By Chelsea Post, Systems Librarian
The superhero-themed bracket contest currently going on at Warner Library is in full swing (Round 2 began yesterday!), and as such, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the hero genre and how quickly it has permeated Hollywood. Movies about heroes have been made since the 1940s, but only in the last 2-3 decades has it truly exploded, resulting in 3, sometimes 4, films about heroes a year. Perhaps that’s a tad excessive – but that’s for another blog entry.
Today, it’s all about those movies that, to me, are the best of the best, all but one of which we have in our library collection. Follow the links to find out where they are in the Media Room! Keep in mind, this is purely my own opinion; I in no way claim my answers to be the definitive choices, so feel free to disagree! In fact, should you have your own top 10 list, leave it in the comments below.
So, without further ado, here are my top 10 choices for Best Superhero Film:
#10. The Avengers (2012) – Directed by Joss Whedon
This film, perhaps, began it all. Not the Marvel Cinematic Universe, no, that film’s later in the list: I mean the trend of film companies producing sheer volumes of the hero genre flick every year. Rounding up all the stars from the previous Marvel films of “Arc 1” – and adding Mark Ruffalo as the new Hulk, a wise decision – The Avengers capitalizes on the teamwork aspect of fighting bad guys, shoving these characters who normally would have a hard time working together into a single movie and making it work. Plus, without this film, we would’ve never known what would happen if Hulk got a hold of Loki (spoiler alert, it involves a lot of screaming, slamming, and “puny god”-ing).
#9. Wonder Woman (2017) – Directed by Patty Jenkins
Marvel Studios had a monopoly in the superhero movie business for many years before DC Comics began their own attempt at a “cinematic universe.” Unfortunately for them, their first two attempts, Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v. Superman (2016) were not box office smashes – but Wonder Woman was their comeback kid. Gal Gadot stars as the Amazonian warrior princess, and a star she truly is, portraying a strong, smart, and dedicated heroine that is easily the best part of the DC Cinematic Universe to date. It doesn’t hurt that the movie was great to look at, with the scene where Diana crosses No Man’s Land to lead the charge across the battlefield and liberate a besieged town as particularly memorable.
#8. V for Vendetta (2006) – Directed by James McTeigue
Okay, hear me out on this one. Yes, it’s not an overtly superhero film like Avengers; heck, it’s categorized as a political thriller! But V for Vendetta the movie is based off of V for Vendetta the graphic novel, published by DC/Vertigo Comics. Hugo Weaving plays the titular anti-hero character V, a black-cloaked, Guy Fawkes mask-wearing vigilante who carves his way through a conspiracy that manages to weave together not one, not two, but three plot lines. As if that wasn’t enough, this darker version of Zorro manages to upstage his final knife-versus-gun fight by blowing up the Parliament building to “1812 Overture.” Not to mention, the story is deep, the twists are twisty, and the themes are poignant.
#7. X-Men: First Class (2011) – Directed by Matthew Vaughn
For awhile there, the X-Men films were… meh. After the Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), it didn’t seem like Fox was able to make a consistently good X-Men film – until First Class. With James McAvoy as a not-bald-yet Professor X and Michael Fassbender as a rage-filled Magneto, it became apparent that this was a movie with its own style from the rest of the X-Men sub-genre. Origin stories are always fun, especially ones directed with such an eye for historical detail, as First Class takes place during the 1960s, shag carpet and all. Not to mention that brilliant cameo from Wolverine, showing once again that he does not play well with others.
#6. Iron Man (2008) – Directed by Jon Favreau
Speaking of origin stories, this is the film that acts not only as Iron Man’s origin, but the MCU’s origin as well. Robert Downey Jr. essentially became Tony Stark for this film: full of biting sarcasm, self-deprecating humor, and egotistical genius. This was a movie that had great action sequences, snappy dialogue, and a main character who goes through a reasonable amount of growth in a single film while still leaving him room to improve. Marvel heroes have always been the more flawed hero archetypes, and this was the first film where we really saw an identifiable hero. And who can forget that after-credit scene, where Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) first mentions “the Avenger Project”?
#5. Deadpool (2016) – Directed by Tim Miller
This is the one film on this list that isn’t in our library catalog (though maybe that’s for logical reasons). The R-rating on this movie is no joke, as Deadpool slices his way through his various victims in the movie, and in actuality, Deadpool is not a hero but a mercenary, acting in the sole pursuit of money. However, Ryan Reynolds brings a charisma to the character that is truly masterful, making you root for the zany anti-hero, even as he makes holes in people big enough to drive a zamboni through, and even though he completes his quest for revenge, it is only due to the help of his friends and loved ones (but perhaps I’m reading into it, since it premiered close to Valentine’s Day).
#4. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – Directed by James Gunn
The other “Marvel team superhero” flick – and the better one, in my opinion, in terms of story and style. With Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper as the five members of the Guardians, these people are hardly what you would call compatible. They bicker, they yell, they even hit each other – but for all that, they work extremely well together, their individual powers balancing each other out. Also, this film managed to do something The Avengers didn’t have to do: make the audience care about a host of characters they knew very little about and convince you that they make a good team. Plus, this movie easily has the best soundtrack of any of the films on this list as well, along with its sequel.
#3. Logan (2017) – Directed by James Mangold
And now we approach the top 3, with Logan taking the bronze. This film was emotional for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it was Hugh Jackman’s last time putting on the iron claws. Where this film truly succeeds is in the narrative that it weaves, placing us in the future where all mutants except a handful are dead, and the ones that aren’t are either in hiding or being experimented on. Wolverine himself doesn’t go by that name anymore, now firmly roaming the earth as Logan, with an unpredictable Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and sun-deprived Caliban (Stephen Merchant) as his sole companions, and his final adventure takes him down a road he’s never had to face before: towards his permanent demise. The ending is a bittersweet punch gut that exemplifies the raw emotions that superhero films, as flashy as they can be, can strive to possess.
#2. Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Directed by Sam Raimi
In a rare instance of brilliance, a sequel became better than its original. Even though he’s hard to imagine as a college student, Tobey Maguire portrays Spidey at his best in this film, full of youthful turmoil over failing to stop a tragedy and concerns for his family and loved ones held in balance by his responsibility to protect his city. But the true star of Spider-Man 2 is Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus. Never really had we had a villain so real before, with depth and purpose and drive (not to mention strategic prowess and deviousness). Most importantly, his Doc Ock is redeemable, and a strong thread of hope that isn’t usually present in villain tales weaves through the story like one of his steely arms (but without the death grip).
And now… for the one you’ve been waiting for… the number one film!
#1. Hulk (2003) – Directed by Ang Lee
… Just kidding! A little pre-April Fool’s joke. No, the true number one film is:
#1. The Dark Knight (2008) – Directed by Christopher Nolan
Ten years after its premiere, The Dark Knight is still touted as one of the best superhero films of all time, and certainly the best Batman film. Christian Bale is moody, thoughtful, and perfectly serious as the Caped Crusader, and his city, while messy, has rules that it follows (i.e., he arrives on the scene, the goons flee). Enter Joker, played to manic perfection by the late Heath Ledger; he is chaos personified, killing and robbing just because he can, needing no reason other than, why not? Pitting these two against each other – a pillar of order and justice rooted in personal tragedy vs. a crooked column of mayhem and terror that likes to make pencils disappear – has been done before, but never to the level of psychological drama that is displayed in this film. And as lengthy a film as it is, you quickly forget about that in your absorption of what’s going on on the screen.
Be sure to check out these films at the Warner Library Media Room – and don’t forget to vote in the March Madness Bracket Contest, continuing all this month!