The word ‘superhero’ was coined sometime in the late 1910s. They were usually perceived as folkloric heroes like Robin Hood, saving the proverbial ‘little guy’ in such distinctive clothing. The superhero became popular in the early 1930s, especially with the release of Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman.
As the decades passed, superheroes became popular figures, especially in literature. Hollywood, however, was a little late to catch up on the superhero fad. Portrayals of superheros were mostly relegated to cartoons and TV shows up till the 1970s. Christopher Reeves’ Superman in 1978 changed the status quo, and superheroes slowly started to become a genre of its own.
In the year 2019, the superhero genre has taken Hollywood by storm, becoming an integral part of mainstream culture. We’ve come a long way from Superman back in 1978. Over the years, story lines have grown more mature and complex, especially in the 2010s.
To put all this into perspective, Avengers Endgame is on the verge of becoming the highest grossing film of all time, about to knock Avatar down to second place. To celebrate this monumental achievement, let’s take a look at the 10 best superhero movies of all time. This is a personal list, of course, but I will take into account the critical consensus and cultural significance of the movies.
10. Spider-Man 2
Director: Sam Raimi
At the time of release, the second installment of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was heralded as the best superhero movie ever made. We’ve come a long way since. Though it might sound a little cliched today, due to how much the genre has progressed, the movie still holds up its ranking and quality to this day. Spider-Man 2 sticks to the source material (mostly). I feel that it is one of the movies that epitomizes who Spider-Man is as a hero. Alfred Molina’s portrayal of Doctor Octopus is classic supervillain style, which he manages to pull off without looking stupid.
That whole train sequence with Spider-Man stopping a speeding train all by himself, as well as the passengers agreeing to keep his identity a secret is still one of my favourite sequences in any movie, ever. With this scene, Sam Raimi epitomizes the character of Spider-Man and his principles.
9. Batman (1989)
Director: Tim Burton
Can you believe it’s been 30 years since Tim Burton’s classic Batman? Prior to Michael Keaton’s entry as the Caped Crusader, the most notable Batman portrayal was the campy Batman TV series played by the late Adam West. Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Batman restored a great deal of respectability to the character at a time when comic books were also taking a dark turn with their narratives. Burton applied his very own house formula, turning Gotham into a dark-Great Depression style city, with Bruce Wayne the anonymous playboy billionaire. Keaton’s dark portrayal of Batman was one of the highlights of the movie.
The reason I say ‘one of the highlights’ is because there was a certain actor by the name of Jack Nicholson, who played Batman’s arch-nemesis, The Joker. Sure, the origin story got tweaked a little bit, but Nicholson went full-on psycho to channel The Joker, adding a sort of gangster touch to the character. Batman was pure Burton-style cinema, and the character of Batman was treated with a lot more sophistication after this movie.
8. Superman (1978)
Director: Richard Donner
Before Batman, before Spider-Man, before the Avengers, it all started with this guy. Superman is THE OG superhero. Even before this there were tons of portrayals of Supes stretching back to even the 1940s. The character of Superman has grown over the decades, adding in lots of political and social issues to his story, giving it a more mature twist. But the most iconic portrayal of the character, undoubtedly, goes to Christopher Reeves. Yes, today it all seems so campy, and too overly-optimistic, but you can’t help but succumb to those charms. Reeves’ dual portrayal of the Blue Boy Scout as well as clumsy photographer Clark Kent is brilliant to watch.
Margot Kidder plays feisty romantic interest Lois Lane, Gene Hackman plays the bald arch-nemesis Lex Luthor, and to cap it all off, you got the man, the myth, the legend, Marlon frickin’ Brando playing Superman’s father. And John Williams’ unforgettable score. Superman introduced the superhero genre to the world. Man of Steel was a brilliant take on the character, but Christopher Reeves will always be THE Superman.
7. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
The biggest-scale superhero movie made. Well, until Endgame released, that is. Infinity War brought together all the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time and made up for a rollercoaster ride that lasted for 2 hours and 29 minutes. Each moment, each interaction, be it Dr. Strange and Tony Stark, was a callback to everything that had transpired in the MCU since 2008. It still manages to bring in elements of humour, despite the plot being about a Titan wanting to exterminate half of life in the known Universe. To tell you the truth, it wasn’t more of Avengers: Infinity War than it was Thanos: Infinity War. The character of Thanos had so much depth that you couldn’t help but agree with the reasons why he did what he did. Josh Brolin did a fantastic job with the character.
Things don’t end well for our heroes in the end, as you all know. We know what happens by now, but the effect of that ending still remains everytime we watch it, as it was so rife with emotion. Marvel had to pull something BIG out of the bag to top this one.
6. Black Panther (2018)
Director: Ryan Coogler
The first superhero film to be nominated for the Best Film Academy Award. Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther could be perceived as a sort of art-superhero film, with its breathtaking visuals, cinematography and depth. The musical score won an Oscar too. Ryan Coogler turned this not-so-popular comic book character into a vision of cinematic excellence, as well as make the film in his own unique style. Taking a leaf out of Taika Waititi’s book, Coogler brings a sort of auteurist style to the MCU that since hasn’t been replicated with the character of Black Panther in any of the other movies he has featured in.
The film should also be praised for its diverse nature, as well as its boldness to tackle various social and political issues most films wouldn’t dare touch. Keep in mind, this is a superhero movie about a guy in a cat suit. There have been protests against Black Panther‘s nomination into the Best Film category, but that doesn’t bring down the quality of the movie in any way. If you ask me, it deserved the nomination for breaking down barriers in a truly unexpected manner.