In 2016, we’re getting six big studio superhero movies. Through the first two decades of the century, the comic book genre has dominated screens worldwide. So, here’s my ranking of the 21 best superhero movies of the 21st Century.
21. Big Hero 6 (2014)
You may not know it, but Disney’s adorable superhero animation Big Hero 6 is actually based on an old Marvel property.
It’s by no means the most exciting or interesting superhero film of the century, but it deserves its place on this list for being able to bring the genre to absolutely everyone. The big-budget blockbusters will never have a huge appeal amongst under 6 year olds, but Big Hero 6, with the loveable main character, Baymax, allows young kids to love a superhero story.
20. Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
Kick-Ass 2 is definitely inferior to its predecessor, but it’s still a fun parody on the superhero genre, and features another heap of hilarious performances.
Increasing its scope to include a wider range of makeshift superheroes, the satire is all still there, and although it often reduces to a level of simple toilet humour and vomit jokes, Kick-Ass 2 still has a lot of fun moments, including the return of Chloe Grace Moretz as the foul-mouthed superhero Hit-Girl, now with better acting and even more swearing.
19. Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015)
The much-anticipated sequel to the legendary Avengers, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, was, it’s hard to deny, a disappointment.
However, it is still fine. It’s not the most amazing superhero movie you’ve ever seen, and when you’ve got the world’s greatest heroes all fighting together, it should be, but it’s still a well-directed action movie that shows you more of the comic book characters of the MCU that we all love (and Hawkeye).
Age Of Ultron expands significantly on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, bringing new characters such as Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, The Falcon and Vision onto the team, and even if they didn’t really add anything to the dynamic of the superhero squad, it was still a lot of fun to see them all turn up and get stuck into the fight.
18. Ant-Man (2015)
Ant-Man was a breath of fresh air to the superhero genre. It’s hard to deny that the huge amount of superhero movies at the moment has left many feeling exhausted, but that’s where Ant-Man comes in.
Whilst staying part of the MCU, the film takes one of the most obscure Marvel characters, and keeps his film just as weird. Ant-Man is almost more of a heist film than a superhero movie, as well as a quirky comedy, that keeps things much smaller. Rather than centring around a world-threatening supervillain, Ant-Man is about a man trying to save a much smaller part of the world from a much smaller threat.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s without excitement, and the finale to Ant-Man is just as fun and exciting as most Marvel movies. The reason that this still isn’t the greatest superhero movie is because the comedy, which is such a central part of the movie, isn’t that hilarious. It’s silly and fun, and Paul Rudd and Michael Peña do a great job, but you never find yourself really laughing at the comedy.
17. Kick-Ass (2010)
When it hit screens in 2010, Kick-Ass was a shot in the arm for both superhero and comedy movies. From director Matthew Vaughn, the superhero parody provided both thrilling action and hilarious laughs from start to finish.
Its relentlessly foul-mouthed screenplay, combined with the excessive bloody violence, made Kick-Ass a refreshingly risky action movie, the likes of which you don’t see at all often, and with such shocking and hilarious tropes as an 8 year-old girl swearing her head off, a villain named ”The Mother*****r”, laughs were absolutely inevitable and unstoppable in this brilliant comedy.
16. X-Men (2000)
The first X-Men movie is generally considered the renaissance as the superhero genre as a titanic box office force. Dispelling the campy stereotypes of the 20th Century, X-Men kicked off this century with a more serious, but still entertaining adaptation of the Marvel comics.
Centring around a team of mutants who train at a special academy, X-Men was notable for bringing something new to the superhero table, in the form of a whole host of Hollywood A-listers playing a collection of beloved Marvel characters, and reinforcing that with a great story and thrilling action. And since then, it’s spawned 5 sequels and 2 spin-offs, so its success is clear as day.
15. X-Men 2 (2003)
And just when you thought that X-Men had got off to a strong start, along came its brilliant sequel: X-Men 2, taking the franchise to even greater heights, and posing yet another benchmark for modern superhero movies.
With the return of the biggest characters from the first film, and the addition of even more mutants played by Hollywood A-listers, X-Men 2 proved hugely impressive in being able to not only match its predecessor, but go beyond what it achieved, and improve significantly, with an even better screenplay, more impressive acting, and of course, even more exciting action.
14. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The original Spider-Man trilogy is another big player in the early days of 21st Century superhero movies, and the second instalment, Spider-Man 2, managed to continue the series’ impressive beginning.
With two great performances from Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst once again, this sequel sees Spidey face off against an evil scientist named Dr. Otto Octavius, and whilst it manages to deliver once again on the action and entertainment front, Spider-Man 2 manages to bring something else to the table.
