With the much-anticipated Justice League finally rolling around to theaters, we assemble the team in the name of all that is comic booky goodness. Here are some of our picks for the best superhero movies!
Iron Man (2008)
I was probably around 10 years old when my dad took me to the theatres to watch Iron Man, and it was beautiful. Robert Downey Jr. nailed the role of genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist Tony Stark, up to the point where I couldn’t even watch Sherlock Holmes (2009) without thinking, “No, that’s not Sherlock. What are you even talking about? That’s Iron Man.” It’s very rare for an actor to blend so well with a character, and Downey’s performances in Marvel movies still amaze me. The film was also brilliant in delivering both action and humor. Iron Man was beautifully badass: there was this scene where he shoots a missile, turns around to walk away, and the explosion behind him and the background guitar music sync up in what I can only describe as a freaking masterpiece. However, it didn’t shy away from being funny at times (I’m looking at you, “testing flight mechanics” scene). It was the perfect base for what would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe, maintaining some old traditions, like Stan Lee cameos, and starting new ones, like end-credit scenes. It was the dawn of a new era, and it’s a milestone worth revisiting, even if hearing Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury mention the “Avengers Initiative” makes you feel old already.
– Juliana Souza
I have distinct memories of myself back in 2002 throwing tantrums whenever anyone suggested we watch Spider-Man. 4 year old me was terrified of the Green Goblin, and cried whenever the movie was on. Despite, and maybe even a little bit because of this, Spider-Man holds a special place in my heart. There have been many iterations of Peter Parker since Sam Raimi’s trilogy, but Tobey Maguire remains my favorite to watch, as he perfectly captures the nerdy, outcast aspect of Peter Parker. And just like Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe shines (and according to 4-year-old me, legitimately terrifies) as the Green Goblin. Sure, his suit is corny and his dialogue can sometimes get a little cheesy, but the passion that Dafoe brings to the role is unlike any other and I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing him.
Spider-Man is honestly just a really fun movie to watch. It doesn’t take itself so seriously, and in a time where it feels like every superhero movie has to be dark and gritty, it’s a breath of fresh air. And it has some of the most iconic scenes in movie history. Who can forget that upside down kiss? Even with all of it’s cheesiness, Spider-Man still manages to hold up 15 years later and will have you longing for the days when a superhero movie was just a fun movie, and not set up for some huge cinematic universe to follow.
Man of Steel (2013)
Zack Snyder’s reimagining of the Big Blue Boy Scout is undeniably divisive, but it’s the rare superhero film that has gotten better with age. Christopher Nolan’s influences are apparent through the film’s darker tone, attempts at realism, and wrestling with deeper, more complex themes than your average superhero fare. What many miss when watching Man of Steel is that the film, at its core, is a hopeful film about the ability of mankind to survive first contact with a godlike alien who was born and raised in Kansas, USA. Henry Cavill turns in a serviceable performance as Clark Kent, but it’s the rest of the cast that shines: Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, and especially Michael Shannon’s unflinchingly intense performance as the villainous General Zod. The third-act destruction is excessive, and some of the dialogue is stilted to the point of distraction, but Snyder crafts some of the most exciting and visually stunning action sequences in any superhero film to date, and the movie’s thematic undertones are unrivaled. Hans Zimmer’s score is the cherry on top of this controversial, but epic depiction of the Man of Tomorrow.
The Dark Knight (2008)
No superhero movie has ever affected me the way Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight did back when I first saw it at the cinema in 2008. I was riveted to the core, utterly spellbound, and genuinely shocked watching the Caped Crusader battle it out with his ultimate archenemy, Ledger’s Joker, who is perhaps the greatest villain ever put on film. I was entertained from start to finish as I tried to unravel the layers of philosophical dilemmas and ethical questions the film posed. To call this movie a masterpiece would be an understatement, as the poetic richness of the script and the characters is ever-present scene after scene. With impeccable production values, virtuoso direction, and a cast at the top of their game—especially Heath Ledger’s towering performance as the morally ambiguous Joker—The Dark Knight transcends the superhero genre and becomes an entity in itself. No words can do justice to what you witness unfold in these 152 minutes of pure cinematic perfection. By the end, as Detective Gordon’s somber monologue drops the curtain, you will wish you were back at the beginning, both exhilarated and speechless by the film’s iconic initial sequence at the bank. Why so serious, indeed.
-Luis E. Borrero
In the current Age of the Superhero, I can think of two significant turning points: The Dark Knight and Logan. Both subvert the genre but, in the end, choose to reaffirm the myth of the superhero, not as something that’s real, but as something we need to believe. Whereas The Dark Knight revolutionized that by injecting realism into superhero fare, Logan beckons a more personal look at our heroes. Jackman relishes this evolving role of the Wolverine, which allows him to give his finest performance yet by letting him fully embrace this tragic character. Logan comes to terms with himself alongside us, reveling in a final film of violence that unleashes all our bloody fantasies while allowing his primal core to scream out; a final film of tragedy and hope that gives us a fitting ending while whispering to his soft nurturing protectivity.
Relentless in execution, Logan doesn’t hold back when embracing pain, both emotional and physical. The violence has consequences and death is felt. By earning an R-rating, Mangold and Jackman get to show a type of visceral brutality that complicates the heroics of Logan’s past, as well as those of all superheroes. By pulling back and applying tropes of the Western and noir genres, Logan attempts to interrogate the contours of the superhero myth. It’s a thematically adroit blockbuster, a showcase of masterful filmmaking, a tense examination of family and sacrifice, a powerful indictment of capitalism, a love letter to genre cinema, a testament to the things we leave behind, a poignant goodbye to the Wolverine, and, above all, the most emotionally shattering outing of the superhero genre.