In years to come, film critics and film fans alike will look back at 2012 as one of the greatest ever years for the superhero genre. Thus far we’ve already seen the critically acclaimed The Avengers movie surpass the $1bn mark at the international box office, and with The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises (the final installment of the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman series) hitting international cinema screens this month – 2012 is undoubtedly a golden year for superhero movies.
Will any of the aforementioned films earn their place among the pantheon of great superhero movies? And which superhero films will they have to compete with to be considered among the very best.
As The Amazing Spider-Man hits international cinema screens this week, we take a look at what we consider to be five of the greatest superhero films of all time.
1. The Crow (1994)
The Crow has got everything: an ultra cool, gothic superhero (portrayed by the late Brandon Lee), a brilliant revenge story, an amazing soundtrack, and awesome death sequences. Most of all, The Crow has got heart. Real heart. You cannot fail to be moved by this story, particularly as the death of the protagonist Eric Draven – a young man with a bright future – mirrors what happened in reality.
The tragedy is that Brandon Lee, a genuine superstar of the future, was killed during the making of this film. He was a real life superhero, and every time the end credits for this superior, superhero movie roll – we are left with a feeling of sadness, wondering what could have been.
2. Batman Begins (2004)
The Dark Knight might have made a $1bn at the box office and featured an unforgettable performance from the late, great Heath Ledger, but it was Batman Begins that redefined our way of seeing the Caped Crusader and brought back respect to a franchise that had lost its way during the mid-90s.
Christian Bale inhabits the role of Batman, effortlessly morphing from the arrogant Bruce Wayne character into a dark, moody and intimidating Caped Crusader. Combined with Christopher’s Nolan’s dramatic vision for Gotham City, a gripping, soaring plot, and excellent supporting performances from Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, and Cillian Murphy – Batman Begins single-handedly atones for any crimes committed by previous Batman movies (Tim Burton’s efforts not included).
3. Blade (1998)
Long before David S. Goyer penned the screenplays for Christopher Nolan’s three Batman films (notably, Goyer and The Crow director Alex Proyas worked on Dark City together), he wrote the story for Blade – the filmic adaptation of Marvel Comics’ half human, half vampire superhero.
Wesley Snipes’ brooding, emotionally detached Blade shows off his martial arts, samurai expertise as he attempts to take down the vampire leadership that threatens the future of humanity.
Gruesome, graphic and gory, Blade was unexpected success at the box office (raking in over $100m), but deservedly so, courtesy of a riveting narrative of vengeance intertwined with groundbreaking fight sequences, some of which would give even those in The Matrix a run for their money.
4. Unbreakable (2000)
It might not be based on a superhero comic, but M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller about a high school security guard who discovers he has superpowers warrants its place among the greatest superhero films of all time, based on its suspenseful storyline about a seemingly ordinary Joe who discovers he is in fact unbreakable.
Why is it so good? Deep down we all wish there was someone out there who has superpowers (well, we do), and this film taps into that inherent desire, following Bruce Willis’ character as he realises that his being the lone survivor of a major train accident wasn’t a freak accident.
As everything is handled in a sober, non-dramatic fashion, grounded by a parallel storyline about Willis’ character’s struggle to keep his family together – it makes the protagonist’s realisation that he’s a superhero more believable. And, like with The Sixth Sense, there’s a killer twist at the end.
5. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Though the first half hour feels like your going over familiar ground, Marc Webb’s take on the Marvel superhero is grittier, cooler and funnier than Raimi’s first movie, which itself is an excellent film.
The attention to detail is important, too. There are less sky sequences, and those that we do see (the CGI is exceptional) show a Spider-Man who is yet to fully hone the skill of swinging between New York skyscrapers. There’s an awkwardness there, which you’d naturally expect from a human being who had only recently learned he could climb buildings. He’s a man who’s still in transition, and we see that throughout the film.
Andrew Garfield is an excellent Peter Parker, and his portrayal of Parker as he becomes arrogant as a result of his new found superpowers is pretty much what you’d expect of a science geek who is yet to learn that with “great power comes great responsibility”. Garfield’s Spider-Man is a real human being, not just a character from a famous comic book.
Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is an excellent new addition (in this film the guy gets the girl from the get go, which also gives Garfield’s Spidey the edge), while Rhys Ifan’s delivers a superior performance as Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard.
Similar to Batman Begins (though not in the same league), The Amazing Spider-Man has created a fantastic platform for its successor.
Notable absentees that would have made our top 10 (if we’d created one): Superman (1978), Iron Man (2008), Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), X-Men (2000), Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (joke), and Thor (2011).
That’s our selection – but what do you think? Tell us what your favourite superhero films of all time are.