Top 30 Superhero Films (1989-2018), Ranked by Big B

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“What is your favorite superhero film?”

Seemed like a simple question. Easy enough to answer.

Then I began to compile a list of all of the superhero movies I’ve seen. And when that list grew larger than 90 movies (watched over many, many years), I panicked. “Damn. What is my favorite superhero film? Could I even narrow it down to a top ten?”

But I am a problem solver, and I wanted to answer this question once and for all. I decided to quantify my complex appreciation of superhero movies. Ranking movies is easy to do when numbers are attached to each film. I came up with six categories, each worth ten points. Each superhero film would be given a score (1-10) for each of the six categories (60 total points possible). The categories:

  • The Aesthetics (the look and feel of the film): Does the look of the film reflect the spirit of the comic book story? Or does the film succeed in creatively deviating from the source material? Are costumes and settings used effectively? Each movie has its own philosophy of beauty and visual renderings of ideas. This category focuses on how well a movie’s visual approach matches the material.
  • The Protagonist (characterization of the hero): Is the protagonist believable? Is the protagonist complex? Is the protagonist nuanced? Is the characterization of the protagonist woven coherently into the plot?
  • The Antagonist (characterization of the villain): Is the antagonist believable? Is the antagonist complex? Is the antagonist nuanced? Is the characterization of the antagonist woven coherently into the plot?
  • The Action (the fight scenes): Are the fight scenes entertaining and exciting? Do they flow well?
  • The Climax (the film’s big moment): Does the climax of the film evoke a strong feeling? Does it enhance your understanding and/or appreciation of the characters?
  • The Plot (the overall story): Is the plot succinct and understandable? Is it compelling? Does the plot evoke a sense of relatability and/or urgency?

In general, this was how I assigned points in each category:

  • 9-10 = highly entertaining/engaging/believable
  • 7-8 = somewhat entertaining/engaging/believable
  • 5-6 = passably entertaining/engaging/believable
  • 3-4 = notable problems exist
  • 1-2 = significant problems exist

I made a chart on a large sheet of paper, and I was ready to judge some superhero stories. But first, I needed to limit my definition of “superhero film.” I needed a manageable mass of movies, not a sprawling, orderless hodgepodge of plots.

So I created several guidelines for contenders:

  1. Must have been released between the beginning of 1989 and the publication date of this article in 2018. The 1989 cutoff exists simply to make the exhaustive list of potential contenders more manageable. And two important things happened in 1989: Tim Burton’s Batman was released, and I was born.
  2. Must have had a theatrical release, meaning no direct-to-video films. This eliminates movies like The Crow: Wicked Prayer and Darkman III: Die Darkman Die.
  3. Must be a live-action film, meaning no animated films. This eliminates all anime (like Akira and Princess Mononoke), DC animated films (like Justice League Dark and The Lego Batman Movie), and Marvel animated films (like Planet Hulk and Ultimate Avengers). Many animated films are brilliant, but there are many animated films—and I have a job and loved ones that require my attention from time to time.
  4. The primary character(s) must have originated in a comic book. This eliminates films like RoboCop, Power Rangers, and M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable and Split. Pool of acceptable characters is not limited to characters from DC and Marvel comics.

With those requirements established, I formed a list of over 80 contenders for Top Superhero Movie.

Some disclaimers:

  1. I had not seen six of the eligible films: Jonah Hex, Mystery Men, Blade: Trinity, Punisher: War Zone, and both Ghost Rider films. I initially considered trying to rank them anyway, but I ended up removing them from the pool of contenders. I did not want my lack of knowledge to result in an improperly low ranking of any of those movies.
  2. My knowledge of the source materials of these films varies from story to story.
  3. Obviously, I tend to appreciate movies that feature my favorite superheroes, so there is more than one Batman movie on this list.
  4. Superhero movies are meant to be enjoyed. I focused on what films did well, not what bothered me.

That was my system. Now here are the top 30 superhero films ranked in reverse order.