And that’s the emotional depth of the relationship between the lead characters. Arguably the first superhero movie of the century to do so with such success, the way that Spider-Man 2 deals with Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson’s relationship is both emotionally effective and still interesting, something that really needs to be commended amongst the hoard of more action-oriented summer blockbusters.
13. X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014)
The fifth instalment of the X-Men franchise was the most critically acclaimed, and most praised by fans of the series.
Following the rebooting of the series with the prequel X-Men: First Class, Days Of Future Past brought the timelines of the original trilogy and the new series crashing together in an action-packed, albeit confusing, time travel mash-up.
Days Of Future Past saw the return of everyone’s favourite, Wolverine, who is sent back to the 1970s to change history and save the world, but one thing that it did that was so loved by fans was that it removed the events of X-Men: The Last Stand (the least enjoyable of the series) from the timeline, and kickstarted another timeline where characters and actors from both trilogies come together to make the ultimate X-Men team.
12. Spider-Man (2002)
Much like 2000’s X-Men, the first Spider-Man movie was a key player in the revival of the superhero genre at the turn of the century.
Proving a little more light-hearted and fun than X-Men, Spider-Man impressed with its combination of excellent action sequences, great directing, strong performances, and genuinely heartfelt story, as we see the shy, nerdy Peter Parker transform into a kick-ass superhero, but still focus on the genuinely interesting events of his personal and family life.
Before the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the Dark Knight trilogy, Spider-Man was the leader in the thrilling rebirth of superhero movies, dominating the summer box office and thrilling fans everywhere.
11. X-Men: First Class (2011)
Following the disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand, the main X-Men series took a five-year break as it sought to reboot the franchise in order to undo what had been done in 2006.
And then came along X-Men: First Class, a brilliant breath of fresh air into the longest-running 21st Century franchise, reintroducing the hit characters of the original trilogy, but with younger, fresher faces playing the lead roles, with the likes of then under-appreciated actors such as James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence.
What’s more, with the addition of director Matthew Vaughn, First Class had a more dynamic and energetic feel to it than the previous films, with better action, better comedy and a generally more light-hearted atmosphere that makes this both the most exciting and enjoyable watch of the whole series.
10. Batman Begins (2005)
In 2005, from legendary director Christopher Nolan, came the birth of what it considered by many to be one of the greatest film trilogies of all time, Batman Begins.
Taking a completely different direction to the major studio superhero productions, and introducing Batman not as the Caped Crusader, but a deeply layered character who was more human than any other superhero we’ve ever seen on the big screen.
Helped by a near-perfect performance from Christian Bale, Batman Begins was proof that the superhero genre could be a formidable force in film, proving both incredibly intelligent, tense, emotionally effective, and absolutely fascinating, as we see Batman portrayed in what is more like a dark crime thriller than a simple superhero movie.
9. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
And Christopher Nolan’s trilogy didn’t tire after the brilliant beginning, managing to develop into a darker, but even more thrilling series, concluding with the epic The Dark Knight Rises.
Featuring the return of Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, as well as the introduction of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an early version of Robin, and Tom Hardy as the incomprehensible but fiercely evil Bane, The Dark Knight Rises expanded the series to even greater widths and depths than anything you would have thought.
Christopher Nolan’s directing is once again perfect, and although it has been criticised for some glaring plot holes, there’s no denying that it retains the intelligence and incredible intensity that makes The Dark Knight trilogy stand out so much from all of the superhero movies of the modern era.
8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, whilst being the ultimate box office force at the moment, has never been the most highly acclaimed as anything more than fun superhero movies, at least until 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Following eight previous films that were beginning to seem repetitive, The Winter Soldier changed the wind of the series, and introduced a darker and much more serious tone that was embraced wholeheartedly by fans of the series. Much like The Dark Knight trilogy, The Winter Solider can be seen more as a crime/spy thriller than a simple superhero movie, and that’s a testament to both its brilliant action and surprising emotional depth that just hadn’t been seen before in the MCU.
Featuring brilliant directing from Anthony and Joe Russo, and stunning performances from Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Redford, The Winter Soldier proved that modern superhero movies can be so much more than a simple action extravaganza.
7. Iron Man (2008)
If you’re looking for a superhero film that’s important, look no further than 2008’s Iron Man, the starting point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (now the highest-grossing film series of all time).
It’s not just a significant starting block, however, because Iron Man is a genuinely brilliant film. Thanks to a hugely entertaining screenplay, thrilling action, and a pretty much perfect performance by Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man succeeds in making exactly what superhero movies should be: fun.
