Superhero films made significant strides in the 2010s. Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy came to a close, Zack Snyder had his impactful DC Universe tenure, and Thanos finally made his ultimate move. Once a tiny blip on the box office release calendar, superhero films now dominate throughout the year and rake in billions of dollars at the box office. There may be a ton of superhero films out there, hopefully creating more interest in the comic book source material that birthed these massive cinematic franchises, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually all enjoyable, high-quality films.
Admittedly, I hate ranking things. It’s hard to factly state that one movie is better than another while there are thousands of variables that go into what makes something enjoyable for different audience members. Sometimes, something so right can be perceived so terribly by someone just because of the headspace they are in going into the film. Just remember, these are my ten favorite superhero films of the 2010s and their order is free to switch any day depending on my mood and what kind of material I want to watch.
10. Wonder Woman
After Zack Snyder’s dour impact on the DC Universe, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman was badly needed. A breath of fresh air — and color — Wonder Woman is a meticulously crafted, beautifully shot film that does one of the world’s most iconic heroines justice. There are a lot of superhero films that play on the “fish out of water” trope, but Wonder Woman seems to have the most fun with it as Gal Gadot’s Amazonian Princess comments on the environmental status of industrialized London and complains about the poor battle readiness of women’s apparel. In addition to doing a wonderful job showcasing just how much ass Wonder Woman can kick, the film goes out of its way to show just how willing she is to use and spread kindness and compassion rather than always start a brawl.
The third act is a bit convoluted, but the overall film is still extremely enjoyable. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine have wonderful chemistry together that really sells the relationship at the center of everything. Every time they are on screen together, whether they are discussing biology on a boat or dancing under candlelight, there’s a real spark between them that makes their emotional attraction to one another understandable.
9. Avengers: Infinity War
There are a lot of enjoyable moments in each of the Avengers films, but Avengers: Infinity War takes the cake for the pure scope of it all. The first part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s major crescendo, Infinity War sees the already splintered Avengers truly beaten in a way they’ve never experienced before. The stakes are so high in each scene as the heroes race to stop Thanos and his children from collecting the Infinity Stones that truly no one feels safe.
In a lot of ways, it feels silly to even describe Infinity War as a superhero film. Sure, it stars the world’s mightiest heroes, but the film almost presents the Mad Titan Thanos, the character aiming to wipe away half of the universe’s life, as the protagonist. It’s Josh Brolin’s Thanos who has the most complete emotional arc of the film and whom audiences watch struggle to complete his mighty goal. Avengers: Endgame is the true culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first three phases, but it’s Infinity War that finally clued viewers into just how dedicated and terrifying the purple menace who was first spotted way back in 2012’s The Avengers truly is.
8. Spider-Man: Homecoming
There was a lot of pressure after Captain America: Civil War on the first Disney co-produced Spider-Man film to deliver, and Homecoming certainly did. A John Hughes-esque comedy set in a high school that just happened to be placed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film features some of the most likable, realistic characters in a long time. Full of heart, laughs and enjoyable action sequences, Homecoming showcases exactly what makes the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man such a lovable, iconic character.
I will forever be a Tobey Maguire-stan, but Tom Holland is one fine Peter Parker. The film puts a wonderful focus on Peter’s split responsibilities, stopping the bad guy or performing in an academic competition, and the small stakes make the personal weight of the situation feel more manageable and stressful at the same time. Holland brings a level of awkward charm to the role that was completely absent during the Andrew Garfield era and seems right at home flipping around on-screen. Not only is he a funny guy, but he also brings a level of dedication to the role that makes Peter Parker feel incredibly earnest and relatable in the ways the character was meant to be.
Captain Marvel… excuse me, I mean Shazam, used to be more popular than Superman. Despite that, it took until 2019 for mainstream audiences to be introduced to the whimsical, powerful character. Directed by David F. Sandberg, Shazam! does a great job showcasing Billy Batson’s tragic backstory in a way that makes it much easier to empathize with him despite how troubled or self-serving he can be. After crossing paths with the mysterious wizard known as Shazam, Billy was bestowed with magical powers and instructed to defend the world’s magical forces from anyone who may want to harness them for evil.
The entire ensemble is very talented and performs well with each other, but Zachary Levi is the clear standout. Levi has been waiting a long time to play a superhero, and his joy is palpable every time he’s on screen. He does a great job bringing the World’s Mightiest Mortal to the big screen in a cheery fashion and is extremely believable as he gains more confidence in himself throughout the movie. Whenever Levi is teamed with Freddy Freeman (played by Jack Dylan Grazer) in particular, the film is at its best and full of hilarious back-and-forth dialogue that is reminiscent of two brothers or old friends bickering in a really relatable way.
6. Black Panther
Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther may be the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it is the first film in the franchise that made me believe I was truly entering another world. The film features a touching story about leadership and responsibility, but it also includes some of the most intricate, immersive set and costume designs I’ve ever seen. Packed full of explosive action and touching monologues, Black Panther is an electrifying film that both entertains and challenges the audience.
