Top Ten List
I’ve seen some of the lists offered on this site and I wanted to set the record straight. I’m a huge fan of superhero movies and I wanted to put together a list that would serve as a guide going forward into the 21st century. I specifically looked at style, substance, and how much the film makes you suspend your disbelief. For the sake of brevity, I categorized some of the films by franchise. With that being said, here is my list:
10. Ghost Rider (2007)
The Good: Nicholas Cage comes across as the free-wheeling stunt man, Johnny Blaze. Cage communicates the idea of being resolved to ones fate as he carries on with the knowledge that he has made a pact with the devil. One night, his skull catches fire and he transforms into the justice seeking wraith, Ghost Rider. This is an interesting play on the “cursed soul” trying to do good and Eva Mendez makes any movie better. He rides a motorcycle with flaming wheels, wields a chain, and can use his gaze to place evil-doers into a coma. The Bad: The villain Blackheart is played by Wes Bentley. He is joined by a group of elemental henchmen. Blackheart is the son of Satan (Peter Fonda) and becomes Legion once he obtains a contract of souls. His power is he can suck the life out of people. The Ugly: There’s not really a climactic battle at the end of the film. Instead, there is a realization by Blaze that he can control his power and does not have to do Satan’s bidding.
9. The Incredibles (2004)
The Good: This film is a parody on the idea of a superhero by showing what happens when these heroes grow old and have families. There is a play regarding how they must maintain their secret identities living among everyone else. The family is comprised of five members that capture the essence of superhero archetypes: Mr. Incredible, the strong man; Elastigirl, name self explanatory; Dash, the speedster; Violet, the invisible girl; and Jak Jak, a shape-shifting teleporter who can float through the air. The Bad: The villain in this film is Syndrome. He is a former fan of Mr. Incredible whom has become spurned after Mr. Incredible refuses to take him on as a ward. The Ugly: No sequel.
8. Blade (1998), Blade II (2002), Blade:Trinity (2004)
The Good: This franchise provided Wesley Snipes with a character he was born to play. Blade is a half human, half vampire who hunts vampires with an array of garlic-tipped silver weapons. His partner in the venture is Abraham Whistler played by Kris Kristofferson. In the sequel, Blade is joined by a new weapon smith and joins up with a pack of vampires that were trained to kill him. They join together to hunt a new species of zombie vampire. In the third installment, Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds head up a group of vampire hunters charged with the task of hunting the original vampire, Dracula. The Bad: In the first film, Stephen Dorff plays La Magra, the vampire god. In the second, Luke Goss carries the Reaper strain, an infection that turns vampires into voracious, mindless predators. Dominic Purcell arrives in the third film of the trilogy to portray, Drake, the father of all vampires giving the trilogy nice symmetry. The Ugly: The series has a good knowledge of its own history and it does a good job of introducing new characters. The villains, however, are all inevitably defeated by Blade’s impeccable martial arts skill. This becomes repetitive at the end of the second film.
7. Hulk (2008)
The Good: Marvel Comics made penance for the disastrous first attempt into the 21st Century version of the Hulk. This version captures the desperation experienced by Dr. Banner on the 70s TV show. Edward Norton plays the feeble Bruce Banner well. The scale of the green behemoth known as the Hulk is remarkable along with his expressions and sound. The Bad: William Hurt plays the driven General “Thunderbolt” Ross relentlessly pursuing Banner across the globe. Tim Roth is brought on as Emil Blonsky, who volunteers to become the Abomination. The two clash in downtown New York City with the Hulk ultimately prevailing. The Ugly: This film highlights the prevalent need for CGI generated characters to exist within the context of the Marvel Universe.
6. Iron Man (2008)
The Good: Robert Downey Jr. is every bit the brash, brilliant superstar/inventor Tony Stark. The performance is effortless for Downey as he cracks jokes while easily remaining the smartest person in the room. In this film, the use of CGI is easier to digest as it is utilized to create the armored exo-suit known as Iron Man. The Bad: Obadiah Stane is portrayed by Jeff Bridges. Stane gains Stark’s power source to fashion an exo-suit of his own. Stane’s suit is six times bigger than Starks and that many times more deadly. The Ugly: There’s not a lot wrong with this film and if I had to choose something, I would say the fact that Stark reveals his identity at the end.
