The Top Ten Comic Book Superhero Movies

Now that the major Superhero movies of the summer are behind us, and after ranking them on (title pending), (albeit with a glaring omission, LOL) I decided to turn this month’s Top Ten list to the topic of Superhero movies. I’ll slightly differentiate from last week’s (title pending) list by specifying that these have to be based on a comic book character, how’s that? That way I don’t have to work in “The Incredibles” or “Unbreakable”, either. Let’s keep this focused.

Much like the “Western” or the “War movie”, the “Superhero movie” is currently in the midst of its run as king of the Hollywood genre offering, and it’s not likely to go away anytime soon, with all three big Superhero movies this summer pulling in massive dollars.

So let’s take a look back at the best of those that have been released so far – based on a comic book character. Here’s my list of the Top Ten Superhero Movies.

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10) “Superman: The Movie”

The movie that did, in fact, make you believe a man could fly. Superman came to life on-screen in a big way thanks to Christopher Reeve, who perfectly embodied the big blue boy scout. John Williams’ score is the stuff of legend. Marlon Brando lends his weight to the film in the role of Kal-El. Villains Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty may add more humor than menace but still, the film is a progenitor of the genre. It helped establish Superman in the public’s mind for a new generation and was an enormous box office success.

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9) “X-Men”

The big screen debut of the über popular superhero team, The X-Men. Hugh Jackman was born to play the part of Wolverine, and Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen shine as Professor X and Magneto, respectively. It brought great action and spectacle to the screen, while telling the story of people who struggle due to being “different”. But most of all, this film (followed by “Spider-Man” two years later) triggered the current heyday of the Superhero film. It’s success paved the way for many of the films on this list, not just its direct sequels.

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8) “Batman Begins”

If Tim Burton moved Batman out of camp territory in the 80s, Christopher Nolan moved him out of comic fantasy altogether in the 00s with “Batman Begins”. “Begins” supposes a world where a billionaire could truly develop the skills, obtain the devices and don the outfit in order to fight crime. Gritty realism became the operative code word. The Batmobile is more tank than corvette. Batman is actually shown learning martial arts. His access to combat technology is explained. The fans bought in enthusiastically, and the Christian Bale / Christopher Nolan trilogy was underway.

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7) “Watchmen”

Bleak, cynical, bereft of the typical happy trappings of superhero movies, “Watchmen” stands out amongst its superhero movie brethren almost as much as Alan Moore’s comics stood out in the early 80s. Are these the people we want our fate entrusted to? This über faithful adaptation of one of the most important comics of all time paints superheroes as damaged people. Super powers do not resolve interpersonal issues or emotional instability, and the people of the world may be the ones to pay the price.

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6) “X2″

With the characters and team dynamic largely already established by the first movie, “X2″ could take the gloves off and throw down. Magneto and the Brotherhood are uneasy allies as a black ops unit of the government attempts to eliminate the X-Men (and all mutants) in response to a mutant attack on the White House. The cast is back and continues to represent these legendary characters well. Singer, again, does an excellent job from the director’s chair. The second chapter of this saga both turns up the action and gets a little clearer in its themes of acceptance. Awesome.

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5) “Batman”

In the late 80s, Tim Burton took a character which had previously been known for campy fun on tv and put him within a darker, more heroic context. Michael Keaton, previously known exclusively as a comedian, helped by authoring a fantastic Batman. And of course, there was Jack. Nicholson took the villainous clown that Cesar Romero had created in the public consciousness and added some menace to him, creating a pop culture sensation. An unforgettable addition to his long list of incredible characters.

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4) “Iron Man”

The first big screen outing for Shellhead was a beauty. Robert Downey Jr. was perfectly – PERFECTLY - cast as Tony Stark, and he brings all of his charisma into play. Much of the movie is origin story, but they also work in a very believable romance (something Superhero flicks always try to shoehorn in, but rarely do well) between Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow. The villain is a little lacklustre, but the movie doesn’t suffer much for it. “Iron Man” is entertaining and exciting, and the perfect introduction to the character for the mainstream movie going public.  

