75. Megamind (2010)
Featuring the voices of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Brad Pitt and David Cross, Megamind is a family-friendly superhero-themed movie with a simple premise: What is an arch-villain to do when he successfully and permanently defeats his nemesis? The answer is not really that inspired, but neither is it annoying, wasteful or otherwise an example of the type of misstep so common with films in the bottom half of this list—this is competent kid fare whose focus on the villain will remind many of Gru and Despicable Me, though the humor falls short of that minion-infested franchise. In this and other particulars, Megamind is unlikely to stick with the viewer long after the closing credits. —M.B.
74. Mystery Men (1999)
Mystery Men, commercial filmmaker Kinka Usher’s first and only foray into feature directing, is a production ahead of its time in the most literal sense possible. The movie opened in 1999, just a few years before the start of the 2000s superhero boom, back when comic book films weren’t an industry unto themselves. These were the days when no one took superheroes seriously and most representatives of the classification were straight-up garbage, so intrinsically bad that they well near spoofed themselves. A dedicated send-up didn’t make a lot of sense then, but it makes more sense now, and if Mystery Men is outdated compared to the modern crop of superhero flicks, and if it is in fact the same kind of trash as the period-specific movies it was made to mock, it still does the job of showing off just how goofy the superhero concept is by its very nature. (You also can’t refuse a movie where Wes Studi speaks in chiasmus.) —A.C.
73. Orgazmo (1997)
If you’re sick to death of South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and their career insistence on mocking celebrities for making political statements while making political statements of their own, then maybe you won’t want to give Orgazmo, their second film, a revisit. But you should! One-joke movies have a shockingly limited shelf life. They have a way of withering on the vine as you watch them. Orgazmo maintains its freshness from start to finish, mostly because the joke—a Mormon missionary is sent to Los Angeles and becomes a pseudo-porn star/superhero—is pretty damn good and pretty damn broad: Stone and Parker take the piss out of the porn industry, out of the prototypical superhero mythos, out of religion, out of L.A. and, well, you get the idea. That the film is coated in layers of the most delightful raunch is a side benefit. —A.C.
72. Daredevil (2003)
After Batman Returns, Daredevil seems to bear the brunt of “joking reference to bad superhero movies” more than the many films that so richly deserve it (oh, X-Men: The Last Stand). It’s unfair. The challenge of successfully capturing a character whose power is basically enhanced radar and physical fitness and condensing any of the superb story arcs into one film was daunting. (There’s a reason even the MCU juggernaut has opted for a small screen serial effort for the Man Without Fear.) Mark Steve Johnson’s take on Daredevil had solid casting—Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner inhabit their roles as much as the script allows, and as Bullseye, Colin Farrell is, well, a bull’s-eye. Even the condensed Elektra arc is pretty well done. Does Daredevil belong in the upper echelon of superhero movies? Of course not. But there are plenty of worse efforts out there, and for its time, I’m not sure how it could have turned out better. —M.B.
71. Suicide Squad (2016)
The premise for Suicide Squad is as simple as it is indelible, a re-brand of The Dirty Dozen filled out with an undercard of DC’s most naturally colorful villains and anti-heroes. Director David Ayer slips into this framework with ease, introducing Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) as she flips through her dossiers, allowing Ayer to offer a slick montage of each candidate’s greatest hits before, minutes later, Waller is in front of the criminals laying out a deal of commuted sentences for off-the-books operations. Falling into same the pratfalls of Ayer’s previous effort, Fury, Suicide Squad is another case where story elements are continuously piled on in the hopes that a coherent narrative arc will emerge. Individual moments land with nearly every character, especially Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), but despite being a firmly character-based film, it lacks a through line. In action scenes, Ayer is exceedingly generous, allowing each character a turn in the limelight, but the film is constantly muddling its own sense of purpose, making plot decisions that feel improvisatory by its end. It’s actually kind of perfect that Suicide Squad would have the most problems with defining what a hero is and what its ersatz heroes are supposed to be. These characters have been told they’re bad their whole life. If only the film knew how to say anything else. (See full review.) —Mike Snydel
70. Wanted (2008)
After Frank Miller and Alan Moore, Mark Millar is the comic book writer whose work has yielded (and is yielding) the steadiest stream of film properties. (Apparently darker takes are really appealing to movie execs. Or having a last name that begins with “M.”) While most of Millar’s non-Marvel work barely misses this list (Kick-Ass and Kingsmen) due to criteria, Wanted barely makes it, thanks to a Loom of Fate and a scattering of superhuman abilities. The film itself is pretty standard action fare bolstered by a solid cast that includes Professor X (James McAvoy), Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie), Star Lord (Chris Pratt), General Zod (Terence Stamp) and Morgan Freeman. —M.B.
