Martin Scorsese is of the opinion that MCU films, and superhero films in general, are like amusement park rides, lamenting over the lack of emotional and psychological connect that superhero films are often criticised for. While I can just say that even if I mostly agree with him, one cannot deny that they have the business right now. More correctly, they are the business right now.
As of this date, the highest grossing film ever made in the history of the world is a superhero film, also its costliest. To add to that, simply to pertain to the time bracket of this article, all superhero films released since 2010 until now have collectively grossed more than $27 Billion worldwide, which translates to squarely more than two billion and a half per year. Of these, eight lie in the billion dollar club, and two of them in the rare coveted two billion dollar club. The commercial angles here are mind blowing, as are the impacts that they have collectively had over mass media and pop culture.
Fans of comic books in general, and geeks all over simply could not be living at a better time since virtually every well-known character in either of the comic book factions has received the large screen treatment, and more so in this decade, with the MCU really taking shape and reaping returns for what it starting setting up in 2008 with ‘Iron Man’, and the dawn of the DCEU in 2013. Choosing the best films among north of 30 of them, roughly half of them belonging to the MCU, was then not as uphill a task as it may have seemed from the outside, since the quality has been far from consistent. That being said, here is the list the best Superhero movies of this decade (2010-2019).
17. Dredd (2012)
Unconventional choice to kick off a list of the best superhero movies, agreed, but without their superpowers, superheroes would just stand to be vigilantes, right? This dark, violent action flick about one such cyberpunk-esque vigilante, Judge Dredd, the titular character, features some gut wrenching violence and a brooding atmosphere that breathes life into its gorgeously realised dystopian landscape. Karl Urban was perfect casting as the titular character and the action too, was brutal, nicely shot and choreographed, earmarking the film from beginning till the very end. Despite the film’s cult reputation now, low returns back in the day simply slashed its chances of a sequel, and that is just one of the many things I am miffed about in my pursuit of making people realise how underrated this film actually is.
16. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
The X-Men franchise may have called it a day after ‘Dark Phoenix’ hit theatres earlier this year, as a result of the Disney Fox merger, with the X-Men being touted for Phase V of the MCU, but it did have some guilty pleasures (and some real ones) to offer back in the day. However, in all its irony, its high point undoubtedly was the studio’s attempts to whitewash an entire timeline and usher in a team of younger X-Men. Bringing together two generations of X-Men was a spectacle back then, and today, I am sure it would have meant so much more. Yet still, this superhero outing delivers what it set out to do in retro style, and does it well. Alas, it will then remain the only superhero movie ever where I would get to see Hugh Jackman’s Logan working with Michael Fassbender’s Magneto and James McAvoy’s Professor X.
15. Black Panther (2018)
Definitely not an overstatement when I say that ‘Black Panther’ created history earlier this year when it took home 3 Oscars, the first for any superhero movie, along with performing extraordinarily well at the box office, especially in its home circuit. Without the ethno-social and political undercurrents, one might argue that it was just another superhero movie, but I believe that is exactly what sets it apart. Praised in its time due to its groundbreaking cast and themes that run deep into history and geography itself, ‘Black Panther’ also holds the rare exception of a Marvel film with an interesting villain who had more than a single dimension to him.
14. Wonder Woman (2018)
‘Wonder Woman’ is the one film that can actually be credited for turning the fate of the DCEU around, albeit only to be turned back by ‘Justice League’. The DCEU’s run in bad blood with the critics temporarily halted with ‘Wonder Woman’, currently standing at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and North of $800 Million at the global box office, a respectable sum by any means. Gal Gadot, with this film, put the haters and naysayers at bay in perfectly embodying the role of the Amazonian princess who comes into her own through the course of the film. Not much unlike its titular character, the film had strength, valour, courage and kindness at display, and that along with the almost mythic quality that WW had made this film a favourite of that season.
13. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The film would probably have been much higher on my list, had it not been surpassed by multiple entrants, superior in terms of scope. Yet still, this film bears the rare distinction of being the only Phase II MCU film on this list, as well as the only solo movie in the franchise, apart from of course, ‘Black Panther’. The action in here is slick, fast paced and the hand to hand simply among the best I have seen in most full-fledged action flicks as well. This second Captain America outing, compared to the tried and tested formula of other superhero movies, plays out like an espionage thriller, and was a welcome break from the regular MCU fodder. I still say this, story-wise, this is the very best that the MCU has to offer.
