, too, particularly Jason Lee. The Incredibles takes advantage of the fact that it’s animated, giving us badass chase and fight scenes that would have looked ridiculous if featured in a live-action movie.
4. Batman Begins
The most remarkable thing about Batman Begins is that Christopher Nolan takes a story about a rich guy who dresses up as a bat to fight crime and makes it believable. It’s not silly or campy, and because we know Bruce Wayne’s psychology, and because he’s so fleshed-out as a living, breathing character, we understand why he becomes Batman. An making Batman a “ninja” was one of the coolest takes on the character that I’ve ever seen. The story of a guy who devotes his life to fighting crime, hiding in the shadows to ambush and destroy his enemies with an arsenal of weapons, and striking fear into the hearts of criminals all over Gotham is a fantastic one when told properly.
3. Superman: The Movie
Christopher Reeve, even today, is Superman. Reeve helped turn the already popular character into an icon, and it’s tough to think of him without also thinking of Superman. Mario Puzo wrote the script for this movie, so it’s no surprise that it’s an epic tale. Kal-El doesn’t become Superman until well into the movie, as the movie takes its time in constructing Clark Kent, Smallville, and Metropolis. The result is that everything in this movie feels like Superman. Throw in the legendary score by John Williams, an amazing performance by Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, and even some Marlon Brando, and you’ve got a movie that still holds up real well today. I’d say this movie is nearly perfect, but I can’t put it any higher than number three due to the cop out of having Superman fly around the Earth at incredible speeds in order to turn back time.
2. The Dark Knight
You were probably expecting The Dark Knight to hold the top spot, but I’ll address that in just a minute. I certainly think it’s a valid argument; it just comes down to a matter of taste. The Dark Knight is what happens when the Brett Ratners of the world step aside for talented actors, writers, and directors. Everyone and their mother has seen The Dark Knight, so there’s really no reason to go on about how great Heath Ledger was, or how Nolan made a movie that transcended the superhero genre, serving more as a movie about a city and its response to crime. It’s a fantastic movie and thankfully has raised the bar for future superhero movies. More importantly, it helped people take superhero movies more seriously. Still, it’s not quite my top superhero movie of all time. That would be…
Please believe me when I say that I had a real hard time deciding between Unbreakable and The Dark Knight for the top spot on this list. I think both films are remarkable in their own way, and I definitely didn’t pick Unbreakable simply to go against what seems to be the public opinion. As great as The Dark Knight is, especially at making superheros and super villains seem “realistic,” it doesn’t offer the stunning cinematography and overwhelmingly melancholy tone that Unbreakable does. Certain shots from Unbreakable seem as though they’ve been lifted from the pages of a comic book, and Shyamalan clearly did his research on what makes a hero. The relationship between David Dunn (and just look at that name – Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Scott Summers…David Dunn) and his son is stronger and more interesting than any to be found in any other superhero movie. Unbreakable is Shyamalan at his very best, and the film is nothing short of a masterpiece. Try not to judge it retroactively and don’t let Shyamalan’s current horrible films influence your opinion – Unbreakable has a perfect buildup of tension, an amazing payoff, great characters, and a thorough understanding of both the comic book and superhero genre, making it the best superhero movie of all time.
Honorable Mentions: Batman, The Crow, Hellboy
I am absolutely positive that nobody is going to agree with my exact order, so if you’ve got gripes, let me know in the comments section. If you think I left out some movies altogether, let me know about that, too.