28. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
I remember that there were a lot of questions about Chris Evans as Captain America and how this movie would fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe that they had started with Iron Man and had started to build up to The Avengers. The smartest thing they did in making Cap’s origin story here was to set it during WWII and to hire Joe Johnston, who had made The Rocketeer in the early 90s, as the director. Resisting any impulse they may have mad to modernize his origin was a great move, as the WWII backdrop gives his characters patriotism a meaningful grounding that otherwise might have been difficult to sell to foreign audiences. It’s not perfect, but they also didn’t royally screw it up, and it helped build the momentum for The Avengers. It was a genuinely good, old-fashioned blockbuster.
27. Batman Returns (1992)
1989’s Batman was a huge success and demanded a sequel. The brought in Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer as Penguin and Catwoman, respectively. It doesn’t quite measure up to the original, and it helped create the classic superhero sequel problem of adding in too many villains (Christopher Walken was also a baddie here too). Only in Batman’s universe could someone like the Penguin run for mayor and somehow discredit Batman in the eye of the public. Still, Pfeiffer’s Catwoman was sexy and iconic.
26. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Avengers was a massive hit in 2012. Expectations were high for Age of Ultron. Joss Whedon was at the helm of the ship, everything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was humming along, and the character of Ultron represented the potential for a very good story to be told. Unfortunately, watching Age of Ultron, while entertaining, left me with the distinct impression that Whedon was more than a little burned out and that they tried to do too much MCU building in the movie. Still, the interaction between the characters was enjoyable and Ultron was a good baddie. Also, the Hulk vs. Iron Man fight was awesome to watch. But nothing here quite reached the consistent highs of the first movie.
25. X-Men (2000)
This was a slickly produced, well-told story, and it represented a bit of a page turn into a brave new world of superhero movies with bigger budgets and higher production values and better CGI. McKellen and Stewart being involved added legitimacy to it too. And Bryan Singer as director helped too. It made a star out of Hugh Jackman. There were only a few drawbacks; the action generally could have been better (which they showed in X2), and Sabertooth and Toad weren’t very convincing heavies for Magneto. But in a lot of ways this was the movie that set the stage for the modern superhero movie.
24. Hellboy (2004)
I think it could be said that Ron Pearlman as Hellboy is one of the most perfect pairings of an actor to a character in a superhero movie. He really does embody Hellboy, and clearly enjoys it. This first movie had Hellboy and his team deal with Rasputin, and I really enjoyed the mysticism aspect of it the story that a historical figure like Rasputin added to it.
23. Kick-Ass (2010)
This movie was like a precursor to the formula that Deadpool was perfect this year. Lovingly mock the genre and embrace the genre at the same time. It was funny and vulgar, and hyper violent. And it had some good characters at the center of it who had good intentions. Nic Cage is genuinely good as Big Daddy. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was the goofy teenager, almost in a Peter Parker mold. The real highlight, though, was Chloe Grace Moretz, who stole the show as Hit Girl. It put her on the map and made Hollywood take notice that she was an up and coming young talent.
22. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
As much as enjoyed Hellboy, I thought Hellboy II took everything that was good about the first movie and made it a little shinier and more refined. The cast works really well together, I thought the story was slightly better. I also think that as this was del Toro coming off of Pan’s Labyrinth that he was at his creative zenith. The movie looked exquisite and the creatures were awesome.
21. The Wolverine (2013)
This movie was a welcome return to form after the debacle that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It took one of the more popular stories from the Wolverine comics and did very good job in adapting it to the big screen. Setting Wolverine in the samurai culture of Japan and having Wolverine be really out of his depth gave the movie some good stakes. Good action scenes and some great visuals, like that snowy scene with all of the tied-off arrows stuck into his back to capture him. James Mangold was the right director for this project. I still would have loved to have seen Darren Aronofsky’s version of this movie, as he was someone who was long rumored to be linked to this project.