Ranked: Every Superhero Movie (All 104!) from 2000-2019 - Part 2
With Joker being the last superhero film being released this decade, I thought it would be an interesting prospect to rank every single superhero film released starting with 2000’s X-Men, which is largely responsible for kicking off what many feel is a glut of superheroes at the cinema.
So I counted up every film that meets the following criteria:
Released in the year 2000 or later
Theatrical wide release in the United States (Fathom events and the like don’t count, neither do direct-to-home releases)
And that’s how I got to 104. Most of them are pretty obvious inclusions, but just a quick reminder that this is a superhero movies ranking, not a comics-to-movies adaptation list. So The Incredibles counts, but Ghost World doesn’t. The ranking methodology basically works on the idea of given the choice between two movies, which one would I rather watch right now, and moving up or down the list as needed.
Below are numbers 75-51. Links to the rest are at the bottom.
So. Here. We. Go:
75. Suicide Squad (dir. David Ayer, 2016)
There are not enough needle drops in the world to save this movie. The character intros are fun, but the mission section of the movie is absolutely boring. Jared Leto’s Joker and Joel Kinnaman’s accent are equal crimes. Besides the obvious bright spot of Margot Robbie, Viola Davis is also great. And somehow Jai Courtney is one of the better things in this film.
“What are we...some kind of suicide squad?”
74. Chronicle (dir. Josh Trank, 2012)
Found footage is not a favorite format of mine, but this film is one of only three things to come from Max Landis that didn’t make me automatically recoil while watching (the other two being the underrated American Ultra and his Superman comic). So there’s some credit due here, especially because I think the way it examines what happens when a selfish teenage boy gets power and doesn’t have a mentor to instill the “great power/great responsibility” mantra into him. Both Dane DeHaan and Michael B. Jordan give good performances, making this movie much more than it would have been with lesser actors.
73. Punisher: War Zone (dir. Lexi Alexander, 2008)
This is, by default, the best Punisher movie. Still far from being either a dark, emotional story or a supremely good action movie (Is John Wick the best Punisher? Maybe?) The tone wants us to take Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson) seriously in his emotional pain, but also allow him to hang upside down from a chandelier and twist around to kill a room full of mafiosos with automatic weapons. But there’s too much distance between the two, where the movie feels like it is working off a checklist rather than telling a story. The amount of violence in this movie is so cartoonishly extreme that everyone in it is basically a slasher villain, offing their enemies/victims in the most ridiculous of ways. It’s a blast, especially Dominic West’s performance.
72. The Incredible Hulk (dir. Louis Letterier, 2008)
The least good Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie. While I love a good chase movie, Ed Norton’s sleepy performance mutes a lot of the movie. While it does deliver on the “Hulk smash” that fans felt was missing from Ang Lee’s (superior) film, there’s not much else here. Tim Roth is woefully miscast as the villain who becomes the Abomination. And the action, specifically the entire last act set in Harlem, looks awful. The real silver lining is that it at least brought William Hurt into the MCU.
71. 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (dir. Tim Story, 2007)
Both Rise of the Silver Surfer and the first Tim Story directed Fantastic Four film were co-written by Mark Frost (of Twin Peaks fame), which makes a strange sort of sense. There’s so much soap opera drama in these films, which is only a problem because it relies too much on those tired and backwards-looking tropes like Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) having wedding jitters for a bunch of the film. Sadly the humor is equally retrograde, but at least more of it feels specific to the characters than it does the first film. The effects used to create the look of the Silver Surfer (Doug Jones/Laurence Fishburn) actually hold up pretty well, even if it is clear that’s where much of the film’s budget went (especially since he gets less reflective as the movie goes on). And this movie is already cartoonish enough where it would have worked well with the regular comic book version of Galactus. Wasted opportunity again. Even the presence of Andre Braugher (Captain Holt on Brooklyn 99) can’t redeem this movie.
