Top 50 Superhero Movies Of All Time: 2012 Edition

Zap! Ka-Pow! Blam! The fighting is over and now we are ready to reveal the Top 50 Superhero Movies Of All Time 2012 edition.

With three superhero blockbusters released in the past few months (The Dark Knight Rises, Avengers Assemble, The Amazing Spider-Man), we wanted to see how they would affect the results. And could Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance make a dent in the chart? (What do you think?) And what about Chronicle? Could that underdog make it into the big league?

All will be revealed over the next few pages…

It’s interesting to note how the success of Avengers Assemble has also had an effect on some of the other Marvel movies… if that’s not giving away spoilers.

Dropping out of the Top 50 this year:

• Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer (2007)
• The Return Of Captain Invincible (1984)
• Ghost Rider (2007)
• Superman III (1983)
• Supergirl (1984)

Supergirl had the biggest fall – the Helen Slater movie was as number 37 last year. And there are going to be some very unhappy Captain Invincible fans out there – if they can find each other they can form a protest group.

Enough chat. On with the countdown…

50 Spider-Man 3 (2007)

2011 position: 50 (no movement)

Directed by: Sam Raimi
Cast: Tobey Maguire (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), James Franco (Harry Osborn), Thomas Haden Church (Flint Marko/The Sandman)

It’s one of those cruel ironies that while Spidey 3 is the least loved of the Raimi trio, it was also the most successful at the box office. Fans may have moaned about too many villains (Green Goblin, Sandman, Venom), embarrassing dad dancing and a plot that retconned the first film (at the time, the Uncle Ben controversy was the “Greedo shot first” of its day) but it didn’t seem to worry the general cinema audiences. And while Spidey 3 is undeniable the worst of the trilogy, what a trilogy to be third place in. There’s still a lot to love here, so maybe it’s time for a bit of web-spin-doctoring: think of it less as a loser, and more as the bronze medal winner.


49 X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

2011 position: 35 (down 14 places)

Directed by: Brett Ratner
Cast: Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier), Anna Paquin (Rogue)

Blimey, third films in superhero trilogies really did have a bad rep until The Dark Knight Rises came along. The Last Stand does have the advantage of a few good scenes that linger in the memory, but despite the good will, subsequent rewatches just confirm why you felt so dissatisfied and short-changed watching it the first time around.

Blame Superman. When Bryan Singer bailed on his own, lovingly-crafted X-franchise and traded the Man of Adamantium for the Man of Steel, he left a crippling talent vacuum in his wake. Matthew Vaughn volunteered for duty, but reportedly baulked at the furious turnaround time. So the studio turned to the serviceable, exec-soothing Brett Ratner, a director with a reputation for competence rather than flash. Does he deliver? Well, let’s put it this way: it’s deeply ironic that Ratner’s calling card was a 1998 movie by the name of Rush Hour.

Everything about X-Men: The Last Stand screams fast-track. It plays like a rash, hastily assembled filler picture, a monumentally mundane cap to the X-Men trilogy. It takes the classic Dark Phoenix saga from the comic books, but squanders such gold-standard source material. It feels flat and drab, underwritten and ill thought-out, and its “will this do?” vibe is exacerbated by a criminally huge continuity howler where broad daylight turns to pitch black night in a beat. The “mutant cure” storyline is also piffle – how can a single hypodermic jab change someone on a cellular level? As for Vinnie Jones, the awful hilarity of his snarled, “I’m Juggernaut, bitch!” is a true hurtle-out-of-the-movie-pissing-yourself moment that will surely become Razzie legend.

Bafflingly, and frustratingly, there are moments of pure, surprising splendour, floating like gold coins in porridge. A face-off between Phoenix and Professor X is genuinely shocking. And the moment where Magneto commandeers the Golden Gate Bridge and urges it across San Francisco Bay is total comic book brilliance, precisely the kind of romantic high absurdity that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby specialised in. It’s here that you realise Brett Ratner is actually raising his game. And to his credit, this isn’t a cynical fast food exercise. But you do wonder what he might have been capable of, given more time and resources.


