Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ben's All-Time Top 5 Superhero Movies

As you may or may not be aware, a little film called WATCHMEN opens at midnight tonight, and it has caused quite a stir throughout the comic book geek community. I have never read this book, and indeed, I know very little about the subject. But apparently it's, like, the holy grail of comics... the comic to end all comics... the comic by whose greatness all others are measured... you get the picture. Well, I will be seeing this movie on Saturday in all its IMAX glory, and I will try to have my unbiased, untarnished review for you at that time. But for now, just for kicks, in honor of this highly-anticipated release, let's take a look at my All-Time Top 5 Superhero Movies. Ready? GO!

5. SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) -- The SPIDER-MAN trilogy is a mixed bag. I loved the first half of the first film but thought the second half was severely flawed. The third film was an epic disaster on practically every level. But the second film was when Raimi & Co. managed to get everything right. It strikes a perfect balance of action, drama, humor, inner turmoil, webslinging... basically everything you could possibly want from a Spider-Man movie. Plus Dr. Octopus is easily the best villain in the trilogy, and one of the most kick-ass comic book movie villains ever.

4. BATMAN (1989) -- Spare me your arguments about how and why THE DARK KNIGHT is the greatest Batman movie ever. The one I keep coming back to is Tim Burton's version, with Michael Keaton in the title role (still the best portrayal of both the Dark Knight and Bruce Wayne thus far) and of course, Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Is it as dark, visceral and gritty as Nolan's opus? No. But to me, it's just flat-out more fun to watch, and if I sit down to watch a Batman movie, that's kind of what I'm looking for. Plus, with all due respect to Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning performance, I think that Nicholson's Joker is just as iconic and even more quotable. I'll take "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?" over "Why so serious??" any day!

3. UNBREAKABLE (2000) -- Man, remember when M. Night Shyamalan was one of the best filmmakers in the world? Unfortunately that streak only lasted for two years and two movies... and one of them is one of the best superhero origin stories ever. It's about an everyman who comes to realize that he has real-life superpowers -- and his polar opposite (read: arch-nemesis) who is cursed with brittle bones but superior intellect. Sound familiar? The film is a study of superhero mythology and the relationship between hero and villain, and it is, in my opinion, Shyamalan's deepest and most masterful work.

2. THE INCREDIBLES (2004) -- Now that I think about it, I wonder if this movie was directly influenced by WATCHMEN, what with its vision of a society in which superheroes are forced into exile by a fickle public. Whatever the case, this was my favorite Pixar film until WALL-E took over the reigns last year, but it is no less of a work of absolute genius. Bob Parr used to be known as Mr. Incredible, the greatest of all superheroes... but is now forced to live a mundane life as an insurance salesman with his family, all of whom are also blessed with superpowers that must be suppressed. But when a mysterious call to action turns out to be a trap set by an old nemesis, it's up to the entire family to show their true selves and save the day. This is Pixar at its best, and sheer perfection on every level.

...and finally...

1. SUPERMAN (1979) / SUPERMAN 2 (1981) -- I have been a Superman fan for pretty much my entire life, and in my opinion, these first two films are nothing short of the end-all/be-all of all superhero films... the ones by which all others are compared. Christopher Reeve may have been the single greatest bit of casting in movie history -- he IS the Man of Steel. The first film is a masterpiece, from the opening scenes on Krypton with Marlon Brando, to young Clark Kent coming of age in Smallville, to the scene where Superman catches Lois Lane in midair after a helicopter mishap -- "You've got me? Who's got you?!"... it's sheer poetry. And then comes SUPERMAN 2, which takes things up a notch by bringing in three awesome supervillains, led by Terence Stamp's iconic performance as General Zod. While it was cool to see Superman go up against Luthor's evil genius in the first film, it was even cooler to see people throwing buses at each other. And that classic John Williams score doesn't hurt, either!

Okay, now I know that a lot of you will have some things to say about this list, so come on and let me have it! I'm also thinking that I'd like to make this "All-Time Top 5" thing a regular feature here at (yes, a tribute to one of my personal All-Time Top 5 movies, HIGH FIDELITY). Probably too ambitious to say that it'll happen once a week, but who knows. Anyway, if you have any ideas for Top 5 lists you'd like to see, by all means let me know!


  1. you should really read the book!

  2. Oh I will. I intend to go to Barnes & Noble and get it and start reading as soon as the movie is over!

  3. "Think about the future!"

    Still one of my favorite movies, and easily the movie I've seen the most times...I can recite every line. Because I am a dork.

    Unrelated: my word verification for this post is "smutskid." Nice.

  4. First off, no self-respecting geek has gone this long without reading Watchmen. Please start forthwith or your collection of Star Wars novels shall be seized by the proper authorities.

    Secondly, where is Iron Man here? Yes, weak third act, sure, sure, but otherwise awesome effects, great origin story, spot-on supporting cast, and the impeccably well-cast Robert Downey Jr. in the title role. Seriously: when watching this in the theater, I turned to Chris after the escape from the cave in the Mach I suit and said, "That was a kickass movie. Oh, wait.... there's MORE FUCKING MOVIE." It was like watching two great movies French kiss.

  5. Melissa, I bow my head in shame over my Watchmen ignorance -- but in my defense, I never claimed to be a COMIC geek! Movie geek, sure... Star Wars geek, obviously... but I never got into comics on that level. As a result Watchmen just never really made it onto my radar until now. But you'll be glad to know that I bought the book immediately after leaving the theatre today... so my education will finally begin. :)

    As for IRON MAN... I very nearly did include it in this list. I loved it for all the reasons you did and agree that it's probably the most flat-out entertaining superhero movie in some time. That said, I've only seen it once, so it doesn't yet have the all-important repeat-watchability factor going for it that all the other movies on the list have. Talk to me after another couple of viewings, and I'm sure I could find a spot for it!

  6. Gutsy choice at the number 3 spot. Of all of his films, the good ones and the brilliant failures, Unbreakable is the one that has stuck with me the longest.