5. X-Men (2000), X-Men 2 (2003), X-Men : The Last Stand (2006), X-Men Origins:Wolverine (2009)
The Good: The X-Men franchise flaunts a never-ending supply of characters highlighted by Hugh Jackman’s performance as Wolverine. Patrick Stewart portrays Professor X and the films have some extra star power with Halle Berry playing Storm. All four films introduce new heroes and further the collective story of the X-Men. The endless supply of mutants and their powers captures the imagination and makes all of the films in the franchise a pleasure to watch. The Bad: Ian McKellen provides an equally impactful performance as Magneto. He is joined by shape-shifting Mystique, brought to life by Rebecca Romijn. In X2, Brian Cox portrays Colonel William Stryker, someone intent on wiping out all of the mutants. In the Last Stand, the X-Men have to contend with Jean Grey, who has become the Phoenix. In the Wolverine film, the role of Stryker is reprised by Danny Huston who is joined by the animalistic Sabretooth played by Liev Schreiber. The Ugly: The Last Stand killed any other sequels by offing three of the main characters leaving Marvel to have to rely on prequels. As long as Jackman is signed on, it shouldn’t be too problematic.
4. Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995), Batman and Robin (1997)
The Good: Michael Keaton show tremendous range playing Gotham’s dark knight. He doesn’t translate Adam West’s suaveness as Bruce Wayne, but he gets the job done. This version departs from the Saturday morning cartoon Batman and displays one more in touch with DC Comics’ original. The Bad: Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Need I say more? Nicholson provides a performance that is equally wacky and dangerous capturing the essence of the caped crusader’s nemesis. The Ugly: Batman Returns brings Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer into the franchise for interesting performances. The last two films, however, careen blindly off the tracks. Joel Schumacher’s versions of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin are neon-induced acid trips with the final film showcasing all of the one-liners Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t allowed to use in any of his other films.
3. Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008)
The Good: Batman Begins gives a fleshed out chronology about the origin of Batman. Christian Bale plays the Dark Knight as we follow him from his initial martial arts training, to him finding the bat cave, and then getting the first Batmobile. In the second installment, his gadgets become more sophisticated. The Bad: Liam Neeson portrays Ra’s al Ghul, a villain bent on getting Gotham to destroy himself. In the sequel, Heath Ledger leaves a hauntingly brilliant depiction of the Joker, improving on Nicholson’s portrayal. The Ugly: No Batwing….yet.
2. Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Spider-Man 3 (2007)
The Good: Tobey Maguire slaps on the tights as Peter Parker and his web-slinging alter-ego, Spider-Man. The character is a blend of CGI and acrobat, but the shots that show Spidey swinging through the buildings in New York are breath taking. The first film starts out with a genesis explaining how Parker’s uncle is killed and the guilt he is ridden with causes him to become a crime fighter. Spider-Man’s trademark wit is on full display as Maguire delivers the lines with perfect pitch and timing. The Bad: In the first film, Willem Dafoe plays Norman Osborn/Green Goblin. In the second installment, Dr. Octopus is brought to life by Alfred Molina. The third film features long-time Spidey nemesis Sandman portrayed by Thomas Haden Church. Sandman is joined by Venom who is played by Topher Grace. The Ugly: Kirsten Dunst gives an uninspiring performance as Mary Jane Watson in all three films. Tobey Maguire will not be reprising his role in the upcoming fourth installment.
1.Superman (1978), Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983), Superman IV (1987)
The Good: Christopher Reeves plays the role he was born to play as Superman and his mild-mannered ego, Clark Kent. Reeves is brilliant capturing the gross ineptitude of Kent as well as the unshakeable confidence of Superman. Christopher Reeves wore the tights for all four films and managed to never make it look foolish. The way he moved his hands when he flew or how he puffed his cheeks when he blew his super cold breath captured the essence of Superman on the live screen. The Bad: Gene Hackman was cast as the plotting, Lex Luthor. In the second film, three Kyptonians escape the phantom zone to come to Earth and face off against the Son of Jor-El. They are led by General Zod, played by Terence Stamp. The Ugly: The last two films in the series are two failed attempts at trying to wring every dollar of the movie viewing public. In the third film, Richard Pryor is a funny addition, but even he can’t save the film. The fourth film flaunts a cooked up villain named Nuclear Man who is only powerful in the sunlight. Though the last two films are terrible in their own right, they do little to diminish the power and impact of the first two.