When it came out in 2008, before all the films that you know today, it was a real breath of fresh air, by not taking on the popularised dark tones of X-Men or The Dark Knight trilogy, but instead going for an entertainment-oriented movie, full of hilarious comedy and brilliant action, and its success catapulted Marvel to the forefront of the modern cinematic world.
6. Deadpool (2016)
It may have only been released a couple of weeks ago as I write, but Deadpool has proved a huge influence in the direction of future superhero movies already.
Adapted from the comic book about a foul-mouthed superhero with a dark sense of humour, Deadpool is by far the most raucous and violent superhero film made this century, and the best part of it all is that it works brilliantly.
The unique comedy and character in the world of superheroes makes Deadpool a relentlessly entertaining film, and one that will probably never be lived up to over the next decade. Its use of an R rating to make for such an excessively violent and foul-mouthed extravaganza has already been so influential that the next Wolverine movie is set to be rated R, as is a special home video release of DC’s Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice.
5. Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)
Rather than the normal superhero formula, Guardians Of The Galaxy plays out almost identically to the original Star Wars, and feels very similar, but it really deserves its place high on this list simply because it’s so much fun.
From beginning to end, Guardians Of The Galaxy is full of laughs, thanks to a brilliantly light-hearted and playful tone, great comedy throughout, hilarious performances from the likes of Chris Pratt and Bradley Cooper (who plays Rocket, a wise-cracking raccoon thing), brilliant action, and one of the best film soundtracks ever made.
It may be a little short on brains or emotional depth, but as a purely entertaining summer blockbuster, Guardians Of The Galaxy does the job exceptionally well, and is impossible to dislike if you’re a fan of either the sci-fi or superhero genre, or even if you’re not.
4. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
It may be titled a Captain America movie, but Civil War is one of the best ever Avengers stories put to the big screen. Halfway through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: Civil War takes on the arduous task of bringing together everything Marvel has been working on since 2008, and setting up everything that’s coming over the next few years.
The best thing about it, though, is that it pulls it off amazingly. Civil War not only brings a fascinating and hugely entertaining new edition to the MCU, but also manages to introduce new elements that we’ve never seen before, including a more serious and emotional superhero story, as well as some of the most amazing action sequences ever seen in cinematic history. It’s a brilliant watch, and undoubtedly one of the best superhero movies ever made.
3. The Avengers (2012)
The Avengers remains the ultimate cinematic event of the superhero genre. Following four years of set-up, the Marvel Cinematic Universe exploded into life with the assembling of Earth’s greatest heroes in one of the best action movies of the century.
Retaining the fun-loving tone that made the Iron Man movies such a hit, The Avengers succeeds on the highest level by bringing together a collection of beloved heroes, and making it work pretty much perfectly. With great comedy, thrilling action and dazzling visuals, The Avengers is the ultimate superhero movie, pitting the greatest heroes of the genre against a worthy opponent; need I say more?
2. The Incredibles (2004)
In reality, it’s the outsider amongst all the movies on this list, but there’s no denying that Pixar’s The Incredibles is a masterpiece.
In what is my pick for the greatest animated film of all time, we see a family of superheroes living in a world where hero work is outlawed, until Mr. Incredible is sent on a mission to the isolated Nomanisan Island to fight a threat that poses a real danger to the safety of the entire world.
The Incredibles is notable not just for its amazing action and animation, but for its pitch-perfect screenplay, which plays to an audience of absolutely any age. Mixing tropes of the superhero genre hilariously with a story about family and getting old, The Incredibles is a work of pure genius, full of laughs, thrills and heart that will exhilarate you at every moment.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
You knew it was coming. There have been so many superhero movies this century, but none comes close to the greatest of all: Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
A genuine contender for the greatest film of all time, The Dark Knight is a masterpiece of thrilling action, rapid-fire storytelling, stunning cinematography and exceptional acting. A chaotic portrayal of the insane Joker’s ambitions to wreak havoc on Gotham City, this film is unrelentingly exciting, both dark and hugely exhilarating at every second, with an incredibly intelligent plot that keeps you guessing time and time again, all leading up to an astonishing finale.
Just when you thought Christian Bale’s portrayal of Batman couldn’t be beaten, along comes Heath Ledger in the performance of a lifetime as the Joker, blowing Bale completely out of the water with a legendary performance. Capturing the dark insanity of the villain perfectly, Ledger even won an Oscar for a role that is almost universally acclaimed.
If there is one film on this list that you decide to watch, it has to be The Dark Knight. Accessible for viewers of any taste, it’s a near-perfect movie full of thrills from start to finish that just has to be seen. Full stop.