If there was any shred of doubt left as to the enduring popularity of superhero movies, Avengers: Endgame has incontrovertibly eradicated it. After just over 10 years of cinematic output, the 22nd entry to the Marvel universe has already pummeled box office records. In under a month, Endgame has already outgrossed the entire domestic run of Titanic, and is on pace to be the highest grossing film of all time. This unprecedented success has led the Motion Source team to contemplate their favorite superhero films over the years. Below you will be treated to an intriguing assemblage of superhero films: some you’ve undoubtedly seen, some you may have forgotten about, and one or two you may have never heard of.
Picking a personal favorite superhero movie today, when we are flush with so many excellent choices, is no easy task. I find it particularly difficult as a life-long comic book fan. I grew up with multiple Batman and Superman movies, but my favorite characters, The Avengers, never seemed to get the silver screen treatment. They had a few cameos in some of the cartoons in the 1990's, briefly getting their own (terrible) cartoon and a smattering of direct to dvd animated movies, but I really wanted to see them on the big screen next to all the other great superhero movies I enjoyed.
Then, in 2008 something incredible happened: Iron Man was made into a movie. I remember hesitantly allowing myself to become excited when I heard they were making it. Iron Man had a not-so-great cartoon in the 1990's that I watched out of desperation. Could they get the movie right? The last 11 years of MCU movies speak for themselves. They nailed it. And while I never could have imagined the sensational, sense-shattering, epic conclusion that Avengers: Endgame would deliver 11 years later; for me, I'll never forget, and no other movie experience may hit me, the way the first Avengers movie did.
It had everything that I love about comic books laid out with all the bells and whistles Hollywood could muster. Part of the appeal of comic books for me is the scale and action of the artwork. The comic book creators aren't constrained by a budget. Their only limit is the creators’ imaginations and the stories have delivered mind blowing action sequences. Hollywood had a lot of catching up to do. There have always been threats the heroes have had to overcome in the movies, but the "Battle of New York" sequence in the Avengers is the first time I had seen a superhero movie compare to the comic books.
In the climax of the movie, Captain America says to Bruce Banner, "Dr. Banner, now might be a really good time for you to get angry." The next 48 seconds is the greatest thing I had ever scene unfold on a movie screen.
Seeing the Avengers, assembled for the first time on the screen, facing down an army of alien invaders, in the heart of New York City, combined with an epic score, the cries of alien invaders, and the roar of a truly awesome Hulk, was almost more then I could bear. The rest of the movie was pure wish fulfillment.
Deviating here slightly, as Tim Burton's dark vision of the caped crusader isn't necessarily my favorite superhero film, but it does hold a special place in my heart. While the evolution of superhero films has ultimately lead us to one of the biggest event films of all time in the brilliant 21-film build-up to the truly awesome Avengers: Endgame, it has also allowed us the opportunity to experience the visceral heartache of a hero, and the haunting toll of selflessly stepping into harm's way in James Mangold's brilliant Logan. Batman helped make those superhero films—and others—possible, by planting the seeds of comic realism. Batman, as a character, was taken seriously, and lifted almost directly from the page, and inserted into a gothic Gotham City that was equal parts fantasy and reality, a cohesiveness that changed everything and stunned me at seven years old when I first watched it, effectively cracking my imagination wide open. If Robert Downey Jr is the Father of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Michael Keaton is the Godfather of the modern day superhero film. If you need a reminder, of just how powerful Batman was, rewatch it's 2m30s opening, brought to life by Danny Elfman's legendary score and try to place yourself in a dark theater, far back in 1989.
I am bending the rules a bit here, but so did David, leaving me in good company. Rather than select a favorite superhero film, I am choosing a television series (which has a movie attached to it, to be fair). By far, my favorite superhero viewing experience has been the Japanese animated series My Hero Academia. MHA is a bit like fusing X-Men with Harry Potter, through the lens of anime. Without wasting too much space on a synopsis of the show, MHA takes place on an Earth where 80 percent of the human population is born with a "quirk": an ability beyond the bounds of normalcy. These quirks range from the immensely powerful (the ability to conjure and control fire and ice), to the just plain weird (the ability to fire a laser out of one's navel). In a world where almost everyone has superhuman abilities enforcing justice becomes quite complicated. Enter heroes, state sanctioned protectors of the greater good. However, becoming a hero requires a lot more than a catchy nickname and a cool costume: anyone interested in taking up this mantle must be accepted into, and graduate from, an accredited hero university. While this series is an ensemble piece featuring a wide range of diverse characters, its main focus is on a young man named Midoriya. Midoriya wants to become a hero more than anything else in life--the problem is, he wasn't born with a quirk.
