Wait… Was 2017 The Best Year for Superhero Movies of All Time?

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On November 24th, a film writer named Rhett Bartlett asked his Twitter followers to name their favorite movie moment in 2017. His prompt spread swiftly, fetching some surprising responses in the thread (Rooney Mara’s interminable pie eating in A Ghost Story), and some predictable ones (Tom Hardy’s triumph at the end of Dunkirk). One scene came up more than any other, though:

Let the record show that Gal Gadot streaking across a swath of scorched countryside on behalf of humankind was exciting, optimistic, and genuinely moving. Scrolling through the thread, I was inclined to agree that “No Man’s Land” was at least my favorite superhero moment of the year, if not one of the year’s best, super or otherwise.

Then I re-watched Logan (yes, Logan — remember Logan? The one whose release nine months ago had critics and fans clawing over one another to anoint it one of the best superhero films of all time?), and during the scene where Laura’s ferocious abilities are revealed, I was reminded of our staggeringly short memories. Her spree mirrors Wonder Woman’s harrowing journey through no man’s land — each are breathtaking previews of potential that (importantly) reveals something essential about the characters involved. We are moved by Diana’s idealism, courage, and prowess, and as Logan watches Laura wreak terrifying havoc, we are similarly moved by the understanding that spreads across his face while witnessing someone with both his powers and rage.

“No Man’s Land” and Laura’s debut were hardly the only affecting moments in a year that was replete with quality superhero films. Consider Yondu’s ravager funeral in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a poignant send-off for Michael Rooker’s character, and one we didn’t know would wreck us — until it did. Then there’s the end of Logan, a momentous and tonally perfect finale for Hugh Jackman after seventeen years of playing the character. Even Thor had his moments, with the sheer joy of his hilarious realization that The Hulk would be his coliseum opponent in Thor: Ragnarok, punctuated by the hilarious line: “I know him! He’s a friend from work!” (with a heartwarming real-life source).

All of this to say, 2017 was a banner year for superhero movies, despite the absence of The Avengers and the lingering presence of the inert Justice League franchise. In fact, as we look back now, its hard to remember a year with the same balance of quantity and quality of 2017. Was this actually the best year for superheroes of all time? Inspired by the possibility, we tackled the question (not unlike Wonder Woman rushing head first into chaos), attempting to statistically figure out beyond a doubt if 2017 was actually as successful as it seems.

Here’s how it works:

Every year since 2000* was ranked in four separate categories, with their ranking in each category corresponding to points. If a year ranked number one in a category, it received 17 points; number two, 16 points; three, 15 points; and so on. At the end, the year with the most points won. The categories are straightforward:

  • Total Domestic Box Office (Adjusted for Growth): This is the total haul of all superhero movies in a year combined. It reflects the breadth and overall success of a year’s offerings.
  • Average Domestic Box Office (Adjusted for Growth): The average take of each superhero movie in a given year. This reflects, on average, how successful the films of a given year were.
  • Average Rotten Tomatoes Critics Score: Self-explanatory. This reflects how well-received the films of a given year were overall.
  • Average Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score: This category is worth half points (the top place gets 8.5, second gets 8, third gets 7.5 etc.), and was considered because there is some truth behind the idea that these movies are made principally for fans (a less benevolent characterization would be “for money”), and some films often develop small but vocal minorities that don’t reflect a cultural consensus. The points were halved precisely because they don’t reflect a consensus — Batman vs. Superman, for instance, is still widely considered a bloated mess, but its fans should be heard. Basically, this category exists so DCEU fans won’t be mad at us.

*One note: You may be wondering why we started with the year 2000. The answer is two-fold. First, Bryan Singer’s X-Men came out in 2000, and that feels like a natural starting point for the modern superhero film landscape. Second, although we love Burton’s Batman and Donner’s Superman (among others), the overall dearth of offerings in the 20th century would have effectively prevented any of those years from competing in the 21st century. Remember, this is about years, not movies.

**2001 is not on this list. No superhero movies were released that year, unless you consider Monkeybone or Pootie Tang superhero movies. We don’t. 

