The second Ninja Turtles movie had more in common with the cartoon series than the darker, more serious first movie. But despite the pervasive silliness there's a lot to like about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, if only ironically. The unapologetically campy "Ninja Rap" by Vanilla Ice will always hold a place in some people's hearts.
Edward Furlong dons the gothic face paint in the fourth movie based on James O'Barr's tragic revenge comic, and while it's not nearly as good as the original, Wicked Prayer is a lot more interesting than the middle two films. David Boreanaz and Tara Reid overact the hell out of their villain parts, and Six-String Samurai director Lance Mungia overloads the film with wonky weirdness. It's a mess, but it's a very watchable mess.
Fairy tale princesses follow the wicked Rumplestiltskin through the magic mirror to modern day Los Angeles, and wage a war with abilities culled from their various stories. (Sleeping Beauty puts bad guys in a trance, Rapunzel attacks with her hair, you get the idea.) The budget is painfully low and the acting is all over the place, but the script is undeniably solid, with a fully-realized fantasy world and entertaining riffs on old archetypes. With a bigger budget Avengers Grimm might have been a lot higher on this list.
Seth Rogen and Jay Chou have fantastic chemistry in The Green Hornet, a film that sets out to dissect the superhero/sidekick relationship and does a good job of it. Christoph Waltz is also an excellent villain, who only turns to masks and gimmicks because of a mid-life crisis. Unfortunately, the action, the pacing and the third act are mediocre at best, leaving The Green Hornet feeling like an amiable misfire instead of a genuinely good flick.
Alan Arkin plays a has-been superhero forced out of retirement in this bizarre Aussie musical. The Return of Captain Invincible isn't as funny as it thinks it is, but it's worth watching just to hear Christopher Lee croon about being, essentially, an evil bartender.
An adaptation of a violent manga series, The Guyver isn't very well written but it features cool action sequences and astounding makeup effects by co-director Screaming Mad George.
A clever screenplay is sabotaged by hokey direction in My Super Ex-Girlfriend, about a hapless boob who dates a superhero, breaks up with her, and discovers that all that grim 'n' gritty emotional baggage has consequences. If you can look past shoddy fight scenes and obvious rom-com staging, you'll be able to see that screenwriter Don Payne understood superheroes very, very well.
Will Smith is great as a superhero whose isolation leads him to self-destruction in Hancock, a film that draws smart parallels between costumed crime-fighting and Hollywood celebrity. Unfortunately, the film's second half abandons that concept entirely, in favor of endless exposition and pointless action. Both halves average out to a watchable mixed bag.
Guillermo Del Toro's fanciful adaptation of Mike Mignola's stylish comic book series gets all the monsters and makeup just right, but saddles the audience with a boring human protagonist who does nothing but distract from the star attraction: Ron Perlman, perfectly cast as a grumbling, satanic monster-hunter with a heart of gold.
Horror star Jeffrey Combs was never suaver than he was in this low-budget Doctor Strange knockoff, about a master sorcerer trying to stop his oldest enemy from rising to power. Doctor Mordrid suffers from a low budget, but the film has its moments, like a nifty climactic stop-motion dinosaur skeleton fight.
John Ritter is positively charming as a naive actor who accidentally inspires New York City when he stops a liquor store robbery while he's still in his superhero costume. Hero At Large has smart things to say about the rocky relationship between what's real and what really matters, but it's probably too long by about half an hour.
From the director of The Empire Strikes Back and the writer of The Dark Knight Returns came a jokier RoboCop, but one that nevertheless boasts non-stop social satire and kick-ass action sequences. It's not as good as the original, but it's not as bad as a lot of people remember.
Witty in-jokes and hilarious cameos elevate an otherwise lightweight teen comedy, about the son of a superhero who gets sidelined at school because he hasn't gotten his powers yet. It's a fun film, but the climax veers way too far into silly territory.
Kick-Ass has serious script problems - like a title hero who has almost no impact on the story whatsoever - but the good parts are damn near unforgettable, particularly a scene-stealingly weird performance by Nicolas Cage and a badass (and utterly irresponsible) mass murdering turn by a young Chloe Grace Moretz.
