Two things quickly become evident when putting together a list of the 100 Best Superhero Movies of All Time. First, this is the Golden Age for such films, a decade where technology, long-unrequited fandom and surging popular awareness have all combined to thrill moviegoers and make Hollywood billions of dollars. Second, it’s still fair to say there are plenty of superhero films are not that good. There’s no real contradiction at play here. The niche just lacks the pedigree of its fellow movie genres. Though superhero comic books may have started to make a dint in popular culture 75 years ago (give or take), technology only crossed over from hindrance to enabling force in the last 20 years or so. As a result, while curating a 100 Best Westerns of All Time or 100 Best Documentaries of All Time list requires the exclusion of arguably good films to select the best 100. When we first compiled this list a few years ago, the pickings got slim after 40. In fact, the real challenge was choosing amongst the dreck (some of it beloved dreck!) that would fill out the bottom half. It turns out it’s much easier to argue for or against a top 10 film’s exact placement (and frankly, compelling arguments could be made for almost any of our top 5 as deserving the #1 position), than weighing the relative “merits” of Masters of the Universe, Swamp Thing and Elektra.
But that Golden Age mentioned above? That also means this list is rapidly evolving due to the flood of new films. It would be an unusual, near unprecedented event for our Best westerns, noirs or even science fiction movies to suddenly have a new movie appear in the top 10. Cinematic recency bias can only do so much, and the competition is stiff. Meanwhile, this latest list, updated after just a year of new films, boasts two new entries in the top 3 and two more in the top 20. (2018 was a very good year for the genre.)
Before we dive in to the updated list, some criteria. To be considered for this list, a film must possess at least two of the following three qualities: 1) It must involve costumed shenanigans, 2) It must involve a superpowered protagonist and/or 3) the protagonist must exist in a world where the supernatural/extraordinary is demonstrably present. These criteria are why meta-commentary films like Kick-Ass and Super are not on this list. And it’s also why some films with pulpy characters like Zorro, Tarzan and Conan are not, while others like The Phantom are. (Zane’s costume combined with the Skulls of Touganda do the trick.) Admittedly, the lines gets blurry. Also absent from this list is any consideration of foreign superhero films. That’s not because some are not worthy—especially given the movie quality issue mentioned at the top—it’s just an area we’d rather get better versed in before pouring into this list. Next year, perhaps.
100. Swamp Thing (1982)
Swamp Thing draws a straight line from Universal Monster movies to ’70s superhero comics, giving Wes Craven—two years before Nightmare on Elm Street—a surprisingly bright and colorful marshland to create something violent and goofy within. That he also cast Adrienne Barbeau in the part of Cable, a relentlessly badass government agent with a relentlessly badass name, means that for Craven to only craft an homage to campy creature features wouldn’t be enough. A Frankenstein story with guns and good one-liners, the film touches on notions of environmental influence and human nature and the amorality of science in between karate chops (of which there are many), explosions and grotesque body horror. It may have been Craven’s first bid for big, blown-out studio success, but Swamp Thing makes it clear the director’s ambition demanded something meatier than a movie starring a stuntman in a crappy piss-green rubber suit. —D.S.
99. Batman (1966)
The Adam West Batman film offers the sort of gleeful insanity you need to inflict upon modern comics fans who are unaware of its existence, because once you’ve seen it, you’ll never forget it. With a plot that defies any attempt toward description, it’s the height of camp, featuring incredible performances by Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin and especially the great Burgess Meredith, as the Joker, Riddler and Penguin respectively, in a team-up to take down the caped crusader and his dopey ward (Burt Ward, that is). The film is just a string of jaw-droppingly silly moments, one right after another—the “shark-repellent bat spray” gives way to Penguin’s bird-shaped submarine, and into the two full minutes of West running around with a giant bomb held over his head, unable to find a place to dispose of it. There isn’t a more campy or joyful superhero movie on this entire list. But be warned—Batman ’66 is best paired with your booze of choice. —Jim Vorel
98. The Shadow (1994)
