Ranked: Every Superhero Movie (All 104!) from 2000-2019
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 104-76. Links to the rest are at the bottom.
So. Here. We. Go:
104. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (dir. Jonathan Liebesman, 2014)
What makes this the worst superhero movie of the century? The character designs in this film are just plain hard to watch. They’re so unappealing that they make me cringe watching the film. Leaning away from the cartoonish aspects that has always made this franchise about martial arts-trained terrapins more charming than grotesque was a colossal misstep, but it’s not the only thing that dooms this film. Quick-cutting action that looks like actual garbage, poor characters, and an ‘it’s all connected” lens, which undermines the character choices (especially Megan Fox’s April O’Neil) and there’s nothing here to engage with. This doesn’t even pass the bar for being aimed at kids, because a bunch of the humor is super-inappropriate for kids younger than teens.
103. Catwoman (dir. Pitof, 2003)
This was one of the handful movies I watched for the first time in order to compile this ranking. And I didn’t think there was a way this movie could live up to its awful reputation. But sadly, it does. With every scene featuring so many cuts it feels like it was assembled from a bizarre multi-camera setup, it actually hurt my brain to watch. Catwoman’s editing is downright offensive. And it hurts because there’s a really fun (if extremely trope heavy) movie buried inside. I love the idea of Halle Berry getting cat powers and sleeping on a high shelf or being compelled to rub catnip all over her face. But combined with the worst kind of romantic comedy moments and the way that Berry is sexualized by the camera left me with nausea in addition to my editing-induced headache.
102. Underdog (dir. Frederik Du Chau, 2007)
The original cartoon of Underdog was a charming series of shorts parodying Superman (specifically the radio show). This thin live action adaptation adds little to what was in those shorts. There’s nothing but well-worn territory here and this is so deep in the groove there’s no daylight. Even at an hour and forty minutes it feels stretched, and for no reason. There’s just nothing to it.
101. Superhero Movie (dir. Craig Mazin, 2008)
Written and directed by the Emmy-winning writer of Chernobyl! Watching Superhero Movie for this project is the first time I’ve watched any of these “___ Movie” spoof films in full, and it does not inspire me to seek out any others. While the plot cribs so closely to the first Spider-Man movie that it might fool you, Superhero Movie barely functions as a story. Even worse, the funniest bits are largely unrelated to actually spoofing the genre (I think I laughed out loud twice in 75 minutes). Most of the jokes feel like they were written for something else and dropped in whenever they couldn’t figure out how to actually make fun of the movies they’re spoofing. And what’s left if the kinds of jokes that were “shocking” 11 years ago (to who?), which now just feel more offensive than funny, because there’s not any originality to them. I’d recommend this only if you think that somehow Stephen Hawking as a viable target of violent humor is funny. Absolute dreck. Except for seeing 30 year old Kevin Hart play a high school student.
100. X-Men: Apocalypse (dir. Bryan Singer, 2016)
The good parts of Apocalypse are the things that feel most like Singer’s previous X-Men efforts, which means that at its best, this movie feels uninspired. And those decent moments are few and far between. Apocalypse spends most of its time squandering both the First Class alumni (including Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Jennifer Lawrence), and Oscar Isaac as the title villain. How does someone get a lifeless performance out of someone who so capably plays both Llewyn Davis and Poe Dameron? Every portion of this movie is ill-conceived and blandly executed.
99. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (dir. Gavin Hood, 2009)
There are only two things that I like about this movie. It unnecessarily explains the origins of Wolverine’s jacket, and the opening credits are done as a “montage through history,” the latter of which I am a sucker for (this will be relevant later in this list). That’s it. Everything else is both stupid and uninteresting.
98. Blade: Trinity (dir. David S. Goyer, 2004)
A movie only worth mentioning that it squandered Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel in addition to an unwatchable performance from Wesley Snipes. Also the thing were Snipes was fighting with Goyer so much that his eyes had to be added in with CGI because Snipes refused to open them on set.
97. The Spirit (dir. Frank Miller, 2008)
Based on the kinds of imagery he uses in The Spirit, Frank Miller clearly knows what German Expressionism looks like, but not how to tell a story with it. While it does attempt to blend Expressionism with noir, anytime it tries to be the latter, it becomes laughable. It does actually have some great imagery in it, but all of the dialogue feels like it was improvised, and not in a good way. I honestly can’t tell if this incoherent mess is pretentious, knowingly campy, or somehow both? Maybe both? I think the color palate is too muted to be outright camp? This question is more interesting than actually watching the film.
96. My Super Ex Girlfriend (dir. Ivan Reitman, 2006)
This movie was already retrograde in the mid-2000s, with a “women are crazy” plot that never does enough to redeem itself. Add to that jokes that land so hard you can almost hear the thud and incredibly poor uses of CGI ,and you have a true bomb on your hands. The use of Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy” in the trailer is a great warning sign.
