Top Ten Superhero Movies of All Time: Part 2

Written by Liam Hughes

Kettle’s two part series on the top ten superhero movies ever continues at number 5. Which film will be number 1 you ask?

5. Batman

Kettle’s two part series on the top ten superhero movies ever continues at number 5. Which film will be number 1 you ask?

5. Batman

The modern superhero film as we know it today – sombre, gritty, light on spandex – began in 1989 with Tim Burton’s Batman. He managed to wipe the memory of the camp and kitsch caped crusader portrayed in the 1960s TV series from the public consciousness.

Burton’s rendition was down to the success of Frank Miller’s graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, which paved the way for a harsher Batman and would later be used as influence for Christopher Nolan’s interpretation.

However, the unusual choice to cast Michael Keaton, who lacks both the physical presence of Batman and the suave charisma of Bruce Wayne, as Gotham’s finest, allows Jack Nicholson’s monumental performance as the Joker to hijack the film, in the same way that Heath Ledger’s Joker does in Nolan’s The Dark Knight.   

4. X-Men: First Class

The downfall of a superhero movie is when it tries to do too much. Too many heroes; too many villains; too many storylines. However, X-Men: First Class has all of these: the Xavier and Lensherr friendship, the putting together of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, the origins of some of those gifted youngsters, the first human/mutant conflict and the formation of the Brotherhood.

Yet it manages to produce a damn fine superhero movie.

Its success lies in the cast and source material used which create pulse pounding action, witty dialogue and characters that feel fresh, vital and charismatic. We see a young Xavier (James McAvoy) using his powers to pick up the ladies whilst Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) begins his journey to the villainous Magneto, even though he probably considers himself the hero of the piece, fighting for his people.

The setting of the film in the 60s allows the film’s plot to be tied into the real world event of the Cuban missile crisis, which we see here is manipulated by mutant dictator, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon).

This was a refreshing addition to a superhero film, which are usually set in present time or a fictional city, adding a level of sophistication which propels X-Men: First Class away from being just a competent superhero flick.     

3. Avengers Assemble

While Nolan was all dark and serious with his interpretation of Batman, Joss Whedon decided to create a comic book film which was exactly that – comic! The film has an upbeat tone as it pays homage to the colourful and slightly ridiculous printed origins of the superhero which are meant to be fun. It’s somewhat bloated plot purely derived for action purposes is kept under control by Whedon who manages to tell the story with wit, clarity and genuine excitement.

Criticism of the film being a mass of CGI bangs and crashes are misleading as the real joy comes from seeing a bunch of supremely powerful egotists, carefully crafted over seven years and five films, come together to save the world (although seeing them not getting along proves just as fun!).

Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk gives fans the big green monster they’ve been waiting for, whilst the impeccable casting of Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man and Tom Hiddleston as Loki don’t fail to disappoint following their solo ventures.  It would have been easy for one of the six superheroes to get left in the shadows, but they play off each other fantastically. Creating what you would imagine a superhero team to be like: overpowering, dysfunctional but ready to kick some ass when the time comes.

2. The Dark Knight

This movie is by far the best of Nolan’s three Batman films as he manages to wrench the franchise away from both the campery of the 60s TV show and the bat nippled Joel Schumacher movies. This sequel is one of those rare occurrences when the second film is better than the first one as Nolan sets about expanding the Batman universe. It also ups the ante on action scenes with a brief jaunt to Hong Kong, a chase sequence between a truck and Batman’s motorcycle, and the nightmarish heist opening to just mention a few.

It’s the balance of spectacular action and human drama which makes this film the best of the trilogy. Christian Bale, never the warmest of actors, is disturbing and sinister as the “bat man” in what could be seen as a nod to his serial killer portrayal in American Psycho. Aaron Eckhart is the soul of the movie as we see his inevitable, heart-wrenching fall from high-flying DA Harvey Dent to iconic Bat-baddie Two Face. However, like Burton’s Batman, the film is upstaged by the maniacal smudged clown makeup wearing Joker.

Heath Ledger’s portrayal of Batman’s nemesis has to be one of the best acted supervillain roles ever; he’s genuinely scary, satanically ingenious and the mystery of who he is adds to his villainy rather than frustrates. Ledger’s premature demise casts a long, sometimes ghoulish shadow over this movie as there’s an undeniable shiver to being entertained so thoroughly by someone who has died. Ledger owns this film and makes it into the intense, intelligent masterpiece of superhero cinema that it is.

1. X-Men

The first X-Men is by far the best superhero movie as it paves the way for the transgression from camp and cheesy to definitive and provocative. The success of this film is down to its director Bryan Singer, who returns to the franchise to direct this year’s X-Men: Day of Future Past, and its adventurous Marvel comic’s source material.

Singer’s interpretation brilliantly ventures into the psychological character study of the various members of the X-Men, a metaphor for society’s suspicion of outsiders, as well as providing a thrilling old-school action movie characterised by dazzling action.

The smart ensemble cast also adds to its success. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is genius, so much so that audiences cannot possibly question who else could take over the role. He provides us with a brooding hero who is as cocky and self-assured as he is comedic.

There’s a moment in X-Men when Wolverine questions the black leather uniform he’s been given to wear – “What would you prefer – yellow Spandex?” – which as well as summoning a ridiculous image of Hugh Jackman wearing a skin-tight, banana coloured costume also pays tribute to the readers of the X-Men comic.

Singer wisely chooses to focus on just two of the X-Men to introduce us into the mutant world. Alongside Wolverine, young Oscar winner Anna Paquin portrays power stealing Rogue with the right amount of vulnerability and determination. There’s also a sparkling brother and sister chemistry between her and co-star Jackman.

Support isn’t lax with thespians Patrick Stewart (Professor X) and Ian McKellen (Magneto), who are at home in a comic book world as they are on stage, providing the foundations of the opposing mutant factions. Whilst a somewhat underused Halle Berry in another genius stroke of casting takes on the role of weather controlling Storm.  

The film’s success, which is continuing to expand, is thanks to Bryan Singer’s loving attention to detail. He creates a self-assured, confident and amusing movie that is tight and taut knowing exactly how to get from A to B without boring the audience.

Which superhero movie is your favourite? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.