My Favorite Super Hero Films

With one of the biggest comic book movies of the summer, "Green Lantern" opening this weekend I thought it a good time to take a look back and compile a list of some of my favorite super hero films. I admit my knowledge of the comic books most of these super heroes spawned from aren't my speciality and I realized there are a few films in this genre others consider to be great that I haven't had the privilege to see yet. Still, I think this list at least covers the movies in my life that have stood as milestones for where the genre of superhero films has been and where it is going. I hope you enjoy and find some treasure you may not have seen and I hope to get some feedback as to the ones you think I'm missing out on. I'm always eager to expand my superhero universe!  

10. Watchmen

I have never read the graphic novel. I would like to, but having skipped before viewing this film I was unsure what to expect from this film as a whole. The previews looked great, the story sounded interesting, but would it all combine for an entertaining 2 hour and 40 minute movie? For the most part, yes. It just didn't have the excitement or greatness that seemed to surround its hype. It also was not as gritty or as violent as I expected. I loved each characters story, their history and how all of this came to be, but the present story involving the comedians death and trying to stop nuclear war seemed a bit lost on me, I was more interested in the history of these superheroes. It is no doubt interesting and very unique in its approach to the genre. In fact, I'm really only sure you can call this a superhero movie because they wear masks. Visually, Snyder delivers again, it is amazing to look at and the special effects are flawless but this doesn't cover up the fact that Snyder lets the massive story get away from him and thus the movie has no real focus point. For its aspirations though, "Watchmen" deserves a spot on this list.

9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Debuting in 1990 I was only three years-old when this first live-action adaptation of my favorite cartoon hit the big screen. This is no doubt more out of nostalgia than anything, but I own this first film and both of its sequels on DVD to this day and will pop them in occasionally and they never fail to take me right back to my childhood. This first movie, a close tie for my favorite with its sequel "The Secret of the Ooze", follows April O'Neil (Judith Hoag) as she covers the reports and rumors of the "Foot Clan." April stumbles upon Raphael's sigh and then upon the turtles themselves. It doesn't take itself too seriously and it was able to find a balance between a really cheesy kids movie as well as appeal to the kiddies parents with its tongue-in-cheek humor. Watching it as a child they were the coolest super heroes ever and even watching them now it is a great adventure film. And though the credit to this film is no doubt mostly due to the nostalgia, but hey this is the freshest we ever saw the turtles and Elias Koteas makes a nice appearance as the hock-mask wearing Casey Jones. Getting to the bottom of it though, is there any better a way they could have gone about making a movie about crime-fighting teenage turtles? probably not.

8. Superman/Superman Returns

As with my number nine pick, I mainly remember the 1978 "Superman" as a movie I would catch on TNT or something like that. Nothing I ever went out to buy or sought to see again with a more mature perspective on, but when Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men, X2) signed on to direct the re-boot of what is without a doubt the most historic of all super heroes, I was excited. Though I never delved too deep into the mythos of Superman, I knew the story of his origin, that his weakness was kryptonite, and that Lex Luthor was his most famous of enemies. I knew enough and I trusted that Singer would fill the rest of the gaps with his fantastic storytelling while bringing the man of steel into a new era that would recieve him just as well as Christopher Reeves "Superman" was thirty years earlier. Though "Superman Returns" was ultimately a failure at the box office people forget that the quality of the movie was actually pretty great. Brandon Routh was an inspiring choice, garnering the ability to walk that line between Clark Kent and his alter ego. Though many complain about Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, I found her rather assuring as well as her love triangle with Clark and James Marsden's Richard White is more real than anything you will find in any of these young adult vampire films today. The onlty complaint for "Superman Returns" that I found valid was the bloated running time. It was a little too much movie, but I'm glad Singer got it in while he could because sadly he was given no second chance.

7. Kick Ass

The question is posed, "How come nobody's ever tried to be a superhero?" and that in turn spawns our main character to try it out. What this leads to is the "making fun" of how ridiculous it would be if someone tried to act like the superheroes they read about in the comics. Even the good ones like Big Daddy and Hit Girl are laughable in the way they have chosen to live their lives. It is also fair to question how an 11 year-old can show no remorse after stone cold killing 12 men, but it is established from the beginning that this character has not been raised to show remorse or affection or anything. She has been trained her entire life to kill, why would one expect her to act any differently than the way she did? There is no argument this is not the best way to raise a child, but for the purposes of being shocking and quite original (which I'm positive is what the comic book creators were going for) it works here. This is not for the young crowd, this is for the 17 to 30 audience (mostly males) that enjoy comic book movies and comedies. This is for the college age-kids who's narcissistic tendencies will be satisfied with this piece of satire.

6. Batman Begins

It is sometimes hard to take a look back now at the humble beginnings of director Christopher Nolans Batman saga. With everything that has come after it and the current non-stop hype and mystery surrounding the third (and supposedly final) installment now, it feels as if "Batman Begins" happened eons ago. Looking back at Nolan's first glimpse of the dark atmosphere and most gritty of all the origin stories we have seen for the caped crusader we realize how without this installment, "The Dark Knight" would not have been as epic and grand as it came off without this base for which it grew from. "Begins" just got it right for me. After suffering through a diluted view that I never understood in Tim Burtons productions and even worse in the Schumacher debacles it was the most refreshing thing in the world to have a Batman film that seemed to actually understand its own story and base it in a real world that made all this seem logical and possible. It is a smart, entertaining comic book film and probably the one we owe the desires of other filmmakers to make these gritty and reality-based comic book movies. Nolan set a standard here and in a way refreshed the idea that comic book films can be intelligent, quality films, not just genre pictures or quick cash cows.

