Hall of heroes

Sick of watching superhero movies? Well, now, let’s argue about them. Our movie critic rates the best and the worst.

With the release of Captain America: The First Avenger, we got our last superhero movie of the summer. We get a little break before things kick up again with the next Batman, The Avengers, the Spider-Man reboot, etc.

I, myself, need a little break. There were more superhero movies this year than spiders in my garage (those little bastards!).

So, I think this is a good time to sit down, stop watching superhero movies, and just reflect on what the genre has given us over the years. Go ahead, open up some comic books, and let’s discuss some superheroes. If you do open up a comic book, make sure to do that whole picture capture thing with the Silly Putty. That’s always such an awesome activity.

I have decided to share with you my 15 favorite superhero films, followed by fiver of super-stinkers. This list is subject to change very soon because superhero films are released with a regularity and intensity that reminds me of the constant stream of spider babies currently infesting my bedroom (bastards!).

The greatest American heroes

1. The Dark Knight (2008): OK, so it’s not the most original choice in the world—but it is the best. Christopher Nolan gets my vote for all-time greatest superhero film director, and another of his films finds a place elsewhere on this list.

2. Superman (1978): An enduring classic that gets better with the passage of time. They can reboot and restart this franchise as much as they want, but Warner Brothers will have a hard time topping the epic scope and sheer coolness of this gem.

3. Batman Begins (2005): And here’s that other Nolan film. This one restored honor to the Batman franchise after the debacle that was Joel Schumacher, and kicked off a Bat Renaissance. The Dark Knight Rises hits theaters next year, the final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s so-far outstanding trilogy.

4. Superman II (1980): After making his first Superman masterpiece, Richard Donner got to work on his sequel and was fired during production. He was replaced by Richard Lester, and the two combined for an excellent sequel almost as good as the original. I’m also a fan of the Richard Donner director’s cut, which shows a little more of his grand intentions.

5. The Incredibles (2004): Yep, this most certainly can be included on this list. Funny, exhilarating and thoroughly enjoyable, the Pixar superhero family reigns supreme.

6. RoboCop (1987): Paul Verhoeven delivered a very different kind of superhero with this ultra-violent, darkly funny movie. Soon thereafter, he would introduce the world to one of the most frightening super villains in cinema history: Elizabeth Berkley’s crazy, gyrating, frighteningly abnormal ass in Showgirls! Her ass has evil powers—I swear!

7. Watchmen (2009): Director Zack Snyder did a nice job with Alan Moore’s epic graphic novel, although I’ll always wonder what Terry Gilliam would’ve done with the property. Stay tuned for Snyder’s take on Superman, Man of Steel, which should hit theaters in 2013.

8. Iron Man (2008): Following in Christian Bale’s footsteps, Robert Downey Jr. delivered a “real” performance in a superhero movie with his sly and funny Tony Stark.

9. Kick-Ass (2010): While Aaron Johnson is quite good in the title role, Chloe Moretz as Hit-Girl is one of my favorite characters of the decade. Give Hit-Girl her own movie!

10. Spider-Man (2002): Of director Sam Raimi’s three attempts at Spidey, the first endures as my favorite, mainly because Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin was the best villain in a sea of many.

11. Batman (1989): Tim Burton made superheroes cool again in 1989 with his take on the Caped Crusader. I still like it, even if the Prince songs kind of suck and that cartoony shot of the Joker falling to his death is terrible.

12. Hancock (2008): Will Smith, who could’ve been Neo in The Matrix, got another chance to play a superhero in this, and the results were highly entertaining stuff. I’m surprised they haven’t sequelized this one yet.

13. Popeye (1980): Hey … Popeye is a superhero! He eats spinach and kicks major ass. And Robin Williams did an awesome job bringing him to life in what probably stands as the weirdest entry on this list. I think it is also the only musical. Yes … I double-checked … it is the only musical.

14. Hulk (2003): Ang Lee took a lot of flak for his take on the Green One, but I like what he and Eric Bana did with the character.

15. Super (2010): Ellen Page rocks out as sidekick to Rainn Wilson’s Crimson Bolt in this violent, funny movie that has a lot in common with Kick-Ass.

Some good ones that didn’t make the cut include the goofy but lovable Hero At Large (1980) that starred John Ritter as a costumed vigilante. It’s not a great movie, but a sentimental favorite of mine. While I liked Spider-Man 2 (2004), it hasn’t really held up very well over the years—probably because Spider-Man 3 (2007) tainted the series for everybody. I also must give props to Superman Returns (2006), which I saw as a valiant return to glory for the Man of Steel, but most saw as a bore.

The rogues’ gallery

And now, the most infamous acts of superhero cinematic villainy.

1. Batman & Robin (1997): Unequivocally one of the most pungent, un-washable shit stains on the underpants of cinema. While George Clooney could’ve made a fine Batman, director Joel Schumacher, a.k.a. Stupid Pants, made Clooney look like a clueless schmuck. While Clooney went on to greatness, this one arguably killed the big movie- star careers of Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone and made me hate Uma Thurman. Well, I hated her for a little while. I have since returned to thinking she’s a super hot mama.

2. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987): There was much Christopher Reeve Superman goodness, but his final flight in the tights was a travesty. Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder returned for what should’ve been a blast. A super low budget and creative ineptitude resulted in a fourth film in the franchise as bad as Jaws 4: The Revenge. It should also be noted that Superman III (1983), while containing a cool Bizarro Superman subplot, ultimately sucked balls thanks to Richard Pryor.

3. The Phantom (1996): Billy Zane in purple tights—need I say more? OK, I will. He sucked in Titanic, too!

4. Catwoman (2004): I remember when they first leaked pictures of Halle Berry’s Catwoman outfit to the internet, and everybody though it must’ve been some kind of joke. Nope, they were serious, and the movie was as bad as her getup.

5. Fantastic Four (2005): Both of the fairly recent Fantastic Four films were totally inept, but at least the second one had Silver Surfer. Silver Surfer done in a very bad way, but Silver Surfer nonetheless.

Dishonorable mentions go out to Spider-Man 3, where Raimi left the franchise with a cluttered, overstuffed misfire. I also have deep hatred for Batman Forever (1995), Schumacher’s other Batman calamity, and both recent attempts at The Punisher.