70. Megamind (dir. Tom McGrath, 2010)
An average-to-above DreamWorks animated film that seems to have largely been forgotten, but there’s actually some interesting stuff in here about why these characters become heroes or villains. Mostly, it’s a movie about how men are basically all self-centered and only interested in other people as roles in their lives (the nemesis, the love interest, etc.). I don’t know that the writers or directors of this film actually knew that’s what Megamind is about, or they would have Tina Fey’s character with more than one personality attribute.
69. Spider-Man 3 (dir. Sam Raimi, 2007)
This third Spider-film is a mess, with Peter Parker’s character being the biggest damning flaw. I wrote about the film here last year, and noted that the Sandman stuff is great, as is the theming:
So I really like how Raimi approaches this film’s two major themes of forgiveness and duality. Especially since–at least in my experience–the person often overlooked for forgiveness is ourselves. And certainly for Spider-Man given his ethical foundation. Each of the films’ two villians are tied to one of these themes, with Flint Marko/Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) personifying forgiveness (and Peter wrestling with revenge) and the alien suit/Eddie Brock/Venom (Topher Grace) representing the dual nature of man. They’re powerful themes for Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) to wrestle with, and really worthy for a superhero film to examine.
Definitely read that breakdown for all of my thoughts on this film.
68. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (dir. Marc Webb, 2014)
I earnestly believe that this is another case of great movie trapped inside this bad one. Like the first film, the chemistry between Garfield and Stone carries a lot of emotional weight, and it actually pays off Peter having to endure the deaths of both Uncle Ben and Gwen’s dad in rapid succession in the first movie (in the comics, there are 90 issues and 8 years in between). Peter seeing George Stacy (Denis Leary) everywhere he looks weighing on him, and like all good Spider-Man films so far, has Peter trying to find balance between being both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. All of that stuff works really well in this film. I even like Jamie Foxx’s take on Max Dillon/Electro. The choice to make him blue is a weird one, but as a parallel to Peter–an outcast nerd suddenly imbued with power–provides not only a nice dark shadow for Peter, but also allows the film to demonstrate the compassion Peter has for his villains (until the film decides he has to die, anyway). Beyond that, the stuff with Peter’s parents and anything involving Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborne/Green Goblin sinks the rest of the movie like a rock, because even as long as this movie is, it feels slapped together.
67. Iron Man 2 (dir. Jon Favreau, 2010)
A real mixed bag. Robert Downey Jr. is charming, and seeing him interact with Sam Rockwell is a joy, but besides whatever insane things Mickey Rourke is doing, there’s not much else to this movie. Tony Stark’s father issues, while tapped into well here, wouldn’t get resolved until Avengers: Endgame, and the rest just kind of feels like directionless riffing, which is the downside of Favreau’s improvisational leanings. There’s also some cringeworthy elements of this best left in Marvel’s past, mostly everything about how Downey Jr. interacts with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, but also the Jim Cramer, Bill O’Reilly, and Elon Musk cameos.
66. The Green Hornet (dir. Michel Gondry, 2011)
A movie from a French auteur starring Seth Rogen in the hottest Hollywood genre...what could go wrong? Basically a charming goofball parody, with some fun action beats and choreography, this film has been unfairly maligned since its release. Not saying it is a hidden masterpiece (it’s no Speed Racer), but it more or less accomplishes what it sets out to do, and if Seth Rogen isn’t your speed you will not like this movie. Of note, Gondry’s visuals are more inventive than most of the films on this list.
65. Superman Returns (dir. Bryan Singer, 2006)
I decided to include Bryan Singer’s work on this list because there’s no denying that X-Men really kicked off the cycle of superhero films we’re still living through (Blade is kind of an outlier due to its R-rating). If you click over his name, you’ll see an article from The Atlantic about the myriad abuses he’s been accused of. Combine that with Kevin Spacey being Lex Luthor in this movie, and it is basically unwatchable. So I declined revisiting it for this project. Here it sits on based on memories of the last time I watched it, six years ago (thanks, Letterboxd) having now been rendered inexistant. Sorry, Brandon Routh.
