It’s hard to believe, but, the ‘Superhero film’ is a relatively new phenomenon. As a kid growing up in the 70’s and 80’s all I had in terms of Superhero films was the occasional Saturday afternoon TV showing of an Adam West Batman movie from the 60’s and, most importantly, Superman.
Superman, is arguably the first big action superhero blockbuster. Released in 1978 it was greeted with critical acclaim, and spawned two* sequels, the imaginatively titled Superman 2 in 1980 and Superman 3 in 1983. That was basically it, if you didn’t like Superman you had no movie to watch. Until 1989 when Tim Burton brought us Batman and showed us that movies based in comics didn’t have to be shot using primary colours.
It wasn’t until the dawn of the new century that the Superhero genre really took off, and these days a summer isn’t complete without at least 2 Superhero movies vying for you ticket money. This year** alone there are no less than four superhero movies.
So, without further ado, here is my*** list of top ten superhero movies, these are the ones you should go and see immediately if you haven’t already or if you’ve seen them before you need to see them again… stat!
A surprise entry as this probably wasn’t the first, second or… 20th superhero movie you thought of. However in Unbreakable, the once great, M. Night Shymalan gives us a seemingly ‘low-key’ hero movie full of great character moments, intrigue and surprises. You don’t even realise this is a Superhero story until the last third of the movie. It proves that a Superhero movie doesn’t need flashy SFX to tell a story and keep you on the edge of your seat. Thankfully the once mooted
sequel trilogy looks like it’ll never get off the ground. (it was only ever going to turn into Heroes… or worse Hancock)
The Best bit: When David (Bruce Willis) goes to ‘where people are’ …the train station, and it all becomes clear
By the time Batman Begins arrived on the scene there hadn’t been a Batman movie since 1997’s crapfest(and that’s putting it lightly) Batman & Robin. That movie was so bad it virtually destroyed the character and the franchise, but Christopher Nolan arrived on the scene with a new take and a completely re-imagined way of telling the Batman story. Christian Bale is inspired (still not sure about his ‘Batman voice’ though), as is Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. No more over the top villans or gadgets, by grounding everything in a pseudo reality it adds a real weight to the proceedings and by going for some of the comic books less know villains it keeps the focus on Batman.
The Best bit: The slow brooding start which shows Bruce’s build up to becoming the caped crusader, his parents death and the training by the league of shadows – helping us all to identify with poor old Bruce.
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
Bryan Singer’s X-Men was a popular franchise (featured a bit further down this countdown, so this re-boot was always going to attract a lot of attention, but by going back in time it avoided any direct comparisons. Featuring the ‘first class’ of Charles Xavier’s school for the ‘gifted’ it’s a masterclass in how to pull off an ‘ensemble’ film with compromising story or action . Great performances all round and some great set pieces.
The Best bit: The surprise cameo.
Tim Burton brought Batman to cinema going audiences in 1989 and in doing so reinvented the whole genre before it had even begun. Forget Adam West as a camp brightly coloured ‘hero’, his ‘bam’, ‘pow’ fighting style and the lovely tilted camera angles this was a serious, dark, slick no nonsense Batman. Jack Nicholson as the Joker would begin a trend of casting big name actors to overshadow the titular star, a trend that eventually imploded with the truly awful Batman & Robin in 1997. This is a seriously stylish film, from the sets to the music, sure it looks a bit run-of-the-mill’ now, but back in ’89 this literally blew audiences away.
The Best bit: “Where did he get those wonderful toys”
As ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is to ‘Star Wars’, so ‘X2’ is to ‘X-Men’. The is a darker, deeper story driven masterpiece continuing the threads laid down in the first X-Men, if there can be criticism of the first film is that it’s really just a vehicle to introduce the characters and the story suffers as a result. X2 gives us a story full of twists, turns, jeopardy and consequence. By splitting our characters up for a large part of the film, Bryan Singer generates some great character moments and creates a tension and narrative never seen before in a Superhero movie. It’s just a shame X3 did the exact opposite.