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3) “Spider-Man 2″

“Spider-Man 2″ is the high water mark of the Raimi trilogy. With the “origin story” established, the second chapter here is free to focus on deeper issues, namely the personal price that Peter Parker has to pay in order to be Spider-Man. It also features one of the strongest villains in the history of Superhero movies in Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock. The action sequences are much improved over the initial installment… the CGI is much better, and they’re much better as set pieces. Overall, it’s simply the best Spider-Man movie to date, with Peter, Mary Jane, J Jonah, Aunt May and Doc Ock all bringing the world of the webhead to life for us wonderfully.  

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2) “The Avengers”

The first of its kind, really. “The Avengers” is the very first Superhero team up movie. While other movies may have explored the Superhero group dynamic previously, “The Avengers” has its roots in five different lead-in movies. This in turn makes the characters on the team extremely well established, and all that’s left is to let them play. And boy do they ever. The interaction amongst the team is phenomenal. Watching them bond and work out their pecking order is enormously entertaining. And then once the team is established, they’re given ample fodder to demonstrate their abilities on, and we get to watch “The Avengers”… SMASH. :D

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1) “The Dark Knight”

“The Dark Knight” has everything you could want in a Superhero movie. There are fantastic action sequences. We’re talking legendary stuff here. Themes not only of heroism, but of order vs anarchy, and what price we should be willing to pay for security. The hero is given a worthy adversary to prove his mettle against, while one of his peers is broken by the same circumstances, illustrating the incredible fortitude required to carry on the fight. The movie showcases the incredible performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker, a role for which he was posthumously given an Academy Award. It’s an epic story, but remains riveting its entire runtime. Not only one of the greatest Superhero movies, but one of the greatest movies ever.

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There you have it folks, my list of the Top Ten Superhero Movies that we’ve gotten to date.

What do you think? Am I way off base on any of these? One or two that you would rank higher or lower? Do I have an omission you’d like to point out, or is there one that made the cut that you’d like to see excluded? Let me hear it… drop off a comment and tell us what you think!

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137 thoughts on “The Top Ten Comic Book Superhero Movies

    • TOTAL disagreement, and know that it’s not an oversight.

      I just dont think it belongs.

      We wont rehash, but that’s the most laborious superhero movie I’ve ever set through and would QUICKLY choose any film on this list over that one. :(

      Sorry bub. Gonna have to disagree, as you anticipated.

    • Yeah if it was me, DKR would be 1, no question about it. And I’m too young to have seen the original Superman and the Burton Batmans, but I’ll take your word for it Fogs:)

      • Both are beneficiaries of a bit of nostalgia/pop culture significance here, I wont deny it. But both are still really fun movies, and worth circling back for, Livi.

        I stand FIRMLY by my TDKR exclusion though. LOL Bring it, people. Bring it! :D

      • Maybe someday I’ll go back and watch them then, although I cheerfully admit to being frankly disgusted by special effects older than the Matrix;)

        And the people will be bringing it, don’t worry! I can’t write a whole review in one comment, but this guy says it all for me:

        http://houseofgeekery.com/2012/08/02/batman-heroes-journey/

        If you don’t have all three of the Batmans in your list by sundown…I’ll send you my card;)

  1. I’m not big on the genre Fogs but there are a few here that I actually really like. Watchmen has got to be my favourite though. Loved the comic. Loved the film.

    • Glad you have my back on that one sir. I expect it may see some criticism before the day is out.

      But I love it. Sick movie. I prefer the “Ultimate” cut that’s like 4 hrs long and works the “Tale of the Black Freighter” right into the movie. Completely takes the movie to another level. So freaking sick. LOVE IT. :D

      • I really need to get my hands on that Ultimate cut. That sounds like pure gold.

        I can’t quite fathom why the film took such scathing criticism but don’t worry bro. I’m with you on this one. ;-)

  2. A vastly improved list. I might quibble with the order a bit (2,1,4,3,6,7,8,5,10,V for Vendetta), but that’s a solid list.