95. Zoom (dir. Peter Hewitt, 2006)
Similarly to the worst film on this list, this is a movie aimed at children that has incredibly adult jokes. For example, Rip Torn’s character as the head of the secret superhero training facility:: “If you can't get those kids combat-ready in time, I'II have to dose them with enough Gamma-13 to sterilize a trailer park.”. Tim Allen also makes fun of children for being white, chubby, stupid, unattractive, and useless. But it is one of the few movies on this list to actually mention a dichotomy between comic book depictions of superheroes and “real” superheroics. Courteney Cox’s character, also accused by Allen’s of being bipolar, is a 90s romantic comedy lead in that she is smart and attractive, so also but be regarded as unattractive by the male characters and klutzy. Oh, and much of the film’s thankfully brief runtime is backed by Smash Mouth songs. Also, how Kate Mara ended up being in back to back movies on this list is incredible coincidence. Which brings us too...
94. Fantastic Four (dir. Josh Trank, 2015)
I didn’t hate watching the first section of this movie. While this wouldn’t be my chosen tone for a Fantastic Four movie, there was clearly a vision at work here before the film was ultimately shredded. By the end of the film, the characters don’t make any sense, nor does the story function even at the most basic levels.
93. Elektra (dir. Rob Bowman, 2005)
Having skipped this movie until I watched it for this list, I was expecting far worse. The amount of time it remains a grounded story about a former assassin trying to break good, it is more functional than the films below it on the list. But it does manage to go off the rails once a dude shoots a bird with a shotgun for no reason that was established. Because the bird was a spy for the bad guys, I think? By the time this chooses to become a superhero movie, the plot has worn out and the action is incredibly subpar. However, the henchguy with the magical tattoos was fun.
92. Dark Phoenix (dir. Simon Kinberg, 2019)
This would have been a better movie if there had been any work done to establish these characters, define their motivation, or have any scenes other than expository and action. No emotional stakes and little fun to make up for it. My original review here.
91. Jonah Hex (dir. Jimmy Hayward, 2010)
Actors appearing (wasted) in this movie:
How do we get these great casts in such bad movies? This is more a Wild West/steampunk Punisher movie more than being close to the Jonah Hex from the comics, but that aside, it’s still a bad movie. There’s some problematic-ish stuff when it comes to the depiction of Native Americans, but it is hard to take any aspect of the movie seriously. That said, the concepts and the plot outline for the film are actually pretty fun. It’s a huge shame the actual movie lacks both style and substance. The Mastodon score is pretty good, though. Of the bottom dregs of this list, I think Jonah Hex is the only one that feels like it has the DNA of an actually good movie trapped inside of it. So maybe this is the biggest disappointment in this bottom third.
90. Hellboy (dir. Neil Marshall, 2019)
This Hellboy is a step backwards for the franchise in many ways and a subpar film in general. There’s a big difference between “grim and gritty” and “gothic and macabre,” and Hellboy belongs in the latter space. Mike Mignola’s designs from the comic book source material are gloomy and grotesque, but also filled with a balance between a sense of wonder for the reader and ‘just another Tuesday’ for the title character. Both are lacking in this film except for the Baba Yaga sequence. Despite that, this would be a really fun 93-minute movie, but the most fun and interesting parts are the things you would cut to preserve the core story of the film. Maybe it should have just tried to be an anthology?
89. The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (dir. Stephen Norrington, 2003)
Having not seen any part of this film since opening weekend back 16 years ago, I remembered it being the fun kind of bad. Maybe I love the premise and the mere presence of the Nautilus too much, because my memory was far too generous. The best parts of this movie are the wooden performances. Too much of this film takes place in the murkiest nighttime ever committed to film, which makes the numerous CGI setpieces feel extra cheap.
88. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (dir. Dave Green, 2016)
I have to be honest, the main things that elevate this sequel to the worst film on this list are Krang and there’s a truck that shoots manhole covers. I have no idea why anyone financed a TMNT movie that is primarily aimed at millenials that played with the original toys as kids, because this is a rough PG-13 for smaller kids who might be fans of the newer animated series. But for real, we got Krang in a movie! My original review here.
87. Ghost Rider (dir. Mark Stephen Johnson, 2007)
This is the only movie where Nicholas Cage isn’t over the top enough to save it. Everything about it is laughable, including the fact that at various points it even manages to look like three different movies. A waste of the always great Sam Elliot, and a criminal killing off of Donal Logue’s character, the only person that even resembles an actual character. Though it is almost impressively guileless when managing to put every part of Eva Mendes’ body on display for the camera (in a PG-13 way, but still). Ghost Rider is to the male gaze what The Great Gatsby is to teaching symbolism in a literature class.
