The Ten Spot: Favorite Superhero Movies

With IRON MAN 3 due to open in thousands of movie theaters all over North America by the end of the week (my review will be up around Thursday), we here at JoBlo.com figured it would be a great time to look back at some of the best superhero movies (my faves, at least), a genre which has come to dominate the summer tent-pole movie season. As this is a "Ten Spot", and not a twenty or thirty spot, some favorites have no doubt been left off the list, but I tried to make this as broad a list as possible, with a few of the entries pre-dating the post SPIDER-MAN comic-book movie explosion of 2002. The fact that I had such a hard time boiling my list down to ten just goes to show how good the genre has become, with pretty much all the films on this list being both commercial, and critical successes. Clearly, the superhero movie isn't going anywhere.

1- The Dark Knight

A predictable choice? Sure, but Christopher Nolan's movie- to me anyways- felt like THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY of superhero movies. With it's epic scope, and iconic performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker, THE DARK KNIGHT is a masterpiece of the genre. What else can I say about it that hasn't been said? Suffice to say, back in 2008, we were all expecting THE DARK KNIGHT to be a good movie, but very few of us ever thought it would end up being some kind of masterpiece. It was so good that many believe it's failure to be nominated for best picture in the 2008 Oscar race resulted in the category being expanded to ten nominees the following year. If anything, maybe it was too good, as the bar was set so high for THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, it couldn't possibly measure up (but it came damn close).

2- Superman- The Movie

No matter how good Henry Cavill is in MAN OF STEEL, to everyone of my generation, there's only one man that we inevitably associate with Superman, and that's Christopher Reeve. Always has been, always will be. Of his four films, only the first is undeniably great (although the second could have been, if the original director Richard Donner hadn't gotten sacked). Looking at it now, it might seem a little corny or dated (Otis is annoying, and Hackman's Lex Luthor is too camp), but you really have to consider the state of the superhero movie genre pre-1978. Other than the campy Adam West BATMAN TV spinoff, nobody made superhero films, as they were strictly for kids, and not to be taken seriously. Director Richard Donner changed all that, with his serious take on the material. Couple that with Christopher Reeve's method-style approach to Supes, and one of the best film scores ever written (all hail John Williams) and you have an undeniable classic.

3- The Avengers

I have to admit, I never though Marvel was going to be able to pull off THE AVENGERS as a film. When it was announced in the wake of IRON MAN's success four years earlier, I figured having it follow so closely on the heels of the initial slate of Phase one movies (IRON MAN 1 & 2, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THOR, & CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER) would be overkill, and that it couldn't possibly work. Obviously, I was dead wrong. Thanks in part to Joss Whedon's clever writing and direction, which never sacrificed character for spectacle (although there was plenty of the latter), and maintained a pitch-perfect balance of drama and humor, THE AVENGERS ended up becoming a billion dollar behemoth. While I have no idea if Phase 2 will pay off as well, THE AVENGERS' undeniable success on multiple levels has me inclined to believe it will.

4- Batman Begins

After all the commotion around THE DARK KNIGHT, it's easy to forget how good BATMAN BEGINS is. After Joel Schumacher's unbelievably campy Batman films from the late nineties, the franchise was all but dead. Christopher Nolan, who at the time only had FOLLOWING (which no one saw), MEMENTO and INSOMNIA under his belt, seemed like an unconventional choice, but he ended up being a brilliant one. For the first half of the film, BATMAN BEGINS isn't even really a superhero movie, and when Christian Bale finally puts on the cowl it all feels very organic, in a way most superhero movies never quite manage. Looking back at BATMAN BEGINS' box office results, it's surprising to see how it was nowhere near the phenomenon that the follow up films ended up being, it only (barely) cracking 200 million domestic. In the end, it actually made less money worldwide than SUPERMAN RETURNS.

