#10 – The Incredible Hulk (2008) – I can already hear the boos and hisses as I list this movie in my Top 10. The first thing you need to do is to stop associating it with Ang Lee’s Hulk. This was not a sequel, it was a reboot, and a very well done one. The movie had a great plot which moved quickly. This time around the CGI used for the Hulk himself looked amazing and the action scenes were so animalistic and visceral that after watching it I wanted to run around destroying things and screaming, “Hulk Smash!”
#9 – The Incredibles (2004) – One of the few movies on the list featuring original superheroes created just for the purpose of the movie. Pixar’s The Incredibles took the things that we love about superheroes and the goofy stereotypes surrounding them and gave us a fun adventure. Clearly they borrowed ideas and concepts from so many sources, but it was pieced together in such a brilliant way.
#8 – Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000) – The only movie on this list that was direct-to-video, but not as a result of quality. Batman Beyond was an underrated series that didn’t get the full run it deserved as the creative team abandoned it after 3 seasons solely because they wanted to focus on Justice League. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker gave fans of the series a more definitive end and finally brought fans what they wanted to see in Batman Beyond all along…the Joker. This was one of the first of DC’s animated movies to be approached with a much more adult tone in mind and I feel it helped to fuel the PG-13 rated animated films that we’re seeing from them now.
#7 – Unbreakable (2000) – Certainly not your run-of-the-mill superhero movie, Unbreakable approaches the world of superheroes from a mythology perspective. Looking at comic books as exaggerations of human history, this movie presents a scenario that would be the most plausible version of a “superhero” existing in real life. Not only is it one of the top superhero movies, but it’s easily the best we’ve seen from M. Night Shyamalan so far.
#6 – Spider-Man (2002) – Even though X-Men proceeded it, I give the first Spider-Man movie credit for bringing superhero movies to the mainstream. The new attitude taken with the genre has made it possible for most of this list to get green-lit in the first place. Spider-Man’s success was based on the studio treating it with a degree of seriousness that wasn’t previously given to it along with special effects that finally came across as a piece of the film instead of an obvious “effect.” Top this all off with a great performance from Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin and you’ve got yourself a winner.
#5 – X2: X-Men United (2003) – X2 did what the first X-Men could not…kick ass. With a much more complex storyline and successful integration of such a large cast of characters, X2 delivered non-stop action along with continuing the political/racial commentary that underlies the X-franchise. I can still remember my heart skipping a beat when I saw the tease for Phoenix at the end. It’s a shame that X-Men 3 was such a steaming pile and had to ruin one of the best story arcs in X-Men history.
#4 – The Dark Knight (2008) – Considered to be one of the best box office successes of all time, The Dark Knight was an accomplishment in film making on another level. For the first time a superhero movie was being celebrated not for just being a good comic book adaptation, but for being a great film in the traditional sense. It goes without saying that Heath Ledger pulled off one of the best performances in any comic-related movie as the Joker. It’s a shame we’ll never get a chance to see him reprise the role. Despite the criticism of Katie Holmes being in Batman Begins, the biggest downfall of this movie was her failure to continue the role in The Dark Knight.
#3 – Iron Man (2008) – Iron Man was great on so many fronts. The pacing of the movie was done incredibly well; you can’t find a boring part in it. Easily one of the best actors of our time, Robert Downey Jr. captured the essence of Tony Stark perfectly. He pulled off being arrogant and stubborn while still being charming and likable. The special effects have reached a level to where you watch the armor in action and just say, “Wow.” With Iron Man 2 just over the horizon, I’m very excited to see how the franchise will continue.
#2 – Spider-Man 2 (2004) – The biggest difference between Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 is one character…Dr. Octopus. The most compelling villains are the one’s that are conflicted and not really villains at their core. They simply go awry or run into a bad situation which spins out of control. While Spider-Man 3 (biggest letdown ever) attempted the same dynamic with Sandman, they couldn’t pull it off the way they did with Doc Ock. The other aspect from Spidey-lore that was done so well is Peter’s constant struggle between wanting a normal life and taking responsibility for the gift he’s been given. This movie also gives us one of the best combat sequences from any superhero movie to date…the battle with Doc Ock on the train.
#1 – Batman Begins (2005) – You can call me biased because I’m a huge Bat-fan, but in my opinion, this movie is the greatest superhero movie not only of the past decade, but of all time. Many would argue that The Dark Knight is the best of the Batman movies, but Batman Begins was a story about Batman where The Dark Knight was more a story about his villains. Batman Begins grounded the character in a plausible reality and completely fleshed out his motivations and need to become the Caped Crusader. No other adaptation of Batman in film or TV has shown the journey from fractured youth to Guardian of Gotham in a more meaningful way. This movie captures the very essence of what makes Bruce Wayne into Batman.