Why are there so many superhero movies
While channel surfing in December, I stumbled across a television special called “Celebrating Marvel’s Stan Lee.” Being both bored and a huge superhero fan, I watched it. The special was one hour, including commercials, and it had a lot of ground to cover— from Stan Lee’s beginnings in comics in the 1930s to his death in 2018— and it presented only a general overview of Lee’s tremendous impact on pop culture.
In the last few years, it has been nearly impossible to evade Marvel. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which now contains 23 released films, celebrated its 10th anniversary recently and its “Avengers: Endgame” shattered box office records in 2019 when it grossed $2.798 billion worldwide. But the MCU is far from the only superhero film universe.
Since 2000, a grand total of 55 live-action superhero movies have premiered. That number includes films from: the X-Men cinematic universe, which includes the Wolverine trilogy; the Spider-Man trilogy and its reboot, “The Amazing Spider-Man”; the Marvel Cinematic Universe; Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy; the DC Extended Universe (DCEU); the “Deadpool” franchise; “Watchmen”; and “Brightburn”. This is to say nothing about the animated superhero movies like “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
That explosion of superhero movies is far from over. The DCEU is working on 7 more films; the MCU on 14. “Spider-Verse” is getting a sequel. And the list goes on.
The admittedly arbitrary honor of the first superhero film of the new decade goes to “Birds of Prey: The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.” “Birds of Prey” opens Feb. 6, and in honor of its upcoming theatrical release, here is a definitive ranking of my favorite (and least favorite) superhero movies of the 21st century*.
(*Note: I have not seen 6 of the 55 live-action movies, so those 6 will not be included in the ranking.)
1: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018)
“Spider-Verse” is, without a doubt, my favorite superhero movie of the century. Visually, it’s beautiful: The animation echoes its comic-book source, embracing the things it can do that a live-action film cannot. The soundtrack slaps. It’s funny. The characters are compelling and the plot makes sense. What more is there to say?
2: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)
It’s been six years since I first saw this movie, and it still takes my breath away. Not because of the special effects or the choreography of the fight scenes, though this movie does both well. Not even because of the plot, a political thriller where a group of superheroes whose friendship warms my heart expose the Nazis in the US government. It’s because I still cry every time I watch Bucky Barnes— the titular Winter Soldier— break free of his brainwashing and decide to be his own person.
3: “Logan” (2017)
“Logan” thoroughly uses its R rating. The movie is a gritty story supposedly about a formerly immortal man who, having seen all his friends die, knows he is dying too. But somehow, it isn’t depressing, and I think that’s because, despite the movie’s name, the main character isn’t Logan— it’s Laura. Hidden within that movie is the story of a girl desperate to get back to her friends— who will be the future of humanity— and the family she finds on the way. “Logan” makes me cry, but a cry that leaves me feeling pretty good.
4: “Batman Begins”/”The Dark Knight” (2005/2008)
Yes, this is two movies. My excuse is that every time I have seen “Batman Begins,” I watched “The Dark Knight” immediately afterward. I can’t pick a favorite; Christian Bale’s Batman defined the character for me, just as Heath Ledger did for the Joker. The movies are very different from the Batman media that immediately preceded them; they’re dark, violent. But, despite their length (all three films in the trilogy clock in at over two hours), I can’t look away.
5: “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017)
I cannot stress enough how bad I thought “Ragnarok” was going to be when I walked into the theater in 2017, or how wrong I was. I laughed for nearly the entire two-hour movie, whose simple plot seemed to be an excuse to string together as many jokes as possible. Exceedingly rewatchable, “Ragnarok” is a movie I keep coming back to.
Honorable mention: “The Avengers” (2012)
“The Avengers” gets an honorable mention for being the movie on which the MCU has modeled their movies for the last 8 years. It gets an honorable mention for bringing together the group of heroes that defined my middle and high school years. It gets an honorable mention for Loki.
Least favorite: “Batman vs Superman: The Dawn of Justice” (2016)
Yes, this is my least favorite movie. Mostly that’s because I didn’t know what was going on. Over the course of the three-hour-long director’s cut that I watched, the scenes where I was sure what was happening were few and far between. If I had been less confused, I don’t think this movie would be in this spot. Lex Luthor was brilliant.