Regardless of what detractors may say, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has all but perfected the formula of the superhero movie. Even the MCU’s weakest entries understood the genre better than their competition.
Without the foundation set by the Marvel movies of previous decades, the MCU wouldn’t be what it is today. While not all of these movies aged perfectly, they’re still on par (or even above) with what the MCU has to offer.
10 Punisher: War Zone Was Frank Castle At His Pulpiest
The Punisher is arguably Marvel Comics’ easiest character to adapt. If not for the Marvel label, Frank Castle’s movies would be indistinguishable from the urban vigilantes that have been dominating the action genre since the ’70s. Rather than deny this parallel and try to be more than a vigilante massacre, Punisher: War Zone embraced it.
War Zone is notably the most violent of the three Punisher movies. Unlike its predecessors, War Zone didn’t hold back in terms of blood and brutality. While it lacks the Netflix show’s cleverness, nuance, and tragedy, War Zone is the most gloriously fun and entertaining of them all.
9 Howard The Duck Isn’t As Bad As Its Reputation Implies
Ever since 1986, Howard The Duck has been routinely listed as one of the worst comic book movies ever. Reasons for this include the supposedly cringe-worthy comedy, uncanny effects, and unapologetically campy tone. These make Howard The Duck sound unwatchable even if the opposite is true. At worst, Howard The Duck was an acquired taste.
Hindsight has been kind, as Howard slowly found his audience (both the ironic and genuine kind) in the decades after Howard The Duck‘s initial failure. Though not as irreverent as the comics it was based on, Howard The Duck is a weird-but-enjoyable comedy that the MCU isn’t currently keen on making.
8 Daredevil’s Director’s Cut Gave It The Recognition It Deserved
When it was first released in 2003, Daredevil was panned by critics and fans because of its rushed pacing, unresolved plots, and toothless grit. These criticisms were addressed by the director’s cut released on DVD, which was considered to be far better. The director’s cut was even considered to be one of the best superhero movies of its time.
Besides its acclaimed director’s cut, Daredevil was bolstered by its strong cast, unique visuals, fun action, and full embrace of comics’ artifice. As well-made as Netflix’s unfairly canceled Daredevil series was, it still traded the comic’s creativity and imagination for gritty realism. Thankfully, the extended Daredevil movie has these in spades.
7 X-Men Kickstarted The Gritty & Realistic Trend, For Better And Worse
Predating Spider-Man by two years, X-Men helped usher in the still-ongoing superhero craze of the New Millennium. Spider-Man (2002) proudly embraced its source material’s eccentricities, but X-Men went in the opposite direction. Instead of fantastical adventures, the mutants covertly fought for their future in a contemporary setting.
While the dark and gritty trend overstayed its welcome, X-Men was one of the first superhero movies to legitimize the aesthetic. Despite outside scandals connected to its controversial director, X-Men stands the test of time thanks to its amazing ensemble cast, gritty action, and its commentary on issues like identity and race.
6 X2: X-Men United Was A Great Hero And Villain Team-Up Movie
Few superhero movies feature the heroes fighting alongside their villains against a more powerful threat, which is a plot beat that’s criminally underused. X2: X-Men United is one of the few that told this story. X2 did its job as a sequel and a team-up movie so well that it was only surpassed recently by Captain America: Civil War.
Based on the critically acclaimed event God Loves, Man Kills, X2 brought back the original cast and added more mutants. Despite its larger cast, X2 balanced everyone’s screen times, expounded on established characters, and introduced newcomers. X2 was more action-packed and compelling than its predecessor.
5 The Wolverine Masterfully Balanced Character Drama And Superhero Adventures
Following X-Men’s success, it only made sense to expand the franchise and star its most popular character, Wolverine. While Logan is considered to be Hugh Jackman’s finest hour as the rabid Wolverine, The Wolverine tends to get overlooked. This is a shame since The Wolverine gets a lot of things right.
In many ways, The Wolverine is the perfect middle ground between the so-bad-it’s-good X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the tragic Logan. The Wolverine wasn’t afraid to use the comics’ eccentricities like mutants and ninjas in service of a serious character study about a beaten-down immortal man in search of his humanity.
4 Spider-Man 2 Set The Gold Standard For Superhero Sequels
In the early 2000s, the only thing rarer than a superhero movie sequel was a good one. Spider-Man 2 defied expectations by surpassing Spider-Man and being heralded as one of the best superhero movies ever made. What’s more, Spider-Man 2 showed how the superhero’s lowest point could make for a great story.
Spider-Man 2 followed the fall of Spider-Man and Peter Parker. The high-stakes demands of a superhero lifestyle worsened Peter’s already crumbling personal life. Watching Peter overcome his troubles as himself and as Spider-Man remains one of the superhero genre’s best comebacks. Spider-Man 2 can still awe and inspire audiences today.
3 Deadpool Was The R-Rated Breath Of Fresh Air That The Genre Needed
While not the first R-Rated comic/superhero movie, Deadpool was the first one since Blade to connect with a mainstream audience. Deadpool was shamelessly vulgar, but Wade Wilson finally got the cinematic depiction he deserved. Deadpool was refreshing for eschewing the superhero clichés of the time.
Deadpool came out at the height of superhero-shared universes. Deadpool’s lack of a bigger franchise picture and family-friendly restrictions made it stand out for all the right reasons. Deadpool holds up as a raunchy action-comedy. Deadpool gave Ryan Reynolds his career-making role.
2 Spider-Man Perfected The Modern Superhero’s Origin Movie
Spider-Man solidified the superhero movie’s place in mainstream entertainment. Spider-Man’s influence can still be seen and felt in the modern MCU. Spider-Man retold Peter Parker’s classic origin story so perfectly that it’s constantly copied and imitated by newer superhero movies. Most of these still fall short and lack the progenitor’s magic.
Spider-Man sticks with familiar themes, like the clash between good and evil and the responsibility of power, but retells it beautifully. Sam Raimi’s unique filmmaking and visual style compliment the first part of his iconic trilogy in every conceivable way.
1 Blade Was Ahead Of Its Time In Countless Ways
If it weren’t for Blade’s success, the modern superhero movie wouldn’t even exist. That being said, Blade is more than a genre artifact and ’90s-era relic. Blade is an action-packed, vampire-slaying ride starring Wesley Snipes at his peak. Blade is a timeless blend of action and horror.
As a superhero movie, Blade is one of the genre’s most visually unique outings. Blade perfectly realized the comics’ blend of sci-fi and the occult while modernizing older elements. Endlessly cool and violent, Blade is a great R-Rated action/horror movie and a great comic book adaptation.
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