86. The Punisher (dir. Jonathan Hensleigh, 2004)
John Travolta would have been better suited for the Ghost Rider movie above. Much of this Punisher outing is attempting to be a grounded semi-actioner, and he comes in like he’s playing Nicholas Cage a la Face/Off. It just bends the movie in such a weird way, which is not entirely unwelcome because otherwise this movie is just a bland Thomas Jane vehicle.
85. Kick-Ass 2 (dir. Jeff Wadlow, 2013)
While I think trying to show Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) adjusting to a Mean Girls style high school society is interesting and fun, that’s about it for this film. It doubles down on the gonzo “it’s all real but you can hack off an entire limb with a simple swing of a machete” vibe of the first one but with so much less panache.
84. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (dirs. Brian Taylor, Mark Neveldine, 2011)
This sequel barely feels like one because the visual style and tone is so different from the 2007 Ghost Rider, but especially because of Nicholas Cage’s performance. In a good way, it abandons all pretext of even trying to resemble reality or bringing back anything but Cage or the facts of how Johnny Blaze became the Ghost Rider. It's entertaining enough, but you get the sense the movie is curbed by the fact that they only have so much flaming skull time in the budget, since the actual Ghost Rider is seldomly seen. But the most puzzling thing about this movie is that idris Elba was in two movies based on Marvel characters in 2011, yet him playing a Norse god feels less odd than hearing his French accent in this movie.
83. Power Rangers (dir. Dean Israelite, 2017)
This is a really fun movie, and while it does some things better than the original Power Rangers cinematic outing, it also falls into some of the same traps. The story is a basic origin and the designs are thankfully not entirely devoid of the source material’s colorfulness. While Naomi Scott is the only standout among the Mighty Morphin’ Teens, Elizabeth Banks single handedly gives this movie the fun energy it really needs.
82. Deadpool (dir. Tim Miller, 2016)
I honestly don't get why people like Deadpool so much. It's entertaining enough, Ryan Reynolds is made for the role, but there's nothing else that feels special about this movie. We've gotten plenty of other superhero films with metahumor, and it doesn't push as many boundaries as it thinks it does. The best part of the film is the opening action sequence on the highway. I would have loved a 30 minute version of this one. More thoughts here.
81. X-Men: The Last Stand (dir. Brett Ratner, 2006)
There's a version of this film that would have been lauded as the apex of the series. Sadly, the version we got is not that film, but it is the most unfairly maligned film in the franchise. Yes, it makes a lot of bad choices (like killing off Cyclops and Xavier early on), but it also makes some good ones like adding Kelsey Grammar and Ellen Page. Ratner lacks the gravitas to properly do the Dark Phoenix storyline any justice whatsoever, and the characters are wildly inconsistent with the first two films, so the The Last Stand lacks the emotional punch it should have. But the action scenes, especially the final battle, are some of the better ones in the whole franchise.
80. The Amazing Spider-Man (Marc Webb, 2012)
This is it. The worst Spider-Man movie. It hasn’t aged well with the cornucopia of Spiders-Man films we’ve gotten in the 7 years since this movie came out. There are some good things here, chiefly Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. And I really do love Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May. But it tries to stuff 4 years worth of comics stories into a tedious film that is well over two hours long, making it the rare kind of bad movie that feels both rushed and boring.
79. Kick-Ass (dir. Matthew Vaughn, 2010)
While I appreciate the slide this film takes from realism to exploitation film, the story is boring and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is just plain bad. Add in a gross “pretending to be gay to get the girl” subplot and there’s just a lot of this movie that is eyeroll-worthy. No matter how much fun Hit Girl, the soundtrack, and Nick Cage’s Adam West impression are, they are not enough to keep this film as good as it felt when it came out.
78. Push (dir. Paul McGuigan, 2009)
I actually quite like this movie. Chris Evans (possibly in the running with Samuel L. Jackson for most movies on this list) gives a great performance, as does Dakota Fanning. There’s just not much going on under the surface of this film beyond moving the pieces into place for a sequel that will never come. Really fun, and the first movie on this list I’d recommend seeking out if you haven’t seen it.
77. Super (dir. James Gunn, 2010)
This is like a better version of Kick-Ass, scrappy instead of slick, and actually engaging with the psychology of a normal guy who decides to be a vigilante. Actually subversive and disturbing, this pulls no punches even if it never gets to the deep places it is digging at.
76. Hancock (dir. Peter Berg, 2008)
Everyone went to see this movie 11 years ago and walked out confused when it abandoned its premise halfway through and decided to be a Romeo and Juliet story about ancient creatures instead about a hobo superhero seeking redemption. And we remain correct in that assessment.