People love superheroes. Superheroes are a distortion of our own lives: they represent the absolute best of people, and their ability to persevere through hardship. They can provide an escape from reality, while at the same time offer a critique of the real world. The best superhero stories are ones that are able to tell insightful and emotional stories in a unique light.
Over the decades, there have been many comic books that have displayed these human journeys with incredibly complex characters, but it has always been difficult to translate those panels into feature films. However, there have been instances of successfully adapting these stories and characters to create deeply meaningful movies, some of which improve and expand upon the source material. Here is a list of my ten favorites.
Avengers Infinity War
Gamora: "What did it cost?"
Avengers: Infinity War is a comic book event brought to life. In the long spanning history of Marvel, there have been countless crossover events that have brought together dozens of characters to defeat an enemy no individual could stop on their own. This movie was able to re-create one of those galaxy-wide catastrophes on a scale that had never been attempted before. This film is able to establish an impending sense of doom that isn’t present in many other movies, brought about by an emotionally complex villain lead character willing to sacrifice everything in order to bring about his perception of balance. The movie is a tragic collective struggle to stop an inevitable devastating force.
"Rats are the lowliest and most despised creatures of all, my love. If they have purpose, so do we all."
- Ratcatcher 1, The Suicide Squad
Without giving too much away, The Suicide Squad definitely lives up to the name. Unlike other movies in the genre, it is not afraid to kill off its protagonists. It is a colorful and action-packed movie that feels like it was directly ripped from a comic book. The film takes obscure and disregarded characters in the DC canon and gives them a purpose: saving the world. Despite how ridiculous main characters like Polka-Dot Man seem, the movie spends time caring for and fleshing out these forgotten members of both comics and society, proving that even the lowliest rat is capable of doing great things.
"Okay, Robin. Together, we're gonna punch these guys so hard, words describing the impact are gonna spontaneously materialize out of thin air."
- Lego Batman, The Lego Batman Movie
The Lego Batman Movie is a celebration of Batman and his decades-long history. As far as adaptations of the caped crusader, this one is the most true to the character and his extensive catalog of adventures. It is an incredibly fun and stylistic movie filled with fantastic comedy and a surprising amount of heart. The movie does everything: from closely examining Batman’s nature of isolating himself from others to accurately depicting the hilarious loving relationship between him and the Joker.
"Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made me last too long"
- Logan, Logan
Logan diverges from the typical blockbuster to tell a smaller-scale story in a grounded and apocalyptic world. It blends the Western and superhero genres to create an emotional final sendoff to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, a character that has been around since the first X-Men movie from 2000. It is a gritty and dark drama that takes its time to develop the characters and their relationships. Out of all the movies on this list, Logan bears the least resemblance to a superhero movie and is the most likely to make you cry.
"Sometimes, to do what's right, we have to be steady and give up the thing we want the most, even our dreams."
- Peter Parker, Spider-Man 2
Spider-Man 2 is an exciting and beautiful sequel that perfectly encapsulates the zaniness and heart of a comic book. It features one of the best portrayals of a Marvel villain on the big screen and examines the life of the man behind the mask, Peter Parker, rather than the persona of Spider-Man, as he struggles to find balance in his life. This film takes a deep exploration of what it means to be a hero, and focuses on perhaps the most important aspect of one: their sacrifice.
"The past, a new and uncertain world. A world of endless possibilities and infinite outcomes. Countless choices define our fate. Each choice, each moment, a ripple in the river of time. Enough ripples, and you change the tide. For the future is never truly set."
- Charles Xavier, X-Men: Days of Future Past
X-Men: Days of Future Past blends together two generations of X-Men into a grand and thrilling time-traveling adventure. It features some of the best action sequences ever put to the big screen and superbly handles a gigantic cast of characters. The film uses an ambitious time-hopping concept to explore the relationships between characters and the idea of controlling your own fate. The movie succeeds in adapting one of the most beloved X-Men storylines to follow a politically complex plot with a looming dark future. Instead of having a typical villain, the film’s primary antagonist is human nature, which is embodied by the United States government and the characters of the past, and the devastating direction it can take people.
"Please! I need it to be different now. I know I made a promise, but I didn't see this coming. I didn't count on being happy."
- Bruce Wayne, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is a beautiful character study on Bruce Wayne, and explores the lasting impact of trauma that haunts people. Similar to Spider-Man 2, this movie is more interested in the man behind the mask and the ideals that drive him to do what he does. It is a devastatingly emotional story that follows Bruce as he tries to be happy and leave behind his past, but is ultimately unable to. More than any other Batman movie, this film is able to encapsulate the tragic nature and complexity of Bruce Wayne’s character, including his unbreakable ties to his parents and the cataclysmic night of their death.
"You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain."
- Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight is an incredible action-packed movie that takes comic book characters and puts them in a realistic and gritty world. The movie contains complex concepts and characters, fantastic action sequences and features amazing performances, with Heath Ledger’s Joker completely stealing the show. The film, similar to X-Men: Days of Future Past, explores the state of human nature. Batman represents the ultimate good of humanity, Joker embodies chaos and madness, and Harvey Dent is morality’s corruption. The struggle and interactions between these characters is both thrilling and a fight for the true character of humanity.
"Sometimes, the thing you've been looking for your whole life is right there beside you all along. You don’t even know it"
- Peter Quill, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a visually stunning and emotionally complex movie that further expands on its predecessor. The Guardians franchise was able to completely reinvent its comic book characters into more deep and likable live-action protagonists, an improvement that very few movies have accomplished from the source material. This film further develops the returning characters and their nuanced relationships, as well as introduces a great antagonist and new characters. The sequel focuses on how the Guardians treat each other and themselves, and what ultimately makes them a family.
“Anyone can wear the mask. You could wear the mask.”
- Miles Morales, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
More than any other movie on this list, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse perfectly embodies a comic book. The style of the animation is completely unique and looks exactly like the comic panels the film is based on. The film has a deep appreciation of its source material and has so many details crammed into it that you can notice new things on the fifth rewatch. It is filled with amazing action, comedy, and heart. And most importantly, the movie encompasses the spirit of Spider-Man. What attracts so many people to this character is the idea that anyone could have gotten that spider bite and become a hero, and Peter Parker, the iconic Spider-Man, was just the person it happened to. The film exemplifies this through the fact that Peter Parker isn’t even the primary Spider-Man, it is a young teenager named Miles Morales, taking inspiration from the great Ultimate Spider-Man comic run. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse proves that every person can be a hero, and all that you need is the courage to stand up.