Nowadays, superhero movies are part of the mainstream - but it's always worth remembering that these latest blockbusters stand on the shoulders of giants. As a long-standing fan of both comics and movies, here are my top ten superhero films of all time...
10. Batman Begins (2005)
"A vigilante is just a man lost in the scramble for his own gratification. He can be destroyed, or locked up. But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can't stop you, then you become something else entirely."
Batman has easily been DC's best-performing superhero in the box office, and Christopher Nolan's dark vision of Gotham is every bit as captivating as Tim Burton's. That said, Batman Begins took the unusual approach of diving back into the history of the Batman mythology; this was no experienced superhero, this was a man struggling to find himself, to find a way of doing good in the world that had so wronged him. Christian Bale pulled off the part tremendously, while Michael Caine's Alfred quickly became definitive in viewers' eyes.
This is one of the most tightly-orchestrated superhero movies of all time, with every role and plot dovetailing neatly. Ken Watanabe's Ra's Al Ghul is a superb mentor / betrayer, while Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow is a surprisingly effective villain. Focusing on these two lesser-known (although highly important) Batman villains demonstrated the strength of the franchise from the very beginning of Nolan's 'Dark Knight Trilogy', proving that the Batman franchise has a lot more to offer than just the Joker!
Trivia: A drunk driver crashed into the Batmobile during filming in Chicago. He explained that he thought it was an invading spacecraft! Christian Bale was fine; although he filmed many of his own stunts, the crew wouldn't let him anywhere near the Batmobile!
9. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
"Sometimes... to do what's right... we must be steady... and give up the things we desire the most... even our dreams."
Tobey Maguire's second outing as the Wallcrawler, following on from 2002's #SpiderMan, is a surprisingly good movie when you consider that the villain is Doctor Octopus.
Until the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off in 2008, it was a matter of faith that superheroes had to go 'dark' in order to perform well; Fox's X-Men franchise in particular ditched nearly all of the source material, even throwing in mocking lines about "blue spandex". In contrast, though, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy dived straight into the absurdity. What else could he do? He was dealing with a guy who got his powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider!
Still, Spider-Man 2 was high risk, with a focus on Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus. Raimi made it work, though, by really diving into the character's mind and motivations; what's more, he'd got just the right actors for every role, and the film didn't drop a beat. The chemistry between Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst's Mary-Jane was superb, and everything culminated in a gloriously comic-book confrontation in Doctor Octopus' underwater (of course) lair.
For me, none of the other Spider-Man films have quite come close to capturing the brilliance of Spider-Man 2.
Trivia: Alfred Molina actually gave names to the four tentacles of Doctor Octopus - Larry, Harry, Flo, and Moe!
8. Blade (1998)
"Some mother******s are always trying to ice-skate uphill."
With the Batman franchise effectively killed off in 1997, everybody thought it was over for superheroes. For Marvel, meanwhile, their desperate attempts to get Hollywood to sit up and take notice were showing no sign of success. Until 1998, that is, when New Line Cinemas released #Blade.
Let's be fair; Blade was successful because it didn't really look like a superhero movie, instead focusing on a vampire war. It took enormous liberties with its original concepts, too, transforming Wesley Snipes's Blade into a Daywalker who was pretty much unrecognisable to comic book fans. (The comics wasted no time transforming their z-level superhero into a copycat character based on the film, of course.)
In many ways, this is perhaps the most influential superhero film of all time. Blade's success gave Fox the impetus to push ahead on 2000's X-Men, and they based their formula - ditching much of the geeky superheroism and going for 'realistic' and 'gritty' - on Blade.
Trivia: Wesley Snipes got involved with Blade because he was in talks with Marvel to play the Black Panther!
7. X2: X-Men United (2003)
"Mutants. Since the discovery of their existence they have been regarded with fear, suspicion, often hatred. Across the planet, debate rages. Are mutants the next link in the evolutionary chain or simply a new species of humanity fighting for their share of the world? Either way it is a historical fact: Sharing the world has never been humanity's defining attribute."