    Actually, I think Superman II is a vastly superior film to “Superman: The Movie” anyway.

    • Are you saying you’d put Avengers over TDK? Hmmmmmm…

      Meanwhile, actually recording (title pending) got me to change my mind on Superman/Superman II in terms of ranking. Neither has aged well, so why not go with the one with the pop cultrue significance? They both have issues… I mean, modern Superhero flicks are killin’ those two now.

      So I went with the classic. Nice to have the mulligan – on a couple of counts!

      • It’s splitting hairs between DKR and Avengers, but yeah, I give Avengers just a bit of an edge over DKR. Avengers is just more fun. Now granted, Avengers isn’t out on Disk yet, so it hasn’t had the exposure (or over exposure) of DKR, so that flush of good will may fade as time goes by, but for right now, I’ll stand by The Avengers being the greatest comic book movie of all time.

        Now, in the Superman vs. Superman II debate, the trio of baddies is what elevates II over the first one.

        Kneel before Zod!

        ’nuff said.

      • I wont knock you on Avengers v TDK at all. You’re right. Very close, and the fun is SQUARELY in Avengers corner (not that TDK isnt fun)

        On Supes II vs Supes, I was always saying the same thing. And if this list was purely favorites – I’d probably still stick with it. But Tank sold me on Supes again by having it so high, and then I had to admit that neither one has weathered the test of time well… there’s more than a bit of hokiness going on in both of them. :(

        So I went 1 now. Shrugs. Personal faves? Probably still sticking with 2 for Zod and crew.

  3. That’s a fun list. Mine would be very similar. I’d have Batman Begins at #4, Iron Man at #5, and I guess I’d have to think about the rest. I’m spot on with the top of your list, though.

    • Cool, man, cool. :D Glad to have some support for when the inevitable “Are you crazy?”s kick in!

      It was fun to do… this was a cool top ten to work on.

      Begins is great, I just really like the ones I have ranked higher than it, too!

    • There we go, another Watchmen supporter. I love it. Happy days. Good times. That flick is sick.

      Yeah, I dont know… I liked Begins, but I definitely liked Iron Man better. Funny thing is, I think the villains in both are weak. Maybe its the Paltrow element that elevates it. Or Downey’s charisma. Cause I think Iron Man is immensely entertaining, Terry, immensely. :)

  4. Good list. DK Rises would have to be on my list. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Watchman and X2 wasn’t as good as the first for me (plus it set the table for the horrible X-Men 3. But some wonderful movies on this list!

      • Not fully blaming X2 for X3. Simply saying the foundation was laid particularly with the “This is the Wolverine Show” approach. I HATE what they did with Scott (AKA Cyclops) in X2. Don’t get me started with what they did in X3.

        Now let me clarify, I liked X2. Watched it multiple times in the theater. I just think it started to have that “frachisey” feel to it (and they screwed the Cyclops character).

    • There’s some nostalgia attached, I wont pretend there isnt.

      But they also paved the way for these. Each spawned a franchise… So while they might not completely play as well now as they did originally, the respect they should earn for their significance needs to be taken into account.

  5. Nice list. It’s great to see Burton’s “Batman” and “Watchmen” get mentioned on here. I would also add in “Blade” for also helping pave the way for Superhero movies to be even more dark yet still receive a good audience score

      • I can’t speak for Vern, but he’s already touched on what I came down here to say. So, I’m going to answer your question, since you would’ve asked me the same, I’d imagine.

        You gave X-men the credit for what Blade did. It paved the way for X-men and Spider-man and all the other successful, let’s-take-comics-seriously movies. X-men is better than Blade, but if the “most of all” reason it’s here on your list is because it triggered today’s heyday, I don’t think you’re giving Blade enough credit.

