Superhero Hype’s Top 10 Superhero Movies of the Decade
There’s really no dispute. The last ten years belonged to the superhero movies. Four decades after Richard Donner’s Superman and three decades after Tim Burton’s Batman, comic book heroes are bigger box office draws than ever before. The big difference in the 2010s was that movies were more faithful to the characters as they appear in the comics.
We don’t have to switch out colorful outfits for black body armor every time. Heroes with moral codes are not obliged to kill the villain in every film (sit down, Zack Snyder). We’re still working on the one about how heroes with secret identities shouldn’t need to reveal themselves to their girlfriend/love interest every time. But one thing at a time. Besides, secret identities in and of themselves are practically irrelevant now.
This was also very much the decade of the Marvel movie. DC had a few breakout hits, but it was ultimately the MCU that had a near stranglehold. Perhaps that will change in the next ten years. But for now, here’s our picks for the top 10 superhero movies of the decade.
It’s easy to make fun of Tom Hardy’s strange take on Bane, years before his even stranger take on Venom. But Christopher Nolan’s bold mash-up of the No Man’s Land and Knightfall stories went one step further. In an unprecedented move for a blockbuster superhero franchise, this movie ended Bruce Wayne’s story. He finally got closure, and no longer needed to be Batman. In a world of constant reboots, that no longer seems as radical as it did then. And only a director with Nolan’s clout could have gotten away with it.
The Russo brothers dropped the phrase “’70s conspiracy thriller” into every single interview they did for this movie. Just in case a solitary reviewer might fail to mention it, they also cast Robert Redford as a reminder. But that’s no slight on the movie itself, which redefines patriotism by forcing its star-spangled hero to confront both a Russian brainwashed former friend, and a fascist-infused government agency.
We’re not saying the movie’s conspiracy theories created very similar real-world talking points, but it sure does feel prescient in hindsight. It also introduced the Russo brothers to Marvel, which became the start of a beautiful friendship. Who knew these TV comedy directors would go on to make the most epic comic book movies ever? This was our first hint.
8. Wonder Woman
The running joke used to be: “Marvel made a movie about a talking raccoon. DC still hasn’t done Wonder Woman.”
More on that raccoon later, but Warner Bros. finally gave the third of DC’s “big three” heroes her own movie. Save for some minor quibbles about the climactic villain, it was a film that satisfied almost everybody. Credit Zack Snyder for finding and casting Gal Gadot, previously known for her roles in the Fast and Furious sequels.
But it also comes down to Patty Jenkins, whose love of the original Christopher Reeve Superman films inspired her to give the greatest female hero a suitably cinematic origin. The No Man’s Land scene already feels like an all-time classic, but even simple moments like Diana eating ice cream remain memorable. We can’t wait to see Jenkins take on the ’80s in Wonder Woman 1984.
Wakanda forever! Sci-fi and comic book movies tend to create the future through the prism of either Japan or America, so the Afrofuturism of Marvel’s hidden African kingdom felt bold and refreshing. With the world’s most advanced technology and some throwback tribal traditions (trial by combat is a terrible way to pick a leader, really), Black Panther showed us a new way to see tomorrow.
The debate about engaging a hostile world or withdrawing from it will always be timely. This film also made Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger as compelling as Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, and earned Marvel Studios its first ever Best Picture Oscar nomination. This movie was one of a kind, and a landmark for superhero cinema.
Edgar Wright never got to make his Ant-Man movie, but he did get to make this high-energy mash-up of comics, video games, and music videos. By adapting Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comics, Wright made literal the struggle new boyfriends have with their significant other’s baggage. In this case, that manifested in highly stylized battles with “evil exes,” all of whom wielded various powers and abilities.
Wright’s greatest power? Taking Michael Cera, a comedic actor whose standard shtick had become tiresome, and giving him a real character to play. Audiences may not have embraced Scott Pilgrim in theaters, but this is a film we’ll be re-watching for years to come.
Speaking of that talking raccoon…
James Gunn began the decade with Super, a dark, R-rated comedy about Rainn Wilson having a religious hallucination that persuades him to become a superhero. It foreshadowed the direction superheroes would take by the end of the decade…in part because it also led to Guardians of the Galaxy.
Given the keys to the Marvel kingdom, Gunn proved first that he could make a major superhero flick and not lose his own voice. Secondly, that Star Wars isn’t the only space opera franchise in town. This movie also demonstrated that Marvel had become such a trusted brand that fans would show up for heroes they had never heard of before. Including Rocket Raccoon, and a walking, talking tree who only says “I am Groot.” Or “We are Groot,” as the case may be.
If The Dark Knight proved that superheroes could have an ending, Logan demonstrated that they could die. And definitively so, without being resurrected in two years for another sequel. In a franchise-driven world, creatives forget that the great heroic epics always include glorious deaths. Think Robin Hood’s last arrow, Achilles’ heel, or Beowulf taking on a dragon. If the story never gets an end, the hero’s journey is incomplete. Going for broke, James Mangold gave Wolverine an R-rated action that made the character top dog in the ’90s. And he killed off not just Logan, but Professor X as well!
Logan is often compared to a western, but it recalls the original Mad Max too. Plus it gave another character something to riff on in his sequel…
Who could have a predicted that a Miles Morales Spider-Man movie would establish a multiverse in which every version of Spider-Man ever created would be fair game? This film arrived in theaters with an innovative, printed comic-turned-3D aesthetic. After years of fans complaining that a given hero had to stay a certain way, Into the Spider-Verse showed just how versatile the hero could be. Spidey can be a young mixed-race graffiti artist, an old 1940’s style detective, a little girl piloting a giant robot, or even a cartoon pig. As long as there’s a story to be had, the rules are eternally malleable. Just like the state of reality in this movie.
So often, fans are told to be careful what they wish for, because they might get get it. But after X-Men Origins: Wolverine botched Wade Wilson so badly, fans didn’t back off their demand for the real Deadpool. Ryan Reynolds wanted a mulligan, but Fox resisted. At least until the Deadpool test footage mysteriously leaked. After that, Deadpool finally had a shot at cinematic redemption.
The movie did not disappoint. Deadpool went hard R with both the violence and very adult situations. And it did so while mocking the entire X-Men franchise. Reynolds is now so entrenched as Deadpool that he may be the only Fox hero to survive the transition into Kevin Feige’s MCU. Which means that in the ongoing feud with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Deadpool wins.
One could argue that some of the Avengers sequels are better than the first film. But none of those sequels would exist without Marvel’s initial big, bold gambit to fuse all of its franchises together in one mega team-up. A team-up that would build through all the individual storylines. Not only that, it also led into an even bigger potential arc with the Thanos reveal in the mid-credits scene.
Avengers was a huge roll of the dice, and what’s most amazing is that that it’s still a really great, fun movie eight years later. Joss Whedon quickly re-established who Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye were while letting them play off of each other. The bickering between old-fashioned patriot Cap and libertine Tony Stark set the tone for their entire dynamic. Plus Tom Hiddleston’s Loki cemented himself in the pantheon of the MCU’s villains by bringing the heroes together.
The first encounter between Cap, Tony, and Thor was something special and magical. In the MCU, there’s a hardline between the pre-Avengers movies and the post-Avengers films. But this is the movie that made the MCU into what it is today.
What are your picks for the top 10 superhero movies of the decade? Let us know in the comment section below!