Top Ten Superhero Movies

When I was asked to compile this list of the top ten Superhero movies, it left me perplexed.  Should I write down the box office hits?  Anyone can look that up on or should I write down the fan favourites?  Truth be told EVERY Comic Book and Superhero fan would have a different 10 movies and in a different order.

So, since this is my article and since I have my own top ten that is what you are going to get.

First let me say this, there are many great feature length Animation Superhero Movies out there that I won’t put on this.  The most recent and probably best of these animated movies is the adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which has been made into a two part movie.  If you get a chance check out these movies.  I’m also not going to number my top ten as I find it would be impossible to separate most of them in the stakes of pure enjoyment.

Avengers Movie

The Avengers (2012)

The movie that brought together Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Agent Phil Coulson.  Bringing together this group of heroes and characters seemed like an impossible task.  But Director Joss Whedon managed it perfectly, and also made bucket loads of cash in the process.  The scale of the movie, with the attack on New York, and the script just brought us into a world that few had thought would come to the screen.  The movie also brought new fans to the comic series and comics in general.  With the characters making their own movies and a sequel on the way it fills this Geek with hope for the future.


The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005 – 2012) 

Ok.  I’m grouping together some movies otherwise the top ten would be basically 2 or 3 franchises.  In 2005 Christopher Nolan unleashed his take on Batman, in Batman Begins.  This took us back to the start of Batman, giving us a first cinematic look at the first year of Batman.  It brought hope back to the Batman fan as it was the closest to the comic’s adaptation of the Dark Knight that we had seen.  A few years passed and The Dark Knight, the second in the trilogy, came to our screens, and the late Heath Ledger gave a fantastic performance in the role of the Joker, a role that won him the Oscar, although many believed this was given because Mr. Ledger had died and that there were other more worthy performances that should have won the award.  Christopher Nolan’s storytelling was amazing and his plan for his trilogy was realised in 2012 with The Dark Knight Rises.  Bringing the Bane villain to the screen properly and not the grunting cartoon of a villain we saw in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin.  Bane is an intelligent villain, thinking about the strategy of every move, and Tom Hardy (as always this is my opinion) gave a great performance, even though the voice for some was a little hard to understand.  Once again the scale of these movies was impressive with more and more movies loading their productions with too much computer effects the Dark Knight Trilogy used more real locations where other movies used stages and green screen effects.

Watchmen (2009) 

Right.  This is a movie based on the graphic novel by Mr. Alan Moore.  Mr. Moore is a comic writer from England.  Some people believe that this graphic novel is the be all and end all of comic writing and storytelling.  However, for me it was just average, and the movie was far more enjoyable.  I loved other books by Mr. Moore, and some of the movies based upon his works were, for me, very enjoyable.  The director of Watchmen is Zack Snyder who will bring to us Man of Steel (Superman reboot) later this year and I’m looking forward to this.  Watchmen is set in the 80’s and Superheroes have been outlawed, but then someone kills a retired ‘Mask’ and it shakes everything up again.  Heroes put back on their costumes and then try to solve the murder and another mystery.  I don’t want to give spoilers away so all I’ll just say is that if you want a Superhero movie that is far beyond a popcorn cruncher and invites you to use your brain then this one is for you.

Christopher Reeve Superman Movies (1978 to 1987) 

I’m not going to mention Superman 4 The Quest for Peace, as it was terrible, just awful.  I am however going to gush about the first two movies.  Like everyone has their James Bond, mine is Ireland’s own Mr. Brosnan, for me everyone has their Superman.  Christopher Reeve was my childhood hero, I remember fighting my parents because I wanted to wear my underpants outside of my trousers, and these days I fight The Lovely T (my far better half) most days on the same issue.  The way that Mr. Reeve played both characters in the movies was perfect, with Clark Kent being the sheepish disguise of the Man of Steel.  Superman 1 was a brilliant movie to introduce the character, and with Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor it just made it tip over the edge into the glass of perfection.  It was Superman 2 when things really got interesting.  Where most movie outings and shows for The Last Son of Krypton go wrong is that Superman needs a Supervillain.  Lex is great as the mind and money villain, but in Superman 2 the story focused on three criminals from Krypton who through an explosion in space were set free from their prison.  There is also a love story through the film about Lois figuring out Clark’s secret, but we’ll try forget that for now.  General Zod and his two fellow inmates come to Earth to rule, and Superman has to go sort it out.  Superman 3 really let us down, while still being better than that 1987 nightmare, it was basically a comedy with Superman in it.  The only saving grace is that Richard Pryor made me laugh.  With Man of Steel coming out and the news that General Zod is once again the main villain are they trying to catch some of the same magic?  We can only hope, either way I’ll always wear my Superman T-Shirts and Hats, still buy his actions figures, and from time to time read the comics.  If any of you would like to read a really good Superman book then go to your local Comic book store and pick up Red Son, Superman Earth one, or the For Tomorrow graphic novel.