        That being said, I’d pop Blade in at 10, bump everything up until Burton’s Batman, and take that out. Put in Spider-man for Spider-man 2, because I personally feel Batman and Spidey 2 aren’t worthy. Then swap Avengers and Dark Knight. So, for everyone keeping score at home, that’s:

        10) Blade
        9) Superman
        8) X-men
        7) Batman Begins
        6) Watchmen
        5) X2
        4) Iron Man
        3) Spider-man
        2) The Dark Knight
        1) The Avengers

      • Ooh! Another Avengers TDK switch! maybe there is some potential to that debate…

        I’m not misplacing the credit. Blade wasn’t responsible. Even though it may have been the first Marevl comic-book character, technically, nothing followed because of it, they just happened to follow. I dont think anything was “triggered” due to Blade.

        Per Wikipedia, Singer signed on to direct X-Men in 1996. Blade wasn’t released til 1998. The film had been conceived of/gestating since 89. So, while I may (might…) grant that if Blade had flopped miserably, Fox may have killed X-Men, it wasn’t as if Blade’s modest succes (70 mil domestic and 55% on RT) inspired X-Men. Whereas, I think that X-Men’s $150 mil lit a fire under Marvel, Sony et al to get off their asses and milk the cash cows they were sitting on.

        Meanwhile, it might be the “Most of All”, but it aint the only. X-Men is wayyyy better than Blade to me. I dont know if the daywalker makes this list regardless. :(

        No love for Burton’s Batman, buddy? Whats up? You never dance with the devil under the pale moonlight?

      • I don’t think that Blade’s success inspired X-men, either. I think its success was responsible for X-men getting the trust, budget and breathing room it needed to be a success. Had Blade flopped, like you said, I think the noose would have been tightened to a point that X-men wouldn’t have made it out of the gate. Maybe *I’m* the one misplacing credit, but to me, that means that Blade is a pretty large part of the success of the genre.

        If Daredevil had been released before Blade, I don’t believe we’d have the X-men, Spider-man or Marvel Studios franchises. Maybe we would have gotten an X-men slightly better than the old Fantastic Four TV Pilot. And Blade didn’t flop because, at the time, for the time, Blade was great. It was the movie Comics needed, not the movie Comics deserved. (Ugh. That makes me feel dirty.) You’re right, X-men was the spark that lit the fire, but Blade packed the fire bundle with twigs and loose brush, dug a little trench down under it, and got everything nice and ready for a spark.

        There’s never been any love for Burton’s Batman for me. I’m sure you’ve heard the reasons before. I’d only be parroting them. Jack is playing Jack, not the Joker. Slow pacing. Everything is ham-tastic, but not in a way that I can sit back and laugh at it. Burton “Burtons” all over everything. I respect its significance, but I just don’t like the movie. So, since I only have room for one “respect the significance, but don’t like the slow paced, boring movie” slot on any Genre Top 10 list, that’s going to go to Superman.

        As far as TDK vs. Avengers, maybe I’ll weigh in on that one if you “Toss it out there”. This has been enough of my incoherent yammerings for now.

      • U Wuv Bwaaade… :D

        LOL. I hear you. I do. They both have a share of credit, I suppose. X-Men just got the spotlight for it, fair or not. :(

        I may have seen your Burton sentiment at some point or another, but I dont recall. It seems freshly appalling to me today. LOL. As you know, I’m a fan.

        “So, since I only have room for one “respect the significance, but don’t like the slow paced, boring movie” slot on any Genre Top 10 list, that’s going to go to Superman.” – That’s a riot though. :D

      • I must admit, had someone told me when I woke up this morning, that I’d be championing Blade on the internet I don’t think I’d have believed them. But yeah. I here I am.

        I’ve totally got your back with the TDKR omission though. It doesn’t belong on a Top 10 anything, IMHO. I was really glad I kept my expectations moderately low. Had I gone in with Dark Knight levels of excitement, my crushed spirit would still be lying on the theatre floor.

      • There you go! All is – well, there was nothing to forgive, but I’m not gonna look for another phrase – all is forgiven!

        Add another to the “No TDKR team”! Thank you, it’s a relief to hear, Spike.

