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Best Superhero Movies of All Time: My Top 5

by Photo of Max Lin

With The Dark Knight Rises hitting theaters this Friday, let’s take a look at some of the greatest superhero movies.

Best Superhero Movies of All Time: My Top 5

The Dark Knight Rises hits theaters everywhere this Friday (July 20th) and hopefully you've already pre-ordered your IMAX tickets. There's no question as to why everyone's excited. When Batman Begins  (2005) first came out, moviegoers were intrigued by this new look at Batman. It was dark and gripping without relying too much on special effects. The focus here was Bruce Wayne and why he does the things he does.  Then The Dark Knight  (2008) arrived and pretty much floored everyone.  Just about every element was in place to seal the film as a contender for the greatest superhero movie of all time. Heath Ledger's breathtaking and dedicated portrayal of the ever-complex Joker, Batman questioning his moral code and notion of justice, the growing threats faced by Gotham City, and of course, the action, the suspense, and a few choice quotes. So how could anyone not be excited to see the satisfying conclusion to all this? Unfortunately, if you're not one of the lucky critics or audience members who got to see an advanced screening, you'll have to wait these two-and-a-half days out. To tide you over until then, we're going to take you on a high-flying journey through some of the best superhero films of all time.

Disclaimer: I won't be including Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight franchise on this list for one simple reason: we already know it's pretty damn good. I'm positive that The Dark Knight is on almost every top superhero movie list and if you asked me in person, I'd certainly include it on my list as well. However, for the purposes of this article, which is to honor The Dark Knight but also all the other films that make the superhero such a fascinating subject, no Dark Knight. Sorry. (Pretty sure I just committed some form of sacrilege among the Batman community.) Onwards to my list!

5. X-Men: First Class

You know what? Haters gonna hate. X-Men: First Class was by no means a perfect film but as a major X-Men fan, it does extraordinarily well for several reasons. The first thing that comes to mind is the probing depth at which Charles and Magneto's relationship is explored. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender play their respective characters with stunning nuance, lending sympathy and pain to their portrayals. A major kudos to Jennifer Lawrence for making Mystique more than just eye candy. She wants to fit in and despises her blue skin. There's also the fantastic coin scene, one hilarious cameo, and great production design replicating the 1960s. The story is told in a sleek, tight manner by director Matthew Vaughn and there's nary a dull moment. This is the vamp-up the X-Men franchise needed after the very mediocre Last Stand

4. The Incredibles

The concept of a super-powered family is nothing new. The Fantastic Four comics have done it before and The Incredibles seems to have taken on a similar premise as well as similar superpowers. But what makes Pixar's animated feature such an exceptional work in the superhero genre? There are, of course, the obvious factors inherent in a Pixar film: superb animation and clever touches of comedy. Still, in between the explosions, destruction, and ass-kickery, The Incredibles has heart. There's tenderness in the way Bob tells his family not to face Syndrome's robot, because in spite of all his super-strength, he's still not strong enough to lose them. There's passion and sadness in supervillain Syndrome who desperately wanted to do good in the world. On top of all this is an astounding love for the superhero genre in its countless reflections and subversions. For example, Edna Mode's rant on why superheroes should not wear capes is memorable even today. The Incredibles also uses the idea of superheroes to reflect on themes of midlife crisis, impotence, family, fear, and what it means to be human. The film manages to remain positive throughout, however, and reminds us all why we're so attracted to the idea of superheroes in the first place. Combine all these elements and you've got a riveting, fun tribute to the genre.

3. Watchmen

I'm about to invoke Alan Moore's endless rage for this but the film adaptation of Watchmen was an amazing addition to the superhero genre. I'm a huge fan of the graphic novel and I think Zack Snyder's film hit on most of the right points. Here we have a brilliant look into a dark alternate history where superheroes are no longer idols but rather deplorable vigilantes. Finally escaping development hell, Watchmen was fantastically filmed, taking several panels straight from the comic, with a stirring and haunting score composed by Tyler Bates. It's a unique deconstruction of the notion of the superhero and touches on society's concerns as a whole. Alan Moore's warning to those who trust heroes and leaders to take charge of the world is thoroughly investigated here, even within the context of that sped-up slow-motion editing director Snyder just loves to employ. Watch this film and see how you begin to view the superheroes you knew and loved. Also, I have to give major props to one of the great opening sequences ever filmed, set to Bob Dylan's "The Times, They Are a-Changin'."

2. Spider-Man 2

Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2  is a true work of art as a superhero film because it works on such a personal level with astounding levels of emotional depth. Peter Parker, a mere high school boy, holds the weight of the world on his shoulders after being granted such immense responsibility. It's a film that improves on all the aspects of its predecessor and forces the rigors of being a human to clash against the burden of being a superhero. Spider-Man faces off against Dr. Octopus, a chilling villain with a painful backstory. It's hard to find a superhero movie that traverses sacrifice the way Raimi does and for that, Spider-Man 2 will always hit close to home for me. Raimi's horror mindset works extremely well in the hospital scene but the action and cinematography are just as stellar throughout. 

1. The Avengers

It's not hard to see why The Avengers is just about the perfect superhero movie and possibly the popcorn movie of the decade. Here's a list of reasons why within a list so you can read a list while you read a list.

1. The prequels got the gears for this film running so with origin stories out of the way, we could jump right into the action. 

2. The romance was cut to a minimum. We had a nice little exchange between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts in the beginning as well as years of unspoken history between Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton conveyed in one brief but intimate scene. The romance was there but it was nowhere near as overstated as it was in Thor

3. The film juggled each character exceptionally well, giving them all proper development. Even non-Avengers like Agent Coulson got their shining moments. And Loki. How great was Loki?

4. The dynamic and uncontrollable nature of the team. Maybe I should rephrase that, because as Bruce Banner says, "We're not a team. We're a ticking time-bomb." Take Hulk's bouts of rage, Tony's egocentrism, Natasha's shifty allegiances, Thor's arrogance, Captain America's somewhat black-and-white view of good and evil, as well as Hawkeye's mind-controlled state for about a third of the film, and you've got an explosion just waiting to happen.

5. Joss Whedon's near-flawless script. Whedon's understanding of each character's motivation, his smooth and powerful exploration of different relationships, along with his signature witty dialogue (carried over from shows like Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) simply made the film for me.

6. The Avengers was just plain fun. There's a lot more to this film than what's on its surface but the surface looks pretty neat as well. Beautifully choreographed action sequences along with a generous sprinkling of comedic moments and there was never a lull in the theater. 

7. The sudden need to have some shawarma after watching this film.

Honorable Mentions:

Iron Man (2008), Kick-Ass (2010), V for Vendetta (2005), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

As an added bonus, here's a fantastic video a friend sent me called "Movies That Come to the Rescue", featuring every superhero you can think of - good and lame.

What are your top 5 superhero movies?

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