64. Daredevil (dir. Mark Stephen Johnson, 2003)
I have a lot of affection for this movie. The only non-Zack Snyder movie on the list where I am specifically referencing the Director’s Cut, because it is such an improvement over the theatrical release. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are both super charming in this silly-serious movie, and Colin Farrell is so insane as Bullseye that it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him, forehead scratch tattoo and all. Trying to pack so much of the classic 1980s Daredevil stories into one movie makes this perhaps the most ambitious movie this far down the list. And remember when superheroes were allowed to fall in love (even if it ends tragically in the resurrected love interest getting her own spinoff film)?
63. Blade II (dir. Guillermo del Toro, 2002)
Wesley Snipes’ second outing as the Daywalker is the series’ high point, largely due to del Toro’s inventive direction. The gore here is delightfully gross, which makes this for a fun watch, and a fun escalation from the 1998 film. And Snipes even actually presents as if he is enjoying himself. David S. Goyer’s script is clearly patterned after Aliens, but there’s too little of a beating heart when compared to other films on this list.
62. Green Lantern (dir. Martin Campbell, 2011)
Like Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man films, there’s enough material here to make several movies out of this movie. So there’s no time to get to know Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) or anyone else in the cast, especially Mark Strong as Sinestro, who turns in the best performance here. Also the movie you’re most likely to forget that Taika Waititi appeared in.
61. The Powerpuff Girls Movie (dir. Craig McCracken, 2002)
This is the introduction to the Powerpuff Girls television show, of which each adventure is 10-12 minutes:
Sugar, spice, and everything nice
These were the ingredients chosen
To create the perfect little girls
But Professor Utonium accidentally
Added an extra ingredient to the concoction--
Thus, The Powerpuff Girls were born!
Using their ultra-super powers
Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup
Have dedicated their lives to fighting crime
And the forces of evil!
The film is basically a 73 minute exercise in expanding this, which reminds me of how it takes Peter Parker multiple issues to become Spider-Man in the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book, yet only pages in the originals by Lee and Ditko. So it’s not inherently bad, but it seems unnecessary.
Thankfully the back half of the film features ace villain Mojo Jojo, a repetitive talking green chimp who needs a turban to hide his exposed brain. And it results in a bunch of Planet of the Apes and King Kong homages. But this still feels more like a TV special than a movie, not being any more cinematic than the original show.
60. Justice League (dir. Zack Snyder, 2017)
Similar to other movies in this segment of the list, this is a not-great movie that is actually really fun if you can just get on its wavelength. While it lacks personality, as Dan said when we teamed up to review it upon release, it’s basically “Justice League Action Figure Playset: The Movie.” And that’s not the worst thing it could be. It reaches neither the highs or lows of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but it’s a safe movie that puts the focus on making its hero cast as charming as possible. And on that measure it mostly succeeds besides some seriously ugly aesthetic choices along the way.
59. Fantastic Four (dir. Tim Story, 2005)
There’s a lot of good impulses in this movie, co-written by Twin Peaks’ Mark Frost, one of which is focusing more on characters than on plot. The problem is, the Fantastic Four’s origin story isn’t all that cinematic. Even the original comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby start with the team already established and springing into action. The character dynamics depicted in the film mostly follow the comics, but seeing them get established makes this entire movie feel like a prequel. The character stuff fares better than the humor, and whenever the film veers into broad comedy (which it does often) it just feels wrong. And everything with Julian McMahon’s Doctor Doom is awful. In spite of all this, the performances buoy the film into being watchable, especially Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans.
58. X-Men (dir. Bryan Singer, 2000)
My favorite thing about this film remains that it’s not about Wolverine. That fake out is always pleasing, subverting expectations about the franchise’s most popular character. And while I prefer my superhero films to not make jokes about “yellow spandex” there’s no denying that this was the first film to show that superheroes were a viable mainstream genre not limited to occasional hits like Superman and Batman. The casting has a lot to do with it, with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan giving the film foundational gravitas as Xavier and Magneto, respectively.
57. Ant-Man (dir. Payton Reed, 2015)
I love Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, and I love Michael Douglas as Hank Pym even more. But this movie has three major problems. First, the comedy isn’t character-specific. Everyone in this movie (other than when Michael Peña is telling stories) just feels like someone wrote “ADD QUIPS” on every page of the script in red, and they did add them, but didn’t pay attention to which character was going to deliver them. The second is not having Hope (Evangeline Lily) be the Wasp in this film, and the third is that Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross is so over-the-top evil from moment one that it flattens out much of the movie. A misfire, but not a total disaster.
