Superhero movies are the leading form of entertainment in Hollywood. The billions and billions pumped into the box office through the lucrative comic movie machine has caused studios to rush out any hero film they can. The market may be saturated, but the demand is so high that studios could care less. We’ve been hit with multiple superhero movies a year for the last decade, and it doesn’t look like the fabled “comic book movie fatigue” will be kicking in anytime soon. Although there are dozens upon dozens of comic book films, the true classics stand out amongst the duds.
Some comic book movies change the way we look at the world. I know The Dark Knight did that for me. Others launch entire universes off the strength of one immaculate performance, such as Iron Man. Then, there are the classic films that influenced actors and directors for decades such as Superman II. Sifting through the heap of films was difficult, and more than a few films just missed the cut. For example, Spider-Man 2 lingered on the list until a last-second revision. Sorry, Tobey. There will be some obvious choices on our list, but there might be a film or two that surprises you. When it comes to saving the world, and making waves in the industry, these are the best superhero movies of all time.
The first live-action Batman film without Adam West was triumphant. Michael Keaton starred as the Dark Knight, and Jack Nicholson was an immaculate Joker. Tim Burton took the bright and whimsical Batman of the 70’s and brought him back to his noir roots. This marked the beginning of DC’s Batman movie reign, although the series did suffer a couple of dubs (Batman Forever, Batman & Robin). Not to mention, Batman had the best Batsuit of all the movies.
The world is obsessing over Glass right now, but Unbreakable started it all. M. Night Shyamalan introduced the world to David Dunn, a man who is destined to be a superhero. He is discovered and trained by Elijah Price/Mr. Glass, who turns out to have his own motives in mind. This was a superhero movie that was more of a thriller, finding strength in character growth rather than CGI. It was ahead of its time, and now Shyamalan is attempting to expand the universe with Split and Glass.
The Nolan Brothers’ first Batman movie was amazing to behold. They stripped away the absurdities of the Joel Schumacher Batman film and brought the hero down to his bare roots. There were no superpowers in this new Gotham, only realistic villains with mental illnesses or a penchant for evil. In Batman Begins, a young Bruce Wayne trains with Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows. He learns how to become a ninja and a detective, and uses those skills to become the Dark Knight. Soon after, a battle with Scarecrow sets Bruce up against an old enemy.
The first movie in the Marve Cinematic Universe changed the world. Robert Downey Jr. witnessed his career make a 180-degree turn after he portrayed Tony Stark to perfection. Stark is a billionaire weapons dealer who is captured by a terrorist organization after he makes a deal in a battle zone. The damage from his kidnapping causes him to create a reactor in his chest to keep out the shrapnel, and he uses the core to power a suit that helps him escape from captivity. From there, Disney bought Marvel and the rest is history.
The first Avengers film was so highly anticipated that crowds lined up for hours just to grab tickets. Some sites even crashed as consumers tried to grab tickets online. It was the first time Iron-Man, Captain America, and Thor would unite on screen. Avengers was seen as the culmination of all of Marvel’s hard work, but we know now that End Game will be the climax. Loki decides to destroy the Earth because he hates his brother Thor, and Thanos gives him an Infinity Stone and an army to help him. Somehow, he still loses. Joss Whedon delivered an action-packed masterpiece that was well written and edited well. The same can’t be said for Age of Ultron.
The introduction of Zod in Superman II was akin to Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker for the millennials. For those being raised in the 80s, Zod was the top sci-fi villain, aside from Darth Vader of course. Zod and his group of Kryptonians escape the Phantom Zone and take over the Earth while Superman is powerless. Clark must regain his powers and wrestle back control from his evil alien counterparts before it’s too late. While long outdated superhero cliches are everywhere in Superman II, it was a monumental movie for its time and influenced the actors who played heroes and villains to this day.
Captain America: Winter Solider
Captain America’s second movie introduced the MCU to the Russo Brothers. Joe and Anthony Russo created a political spy-thriller superhero movie, showcasing how the genre could be more versatile than just fighting super-powered megalomaniacs. From the action to the script, Winter Soldier elevated MCU movies to a new standard. Cap, Black Widow, and Nick Fury are caught in the ultimate tale of betrayal and espionage after HYDRA infiltrates and takes control of SHIELD. The after effects of this film are still sending ripples through the MCU. There hasn’t been a SHIELD since Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Bucky’s appearances as the metal-armed antagonist set up Civil War.
Black Panther is Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige’s favorite MCU film. Black Panther was first introduced in Captain America: Civil War, but his solo film really opened up T’Challa’s story to viewers. After his father is assassinated, T’Challa takes the mantle as king. He must appease the tribes of Wakanda, who have chosen to hide their technological advances from the rest of the world for centuries. When Killmonger plots on stealing the throne and starting a global race war, T’Challa and his squad of female warriors are tasked with saving the day. Killmonger was the best villain in the MCU at the time of his arrival, and still sits pretty high, only second to Thanos. Director Ryan Coogler’s vision for a truly authentic Black Panther adaption shocked the world, and a sequel is currently in development.
Avengers: Infinity War
The only reason Avengers: Infinity War isn’t number one is because of all the CGI. Other than that, it’s an absolute spectacle to behold. After a decade of films, everything led to “The Snap.” All of the heroes across ten years of movies team up to take down Thanos, an intergalactic warlord who believes he’s on a spiritual mission to save the galaxy. The end scene, where several heroes turn to dust, was unexpected by millions. It was the first superhero movie where the villain won outright, completing his exact task. The Russo Brother’s second entry on this list found a way to pack twenty plus characters into the film, a feat that many thought would be detrimental to the film. Remember when we thought three villains in Spider-Man 3 was too much? The Russo Brothers made it possible to fit a long list of characters, while still constructing an entertaining and contained story. Plus, the “I Don’t Feel So Good” memes were a vital part of 2018.
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight beats out Infinity War due to the fact, these actors aren’t using a bunch of CGI. This film is pure acting, and was reliant on the strength of the cast for every single scene whereas pretty animations could dictate entire chapters of Infinity War. Heath Ledger is hailed as the best villain of all time after bringing a new twist to The Joker, but Aaron Eckhart deserves due praise for his electrifying run as Two-Face. The Nolan Brothers’ second entry on this list took their penchant for twists to a villainous level. The Joker’s plans were all intricate and shocking, never ending how the audience assumed. Not to mention Batman’s ingenious use of Skyhook in Hong Kong. Christian Bale’s determination was overshadowed by his Bat-Growl, but luckily the movie was so amazing you get used to it after a few scenes. The Dark Knight became the single most important comic book movie because it succeeded where others failed to go. It was grounded in reality, drenched in noir, sprinkled with dark humor, and delivered as an action-thriller. There’s nothing like it.