Part of the ’90s pulp movie train that included The Phantom and The Rocketeer, Russell Mulcahy’s The Shadow is the least of the trio, though that’s really more a function of setting than anything else. Alec Baldwin’s Lamont Cranston comes from the well-established “crime-fighting multi-millionaire” school of do-gooder (that’s got to be the best school, right?) and the Shadow’s powers to befuddle minds and be invisible make him the bookish, pasty cousin of the high-flying, Nazi-battling Rocketeer or the jungle-to-New York-and-back-again Phantom. Nonetheless, even as the script hobbles the film’s otherwise sleek design, Baldwin shows an Alec Guinness-worthy ability to inhabit strange characters and deliver potentially hokey lines with sincerity and charm. (Seriously, check out his turn as The Conductor in 2000’s Thomas and the Magic Railroad—the man kills it.) But while that may make the film must-see for all his fans, it’s probably not enough to justify anyone else seeing it. —Michael Burgin
97. 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. —Andy Crump
96. Blade: Trinity (2004)
Even before 2000’s X-Men announced the arrival of comic books as a source Hollywood could take seriously, there was 1998’s Blade, a Marvel character brought to life onscreen by Wesley Snipes, with buckets of blood and cool to spare. And in 2002, the Guillermo del Toro-helmed sequel successfully upped the ante and expanded the world’s mythos. Then, in 2004 we got Blade: Trinity, which raised the question: Unholy Blood God, what the hell happened? Reading the hilarious account by Patton Oswalt certainly helps shed some light, but Blade and Blade II writer David Goyer was clearly in way over his head beyond Oswalt’s telling in directing this sequel. So many terrible decisions made it all the way to the celluloid—Parker Posey’s woefully miscast vampire villainess, the short, trunk-necked Dracula with underbite fangs and played more as a WWE heel (instead of an ancient evil awoken after centuries) by Dominic Purcell, and even Posey’s little Pomeranian dog that’s actually a Reaper-thing? You know, the super vampires from Blade II that ate vampires like her? It’s telling when the best thing in a movie is Ryan Reynolds, landing funny quips that are so tonally jarring to the rest of the film they work almost as a meta commentary on the film itself. —S.W.
95. Green Lantern (2011)
Proof that Warner Bros.’ negative aptitude for the DC Universe’s potential-laden source material existed before the arrival of Zack Snyder, Green Lantern wastes a solid cast—Mark Strong’s turn as Sinestro should have lasted longer than a single movie, or at least survived the reboot—and the enviable but too often fumbled “first pick” of an established hero’s mythos. The latter is a too-often overlooked cardinal sin of bad productions—the studio literally had its pick of any Green Lantern tale from the character’s 70+ years of stories. They chose Parallax, a villain who is … complicated, and the result was a foe who visually was only a few steps removed from what the 2007 Fantastic Four film did to Galactus in suckage. The film also provides an important reminder for anyone wishing to make superhero films, or, for that matter, sci-fi and fantasy films: CGI is a friend that can become your enemy in the beat of an eye. Rely too much on it at your peril. Fortunately, Ryan Reynolds would survive the film, showing a Chris Evans-like resilience as he went on to make a definitive Merc with a Mouth. (At least his time as Hal Jordan would yield two jokes for the Deadpool film.) —M.B.
94. Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters (2007)
Viewers looking for plot, logic, punchlines, shame or sense: The Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie will be a desolate slog. Even making it through its full title is a test of patience and reason, one of many walls directors/creators Dave Willis and Matt Maiellero throw up between the casual moviegoer and the movie people are supposed to be paying money to see. But, as they make it clear from the beginning—with a warped take on the classic “Let’s all go to the movies!” parade of anthropomorphic theater food intro—they have your money now, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Otherwise, ATHFCMFFT is a blown-out episode of the Adult Swim cartoon, following a giant, hovering box of fries, a six-foot milkshake, and a rolling sphere of meat as they “solve” “mysteries” in their local New Jersey town, mysteries which usually involve horrifying violence toward their next-door neighbor, Carl (Dave Willis). What probably began as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle parody has long since abandoned anything that would be classified as a point, and that’s probably how Willis and Maiellero like it. They probably don’t care if you feel the same way either. —D.S.
