Let me start by saying that--in my very humble opinion--film appreciation ultimately reduces to a matter of personal subjective experience because everyone has their own personal reasons for liking or disliking any particular film. We're not always able to consciously identify and articulate all the reasons why a film strikes a chord with us, or rubs us the wrong way. And there are some films that we have mixed feelings about--it's often a gray experience versus black-and-white. Sometimes its a mix of what can fairly be posited as objective standards for the craft of film-making, and personal idiosyncrasies within us individually that determines our reaction. But regardless, it's a big part of the fun for this pastime of enjoying superhero films that we each have our own experiences and opinions, and share them.
That said, there are times when I look at the Rotten Tomatoes cumulative critics scores for various superhero films, and I really scratch my head. I realize that the total score is calculated from the ratio of overall favorable to total number of reviews; and that does not account well for when most of the film reviews are mixed but weighing toward negative, for example. That is, there can be some deceptively low scores in such cases.
When we see the Rotten Tomatoes score I would expect that many tend to think of it in terms of a letter grading system. I.e. where 100-90 = A, 89-80 = B, 79-70 = C, 69-60 = D, 59 and below = F. But that is not what it is at all. It is simply the percentage of overall favorable reviews. A score of 63%, for example, is not equivalent to a "D" letter grade. It just means that .63 of the total number of reviews were (mostly) positive (overall).
So I wondered today what a kind of side by side comparison of the Rotten Tomatoes scores and a letter grading approach might be like. I realized that I end up using a kind of parallel scoring system in my own head that isn't based on how Rotten Tomatoes scores are derived; but nevertheless the Rotten Tomatoes cumulative critics score still conjures it up for me: I like to process the score in my own mind as more like a grade according to percentile (i.e., 100-90 = A, 89-80 = B, 79-70 = C, 69-60 = D, 59 and below = F). So when I see the Rotten Tomatoes score even though I understand it reflects something else, I still end up comparing it in my head to a letter grade that I feel the film actually deserves. Hope that makes sense.
Anyway, this morning instead of doing anything remotely useful with my time, I categorized the Rotten Tomatoes scores for a number of superhero films as follows:
- Hits That Deserve Their Scores
- Well Received But Deserve a Higher Score
- Well Received But Overrated
- Flops That Deserve Their Score
So without further ado, here they are, submitted for your approval. I could not resist the impulse to add my own comments. And I should add that there may be some films that are missing from the lists here: so, by all means, if you feel that please point them out. And of course please comment, offer your own rankings, other categories, or what-have-you:
Hits That Deserve Their Scores (range: 85% - 100%)
Iron Man 94% - Without a doubt one of the very best superhero films ever made. Arguably the best. Absolutely deserves this spot. Who knew how much we would come to love Iron Man/Tony Stark/RDJR?
The Dark Knight 94% - The tour de force performance by Heath Ledger earns this score. Although quite honestly, imo the overall story/plot is kind of muddled and (for me) not terribly engaging. But regardless: Ledger's Joker.
Superman (1978) 93% - Christopher Reeves uber-mensch of a Superman kicked off the modern superhero blockbuster in fine fashion. ("Say, Jim--whoo! That's a bad outfit!") We finally got Superman on the silver screen in a relatively serious treatment, and it was great.
Spider-Man 2 93% - Arguably the best of the Spider-Man films to date.
The Avengers 92% - Myself I'd rate this film higher; anyway, the iconic scene of the circled Avengers assembled was a dream come true, and the film is tight as a drum. This flick is truly superhero film excellence.
Guardians of the Galaxy 91% - Imo deserves an even higher score purely because of its big surprise value. For so many it was such an hugely unexpected delight. It's one of the most creative films I have ever seen in any genre. And it is is just about perfectly executed.
X-Men: Days of Future Past 91% - Yeah, it deserves to be here although imo First Class is better.
Spider-Man 89% - Remember how great it was to finally see this iconic superhero in a serious blockbuster film? As many fans have complained, Spidey should have quipped more during battle. But this is still a wonderful flick.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier 89% - A superb illustration of how to tell a great story in this genre. I'd rank it higher into the 90s.
The Dark Knight Rises 87% - Most fans I know blast Thomas Hardy's use of a goofy over-the-top sounding voice for Bane, and the unfaithful way that Bane is depicted vs. the comic books. But myself, I got a big kick out of this truly surreal villain--I thought he was great. (I'm blessedly ignorant of the comic book characterization of Bane.) I also really dug Ann Hathaway's offbeat and very hip Selena. As much as I enjoy Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight, this film is actually my favorite Nolan Batman film simply for discovering how much better it was than I was led to believe.
X-Men: First Class 87% - I love this film, once again mainly for being so pleasantly surprised by it. I didn't expect to be so exhilarated by the origin and the younger crew that is so perfectly cast. Prior to seeing it I thought to myself "these actors will have to pale in comparison to Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen." Wrong! They were awesome. I actually almost like them better in some ways. Finally Mystique got the screen time she deserves! The story was truly gripping as well.
X2: X-Men United 86% - Deserves to be right about where it is, I would say.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army 86% - This spot is earned in my opinion, but I would humbly submit that this is not a better film than Hellboy. For my taste anyway.