On to the list, and our first entry:

16. (Tie) 2005 and 2009 | 10.5 pts

The Movies:

(2005)

  • Elektra: $34 Mil, Critics 10%, Audience 29%
  • Fantastic Four: $215 Mil, Critics 27%, Audience 45%
  • Batman Begins: $286 Mil, Critics 84%, Audience 94%

(2009)

  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine: $215 Mil, Critics 38%, Audience 58%
  • Watchmen: $128.6 Mil, Critics 64%, Audience 71%

We may have willfully forgotten that before Chris Evans became Captain America, he played Johnny Storm in 2005’s extremely cheesy Fantastic Four. We also seem to have forgotten that the film made $215.5 Million at the box office — if not a veritable hit, then at least a success. That gross is only $50 Million less than Batman Begins, a little movie that only birthed one of the most beloved and successful superhero franchises ever.

The Rotten Tomatoes scores for Batman Begins are surprisingly unspectacular in retrospect, considering what came next. Christopher Nolan’s first outing currently rests at 84 percent on the site (Ant-Man, for instance, sports an 82), but the middling critical performances of Fantastic Four and Batman Begins are not the reasons for 2005’s last-place finish. No, the actual cause would be Elektra, a historic bomb that fizzled at the box office and was maligned by both critics and audiences alike (10 and 29, respectively). We eventually will need an oral history of the superhero movie explosion, if only to understand how Elektra was tapped for a solo film before Wolverine, any of the Avengers, or Wonder Woman. If the need arises to describe Elektra to a friend, you could accurately say that the film misses the presence of Ben Affleck as Daredevil — not great.

In 2009, X-Men Origins had a respectable box office gross, but was not fondly received (understatement), and is now remembered for an inexplicably mouthless Deadpool. Meanwhile, the divisive Watchmen is maybe Zack Snyder’s best-loved superhero adaptation — which apparently counts for a mediocre box office take and similarly unenthusiastic critical reception. These years did show some promise of things to come though — Fox would eventually make two successful Wolverine solo movies, and Batman Begins would beget The Dark Knight.

  1. 2004 | 16 pts

The Movies:

  • The Punisher: $48.6 Mil, Critics 29%, Audience 63%
  • Spider-Man 2: $537.2 Mil (!), Critics 93%, Audience 61%
  • Blade: Trinity: $75 Mil, Critics 25%, Audience 59%
  • Catwoman: $57.8 Mil, Critics 9%, Audience 18%
  • Hellboy: $85.7 Mil, Critics 81%, Audience 65%

2004 was a fascinating year for a number of reasons. Just look at how uneven superhero adaptations used to be: thirteen years ago Halle Berry starred as Catwoman in perhaps the worst superhero movie of the century, full stop. Someone made a Punisher movie, and that someone chose Tom Jane as The Punisher. Those things happened.

The year also featured two notable gulfs between audience and critical perception, as ticket buyers were determined to give The Punisher a pass, but were less moved by Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy than critics were. Blade: Trinity marked the end of a franchise that seems completely foreign thirteen years later, but the real story in 2004 was Spider-Man 2.

Raimi’s webslinger will send shock waves through this list further on, but his first feat is saving this mediocre year from crashing to the bottom of the list. We wrote here that Spider-Man 2 is one of the best superhero movies of all time, and certainly the best Spider-Man film, but the passage of time has only made the film’s gaudy box office numbers more shocking. Wonder Woman, a surprise blockbuster that seemed to be in theaters for eight months straight, sold over $100 Million less in adjusted gross than Spider-Man 2.

  1. 2003 | 22.5 pts.

The Movies:

  • Daredevil: $151.8 Mil, Critics 44%, Audience 35%
  • X2: $318.3 Mil, Critics 85%, Audience 86%
  • Hulk: $195.7 Mil, Critics 61%, Audience 29%

2003 was the definition of a forgettable year, buoyed only by a behemoth X-Men movie that — with its $318.3 Million gross  — was barely eclipsed by 2006’s Last Stand as franchise’s most successful X-Men installment of all time.

