Batman v Superman hits at the end of the month and Captain America Civil War about a month later, kicking off another summer filled with comic book and superhero movies. Big differences of opinion of the merits of some superhero movies, especially Man of Steel, gave me the desire to rank all of the superhero movies that have come out since X-Men changed the game some 16 years ago. After much time and thought, as well as some rewatching, I have crafted a definitive ranking of live action superhero movies. Rankings were chosen by an expert panel of one person and they are objectively correct.
(Note, despite calling it definitive, there are a handful of movies I have never seen. Movies like the Blade sequels, a Punisher movie and the Ghost Rider movies. They are really not worth considering.)
47: Fantastic 4 (2015) – Just a complete and utter misfire. It has a great cast and some scenes that are actually pretty good on their own, but that just makes how bad the rest of it is all the more disappointing.
46: Catwoman – This one misses the point of the character in just about every way possible. The only reason I put it above F4 is that at least this one hilariously bad instead of infuriatingly bad.
45: Amazing Spider-Man 2 – I wasn’t a fan of the first Amazing Spider-Man, and this one doubled down on all of that movies problems and added some new ones. It couldn’t wait to do the famous Gwen Stacy scene and then didn’t in such a clownishly terrible way that sapped it of all effect.
44: X-Men Origins: Wolverine – To be fair to this film, the comics have never really presented a coherent origin for Wolverine either. Of course, none of those had wolverines howling at the moon or the single worst interpretation of Deadpool possible.
43: Elektra – This movie has its heart in the right place, but it just wasn’t any good.
42: The Punisher – I watched this recently. It is bad and dumb, with a really unappealing combination of slapstick violence and ineffective attempts at real darkness.
41: X-Men: The Last Stand – I had to fight with myself to not put this movie much higher. It’s bad, really bad, but I still kind of love it anyway. Kelsey Grammar as Beast is a great casting choice. Too bad just about everything else is nonsense.
40: Hulk – This feels like a movie that tries desperately to distance itself from its comic origins in many ways, but doesn’t manage to get anywhere else interesting. Also, it’s got some dreadful special effects.
39: Amazing Spider-Man – Unnecessary. There is little this movie does that is better than Spider-Man did a decade before. It does have a wisecracking Spidey, but otherwise it is wholly inferior.
38: Daredevil – I really didn’t know how to rank this one, since there is a sizable gap between the theatrical and director’s cuts, but neither of them are particularly good.
37: Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer – If it weren’t for the super disappointing Galactus cloud and the still somewhat disappointing Dr. Doom, this would have ranked higher. Of course, I do have a soft spot for superhero movies that are actually fun and for kids.
36: X-Men Apocalypse – a complete mess, but largely entertaining.
35: Green Lantern – I, and nobody else, consider this a near miss. It reeks of too many cooks in the kitchen, but there are moments when it is everything I actually want from a GL movie. Too bad it features not one but two bad villains.
34: Fantastic 4 – It is cheesy and dumb, but it is enjoyable anyway. Not good by any stretch of the imagination, but largely inoffensive.
33: Deadpool – Many went gaga over this, but it is merely okay. The plot is the most basic of any superhero movie; all it has going for it are hit or miss jokes and an on point Ryan Reynolds, which actually counts for much.
32: The Incredible Hulk – It is just kind of scattered and dull. It improves on the first Hulk movie, but it is still the worst movie from Marvel Studios.
31: Iron Man 2 – This was the first big step in building the Marvel cinematic universe and it almost didn’t work. The central plot is undercooked while the film spends too much time trying to set up Avengers. Still, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony is never not entertaining.
30: X-Men – The one that started it all, or at least started this current string of superhero movies after they were all but buried. Despite a great cast, it hasn’t aged all that well.
29: Superman Returns – There are some parts of this movie that are just great, like when Superman saves the space plane, but it ties itself too closely to the original Superman and takes some odd turns aside from that.
28: Suicide Squad – A grimy, messy movie that does hold some glimmers of what could have been really good. Some really entertaining performances buoy it just enough.
