Marvel is the undisputed king of the superhero genre. Although the comic book giant has only recently started adapting their own characters for the big screen with its own independent production company, other studios have been licensing their characters for years. Marvel movies have been in production since the 1980s, but these 10 movies are by far the best the superhero genre has to offer.
10. Iron Man (2008)
It’s strange to think how much the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe rested on the shoulders of Iron Man. Iron Man was almost completely unheard of amongst those who weren’t fans of comic books, and the millionaire, brash Tony Stark was nothing like other more relatable ‘everyman’ superheroes. However, the fun energy and spirit of Iron Man (helped tremendously by a star-making performance from Robert Downey Jnr) proved that the character truly belonged on the big screen and the movie was an interesting counterpoint to the gritty, realistic approach of the modern superhero genre. Although it is much smaller in scope and budget than more recent Marvel movies, Iron Man laid the foundations for the much bigger picture.
9. Punisher: War Zone (2008)
2004’s Punisher was a very disappointing take on the character. Weirdly flat and lifeless, it wasn’t quite sure whether it wanted to be a hard-boiled thriller or a pulpy action movie. Punisher:War Zone is the complete opposite. Confidently embracing the excessive, ultraviolet nature of its source material, this ‘reboot’ is an unapologetically over-the-top take on the character. Filling the screen with blood and explosions, War Zone is everything that a Punisher movie should be.
8. Thor 2: The Dark World (2013)
Transferring Thor from the comic books to the big screen was never going to be an easy task. Of all the characters from the Avengers, the Asgardian God of Thunder was the hardest for audiences to really connect with. Based in a more cosmic setting and less grounded than all the other members of the Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America and even the Hulk are all on some level slightly believable), Thor could have been Marvel’s first big flop. However, despite the challenges of bringing this separate and very different universe to life, Thor was a successful but still quite disappointing adaptation of the character. Thor 2: The Dark World was a much more assured and confident improvement on its predecessor. Expanding the scope of the Asgardian universe while still focusing the core of the action on Earth, Thor 2 gave it’s secondary characters more screen time and development (especially the Warrior’s Three and Jane Foster) while still allowing the charismatic Chris Hemsworth to strut his stuff as the powerful God of Thunder.
7. X-Men 2 (2003)
Although X-Men was a box office success and it was one of the earliest examples of modern comic book adaptations, the movie was a rushed and jumbled introduction to the world of Marvel’s mutants. It was a slightly underwhelming debut for the characters, but the potential was definitely there. X-Men 2 was a huge improvement on almost every part of the first movie. The action was upped considerably (Nightcrawler’s assault on the White House and the mansion attack are still some of the best sequences in comic book movies) and each character was given enough screen time to make a proper impression. However, the real achievement of X-Men 2 is its realistic handling of mutants and its representation of mutantkind as an outside/outcast minority. The movie deftly paralleled real-world issues in a way that was completely unexpected from a comic book adaptation and it lay the foundations for a ‘mature’ grounded approach of bringing superheroes to the big screen.
6. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
It’s hard to think of a movie director more suited to comic book adaptations than Sam Raimi. Bringing his cartoonish, manic and occasionally slapstick sensibilities to Spider-Man, Raimi created another solid early entry in the superhero genre. Having thoroughly explored Spider-Man’s origins in the first movie, Raimi had much more breathing room in the sequel to create a more satisfying arc for Peter Parker. Spider-Man 2 is still one of the few comic book movies which truly examines what it’s like for an ordinary person to become a superhero, and it features stellar character development and a touching emotional arc.
5. Blade (1998)
Blade was the movie responsible for launching the modern superhero genre as we know it. Prior to the release of Blade in 1998, the superhero genre wasn’t a reliable cornerstone of the movie industry. Dependable franchises like Superman and Batman had sputtered to a halt after the diminishing box office returns of their sequels and pulpy superheroes from the Golden Age like the Phantom, Shadow and Rocketeer failed to make an impression with cinema goers. Blade was a modern superhero movie with a contemporary setting which audiences connected with. One of the very few R-rated comic book movies (and also the only one to have a black actor in the leading role), Blade mixed elements of sci-fi and horror to create a bloody, visceral action movie with a hard edge. Originally intended as a possible action franchise for Wesley Snipes, Blade may have not set out to prove that comic book movies could really work, but it definitely showed that they could.
4. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Captain America is often unfairly pegged as an antiquated, jingoistic superhero cliche. Although it’s true that the character was originally conceived for propaganda purposes, Captain America is much more interesting and complex than most critics give him credit for. Making a World War II superhero movie wasn’t an easy task, but the movie nails the optimism and melancholy of the character. It perfectly established how Captain America could fit in with the superpowered Avenger’s roster and why the character’s strengths (notably his ability to command people and rouse their spirits) were an invaluable asset.
3. X-Men: First Class (2011)
After the disappointing instalments of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, many fans were wondering if there was much left to be seen from the mutant franchise. With X-Men: First Class, director Matthew Vaughn took a back to basics approach and narrowed the focus of the movie on a core group of characters. The X-Men movies have always struggled with its huge roster of characters (this is particularly evident in the bloated The Last Stand) so Vaughn made a wise decision by concentrating on the origins of the Xavier Institute and the early friendship of Professor X and Magneto. Set in the 1960s, First Class deliberately feels completely different to other contemporary superhero movies, but it uses this historical period to great effect by deliberately comparing the struggle of mutantkind with the birth of the Civil Rights Movement.
2. Iron Man 3 (2013)
By the time most superhero movies make it to their third instalment, they’re all but done with their characters. It’s easy to fall into the trap of just padding out each sequel with a different supervillain, but Iron Man 3 took a different tact. Focusing almost entirely on the continued character development of Tony Stark, Iron Man 3 forces a realistic perspective of the struggles of superheroic identity. The movie may be burdened by the pressure of following up The Avengers, but Iron Man 3 is a definitive success in proving that these characters can still hold-up their own solo movies by themselves.
1. The Avengers (2012)
The culmination of years of buildup and creative collaboration, The Avengers was the movie all comic book fans were waiting for. For decades, superhero characters have been visiting each other’s comic book pages for crossover events or even for brief cameos, but legal rights made this an unlikely prospect for the movie adaptations. Different studios may own the rights to most of Marvel’s roster of characters, but the formation of Marvel Film was determined in bringing Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America (not forgetting Nick Fury, Black Widow and Hawkeye) together for the ultimate team up movie. Although the first half is a little shaky, once the superheroes finally come together to take on Loki and his army the movie is a non-stop roller coaster ride. The battle of New York is popcorn entertainment at its best and director Josh Whedon gives each character their time to shine. Ensemble movies are never easy to pull off (let alone one which features four superheroes who have proven their success in solo movies), but The Avengers brought the whole mix together in one big blockbuster package.