Since the biggest thing in theaters this decade — both financially and culturally — has been comicbook films, I thought I’d take a look at the best that this decade had to offer. Only a couple of these entries would make my Best Comicbook Movies of All-Time list — joining the ranks of A History of Violence, Batman Returns, Blade, Spider-Man 2, Punisher: War Zone — but it’s been a jam-packed 10 years, so I’m listing 20 films. It’s a more interesting list that way, and shut up I can do whatever I want.
20. Oblivion (2013)
Joseph Kosinski has never made a great movie, but he’s made some gorgeous ones. 2013’s Oblivion is the closest he’s come to greatness. It stars Tom Cruise — continuing his undefeated streak of dope sci-fi — and is scored by Anthony Gonzalez from the band M83.
19. Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
Robert Rodriguez hadn’t done that much for me since the ‘90s … the early ‘00s, if I’m being generous. Until he decided to channel the Wachowski sisters with Alita: Battle Angel and make a very human story that doesn’t get too bogged down in world-building while still having a shit-load of world-building. In short, it’s a best-case-scenario when it comes to American adaptations of anime or manga.
18. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy was a breath of fresh air in a cinematic universe that grew stale pretty fast. It’s a standard premise that’s well-developed by James Gunn and sold by the game cast. Chris Pratt is a little creaky early on, but he’s never been as good as a leading man as he has in this; Zoe Saldana is always solid; Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper actually seem to give it their all in voice work they could have easily phoned in; but the real star of the show is Dave Bautista. With some hard work, determination, and a good role, he managed to turn himself into a movie star, and the film deserves some kudos for that alone.
17. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)
I’m not a huge fan of the character designs in this version of The Adventures of Tintin, but it has a lot more going for it than that. You can tell that the people working on the film behind-the-scenes — a murderer’s row including Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, and Edgar Wright — had a lot of passion for Tintin’s world, and it shows up on screen. The film is gorgeous: some of the cuts are inspired and make great use of animation, and the big chase scene is better than almost any other action set piece in this decade.
16. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)
I don’t like the Crank films. They’re always cited as wild underrated gems, but they do absolutely zilch for me. However, I am a fan in general of the directors: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is the last film they’ve directed together, and if they never make another film together, it’s an end of which they should be proud. Of course, Neveldine/Taylor would gel with Nicolas Cage’s particular personality and feed into it to make a film that’s crazy but also surprisingly straight-forward and serious. Or at least as serious as a film where Ghost Rider pisses fire can be. Spirit of Vengeance can also lay claim to one of the best behind-the-scenes facts, which is the fact that Cage based his performance on the Haitian spirit Baron Samedi and wore face paint for the Ghost Rider scenes, even though it would be completely covered in CGI.
15. Aquaman (2018)
Aquaman is a Dumb Guy Movie, and I absolutely do not mean that as a pejorative. Hell, it isn’t even the highest Dumb Guy Movie on the list! Basically a Dumb Guy Movie needs a protagonist who can easily be described as a dummy, a plot that makes some people feel like geniuses for understanding, and it needs to end up being the kind of movie that would play on repeat in your pot dealer’s house. Aquaman checks all of those boxes. Plus it also happens to have some vibrant colors, some great action courtesy of James Wan, and a big effects-heavy finale that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
14. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
It’s a testament to Edgar Wright’s body of work that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was his worst film until Baby Driver came along. It’s an incredibly funny, lively, and original movie that blends so many elements of media that it feels like it’s going to burst at the seams. But it ends up working! Scott Pilgrim is the perfect capstone to young Michael Cera’s career, and the supporting cast is so stuffed — Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Brandon Routh, etc. — that there’s a different standout each time I watch it.
13. My Friend Dahmer (2017)
This adaptation of the autobiographical indie comic by Derf Backderf is a really interesting take on both comicbook adaptations and true crime adaptations, two things that are extremely “in” right now. The film only shows Dahmer’s life before he commits any major crimes, but it’s a haunting, complicated portrait of a terrible man before he could really be called either of those things. Ross Lynch’s portrayal of Dahmer is pitch perfect. He’s pitiable but also unknowable, which fits with the perspective of the film and the character himself.
12. Venom (2018)
The second Dumb Guy Movie on the list! Venom is amazing! It’s a movie that feels like it came from the late ‘90s while still being entirely of its time. Really, the worst thing going for it is that the director, Ruben Fleischer, is kind of an uninspired choice for this thing, and he doesn’t bring much to the table. Luckily, he knows enough to get the hell out of the way and let the silly story play out and let Tom Hardy go crazy. Hardy’s cartoonish performance makes the film — seriously, the scene where he hops into a lobster tank is an all-timer. And it’s proof that one of the few benefits of superhero movies being so ubiquitous is that we can have a dumb movie like this attract the talents of Hardy, Michelle Williams, and Riz Ahmed.
11. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a blessing and a curse for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Arguably the third most influential thing in the MCU, after Robert Downey Jr. and the first Avengers film, it made a lot of things I hate central aspects of the series. It made the Russo Brothers the captains of the MCU ship, and it cemented that washed out color palette that The Avengers introduced. But everything just works so well here! Chris Evans continued to show that Captain America can be interesting when he isn’t in an Avengers film, Scarlett Johansson got something to do, and there was actually some political commentary that wasn’t gross or half-assed! Also, Frank Grillo is in it.