12. Deadpool (2016)
I still maintain that I prefer ‘Deadpool 2’ to the first film, since the characters, the world, the plot and the action are far more fleshed out in the sequel, with the world that the foul mouthed mercenary operates in far more established than in the first. However, it was the first one that started it all, spinning the notion of a superhero movie on its head. My biggest complaint with the film was that despite mocking every conventionality in superhero films and scoring its merits on those, ‘Deadpool’ itself fell prey to the one conventionality common to mostly all superhero films: a conventional plot! Not the very reckoning of superhero movies as many out there have made it to be, ‘Deadpool’ does remain an important landmark in terms of superhero films and how far they have come, showing the world how these movies needn’t be all serious and brooding always.
11. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
One of two superhero face-offs released that year, ‘Civil War’ saw the vast roster of Marvel characters divided over government intervention into the team, and building off on the ages old adage of vigilantism but with intervention. However, it only partially delved into the complexities of it, trading off a much needed gravitas for spectacle at several places. But when it delivered the spectacle, all of those instantaneously became some of the most iconic MCU moments, right from the Black Panther chase, the airport fight scene with Spiderman’s entry, to the final one-on-one fight between Cap and Iron Man. In a lot of ways, this film is what I believe paved the way for the Russo brothers to direct two of the biggest films the world had ever seen, finding their way on this list a little later.
10. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Widely hated for so many reasons, and yet here I am, defending this film for the umpteenth time, in front of possibly a pitchfork wielding crowd. There are admittedly several things wrong with the movie, just as they are with many others, but none enough to warrant the massacre it faced with the critics, something that inadvertently also hurt its chances at the box office.
The Ultimate Cut of the film and the extra footage did solve most of the continuity issues for me that the theatrical cut had, and Superman’s arc in the story started making some sense, but despite that, larger issues loomed over the narrative. However, this still turned out to be the better superhero face-off of the year for me, delivering so much more than what was wrong: the titanic titular fight, singularly the best Batman on screen fight, a badass Wonder Woman entry, a grimly perfect score from Hans Zimmer, an excellently engrossing opening sequence and much more.
9. The Incredibles 2 (2018)
‘The Incredibles 2’ came out after an incredible wait of fourteen years since the first one released and had set up an almost unbeatable legacy. The sequel to such a film is always bound to get unfair comparisons and is often laden with unnecessary expectations. If you can be bereft of them, ‘Incredibles 2’ is exhilarating, quality fun with doses of humour and gorgeous animation. If you can’t, the good news is that it’s still pretty fun, and the latter stands true any which way. Undoubtedly and unequivocally, Jack Jack is the star of the film. The scenes where the family learns about and copes with his newly discovered powers are some of the best in the film, and will leave you chuckling and awing at how adorable it all is.
8. Man of Steel (2013)
As good an origin film as any, ‘Man of Steel’ is also one of my personal favorite superhero films. With MoS, WB sought to reboot the Superman films they had previously tried to revive with ‘Returns’, and kickstart DC’s own cinematic universe. Following an explosive beginning showcasing the destruction of Krypton and Zod’s exile, the film undertakes a more introspective, personal tone, where a young Clark, still discovering his powers and coming to terms with his identity, is shown struggling in the world he has made his home.
The casting in this film is one of its major strengths, without which it would have lost half of its impact. Hans Zimmer’s pitch perfect score, something I strongly believe will be iconic in the years to come, just adds unbelievable gravitas to the legend of the big blue boy scout. While my hoped of getting a sequel are all but dashed as of now, I will always sincerely believe had Snyder been allowed to carry on his vision with only a teeny bit of course correction, in time, others would have joined him in the sun.
7. The Avengers (2012)
Marvel assembled its first phase of heroes back in 2012, and while the film’s merits as a whole may still be up in the air for discussion, the release of ‘The Avengers’ will be seen as nothing short of a momentous occasion in the times to come, and you are free to mark my words on that, for it showed the world exactly how profitable shared universes could be. For Feige and team at Marvel Studios, it was an experiment that paid off big time, while for others, it was a beacon for low-key jumping on the bandwagon. The film is not without its set of problems, but it let the Avengers assemble near flawlessly in the end, and delivered the good old superhero film times six.