There is one interesting note from this year (although it has more to do with films that came later): while Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner might have us forgetting Ang Lee’s Hulk (as well as Edward Norton’s The Incredible Hulk), the $195 Million gross of Hulk places that film in line with the likes of Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor. This is a film about which Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly wrote the following: “A big-budget comic-book adaptation has rarely felt so humorless and intellectually defensive about its own pulpy roots.”

That statement now looks hilarious considering how many superhero movies have aspired to maturity using unceasing grimness over the past decade, but it captures an overarching sentiment about Hulk at the time of its release: the movie wasn’t fun enough. And it still performed like The First Avenger and Thor would eight years later. Marvel’s most important victory may have been recognizing earlier than competitors how starved audiences were for comic book adaptations. All they had to do was look at Hulk. 

  1. 2007 | 23 pts 

The Movies:

  • Spider-Man 3: $436.8 Mil, Critics 63%, Audience 51%
  • Fantastic Four: Silver Surfer: $171.2 Mil, Critics 37%, Audience 51%

We can thank 2007 for emo-jazz Peter Parker, dancing through New York City with finger guns blazing — and for appearing to poison the well for future adaptations of both the Venom and Silver Surfer characters — but this plainly barren year is inflated a bit because both Spider-Man 3 and Fantastic Four: Silver Surfer performed at the box office (Silver Surfer barely broke even, but it’s $171 million take helps the average box office score here — we aren’t really concerned with studio profits). Side note: it might be worth a critical reappraisal of Spider-Man 3. 63% on Rotten Tomatoes seems awful high for this:

  1. 2010 | 25 pts

The Movies:

  • Iron Man 2: $350.9 Mil, Critics 73%, Audience 72%
  • Kick-Ass: $53.9 Mil, Critics 81%, Audience 75%

By 2010, superheroes had become so entrenched at the movies that Kick-Ass was able to wrangle a substantial audience into theaters by taking aim at genre traditions — a concept that only tens earlier was relegated to niche cartoons or curiosities like Orgazmo. You’ll remember that much pearl-clutching was done over Chloe Grace Moretz, as Hit Girl, having to say the c-word in the film (she was 13 at the time), and to a lesser extent, over the ultra-violence in Kick-Ass. The resonance of the those elements, as well as the film’s broader commentary, depends largely on whether or not the viewer finds naughty words and blood spurts witty or subversive — a fact that made Kick-Ass predictably divisive. Still, the film boasts an 81% on Rotten Tomatoes, which presumably accounts for Roger Ebert calling it “morally reprehensible.”

One more interesting note: according to the stats on TorrentFreak, the film was the second most pirated of 2010 (with Avatar coming in first), suggesting that those most predisposed to love Kick-Ass are, presumably, also the least likely to pay for it.

Oh, and Iron Man 2 (the one with Mickey Rourke) came out in 2010. It wasn’t good. It made $350 Million.

  1. 2011 | 25.5 pts

The Movies:

  • Thor: $200.6 Mil, Critics 77%, Audience 76%
  • Captain America: The First Avenger: $198 Mil, Critics 80%, Audience 74%
  • Green Lantern: $129.5 Mil, Critics 26%, Audience 45%
  • X-Men: First Class: $162 Mil, Critics 86%, Audience 87%

Three positively average films (in terms of performance) and one certified bust. The surprising takeaway from 2011 is that in retrospect it appears critics and audiences were unsure of how to react to Marvel’s burgeoning Cinematic Universe. The studio’s overwhelming presence is now an undeniable fact of the movie landscape, but the sums of Thor and Captain America, while hardly paltry, pale in comparison to both later films like Civil War and the Iron Man films that were released in 2008 and 2010.

The First Avenger and Thor posted Hulk numbers, and were received with enthusiastic shrugs by critics and audiences alike, yet they both managed to out-earn X-Men: First Class, even though the franchise reboot was the most lauded superhero film of 2011 (and remains one of the most purely fun, if flawed X-Men installments). If it weren’t for Green Lantern, 2011 would be a nice little year with some memorable gems that have through no fault of their own been overshadowed by subsequent films. Alas, Green Lantern exists.