56. TMNT (dir. Kevin Munroe, 2007)
This one-off adventure of the shelled ninja heroes is surprisingly good. Replicating the tone of the first live-action feature film, it blends serious subjects with some well-done animated action sequences in order to tell a story that is ultimately about the relationships between these four brothers. This film is post-Shredder, and plays as a sequel to almost any interpretation, while being accessible for kids and older fans alike.
55. Brightburn (dir. David Yarovesky, 2019)
One of those movies where the premise is also the plot of the movie. In this case, what if Superman had turned out to be evil? How would Ma and Pa Kent handle this? Similar to the idea behind Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar (and various artists) that imagines Superman having been raised in the Soviet Union in the United States. In this film, an alien lands in Kansas resembling a human baby, taken in by parents unable to conceive their own child (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman). The story picks up when the child, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) is twelve. The idea of an adolescent developing Superman’s powers is a scary one, as they don’t have the emotional capacity to handle it. Things take a brutal turn, but because we know that Brandon can fly and move really fast, there’s not as much suspense as there is with Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees. There’s also not enough depth to the characters to draw out the human drama, so the film is left just being halfway between a decent slasher and a true “What If?” explanation of Superman.
54. Deadpool 2 (dir. David Leitch, 2018)
A big improvement over the first film, Deadpool 2 is a better story and overall just much more fun. Josh Brolin as Cable is a fun addition, but Zazie Beetz is the real scene-steal her. It’s really the “fridging” of Vanessa (Monica Baccarin) that keeps this from being higher up on this list. My original Deadpool 2 review.
53. Sky High (dir. Mike Mitchell, 2005)
Very charming and fun idea of making a superhero high school film, and then mostly well executed. The adults barely seem to know what’s going on, but they’re basically a superteam of cult movie and television stars, with Kurt Russell being joined by Lynda Carter, Bruce Campbell, Cloris Leachman, Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, and Jim Rash filling out the cast of adults. And the kids are charming enough, the movie weaving together tropes and tossing out a few surprises along the way.
52. Spider-Man (dir. Sam Raimi, 2002)
Almost 20 years on (it physically hurts me to write that out), what I love about Raimi’s film is the sense of place and style they create. While they nominally take place in the present, the trilogy really takes place in a timeless, idealized version of New York past, albeit one that has room for Macy Gray. When taking the long view, this movie feels much more stylized when it comes to setting than any earthbound movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also allows the melodramatic tone to exist, which reemphasizes the soap opera-like romances that have been scrubbed from the genre in the years since. Everything here is as heightened as Burton’s Batman even if the visuals aren’t quite so outlandishly designed. In some ways, the combination of melodrama, B-movie flourishes, and an incredible special effects budget allows this to remain as one of the best examples of a true comic book superhero movie.
51. Joker (dir. Todd Philips, 2019)
Like many films before it, Philips’ Joker is attempting to hold a mirror up to society to reprimand us for the way we treat those who fall through the cracks in our underserved social safety net and remind us of the danger they represent. But it doesn’t stop there. The film also seems to suggest that a person who murders people could be hailed as a folk hero for murdering people in cold blood because of the circumstances about how those dude bros were treating a woman. It also wants to point at the media for being culpable in letting the discourse get two extreme on both sides. The Far Left, if left to their own devices, will harass the rich outside their home and kill cops when they riot. And the rich people are only just saying what we want to hear but actively doing nothing wrong besides underfunding social programs. This is the Gotham City of the film, and rather have the Joker act as an agent of chaos, it turns him into an icon of protest, even as he claims to be apolitical. This “both sides have bad people” point of view feels incredibly privileged in this regard, in part because it leaves us nowhere. Yes, the world can be a terrible place, but this Joker lashes out angrily at that world, while a true wild card would mock it. There are many ways to make a joke, but this film merely shrugs.