6. X-Men: First Class (2011)
‘First Class’, completely justifies its title, delivering a well written and brilliantly acted out superhero film. ‘First Class’ tells the story of young Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, before they were Professor X and Magneto, and had divided into factions known as X-Men and the Brotherhood. The setting is the cold war era in the 60s, when nuclear threats loomed large, and the story ingeniously superimposes the essential happenings of that period with the world’s discovery of mutants and what they can do. It’s cleverly played out for some genuinely good period pieces, while also almost always excelling in the technical bits. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy are revelations in their respective roles, effortlessly gnawing at their parts. Their chemistry while they were young is just one of the many things this film gets right.
5. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
I have stated this on multiple counts by now, but the weight of a legacy is a terrible one. And the legacy of one of the most revered films of all time, coupled with the onus of capping off one of the best movie trilogies of all time all clearly fell on ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, which although clearly remains a better superhero movie than most out here today, slightly crumbles under the weight. However, it’s not as though that is the only problem with the film. ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ in my opinion got plenty wrong even apart from the slightly unfair comparisons, but despite that, the novelty of the project, and its insistence on telling a story first is what make it still pretty great.
4. Logan (2017)
‘Logan’ is hardly a superhero film, more aptly described as a character-driven, high on drama western, and it mostly delivers on those fronts: Logan is as vulnerable and cynical as ever, the fighting is brutal and visceral, benefiting from Jackman’s body language that he has mastered over the years. There are no two opinions on the fact that Hugh Jackman virtually owns the character, and it would be tough for the audience to see someone else take up the mantle, even a decade from now. Him stepping away from the role after this swansong was most definitely going to tear up fans a little, but the farewell is what indeed is the most perfect part of this film. Despite being bogged down by several plot holes and continuity issues as other X-Men outings, ‘Logan’ will, for a long time, remain among the very best that the genre has to offer.
3. Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse (2018)
We have had seven live-action Spiderman films to date, but none of them get Spiderman right for me the way this film did, taking me back to the glory days of the animated series. I may be among the minority when I say ‘Spiderman: Homecoming’ didn’t cut it for me as a film, and I have no qualms in admitting it. Of course, Tom Holland did appeal to me more as the web slinger following his second outing in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’.
However, Spiderman remains the one Marvel character for whom I have endless admiration, and ‘Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse’ added to that admiration by introducing a new Spiderman in the form of Miles Morales. Yes, Peter Parker is around too for some mentoring, as are other Spidermen from various alternate realities, their introductions easily being the best parts of the movie, and something that sets it truly apart from any other Spiderman outing till date. This film was easily the most satisfying Spiderman experience since far too long, probably Raimi’s ‘Spiderman 2’. I was on a Spiderman high after playing the excellent PS4 game, and this film didn’t let that die out.
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2. Avengers: Infinity War (2017)
It will be a really, really long time before the entertainment world is blessed with two back to back behemoths within a year, with the magnitude of ‘Infinity War’ and ‘Endgame’ and while I believe the debate between which was the better film out of the two will go on for some time, the truth is that these two films, collectively have changed the very notion of movie business. ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ was the movie event fans had been waiting for since ages, the culmination of a cinematic universe, or atleast the beginning of the end.
The film turned out to be bigger and better than what anyone expected, and certainly demands a sense of appreciation at all the setting up that took years and farsightedness in the business, and the story of Thanos, his motivations as a villain and his menacing resolve to balance the universe add a lot of emotional weight to the story that I earlier found missing from most Marvel outings, and frequently lamented over.
The cinematography and special effects were a huge step up from previous Marvel movies, and even the score was considerably better. It might feel overstuffed to a certain amount of viewers, but if one manages to squeeze in at least one badass scene for every hero, and absolutely killer entries for Cap, Iron Man and Thor, that alone deserves commendation. Even as a long time DC fan, I was completely satiated.
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1. Avengers: Endgame (2018)
I have dedicated an entire article to why ‘Infinity War’ is the better film out of the two, and that is a big mantle to bear, but the final 40 minutes or so of ‘Avengers: Endgame’ is what superhero dreams are made of: it’s what each one of us waited for to see for more than a decade, and yet still, none of us knew what it was until we finally witnessed it. I feel a sordid, intrinsic sadness for people who couldn’t witness this once in a lifetime event disguised as a film, while it was actually quite the opposite for me: there were cheers, laughter, hoots, whistles, and screams louder than the loudest decibel that IMAX had to offer, and sobs in the final scenes.
There were eruptions in the theatre during its key scenes, and I have never seen close to 300 people scream in unison with that level of excitement. If that is not exactly what encapsulates superhero culture at its very best, I don’t know what else does. And while I began my article on this very note, it is also where I stand to humbly disagree with what Scorsese said about a lack of emotional connect.
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