That’s right folks, the moment has finally arrived. After what has felt like years (wait a minute, it has been years!), “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is finally here to shove into our eyeholes. While many will immediately write the film off because either (A) they aren’t huge nerds who care about superhero movies, or (B) they are huge nerds who care too much about superhero movies, we can only ask that you reflect on the good times before making such a rash decision. But in order for you to do that, we had to round up what we consider to be the 10 best superhero flicks of all time.
(Note: We excluded all animated movies for our sanity. We also left out certain comic book films like “Sin City” and “Kingsman: The Secret Service” since they aren’t technically about superheroes, per se.)
“Blade” (1998) / “Blade II” (2002)
We promise not to do too many of these, but sometimes when it comes to a franchise, it’s difficult to decide which was the best. “Blade” was essentially Marvel’s first big hit on the big screen, and it was likely due to being more of a vampire movie than a superhero movie. Plus, it was rated R, which (speaking as someone who was 12 years old at the time his dad took him to see it) was pretty damn sweet. The sequel followed suit, and brought back Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), a fan favorite. “Blade: Trinity,” ehh, not so much.
If “Blade” is somehow the grandfather of Marvel superhero movies, then it’s pretty safe to call “Superman” the great-grandfather of all superhero movies. And we don’t use the name great-grandfather lightly. This movie, while classic, is freakin’ old, and may not hold up to the high standards of superhero films today. However, it has been a constant inspiration since its release in the late ’70s. And if you don’t believe us, check out the PBS documentary “Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle” sometime. Or better yet, listen to filmmakers and comic book artists like Kevin Smith and Kyle Higgins talk about it at length and try to claim they aren’t still being inspired. Plus, that theme song.
“Iron Man” (2008)
Rarely is an actor born to play a role, but Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man is a clear and obvious exception. Not to mention the first “Iron Man” film wraps up the “great-grandfather/grandfather/father” analogy that we’ve been driving at since our list began. This movie started it all for what is now referred to as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and if it hadn’t been for RDJ and his slam dunk performance, it’s quite possible superhero films wouldn’t be as popular as they are today. Is this the best superhero flick to date? Not by a long shot. But 2008 was a relatively long time ago when it comes to how quickly these movies are being churned out these days.
In a world where nostalgia reigns supreme, how could we not include “Batman” here? Without this film, the superhero movie genre could have easily gone off the rails and never returned. Sure, it was a close call when “Batman & Robin” hit theaters nearly 10 years later, but that’s beside the point. The ’89 “Batman” had everything going against it from the casting of funnyman Michael Keaton as the titular hero to a fanbase the was virtually non-existent compared to what it is now. Yet, in the end, it wound up being a movie that, for the most part, still holds up as one of the best Batman films in existence (but more on that later).
“Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (2008)
Rarely is an actor born to play a role, but Ron Perlman as Hellbo…wait a sec, we already said this earlier, huh? Well, regardless, it’s just as true for “Sons of Anarchy’s” own Clay Morrow as it was for RDJ. There is more to what makes this movie great than just excellent casting, though. It was directed by visual mastermind Guillermo del Toro, the man responsible for films like “Pacific Rim,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” and, yes, even the previously mentioned “Blade II.” It’s gorgeous, engaging and an overall improvement to its already exceptional predecessor. What more could you really ask for? Well, except another sequel. But that’s coming eventually.
“X2: X-Men United” (2003) / “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014)
This is the second and last time we’re doubling up. But seriously, if you want to pick a winner between these two juggernauts (no pun intended), be our guest. Of course, you’ll have to decide between an almost flawless setup to “The Dark Phoenix Saga” (a.k.a. “X-Men: The Last Stand”) and a movie that somehow managed to wipe the slate clean of the abysmal “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” in one fell swoop. Go ahead. Choose. Maybe you like impossible decisions. We don’t.
“The Avengers” (2012)
The only thing worse than having to wait a few years for a movie like “Batman v Superman” to come out is having to wait a few movies. Luckily, Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” was well worth it. It was able to combine four franchises into one and come out on the other side as not just coherent, but a film that has been matched (or beaten) by only one superhero film to date. But like our “Batman” write-up, more on that later.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (1990)
You were probably expecting a Spider-Man film of some kind in this spot, but tough. As a fan of the comics since childhood, the movies have been a constant disappointment and never able to get the essence of the character right (sadly, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” was probably the closest it got). No, we again opted for nostalgia here, as anyone who saw “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” as a child is likely still watching it on at least a yearly basis and loving it more each time. It can’t be explained other than the film having come out at the peak of TMNT popularity, but for a movie about mutant turtles who eat pizza, practice ninjutsu and say “Cowabunga” more than any film to date (OK, we made that last one up, but prove us wrong), it’s a little baffling that none of the reboots have been able to recapture the charm since 1990 (or maybe this movie was just that good).
“The Dark Knight” (2008)
Ahh, Batman — the superhero so nice he made this list twice. Of course, “The Dark Knight” isn’t really sitting here because of Christian Bale’s Batman (don’t get us wrong; he was fine). No, it earned its place solely because of the man pictured above. The easiest way to explain this film’s greatness is by putting it like this: without Heath Ledger’s Joker, “The Dark Knight” would be “Batman Begins” or “The Dark Knight Returns.” We aren’t ragging on those films in any way, but you definitely wouldn’t see them hanging around a list of the greatest superhero movies of all time.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)
Just when you thought superhero films had hit their high note with “The Avengers,” a culmination of years of planning on Marvel’s part, the sequel to the ho-hum “Captain America: The First Avenger” comes out of nowhere and rocks your socks off. This movie is not only everything a great superhero movie should be, it’s everything you could ask for in a great film. We don’t know how the Russo Brothers did it, but some of us are already more excited for them to do it again in “Captain America: Civil War” than we are for “Batman v Superman” coming out today. Like, right now. Seriously, why are you still reading this? Get out of here and go see “Batman v Superman” already! We swear we’ll leave our list right here for you when you get back.