THE TOP 30 SUPERHERO FILMS

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30. Dredd (2012)

Best Category: Aesthetics (9)

Screenshot 2018-08-09 at 4.37.03 PM

29. Batman (1989)

Best Category: Aesthetics (9)

Screenshot 2018-08-09 at 5.31.39 PM

28. Man of Steel (2013)

Best Category: Aesthetics (10)

Screenshot 2018-08-09 at 5.29.39 PM

27. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Best Categories: Aesthetics (9), Action (9)

Screenshot 2018-08-09 at 4.42.17 PM

26. The Avengers (2012)

Best Categories: Antagonist (9), Action (10)

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25. Blade (1998)

Best Categories: Aesthetics (9), Action (9)

Screenshot 2018-08-09 at 4.50.35 PM

24. Iron Man 3 (2013)

Best Categories: Protagonist (10)

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23. Hellboy (2004)

Best Categories: Protagonist (8), Action (8), Climax (8)

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22. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Best Category: Plot (9)

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21. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Best Category: Aesthetics (10)

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20. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

Best Category: Action (10)

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19. Wonder Woman (2017)

Best Category: Protagonist (10)

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18. V for Vendetta (2005)

Best Category: Aesthetics (10)

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17. Deadpool 2 (2018)

Best Category: Plot (10)

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16. Spider-Man (2002)

Best Categories: Protagonist (10), Antagonist (10)

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15. Watchmen (2009)

Best Categories: Aesthetics (10), Protagonist (10)

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14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Best Category: Aesthetics (10)

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13. X-Men 2 (2003)

Best Category: Action (10)

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12. Batman Begins (2005)

Best Categories: Aesthetics (10), Protagonist (10)

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 11. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Best Categories: Aesthetics (10), Climax (10)

TOP TEN

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10. Iron Man (2008)

Best Categories: Aesthetics (10), Protagonist (10)

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9. Batman Returns (1992)

Best Categories: Aesthetics (10), Antagonist (10)

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8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Best Categories: Antagonist (10), Action (10)

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7. The Crow (1994)

Best Categories: Aesthetics (10), Protagonist (10)

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6. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Best Categories: Aesthetics (10), Plot (10)

Screenshot 2018-08-09 at 6.35.56 PM

5. The Mask (1994)

Best Categories: Protagonist (10), Climax (10), Plot (10)
Side Note: Yes, The Mask is a superhero film. It has all the tropes, archetypes, and narrative structures of a typical superhero movie.

Screenshot 2018-08-09 at 6.39.43 PM

4. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Best Categories: Action (10), Climax (10), Plot (10)

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3. The Dark Knight (2008)

Best Categories: Antagonist (10), Action (10), Plot (10)

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2. Black Panther (2018)

Best Categories: Antagonist (10), Climax (10), Plot (10)

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1. Logan (2017)

Best Categories: Aesthetics (10), Protagonist (10), Climax (10)

Some takeaways:

  • Villains are important. The only antagonists to receive a 10/10: Killmonger, Winter Soldier, The Joker, Penguin/Catwoman, and Green Goblin. Batman has one of the best rogues’ galleries in comics and film.
  • The most compelling protagonists (10/10): Logan, the Guardians of the Galaxy (as a group from the first movie, which didn’t make the top 30), Iron Man (twice), Wonder Woman, the Watchmen (collectively, but mostly referring to Rorschach), Batman (from Batman Begins only), Spider-Man, The Crow, and The Mask.
  • I tend to prefer the high-contrast, vibrant visuals of DC films over the semi-muted, pastel colors of Marvel films. (Look back at the pictures, and you’ll see what I’m referring to.)
  • Tobey Maguire will always be my favorite Spider-Man.
  • The X-Men movies from the early 2000s are often ridiculed, and I don’t understand why. They are wonderfully intriguing movies.
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming is #31. It is, admittedly, an unintentional casualty in my war against loving movies simply because they’re “fun” and “colorful,” as Rotten Tomatoes says. It is okay for superhero movies to be dark and brooding. Not all of them need jokes. I enjoyed Homecoming a lot—just not enough to fudge the numbers.
  • You can read more of my thoughts on the following movies by clicking these links: Batman v Superman, Justice League, and Logan.

Ben Boruff is a co-founder of Big B and Mo’ Money, and he has reviewed comics for ComicBastards.com and ImpulseGamer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMagicAwesome. And read more at BenBoruff.com.

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