93. Batman Forever (1995)
It’s difficult to consider Joel Schumacher’s initial turn at the helm of the Batman franchise absent an awareness of the hideous film that would come after. All the signs are there—cartoonish flair threatening, scenery-chomping actors where Batman villains should be, bat nipples—but if viewed without remembering this would all lead to Batman and Robin, it’s possible to enjoy aspects of the film. Opening mis-en-action, à la Bond movies—here with Batman (Val Kilmer) foiling Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones)—Schumacher’s film establishes off the bat a sense that this is a day in the life for our caped crusader. Unfortunately, once Jim Carrey’s Riddler fully takes the stage, it all dissolves into a mug-off between two of Batman’s more important non-Joker adversaries that’s in no way true to the actual characters. (Though, granted, Ahnold’s turn as Mr. Freeze a few years later was enough to make one long for the subtlety of Carrey’s performance.) Still, ultimately, for anyone who has seen Batman and Robin, it’s difficult not to suppress a shudder when viewing this particular take on the Dark Knight. —Michael Burgin
92. Venom (2018)
Deep into the goop of Venom, ersatz Elon Musk, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), performs alien-human hybrid experiments on San Francisco vagrants (of which there are many, the movie implies, because San Francisco is the urban poster child for the housing crisis) to eventually figure out how humans can live off-planet. Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate, token and expendable lady scientist) tells Vice-like multimedia alt-reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) that Drake has been urgently planning his interstellar escape because our species basically has a generation left, if that, before catastrophe. Brock understands completely, nods without flinching at Skirth’s prognostications. He’s also about to understand exactly what those experiments are like, soon to be intimately inhabited by an alien who goes by the name of Venom in an adventure resembling a comic book movie made before there was such a thing as an MCU, or a DCEU, or a Deadpool openly tearing away the veil that separates continuities and studio properties, exposing these enterprises as divided up only by billions of dollars, not by allegiance to canon or adherence to the tenets of comic book release strategies. Which is why Ruben Fleischer’s unabashedly pulpy Venom sometimes feels so special: It exists on its own. It concerns itself with modern problems in a modern world, but it acts like an early-2000s sci-fi blockbuster, molecularly unable to take itself seriously. It relies on a popular existing property within a genre enjoying unprecedented popularity, populated by Oscar-winning actors and unheard-of budgets, but it doesn’t pretend to have any claim to the well-established universes it can only point to, would seem to never dream of awards talk or critical love. It has Tom Hardy chewing so gleefully through its celluloid we should have talked awards and should have flirted with better critical love, but it also doesn’t quite do much of anything, doesn’t quite go far enough, with the insanity it potentially wields. It’s not a buddy comedy, but it’s also not not a buddy comedy. Venom could have been the most original superhero movie to come out in a long time, had it been released ten years ago. They just don’t—and one could argue for good reason—make movies like this anymore. —Dom Sinacola
91. Punisher: War Zone (2008)
A neon noir reveling in vulgarity, Punisher: War Zone may be the nastiest Marvel movie the company’s ever put their name behind (counting Deadpool), mostly because of Ray Stevenson, who plays Frank Castle with enough gnarled dread to make any of film’s levity seem well earned. Director Lexi Alexander of course doesn’t shy away from the franchise’s patented superhuman hyper-violence—witness more than one fully collapsed face within the course of three minutes—and her sense of space in otherwise straightforward action scenes is pretty impeccable. All in all, it’s tasteless, gross, visceral, endlessly surprising and totally without expectation—it is, in other words, the kind of superhero movie “they” just don’t make anymore. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or not. —Dom Sinacola
90. Hulk (2003)
If this first Incredible Hulk stand-alone movie had come along later, in the days of the MCU, it never would have been placed into the hands of Ang Lee. It’s a truly lofty endeavor, but one that is badly misjudged by its writers and Oscar-winning director. The Hulk simply isn’t a character that fits or deserves “Greek tragedy,” as Lee was quoted in describing the film’s theme. In the end, he’s a dual character—a typically unlikable, whiny scientist, and a raging, smashing automaton, neither of whom lend themselves well to daddy issues and attempts at deep pathos. The film’s interesting aspects tend to revolve around its unique visual style, which Lee used to directly reference and allude to the sequential, flowing experience of flipping through comic panels. However, it’s simultaneously let down somewhat by cheap-looking Hulk visuals (even for 2003), and an antagonist in the form of Bruce Banner’s father as played by Nick Nolte, who feels like he’s walking through his scenes, improvising every other sentence. This Hulk aspired toward grand psychological drama for a character the MCU later proved was much more lovable in a more limited capacity. —Jim Vorel
89. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
If you had asked fans of the X-Men franchise what kind of movie they wanted in 2006, following the greatness of X2 they probably would have drafted one that looked quite a bit like The Last Stand. Which is to say: Fans can’t be trusted to create a film that will actually work and flow. The “Dark Phoenix” saga is one of the most iconic—the most important—X-Men stories ever, and in The Last Stand it just doesn’t quite come together like it was supposed to. The film often feels way overstuffed, with characters such as the Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones) simply shoehorned in as henchmen, when in the comics they’re often the subject of whole story arcs. Angel (Ben Foster), for instance, was heavily used in the promotion of the film, but has only a few minutes of largely inconsequential screen time. The Last Stand, though, does manage to pack some raw, often satisfying emotionality into the already-packed run-time, from the destruction of Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) physical form to the loss of Mystique’s (Rebecca Romijn) mutant powers and subsequent rejection by Magneto (Ian McKellan) and his mutant brotherhood. Ultimately, The Last Stand suffers from a surplus of ambition and ideas more than anything else. Perhaps in a parallel universe, it could have reached the same highs as the rest of the core X-Men film franchise. —J.V.