 

  1. 2015 | 26 pts 

The Movies:

  • Avengers: Age of Ultron: $447.9 Mil, Critics 75%, Audience 65%
  • Ant-Man: $194.9 Mil, Critics 82%, Audience 86%
  • Fantastic Four: $60 Mil, Critics 9% (!), Audience 18%

Age of Ultron was a regression for the Avengers franchise — an overcrowded, somewhat incomprehensible, and emotionally inert regression that still managed to thrill purely as a spectacle. It should also be considered a warning sign that Avengers: Infinity War, due out in 2018, may have logistical problems balancing thirty-two characters while telling a cogent story (shocking, I know). Of course, the Avengers’ second time saving the world was both financially successful and moderately well received. Ultron isn’t the bug in the 2015 mainframe. Nor is it Ant-Man, a film about a minor superhero that Marvel turned into a tightly scripted caper story, and a reprieve from the apocalyptic stakes of the Avengers franchise. 2015 owes its low standing in part to a limited slate, but in much larger part to Fantastic Four, a film most famous for its fraught production.

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone (hardly a takedown artist) called the Fantastic Four “worse than worthless.” The Hollywood Reporter called it “a 100-minute trailer for a movie that never happens.” This year is notable for being around the time that franchises were handed over to young upstart directors with limited but proven track records: Colin Trevorrow helmed Jurassic World after the success of 2012’s Safety Not Guaranteed; Ryan Coogler was tapped for Creed (and now Black Panther) after directing Fruitvale Station (his only movie at the time); Fantastic Four was handed to Josh Trank after the success of Chronicle, his directorial debut.

Trank is now most famous for a tweet storm blaming the Fantastic Four debacle on studio meddling, and for his ouster from a subsequent standalone Star Wars film after his Marvel movie flopped. Fantastic Four is currently the worst reviewed Marvel Movie on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s not close. 

  1. 2006 | 27.5 pts 

The Movies:

  • X-Men: The Last Stand: $319.5 Mil, Critics 58%, Audience 61%
  • Superman Returns: $272.7 Mil, Critics 76%, Audience 61%

Superman Returns made $272 Million, and currently sits at 76% on Rotten Tomatoes, two facts I would wager are a surprise to anyone reading this in 2017. While Brandon Routh’s turn as Superman might be remembered as an idealist flop that was quickly washed away by the gritty tide of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, re-watching it now can be a refreshing experience — especially contrasted with Henry Cavill’s (actually pretty enjoyable) moody spin on the character. It’s accurate to say that Superman Returns has mostly been forgotten, which fits — 2006 is a mostly forgettable year, with two films that haven’t left us much in terms of legacy or impact. In fact, the next X-Men film will re-adapt the comic’s “Dark Phoenix” arc, which was bungled by Last Stand.

Both films were both legitimate blockbusters, and moderately received at worst. If nothing else, The Last Stand featured Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine at the height of his popularity (until 2017, maybe, although box office numbers don’t bear that out), and concluded the first modern superhero trilogy. But like most of the early mediocre years, 2006 reflects just how spoiled superhero fans have become.

  1. 2000 | 28.5 pts

The Movies:

  • X-Men: $260.6 Mil, Critics 81%, Audience 83%
  • Unbreakable: $156 Mil, Critics 68%, Audience 77%

The year that gave us X-Men, the first modern superhero blockbuster, also featured a surprising deconstruction of superhero myth-making in Unbreakable. It was an impactful year, evidenced by the fact that the X-Men franchise is still running seventeen years later, albeit in split timelines, and that Unbreakable is still relevant enough to warrant a sequel: Glass, due out in 2019, is currently in production.

X-Men was a gamble on a property that — while beloved by comic (and cartoon) fans — lacked the ubiquity and the cache of either Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man. It parlayed an untapped public appetite for spectacle (the movie’s premier was on Ellis Island) into the sixth biggest opening of any film, and the biggest opening weekend for a superhero film of all time. It would quickly be dwarfed by properties that owe their success — their existence, really — to X-Men. 