The Best bits: Magneto’s prison breakout – “Too much Iron in your blood”.
..and the ending.
The release of Ironman in 2008 marked a shift in the way Superhero movies are made and perceived. This is the first time Marvel made their own movie… and they have a plan. Eventually to lead up to an Avengers movie, Ironman is part of a larger, much larger, story, but to it’s credit it still feels a very personal movie. Ironman has never had the following of say Batman or Superman but Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of him is amazing and just makes you love him. Great effects and a great story, this is the origin tale of Ironman and it’s pitch perfect.
The Best bit: Ironman saves the Afghan villagers then takes on two F22 fighter jets.
I can already feel you disagreeing with me… I know there are people that really don’t dig this film, but I think it’s all to do with expectations. Let me be clear… I LOVE this film. I think it’s a really brave and watchable film. Ang Lee went against the grain with expectations and rather than bring us two hours of ‘Hulk Smash’ gave us a cerebral journey into the mind of a man living two lives. It’s clever, deep, the actors are great and, despite what people say, the effects are top notch (I’ll admit the green is a little off). This isn’t wall to wall action but when the action appears it’s great. As a whole, it’s not perfect, the last ten minutes are a complete fustercluck and end the movie on a bum note, but the rest of the movie makes up for it. Far superior to the vacuous ‘Incredible Hulk’ released in 2008 as a semi re-boot.
The Best bits: Hulks escape from the military facility in the desert… tanks are not a safe place to hide.
Hulk taking a trip into space.
SUPERMAN THE MOVIE
The film that started it all. Superman the movie is a masterpiece, from the amazing score by John Williams, the cast (Christopher Reeve was born to play Superman/Clark Kent), and the effects… everything here is a wonder and fits together perfectly. In 1978 people believed a man could fly, almost 35 years later and audiences have seen it all, but this movie still has an almost timeless charm. Superman 2 is also worth catching, and just missed out on making this list.
The Best bit: Superman rescues Lois Lane and the helicopter from the top of the skyscraper. “You’ve got me! Who’s got you?” Pure movie magic.
As an introduction to a new franchise, the first Spiderman movie was a great film, only really let down by a poor realisation of a iconic villain. Willem DaFoe is great as the Green Goblin but his outfit and motivation just felt off, as critics have said he looked like a “power ranger”. Spiderman 2 gets straight into the story without haste, the effects are great and all the characters from the first movie are back. Doctor Octopus is fantastically realised villain with some really dark scenes (the hospital) and some great action set pieces. The story is well layered but not confusing, and teh Harry vs Spiderman thread builds momentum with an awesome last scene. Shame they ruined it all come the third movie!
The Best bit: Spiderman vs Doc. Oct. on the clock tower and then the train – one of the best action sequences ever, and then it gets all emotional when Spiderman’s identity is revealed. AWESOME!
After about four years of subtle and not-so subtle build up …starting with Ironman in 2008 The Avengers finally arrives.. and how! I was highly doubtful they could ever pull a movie like this off with out it being cheesy or just plain bad. They pulled it off almost perfectly, amazing effects, acting, SFX and some great comedy. This film is a must-see, it’s not deep or meaningful but as a superhero blockbuster it can’t be faulted. This is what a ‘blockbuster’ should be – pure unadulterated spectacle.
The Best bits: Anytime Tony Stark is on-screen. Hulk’s sucker-punch and his altercation with Loki.
I’m sure you all have your own opinions and with ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and ‘Superman: Man of Steel’ due out soon – I may have to update this list, but in the meantime please let me know any movies you would have included in the Top Ten and which ones you wouldn’t.
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* OK, OK there was a Superman 4 in 1987, but no one likes to talk about that. Certainly not the 50% of people who walked out from the showing I attended!
** Space year 2012
***Other lists are available