Surely, you’ve noticed that Hollywood is in thrall to the superhero. You can’t throw a mask without hitting a person in a mask. So, as we wind down a summer movie season chockablock with comic book-inspired crusaders — the Fantastic Four reboot closes the door and turns off the lights on August 7 — it felt like the right time to survey the field and rank some shit.
Some clarifications before we get into it. This isn’t just movies based on comic books, because that would A) include movies like Ghost World and Art School Confidential, which are basically just movies and B) rule out films like The Incredibles, which original works and are still amazing. And the hero needs to be legitimately super — either they need super powers or wear a cape. (So, sorry Judge Dredd.) And, finally, to make this list, there needed to be a legit theatrical release, or we’d be drowned by crappy direct-to-video sequels.
So, here we go.
113. BATMAN & ROBIN (1997)
It’s easy to blame it on the nipples on the Batsuit, but there is so much more wrong with the last superhero movie anyone trusted Joel Schumacher to direct. How much more? Everything more.
112. SON OF THE MASK (2005)
The meeting must’ve gone something like this: “The reason why people loved the first Mask movie was the mask itself.” “You sure they didn’t respond to Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz?” “No, we can but any asshat in that mask and it’ll be gold.”
111. STEEL (1997)
Just because a basketball player has a Superman tattoo doesn’t mean he’d make for a good superhero.
110. SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987)
109. ELEKTRA (2005)
Daredevil’s ex-girlfriend gets her own movie. She really shouldn’t have.
108. HOWARD THE DUCK (1986)
One of the weirder comic books ever — adapted from Steve Gerber’s satirical existentialist masterpiece about an alien duck alone on Earth — was adapted by people who just didn’t get it. And ruined it.
107. CATWOMAN (2004)
At some point, future archaeologists will discover this film and use it to form a new religion, in which everyone will rip their clothing in artsy ways and slink when walking would suffice. Or they’ll just bury it back in the landfill.
106. THE TOXIC AVENGER PART II (1989)
105. THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING (1989)
You can’t just replace Adrienne Barbeau with Heather Locklear and expect no one to care. You just can’t.
104. THE ADVENTURES OF SHARKBOY AND LAVAGIRL IN 3-D (2005)
Notable only for costarring a baby Taylor Lautner. Your call if that should nudge this higher or lower on this list.
103. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES II: THE SECRET OF THE OOZE (1991)
The secret is — looks around, makes sure no one’s listening — this film is shit.
102. THE TOXIC AVENGER PART III: THE LAST TEMPTATION OF TOXIE (1989)
Again with the nope.
101. BLANKMAN (1994)
Commendable of Damon Wayans to want to make a movie about a nerd who loves comics and becomes the hero his city needs. Unfortunate that this was the movie he made.
100. SUPERHERO MOVIE (2008)
A spoof film is, technically, supposed to be funny.
99. TANK GIRL (1995)
Well, it’s Naomi Watts’ feature film debut. That’s gotta count for something, right? Right?
98. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014)
You know, for kids? Kids who like giant, freakish turtlebeasts who relentlessly hit on human women?
97. JONAH HEX (2010)
This Western hero has been a DC Comics staple since the early 1970s, but he never had any supernatural powers until this misbegotten movie, which starred Josh Brolin, Michael Fassbender and Megan Fox — all of whom have been better, far better, elsewhere. Even Megan Fox.
96. SUPERGIRL (1984)
Not the worst film starring a character with a giant “S” on his or her tunic, but close.
95. CONDORMAN (1981)
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Self, I’d really like to watch a James Bond movie but, instead of a superspy, the main character was a comic book illustrator who built himself a cheesy flying suit,” then by all means, seek it out.
94. HERO AT LARGE (1980)
Totally harmless, wee comedy about an actor (the always endearing John Ritter) who decides to actually be a hero after just wearing the suit.
93. SUPERMAN III (1983)
You know that scheme from Office Space, where they take fractions of pennies from their company and deposit it into a separate bank account? This is where it came from. Otherwise, totally forgettable.
92. THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (2003)
Never has a more simple idea been so cocked up in the adaptation: famous characters of Victorian literature — Captain Nemo, Mina Murray, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and Allan Quatermain — team up to fight evil. Boom. Somehow, it all went to shit. And yet, somehow, not Sean Connery’s worst hour.
91. THE METEOR MAN (1993)
Robert Townsend’s earnest superhero flick isn’t actually good, but looking at it today, through eyes somewhat blinded by the whiteness of today’s comic book adaptations, it’s worth remembering.
90. THE PHANTOM (1996)
When I worked at Entertainment Weekly, I remember covering The Mask of Zorro, starring Antonio Banderas. And the publicity team kept insisting that Zorro was Catherine Zeta Jones’ big screen debut. But it wasn’t: It was this piece of crap starring Billy Zane as a jungle hero in the big city.
89. STAR KID (1998)
Kid finds crashed comet. Kid gets super-suit from said comet. Kid fights aliens. Next.
88. MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND (2006)
Uma Thurman plays a wronged harpy with powers. Brutish, misogynistic and unfunny.
87. THE SHADOW (1994)
The ‘90s was when everyone sorta rediscovered pulp heroes and thought they were a good idea. But for every Mask of Zorro, there was a Shadow, which never hit the iconic heights it needed to to be more than a chance for Alec Baldwin to wear a weird fake nose.
86. MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: THE MOVIE (1995)
Mighty Morphin moving on.
85. THE SPECIALS (2000)
The cast is pretty solid — Rob Lowe, Thomas Haden Church, Paget Brewster — the this movie about a bunch of superheroes during a not-exciting day just isn’t that…wait for it…special.
84. THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS (1996)
There really should’ve been just the one Crow movie. Not a lot of meat on this particular goth scarecrow.
83. TURBO: A POWER RANGERS MOVIE (1997)
They kept making these, huh?
82. THE TOXIC AVENGER (1984)
A very important movie for independent film, especially in New York City, where Troma Productions made its home. And it’s actually a sorta sweet little movie — after all, if you don’t have any money for much of anything, you can always afford heart.
81. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III (1993)
At least there was time-travel back to feudal Japan. That counts for something. Not much, but something.
80. KICK-ASS 2 (2013)
There was an anarchic energy to the first Kick-Ass that’s missing from the second. And that energy is what tempered the brutality. This one’s just brutal.
79. BATMAN FOREVER (1995)
Oh, Joel Schumacher’s first Bat-flick is dumb — none of the villains have plans that are based on anything besides accidentally noticing shit — but at least Batman is the main character, which is more than I can say for either of Tim Burton’s.
78. BLADE: TRINITY (2004)
Let Patton Oswalt explain it:
76. DAREDEVIL (2003)
There’s a director’s cut of Ben Affleck’s first time out as a Dark Urban Avenger which is actually pretty decent. But the version that hit theaters is all over the place, with every actor feeling as if they’re in a separate movie. And none of those movies are very good.
76. X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009)
75. BATMAN (1966)
Like the man said.
74. THE MASK (1994)
Memory tells me that this film was just filled with mad-cap energy and Tex Avery-style visual humor that elevated it. But looking at it today, the film drags whenever Jim Carrey’s out of the mask that lets his id loose — and whenever Cameron Diaz isn’t doing the best she can with a thankless gun-moll-in-a-tight-dress role.
73. DARKMAN (1990)
Liam Neeson plays a man with a very particular set of skills (he’s a scientist) that make him a nightmare (he invents a substance that lets him cover his acid-disfigured face with shapeshifty skin) for people like you (if you’re a bad guy). Pure pulp from director Sam Raimi.
72. THE PUNISHER (2004)
There have been three movies made about ex-Marine Frank Castle who, after his family gets slaughtered by mobsters, wages a one-man war on crime dicks. The first, starring Dolph Lundgren, went straight to video. This one cast Thomas Jane as Castle and it’s all just a little too silly — which happens when you get John Travolta as the bad guy.
71. FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER (2007)
The Silver Surfer sure looked cool. Yeah. He was cool.
70. SPAWN (1997)
Lots of style — all CG-capes and crazy-colored evil clowns — not an abundance of substance. Still, gets tons of points for managing to bring something newish (a black protagonist) to the superheroic table.