  1. 2013 | 32 pts 

The Movies:

  • Iron Man 3: 434.8 Mil, Critics 80%, Audience 78%
  • Thor: The Dark World: $220 mil, Critics 66%, Audience 77%
  • Man of Steel: $310.1 Mil, Critics 55%, Audience 75%
  • The Wolverine: $150.8 Mil, Critics 69%, Audience 69%
  • Kick-Ass 2: $30.6 Mil, Critics 32%, Audience 57%

A few random thoughts about a very inconsistent year:

  • The modern superhero era can be broken up into two segments: pre-Avengers and post-Avengers. Other films had quantifiable impacts — The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and, Spider-Man chief among them — but the performance of films in 2013 show a distinct leap beyond the trends from 2011 and 2010, the last two years of the pre-Avengers epoch. The box office take of Iron Man 3 nearly matches the haul Age of Ultron would earn two years later, despite following the disappointing Iron Man 2. Thor: The Dark World, unquestionably a minor MCU entry, made $220 Million. Even Man of Steel, a film that was (and I say this charitably) divisive, would have been the top superhero earner in 2011 (the year with Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger) by over $100 Million. This is the comic book equivalent of baseball’s steroid era, and the point where the financial fate of superhero films detached from relative quality as they became cinema’s primary institution. The Avengers, just one year earlier, solidified that change, irrevocably linking the spectacle of a film’s conception with the success of its release.
  • Kick-Ass 2 is a major outlier here, we know. It was a bona fide flop, but even a relatively successful box office number for such a small film would have pulled down the average in a year with four true blockbusters. So, we had a choice: leave Kick-Ass 2 off to protect the integrity of the overall feel of 2013 (which would have likely meant taking Kick-Ass out of 2010) or leave it on. We chose the latter. Kick-Ass 2 was made, and it likely shouldn’t have been; if anything, it provides an exception to the rule of superhero law by highlighting the potential hubris of thinking any movie with masks and capes will make money. It was both underseen and underloved, yet somehow fits alongside the four other films this year, each a financial success that ultimately lacked lasting impact. 
  1. 2016 | 40.5 pts 

The Movies:

  • Captain America: Civil War: $417.5 Mil, Critics 91%, Audience 89%
  • Dr. Strange: $236 Mil, Critics 89%, Audience 86%
  • Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice: $341.6 Mil, Critics 27%, Audience 63%
  • Suicide Squad: $340 Mil, Critics 26%, Audience 61%
  • Deadpool: $322.6, Critics 83%, Audience 90%
  • X-Men: Age of Apocalypse: $159 Mil, Critics 48%, Audience 66%

There is a significant jump in point totals between numbers six and seven on this list (from 32 to 40.5) due to those gargantuan box office totals. We’ll remember 2016 as the year this genre became both prolific and critic-proof, and the chasm between critical and audience appraisal yawned widest. Suicide Squad, a mostly irredeemable slog that was trashed by critics, earned $340 Million domestically, pleasing 61% of viewers; Dawn of Justice, a film that is probably better than Twitter and Marvel loyalists imagine — but not as profound or “adult” as DC fans occasionally claim — was a financial success.

2016 is also the year that resurrected the R-rated blockbuster, a species of film that was largely considered extinct until a foul-mouthed Ryan Reynolds proved the concept was alive and well as long as the protagonist was wearing spandex. 

  1. 2002 | 41 pts 

The Movies:

  • Spider-Man: $620 Mil, Critics 89%, Audience 67%
  • Blade 2: $126.5 Mil, Critics 57%, Audience 68%

A little honesty here: 2002 was the year that had us us wondering whether or not this formula was either inaccurate or so, so incredibly accurate. Could a year with only one major film truly be considered “better” than say, 2016 and its large but uneven buffet of offerings? The answer to that question is complicated. Better? Maybe not. More significant? Absolutely. Here are some Spider-Man facts:

  • At the time, the only film to reach $100 Million in its first weekend
  • At the time, the most successful film based on a comic book (it’s still third)
  • The highest worldwide gross of any origin story, until 2017’s Wonder Woman
  • Before picking Sam Raimi to direct, the studio considered Roland Emmerich, Ang Lee, Chris Columbus, Jan de Bont, M. Night Shyamalan, Tony Scott, and David Fincher
  • Spider-Man is NOT A SEQUEL

