Whether Martin Scorsese likes it or not, the 2010s were the decade where cinemagoers’ fascination with superheroes reached an all time high. As such, HeadStuff gathered the collective minds of our Film section to bring you our picks for the best superhero movies of the decade. Below are #10 to #1.
Given the absurd amount of bloodshed and profanity in its source material, you would think that Kick-Ass would be a difficult film to translate to the big screen. Well it turns out it actually translates quite wonderfully. Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar’s acclaimed graphic novel is satirical in tone but it’s also a complete love-letter to the superhero genre along with comic-books in general.
Going for a grounded approach to hero antics, Kick-Ass focuses on teenage loner Dave (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). He brings his fantasy to life by adorning a green wetsuit and taking to the streets of New York as the title crime-fighting vigilante. Through his actions, he then garners the attention of a more efficient heroic duo – Chloe Grace Moretz’s pre-teen Hit-Girl, the scene-stealer of the film, and a cranked-up-to-eleven Nicolas Cage as her father Big Daddy. Together they ruffle the feathers of a mob-family led by Mark Strong’s notorious Frank D’Amico.
Kick-Ass is first and foremost tongue-in-cheek in nature and is not afraid at all to go the extra mile in being gratuitous and over-the-top but in the best way possible. You wouldn’t think the superhero genre and such mature content would mesh so well but they actually blend together beautifully. The film packs a punch and kicks a whole lot of ass. Sean Moriarty
9. The Dark Knight Rises
The finale to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, movies which showed superhero flicks could be taken seriously and seen as high art, The Dark Knight Rises is arguably the most ambitious singular film of its sub-genre. Following the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) is living in exile, reeling from the death of his love Rachel Dawes and her boyfriend Harvey Dent. Yet, he’s forced to don his costume once again. This is when mysterious and hulking terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) comes to Gotham, seeking to fulfill the mission his former master Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) tried to carry out in the first film of the trilogy – destroying the city.
Despite having the most convoluted and complex screenplay of Nolan’s Batman movies – plot elements such as the Dent Act and the Lazarus Pit make no sense – The Dark Knight Rises still thrills. Partly, it’s down to Nolan’s direction and the scope of the action set-pieces. Shot on ultra clear IMAX cameras and eschewing CGI wherever possible, sequences like the stunning opening scene where a military plane is hijacked by Bane and his mercenary followers mid-flight or when Bane unveils himself at a football match as all of Gotham is sequestred from the outside world with multiple bombs feel so epic yet also authentic.
Another positive is the film’s depiction of a lawless Gotham, of which co-writer Jonathan Nolan says is inspired by Dickens’ French Revolution novel A Tale of Two Cities. As society breaks down, Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow presides over kangeroo courts and the police have retreated to the sewers. You also couldn’t write about The Dark Knight Rises without lauding Tom Hardy’s instantly iconic turn as Bane, the brawn and brain to marvel The Batman. Between the actor’s immense physicality and his unbelievably weird and wonderful vocal performance, there’s a reason we are still talking about his villain nearly 8 years after the movie’s release. Stephen Porzio
8. Incredibles 2
This long-awaited sequel about a family of super powered heroes broke new ground when it smashed its way onto the big screen in 2018. It keeps the familiarity of the 2004 original by throwing in the usual jokes that we have come to know from its animation studio Pixar. Yet, it also develops further its central crime fighting family by doing the unexpected with them.
The film opens where the previous one ended, again exploring the concept of superheroes being illegal while probing notions regarding alienation, bonding and family life. That said, the sequel plays out differently to the first. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) here, heads out to battle whilst Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), stays home and tries desperately to grasp hold of what is going on in his family’s everyday lives.
The storyline is heartwarming and the emotions flood through. The film focuses on the theme of parenting with the crime fighting element almost taking a back seat. Incredibles 2 expands the universe of the central Parr family without trying to be like every other superhero film. The villain Screenslaver may not be the Syndrome of the original but that doesn’t matter because the baddies are in the background when it comes to the Incredibles. Here, family comes first with action, adventure and gorgeous animation being the icing on the cake. Joseph Learoyd
7. Big Hero 6
Partially inspired by the Marvel comic of the same name, young robotics genius Hiro (Ryan Potter) and his inflatable robot companion Baymax (Scott Adsit) pave their way through the futuristic city of San Fransokyo in this animated adventure. When a villain threatens peace, the pair team up with other super powered individuals to create a squad to fight back.
What could be generic is elevated by the relationship between Baymax and Hiro at the film’s core. Big Hero 6 is akin to Terminator 2, in the way that the central friendship develops similarly to the T101 and John Connor in that classic, the robot learning from the protagonist. That said, the film is more of a fun family outing with something for everyone to enjoy.
For young curious minds, there’s a strong motif throughout the film of the importance of technology and science, as well as how the two can be used to create a better future. Meanwhile, the animation is strong – the film’s 3D elements integrated terrifically into its crazy, futuristic neon cityscape setting. Joseph Learoyd
6. The Avengers
Joss Whedon’s accumulation of heroes set the box office on fire when it hit screens in 2012 and it was important for not only the MCU, but franchise movies in general. All the hard work pays off (literally) when thought and consideration is put in to building a universe (DC, take note).
