One of the joys in life has been turning my kid onto superhero and adventure flicks. But it’s not like we agree on everything. And that’s the point.
My son, Sam, is 15. We’ve been watching movies together since he was a wee lad and over time we’ve chewed over and debated and agreed and changed our minds as the Golden Age of Superhero Movies has unfolded before us.
So what with Guardians of the Galaxy simultaneously killing it at the box office and ushering out this year’s crop of mainstream superhero movies, we decided to get our lists on and each pick our 13 Greatest Superhero Movies Ever to Hit Theaters.
Why? For the hell of it. But also to give a glimpse at how a teenager sees things and how a middle-aged teenager sees things.
I’ll let Sam go first:
1. The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is by far the best superhero film in existence. It has action, it has drama, and it has Heath Ledger redefining the Clown Prince of Crime. How can it not be Number 1?
2. Superman: The Movie. Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie is definite Number 2. Like “The Dark Knight,” it has action, drama, and an amazing villain. It is also the first modern superhero film.
3. The Avengers. Like Superman, this movie is the first of its kind. It features superheroes from different franchises and made them even more popular. Something that DC seems to have trouble doing right now.
4. Batman Begins. Because of this movie, I can’t see anyone else doing Batman’s origin story. Batman Begins is the defining Batman origin story. Plus, it made me an even bigger Bat-fan.
5. Superman II. OK, we can all agree that there are parts of this movie that are very questionable. However, this movie is still a classic and the epic fight scene at the end makes up for all its wrongs.
6. Guardians of The Galaxy. I had to change the list after I saw the movie this weekend and it exceeded my expectations. The movie had a great plot, a funny set of characters, and the first real glimpse at one of Marvel’s most powerful villains.
7. The Amazing Spider-Man. Some might disagree with me when I say that The Amazing Spider-Man is far and away the best Spider-Man film. For me, this movie is the ultimate Spider-Man origin story.
8. Watchmen. You can knock Zack Snyder for “Man of Steel,” but his retelling of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ legendary tale is excellent.
9. The Dark Knight Rises. This is a highly entertaining film. But, there is still one thing that boggles my mind: Why does Bane sound like Sean Connery?
10. X-Men: First Class. Easily the best X-Men film. It has a great cast and the X-suits are outstanding. And all the ’60s references are cool, too.
11. Iron Man 3. This is the best Iron Man film in my mind. I know people get annoyed at the movie’s approach at the Mandarin, but I think that Ben Kingsley delivers great comedic timing.
12. Batman ’89. This was Batman’s first cinematic appearance since 1966 and in my opinion it remains an awesome movie with a great villain vs. hero storyline.
13. Thor. This movie just may be my favorite fantasy film. What I like about this movie is that it’s not dark and serious. It’s actually very light-hearted.
Sam and I share a lot of the same opinions near the top of the list … then things diverge dramatically. Here’s my list:
1. Superman: The Movie. The first modern superhero movie remains the gold standard with its combination of epic scope and humanist sense of wonder. To this day, this movie distills the best parts of Superman better than any other medium.
2. The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger’s Joker is the most terrifying popcorn villain since we first saw Darth Vader in 1977 (before we found out he’d been this whiny monotonal teenager). This movie encapsulates so much of what makes Batman a great dramatic character.
3. The Avengers. I walked out of the theater intoxicated the first time I saw it and it stands up to repeated viewings. The dialogue it a bit too cutesy at times, but the characters’ interplay is so winning and it’s great to see everyone get their big moment. I still get chills when the camera pans around the six of them standing at the ready, the soundtrack soaring, during the climactic Midtown Manhattan battle.
4. Batman Begins. The start is stronger than the ending — I still can’t figure out how Batman was able to swing on that elevated train without his Batline getting sliced or blocked by all that trackwork. This should be the last time any movie devotes any significant time to Batman’s origin. It’s all said here.
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. A 1970s political conspiracy thriller complete with modern superheroics and Robert Redford, who would have played Captain America if these movies were being made 40-45 years ago. This installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe proves there are still plenty of surprises to spring. Side note: Chris Evans is an underrated actor.
6. X-Men: First Class. An excellent mix of wonder and drama, even if it does feel off at moments. It certainly doesn’t feel like 1962. But the leads are charismatic and Michael Fassbender makes a great, sexy, conflicted anti-hero. That scene in the Argentinean bar is one of the best badass moments of any superhero movie.
7. Superman II. You can see the cracks in this one and there are some plot holes that become more glaring with time. But Terence Stamp is one of the all-time great supervillains as Zod, owning the character to such a degree that no other version — comics, TV or reboots — has been able to emerge from his shadow. Margot Kidder’s snappy sex appeal from the first movie sadly gets sapped in the Richard Lester reshoots.
8. Batman ’66. I’d actually like to put this a lot higher because of my personal predilections, but even I can’t argue that it belongs at the top. The tone and satirical approach are so different from what we perceive to be superhero movies now that it almost doesn’t belong on a list like this at all. But it is so wildly funny and entertaining and is such a part of my DNA that I can’t leave it off. So I’m hedging my Batbets and sticking it in the middle.
9. Captain America: The First Avenger. Half a very good movie. The irony here is that the movie actually tails off once Steve Rogers goes into that forest to rescue all those soldiers. Everything up to that point is right on.
10. Batman ’89. As a narrative, this movie falls apart pretty quickly. And Jack Nicholson’s performance gets more grating with age. But there are a lot of terrific set pieces, such as the initial rooftop sequence and the battle right after Batman drops through the museum skylight. The soundtrack remains one of the all-time greatest. Yet the movie’s biggest contribution is that for the first time, the general public was able to see Batman as dark and serious — and superheroes as reflective and flawed, for good or bad.
11. Thor. I have never been a fan of the Asgardian Avenger. I just always found him to be kind of silly, with the florid language and his hard-to-relateness. But Chris Hemsworth is so good and Tom Hiddleston is such a classically scheming movie villain that their performances really won me over. The movie also reaches new realms when Thor hits earth with his charming, fish-out-of-water antics. Still don’t like Natalie Portman.
12. The Amazing Spider-Man. There is a lot wrong with this movie. The Lizard isn’t compelling (though I’ve always dug the character) and an origin story is so unnecessary at this point. I so would have rather the filmmakers picked up Spidey mid-career and made it clear through a prologue or credit sequence that this is different canon. So the movie really suffers from repeating what we saw with Tobey Maguire. What saves it is the cast. Andrew Garfield is so much more compelling as Peter and his chemistry with the adorable Emma Stone is palpable. Plus Martin Sheen’s a terrific Uncle Ben and Sally Field’s Aunt May is actually cool.
13. Hero at Large. Man, I loved this movie as a kid. If you’ve not seen it or even heard of it, I don’t blame you. It was a late ’70s trifle filmed in the wake of the smash success of Superman and stars John Ritter as a down-on-his-luck New York City actor who takes a gig posing as a movie superhero — Captain Avenger! — for theater appearances. But wouldn’t you know it, he ends up breaking up a night-time convenience-store robbery while in costume and things just spiral from there. A really sweet funhouse-mirror version of movie superherodom.
Agree? Disagree? Leave your comments in the section below or in the Facebook thread.