That last “fact” is obvious, but crucial to understanding the magnitude of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. The film’s domestic gross now sits third behind The Dark Knight and The Avengers, neither of which are truly comparable. The Dark Knight was a highly anticipated sequel that became a fascinating craze after the tragic death of Heath Ledger and the hype surrounding his performance. On the other hand, The Avengers wasn’t just a sequel — it was a coronation. Spider-Man doesn’t merely trail those two films — it comes shockingly close to eclipsing them, only $43 Million behind The Dark Knight and $68 Million behind The Avengers, seemingly substantial gaps that are in fact shockingly small considering the notable circumstances surrounding the release of those two films.

We stand by everything we’ve written about X-Men in this list, but if it was the big bang of superhero movies, Spider-Man was the discovery of fire. The studio’s list of potential directors reflects a working knowledge of the film’s potential, but one would have to imagine that the monumental success of Spider-Man still came as a surprise. 2002 lacks the luxury of choice now routinely afforded to superhero fans, but it provided the first — and still one of the only — true craze of the era.

  1. 2014 | 43.5 pts

The Movies:

  • Captain America: Winter Soldier: $278.5 Mil, Critics 89%, Audience 92%
  • Guardians of The Galaxy: $367.7 Mil, Critics 91%, Audience 92%
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2: $217.5 Mil, Critics 52%, Audience 64%
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past: $251.2 Mil, Critics 91%, Audience 91%

Save for a lone clunker in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (which somehow nearly matched the earnings of Days of Future Past), 2014 struck a balance between quantity and quality. Marvel’s releases that year represent both a visionary leap for an established character in Winter Soldier, and essentially a $360 million brag in Guardians of The Galaxy. By turning an unpopular, patently absurd superhero team into a massive success with both its own singular feel and a shocking amount of emotional resonance, the studio proved that from now King Midas should defer to Marvel in terms of touch efficacy.

  1. 2008 | 53 pts

The Movies:

  • The Dark Knight: $663.2 Mil, Critics 94%, Audience 94%
  • Iron Man: $396 Mil, Critics 94%, Audience 91%
  • The Incredible Hulk: $167.6 Mil, Critics 67%, Audience 71%
  • Hellboy 2: $94.5 Mil, Critics 86%, Audience 71%

While its true that The Avengers is a marker bisecting two distinct eras of superhero film, there are similarly distinct periods in the time leading up to The Avengers. In 2000, X-Men kick-started an era of studios clumsily grasping for success, forming — and just as quickly scrapping — plans. X-Men paved the way for Spider-Man, but it also preceded Elektra and Catwoman. Thanks, X-Men. The dawn of a second age begins with 2008, a year of importance that can’t be understated.

The Dark Knight, maybe the most beloved, most impactful, and most objectively well-crafted superhero film ever, was released in the summer of 2008, instantly calcifying Nolan’s Batman franchise as a standard-bearer of the genre. Its impact was an unfortunate shockwave into the future of Batman’s comic universe, signaling to filmmakers that realism and craftsmanship might be mistaken by critics and audiences alike as “maturity.” The Dark Knight is a standalone masterpiece that begat a lineage of films striving to be labeled “adult,” thanks in large part to critical appraisal in 2008 that likened the film to Heat and even The Godfather: Part II.

That same summer, Iron Man arrived in theaters. It’s $396 Million earnings seem preordained now, which ignores the fact that for decades, Marvel’s marquee properties were Spider-Man and The X-Men. Iron Man wasn’t even the most popular or famous Avenger, titles that likely go to Captain America and The Hulk, respectively. The success of these two films, coupled with their objective quality and the way they laid tracks for competing franchises to follow, cement 2008 as one of the most important years for superhero movies of all time.