27: The Wolverine – Much better than the first pass, but it gets really silly in the last act. Still, I mostly liked it.
26: Watchmen – Ponderous and self-important, but not a bad adaptation of this much loved comic. I feel no need to ever see it again, but it wasn’t bad.
25: Hellboy – It spends a lot of time on an origin and introducing an every man character, but once things are up and going it shines.
24: Avengers Age of Ultron – Both bloated and completely empty. It is fun to see these characters together, but the second time lack the punch and the coherence of the first.
23: Spider-Man 3 – It gets goofy and seems to almost purposefully do Venom badly, but for all that it is a mess it is still rather enjoyable.
22: X-Men First Class – It falls apart completely in the last act, but before that First Class takes center stage, the stars and setting really make this movie go. It just can’t stick the landing.
21: Thor 2 – It feels a little like Marvel just going through the motions, but it is still a very entertaining film. It does completely was Eccelston as the villain.
20: Dr. Strange – Another Marvel origin movie. Well made, but I found it somewhat unengaging; other than some kaleidoscopic scenery there wasn’t much here I hadn’t seen before.
19: Ant-Man – Shockingly good for how troubled its production was. It still feels the loss of Edgar Wright, but it is hard not to like Paul Rudd.
18: Man of Steel – This movie falters pretty dramatically at times, but the rest of it is rock solid. It may have the worst Pa Kent ever and a dreadful ending, but the rest is really damn good.
17: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Note that this ranking if for the extended cut, the original cut would rank significantly lower. It isn’t the best superhero movie I’ve seen, but it is the one I have thought about the most.
16: Batman Begins – Nolan’s first take on Batman is close to great, but it doesn’t quite get there. There is nothing really wrong with it, but it pales to what came after it.
15: Spider-Man – Sam Raimi’s initial effort is still the gold standard for origin stories. Some of the effects haven’t aged well and it still had to try to cover up its comics origins, but it remains a good film.
14: Iron Man 3 – This is just about the best movie that feels like it is largely just going through the motions. RDJ is endlessly charming, which is enough to buoy and otherwise pedestrian movie.
13: Avengers – I’ve got this ranked high, but probably not as high as some would expect. It does spectacle as well as any film, but there is little behind that spectacle.
12: Captain America: Civil War – It has one truly transcendent scene and just enough of nearly a dozen interesting characters to make up for how forced parts of its plot seem.
11: X-Men 2 – This improved on the first movie in just about every way. Better action, stronger story, less of just the Wolverine show. Still the best straightforward X-Men movie.
10: Captain America: The First Avenger – Like Thor and Guardians of Galaxy up the list, this sets the superhero movie in another setting, this time as a war movie. It works, largely thanks to Chris Evans as Cap.
9: X-Men Days of Future Past – This is much like First Class, but without the wasted class and disaster of a final act. Bringing back Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen was brilliant.
8: Thor – I really like this movie’s fantasy take on a superhero. The opening parts in Asgard are some of my favorite parts in any superhero movie and the stuff on Earth almost matches it.
7: Iron Man – Marvel’s first is still one of their best. It is the best rendition to date of an origin story, all of which are basically the same.
6: Spider-Man 2 – The first one was good, but this one had a lot more space to work with the origin dispensed with.
5: Hellboy 2: The Golden Army – It doesn’t need the origin story of the first movie, so it is free to do whatever Del Toro wants, which is crib from Miyazaki movies in a really satisfying way.
4: Guardians of the Galaxy – Superheroes by way of Star Wars that works better than it has any right to. It is just a charming delight.
3: The Dark Knight Rises – I know many would have this ranked lower, but it is just about perfect. It is not as tight as The Dark Knight, but it gets by on being completely, delightfully bonkers.
2: Captain America: The Winter Soldier – This manages to be a sequel to both the first Captain America movie and The Avengers and be better than the both of them.
1: The Dark Knight – This is the cliché answer, but I still think it is the right one. It really is just an excellent movie.