Gone are the days where heroes dressed in costume were considered camp and not a box office draw: the superhero movie is now one of the primary sources of blockbuster cinema entertainment, and of box office bucks. During a time, the possibility that Norse gods, shrinking high-tech suits, and purple aliens coveting galactic jewelry would dominate our theaters would have seemed ludicrous. Who’s laughing now? Huh?!
After having already revisited superhero movies of the ’80s and the ’90s, today we will be looking at the best cinematic superhero yarns since the year 2000. The results run the gamut from established heroes to brash newcomers; animated family films to dark, adults-only adventures. It’s all covered.
WARNING: You may not agree with some of the rankings on this list… and that’s okay.
*This is a summary-free article.
50. Superman Returns (2006)
Director: Bryan Singer
Stars: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden
Best moment: After a botched bank robbery, a mad man with a maching gun starts shooting at the police. Superman shows up just in time to save the day and take a bullet directly in the eyeball (in super slow-mo)
Sample review (via Film School Rejects): “Even with a plot that leaves a little to be desired, there is still plenty to love about Superman Returns. Above all things it is entertaining and exciting to watch. The action sequences are well shot, the film sounds beautiful, and the acting is surprisingly on point. What this film loses in its off-center story, it more than makes up with an adrenaline rush of action.”
49. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Director: Bryan Singer
Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Sophie Turner, Alexandra Shipp
Best moment: Xavier’s exploding mansion is freeze-framed in time so we can watch the impossibly fast Quicksilver nonchalantly pluck innocents from the path of destruction.
Sample review (via Leonard Maltin): “Arguably, no one knows the ‘X-Men’ saga like Bryan Singer and his stalwart production team, which is evident when playing with characters and timelines, as they’ve done in the past, and do so expertly here.”
48. Ghost Rider (2007)
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Sam Elliott, Peter Fonda
Best moment: Johnny Blaze’s initial transformation into Ghost Rider is both hilarious and horrifying.
Sample review (via The Shiznit): “Ignore the cheesy dialogue, the cardboard cut-out villains and the atrociously OTT acting and just enjoy a good old-fashioned tale of heroes and villains the way the comic-books used to tell ’em.”
47. Astro Boy (2009)
Director: David Bowers
Stars: Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, Samuel L. Jackson
Best moment: While in the midst of battle, the titular hero learns that he has machine guns… in his butt. That’s always useful.
Sample review (via Hollywood): “This charming, futuristic family flick has enough firepower to overcome an awkward premise and Nicolas Cage’s general creepiness.”
46. Sky High (2005)
Director: Mike Mitchell
Stars: Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston, Michael Angarano, Danielle Panabaker
Best moment: The cafeteria fight between freshman son of legendary superheroes, Will Stronghold and the pyrokinetic son of legendary supervillains, Warren Peace. Flames and lunch room food fly everywhere.
Sample review (via Cinema Writer): “From start to finish, this one’s pure fun. Sky High has no pretensions to being anything more than what it is: a silly, kitschy send-up of superhero culture grafted onto the teen romance/high school genre.”
45. The Powerpuff Girls Movie (2002)
Director: Craig McCracken
Stars: Cathy Cavadini, Tara Strong, Elizabeth Daily, Tom Kane
Best moment: The first day of the Powerpuff Girls being created is equal parts awesome and adorable. We see why they each got their respective name and we also watch them take the crust off of their PB&J sandwiches with their heat vision. Who hasn’t wished they could do such a thing?
Sample review (via IGN): “Powerpuff Girls is a surprisingly good film that works on a variety of levels. It takes the audience into the grey area between good and evil, something that can’t really be explored on the television series. By using the origin as the basis for the story, creator Craig McCracken is able to not only show how the girls evolved into superheroes but also add levels to the characters not seen on television.”
44. The Punisher (2004)
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Stars: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Samantha Mathis, Rebecca Romijn
Best moment: The titular character’s epic battle with “the Russian”, a behemoth who blindsides Frank at his apartment. The Russian beats the crap out of him. He even mollywhops him with the bathroom sink for good measure.
Sample review (via Bullz-Eye): The Punisher appeals to a much larger audience than one would expect. It could make you cry, laugh or just shout out for more bloody violence, but regardless of your reaction, you’re going to love it.
43. Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Director: Lexi Alexander
Stars: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Julie Benz, Wayne Knight
Best moment: Frank enters a building and kills everyone inside said building. It’s great.
Sample review (via SF Gate): “Assuming you can appreciate the high level of gore and assorted sadistic weirdness, the action is satisfying and the dark story is close to the tone of its Marvel Comics source material.”
42. Constantine (2005)
Director: Francis Lawrence
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Djimon Hounsou, Shia LaBeouf
Best moment: Constantine giving the devil the finger.
Sample review (via ESplatter): “This film combines elements of comic book fantasy with horror to create an enjoyable brew – sort of a film noir version of The Exorcist, crossbred with the stylization of The Matrix.”
41. Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)
Director: Zack Snyder
Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons
Best moment: It’s going to have to be the moment we all were waiting for… Batman v Superman (minus the whole “Martha” bit).
Sample review (via Matt’s Movie Reviews): “Snyder has brought a different edge to the superhero genre, one that questions what drives these men of steel and creatures of the night to do what they do and believe what they believe. There is something to admire in that.”