A smart move from Marvel was using a villain that we were already very familiar with in the MCU, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), to take on the heroes with the help of the alien Chitauri army. We saw the first interactions of the Avengers together, their squabbles and spats, and the eventual NYC battle scene which was everything we hoped for and more. Although Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) don’t get a whole lot of development (something they amended in Age of Ultron) the team is very much a unit by the end of the movie, shawarma wraps and all. A fantastic payoff for years of world (and off world) building. Paddy O’Leary
5. Avengers: Infinity War
When Joss Whedon left the MCU, after Age of Ultron, the directorial responsibilities for the franchise’s cornerstone blockbusters fell to the Russo Brothers. Keeping the Russo Brothers on board from the Captain America trilogy was a fantastic move from Kevin Feige and his team at Marvel. They had shown in both Winter Soldier and Civil War that they can deal with big action scenes, multiple heroes and heartfelt moments simultaneously with ease. Each and every one of these qualities come into play throughout Infinity War as we follow three separate story arcs, each of which contain a collection of Earth’s (and beyond) Mightiest Heroes.
Infinity War set us up for the end of a truly iconic saga, starting way back in 2008 with Iron Man. Infinity War delivered one of the best onscreen villains with Thanos (Josh Brolin), it tugged at our heart strings and it blew us away with epic action sequences. It was marvellous. Paddy O’Leary
4. Thor: Ragnarok
After two frankly quite bland and boring solo films, one began to wonder was Chris Hemsworth’s God of Thunder the dud amongst the Avengers gang – just a dopey beef-cake with a cool hammer. However, that was before New Zealand filmmaker and comic genius Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit, What We Do in the Shadows) took the reins of the franchise for the Asgardian space opera Thor: Ragnarok.
Very quickly into Ragnarok, Thor’s father and mentor Odin (Anthony Hopkins) dies and his hammer is destroyed by his villainous half-sister Hela (Cate Blanchett having a ball) – two things which prove the catalyst for Waititi’s reinvention of the character. By taking away his iconography and support system, Waititi and his screenwriters made Thor relatable and vulnerable – someone battling grief and feelings that he is not worthy of being the protector of his realm. It was a lot to place on star Hemsworth whose main job in the previous Thor and Avengers films was to look great. But he pulled it off with gusto, nailing the brief moments of drama and the many moments of humour.
In terms of the latter, Ragnarok wears loud and proud how insane its plot is – which sees our Norse God forced to fight in a gladiatorial match against the Hulk run by a hedonistic Jeff Goldblum. Speaking of Goldblum, Ragnarok is also the best cast of any side Marvel picture, boasting a barrage of fun supporting players like Tessa Thompson’s drunken slave trader Valkyrie and Karl Urban’s Skurge, Hela’s heavy with a heart. Stephen Porzio
With 2016’s Logan, not only did James Mangold enrich 2013’s The Wolverine (his underrated opening gambit in the drowning X-Men franchise), he changed the face of superhero films forever, arguably elevating the genre to true Cinema. People love to shower Joker with praise for its pedestrian reskin of Taxi Driver, when Logan is the real victor – on one hand an effortlessly classy mediation on the ridiculously muddled X-franchise, but also wearing its devotion to 1953 Western Shane on its sleeve.
The film calls back to the earliest X-Men films while simultaneously casting a weary finger at the state of the modern world – we don’t get Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) walking away from an explosion like badass, we get Logan awkwardly pulling the trigger of a Smith and Wesson on the most despicably realistic villain (Richard E. Grant) of the entire series. Minutes later, a group of Mexican children use their mutant abilities to choke a man named Donald (Boyd Holbrook) to death. In a mainstream comic book film.
Patrick Stewart absolutely roars in a film where he finally has something to do other than rehash Picard clichés. Long has Hugh Jackman quietly and extraordinarily brought brilliance to the heavy claws that come with James Howlett (bet you didn’t know that that’s his actual name) but never more beautifully. Rob Ó Conchúir
When I mentioned that Karl Urban would be high up on the list of actors of the decade for me, my brother pointed out that I’m basing it exclusively on his performances in Dredd and Bones in the Star Trek franchise. I had to admit that maybe that’s not quite enough to base a decade’s worth of acting on. But on the other hand, who else could put on such an impressive performance with just their lower face?
In a decade of impressive (and admittedly some not-so-impressive) tower block movies, Dredd remains memorable for impressive action and concepts – Slo Mo, the illicit substance which the violent drug cartels in Mega City exist to manufacture and circulate, has one of the most innovative side-effects around, and certainly provides some of the most interesting visual aesthetics. It also has a brilliant villain in the shape of Lena Headey’s drug lord Ma-Ma (come to think of it, Headey is also high on my list of actors of the decade. Coincidence?).
Immensely entertaining with a devilish streak of irony, it’s telling that Dredd is found on multiple lists of the decade. Indeed, if it weren’t for the arrival of Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015, perhaps Dredd would be considered the sci-fi action film of the past ten years. That might be a bold claim to make, but like Dredd I take no prisoners (I also execute justice in a hellish future-scape and have a cool helmet). Sarah Cullen
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
A Spider-Man fan need look no further than this gem of pure animation joy. Sure, we are used to the live action adaptions, notably the recent addition of Tom Holland to the MCU. But this big screen outing for Spidey feels fresh and stands strongly as a contender for the best superhero film of all time. Fans of comic books will be no strangers to the character of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), an alternate universe Spider-man who, as the film opens, is dealing with very different powers and responsibilities, developing throughout the story into the ultimate hero.
One reason for Into the Spider-Verse’s box office success is due to the stand-out animation style that it incorporates. The directors and animators chose to animate using CGI but put a twist on proceedings. An example of this is how they eliminated motion blur so that the seamless fluidity would look different. Another technique was to animate on every second frame rather than each, leading to a more comic book style. This, molded together with a beautifully rendered environment; bright vibrant colours; strong accompanying songs and score (that the animation moves seamlessly with); and a story that one could relate to, Into the Spider-Verse managed to capture the hearts of millions. Through it, many managed to see superheroes in a different light, perhaps never looking at them the same way again. Joseph Learoyd