Out of everything I’ve written for this site, my list of the top 5 best superhero films is the most likely to annoy you. I guess my taste in superhero films is different than a lot of people’s. I’ve glanced at a dozen such lists online and thought in disgust, “No, no, no!” So many of the best films are left off entirely, while lousy films like Watchmen or V for Vendetta compete for the top spot. I’ve seen just about every major superhero film, many of them more than once. The few I haven’t seen probably aren’t worth watching (such as Punisher 2). This wasn’t an easy list to make, but after a lot of careful consideration, here’s my top 5.
#5, The Amazing Spider-Man
Just so we’re clear, I acknowledge The Amazing Spider-Man is far from perfect. The comic-relief scenes following Peter Parker’s discovery of super-powers are more annoying than all of Jar Jar’s antics put together if you ask me. At the same time though, The Amazing Spider-Man taps into a lot of the core ideas that have kept the comic alive for so many years. I love how Uncle Ben is given such a large role, and how Gwen Stacy re-emerges as Peter’s first love. Speaking of Gwen Stacy, she’s the best part of The Amazing Spider-Man (if only they titled it The Amazing Gwen Stacy). I greatly enjoyed how her character, played with charisma by Emma Stone, didn’t fall into the damsel-in-distress category. Instead, she became a hero, and in a way, she’s more heroic than Spider-Man since she has no powers of her own. It’s rare to find a good female character in a superhero movie, and for that reason, The Amazing Spider-Man finds a place on my top 5.
#4, Hellboy 2
Hellboy 2 is the most underappreciated superhero film of all time. It simply had the misfortune of coming out around the same time as the phenomenal movie The Dark Knight and got swept under the rug in all the commotion. Hellboy 2, from start to finish, is simply fun. A lot of franchises hit their stride the second go round, and this is a great example. The scene taking place in the Troll Market is the most creative thing I’ve seen since the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars. Ron Perlman loves playing Hellboy, and it really shows. Selma Blair makes a good heroine out of Liz Sherman too. It’s the imagination of Guillermo Del Toro that takes this to the top 5. Unfortunately, Hellboy 2 flopped and as far as I know a third installment isn’t happening.
#3, Spider-Man 2
Spiderman 2 is about as solid as a superhero movie can get. There’s hardly a bad scene in the whole 2 hour runtime. The cast is great too. Alfred Molina as Doc Ock gives the movie its gravitas, while Toby Maguire goes way out of his way to make the audience root for the underdog. It doesn’t hurt that one of my favorite writers, Michael Chabon, helped out with the script. If I could only wash away the memory of Spiderman 3…
#2, The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight isn’t just fun to watch, it’s fun to rewatch. I should know since I saw it three times in theaters alone. Since then, I’ve probably viewed it a dozen more times, and even as I write this feel inclined to put it in the DVD tray right now. Heath Ledger, of course, is great as the Joker, but really the whole cast shines here. The thing that strikes me as strange every time I watch The Dark Knight is how the movie doesn’t seem to really be about Batman. It’s more like a tale of moral decline, focusing on Harvey Dent, with Rachel standing out as the only infallibly moral person in the group. Even Batman puts his personal feelings ahead of what’s best for Gotham when he decides to go after Rachel instead of Dent… Heartbreaking every time! Perhaps the best part of The Dark Knight is that it belongs to a stellar trilogy.
Superman is the movie that started it all, and it remains to this day the best. I know, The Dark Knight is definitely close, and it was very hard to choose between the two. Superman though is simply a movie that makes you feel good. While the Batman films entrench the viewers in moral gray matter, Superman sets up a clearly defined world of good vs. evil, and in the process creates a hero we all wish really existed. Christopher Reeve was a national treasure when he made this film, and Gene Hackman is delightful as Lex Luthor. Unlike some of the other films on this list, Superman stands out because it really is appropriate and entertaining for all ages. Comics were originally aimed at kids, and Superman definitely takes that into consideration. There’s a goofy charm to this movie that was simply never matched. Most superhero films go for grittiness and grimness, preferring pessimism for optimism, but Superman breaks out and flies into the air, openly declaring hope for the human race.
If you liked this article, check out my overview of the superhero films of 2012.
What are your top 5 favorite superhero films of all time?