This came up when I was waiting in line to take a final exam today. Why a university wants to shove 2,100 students through a computer lab of 42, I’ll never know. But that’s a different story.
My friend Brandon and I were discussing what would be considered the 5 superhero movies based on existing comic books. We talked at length about the difference between great and classic. For example, Captain America: The First Avenger(one of the best films I’ve seen all year) is great, but not a classic.
The late-great Christopher Reeve
A classic is something that both defines and invigorates a genre. Because I never saw any of the Superman films with the late Christopher Reeves, I can’t very well comment on its strength and impact on cinema (relax, it’s in my Netflix queue). Its effect is felt to this day. But readers know this, I make it a point to only write about movies I’ve seen. Sure, Jack and Jill may be a terrible movie, but I haven’t seen it. The only exception is films so blatantly awful that I must leave for fear of a migraine due to shitty filmmaking (my Bucky Larson review).
So, keeping in mind that Mr. Reeves is the honorable mention of this list, here is my list of superhero classics.
The Dark Knight
This is an obvious choice. What Christopher Nolan has done has brought realism and depth to something that became corrupted when Joel Schumacher took over from Tim Burton. The highest grosser of the bunch, Nolan and his cast create a film epic on scale that knows how to balance story and action. The fact that it was never nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards the year of its release is a crime. I saw all the Best Picture nominees that year, and The Dark Knight was easily better than the solid but not brilliant The Reader or even Milk.
Out the same summer as The Dark Knight, both of these films changed summer movies and superhero films to this day. Every film wants to have either the stark realism of The Dark Knight or the humor and earnestness of Iron Man. Here was a film that was anything but a guarantee. Robert Downey Jr. was not insurable just years before. Thank god director Jon Favreau took a chance on him. The film kicked off the summer of 2008 with a film that did everything right. I remember reading one review that complained how short it was. After seeing it 3 times in theaters (the most times I’ve ever seen a film in theaters), I loved every minute and was so pleased that Robert Downey Jr. finally got the A-list jobs he deserved.
Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man
This film is responsible Marvel getting a foothold in the movie business. They haven’t all been winners (Ghost Rider is getting a sequel?!), but this one really shined. The cast was perfect. The epic Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin and the dweebish Tobey Maguire really gave the film credibility. This wasn’t campy or over-the-top, this was a film that brought mind-blowing special effects to superhero many of us grew up with. Director Sam Raimi gave us the best possible Spiderman film with this and Spiderman 2. With Andrew Garfield set to take over in The Amazing Spiderman, I won’t hold my breath for something better than the first two.
I don’t know if I can get away with calling Hellboy a superhero. He is actually a demon. But there is no denying that Guillermo del Toro’s first Hellboy film was a blast. Focusing more on the characters and conventional special effects than CGI, del Toro made a fun and exciting action movie. Casting Ron Perlman as the lead was brilliant. No other actor could embody Hellboy the same way. It may not be the classic that the rest of the films on this list are, but it showed that DC and Marvel aren’t the only universes one must explore for rich stories.
Brandon Lee in The Crow
Brandon Lee was taken from us way too early in his career. If this film is any indication, he had a long career ahead of him. When watching the film, an already gothic and dark film, you are left feeling bereaved. Seeing Brandon Lee trapped on-screen in his last (and unfinished) role gives the mood of the movie an extra layer of dread. The story of his unfortunate demise on set can be found all over the internet. Like The Dark Knight, The Crow had to market a film while missing a central actor. It’s impossible to say how the films would be received had Heath Ledger and Lee not been deceased, but I like to think that element doesn’t matter. Both gave brave and strong performances in films that are now required viewing for many circles. That would have made them feel honored I think.