1. “Spider-Man 2”
Though not as dark as the Nolan film, as action-packed as the Marvel entries, or as ensemble-set as the X-movies, Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” remains the seminal comic book movie for how utterly satisfying and unforgettable it is across the board. Fun, funny, visceral, dramatic, introspective, and held together by Tobey Maguire’s sublimely acted Peter Parker, Raimi injects into the Spider-Man franchise something no other director has seemed to as solidly hit (as of yet) in any other comic book movie: heart. With a villain who brings more gravitas to the screen than he does disposable “fight the good guy” motive and a story that focuses heavily on self-doubt and the struggles of identity, the second Spidey installment is at times more “(500) Days of Summer” than it is “The Avengers.” And, in some strange stroke of genius, it works. What is leaves the audience with is a supreme sense not just of entertainment, but of culturally relevant understanding. It’s a masterful film, and the epitome of the comic book movie.
Memorable scene: The Doc Ock versus Spider-Man train fight
2. “X-Men: Days Of Future Past”
In one of those rare turn of events where a franchise has faltered greatly then recovered in a seemingly unrelated reboot, director Bryan Singer achieves the impossible in melding the two universes and X-franchises successfully in a time-traveling ensemble set with strong emotional performances, funny moments, and plenty of action.
Memorable Scene: The mesmerizing prison break sequence with Quicksilver
3. “The Dark Knight”
Dark, gritty, and emotionally raw, Christopher Nolan’s follow up to “Batman Begins” is everything a great sequel should be. Replete with kinetic action, a bombastic score, emotional resonance, socially challenging themes, and an Oscar-winning turn by Heath Ledger’s unforgettable Joker, “The Dark Knight” is a staple of the genre and it set the stage for practically every blockbuster to follow the next five or six years after its release.
Memorable Scene: The Batman/Joker interrogation room scene
4. “Batman Begins”
With a non-linear story, Oscar-worthy performances, and a superhero who doesn’t show up onscreen until well past the halfway point of the movie, “Batman Begins” changed the game in terms of origin stories. It crafted more of an intimate character drama that tights and gadgets wonder, and it brought mainstream audiences the genius and chills inducing storytelling abilities of auteur Christopher Nolan for the first time. From the opening line of “Why do we fall?” “Batman Begins” seemed to acknowledge the dismal hole the 1997 atrocity of “Batman & Robin” had left the franchise in, and effectively sought to pick the series back up again. And it did so, with great effect.
Memorable Scene: The shipping crate fight sequence; Batman’s first appearance
5. “X-Men: First Class”
Part reboot, part prequel. Matthew Vaughn’s “First Class” reintroduced the memorable mutants in top form, choosing to take the X-Men back to their origins in the 1960s, when Professor X wasn’t bald or wheelchair-bound. Featuring star-making performances in James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and (then relatively unknown) Jennifer Lawrence, and drenched in production design and a wardrobe that feels pulled from an early Bond film, “First Class” succeeds in slickly reimagining the superhero ensemble with period style and a visual sense of cool.
Memorable scene: Magneto’s Nazi hunting bar standstill in Argentina
6. “Iron Man 3”
Following the super underwhelming “Iron Man 2,” writer-director Shane Black brings the franchise ramping back with Robert Downey, Jr.’s best yet performance as the enigmatic Tony Stark. Filled with an awareness of its own comic book silliness and chock full of snarky one-liners, the third Iron Man outing moves at breakneck pace and is one of the few Marvel movies that works as its own, singular film with a complete story and conclusive ending.
Memorable scene: The Stark Mansion crumbling into the Pacific Ocean
7. “The Dark Knight Rises”
The epic conclusion to Nolan’s Batman trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises” was faced with the overwhelming task of satisfying some of the most unfathomable hype in movie history. Luckily, despite some minor faltering, it does so successfully, believably connecting the mythos and origin story world of “Batman Begins” to the gritty realism of Gotham City in “The Dark Knight” in a story that comes full circle and features memorable turns by Anne Hathaway as Catwoman and Tom Hardy as Bane.
Memorable scene: The Batman/Bane sewer fight. It’s music-less. Quiet. Eerie.
8. “The Avengers”
A culmination of four years and four superhero films of world building, Marvel’s grand attempt at building a cinematic universe thoroughly succeeded, shattering the box office and living up to fan expectation. Though the entire movie essentially plays like one big lead up to one big fight scene against forgettable, faceless villains, it benefits from Joss Whedon’s adept direction, clever banter, and the satisfaction of seeing such an epic team-up. Though none are in completely top form in this film as opposed to their individual outings, the whole cast brings a team charm to the screen that’s palpable and fun.
Memorable scene: The shot you’ve see over and over on Netflix ads already of the camera circling around the superheroes back-to-back as the Avengers literally “assemble.”
9. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
Arguably the strongest of the non-“Iron Man” single character Marvel movies, “The Winter Solider” had the difficult task of taking a character and first movie set in the 1940s and translating what is essentially an American propaganda comic into story with modern context. But “The Winter Soldier” cracks it, by focusing in on socially relevant themes of surveillance and defense paranoia, positioning itself as an intelligent political thriller–which just happens to have Captain America in it. Franchise newcomers Robert Redford and Anthony Mackie shoulder the majority of the acting heavy lifting, while Chris Evans remains reliably solid as the titular hero in what ends up being a thoughtful, slick, well produced film.
Memorable Scene: The Helicarrier crash
10. “Sin City”
Visually groundbreaking and thoroughly unique, Robert Rodriguez’s cinematic adaptation of Frank Miller’s beloved comic is a brutal, hyper-violent spectacle worthy of surpassing many much higher budgeted, studio produced superhero epics. With an eclectic cast that includes Michael Clarke Duncan, Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Elijah Wood, Josh Harnett, and the immensely hot, unfathomably popular it girl of the time Jessica Alba, Rodriguez created a powderkeg of awesome set pieces and eye popping sequences that make for a simply unforgettable experience.
Memorable Scene: Jessica Alba’s striptease, because duh
Other notable entries, in order:
11. “X2: X-Men United”
12. “Man Of Steel”
17. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (1989)
18. “Superman Returns”
19. “The Wolverine”