      • Hmm… Blade only earned domestically what X-Men was given for its budget. It took in about half of what Godzilla took in the same year, by way of comparison. So I’m just a little skeptical that Fox based their support of X-Men on it, especially since Blade was distributed by New Line, not Fox. And its success was as much due to the horror influence as the comic book influence — hardly anybody has ever cared about Blade comic books, as Marvel keeps learning.

        So, while it may have been the “first” of the “new wave” of superhero movies, I have to agree with Fogs that it doesn’t get the credit. It wasn’t the one that made everyone sit up and take notice; that was indisputably X-Men. As far as setting the groundwork for taking superhero movies seriously, that goes back to Superman. The period of disdain caused by the Batman movies doesn’t take away from that any more than the multiple times Westerns have fallen out of favor takes away from the earlier successes. To put it in the context of that genre, Unforgiven didn’t owe as much to Dances With Wolves, as it did to the Westerns of the 50s and 60s.

        Blade was just a lone spike in the interregnum, not a pivotal turning point for the genre.

  6. Surprised you didn’t put in The new Spider-Man movie in there. I havn’t seen the Dark Knight yet but I would have put Avengers first and the Amazing Spider-Man second. I’m glad to see that you put in The Watchmen in there. Great flick.

    • Nice! And here I was worried that Watchmen would take a bashing. People are happy to see it included! :D

      Mmmmmmnnnnn… The new spidey just doesn’t rise to that level, I dont think. I need to rewatch. But based on one viewing, I’m not going to knock any of these flicks off of my list for that one… I dont think it makes the cut.

  7. I won’t dare to comment. This genre is your metier! I do think lists are limiting and subject to change. Why no voting? That always fun. I am out the door today to see TDKR. I know, I know. I can’t help myself, pure addiction.

  8. The list is good but the order would change for me. I never really enjoyed the Superman movies all that much, but I did and do like the Iron Man, Spiderman and Batman movies. My top 5 would be Avengers, TDK, Iron Man, Spiderman 2 and X-Men, though it may change when I finally get to see the new Spiderman movie and TDKR.

    • Another Avengers/TDK swapperroo. Hmmm. I wonder if that’d make a good Great Debate thread one day… I think public sentiment right now is still loaded in TDK’s favor, cause it’s had time to be in people’s homes for years. One day, maybe.

      I’ll be interested to hear what you think of the two big new superhero movies when you get to see them. I dont think either one of them enjoys the consensus that Avengers did. I’ll be interested to hear where you shake out on them.

  9. I’m almost ashamed to say that I haven’t yet seen Watchmen.

    I’m also in the group that would include TDKR on this list, but I understand your issues with the film.

    I’m in complete agreement with the top 6, my only change would be switching 5 and 6.

    As usual Fogs, you’ve put great work into this list.

    • Thank you Joe. Thank you.

      Saw you’re on a lambcast coming up, huh? The Rocky one? Do it up, buddy! Do the Rock proud. :D

      Meanwhile, Watchmen is a great flick. Especially if you like the comic. It’s very faithful.

      • Yeah, I decided it was time to set aside the nervousness and take the plunge…especially since a few of us are going to start a podcast of our own. It was an easy decision on which one to join since Rocky is an honorary citizen of my hometown (Philly). I’m sure I’ll be able to roll with the punches when it comes to Rocky V :)

        and I’m a comic book guy, which makes it an even bigger sin. You have my word I’ll get to it this month!

      • Well, I’m backup on that ep now, so maybe I’ll see you then.

        Gonna start a podcast huh? :D Have fun with it, it can be great when it’s clicking. (title pending) is starting to take off a bit, and I wont even lie… it’s a total blast.

      • I saw that…hope you make it on the show.

        You and Tank are a part of my inspiration! I’m hopeful that it turns out for the best. I’m looking forward to some good conversation.

  10. For me it’s definetly TDKR followed by tDK and Batman Returns. Not a fan of any of X men movies. Iron Man is really good and Thor would probably be in my top 5.

  11. I’d like to see TDKR up in that list. Take Heath Ledger out of The Dark Knight and it is a heck of a lot of a weaker film. I’m not saying that he makes the film, buy he pretty much does.