48 Fantastic Four (2005)

2011 position: 32 (down 16 places)

Directed by: Tim Story
Cast: Ioan Gruffudd (Reed Richards/Mr Fantastic), Jessica Alba (Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman), Chris Evans (Johnny Storm/The Human Torch), Michael Chiklis (Ben Grimm/The Thing), Julian McMahon (Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom)

As source material goes, The Fantastic Four is an inky gift from the gods. With Stan Lee’s hip scripts fused to Jack Kirby’s dynamite art, it delivered cheap, potent pulp thrills that set your mind to melt mode. It seethed with ideas, devouring huge concepts issue after issue – Galactus, The Eater Of Worlds! Rama-Tut, Pharaoh Of The Year 3000! The Inhumans! The Negative Zone! – but at its core were the people, a flawed family of heroes you cared passionately about.

In the end, though, the creative muscle of modern Hollywood couldn’t match the imaginative firepower of two guys armed with only a typewriter and a pencil.

What’s missing is vision and spirit. There’s no Sam Raimi, Bryan Singer or Christopher Nolan to arm this flick with love and intelligence. It’s a Happy Meal, an aggressively marketed slice of fast food superheroics that feels like it’s been micromanaged to within an inch of its life.

The casting is truly weird: half spot-on, half way off. Ioan Gruffudd is fundamentally dull as Reed Richards. Jessica Alba plays Sue Storm as a bizarre brew of whiny bitch and empty lust object, perfecting the brand of dialled-in disdain that Halle Berry pioneered in the X-Men movies. Julian McMahon’s Dr Doom, meanwhile, re-invents the gothic ruler as ranty stock broker.

It’s left to the tag team of the Thing and the Human Torch to bring some life to the screen. Michael Chiklis sweats it out beneath an unconvincing boulder suit but brings real soul to the rock-bound bruiser, while Evans is near-perfect as Johnny – all asshole charm and fratboy cockiness. Scrapping, wisecracking and bagging the best gags, these two alone edge tantalisingly close to the human spirit of the comics.

Also on the plus side, the film does deal with one area left unexplored by other superhero films: because the Fantastic Four are not masked heroes, they become celebrities. And when the film is dealing with the impact of celebrity culture it develops a spark of life. But is that really what we wanted a Fantastic Four film to be about?

47 Darkman (1990)

2011 position: 42 (down 5 places)

Directed by: Sam Raimi
Cast: Liam Neeson (Peyton Westlake), Frances McDormand (Julie Hastings), Colin Friels (Louis Strack Jr)

Before tackling Spider-Man, Sam Raimi created his own superhero (though a very warped one) in the guise of Darkman. Liam Neeson plays Peyton Westlake, a scientist who has discovered a way to produce synthetic skin – problem is, it degrades after 100 minutes of exposure to light. When he’s horrifically burnt after some gangsters raid his lab, he’s out for revenge on the guys who did it – and he uses his invention to disguise himself with a variety of faces.

An unashamed, unpretentious attempt to update pulp noir with some ’90s horror, in the wrong hands Darkman could easily have been a totally forgettable – or unwatchable – experience. After all, it’s pure B-movie schlock at heart. But Raimi crafts it with the same care (if not budget) that Spielberg gave Raiders, and casting a heavyweight thesp at its heart, Neeson, gives the main character more depth than you’d expect from a film like this. It’s no classic, and it’s all a bit too one-note, but remains a lot of fun.


46 Condorman (1981)

2011 position: 41 (down 5 places)

Directed by: Charles Jarrott
Cast: Michael Crawford (Woody Wilkins), Oliver Reed (Krakov), Barbara Carrera (Natalia)

Perhaps the oddest thing about this Disney effort, is that the title at the time was more likely to make kids think they were going to see a film about a man who loved his cigars than about a comic artist who becomes the character he draws. Crawford stars at Woody, the artist who, through a sequence of unlikely events, becomes involved with the defection of a Russian spy. The CIA help him bring his creation to life, because, of course, international espionage can always benefit from a man with a 40-foot wing span.

While Christopher Reeve was convincing us that a man could fly, Crawford looks like he can barely walk in his get-up. Despite the film being cheesy and cheap, it remains fondly remembered as a kind of juvenile James Bond, complete with gadgets, stunts, a boat chase and globetrotting. Who needed another Bourne movie when we could have had a Condorman remake?