In spite of an ending that completely, shamelessly misses the point of what its protagonist stood for, this handsome adaptation gets a lot of things right, with a revolutionary mentality and memorable star turns by Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman.
Behind the Mask is the second in a trilogy of films based on The Shadow (all of them released in 1946), and it's easily the best, with masked vigilante Lamont Cranston juggling a false murder accusation and his charismatic but meddling girlfriend in equal measure. Light, quirky, admittedly dated, but still a lot of fun.
Alec Baldwin took over as The Shadow in this handsome, pulpy thriller that failed to find an audience but has aged rather well, thanks to sly performances, a winking sense of humor and surprisingly creepy set pieces.
A supervillain finally kills his arch-nemesis, takes over the city, and immediately suffers from an existential crisis in Megamind, a movie that doesn't always fire on all cylinders - the details are head-scratching at best - but gets by on personality and showmanship.
Vicious, puerile, disgusting... these are all points in The Toxic Avenger's favor. The breakout film from Troma told the story of a nerd who fell into a vat of chemicals, mutated into a monster, got superpowers, and became homicidal whenever evil people were around. And there are some UNBELIEVABLY evil people in Tromaville. It's a divisive film, but then most of the truly "cult" films are.
Guillermo Del Toro ditched the boring non-hero and focused on the title monster. A wise move that makes this sequel the superior Hellboy. The plot isn't quite as captivating as the movie makes it out to be, but the impossible menagerie of masterful makeup effects more than compensates.
Strange and wonderful, the Australian import Griff the Invisible is the story of a socially awkward office worker who spends his nights protecting the neighborhood. He picks up an unexpected partner on his quest to build an invisibility cloak, but looks can be deceiving... on multiple levels. A bittersweet and very good film about the thin line between fantasy and delusion.
A shallow cheerleader inherits supernatural powers and overwhelming responsibilities in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a clever and funny film whose biggest crime is not being half as good as the spin-off television series, which expanded on the characters and the mythology. Still, the original Buffy holds up rather well as a 1990s high school superhero comedy, with Kristy Swanson kicking butt and Paul Reubens and Rutger Hauer stealing scenes.
An impressive fusion of bright colors and total darkness, the unexpectedly melancholy origin of the hit Cartoon Network superheroes left some audiences baffled. But for those who take Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup seriously (as well as their arch-nemesis, Mojo Jojo), this energetic motion picture hits all the right marks.
Zack Snyder adapted one of the most unadaptable graphic novels in history, and to his credit he got a lot of it right. The sense of history and scale is spot on, and the cast of characters comes to life: victories, failures and all. Strange visual cues and controversial changes to the story keep The Watchmen from achieving greatness, but sometimes it actually comes close.
A loverlorn loser dons a magical mask and becomes... well, not a superhero, but a superpowered explosion of unbridled id. Jim Carrey gives the perfect cartoon performance in The Mask, a film that brims with style and energy and mania.
From the creators of South Park came a low-budget comedy about a Mormon who became a porn star, who then became a superhero. It's as dumb as it sounds, but that's at least partly the point: Trey Parker has so much fun sending up superhero movies and pornography that you almost forget that the film has hardly any sex or nudity in it, or that it actually has intelligent things to say about the evolution of individual morality and the social impact of adult cinema.
Lots of superhero stories are about how one man or woman is destined for greatness. In Mystery Men we meet a whole group of wannabes who are destined for mediocrity, but who get a brief moment to shine when the city's biggest superhero is kidnapped. A hilarious film that's full of wonderful characters. It's a mystery why Mystery Men doesn't have a bigger cult following.
A low-budget superhero comedy about a middling superhero team - on their day off, no less - the conversational and intelligent comedy The Specials dissects the everyday nonsense that would have to befall every costumed crime fighter. By bringing these titans down to our level, we are reminded that heroism isn't a 24/7 occupation, and that our greatest heroes are usually just dorks like the rest of us. A great superhero comedy, written by future Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn.
