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Although superhero movies had already become increasingly popular as the 2000s passed, the 2010s were unquestionably a game changer for the genre. From the Marvel Cinematic Universe demonstrating its true potential to DC expanding its sights beyond Batman and Superman (though there was still plenty of them to go around), and everything in between, this decade was the biggest yet for superhero movies, but what were the best of the bunch? The proverbial cream of the crop?
That’s what we’re here to hash out. Obviously everyone’s going to have a different opinion on the matter, and there’s certainly no shortage of options to choose from. Regardless, I’ve gathered together what I believe are the 10 best superhero movies of this decade, ranking them in order of “worst” (none of them are lacking in quality) to best. Starting off, let’s say the magic word…
Hey may not be as well known as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman nowadays, but during the Golden Age of Comics, Shazam, previously known as Captain Marvel, was incredibly popular, and he’s continued being a major player in the DC Comics mythology. So it was nice to see him finally get his big screen due eight decades after first hitting the scene, and the Shazam! movie did an excellent job of fulfilling the promise made by star Zachary Levi and the filmmakers: Big with superpowers. Shazam! struck the right balance of action with humor and heart, and I look forward to Billy Batson honing his superhero craft further with the rest of the Shazam family in the forthcoming sequel.
9. Guardians Of The Galaxy
Even to many longtime comic book fans (myself included), the Guardians of the Galaxy were an obscure property when it was announced they’d be getting their own movie, but now Drax, Groot and the rest of the gang are household names to even casual viewers. Arguably the MCU’s first full comedy, Guardians of the Galaxy benefitted from James Gunn’s unique, funny and action-packed take on the source material, while still honoring this team’s printed page past. Guardians of the Galaxy also stands out for building off what the Thor movies set up and fully propping open the door to the MCU cosmos, and that alone is enough for it to rank as one of this franchise’s most important installments.
It’s no secret that X-Men Origins: Wolverine did not do Wade Wilson any justice, and it’s possible we may never have gotten a faithful adaptation of the Merc with the Mouth on the big screen. But thanks to leaked test footage being well received by the masses, the Deadpool movie was finally made, and man, did it deliver! As everyone predicted, Ryan Reynolds nailed the fourth wall-breaking mercenary’s brand of humor and antics, and the movie itself did an excellent job of poking fun at superhero movies, particularly where the X-Men are concerned. Deadpool also proved that just because a comic book movie is rated R doesn’t mean it can’t rake in gigantic piles of money, thus ensuring that Wade would not run out of chimichangas.
7. Wonder Woman
Arriving one year after Gal Gadot’s debut as Diana of Themyscira in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and nearly 80 years after her first comics appearance, Wonder Woman chronicled the eponymous heroine’s entering man’s world for the first time during World War I. Under Patty Jenkins’ direction, we were given a Wonder Woman who served as the same beacon of hope and inspiration that Christopher Reeves’ Superman was to a previous generation. It was great to watch Diana mature, fall in love with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor and reach her true potential as she tried to bring an end this devastating conflict, and you can count on the ‘No man’s land’ sequence remaining one of the best superhero movie moments for years to come.
Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine didn’t feel anything like a traditional superhero movie, and that was a good thing. Resting more comfortably in Western territory, Logan did an incredible job exploring the clawed mutant’s mortality and the legacy he left behind with his clone/daughter, Laura, a.k.a. X-23. In addition to its compelling narrative and the inclusion of Patrick Stewart’s Professor X (whose story also ended), like Deadpool, Logan benefitted from an R-rating, as Wolverine finally got to cut loose the way so many fans wanted him to after nearly 20 years. The X-Men film series as a whole may have ended anticlimactically with Dark Phoenix, but at least this iteration of Wolverine received the sendoff he deserved.
5. Black Panther
Two years after debuting in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa stepped into the spotlight for Black Panther, which let us explore the technologically advanced nation of Wakanda and gave us Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, one of the MCU’s best villains. To say Black Panther was successful would be an understatement, because in addition to killing it at the box office and taking home numerous accolades (including three Academy Award wins), it also struck a chord on a cultural level. Black Panther was already a trailblazing superhero in the comics books, and this movie followed suit, prompting discussion the likes of which few, if any superhero movies had done before.
4. Avengers: Endgame
Be honest, in the early years of the MCU, did you have any idea that it would lead to something like Avengers: Endgame? Okay, maybe a lot of hardcore comic book fans did given their familiarity with crossover events, but that doesn’t take away from not just how epic Endgame was, but more importantly, how it stuck the landing. Following up on the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War, Endgame brought together almost all of the MCU’s heroes for its biggest spectacle yet, capping off an 11-year narrative and managing to give almost all of its starring protagonists meaningful screen time. Those were no easy feats, and when also taking into account its climactic battle, while the MCU will keep growing, it’s hard to imagine this franchise delivering anything nearly as large in scale.
3. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
With six Spider-Man movies preceding it, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse had its work cut out for it when it came to standing out from its predecessors. Its comic book-style animation definitely helped in that regard, as the movie was able to tap into superhero tropes in ways that no live action superhero movie can do. But Into the Spider-Verse shines brightest in its deconstruction of what it means to be Spider-Man as Miles Morales’ origin story unfolded and we watched him interact with other Spider-heroes from different realities. Suitable for the whole family and still managing to effectively explore complex themes and ideas, it’s no wonder Into the Spider-Verse took home the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and Sony plans to expand this franchise with sequels, spinoffs and TV shows.
2. The Avengers
Avengers: Endgame may have have been the ‘bigger’ movie, but The Avengers was what finally delivered on the promise that the MCU made from the very beginning. Sure, Nick Fury and Phil Coulson appearances were helpful connective threads, but once Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye joined forces to defeat Loki and his Chitauri army, that’s when it truly evolved into something bigger than any superhero franchise that had come before. And while The Avengers could have impressed with its action sequences alone, it’s the way that these characters’ personalities mix together, as well as the balance of humorous and serious moments, that make the last Phase 1 movie more than your average explosive blockbuster.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
If The Avengers expanded the scale of the MCU, Captain America: The Winter Soldier demonstrated how you can subvert the franchise’s formula while still carrying on its overall mission. Feeling more like a ‘70s political thriller, The Winter Soldier still stands out as arguably the most ‘mature’ MCU entry, exploring things like government corruption, global surveillance and the security vs. freedom debate. The Winter Solider also emphasized practical action over CGI set pieces, resulting in the sequel still feeling the most ‘down-to-earth’ and gritty of the MCU movies. One could argue that The Winter Soldier popularized the trend of various superhero movies harnessing sub-genres, but at the very least, it strengthened the Captain America film series and changed the MCU landscape in an electrifying way.
Let us know which of these superhero movies was your favorite of the decade, or if I left off one you would have included, in our poll and comments below. Start planning what you’ll see in theaters next year with our 2020 release schedule.
What was your favorite superhero movie of the 2010s?