69. ZOOM (2006)
Remember when Tim Allen was in Galaxy Quest and Toy Story? Just keep remembering those.
68. MYSTERY MEN (1999)
This comedy recruited a killer cast — Hank Azaria, Claire Forlani, Janeane Garofalo, Eddie Izzard, Greg Kinnear, William H. Macy, Kel Mitchell, Lena Olin, Paul Reubens, Geoffrey Rush, Ben Stiller, Wes Studi, and Tom Waits — in service of a story that is almost defiantly hipster-lightweight. Never quite gels or provokes more than a smile.
67. HULK (2003)
On the heels of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, nerds the world over were excited at the prospect of Ang Lee directing a superhero movie. And then we saw it. Gamma-radiated poodles must’ve seemed like a good idea to someone.
66. UNDERDOG (2007)
Are you eight? No? Move on.
65. BATMAN RETURNS (1992)
Tim Burton was never all that interested in the Dark Knight himself; his sympathies always went to the monsters. In that light, it makes sense that he focused so much on Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and Danny DeVito’s putrescent Penguin that Batman was little more than a costar.
64. GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE (2012)
If you ever wanted the answer to the question, Does Ghost Rider piss fire?, the answer is yes.
63. THE GREEN HORNET (2011)
If you watch this movie as I do — the story of a young Asian hero who finds a dumb, fat, rich white man to bankroll his war on crime, so long as he convinces said white man that he is in fact the hero — then this movie’s pretty decent. But then, you’re doing all the work the filmmakers didn’t.
62. PUSH (2009)
Chris Evans has, at this point, played four superpowered people: Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four, Captain America, Lucas Lee in Scott Pilgrim vs the World and the guy in this movie, who doesn’t know that he’s telekinetic until the movie needs him to.
61. SUPER (2010)
Before he Marvel’d it up with Guardians of the Galaxy, writer-director James Gun got his mask on in this grimy dark comedy, starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon and Nathan Fillion.
60. BLADE II (2002)
Guillermo del Toro leaves his mark on everything he touches — and this movie looks like Wesley Snipes is guest-starring in an episode of The Strain.
59. TMNT (2007)
Basically, the heroes in a half-shell were waiting to be an animated movie all along. This one moves…and is fun, without it being creepy.
58. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)
More like, The Amazing Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy Show, which gets disrupted by shitty superhero derring-do and dumber-than-spit villains.
57. X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006)
Not good, no — the “Jean Grey Is Gonna Just Stand Here For An Hour Before Getting Axed” stretch doesn’t work at all — but actually better than you remember.
56. THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS (2003)
In which the wheels came all the way off the bus.
55. GREEN LANTERN (2011)
When I took my then-seven-year-old son to see this he asked, “So there are, like, a thousand other Green Lanterns, huh? What makes Hal Jordan special?” And that was the entire problem with this movie.
54. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (1990)
It’s goofy, sure. But it’s an origin story about pizza-loving, man-sized reptiles. And they stuffed honest-to-goodness martial artists into the turtle costumes.
53. SWAMP THING (1982)
A moody, creepy horror show about a scientist who gets turned into a plant — a very strong, pissed off plant — and the Adrienne Barbeau who still loves him.
52. CONSTANTINE (2005)
However you feel about Keanu Reeves playing an occult detective (or Shia LaBoeuf playing his errand boy) doesn’t matter: Constantine has Tilda Swinton playing the archangel Gabriel. Your other arguments are invalid.
51. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012)
Here’s the thing: Andrew Garfield is actually a pretty great Peter Parker and Emma Stone is terrific as Gwen Stacy. But the movie itself has no real reason to exist, aside from the fact that Sony had to make it to keep the Spider-Man rights from reverting back to Marvel. And it shows.
50. THE CROW (1994)
In a perfect world, the sequels to this urban gothic revenge fantasy would’ve starred Brandon Lee, who lent a clownish grace to back-from-the-grave avenger Eric Draven. But that perfect world wouldn’t have claimed Lee in a fatal on-set accident.
49. PUNISHER: WAR ZONE (2008)
Movies that attempt to humanize the Punisher will always fall short of the mark. He is a force of nature, not a character. That said, director Lexi Alexander knows how to blow up people real good.