5. The Incredibles

The only movie on the list not directly adapted from a comic book, Disney and Pixar's "The Incredibles" is what I consider to be one of their best releases to date. Just behind the classic "Toy Story" films, this beautifully animated tale about a super hero who is reduced to an office job and forced to live a quiet suburban life after his glory days of being a "super" have passed. Living with his family Bob aka Mr. Incredible sneaks out at night and along with one of his old crime fighting buddies attempts to re-live those days when being a supernatural being was praised instead of being looked down upon. But further than just paying homage to the super hero shows and ideals of the 50's, "The Incredibles" is a full story about family dynamics and is almost a dissection of marital drama. These heavy themes combined with the family-friendly comedy and fun action sequences make this more than just a children's film. This would no doubt appeal to parents and their children from beginning to end, something not many animated films can claim to have accomplished.

4. Iron Man

When Robert Downey Jr. showed up as Iron Man to kick off the summer movie season in 2008, no one ever expected it to be the massive box office hit as well as critical success it turned out to be. This film had plenty of cool while feeling gritty yet fun at moments. It had a plain baddie, but Jeff Bridges knew how to personify a mad man, and the action and effects were awesome; just the right amount of explosions and justification for the actions to make this more than just your average good vs. evil. What essentially made the film rise above that of any one's expectation though was Downey's performance. His sarcastic, narcissistic performance mixed with Favreau's guiding hand to create the most energized of super hero films to ever appear on screen. It is a pure dose of summer sugary fun. Though the second installment had its moments and provided more of a bridge to the universe Marvel studios plans on unleashing, it is this first installment that really stands on its own and deserves recognition as a separation from most super hero movies.

3. Spider-Man 2

It was with great awe that i approached the Spider-Man franchise. I had loved the cartoon series as a child and even into my early teens when the first live action movie showed up in theaters. Spider-Man was one of the few super heroes I enjoyed enough to actually go out and get a comic book of them and read into their history and learn about different story lines. I loved the first movie, I thought it captured the tone and goofiness that Stan Lee had created in his comics while staying contemporary and cool enough for a modern audience. With the sequel i hoped for bigger and better things, but as always was prepared to be let down. Spider-Man 2 though, is clearly a movie that rises above its genre confines. It is funny, action-packed, much darker than its predecessor and not to mention the last time a quality Spider-Man movie graced the big screen. Raimi upped the ante while hiring Alfred Molina as the evil and heartbroken Doc Ock while maintaining an already great cast with Tobey Maguire as the perfect balance of nerd and hero to become the web-slinger and Kirsten Dunst as his one and only Mary Jane. James Franco in his breakout role as Harry Osborn and the unforgettable JK Simmons as Jameson. This is in the purest form a straight adaptation of its source material and it is a spectacular movie. One that challenged other comic book films to step up and be more than just hopeful franchise launch.  

2. X2: X-Men United

It is a hard choice between the second installments of the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises as they are both far above average in terms super hero films much less the fact they are sequels. It might just be the fact I am in the throws of being rekindled with my love for the X-men franchise after seeing "First Class" a few weeks ago, but in any case both are worthy of being near the top of any super hero film list. With "X2: X-Men United" Director Bryan Singer was constantly saying how he used "The Empire Strikes Back" as a template for his follow-up to the movie that began this whole comic book craze. Singer not only accomplished what he seemed to be going for but he created a much bigger, more ambitious and an even darker film than its predecessor. While many of the films on this list have a few components that make them a great super hero movie, X2 seems to have everything one could want out of a comic book film.

1. The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight is a film that is like nothing many of us have seen before-and that is not said in the sense of the visuals or the performances (although both are great) it is more an acknowledgement of how it penetrates the genres of films, it is much more than a comic book adaptation or a superhero movie-it is a cinematic masterpiece-a crime drama, a mystery, a story of love of loss and of chaos. It is about the way the world and people turn. It may sound like I am making too big a deal out of a movie, but the fact is a billionaire who dresses up as a bat has captured, in Christopher Nolan's vision, what is usually lost in these superhero movies and that is a sense of reality. The city scape shots are gorgeous and the chase scenes are intense. The story becomes more clear with each viewing, the little things you missed the first time because you were so enthralled with the hugeness of it all make themselves more relevant and add another layer to the great editing that causes so many of the scenes to be so tense and only makes you appreciate and see clearly why Batman does what he does at the conclusion of the film. Speaking of tense, it is how you feel every time the Joker is on screen. Heath Ledger not only created a raging psychopath or agent of chaos, but a terrifying human that has no limits-a lunatic who scares you and makes you laugh-although that laugh is a very unsure one. Gary Oldman really inhabits his Com. Gordon and almost disappears into the role-it feels with this second film, he was born to play this role. The rest of the cast is great, Eckhart delivered in what could have been a laughable downfall-but he was able to make you feel his pain. Bale, who essentially plays the straight man in this whole thing is still the best Batman to grace the big screen-he fully embodies his true caped crusader and the front that is Bruce Wayne. The Dark Knight is complex in story and visually stunning. It is on a grand scale-it is a big movie-and it delivers on every expectation that was set for it.

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