  1. 2017 | 54.6 pts

The Movies:

  • Guardians of The Galaxy, Vol. 2: $388.9 Mil, Critics 82%, Audience 88%
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming: $334.2 Mil, Critics 92%, Audience 88%
  • Thor: Ragnarok: $291.4 Mil, Critics 92%, Audience 88%
  • Wonder Woman: $411.8 Mil, Critics 92%, Audience 89%
  • Justice League: $197.3 Mil, Critics 41%, Audience 81%
  • Logan: $228.3, Critics 93%, Audience 90%

Behold, your answer to the entire premise of this exercise. Apparently, 2017 was not the greatest year for superhero movies. We respectfully disagree — this year was notable for offering six films with hardly a blemish among them, especially considering that even Justice League has vehement defenders (and critics considered it an improvement on Dawn of Justice). Admittedly Guardians, while patently hilarious and surprisingly affecting, fell prey to the same bloat and ambition that tinge many sequels, and the box office of Logan was probably limited due to the film’s brutal violence and subsequent R-rating, but if there is a flaw in 2017, it’s not a lack of quality — more a seeming lack of importance.

If this list has illustrated a single truth, it’s that superhero franchises are (unsurprisingly) structured around bona fide spectacles. Conversely, 2017 was a year for pleasant surprises, from Wonder Woman rescuing the DC Extended Universe from fatal grittiness to Ragnarok providing not only the best Thor film, but one of the funniest Marvel films, period. Homecoming was a triumphant return for Spidey after two misguided Amazing Spider-Man films, while Logan was an intimate genre exercise that became a sensation. But with no clear behemoth among the pack, 2017 resembles a seamless transition into the next phase of superhero films. It portends a rich future, where Wonder Woman anchors a universe of films, and (owing to Ragnarok and Logan) the tonal and formal possibilities of these movies are stretched. 

  1. 2012 | 56 pts

The Movies:

  • Marvel’s The Avengers: $686.5 Mil, Critics 92%, Audience 91%
  • The Dark Knight Rises: $448.1 Mil, Critics 87%, Audience 90%
  • The Amazing Spider-Man: $300.7 Mil, Critics 73%, Audience %77

There are a number of ways to consider 2012. It birthed the superhero era we currently inhabit, making it a watershed year like 2000 or 2008. Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy came to a close, drawing the curtain on the most popular Batman iteration of all time, and yielding to a franchise of films that would ape Nolan’s style with none of the virtuosity or heart. The Avengers became the most successful superhero movie of all time to fulfill the promise of Marvel’s vision, a feat that five years later seems fated, but at the time was truly breathtaking. Post-credits tags, superhero crossovers, nine-film acting deals, billion dollar revenues — all of it now feels baked into the superhero form, but none of it exists without an MCU gambit that culminated with The Avengers.

We shouldn’t overlook The Amazing Spider-Man either, a now-maligned entry that was both an actual blockbuster and a critical success. That film points to the most important trend in 2012: it was a year of heavyweights. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is truly loved, as is the Superman Character, but the planets aligned in 2012 with a swan song for the most popular portrayal of perhaps the most popular hero in Dark Knight Rises, the birth of a cinematic force in The Avengers, and the attempted reboot of Marvel’s most popular hero in The Amazing Spider-Man. If nothing else, 2012 proves that comic adaptation remains a character-driven medium, and while a year like 2017 was lucky enough to maximize the potential of under-served characters, the headliners were trapped in muddy films (Justice League) or upstart reboots (Spider-Man: Homecoming).

2012 was the last year both Marvel and DC had proven blockbuster commodities to trot out, although that will likely change. Maybe we can do this again in five years, and remember 2017 as the year that Diana of Themyscira saved DC, and restored balance to the superhero universe. Or maybe a new crop will take over altogether.

***

That’s the list folks, and it was created by math, so just go ahead and try to dispute it. So, what do you think? What was the best year for superhero movies?

Mike hails from the great state of Massachusetts, where he structured his identity around three inarguable truths – that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, Pearl Jam is the best band since 1980, and those who disagree are dead wrong. He complains about the proliferation of superhero movies while gleefully forking over sixteen dollars for each new release, and believes Tom Cruise has yet to make a bad movie. Follow Mike on twitter @haigismichael.

  • Zack Zagranis says:

    There were a lot of superhero movies from 2000-2017 that are not listed in their respective years. How did you decide which superhero movies to count and which superhero movies to ignore?

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