69. Spawn (1997)
Spawn is the kind of character born of the edgy, “alternative” superhero scene of the ’90s, and it’s hard to overstate how insanely popular he was for that period … but not quite popular enough to be relevant outside of nerdy comics circles. The Spawn film adaptation, then, had the difficulty of being released into a market with not nearly a big enough audience to truly understand or appreciate its aesthetic, and struggled as a result. The irony is that in a post-Deadpool era, Spawn is probably exactly the kind of adult superhero film that would now thrive with an R rating in 2017. Looking back at the ’97 film now, though, it’s easier to find things to admire. Michael Jai White ably plays the first-ever major black superhero on film (seriously), and although John Leguizamo is officially weird as hell in playing Clown/The Violator, it works in its own campy way. Spawn as a franchise is always going to primarily appeal to the teenage boy/Zack Snyder fanboy subset, but with enough humor added to balance the “totally badass dark violence,” I see no reason it couldn’t have a Deadpool-style resurgence. —J.V.
68. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
Freed from much of the awkwardly executed origin re-retelling of its 2012 predecessor, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 should have more life to it. In his second turn at the helm, director Marc Webb has a solid cast of returning stars and high-caliber newcomers, and a budget befitting one of Sony’s big gun properties. Nonetheless, in many ways this second installment of the rebooted Spidey is worse than the first. How can that be?
Oh, yeah … the script.
When not being presented with yet another Screenwriting 101 exercise in ratcheting up dramatic tension through the accumulation of subplots, the movie feels like a test pilot of Young Spider-Man on The CW. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have nice chemistry, but whoever thought moviegoers would rather watch the two of them talk about their relationship rather than Spider-Man, Spider-Man, doing whatever a spider can … well, that person doesn’t understand what makes a good superhero flick tick. Ultimately, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is noteworthy for one thing—not waiting until the third or fourth film to achieve the overstuffed, increasingly garish look one associates with less popular (2007’s Spider-Man 3) and outright ridiculed (1997’s Batman and Robin) franchise efforts. (See full review.) —M.B.
67. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Once you get past the explicitly turtle-based finishing moves (like the shell-smushing knock-outs) and the Domino’s Pizza plugs, what’s left is a brooding narrative and surprisingly extended, unadorned fight scenes. Although Steve Barron’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is still staunchly a product of its time (featuring a young, greasy Sam Rockwell as “Head Thug,” no less), it’s also a handsome, even appealingly gritty film, shot with sepia filters and samurai silhouettes, and threaded throughout by the kinds of panoramic melees that years later M. Night Shyamalan attempted with The Last Airbender and then failed. Look especially to the brawl in April’s family’s antique shop to watch how four grown men in turtle costumes—that have gotta weigh a ton—combatting a bunch of ninjas can best serve Barron’s unexpected talent at flushing out visual space in order to make a dead premise feel—seriously—lived in. —D.S.
66. Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)
Most superheroes look like they’re wearing their underwear on the outside of their clothes. What this movie gleefully presupposes is: Maybe one can. The presumptuously titled Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, based on Dav Pilkey’s first four children’s books in the Captain Underpants series (all of which have amusingly lengthy titles themselves), pokes a lot of fun at the concept of superheroes, the concept of action movies and the very cinematic medium in which it’s found itself. Captain Underpants’ plethora of animation styles (including a wonderful sock puppet sequence) separates the film into imaginative sublayers, keeping it from feeling like the one-joke wonder that it often edges towards. Fans of the book will love the adaptation’s loyalty and specific references, while those unversed in Underpants lore will find themselves admitting (reluctantly, I’m sure) that they had a good time. (See full review.) -Jacob Oller
65. Power Rangers (2017)
The Power Rangers franchise was never in need of a gritty reboot (Joseph Kahn saw to that with a short film and James Van Der Beek in 2015), and director Dean Israelite obviously never had one in mind. Instead, his big budget Power Rangers reboot re-focuses the early ’90s Mighty Morphin TV series on the five misfit teenagers coming to grips with the ways in which their new, vaguely defined superpowers can maybe make their troubled young adult lives better—or just exacerbate the problems they already have. The Red Ranger, Jason (Dacre Montgomery), is hell-bent on wrecking his guaranteed athletic route out of small-town Angel Grove, while the Blue Ranger, Billy (RJ Cyler), confesses he’s on the spectrum, and so has trouble making friends, what with his inability to identify most social cues. Yellow Ranger, Trini (Becky G), is the new girl at school, her outsider status compounded by her questions over her sexuality; Pink Ranger, Kimberly (Naomi Scott), is a popular cheerleader, but suffering some major social blowback; and Zack (Ludi Lin), the Black Ranger, suppresses the fear of his ailing mother’s impending death by living on the fringe. Brought together by the discovery of a secret alien lair, lorded over by giant floating head Zordon (Bryan Cranston, able to make anything work), and the powers they’re gifted because of that happenstance, the newly appointed Power Rangers go on to learn how to harness their abilities and, above all, work as a team to defeat cosmic menace Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks, delightfully chewing walls). Amidst the explosions and kaiju battles, Israelite never looks away from the lives of his multicultural pubescent posse, so that by the time their town really does seem like it’s in peril—soundtracked by Brian Tyler’s pretty-awesome Tron: Legacy-like score—we’re fully invested in the fates of these outcasts.
64. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
If it achieves anything, Zack Snyder’s messy, badly plotted and awkwardly paced film proves that prepping for a shared universe is no simple task, no matter how easy Marvel makes it look. This seems true even when one is starting with one as established and as powerfully etched into the popular consciousness as DC’s. It’s bad enough that Snyder and company dutifully preserve and transfer many of the excesses and offenses from Man of Steel to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice—the wildly out-of-character behavior by our heroes and a super-mobile Lois Lane to prod the plot along when needed, etc.—the film also is filled with plot holes large and small that will niggle at the mind of those viewers who like their fantasy films to make sense at least within the confines of the worlds they portray. Ultimately, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice serves as a reminder of why so many people dislike the Snyderian take on the DC universe—and as a reason to look forward to the solo Wonder Woman film. (See full review.) —Michael Burgin
63. The Powerpuff Girls Movie (2002)
Much like The Simpsons Movie and Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, The Powerpuff Girls Movie is a perhaps inevitable cinematic manifestation of a long-running television series. A more detailed origin story for the heroes of Craig McCracken’s superb Cartoon Network show, the movie basically serves an an extended episode and is appealing for all the same reasons. As such, The Powerpuff Girls Movie will not shed light on some previously unexplored aspect of the show’s mythology, but if all it does is introduce some new viewers to the show, that’s worth it. —M.B.
62. The Phantom (1996)
One of the better “comic strip/pulp era” heroes brought to the big screen, The Phantom holds up pretty well as a realization of its source material (even if it will never be considered among the best superhero films). The plot—the leader of a nefarious brotherhood seeks to control a mystical item that will bring him absolute POWER!—is pure pulp goodness. Billy Zane is beefy and believable as the 21st Phantom out to avenge the death of his dad (the 20th), and I sort of wish Catherine Zeta-Jones had spent more of her career playing rogue-ish femme fatales who lead a squadron of female mercs. —M.B.
61. The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, though, mockery comes in a close second. The Lego Batman Movie’s silliness is just the stationery on which creator Chris McKay (an animation co-director on The Lego Movie) has composed his love note for the World’s Greatest Detective, at once a sharp parody of representations of Batman on screens both big and small as well as an honest go at exploring what really makes the icon tick beneath the cape, cowl and cool gadgets. It isn’t the grim posturing seen in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, or the gaudiness of the Joel Schumacher films, or the violent, kinky cheese factor of the Tim Burton films—it isn’t the campy 1960s vibe of the Adam West TV series, either—no, it’s loneliness that makes Batman Batman, and The Lego Batman Movie dives into his self-imposed isolation with equal parts sympathy and glee. (See full review.) -Andy Crump
60. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
If it achieved nothing else, The Incredible Hulk deserves credit for picking up the ball from Ang Lee’s 2003 version, throwing it away, buying a new ball and pretending that radioactive tree poodle never happened. Just the second entry in the still brand new MCU, Louis Leterrier’s film also does something that we wish more films would do—it gets the origin story out of the way in the opening credits. (But hey, let’s show the deaths of the Waynes or of Uncle Ben one more time … we may have forgotten!) As the titular smasher of puny things, it’s hard to say whether Edward Norton is better than Eric Bana. (In fairness, Bana never got a fair shot.) But what can be said is this iteration actually gives viewers more Hulk (and more quickly) than its predecessor, and it trots out an actual Hulk-specific villain in Tim Roth’s Abomination. Besides being encouraging evidence that Marvel knew better how to handle its recently reclaimed property, such moves make some of the less sensible moments—and there are plenty—easier to overlook. No one will ever claim The Incredible Hulk is one of the best MCU efforts, but it deserves credit for being one of the first. —M.B.
59. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Marc Webb’s film proves that rebooting a successful franchise is no sure thing. First, a reboot works best with properties that have become stale, over-burdened by conflicting bits of canon or weakened by over-exposure. Only ten years removed from the first film (and five from the third), it’s not like Raimi’s trilogy was a distant memory for viewers. Considering the films occupy spots #1 through #3 in all-time box office for Sony/Columbia, it’s tough to argue flagging interest, either. Finally, unlike another popular rebooted property, Star Trek, where its heroes’ early days have been untouched on film—and thus make for intriguing fan-bait—Spider-Man’s origin story is a central part of his Big Screen tale. As a result, Webb was faced with a daunting proposition: Retell a story that was just told (and told well) a few years earlier—and, oh yeah, no major changes to the origin allowed. Perhaps this stricture explains why The Amazing Spider-Man feels less like a reboot than an extended paraphrasing of the plot points and emotional beats from the first two films in the Raimi/Maguire trilogy. But whether judged in relation to Raimi’s trilogy, compared with successful superhero franchises as a whole, or just rated on its own terms as an action film, the only thing amazing about Webb’s reboot is how quickly a Hollywood studio can forget the lessons its own films have taught it. (See full review.) —M.B.
58. Justice League (2017)
The real difference between Justice League and Snyder’s previous DCEU entries is that the distinct Snyder-ness of it all has been neutered, chastised even. The movie is under two hours, for god’s sake, its many typical philosophical conversations generally snipped and tucked, mythology abridged into brisk expositional conversations or relegated to—in the case of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) identifying Aquaman (Jason Momoa)—literally seeing everything one needs to know on a wall mural. All in all, Justice League seems to want to just get on with it, which is probably as good a sign as any that anyone who complained Zack Snyder’s films are bloated, ponderous, humorless slogs of pretentious “adult” populist entertainment will find his latest blockbuster operates at a clip much more—dare we say it—delightful that anything he’s done before. Justice League may be a more functional film that its predecessors, but it also lacks the style and go-for-broke big ideas that made Batman v Superman such a fascinating shitshow. In the place of Snyder’s all-consuming hubris is something seemingly committee-created, too aware of past mistakes to try anything that could make the film something more than a thoroughly mediocre $300M investment. (See full review.) —Dom Sinacola
57. The Wolverine (2013)
Loosely based—very loosely—on an early story arc from Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s eponymous comic, The Wolverine has several advantages going for it: one of Marvel’s most popular and enduring mutants, the return of Hugh Jackman for a sixth time in a role he owns, and one of the richer story arcs tied to the character’s many decades of adventures from the page panels. (Plus, it couldn’t possibly be worse than X-Men Origins: Wolverine.) But as much as director James Mangold’s cinematic interpretation has going for it, it only seldom succeeds. Taken as a whole, The Wolverine is nearly as hit-and-miss as the rest of Mangold’s filmography: it ain’t Cop Land or his first-rate remake of 3:10 to Yuma, but nor is it Knight and Day or Kate & Leopold. However, given the enviable headstart this movie had at its greenlight, viewers may be disappointed they couldn’t do better than two steps forward, one step back. (See full review.) —S.W.
56. The Crow (1994)
Alex Proyas’s gothic cult classic, in which Brandon Lee’s Eric Dravin flits from rooftop to rooftop, makeup supernaturally intact, is almost hilariously bleak, a sort of Hot-Topic-toned cousin to something from Hermann Warm’s wettest of dreams. Because of that, The Crow is either something completely understood, an object with which a select few audience members can truly sympathize, or something to be consumed in bewilderment—like an H.P. Lovecraft story or what Rob Zombie does. After this and Dark City (1998), it became clear that a studio could put their trust in Proyas to later take over the Blade brand (however successful): So shamelessly stylized and earnest is Proyas’s emo heart. —D.S.
55. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
A cautionary tale in how a successful franchise can maintain most of the ingredients in its creative team, and yet still be derailed by what seems like the smallest of adjustments. Sure, Spider-Man 3 was a financial success—$890 million or so in worldwide box office on a budget of $258 million—but it also sported some “classic” transgressions of the genre. There’s the overly convenient—and worse, unnecessary—sewing together of plot points that were originally disparate. (Flint Marko is also the man who shot Unca Ben!) There’s the cramming of too many subplots and villains into the movie (the latter tendency perhaps best thought of as a Schumacher Effect). And then there’s a few eyebrow-raising moments unique to the film, like, sigh, that Jazz club scene. All in all, it represents a sudden low for anyone relishing the high of its predecessor, and the end of the Raimi-Maguire era. —M.B.
54. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
The character of Apocalypse is no easy task to work into a film adaptation, and considering that X-Men: Apocalypse is really all about the villain, it stacked the deck against the feasibility of a truly great film from the start. He suffers from the issues of many ultra-powerful, omnipotent superhero film villains: He’s capable of seemingly anything, at any given moment, which robs him on some level of personality. Even the talents of Oscar Isaac struggled to fully flesh out the character in a way that could compare to say, Magneto (Michael Fassbender), whose lifetime of suffering is so much more relatable. Still, Apocalypse the film manages a more than ample entertainment factor, leaning on its now burly ensemble cast to carry each scene, even if the result feels somewhat inconsequential. There was all-too-much internet furor leading up to its release that the film would be “all about Mystique/Raven,” and that Jennifer Lawrence’s star had eclipsed the series, but any objective viewer would call those assertions unfounded. In reality, Mystique’s story is perhaps only the third or fourth most prominent, following those of Professor X (James McAvoy), Magneto and even the young versions of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan). It’s a fair question to ask how much more potential lies in the X-Men universe at this point before a studio burns the whole thing down and starts fresh, but Apocalypse at least provided an action-packed bridge between the era that began with First Class and eventually ends up at the first Bryan Singer films. —J.V.
53. Man of Steel (2013)
Man of Steel begins well enough. Director Zack Snyder brings his signature richness of design to Krypton, treating its final days like the end of a rollickin’ space opera upon which the viewers have stumbled. As Jor-El, Space Ranger, Russell Crowe is less spindly scientist (or bloated Brando head) than the character has ever been, and the final days of Krypton allow Michael Shannon to get a welcomed early start on chewing up the scenery as General Zod.
But once young Kal-El reaches Earth, action grinds to a halt, as Snyder breaks apart the classic “growing up supah!” montage, inserting it instead throughout the next lifetime—I mean, hour or so—of the film, which switches back and forth from childhood to present day and the now grown Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). There are a couple of nice superpowered ninja saves—a bus full of children here, an oil rig crew there—but mainly, the scenes consist of Clark looking angsty, Ma Kent (Diane Lane) giving comfort and Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) giving increasingly dubious “advice” that culminates in a nice father-son assisted suicide. Once Zod and crew reach Earth, the action picks up, but so do the film’s issues—there’s the heavy-handed Jesus-ing, the wholesale public endangerment and just overall exposition-heavy, plot-sloppy script.
For some heavy-handed allegory might make Man of Steel worthwhile, and that’s great. If others have become so inured to bombast, sloppy plotting and the substitution of cliché for character in sci-fi blockbusters that they enjoy Snyder’s game attempt at the Superman tale, all the better. However, for those looking for a Superman tale well-told—there’s nothing to see here. (See full review.) —M.B.
52. Constantine (2005)
Constantine is the classic case of a film that is fairly entertaining on its own but frustrating when judged as an adaptation of a beloved comic book character. It wouldn’t have taken that many tweaks to bring it more in line with what fans of the comics would have been expecting, but the casting of Keanu Reeves in particular fundamentally changed the character of John Constantine in ways that many fans had a hard time accepting. Gone was the typically witty, sarcastic, cheeky British magician scamp of the comics, replaced by a surly, depressed-looking Reeves who was lacking a fundamental piece of the character’s charm. At the same time, though, Constantine does boast some absolutely mesmerizing supporting performances that have helped the film develop a late-blooming appreciation: In particular, the radiant, androgynous Tilda Swinton as the scheming angel Gabriel and the malevolent Peter Stormare in a sadly brief but brilliant portrayal of Lucifer. It almost makes one hope for a different film featuring the same characters in more depth, rather than the somewhat generic plot of Constantine itself, which is strongest when hewing to a specific comics subplot about John’s life-threatening lung cancer. In the end, Constantine is simply uneven, but the bright spots almost demand a watch. The ill-fated Constantine TV show on Fox, meanwhile, actually gave audiences a more accurate and charming take on the title character, but failed in an opposite respect: A lack of any interesting supporting characters. At some point, hopefully the character of Constantine will have another moment in the sun. —J.V.
51. Sky High (2005)
Disney’s Sky High manages to be neither that memorable nor the least bit offensive. (And the latter may seem like faint praise, but as the upper regions of this list attest—there is ample wince-worthy live-action superhero crap out there.) Instead, Sky High is one of those films a nerd-leaning adult can watch with his or her kids and enjoy for its cast alone. There’s Wonder Woman classic (Lynda Carter), Ash (Bruce Campbell), Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) and even Caitlin Snow/Killer Frost from the CW’s Flash (Danielle Panabaker). And while those kids will likely not care about any of those names, they will enjoy the straight-forward, lightly spoofy take on what awaits them (or currently afflicts them) in high school. —M.B.