10. Logan (2017)
Logan is a fitting finale for Hugh Jackman, a man who has been playing Wolverine for more than a third of the time the character’s even existed. It also works as a send-off for Patrick Stewart’s equally iconic Professor X and the messy but influential X-Men movie universe as a whole (I haven’t actually seen Dark Phoenix, but I doubt it does as good a job of putting a button on these films as Logan does). Each time I watch the movie, there are some cracks and flaws that stick out to me, but they continue to be outweighed by the performances and the heart on display in the rest of the film.
09. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
There are a couple reasons why the X-Men film series is important. First, X-Men was partially responsible for the boom of superhero films in the 21st Century, alongside Spider-Man. Second, and most important, the series doesn’t care at all that its continuity is an incongruous mess. I un-ironically love that attitude. X-Men: Days of Future Past plays around with the two different casts of the series, bringing them together and celebrating their strengths while only bringing over a few of their weaknesses. It’s the perfect encapsulation of the series because it’s messy as hell. But it works.
08. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
This is the best film the Marvel Cinematic Universe ever made and a perfect encapsulation of what the Steve Rogers character can be if you don’t have people like Joss Whedon turning him into a stock archetype or the Russo Brothers making him progressively more boring. The First Avenger has great effects (Small Steve, the Red Skull), fun supporting turns from people like Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci, a romance that doesn’t feel shoehorned in, and the most heroic moment in the entire MCU. Instead of rewatching Thor: Ragnarok for the hundredth time, please give this one another shot.
07. Joker (2019)
A dumb director and a big movie studio accidentally made a solidly anti-capitalist movie, which is really the ultimate joke. Not that a movie has to have good politics to be good, that’s just a bonus, but it helps that Joker is also incredibly entertaining. Todd Phillips’s take on the character rips wholesale from Martin Scorsese’s filmography, turning Joker into an accidental folk hero and Bruce Wayne’s father into a Trumpian asshole. The standout scene — besides the tense, televised finale — is an urban nightmare inside a subway train and station where Joker finally snaps on some Wall Street douchebags harassing him. When you add an immensely entertaining performance from Joaquin Phoenix on top of it all, you get one of the most unlikely and best comicbook movies of the decade.
06. The Death of Stalin (2017)
Look … I get the leftist criticisms of the film, but any movie that shows the insanity and inanity of a bureaucracy, especially one ruled with the looming spectre of impending death, is just as applicable to our current rule of law. Basically, I’m a sucker for any of Armando Iannucci’s works. So if you like In The Loop, The Thick of It, or Veep, then you’ll probably like this. It helps that actors like Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, and Simon Russell Beale were made to deliver this kind of dialogue.
05. Snowpiercer (2013)
This incredibly kinetic, incredibly on-the-nose Bong Joon-ho adaptation of a French graphic novel by Jacques Lob is a mad mix of South Korean sensibilities, French storytelling, and American starpower. It feels like it should come off the rails at any time, but, like the tail-end passengers making their way to the front of the train, the entire film just keeps moving forward. Great production design, great performances (Tilda Swinton and Song Kang-ho in particular), and a metaphor big enough to knock you over the head with makes Snowpiercer stand out among the crowd.
04. Man of Steel (2013)
When I first saw Man of Steel, I thought it was just okay. It absolutely would not have made this list. But every time I’ve seen it since, it’s grown on me more and more, a new aspect of it unfolding for me. Now, I think it’s fantastic and touching. Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent giving a young Clark Kent advice and then showing him the ship he crashed to Earth in is easily one of the best scenes from any comicbook film ever.
03. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
I’m glad that the nicest and most hopeful comicbook film of the decade landed so high on the list. Not only is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse a visual feast, it’s also uplifting without feeling airy and consequence-free. There are so many stand-out moments in the film — Prowler’s theme, Kingpin’s character design, the introduction of each Spider-Person, Olivia, etc. — but the best thing about it is that it introduces Miles Morales to the wider world. It also introduces Peter B. Parker, which is kind of a godsend to cosplayers everywhere.
02. Dredd (2012)
Dredd is the kind of comicbook movie that comicbook fans say they want to see but almost never actually turn out for. If you asked some fans if they’d want a Batman that’s entirely about Batman fighting an apartment block full of criminals they’d say it’s a cool idea, but they probably wouldn’t show up. That’s what Dredd is. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a giant blue world-ending laser shooting into the sky, but it does have a commentary on a fascist police state, some great action, and one of the best below-the-nose-only acting jobs I’ve ever seen courtesy of Karl Urban.
01. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Superman films always seem to use Lex Luthor or General Zod as the villain, and fans are always clamoring for something different. It’s hard to think of a better antagonist for Superman than Batman, and Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice makes a great case for him being the ultimate antagonist. If you combine that story with an impressive introduction of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), a solid subplot for Lois Lane (Amy Adams), a completely original take on Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) — in the sense that it’s based on piece-of-shit sex priest Max Landis, which hasn’t been a version of Lex Luthor before, as far as I know —it’s a film that’s absolutely creaking at the seams with themes and ideas and visuals, but the fact that it’s as good as it is should be commendable. And it is commendable. I’m commending it right now.