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Top Ten Best Modern Superhero Films
Let’s face it: Superhero movies are here, and they’re not going away anytime soon.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, there are a few great films that tell the stories of superpowered beings saving humanity from great evil. For all the great films, however, there are always a few stinkers that serve as a perfect example of how not to adapt a superhero origin story for the big screen.
In order to celebrate the best offerings of the action subgenre, allow me to present to you what I consider to be the ten best superhero films of the last twenty years. Have any other suggestions? I’m all ears; just slip your recommendations in the comments below!
10) Spider Man (2002)
Sam Raimi’s original telling of the Spider Man origin story is one that, while a bit dorky at times, marks the webslinger’s best screen appearance to date. Starring Tobey McGuire as the ever-awkward Peter Parker, Spider-Man shows us how the hero came to be, allowing us to witness everything from the transformative radioactive spider bite to his epic end battle with the Green Goblin.
It’s unfettered super hero fun in all the right ways, and aside from the occasional hammy moment, it’s actually a pretty well-made film that gave rise to the iconic upside-down kiss scene with Kirsten Dunst. And yes, this is the version that isn’t afraid to tell us that with great power comes great responsibility. Thanks for that, Uncle Ben.
Yes. An animated movie.
A criminally underrated film, Megamind tells the story of super villain Megamind and his quest to conquer both Metrocity and his nemesis Metro Man. It’s once he actually defeats Metro Man, however, that we see the real peril arise. See, without a hero to square off with, Megamind all but loses his sense of identity and self. After all, what’s a hero to do if there are no fights to be had, no schemes to be made, and no plots to be foiled? In order to rectify this situation, Megamind sets out to create a hero out of an unsuspecting citizen, with surprising results.
Will Ferrell and David Cross are both brilliant as Megamind and Minion and are joined by an all-star cast made up of Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, and Brad Pitt. It’s funny, it’s creative, and it is deserving of a watch by any fans of comedy and superheroes.
8) Iron Man
The film that gave rise to Marvel’s most beloved (and profitable) hero, the original Iron Man established the quirky and charismatic antihero of Tony Stark that forever caused Robert Downey, Jr. to be synonymous with the billionaire genius.
A film that touches on real-life themes of militarism and weapon conflicts, Iron Man makes for an interesting experience while still maintaining its air of fantasy. It’s nothing but fun, with great action sequences and dialogue. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, the Avengers wouldn’t have been half as fun if Tony Stark hadn’t been along for the ride. This is the film that gave birth to the man, the myth, and the legend, and Iron Man’s popularity today rivals that of The Avengers in box office numbers thanks to how this film set him up.
One of the last great films M. Night Shyamalan made before slipping into a pool of mediocrity, Unbreakable bucks the tradition of bombastic superhero films and is instead a somewhat quiet meditation about super powers and their effect on the common man. Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson both star in the thriller, and the places it takes the plot and the themes it explores are fascinating ones to behold. No, it’s not a movie filled with pithy one-liners and explosions, but Unbreakable is no less an interesting experience the more cerebral moviegoer will appreciate.
It’s a somewhat unconventional superhero film, but Wanted has all the trappings necessary to allow it to qualify for this list. Starring James MacAvoy and some seriously neat special effects, Wanted tells the dark story of a frustrated everyman who discovers the superhuman killing abilities he and his assassin father share. It’s a complete adrenaline ride, and Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie do not disappoint. If you’re tired of conventional heroes that fight for truth, justice,and the American way, Wanted might be just the film for you.
5) The Incredibles
One of Pixar’s finest films to date, The Incredibles tells the story of a family of superheroes who struggle with keeping their identities secret, lest they disturb the peace or cause an uproar in society. This leads to their father going through something of an identity crisis, which eventually results in the entire family donning the masks and tights and taking the fight to their dad’s arch-nemesis Syndrome.
A film equal parts touching and exciting, The Incredibles merges classic Pixar storytelling rife with twists and important themes with great animations, clever dialogue, and a well-paced plot that keeps you engaged right up to the very end. Along with Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and Toy Story, The Incredibles is a film that offers something for everyone of any age.
Whereas all the other films on this list include characters that have, in some way or another, been physically modified to house superpowers, Kick-Ass tells the story of completely ordinary people who have taken it upon themselves to become superheroes for the less fortunate in the city. It’s dark and violent fun, with great action and some interesting themes of struggling to fit in, what makes a true hero, and our fantasies about superheroes as a whole. If you’re looking for something that goes a bit deeper than the nobility of a Marvel hero film, Kick-Ass is a great deviant from the norm.
Aside from the mediocre likes of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and even X3: The Last Stand, the X-Men franchise is actually a pretty solid one whose entries continue to be great in their own different ways. And while I wanted to put First Class and X2 on here, I simply couldn’t overlook the greatness of the original X-Men.
Bryan Singer’s 2002 original sets up the universe in creative ways, all while connecting us to the characters and actually taking the time to comment on the delicate political structure that exists when Mutants start to pop up all over the country. It’s a fun film, sure, but it does touch on some darker ideas that lend an air of believability to the film’s overall themes. It’s smart, it’s fun, and it holds up surprisingly well today.
2) The Avengers
Arguably the biggest superhero film to date, Marvel’s The Avengers is the culmination of the Phase One series of films inclding Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. Yes, it has some problems, including gaping plot holes and a lame MacGuffin that is never entirely explained or understood. But with the creative genius of Joss Whedon, a great ensemble cast that brought all of the wildly different personalities of each hero together for our entertainment, and impressive set pieces that never keep the wows in short supply, it’s a must-watch for fans of superheros and action films alike.
1) The Dark Knight
Christoper Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy single-handedly gave Batman the best cinematic portrayal he’s ever had, approaching him not only as a superhero, but as a human character with flaws and shortcomings.
The Dark Knight was the aboslute pinnacle of the trilogy, and is arguably the best superhero film ever made. Not only does it include amazing performances and portrayals of iconic Batman villains such as the Joker and Two-Face, it also touches on many of the sensitive subjects that persist in our world today. Ideas of villainy, chaos, order, class, and the social structure of our society are explored to great effect throughout the film, making it a prime example that superheros are a subject for not only making great comic book adaptation films, but great films period.