5- The Dark Knight Rises

The reaction to THE DARK KNIGHT RISES has been pretty mixed since it hit theaters this summer, and no doubt it had an uphill battle following not only on the heels of THE DARK KNIGHT, but also Christopher Nolan's own INCEPTION. While it's maybe not quite the film either of those two are, it's still a really great movie in it's own right, and a superb end to Nolan's incarnation of the franchise (if it's indeed the end). It has some plot holes, but, it also has arguably Christian Bale's best performance of the series as Bruce Wayne/Batman, as well as a really great take on Catwoman for Anne Hathaway.

6- X2: X-Men United

Truth be told, I never cared for the original X-MEN film. It had some great things about it- namely the discovery of Hugh Jackman to play Wolverine- but the film itself was only so-so. However, having been given more freedom, and a bigger budget to do the sequel, Bryan Singer absolutely nailed the second installment, and to this day I think it's the best movie of the franchise (although X-MEN: FIRST CLASS comes close). X2 has everything, including a great score by John Ottman, a good, fleshed-out part for Jackman as Wolverine, and a great villain in Brian Cox as Stryker. Too bad it had to be followed by X-MEN 3: THE LAST STAND.

7- Batman

The 80's was called the decade of the blockbuster, with VFX heavy movies like the INDIANA JONES trilogy, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?, and GHOSTBUSTERS owning the box office. Other than three SUPERMAN sequels, the eighties were light on comic book adaptations, but that all changed with Tim Burton's ultra-dark take on the Caped Crusader, with 1989's BATMAN. While not a perfect film (it's very of it's time), Burton's movie is stylish, moody, has one of Danny Elfman's best scores, and two great performances by Jack Nicholson as Joker and a cast-against-type Michael Keaton as the gloomy Batman. Oh yeah, and Kim Basinger is dead-sexy as Vicki Vale. The sequels are mostly bad (although Burton's BATMAN RETURNS is pretty good, if REALLY weird), but this blockbuster hit proved that comic book movies could- and should- be taken seriously.

8- The Incredibles

THE INCREDIBLES is different from the other films on this list in that it's not based on a comic book. Rather, Brad Bird's Pixar film is an original take on a world where superheroes are common, but illegal, with the "Incredible" family trying hard to hide their powers to fit in. Along with WALL-E, TOY STORY 3, and UP, THE INCREDIBLES stands as the studio's crowning achievement, and a surprisingly knowing satire of the superhero genre, although it still works as a full-on legit superhero film in it's own right. My only question- why are we getting a sequel to MONSTERS INC., but not THE INCREDIBLES? C'mon Pixar!

9- Iron Man 3

I'm cheating a bit with this one, as IRON MAN 3 doesn't open in North America until late Thursday night. My full review will be posted later on, but you can take my word for it that IRON MAN 3 is the best solo IRON MAN movie, and a very unique addition to the franchise. Shane Black brings an interesting perspective to the series, which perfectly complements both the earlier films, and THE AVENGERS, but offers a unique flavor of it's own. It also should be noted that Robert Downey Jr., who's always been great as Tony Stark, is once again pretty amazing and seems to have been given free reign here. It's fun watching Downey Jr., have fun.

10- Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

HELLBOY 2 had the misfortune of opening a week before THE DARK KNIGHT, and while it was reasonably successful at the box office, it's still a pretty underrated film. The first HELLBOY had potential, but the sequel was superb, and I'm still hoping Guillermo del Toro gets to finish the trilogy, as a dark future for the character was strongly hinted at in THE GOLDEN ARMY's closing moments. I really like this movie, and if you haven't seen it in awhile, I urge you to revisit it.

Honorable Mention: Kick-Ass

KICK-ASS is the punk rock version of a superhero movie, adapted from Mark Millar's comic series. While Matthew Vaughn later went on to direct a legit, straightforward superhero movie (X-MEN: FIRST CLASS), KICK-ASS is a pretty scathing satire of the genre, with Aaron Johnson's clueless hero constantly being saved a by a psychotic eleven-year-old, Hit Girl, and her lunatic father, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, in one of his more gonzo recent performances). To me, KICK-ASS kicks ass, and luckily this summer we're getting sequel. Hopefully it measures up to the first film.

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