48. MAN OF STEEL (2013)
It’s not the shameless disaster porn of the last 45 minutes. It’s not the fact that Superman (Henry Cavill) kills a dude. It’s not even that Lois Lane has nothing to do. It’s the fact that the Clark Kent who was raised by this particular Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) — who continually told him to hide his gifts and, maybe, people had to die to keep his secret safe — would never decide to be Superman. That is what’s unforgivable.
47. FANTASTIC FOUR (2005)
It’s biggest sin is that it’s boring. Bad movies can be fun and, therefore, interesting — but this one just sits there.
46. GHOST RIDER (2007)
Say this for Nicolas Cage: No matter what he does, he does it to 100 percent, including playing a dead stuntman who gets recruited by the Devil to be Hell’s own bounty hunter and has his head turned into a flaming skull.
45. HANCOCK (2008)
Originally titled “Tonight, He Comes,” this script floated around Hollywood for years with a reputation as one of the best unproduced screenplays in the biz. It was a dark, uncompromising look at a superhero gone to seed and once Will Smith showed up, most of that edge was ditched — along with the above scene of explosive ejaculation.
44. BATMAN (1989)
This, really, is why we still have superhero movies. Tim Burton’s Batman was so huge, it dominated pop culture for an entire year. What’s more, it took the world seriously — and recruited Jack Nicholson at the height of his popularity — and that’s its true legacy. (Certainly, it’s not the weirdo Prince soundtrack.)
43. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010)
Maybe the reason that audiences didn’t dig the story of a lovelorn Canadian slacker musician (Michael Cera) trying to defeat his the object of his affection’s evil exes was because it was too specific. Or it had too many references — to video games and kung-fu movies and teen romances. Or maybe it was always going to be a little too cool for the room, and that’s just fine.
42. UNBREAKABLE (2000)
It’s that beat, when Bruce Willis’ lowly everyman is in the basement lifting weights and he keeps asking his son to put more plates on the bar. It’s the moment when a man starts to believe that he’s more than he ever thought he was. When he becomes super. The rest of M. Night Shyamalan’s moody comic book-inspired exegesis ebbs and flows (and falls apart at the Scooby Doo ending). But that beat is wonderful.
41. SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006)
Bryan Singer’s version of Superman is so informed by the Richard Donner movies that came before, it feels more like a cover song than its own work. (It’s not helped by having Superman be a weirdo stalkery ex-boyfriend and giving Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor the exact same plan as Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor.) That said, when Brandon Routh’s Man of Steel rescues a doomed airliner, it’s as stirring as Superman’s ever been on screen.
40. THE MATRIX RELOADED (2003)
If you start watching this when Neo, Morpheus and Trinity get to the Merovingian’s chateau and then stop after the astonishing car chase set piece, then it’s a pretty entertaining flick. But the rest of it is mired in the pseudo-philosophical muck that buried the third flick.
39. HELLBOY (2004)
In adapting Mike Mignola’s comic book, director Guillermo del Toro makes it exactly as weirdly funny as it oughta be. It’s an odd film, but has a taste unlike any film before it.
38. BLADE (1998)
While Batman showed Hollywood that comic book heroes were box office gold, Blade proved that you didn’t have to be a globally recognized brand to make an impression. And, despite the weakness of the villain’s plan — if he turns all the humans into vampires, what will they feed on? — the first half of Blade is incredibly strong.
37. BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM (1993)
The best non-Christopher Nolan Bat-flick. It helps that the guys at Warner Bros. Animation had been killing it with Batman: The Animated Series and knew exactly how to make him look good.
36. SKY HIGH (2005)
The son of two superhero parents (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston) enrolls in the titular superhero school and has trouble defining himself in their caped shadow. It benefits from being a sharp little high school comedy and a knowing superhero satire. Also: points for casting Lynda Carter as Sky High’s principal.
35. THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)
Hulk movies are like waypoints in the evolution of CG. The Ang Lee Hulk was a little too thick and clay-like. This one gets the muscles right and puts him at the center of some impressive carnage. The Avengers lets him do some actual acting. Ed Norton’s not bad here — he gets some mileage out of Bruce Banner’s tendency to get over-excited at some of life’s simpler pleasures — but the Vancouver-as-Harlem finale doesn’t quite hold together.