Batman Begins 85% - Only 85%? Really? This is such an excellent superhero film! This is an "A" film not a solid "B."
Well Received But Deserves a Higher Score
Hellboy 81% - This is one of the funnest and most amazing superhero films to date. I had no idea what to expect and I was completely charmed by it. Beautifully constructed, cast, and acted. Put this in the 90s!
Captain America: The First Avenger 79% - This film deserves an even higher score in that it made me care greatly about a character that I previously had no affinity whatsoever for.
Sin City 78% -This film is frickin' brilliant. It belongs in the 90s.
Thor 77% - I love this film for how well it develops Thor, Asgard, Loki, the other gods, tie-ins to the MCU major story arcs, and so forth. High 80s is more like it.
Batman (1989) 72% - Who knew that Tim Burton could give us a relatively straight dramatic action film? And that Michael Keaton would do such a bangup job as Batman? And Nicholson's Joker was a pure joy to watch, for its time. Belongs in the high 80s.
The Amazing Spider-Man 72% - Again, Andrew Garfield was imo a wonderful Spider-Man, and this is a solid adventure. Bump this up to about 83%.
The Wolverine 70% - What? This is a great superhero film. Low 90s!
Thor: The Dark World 66% -A step down from Thor, yes. But this belongs in the high 70's.
Watchmen 65% - This film is awesome, even if the ending wimps out. Even with the glaringly flawed ending I'd rate this one in the low 90s.
300 60% - Huh!!?? What the hell? This film is a bonafide masterpiece. And absolutely true to the graphic novel, recreated literally panel by panel. Low to mid 90s.
Well Received But Overrated
Superman II 89% - Oh Hell no, lol! This film is awful! I submit as evidence this clip which says it all:
(Nothing else in the film can undo this.)
The Crow 82% - I'm sorry, I know some folks idolize Brandon Lee, and for sure it's a tragedy that he died. I'm sure this film is popular with those who identify with Goth. Brandon Lee does have a certain charisma. But his acting is actually pretty amateurish in this flick. And the main villain in this movie overacts to beat the band (with pretty insipid motivations as well). I'd score this film more around 75%.
The Mask 77% - Jim Carry's performance of this type, i.e., when he gets into this schtick, it just makes me recoil.
X-Men: The Last Stand 58% - I like this film! I'm not sure why others don't. I enjoyed it a lot.
Blade II 57% - Haven't seen it yet but trust a friend who is a major fan of the series.
Man of Steel 56% - I can understand why people reacted negatively to this film when it was released. But now it finally makes total sense. As I have said elsewhere this film must be appreciated in combination with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice--even just from what we know of BvS from the two trailers, that is obvious now. I think it is actually a great film.
Blade 54% - I respect this film a lot for breaking ground as arguably the very first superhero films to take its subject matter totally seriously from a storytelling vantage. Belongs in the 90s.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 53% - I liked Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man, and although this film suffers from trying to pack two villains into it, it is still a very good time. Score should be at least around 80%.
Constantine 46% - Hey, it isn't perfect by any means but I knew nothing of the character and I was very drawn in by him and the fictional universe he inhabits. This is a cool character, and the film is done fairly well. Score maybe belongs somewhere in the 70s.
Daredevil (Director's Cut) 44% - I am literally the only one I actually know (aside from other Moviepilot fans whose comments I have read) who likes this film--and I like it a lot. I knew nothing of the character before seeing it. And I was very pleased to discover what has become a top tier favorite superhero for me. I like Affleck's multifaceted portrayal (a strong dichotomy of who Matt is by day versus Daredevil at night), love the fight scenes, and felt that the film did a particularly excellent job with its POV sequences that show how Matt "sees" his world. I also liked how they wove religious symbolism throughout. Yes, Colin Farrell's performance as Bullseye is cringe-worthy bad. That is hardly a deal-breaker for me, though. This is for me a grossly underrated film. I rate it at about mid to high 80s.
The Phantom 43% - I grew up reading the funny papers on Sunday morning, and I loved this character. For the sentimental value alone I enjoyed this surprisingly not-horrible little film. Billy Zane is very engaging in this role. It worked for me. I'd bump this to low to mid 70s.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine 38% - Not the best in the franchise by any means, but this deserves a better grade for sure. High 70s maybe?
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 37% - I like the mid 2000s FF reboot films! This one isn't as fun as the first one, but it's still pretty fun. Low 80s.
Kick-ass 2 30% - Wow! No way does this film deserve a score this low. It's not as good as the first one, but in some ways this film also has a lot of heart nevertheless--more than the first, actually (not that that makes it better, but just sayin'). Low 80s.
The Punisher 29% - This is a decent flick for what it is. Low 60s?
Fantastic Four 27% - Like I said above, I like this cast and this film is one that I enjoy very much. Dr. Doom could have been done better, sure. But still, this film is fun! I'd score this one in the low 80s.
Ghost Rider 26% - I have not seen this all the way through but someone whose taste I trust implicitly and isn't a major fan of superhero films even remarked that she kind of enjoyed it. So I put it here. I have no idea what grade it should actually get though.