X-Men 1, 2, and X-Men First Class (2000, 2003, and 2011) 

I know, I know… There is a X-Men 3 The Last Stand, but there is no need to whip a movie when it is down, let’s just look at the good for now.  I’m sure I can write an article on bad Superhero movies later on.  Back to 2000, the world didn’t end, and everyone, even if they pretended they didn’t, thought that this world was going to end, and everyone had bought a new computer.  For me though as a comic fan this was a darker time, there was little on the silver screen to please us.  A few years before Marvel brought out a movie called Blade and shocked us.  Then halfway through 2000 the X-Men came and blew every comic book movie out of the water, this adaptation of the Marvel Comic and animation series just got everything right.  Perfect casting on Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and the other X-Men and also the right balance of storytelling and action.  The follow up movie X2 managed to up the stakes massively by starting a war with the US Government, and without spoiling, there was a terrible loss to the team.  First Class brought us back to the start, when Magneto wanted to do some good, and Professor X had hair and could walk (though not for long).  Set in the 60’s and with Kevin Bacon as the villain this was not just a good story but also amazingly entertaining.  The sequel to First Class should hit our screens sometime in 2014 and it’s not going to be called Second Class, the proper title is Days of Future Past.  Based on a graphic novel you can go and buy at your Local Comic Store.


Iron Man 1 and 2 (2008 and 2010)

After going through rehab, some jail time, and being an all round bad boy, Robert Downey Jnr basically plays himself.  There isn’t much acting involved in being Tony Stark, probably the most acting involved is pretending he is still a drunk.  The movies are just an amazing balance of performance and action.  After being betrayed by his business partner and left for dead Tony Stark escapes his captures by creating a metal shell that gives him strength and other capabilities.  I was never a massive fan of Iron Man before these movies, where Batman, who I love, goes out and fights crime with a lot of training and some cool weapons, Tony Stark basically relies on his gadgets and armour, without which he’s pretty much just a genius.  Take all Batman’s toys away from him and he can still do some damage.  But these movies, and this year a third movie, changed my mind, it’s not about the armour, but the man controlling the armour.  Tony Stark could easily sit back and let others take care of the problems, and with enough alcohol in his system he probably would, but he does.  The movies evolve, and few superhero movies move the character from the original movie, but in Iron Man 2 Tony is struggling to keep his health in check, the tech that is keeping him alive is also slowly killing him.  The best thing about the Iron Man movies and the movie version of the character of Tony Stark is that his biggest enemy is himself, and probably the bottle of booze he is drinking.

Batman and Batman Returns (1989 and 1992) 

Batman is far and above my favourite Superhero.  It’s fair to say that he’s a Hero and not a Superhero, to me Superheroes have a special power.  Batman is just Bruce Wayne, a lad with some cash and some vengeance issues, who has the resources around him to make gadgets and be ‘The Night’.  In 1989 a lot of Bat Fans were given a boost by the news that Warner Brothers were bringing our much loved Dark Knight to the big screen.  The Batsignals were everywhere that year, you couldn’t stop to tie your shoelaces, or turn on the TV without seeing the Batsignal.  Remember that this was before the time of the Internet ruining every movie with 20 million TV spots for blockbuster movies. So viral marketing was basically people with the sign of the Bat shaved into their heads.  With Prince, or Symbol, or whatever he’s calling himself these days providing an up tempo soundtrack and Tim Burton giving Batman and Gotham the dark edge that was lacking in the Adam West TV show of the 60’s everything was looking good.  You took your seat and the cinema went dark, the curtains pulled back to reveal the screen.  Fans were happy to see Batman, how the comics presented him, finally, but the massive stand out performance of the entire movie was Jack Nicholson as The Joker.  A lot of people now discount this performance after Heath Ledger’s in The Dark Knight, but it is a magnificent evolution from Caesar Romero.  In Batman Returns there is no real change in the character of Bruce Wayne or Batman, there is amazing performances from the villains Penguin (Danny DeVito), Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), and the great Christopher Walken.  If anything the only thing that evolves in this movie from the first one is the city of Gotham, which becomes a far darker and gothic place, which I didn’t think was possible.  Things went downhill after this movie in Batman Forever, and then Batman and Robin, both of which were far too cartoon like to keep the interest of the real Bat Fans.

