20. Iron Man 3 (2013)
My biggest quibble with this movie is that Tony Stark spends too much time outside of the suit, but there is no denying that the action here is pretty great, the story is more personal, and it’s miles better than Iron Man 2. There are movies I’ve ranked lower that I liked more, for sure, but I think Shane Black is a good director and RDJ is right in his element. Plus, they finally involved Paltrow in a meaningful way. I’m sure you could also really ding this movie for misusing the character of The Mandarin how they did, but I was never invested in the Iron Man comics in a meaningful way, so I appreciated the misdirection they pulled there.
19. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
It was almost impossible for Nolan & Co. to match the expectations for this movie coming of the roaring success of The Dark Knight. I can’t shake the feeling that the untimely death of Heath Ledger altered some of their story plans for this movie. Is the movie too long? Yes. Is it a problem that the storyline they went with sidelined Batman for so much of the movie? Yes. But there’s something really exciting about the return of Batman at the beginning of the movie and then the climax of the movie works really well too, I thought. Tom Hardy’s Bane was appropriately physical and not as hard to understand with that mask on as some would have you believe. And Anne Hathaway, while she wasn’t Michelle Pfeiffer, was perfectly fine as Catwoman, making her an actual jewel thief.
18. X-Men: First Class (2011)
X-Men: First Class was the first step in the process of righting the ship after X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Matthew Vaughn, after his success with Kick-Ass showed that he could not just do a comedic superhero film that thumbed its nose at the superhero genre, but could make a straightforward superhero action movie. McAvoy and Fassbender were great casting choices, and they caught Jennifer Lawrence at just the right time in her career to catch the wave of her popularity. This movie was so effective as a prequel where so many prequels can fail, because McAvoy and Fassbender nailed the complicated bromance between Xavier and Magneto that Stewart and McKellen had cultivated in previous movies. It also had good, young talent through the rest of the cast.
17. Thor (2011)
The surprise hit that nobody saw coming. Thor was the first real chance that Marvel took, with nobody being quite sure how the mystical, Norse mythology would play to audiences. A certain amount of its success is due to casting someone like Chris Hemsworth and finding out he could be a bona fide movie star, able to ham it up in one scene and be convincing as an action hero in the next. But I think a considerable amount of credit is due to Kenneth Branagh as the director. He gave it the feel of a Shakespearean tragedy centered on the fractured relationship of two princes, Thor and Loki, and the throne of their father, Odin.
16. Ant-Man (2015)
Speaking of thieves, I love the direction that Marvel has gone in with some of their more recent movies and effectively made them into genre features. Ant-Man is a full on heist movie in the guise of a superhero movie. And it is very well-executed. It’s humorous without being a all-out comedy. Paul Rudd is legit in the lead, something that was a bit of a question mark when he was announced. And the rest of the cast is really good too. I’d love to see the Edgar Wright version of this movie, but considering what we got, I was very pleased with the results here.
15. Deadpool (2016)
Long did the internet fanboys clamor for this movie. Usually when fans have been hoping with anticipation for a movie for that long it ends up being a huge letdown. Not Deadpool. Deadpool checked off pretty much every box that fans of the character wanted: ultra-violent, ultra-vulgar, wisecracking, and entertaining. And it was the perfect pairing of actor and character, the role Ryan Reynolds was born to play. A perfect use of his talents.
14. Superman (1978)
The original sacred text, really. It’s impressive to look back on this and see that they were laying the seeds for a franchise from the very beginning, and how well they managed to do it, otherwise they wouldn’t have cast Terrance Stamp as Zod and put that in the storyline. That’s something that most movies would make as the prologue to the sequel, so to put it in the beginning of the this is a bold, assured move. The acting heavyweights associated with this movie are substantial. I don’t know what the equivalent to getting Marlon Brando to be Jor-El would be today, but I know it’s not Russell Crowe. And Gene Hackman is such a great actor. And Christopher Reeve is iconic as Superman. Surprisingly, it could be argued that this movie is more of a drama than an action film.
13. The Crow (1994)
I’ll admit two thing. This may be playing a little fast and loose with the definition of “superhero” and it has been years since I have seen The Crow, but that does not mean that its impression on me has faded in any way. In fact, if I re-watched it, I might like it even more today. This movie was the dark, bleak, and grim superhero movie before that style was popular. It has a very definite neo-noir aesthetic, the bad guys are unremorsefully bad, and there is a great tragedy at the center of it all. Director Alex Proyas, who would later make Dark City which shared this films visual style, crafted this movie very well, and did an impressive job considering that the lead actor, Brandon Lee, died during the filming. That air of tragedy surrounding the film haunts the screen and gives it a unique quality.
12. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Bryan Singer stepped away from the franchise after X2: X-Men United to direct Superman Returns in 2006. The franchise lost its way after that, and started to right the ship with X-Men: First Class by Matthew Vaughn. Vaughn was supposed to direct this movie as well, but stayed on as an executive producer, and Singer stepped back into driver’s seat and brought the franchise back in full force with this time-bending film that blended the older franchise elements with the younger elements of the First Class prequel. It was a great summer blockbuster ride with a loaded cast and effectively did what I had hoped it would do, which was to wipe the slate so that X-Men: The Last Stand essentially didn’t matter or count in the grand scheme of things.
11. Batman Begins (2005)
What a palette-cleanser. After the travesty of the Joel Schumacher movies, Warner Bros. ended up taking some time off from the Batman brand as several projects were tossed around but ultimately scrapped. Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer were hired and they returned Batman to his source material, and instead of the outlandish, outsized caricature he had become under Schumacher, they went for a darker and more realistic tone. It ended up being a formula that was a game changer. Christian Bale was great as Bruce Wayne and Batman (despite the naysayers when it came to his gravelly voice when he was under the cowl). The story was maybe not perfect, the hand-to-hand combat suffers a bit from Bourne-itis, but the origin story is pretty strong and the cast is stellar, with only Katie Holmes being a weak point.