Green Lantern 26% - This film had a strange way of wearing me down, and I actually got most bored during what should have been the most rousing part--the fights using the ring powers. Even so, it deserves a better score. Maybe a D, i.e., low 70s?
The Legend of Zorro 26% - A friend whose taste I trust really likes this one. I have not seen it.
Blade: Trinity 25% - Haven't seen it yet but trust a friend who is a major fan of the series.
Judge Dredd 18% - I know that for many feel Rob Schneider's performance is just painful to watch in this film. But in an odd way, for me it actually kind of worked in contrast with Stallone's stoic Dredd. And yes, the usually excellent Armand Assante is way over-the-top. But this flick deserves better than 18%.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 17% - I had no real expectations going in, and I kind of dug the Steampunk vibe to it. It was unexpectedly fun for me. Hardly a masterpiece, but it deserves a better score than 17%!
Elektra 10% - No way should this film be scored this low. It's a less than average quality superhero film but it belongs in the 50-60 range. It's watchable, not a waste of time. Interesting to see what the character is about.
Catwoman 9% - Okay, this is a very troubled film but 9% is deceptive. Yes, it is pretty lackluster and there's all sorts of things wrong with it. But I cared about the main character and what happens to her.
I, Frankenstein 3% - I'm eventually going to write a review for this one in order to share the reasons I find for why this film is actually a gas.
Flops That Deserve Their Scores
Superman III 26% - Yes.
Spawn 19% - This is one of the worst films I have ever seen in any genre.
Man-Thing 17% - Haven't seen it but it looks hilariously bad. The title is funny as well.
Howard the Duck 14% - I tried to watch this but after about 5 minutes I could endure no more. And that is rare for me. I can usually forge my way through a bad film.
Underdog 14% - Didn't see it but from everything I can gather it belongs here.
Blankman 13% - I vaguely remember watching this but thankfully the only memory I have retained is that it is about as affected as a film get.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace 12% - A friend and true fan who loves Christopher Reeves as Superman tells me it really is this bad.
Jonah Hex 12% - To be fair, I haven't seen it yet, but two friends whose opinion I trust shake their head that it's pretty bad.
Batman and Robin 11% - Unbelievably like "what were they thinking?" bad. Like "how could this even get made?" bad. And it's Batman.
Fantastic Four (2015) 9% - I hope to see this very soon, if I can fit it in somehow. It's getting savaged critically but some fan reviews are more mixed. It's conceivable that a director's cut could more than move it out of single digits, lol. Maybe into the Underrated Tier? I hope so. But maybe it is unsalvagable. I'll have to see for myself.
Son of the Mask 6% - I didn't see this but again heard it was truly terrible, and will take that on faith.
Okay, that's it. Thanks for reading. As mentioned comments and criticisms are most welcomed!
For reference sake, here is Wikipedia's List of American Superhero Films (Live Action only, i.e., no animated ones listed here):
The Mark of Zorro
Don Q, Son of Zorro
The Bold Caballero
Zorro Rides Again
The Spider's Web
Zorro's Fighting Legion
The Mark of Zorro
Mysterious Doctor Satan
The Green Hornet
Adventures of Captain Marvel
The Green Hornet Strikes Again!
The Masked Marvel
Son of Zorro
Batman and Robin
Ghost of Zorro
Atom Man vs. Superman
Superman and the Mole Men
The Sign of Zorro
The Mark of Zorro
Abar, the First Black Superman
Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park
Captain America II: Death Too Soon
Hero at Large
Zorro, The Gay Blade
The Toxic Avenger
Howard the Duck
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
The Incredible Hulk Returns
The Toxic Avenger Part II
The Trial of the Incredible Hulk
The Return of Swamp Thing
The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie
The Death of the Incredible Hulk
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
The Meteor Man
The Fantastic Four
Guyver: Dark Hero
Darkman II: The Return of Durant
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie
Darkman III: Die Darkman Die
The Crow: City of Angels
Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie
Black Scorpion II: Aftershock
Batman & Robin
The Mask of Zorro
The Crow: Salvation
Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV
X2: X-Men United
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Son of the Mask
The Crow: Wicked Prayer
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D
The Legend of Zorro
V for Vendetta
X-Men: The Last Stand
My Super Ex-Girlfriend
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
The Incredible Hulk
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
The Dark Knight
Punisher: War Zone
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Iron Man 2
The Green Hornet
X-Men: First Class
Captain America: The First Avenger
Power Rangers Samurai: Clash of the Red Rangers – The Movie
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
The Amazing Spider-Man
The Dark Knight Rises
Iron Man 3
Man of Steel
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Guardians of the Galaxy
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Captain America: Civil War
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Half Shell
Untitled Power Rangers reboot
Untitled Wolverine sequel
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Untitled Fantastic Four sequel
Untitled Spider-Man film
Justice League Part One
Avengers: Infinity War, Part I
Avengers: Infinity War, Part II
Justice League Part Two
Green Lantern Corps
(Note: An invitation to share your own personal ranking of favorites for all the above films that you have seen among the Wikipedia list may be found here.)