88. Fantastic Four (2005)
While Marvel Comics has plenty of villains, it has far fewer archvillains. Among those dastardly types, there are some hall-of-fame level archvillains who frequently threaten the world and, occasionally, existence itself. The Red Skull, Loki, Ultron, Magneto, Doctor Doom. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, we’ve seen great portrayals of those villains … well, except Doctor Doom,” then you’re also well on your way to understanding why the 2005 Fantastic Four (and its sequel, and 2015’s Trankian abomination…) fails. For whatever reason, the writers, directors and studio decision makers shy away from just allowing one of Marvel’s transcendent villains from being himself. Thus, while Michael Chiklis’ Thing and Chris Evans’ Human Torch ring true, Ioan Gruffudd’s Mister Fantastic is serviceable, and Jessica Alba is, eh, Jessica Alba, the film’s thunderous whiff on Victor von Doom leaves viewers new to the material unimpressed and fans of the source material keenly aware of what’s been squandered. But hey, at least the sequel features Galactus, right? —Michael Burgin
87. The Punisher (2004)
Thomas Jane as Frank Castle—he doesn’t announce that he is the Punisher until the movie’s last dud of a moment—looks good in a black tee-shirt and a leather duster. He is the Perfectly Serviceable Punisher, and as the PSP, Jane’s whole dead-eyed android schtick seems like a reasonable character decision to make for an actor responding to the script before him. So when he stabs a slimy thug through the jaw—when he, inevitably, kills everybody—you feel fine about it. He has well-sculpted muscles. The film’s real treat is John Travolta as Tampa crime lord Howard Saint, a damnedly vain man slowly transforming into a bitter gargoyle, and a prime argument for Travolta’s late-career purpose as VOD cinema’s go-to slick asshole/bad guy. In fact, once The Punisher reaches its third act, when all of Castle’s “punishments” start clicking into place, Jonathan Hensleigh’s film feels like it could, just maybe, have been something great—capped off with a final murder so satisfying it should both shame and captivate you. Meanwhile, Rebecca Romijn listens to some dope-ass nü-metal and Beta version Ben Foster is here, real sweaty. —D.S.
86. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Many fans reacted with appropriate horror when they saw Michael Bay’s name attached to the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie in seven years. “Oh, shit. This is going to end up another Transformers-like bastardization, isn’t it?” Although Bay didn’t himself direct it, they were at least partially right; his explosion-attracting fingerprints are all over it. From the obnoxious visual noise of the Turtle Brothers’ new outfits, to Shredder’s ridiculous knives-within-knives-within-knives Samurai outfit, it’s unmistakably Bay. (Poor Master Splinter looks like one of those little mutts that annually wins the “World’s Ugliest Dog” ribbon, and is, puzzlingly, voiced by Tony Shaloub, while Shredder is basically the backup villain to William Fitchner’s crooked CEO character.) Megan Fox’s April O’Neil is less intrepid reporter happening upon both a ninja-based crime wave in New York and a band of giant, crime-fighting turtles, than she is an excuse to have some eye-rolling personal connection to the origin of our titular half-shelled heroes. But despite the dripping Bay-ness of it all, at least Jonathan Liebesman directs the big action sequences with a verve and clarity most decidedly un-Bay. None of it adds up to a movie worth seeing, even with Will Arnett on hand to inject a little GOB Bluth into the proceedings, but hey, it could have been worse, I guess…? —Scott Wold
85. Hancock (2008)
The premise of Hancock is promising enough—a super-powered man (Will Smith) with some drinking issues tends to be a little sloppy on the execution side of superheroing, causing a decent amount of collateral damage and public ill-will even when otherwise do-gooding. A PR pro he happens to save sets out to help his image and perhaps figure out exactly why an invulnerable, super-strong guy who can fly is so gloomy. Along with Smith, Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron round out a solid cast, but what begins as an interesting character study quickly gives way to truckloads of “12-year-old-makes-a-comic-book!” origin story exposition and some cliché CGI-enhanced fight scenes. Apparently, a sequel is still in the cards, which might be interesting if only to see exactly how a post-MCU explosion, post-DeadpoolHancock 2 would look to distinguish itself (if at all). —M.B.
84. 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.
83. 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.
82. 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.
81. 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.
80. 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
79. 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.
78. 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.
77. 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.
76. 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.