34. IRON MAN 2 (2010)
In these Iron Man films, Tony Stark is always fighting various versions of himself. This one is the Crazy Russian Inventor Obsessed With Revenge and Cockatoos variation. Watching Robert Downey Jr do his thing is always fun — and this introduces Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff — but not as fun as watching Sam Rockwell dance. Then again, few things are.
33. SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007)
Remember, this is a thing that happened in Spider-Man 3:
32. THE WOLVERINE (2013)
X-Men fans have been clamoring for a film that leaned into the Japanese backstory that Chris Claremont and Frank Miller built into Wolverine in their 1982 comic book miniseries. And while this movie doesn’t quite hit those pulpy heights, it’s a damned sight better than Hugh Jackman’s previous solo Wolvie outing. Which sucked, as you’ll recall.
31. WATCHMEN (2009)
Sometimes, you need to do more than just translate a story from one medium to another, you actually have to adapt it.
30. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
Batman never gives up.
29. THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)
Suffers from having one too many bad guys — both Loki and Malekith the power-hungry dark elf have a mad-on for destroying Asgard — and not really knowing what to do with either of them.
28. V FOR VENDETTA (2006)
The best Alan Moore superhero adaptation. Then again, the competition isn’t that fierce. But this one is playfully grim.
27. KICK-ASS (2010)
Hit Girl. Hit Girl. Hit Girl.
26. MEGAMIND (2010)
Odd to think that in his 25-some-odd years in showbiz, this kidflick is the only time Brad Pitt played a superhero. (Though, it is possible that Floyd the Stoner fought crime between bowls.)
25. IRON MAN 3 (2013)
Two things: The Mandarin reveal (maybe 2013’s best movie moment) and Tony Stark as Jim Rockford, solving cases without the suit like a shaggy-dog ‘70s private dick.
24. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)
One terrific scene — Quicksilver, anyone? — surrounded by a not-entirely-successful movie in which no characters change and, for the most part, stand around watching stuff happen to other people. Literally: Ellen Page’s Kitty Pryde just stands there grimacing for the entire flick.
23. BATMAN BEGINS (2005)
Warner Bros’ trusted Nolan, who’d never made a film of this scope, to reboot the studios Caped Crusader after the disastrous Batman & Robin. And he did so many things right (casting Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson; the design of the Batmobile) that we can forgive the ones he did wrong (Katie Holmes, the Batvoice). That Warner is even in the comic book movie game is this film’s fault.
22. ANT-MAN (2015)
Not every Marvel movie needs to be about the end of the world, despite, well, the plots of every other Marvel movie. This heist-comedy flicks at global security threats in such a way that you don’t even think the filmmakers buy it — but it doesn’t matter. Director Peyton Reed (picking up where Edgar Wright left off) gives us a human-sized story about a speck-sized hero (Paul Rudd, charming the hell out of everything) who just wants to be a better man. Even if that involves grand larceny
21. X-MEN (2000)
And that anyone is in the game at all can be traced back to Bryan Singer’s X-Men, which took Marvel’s mutants incredibly serious as both drama and metaphor. And if you look deep in those credits, you’ll see Kevin Feige — Marvel’s Cinematic Universe mastermind — listed as an associate producer.
20. THOR (2011)
Sure, Chris Hemsworth’s arms do quite a bit of heavy lifting, but Thor works because the central conflict is so clear: Two immature brothers are competing for their father’s love. One has a hammer.
19. BIG HERO 6 (2014)
All of the derring-do of Marvel meets all of the heart — and first-act tragedy — of Pixar.
18. THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
The highs were a bit higher than in the first film, but the lows were also a bit lower. (Hawkeye’s Farm Interlude?) More than that, though, this film suffered from just being a sequel — so much of what made the first film work was the sheer improbability of it existing in the first place. As the old saying goes, how do you keep them on the farm after they’ve seen Paris?