Black Panther truly excels due to its incredible supporting cast of characters. King T’Challa, immortalized by the late Chadwick Boseman, may be the titular Black Panther, but in order to successfully run a country and be a productive hero, he relies on an elite squad of women. His sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) develops new tech for her home country Wakanda and her superhero brother, but she also pushes her brother to look at things in a different, more modern light. Out of the entire ensemble, it’s likely Danai Gurira’s Okoye who steals the show. Not only is she a fierce fighter who is capable of standing up alongside Marvel’s most popular heroes, but she’s also a no-nonsense individual who has no problem telling the monarch whom she faithfully serves that he is out of line or ignoring necessary variables.
5. Thor: Ragnarok
Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi performed a cinematic miracle, reviving a franchise that had previously faltered and restoring it to thunderous glory. However, its follow-up, Thor: Love and Thunder, unfortunately, didn’t capture the same magic, receiving a less favorable response from audiences.
With Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi essentially disassembled everything about the lovable Norse God so he could put him back together again. He destroyed Asgard and stripped Thor of his hammer all so the character could feel lost and unsure of his abilities. The film is a hilarious, action-packed romp that highlights what happens when an author’s unique voice is allowed to clearly shine through the corporate structure. Full of references to Jack Kirby’s colorful work, the film includes some of the best costume design and fight choreography from the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The silver lining of this already fantastic film is the introduction of Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only is she a skilled fighter, but Thompson also turns in an extremely charismatic performance that makes it hard to pull your eyes off her. Finally, a female hero in a mainstream movie gets to be flawed, drinks, and curses, and audiences are all the better for seeing it.
4. The LEGO Batman Movie
Batman has been explored in film and television numerous times over, but Chris McKay’s The LEGO Batman Movie cuts to the core of the franchise in a whacky, touching way that elevates this film above its more serious-minded counterparts. An action-packed, hilarious flick that features the dynamic duo facing many of their toughest foes, LEGO Batman manages to be whimsical and extremely heartbreaking at the same time.
Will Arnett has somewhat been typecast as egotistical, arrogant characters, and his voice acting chops are wonderfully put to use in the LEGO films as Batman. Not only does he do a great job being campy and gruff while playing the big, bad, spooky Batman, but he also infuses subtle tinges of sadness and loneliness throughout his performance that help the audience realize just how emotionally crippled this billionaire playboy truly is. Reteamed with Arrested Development co-star Michael Cera, who plays Dick Grayson in an innocent, almost bubbly manner, the two comedians play off each other perfectly in the film and do a great job exploring the Dick-Bruce dynamic at the core of the Caped Crusader’s life.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
After leading a superhero team into battle in The Avengers, Captain America needed a worthy sequel to keep his story moving forward in a satisfying way. Captain America: The Winter Soldier not only gave the patriotic hero a solid, action-packed film that firmly established his presence in the present day, but it also delivered intriguing story beats like the dissolution of S.H.I.E.L.D. or introduction of HYDRA that reverberated across multiple subsequent Marvel Cinematic Universe films.
More of a spy-thriller than a traditional superhero caper, the film sees Steve Rogers come to blows with his former sidekick, Bucky Barnes, who is now being manipulated and used as a global assassin by HYDRA under the name the Winter Soldier. The movie does a great job exploring Captain America and Bucky’s past, making us empathize with the twisted killer at the film’s center, and also further develops the intimate relationship between Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff. The film has the tightest script, never lingering too long on a single sequence, and the best fight choreography out of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Logan burst onto the scene like a violent wolverine fresh on his prey’s scent. The previous X-Men and Wolverine films became increasingly bloody as each one came out, but they truly can’t compare to Logan. Each action sequence in the film is methodically constructed and shot in a way that shows each hit instead of cutting away at the last second. Not only are they tightly developed, but they’re truly brutal and beautifully chaotic in a way that few action films can match. The thing that makes each action sequence even better is the fact that the audience can feel Logan’s emotional and physical pain as the movie progresses, making us realize that the character doesn’t want to fight anymore but is constantly dragged into terrifying skirmishes to defend the people he loves.
The saddest thing about this emotionally raw film is that it didn’t bring the entire Fox X-Men universe to a close. Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman both delivered memorable performances, showcasing characters they’ve embodied for over two decades with depth and emotion. Despite how emotional and earned the ending felt, the franchise was immediately undercut by the abysmal Dark Phoenix, making it much harder to be a proud X-Men fan in public.
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
There were quite a few Spider-Man films released in the 2010s, but the animated Into the Spider-Verse is the stand-out of the bunch and easily one of the most inventive superhero films ever made. The first Spider-Man film to focus on Miles Morales, the Ultimate Spider-Man created by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli, Spider-Verse touches on the franchise’s classic themes of power and responsibility in an entirely new light. Living under Peter Parker’s shadow is a heavy burden, but the film does a great job showing that Miles Morales is strong enough to create his own legacy. Full of break-taking animation and a killer voice cast, it’s hard to find a single thing worthy of complaint in this film.
Not only is Spider-Verse a touching story that proves anyone is worthy of being a hero, but the film is also hilarious. While a lot of superhero films rely on witty dialogue to be funny, the film’s very structure enhances the humor. Whether audiences were learning about alternate versions of Spider-Man — animated in varying styles to match their unique dimension — or seeing Peter Parker and Miles Morales bicker, there’s an opportunity for natural humor tucked away in nearly every scene.