Heavily inspired by Chris Claremont's classic #XMen graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills, the film redesigned Brian Cox's William Stryker. He was turned from a right-wing religious extremist to a brutal military figure, allowing writers Zak Penn and David Hayter to tie him into Wolverine's origin.
The Fox movies have often focused overmuch on Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, but X2: X-Men United got it right, balancing his presence out against the wider cast. A plot that forced the X-Men to co-operate with Sir Ian McKellen's Magneto and Rebecca Romijn's Mystique was smart, and led to some excellent character interactions. Alan Cumming's Nightcrawler was simply tremendous.
With a plot that featured some truly memorable scenes - from Nightcrawler's rampage through the White House to an awkward conversation with the parents of a mutant teenager - this was a smart film.
Trivia: Magneto has a rather entertaining line, "When will these people learn how to fly?" It's a nod to the fact that several of the film's X-Men - notably Storm and Rogue - can fly in the comics, but had yet to do so in the movies!
6. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Marvel's Captain America trilogy has gone from strength to strength, with 2016's Captain America: Civil War standing as the climax. It's a remarkable, powerful film, all the more impressive because of the sheer size of its cast. The Russo brothers somehow manage to give each character time to breathe; in contrast with most comic book events, almost every characters gets an effective arc.
Although Civil War was supposedly based on the comic book event with the same name, it takes great liberties with the plot - essentially making it secondary to a fascinatingly personal arc featuring Sebastian Stan's Winter Soldier. The famous airport fight scene is one of the most effective moments in a Marvel movie to date, while the final battle - between Chris Evans's Captain America and Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark - is chilling and intense.
Of course, the film is also notable for effectively introducing two new characters - Tom Holland's Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther. Both were instant hits with the fans, all the more impressive given they debuted in such a star-packed film!
Trivia: Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther originally had a pretty minor role, not even appearing in costume. All that changed when Sony initialled rejected a deal with Marvel that would allow Spider-Man to appear in Civil War; the Russos beefed up Black Panther's role in a major rewrite. Of course, Sony eventually returned to the negotiating table and Spider-Man made the cut for Civil War; still, Black Panther's increased role remained.
5. The Dark Knight (2008)
"Why so serious?"
The second in his Batman trilogy, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight largely focuses on the interplay between Christian Bale's Batman and Heath Ledger's anarchic vision of the Joker. Ledger's portrayal was absolutely inspired, and made the Joker easily one of the most disturbed and dangerous supervillains ever to be seen at cinemas. Sadly, it was his last act, as he died on January 22, 2008.
As a film, The Dark Knight barely puts a foot wrong. Dialogue is tense and potent, with so many memorable lines that give terrifying insight into the Joker's insanity. When Batman triumphs, it's through methods that - although clearly true to the character - sit in a very awkward ethical place, even more so after certain NSA activities. I love it when a superhero movie makes you uncomfortable!
Trivia: Heath Ledger designed the Joker makeup himself!
4. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
"I'm pretty sure the answer is: "I am Groot"."
Let's be honest, #GuardiansOfTheGalaxy could easily have been the moment when Marvel Studios jumped the shark. I mean, they were trying to make us feel for a talking raccoon and a tree!
The risk-taking is what makes Guardians of the Galaxy's success so remarkable. With a style more like space opera and sci-fi than superheroics, it focuses in on Chris Pratt's Star-Lord - and, where a lot of superhero movies are serious, this just had fun. Every character has moments when they're played for laughs, from Star-Lord's hilarious memories of Footloose to Dave Bautista's Drax being simply unable to get metaphors. At the same time, though, there are also moments when every character is left really sympathetic; the drunken complaints of Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) are particularly poignant.
This was the movie that shocked fans. If Marvel Studios could take a minor comic book series, starring a ridiculous ragtag band nobody had ever heard of, and turn it into a blockbuster - what would they do next?