    Thor would be in there for me too. It was fun, gorgeous to look at and a fun ride.

    A bit random, but Hellboy is a favourite of mine too. It’s Guillermo del Toro’s creations in that film and Ron Perlman’s performance that made me fall for that film.

    • I like Hellboy, too! Especially the second one. I just cant see bouncing any of these for either of them :( Thor either.

      Meanwhile, ok. Yes, if you take Ledger out of TDK its a lot weaker, sure. But that’s the case with like 9 out of 10 great movies anyways. Someone somewhere within did a great job that the movie wouldnt be the same without…

      And I’m going to begin my new official policy of condensing my TDKR responses to “Ughck”. :D

      So, Ughck.

  12. Good list.

    The only difference I would make is replace “X-Men” with either “Kick-Ass” or “Superman 2″ (if you want to stick with mainstream superheroes). Though I enjoyed the first X-Men movie, I think it is a little overrated.

    • Ohhh! Kick Ass! Thats a great flick.

      I wouldnt have had it here even if I had thought of it, but if this list had stretched to 20, Kick Ass probably would have been really high in the 10-20 block. :D Good call Victor, good choice!

  13. Good to see Watchmen in there. Totally behind you on that one. I’d toss Superman and put Sin City in its place.

    • Ohhhhhhhhhhh

      There we go. First one that makes me question my listing. I’m not sure how I’d work Sin City in, but I definitely forgot to consider it, and now I’m wondering if it should have made the cut. I feel like I want it in there somehow, but cant think of what to drop off.

      • I think it’s great that there is such an abundance of good — and even great — comic book movies that making a top 10 list these days is very difficult. Hell even making a top 10 WORST list would be difficult. A lot of stinkers out there too.

      • I’m not even going to address my own position on Sin City here… I’ll just point out you’re safe, Fogs, since it is not in any way, shape or form a superhero movie. Even somebody who thinks it’s the best movie ever shouldn’t object to it not being here, any more than, say, the far superior Road to Perdition, which is another non-superhero comic book movie.

      • Yeah, this is a point I realized myself later, when – I think it was Dak – brought up Scott Pilgrim.

        But if I had gone about this as “Top Ten Comic Book Movies” I would have had to have given both of them SERIOUS consideration for spots.

        Especially Scott Pilgrim, which I am a huge huge fan of.

  14. This is my kind of list, Fogs!! I might put Superman: The Movie higher on my list as that movie just has some sentimental value to me, PLUS it sets the bar for a superhero movie. Glad to see Batman Begins and TDK and you know I agree w/ you TDKR won’t make my top 10 either.

    • YESSS!!!

      Finally. Geez. THANK YOU. :D :D

      I know there are others out there, too. Was definitely starting to feel outnumbered there for a minute though.

      BACK OFF NOW THOUGH PEOPLE!! YEAH!! LOL

      • Ahah, between the two of us I think we can take ‘em on, Fogs!! :D I like TDKR mind you, I mean it’s my movie of the month, but there are so many issues [plot holes as it were] that I don’t think it stands up amongst the 10 you’ve already got here.

        Still, how do you explain putting Superman The Movie last?? :( Just kidding, I’d be mad at you if it WEREN’T on the list.

      • LOL TDKR – Me too. That explains my sentiment exactly. My major issue is tone and length. Thing wore me down.

        Supes: :D It… has a weak villain and, well, speaking of holes, Supes does turn back time by flying around the earth counter clockwise. You know? Uhmmm. So… LOL :D

      • Ahah, good point, it was spectacular until that ridiculous turn-back-time fiasco, I mean seriously??? He’s NOT God!! Weak villain?? Well I guess compared to Zod he’s weak but I like Hackman as Lex, ‘mind over matter, Superman.’ :)

      • Look, nothing against Hackman, he’s great. But he’s half comedic, with the toupee and his sidekick and all. And then, his plot… ahhh, dont get me started.

        Lets just say Lex Luthor is one of my favorite villains of all time, and in my opinion he has never been well represented on the big screen. Nope!

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