V for Vendetta (2005) 

This one may separate you now.  To me V in V for Vendetta is an amazing hero, and the performance of Hugo Weaving in this movie as V is so very overlooked.  His opening speech to Natalie Portman alone is something that I’ve tried to say, to mimic, and it’s near impossible.  Watch the movie or learn the speech and if you can do it then you are a better man than I.  A twisted tale of revenge and anarchy, offering us a lesson in history and a warning to a future that is very possible, you should watch this movie with one eye on entertainment and the other on the signs around you that we are closing in on a society that is close to the one that exists in this movie.  Once again this is a movie that is based on an Alan Moore graphic novel, and one of the few graphic novels by the writer that I’ve never read, and really worth a watch.  The supporting performances are great, even Natalie Portman who I usually find as annoying as a fish in my slippers does well.

Blade (1998) 

With the DC Comic movies of Batman and Marvel bringing us some X-Men Cartoons, we all thought that they were sharing the market, I’ll do movies and you do TV.  Then late one evening I was walking by home away from home (at the time) The Savoy cinema on O’Connell Street.  A poster for Blade was hanging outside and I had never heard of it, there was limited internet access for people at this time, the dark times, before the Emperor and Wesley Snipes was on the front looking bad ass.  So having never heard of the character before but liking Mr. Snipes’ action movies I paid my cash and went in.  I was not expecting much, and sometimes I think that’s the best way to be, but was blown out of my socks by this vampire, karate, action movie.  Kris Kristofferson giving an awesome performance of grizzled old Vampire Hunter, and Stephen Dorff as the main villain, there is even a twist that I won’t spoil for you now.  Even people who didn’t like Vampire or Superhero movies before liked this fast paced thrill ride.  There were two sequels to this, and some would argue that the second movie was better, but the first Blade movie just never let up and leaving the cinema I wanted to hunt down vampires and kick some bottom.  But I had to get the last bus from Aston Quay.

Sin City (2005) 

Last and by no means least, this is once again NOT a superhero movie by any means.  However the stellar cast and sometimes violent images portrayed within make it a movie like no other, made up from the graphic novels of Frank Miller, Sin City takes you out of your comfort zone, you go in thinking ‘Comic Book Movie’ and come out wondering what on earth you just watched.  I had never read any of the Sin City graphic novels and had very little interest before seeing the movie.  It is one to watch if you are inclined to be uncomfortable, to cheer on the bad guy (Marv), and to like cold blooded killers.  The one thing that sets this far above the rest of any Superhero movie out there though is that it shows women not as the damsel in distress but tough as nails dames that can hold their own and take a punch with a great comeback line.  Shot in black and white and only using an occasional piece of colour to draw your attention, the storytelling will bring you into a world that you just may feel guilty for liking.

So there you go.  All I can say is that the list is in no order, and I had to leave some movies out so I could reveal my movie loves.  Thor, Captain America, Incredible Hulk, and to a lesser extent Superman Returns are all worth your while, but don’t rush for Superman Returns it’s not that great.  This year we are going to be blessed with a new Superman movie, Man of Steel, which looks awesome, but then the last Superman movie looked awesome and just didn’t impress.  We’ve also got Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Kick Ass 2, a 300 prequel, The Wolverine, and many more comic based movie goodness.

Hope to talk to you again and that one day I’ll be able to get Celtic Knights to the silver screen, although by the time that happens they’ll be zapping movies into your minds with lasers.

By Stephen Coffey

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