17. THE ROCKETEER (1991)
So sweet and aw-shucks earnest it could almost give you cavities, The Rocketeer — about a barnstorming pilot who finds a secret government jetpack — is also the kind of rip-roaring adventure they don’t really make anymore.
16. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011)
Realizing that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were a little too long in the tooth to play Professor X and Magneto as action stars — and that Hugh Jackman couldn’t get into that kind of sick shape forever — Fox decided to flash back to their formative years. The casting was spot on — catching Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence as they were on the rise — and juxtaposing mutant rights with Civil Rights was super-smart.
15. CHRONICLE (2012)
Wanna see how someone becomes a supervillain? Boom. Josh Trank’s out-of-nowhere hit is also one of the few movies to make the found-footage conceit work in its favor, and not just feel like a gimmick.
14. SPIDER-MAN (2002)
As we’ve been told time and time again, with great power comes great responsibility. But there should also be some fun — and that’s what Sam Raimi’s take on Marvel’s single biggest hero delivered. Swinging through Manhattan has got to be a stone-cold blast.
13. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)
If you’re gonna make a comic book flick that’s also a ‘70s-esque political thriller, you could do far worse than put Robert Redford at the center of it. The end gets a little too shooty-shooty-punchy-explodey, but there are some smart reveals and terrific character moves along the way.
12. HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008)
Remember how we said that no other movie looks like a Guillermo del Toro movie? This is the most Guillermo del Toro-est movie ever. The man’s imagination is an international treasure.
11. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)
There is not a whiff of irony anywhere near this movie — and coming after Iron Man, which used irony and sarcasm like cologne, that’s saying something — and given that this is the story of a man who is chosen to be America’s super-soldier because he’s unfailingly good, straight is the only way to play it.
10. SUPERMAN II (1980)
Like the Stones said, you can’t always get what you want (giving up your powers to live a life with Lois Lane), but if you try sometimes, you’ll find, you get what you need (your powers back to beat the shit out of General Zod).
9. X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003)
Director Bryan Singer really stepped up his game with this sequel: his tentative handling of action in X-Men gave way to a sure confidence. The metaphors at the center of the X-Men — mutants as social outcasts are a proxy for whichever marginalized group you prefer — were sharper. And there was an operatic tragedy at work that, sadly, wouldn’t get paid off.
8. THE AVENGERS (2012)
Lots of people have pointed out the various plot conveniences of Joss Whedon’s box-office behemoth. (Why does Loki need Hawkeye, anyway?) Thing is, none of it mattered because The Avengers was the culmination of every comic book nerd’s dreams. Also: super-fun.
7. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)
If The Avengers was super-fun, this one is super-duper-fun. I still don’t really know what Peter Quill wants or why Ronan is called “The Accuser” or, for that matter, what the movie is about. And I also don’t care. A perfect synthesis of mood and humor.
6. IRON MAN (2008)
Here’s the thing about Iron Man: This film lives and dies on Robert Downey Jr.’s shoulders. The entire second act of the movie is just him, in his garage, building a thing. No bad guy, no conflict; just the sheer joy of watching RDJ will himself into being a movie star again.
5. THE MATRIX (1999)
The Wachowskis wanted to create a kung-fu Superman and, wouldn’t you know it, they absolutely did. Pure mythic invention.
4. SUPERMAN (1978)
We all believed a man can fly. And, for the first time, we understood how Superman made everyone believe he was Clark Kent, thanks to the great-granddaddy of casting masterstrokes, Christopher Reeve.
3. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
The first movie to understand that The Joker isn’t a character as we know characters. He doesn’t want anything, besides chaos. He doesn’t need anything, besides the warm glow of an explosion at his back. He is the elemental trickster god, which is what makes him the perfect Batman villain. He’s the thing you can’t beat by punching.
2. SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004)
1. THE INCREDIBLES (2004)
Not only did writer-director Brad Bird make the best Fantastic Four movie thus far, he also made the best James Bond movie in 20 years. All while telling a searing story of a couple in the throes of mid-life crisis, wrapped in a film ostensibly for children. This film is not just art, it’s high art.
Marc Bernardin is the Deputy Editor of Playboy.com. He has, in fact, lived far, far away from his parents’ basement for a long time.