During the past couple of years, superhero movies have reached the peak of their popularity, Also in those years, writers and directors have been exceptional in making their films smart, well-written, faithful to their respective properties and, more importantly, exceedingly entertaining. These factors have boosted a plethora of superhero films to both critical and financial success. In honor of the recent action-comedy film adaptation of the comic “Kick-Ass” and tomorrow’s anticipated release of “Iron Man 2” (and hot damn, I’m excited!), I’ve decided to put together a list of what I think are the very best of this profitable subgenre of film. So without further adieu, let us commence…
10. X2: X-Men United (2003)
Beginning the list with a bang is the sequel to the 2000 adaptation of the popular comic series, “X-Men.” While the first was pretty impressive by itself, “X2” simply took what made it good and multiplied it tenfold. Remember all of the fascinating mutants from the first? Well, they’re even cooler in the second AND even more new mutants are added to the roster (like the teleporting Nightcrawler). Human-to-mutant relations are becoming unstable and matters are made worse when General Stryker takes control of mutants to carry out his selfish deeds at any cost. Familiar mutants, both good and bad, unite to stop Stryker from accessing Professor Xavier’s Cerebro technology. With improved writing, great character progression, fantastic action and special effects, and a more involved plot than the original, “X2: X-Men United” is an absolute package.
9. Unbreakable (2000)
It is a bit of a stretch to consider this one a full-on superhero movie, but bear with me. The story is that Bruce Willis plays David Dunn, a character that allegedly has inhuman strength and endurance, as he has been the only survivor in a number of fatal accidents. He isn’t aware of his uncanny ability, but his body is speculated to be indestructible or, as the title verbalizes, unbreakable. This is M. Night Shyamalan’s second directorial effort and is easily his most underrated. While keeping true to the director’s slow but steadfast timing and pacing, “Unbreakable” tells what is fundamentally a superhero origin story with several analogies to the Superman mythos. It is an out-of-the-ordinary idea that was misunderstood by some and cherished by others. I myself thought it was a remarkable take on a familiar concept.
8. Watchmen (2009)
Yet another one that wasn’t universally favored was last year’s adaptation of the critically acclaimed graphic novel “Watchmen.” Some critics disapproved of the movie’s stridently exploitative content and a few uninspired performances. Me being a fan of the comic, I thought the movie was about as faithful to the source material as Hollywood could ever be. The setting of the film is dark (borderline abysmal) just like the comic. Close to all of the comic’s crucial plot points remain intact. A few spectacular performances represent the exact personalities of the comic’s characters (and made me forget about any inferior acting in the movie). The only real problem I had is that I think the storyline is not quite as easy to get into for the casual moviegoer. However, I highly recommend this to anyone who has read the comic once before, if only to formulate your own opinion about it.
7. Spider-Man (2002)
Man, this movie is flippin’ incredible. I still remember to this day going to see the first “Spider-Man” movie in theaters on opening day and becoming instantly mesmerized. Upon watching it again a few months ago, I had the same general reaction as I had almost eight years ago. What director Sam Raimi establishes in the first chapter is how Peter Parker acquires his powers, the chemical experiment that manipulates Norman Osborn’s mind and strength and causes him to become the Green Goblin, and Spider-Man’s bumpy journey to superhero celebrity. I love the movie to this day and apparently so do others. To me, this is one of the key films that skyrocketed the superhero genre to the height that it is at today.
6. The Incredibles (2004)
Leave it to Pixar not only to make a film based on superheroes, but also to make one that is sharp as a tack, enormously thrilling and, at times, gut-bustingly funny. The movie explores the mid-life crisis of Bob Parr, a former superhero with the alias Mr. Incredible, and his longing to return back to the exhilarating lifestyle he once had. He now has a family, is working at an office job and, just like the rest of his family, is trying to fit in just being a normal citizen. However, when a former Mr. Incredible fan turned villain (aptly named Syndrome) threatens the life of himself, his family and the rest of the world, it is up to all of the family to take action. And that is just what they do. Best Pixar movie? Not quite, but it is certainly a great one. “The Incredibles” is, dare I say, incredible? All right fine, I’ll shut up.
5. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
It was a toughie deciding whether “Spider-Man” or “Spider-Man 2” was the better movie, but after some pondering, I must give “Spider-Man 2” the upper hand. Like “X2” did for the X-Men, “Spider-Man 2” built on the sturdy foundation that the first had created while still giving fans precisely what they wanted: an abundance of awesome action sequence. It also provided more heart and developed writing, making this a clear-cut favorite among critics. While I don’t believe that Dr. Octopus is as menacing a villain as the Green Goblin, Alfred Molina portrays him with a great amount of intimidating charm. As the best entry in the Spidey franchise, it would only go downhill from this point on…doooownhill.
4. Batman Begins (2005)
Christopher Nolan’s Batman series totally abandons the mood that the Tim Burton series was all about. This isn’t just a serious superhero movie; this is more serious than nearly every summer blockbuster ever made. Instead of being a bright, colorful, special effects-laden action flick, an entirely different atmosphere is fashioned, consisting of grit, darkness and reality. With this serious but flattering approach in mind, Nolan begins the rebirth of Batman by explaining Bruce Wayne’s origin story, including the death of his parents, his training under Henri Ducard and the surfacing of his Batman persona. It’s a shame that this often gets overlooked because of its sequel, “The Dark Knight,” because the first chapter is close to perfect on all fronts.
3. Superman (1978)
Come on, you wouldn’t think I’d leave out the granddaddy of all superhero movies now, did you? Possibly the first comic-book-to-movie adaptation ever, “Superman” broke down barriers in that it inspired the creation of nearly every superhero movie to date and it also brought the science-fiction genre back into the limelight. Clark Kent’s origins from Krypton are explored in the beginning, as well as his life growing up with Earth parents, his teenaged years, his work as a reporter, his love for Lois Lane and of course his metamorphosis into the hero we know today as Superman. The movie clocks in at nearly two and a half hours, and it keeps you intrigued the entire time. Despite a pretty cheap ending, you have to admit that “Superman” is expertly crafted, if not a complete masterpiece.
2. Iron Man (2008)
2008, as far as I am concerned, was one of the best years for movies in the longest time. Every genre had more than enough to boast about, including the superhero movie. “Iron Man” didn’t even have me initially excited, but holy crap, I am glad to say it turned out to be one of my favorite movies of all-time. Robert Downey Jr. is an unexpected choice to play Tony Stark, but it turned out he was the perfect choice for the role. Tony Stark begins the movie as a loose and wealthy playboy who owns his deceased father’s weaponry-designing industry. While unveiling a potent new piece of equipment in Afghanistan, he is captured by a terrorist organization and is forced to recreate the weapon for their benefit. This situation initiates Stark’s idea for a plan to escape: the assembly of the Iron Man suit. “Iron Man” includes every possible aspect that I hope for in a summer movie: great characters, excellent writing, captivating plotlines, action scenes that actually mean something. There is no possible way you can go wrong with “Iron Man.” The sequel has generated a massive amount of hype. All I’m saying is that the sequel has a hell of a lot to live up to.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
Like I said, 2008 was one of the best years in movies. One of the biggest critical and commercial hits (as well as probably the best movie of that year) was “The Dark Knight,” the sequel to 2005’s “Batman Begins.” Heath Ledger’s death just a few months before the movie was released generated fervent anticipation early on. Any and all expectations made beforehand were instantly blown away by the time the film was shown to the public, and for good reason. Heath Ledger gave one of the greatest performances that year with his psychologically deranged interpretation of the Joker, and is quite literally the best and most believable version of the character ever. Not only that, but the story was more developed than any comic adaptation has ever been before, presenting layer upon layer upon layer of exciting plot points and twists. Every time I watch the movie, I catch a number of new things I’ve never noticed before, and I have never become bored even after countless repeat viewings. There is not a single wasted performance, dull moment or bad line throughout the movie’s hefty two-and-a-half hour running time, which is an astounding feat. With every possible thing going for it, “The Dark Knight” is in my mind the greatest superhero movie ever.