After watching Captain America: The First Avenger, my second thought1 after walking out of the movie was “Where does this rank amongst comic book movies?” Later that evening, I was inspired to try and rank all the superhero movies I’d seen. That task proved to be too daunting (mostly because I check quibbling with the order) but I didn’t want the idea to go to waste so here are my top 10.
To make it easier on myself, I’m only including movies based on comic books about superheroes (eliminating Road To Perdition, Unbreakable2 and The Incredibles).
The first Spider-Man movie was helped by Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker and the fact that we waited SO LONG for a Spider-Man movie. There were a lot of flaws (Maguire couldn’t quite pull off wisecracking Spidey, they ruined Green Goblin with that ridiculous mask and I can write a whole post on why Kirsten Dunst should not have even been allowed to audition for Mary Jane Watson) but it was great to finally see Spider-Man on the big screen.
Blade was the first of the modern comic book movies. It came out of nowhere. I didn’t even catch it until it came out on DVD. It was a perfect role for Wesley Snipes. He had a bad habit of trying to incorporate his kung-fu into every role he play. Blade allowed him to show off his skills without it being ridiculous. It also benefited from taking a somewhat obscure character so they could play with his history without anyone freaking out.
Tim Burton’s first Batman film doesn’t hold up when I watch it as an adult. Michael Keaton as Batman is way too short. Jack Nicholson’s Joker was funny when I was little but as a geeky adult, it really subverts the character. Also, Burton makes the biggest mistake of all by killing The Joker. But when this movie came out in 1989, I saw it in the theaters four times. Anytime one of my friends were going to the movies to see it, I tagged along. I essentially blew a month’s worth of allowances seeing Batman in the movie theater (plus my Christmas money buying it on VHS). That has to count for something.
7. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
The first Hellboy was good but not great. With the sequel, Guillermo del Toro was finally free of having to explain who Hellboy is and just let him and the BPRD loose in this expansive universe of creatures he created. Del Toro must have had some leftover concepts from Pan’s Labyrinth because some of the creatures look like they are leftovers from that film. Perlman continues his great work as Hellboy but, surprisingly, the movie is nearly stolen by the voice work of Seth MacFarlane as Johann Krauss.
6. Batman Begins
Batman done right. That’s the best way I can describe it. Christopher Nolan, without too many special effects, took the concept of Batman down to it’s basics. Christian Bale plays a great Bruce Wayne3. Gary Oldman as Lt. Gordon looks like he was pulled from the pages of Batman: Year One. It only stumbled at the end with a convoluted villain plot.
5. Superman II4
The special effects look horrible by today’s standards but Superman II had a great story in retrospect (Clark gives up being Superman for Lois the same time three Kryptonian prisoners escape the Phantom Zone and take over America). Terrence Stamp as General Zod is my second favorite comic book movie villain of all-time. “Why do you say these things, when you know I will kill you for it?” and “Kneel before Zod!” are two of the greatest lines ever uttered by a villain.
4. Iron Man
No superhero was more perfectly cast than Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Without him, I don’t think this works at all. We spend so much time with Stark building the Iron Man suit (and not enough time with him actually BEING Iron Man) that with a lesser actor, this movie would have gotten really boring really fast5.
3. X2: X-Men United
X2 basically comes down to three scenes.
- The opening scene with Nightcrawler teleporting through the White House
- Magento’s escape from the plastic prison
- Stryker’s team vs. Wolverine in Xavier’s Mansion
I don’t care about plot, casting or story. Those three scenes alone put it on a higher plane than most sci-fi/action movies let alone comic book films.
2. Spider-Man 2
Kirsten Dunst notwithstanding, Sam Raimi finally got it everything right. He got a great villain (Alfred Molina playing Doctor Octopus) and the action sequences with Spider-Man got better (or I just got used to it). I remember when I saw Spider-Man 2 in the theaters for my birthday and, after the subway fight between Spidey and Dr. Ock ended, I realized I’d been gripping my arm rests the whole time. That’s what you want from a movie.
One complaint though. Does EVERYONE have to see Peter Parker without his mask? It’s a problem throughout the series. He figured out an elaborate suit with reflective eyes and space for his web shooters, he’s a promising science student but he just can’t seem to get the mask right. The scene of the kids handing him back his mask (which flew off on top of the subway and somehow ended up inside of it) and said “We won’t tell anyone” ruined a perfect action sequence.
1. The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight is an intense, suspenseful cop drama about a man trying to save a city from an anarchist without losing himself in the process. It just happens to feature a man dressed up as a bat. Christopher Nolan essentially turned Silence of the Lambs into a comic book movie.
Enough can’t be said about Heath Ledger’s Academy Award-winning(!) performance as The Joker. As a character, Joker isn’t given a real name or an origin. He just exists as an opposing force to Batman. We’re not meant to understand his motivations or empathize with him, only fear him.
While I appreciate his refusal to recast the role, I’m saddened that we’re never going to get to see with Nolan really wanted to do in the third Batman movie because of Ledger’s death.
So that’s my list. What’s yours?
1. My first thought was how stupid it was that no one spotted Captain America while he was sneaking around on the HYDRA base at night with a big shield with a flag on his back.
2. I know a lot of people hate Unbreakable but I will defend that movie to the death.
3. The less said about Bale’s Batman voice, the better.
4. In case you were wondering why the first Superman didn’t make the cut, I’m still mad about Superman reversing the Earth’s rotation to turn back time so that he could save Lois. Quite possibly the worst deus ex machina ever in films.
5. Jon Favreau pushed his luck and tried the same thing with Iron Man 2 with diminishing results.