Tyrone Power cuts a dashing figure as the masked crime fighter Zorro, who spurns his affluent upbringing and risks life and limb to bring equality to the poor. It's a rollicking adventure of the highest caliber, and somehow it's not even the best Zorro movie.
Future Spider-Man director Sam Raimi cut his superhero teeth on Darkman, a stylish and kick-ass action/adventure about a scientist who loses his face and has to steal the identities of bad guys to find revenge and save his ex-girlfriend. Liam Neeson is impressively unhinged, as is Raimi's virtuoso filmmaking. Darkman is like a classic Universal Monster movie crossed with a modern superhero thriller. It's equal parts weird and wonderful.
M. Night Shyamalan's follow-up to the Oscar-nominated The Sixth Sense was ahead of its time, subverting superhero clichés before most audience members were able to even recognize them. But this dark parable about a family man re-discovering his true potential is masterfully filmed, impressively acted, and only let down by an ending that is almost comically rushed.
The first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie works better than it probably had any right to, with impressive costumes, cool fight scenes and an emotional storyline that actually made you care about whether these pizza-eating reptiles lived or died. And the messages about teen apathy and capitalist brainwashing is downright subversive, considering that this film was at the forefront of a massive merchandising empire.
The late, great Brandon Lee gave a heart-wrenching performance in his last film, based on the gothic revenge comic by James O'Barr. The Crow is a gorgeous music video pumped full of angst and anguish, an adrenaline shot of violent grief that overpowers its otherwise conventional storyline. It is tragedy, caught on camera, and whatever its flaws it is beautiful.
Grand, old-fashioned action abounds in Martin Campbell's The Mask of Zorro, which finds an older version of the iconic hero making way for a younger, feistier, more sensual leading man. Great sword fights, a sly sense of humor and the occasional creepy moment (that is NOT what you're supposed to do with a severed head) make The Mask of Zorro the second best Zorro movie.
A group of teenagers get superpowers, act like dumbasses, and then realize that with great power comes a great excuse to act out on your most deplorable urges. Josh Trank's Chronicle captures the fantasy and the horror of becoming more than human, in a film that plays a bit like an Americanized version of Akira, but also a lot like one of the best superhero movies ever made.
The superhero genre got its own version of Taxi Driver in James Gunn's brutal comedy, about an emotionally troubled man who thinks God has chosen him to beat the crime out of his community with a wrench. Rainn Wilson gets himself a sidekick and tries to stop a local villain, only to confront the sad, sexual, violent realities of the superhero fantasy. Potent, powerful, kind of brilliant, Super is truly super.
The original heroic ideal who put on a mask, carved his initials in evildoers and inspired us all to make better choices. Douglas Fairbanks' film came out only one year after Zorro first premiered in print. He co-wrote the screenplay and performed some amazing stunts. And this film helped define superhero storytelling in all mediums, comics and beyond.
The wonders of flight never seemed more wondrous than they do in Joe Johnston's The Rocketeer, a fabulous throwback to old school adventure about a dashing young hero who finds a jet pack, fights Nazis and proves he's a better man than Errol Flynn (kind of). This is the kind of superhero movie you assumed they always made, but maybe they only made it this once.
The best Fantastic Four movie doesn't have The Fantastic Four in it. It's The Incredibles, Brad Bird's animated adventure about a family of people who have stunted their own potential in an ongoing effort to be normal, only to finally break out and become the superheroes they were always supposed to be. The philosophy is controversial: the film argues pretty hard that some people are special and some simply aren't. But as a metaphor for how we all feel (as opposed to how the world actually works), it's an inspiring, breathtakingly realized metaphor for the hero in each of us.
Part action movie, part horror movie, part social satire, all RoboCop. Paul Verhoeven's endlessly inventive sci-fi classic is about a cop his sacrifices his life, and then his identity after the corporate-owned police department turns him into a cyborg. The effects are incredible, the violence is unbelievable, the satire is biting, and the humanity is unmistakable. RoboCop isn't just one of the best movies about a superpowered hero. There's an argument to be made that it's one of the best movies. Period.