What makes My Hero Academia so special in my opinion? The characters. I love the cast of MHA for the same reason that I believe Peter Parker and Miles Morales--both iterations of Spiderman--to be the most effective characters within the Marvel universe: relatability. With the aforementioned Midoriya, it's his drive to achieve his dream, regardless of insurmountable obstacles, that inspires identification. Who hasn't faced a similar dilemma in their own life? And, the authors of the series do an incredible job of spurring our empathy in the face of Midoriya's plight. There have been multiple times throughout the show that I was nearly brought to tears identifying with Midoriya's visceral struggle for what he wants out of life. But, it doesn't end there.
Have you ever felt like you were living in the shadow of a close relative's accomplishments? This is the fate of Todoroki, an exemplary student who labors under the expectations leveled upon him by the success of his father, one of society's top heroes. And then there is Tokoyami, whose quirk is a literal manifestation of his shadow-side, over which he has negligible control. Who amongst us hasn't struggled with taming our own personal darkness? And, apart from all of this, MHA does a laudable job representing the everyday personal and interpersonal struggles that all of us face at one time or another: self-doubt, competing priorities, romantic complexities--the list goes on. It is this consummate relatability that has made My Hero Academia one of the most popular anime airing today, and that causes it to appeal to audiences of all ages (my 11 year old niece and I watch new episodes together religiously).
I love Superhero films. It's really hard to pick a favorite one with all that we've been blessed with over these past couple decades. If I had to choose one, I'd have to pick Superman (1978) - the one with the absolute perfect human embodiment of Clark Kent and Superman: Mr. Christopher Reeve.
This film came out 2 years before I was born, its sequel was released the year I was born, and the next 2 sequels are ones we'll pretend didn't happen. I must have seen Superman after the fourth installment was already released and was probably around 9 years old.
I was immediately hooked. It was unlike anything I had seen before. The flying scenes (which are now painfully cheesy) blew my little 9 year old mind; the Fortress of Solitude, with crystals used like memory sticks with holograms, was absolutely enchanting. I got lost in that world, seeing this baby lose his family and then come to Earth and discover who he was on his own, all while keeping me hopeful that he'll beat Lex at his games. I would watch it whenever I could catch it on tv, and since then, Superman has always had a special place in my heart.
Of course, there was George Reeves who played this character on television in the 1950s, and we've had a few different iterations of Clark/Superman over the years: Dean Cain (Lois & Clark), Tom Welling (Smallville), Brandon Routh (Superman Returns), and now Henry Cavill (Man of Steel). While I did enjoy each of those fellas in their respective projects, Christopher Reeve and his portrayal of Clark and Superman will always be the standard by which they get measured to in my book.
Outside of the nostalgic crowd favorites of Batman and Batman Returns—which are both excellent—my childhood dose of superhero movies always lands on The Shadow. While I haven’t seen it in years and it may not necessarily hold up to today’s superhero movie standards, I still love it. It has everything: Alec Baldwin, gun fights, illusions, Alec Baldwin, set in the 20s, Alec Baldwin. 11/10 would recommend. A close runner up: The Phantom starring Billy Zane.
The original two X-Men films stand as some of my favorite to this day. I remember seeing both for the first time, but it was X-2 that stayed with me well into adulthood. It’s rare that the follow-up to a blockbuster hit is as good, or better than, the first; but X-2 is just that. Sticking with the theme of Wolverine’s personal story from X-1, X-2 does not veer off course as many follow-ups do. It’s a contained story that many can relate to: it’s real, gritty and at times, fun. X-2 walks the thin line between good, bad and downright evil. From the comics, animated show and movies; X-Men borrows it’s themes from real-life and when done right, can make for a great cinematic experience.