This Top 5 list first appeared in the May 2012 issue of Christianity Today.
In my Avengers review I wrote, “If The Avengers isn’t necessarily the best superhero movie ever made, it is unquestionably the most superhero movie ever made.“ That, of course, raises the question: What is the best superhero movie ever made?
While I’m not prepared to offer a single answer to that question, here in alphabetical order are my all-time top 5 superhero movies. Beyond that, if you’d like to explore other reviews of past superhero and comic-book movies, check out the superhero-related tags below.
The Dark Knight (2008)Batman Begins was arguably the best cinematic superhero origin story ever, and this sprawling, nightmarish sequel pushes the newly minted hero to his limits and beyond against the incalculable evil of Heath Ledger’s chilling Joker. Though verging on nihilism, the film keeps a tenuous grip on hope.
The Incredibles (2004)Among the best family films as well as superhero films, Pixar’s tale of an underground family of supers in an age of mediocrity is a bold, funny, fast and furious action movie that makes room for remarkably sophisticated social commentary, domestic wisdom and moral rigor.
The Mark of Zorro (1940)Douglas Fairbanks did unmatchable stunts in the silent 1920 Mark of Zorro, and the 1998 Mask of Zorro is a surprisingly effective homage. Guy Williams, from Disney’s 1950s serial, is the most beloved Zorro. But the best Zorro movie is this Golden-Age origin story starring Tyrone Powers — witty, romantic, funny and thrilling.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)Leave the grit and angst to the Dark Knight: Spider-Man is a wisecracking, freewheeling adventurer, and this superior sequel is the most rollicking, flat-out comic-bookiest superhero movie ever. Alfred Molina invests Dr. Octopus with unexpected humanity, and the set pieces, above all the train sequence, are genre standouts.
Superman (1978)The first great comic-book movie, Superman blends portentous 2001-style mythmaking and Adam West “Batman”-style camp, embracing the iconic hero’s implicit christological echoes while nostalgically honoring the ideals of a more innocent time. John Williams’s heroic score is vital; he never wrote a theme more crucial to a film’s success.