From Deadpool to Doctor Strange, here’s how I rank the top superhero movies of the year. The post below is a transcription of the video above, minus some extra commentary at the very end.
It’s pretty obvious at this point in 2016 that the “superhero genre” is here to stay. These movies seize a huge share of box office profits every year, and their mainstream takeover isn’t slowing down in the slightest. Going back a decade, we’ve gotten at least four or five “big” superhero movies a year, sometimes six, and this year saw eight alone, with all but two of them being huge moneymakers and making the top 10 grossers of the year.
I say “superhero” movie, by the way, because things get messy when you try to categorize these films by “comic book.” For the same reason it would get a little hairy if you tried to lump all book adaptation movies together, because they stretch across so many genres and sub genres. With a superhero movie, you’re at least addressing a few basic similarities between movies that are derived from DC, Marvel, and other studios. You have a hero (or heroes) with strange abilities who goes on some type of emotional, action-packed journey.
So this year, I want to point out which superhero movies in 2016 were “better” than others, not just from a film critic standpoint, but also from how they contribute or don’t contribute to the ever-expanding superhero movie genre. I have to leave out two movies in particular because I haven’t seen them: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and Max Steel. Because I don’t review absolutely everything that comes out, these ended up being on my cutting board of films to review over the summer, and I have no desire to check them out anytime soon.
But the rest of the entries on this list are certainly ones you’ve heard of if you’re a big fan of superhero movies, but in case you haven’t watched them all, I’ll be avoiding any and all spoilers within reason. So let’s begin with the worst of the bunch:
#6 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
The film critic in me can’t stand this movie. It’s an abomination of narrative, pacing, and character development to the point of almost being a parody. But the DC fan in me has plenty of nice things to say in spite of all that, notably from a visual standpoint. The costumes are incredible, the subject matter is at least interesting in theory, and most of the characters are well-cast with the exception of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.
The strange thing, though, is that despite being such a weak movie overall, it contains some of my favorite superhero moments of 2016, including Batman’s warehouse fight, the Trinity’s stand against Doomsday, and Wonder Woman’s theme music. Unfortunately, these bright spots just don’t overshadow enough of the problems to redeem the rest of this frustrating embarrassment of a superhero movie.
#5 Suicide Squad
For me, Suicide Squad was just a slim margin better than Dawn of Justice, mostly because the standards were set just a little lower thanks to this being a movie about lesser-known characters I’ve always wanted to see on the big screen.
It does have some of the same issues as Dawn of Justice, though, particularly when it comes to style over substance with its visuals and plot. But the characters are mostly fun to watch and suggestive of a bigger, better DCEU we haven’t gotten to see enough of yet.
#4 X-Men: Apocalypse
I actually liked this one quite a bit more than most, mainly because I’ve been hoping for a better realization of these characters since the third X-Men movie, and for the most part, Apocalypse is immensely entertaining lore for longtime fans.
It’s nowhere near perfect, of course, but there are enough great moments here to overlook some of the bland story structure and checklist of characters for Fox to cross off their list. This is one of those superhero movies I walked away from wanting more, which is both a criticism and a complement in this case.
#3 Doctor Strange
Familiarity breeds contempt, and so it goes for some who view Doctor Strange as more of the same from Marvel. And they’re not entirely wrong. This is the origin formula Marvel has been polishing since 2008, complete with a flawed protagonist who has to humble himself after gaining extraordinary powers.
And mileage varies for anyone who appreciates some stunning visual effects that go with the whole package, as you might be one of those viewers who can’t get past folding cities reminding them of Inception, or just someone looking for a breezy, colorful Marvel movie with some clever spins on what’s already worked before.
This was the movie that arguably had the bigger impact on comic book fans this year, even ones who never liked the character much before seeing this movie. And that’s because it’s less a superhero or anti-hero movie and more a self-reflection of the genre itself.
That lended for some great movie moments and humor, but at its core, Deadpool is just barely shy of real greatness, as it only manages to tackle a small handful of neat ideas over and over again, using a formula that’s not far removed from much of what we’ve seen before. It won’t be long before the movie will be remembered as a lightning in the bottle experiment that aged a bit quicker than we expected.
#1 Captain America: Civil War
If you had to criticize Civil War for one thing, it might be that it almost has too much going on in its long running time. But if what you’re looking for is a dense spectacle that reshapes a cinematic universe with recognizable characters, then Civil War absolutely had you in mind.
There were so many ways for this movie to completely fail: the villain could have been atrocious, new arrivals Black Panther and Spider-Man could have been mishandled, we could’ve gotten more Iron Man than Captain America, the emotional stakes by the very end could have come off as meaningless, and so on. But while it stumbles at times, Civil War pulls all of this off in an entertaining, often thrilling way.
And close to everything we love most in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had a time to shine, paid off after years of buildup and patience. Similar to how a comic book event can impact longtime readers, this was worthy of its title and then some.