As this decade dawned, the major DC movie we looked forward to was The Dark Knight Rises, and a big anticipated Marvel film was The Amazing Spider-Man. We have come a long way since then. For fans of superhero movies, the mantra used to be “Please don’t suck!” These days, it’s more like “There is no excuse for not being amazing.”
We have a wealth of cinematic riches in the superhero realm. Yes, admittedly we can be slightly loose with the definition. Using the Force counts as a super power. And toys that can come alive and talk are pretty super too, especially if they’re styled after space heroes. But if you loved any of these outstanding movies 0f 2019, chances are you’ll like most of the rest too.
For now, Joaquin Phoenix could become the second actor to win an Oscar for playing Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime. Playing a disturbed sign spinner who was abused as a child and gradually loses everything, Phoenix offers a relatable descent into recession-era craziness we all hope we can avoid.
9. Toy Story 4
Buzz Lightyear and Duke Caboom are superheroes in our book. And we’re not even gonna touch Officer Giggles McDimples’ recollection of a love affair with He-Man. The real hero, however, is Forky, whose evolution from suicidal trash to most favored toy — and inability to see it — strikes a chord.
Duke Caboom gives us Keanu Reeves at his most natural Keanu state, Star Wars figures appear in a Toy Story movie for the first time, and Woody embraces adulthood after effectively becoming an organ donor. Heady stuff, once again, for a comedy about collectible toys. A sequel nobody thought essential might just be the best one.
8. Fast Color
Julia Hart’s original, independent superhero movie — soon to be a TV series — takes its cues from Logan. A young woman (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) with suppressed, undisciplined weather-control powers wanders a future-western, pre-apocalyptic landscape. Evading the law and attempting to understand her family heritage, she gradually embraces her gifts. And in a weird coincidence, the movie shares a significant plot twist with Detective Pikachu.
Disgruntled comics fans often complain that instead of color blind and gender-flipped casting, creators should just make new female and POC superheroes. Well, Fast Color did exactly that, and brilliantly, so go support it.
7. Captain Marvel
We live in a world of cinematic superheroic riches when this is only the second-best movie of the year to star a character named Captain Marvel. Brie Larson’s stoic space soldier was a deadpan delight, while Samuel L. Jackson was convincingly de-aged.
Meanwhile, Marvel pointedly used comic fans’ own knowledge against them to pull an unexpected Skrull swerve. To that end, Ben Mendelsohn’s adaptable nature helped us ultimately love Talos as much as we distrusted him initially. Plus months before we’d ever get to meet Baby Yoda, Goose the cat-like Flerken was the most adorably merchandisable, all-powerful alien sidekick to beat.
6. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
J.J. Abrams returned Star Wars to its roots in adventure cliffhanger serials with an allegedly final chapter that threw our main heroes into one mini-mission after another. Ian McDiarmid made a welcome return to emphasize the point that killing any one leader is irrelevant if their dark ideology still thrives. And for all the talk about The Last Jedi being retconned, Abrams built upon Rian Johnson’s ideas of Force communication and projection, and the Death Star technology cannons first tested in the battle of Crait.
We’d gladly have added another hour for the movie to answer even more questions, but then Return of the Jedi wasn’t perfect either. Just a satisfying last stand, like this one. It was also great to see Lando again.
5. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Officially the last installment of the Infinity Saga, Peter Parker’s latest adventure helped swiftly and amusingly establish the new normal of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. All while delivering a lesson about not believing everything you see, as epitomized by both illusionist Mysterio, and in the end, propagandist J. Jonah Jameson.
Jonah’s return, as embodied by J.K. Simmons, may have been the biggest stand up and cheer moment for superhero movie fans this summer. While we briefly worried this would be the last MCU Spidey flick, it turns out to be a tantalizing step forward into a world where Spidey is under siege in spite of his powerful friends. Viva Night Monkey!
4. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
Nowhere else will you see Batman prepare to marry a shape-shifting space octopus. And that alone might merit a recommendation, but The LEGO Movie‘s sequel contains much more. While the first film ultimately dealt with healing the divide between fathers and sons who collect differently, the second mends fences between brothers and sisters.
Rather than simply rail against toxic masculinity, it playfully examines the root causes and how they can be avoided. Essentially: there is no wrong way to be a LEGO fan. Or any kind of fan. So long as you respect that others can enjoy it differently, too.
3. Alita: Battle Angel
Robert Rodriguez always works best when he collaborates, and who better than James Cameron to team with on the project Cameron himself once had to turn down in favor of Avatar? At last, Rodriguez had the scope, budget, and years of pre-production and world-building to match his imagination.
The live-action adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga Gunnm could have gone wrong in many ways, up to and including actress Rosa Salazar’s digitally enlarged anime eyes. Instead, what ensued was an epic-scale mash-up of Pinocchio, The Iron Giant, and The Bourne Identity with a female protagonist in an inventive, multicultural city of cyborgs. It may set-up a sequel that’s unlikely to happen, but the first installment gets enough closure to make this particular story still worthwhile.
DC really got their big-screen act together this year. They gave us an adult-skewing Joker and the kid-friendly, (big red) cheesiest of their A-list superheroes: we-can’t-call-him-Captain-Marvel. Zachary Levi as an overgrown kid in a cape empowered by a wizard in a bad wig sounds absurd. Yet in David F. Sandberg’s hands, and with legit scary monsters to fight, it’s a movie more reminiscent of ’80s kid classics like Young Sherlock Holmes or Gremlins than the 1966 Batman.
It’s also a testament to the power of adopted families and the damage parental neglect can do. Additionally, it’s a breezy adventure with real stakes. And possibly the best DC-inspired film with no direct connection to Bruce Wayne since Christopher Reeve was Superman.
1. Avengers: Endgame
What can we say about this epic conclusion to 21 previous films that you don’t already know? It gave us moments to laugh, cry, and cheer. It worked as a sequel to any of the prior films even for folks who hadn’t seen them all. Following a dark but obviously not final cliffhanger from Infinity War, it walked things back without feeling like a total cheat. And it featured the largest cast of iconic superheroes ever to appear onscreen.
Lots of big movies have recently been about hope in the face of despair. (Especially in the Star Wars franchise.) Endgame suggested that reconciling past regrets is part and parcel of defeating the larger demons both within and without. A series that began with a selfish man making weapons of mass destruction came full circle, as he embraced the largest sacrifice by offering his own life for all others. All after revisiting past triumphs and finding new ways to look at them. A three hour triumph of emotional and visceral satisfaction, Endgame was not just the best superhero movie of the year. It was the best and biggest movie, period. We love it 2019.
What are your picks for this year’s best superhero movies of 2019? Let us know in the comment section below!