Trivia: The soundtrack album "Awesome Mix, Vol 1" reached number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, and was nominated at the 2015 Grammy Awards for Best Soundtrack.
3. Logan (2017)
First superhero film out the gate in 2017, #Logan has easily established itself as a classic. It's about as brutal and gory as some of the 1990s Wolverine comics, but in this case it's far from gratuitous. Stars Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart sign out of the X-Men franchise in style, putting in the performances of their careers, while newcomer Dafne Keen's Laura is an absolute standout hit.
There's a strong sense in which Logan is director James Mangold's critique of superhero films as a 'genre'. It's a brutal, bloody Western, with the stakes set fairly low and a focus on characters arcs rather than spectacle. It's a fitting goodbye to Jackman and Stewart, who have been playing their characters for an incredible 17 years.
Trivia: Hugh Jackman actually agreed to take a pay-cut in order to get the film signed off by Fox; the film's gore had the potential to cost it at the box office, as an R-rating would limit family visits.
2. The Avengers (2012)
"There's no throne, there is no version of this where you come out on top. Maybe your army comes and maybe it's too much for us but it's all on you. Because if we can't protect the Earth, you can be damned well sure we'll avenge it!"
When Marvel Studios kicked off the #MCU with 2008's Iron Man, they proved themselves to be risk-takers from the get-go. That movie heavily hinted that Marvel were preparing an arc of superhero movies that would culminate in The Avengers. The risk of such a strategy, of course, is that if #TheAvengers goes badly, the whole franchise comes crashing down.
Fortunately, Marvel had the wisdom to recruit Joss Whedon as screenwriter and director, and Whedon knows a thing or two about superheroes - his tremendous Buffy: The Vampire Slayer series was partly inspired by an X-Men character, and he'd even had a popular stint writing the Astonishing X-Men comic book series. Whedon took an eclectic cast - from Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man to Chris Hemsworth's Thor - and somehow made them all work as concepts and characters in the same film. Throughout, he showed his trademark wit and humour, with a rich vein of one-liners and comic moments that left audiences laugh out loud.
The Avengers sets the benchmark against which all future team superhero movies will be judged.
Trivia: Reputedly a scene was filmed where during the final battle Captain America saves an old man trying to protect his grandchildren. He tells him to 'Get them to cover' but as he walks away the old man asks him "Cap, is that really you?'. He turns and, noting the man's World War II veteran lapel pin, trades salutes with him. As Captain America sprints away the children ask their grandfather 'Do you know him?' and he replies 'We ALL know him'.
1. Batman (1989)
"You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?"
Throughout this article, I've made it pretty clear that Batman has, in my view, been the best franchise DC / Warner Bros. have to play with on the big screen. In truth, that all started with Tim Burton's tremendous Batman movie, where he established the grim darkness of Gotham, leaving a permanent mark on the franchise. Batman's success shocked the world, and DC wasted no time shifting the tone and style of their comics to match the surreal and dark world that Burton had created.
As with any good movie, the cast were what shone; Michael Keaton's début as the Dark Knight is remarkable, and he pretty much defined the character for a generation. Meanwhile, Jack Nicholson's Joker would only be equalled nineteen years later in 2008's The Dark Knight. The dialogue crackles and pops, while the physical drama and action are excellent.
Ironically, although the Batman franchise reverted to 'camp' after 1992's Batman Returns, this film had more of an impact on comics than you'd expect. Both Marvel and DC rushed to darken their superhero worlds, with a focus on gritty antiheroes that would really characterise the decade in comics.
Trivia: Although Keaton is the definitive Batman for a generation, the choice was controversial; 50,000 protest letters were sent in, and even Batman creator Bob Kane questioned the casting!
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So there you have it, superhero fans; my personal top ten! Ranging from the X-Men franchise to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, these films are ones that I expect to stand the test of time. In many cases, they've shaped and transformed the genre as a whole.
But which one do you think should have come out in first place? Let me know in the comments!
Trivia courtesy of IDMb