The 2010s were full of capes and tights on the big screen, and as we look back on the past ten years, it’s time to discuss the best superhero movies of the last decade. Even after the first trailer hit, The Avengers, a movie with multiple superheroes teaming up on the big screen, felt like something that couldn’t possibly work. Then the film arrived, and it was an absolute blast. The Avengers is certainly not a perfect film, but it inspired a sense of awe simply by existing and being as fully formed and solid as it was.
There’s a certain miraculous quality to that particular team-up, helmed with humor and heart by writer-director Joss Whedon , that makes it feel magical. Avengers movies are a pop culture language all their own now, but back then, it was hard to imagine something like this working so well. That it still works nearly a decade later is proof that The Avengers was a certain kind of lightning in a bottle.
To this day, The Dark Knight Rises is a particularly divisive film among superhero fans. Still, the thing that sticks out years after its release is Nolan’s inarguable sense of scope and ambition. Where The Dark Knight was often at its best when it functioned as a psychological duel between two opposing personalities, The Dark Knight Rises was epic in its scale and its themes. The film is practically operatic in its sensibility. It remains the boldest, broadest, most daring portion of the Dark Knight trilogy, and the gutsy swings it took are still worth revisiting.
Deadpool famously spent years in development as star Ryan Reynolds lobbied for an R-rated superhero comedy that would break the fourth wall and mock everything from the X-Men movies to Green Lantern. Even after it was finally greenlit, questions surrounded Deadpool’s ability to execute its meta style for the full length of a feature film. When the film finally arrived, it put all those questions to rest. The movie was a full-blown phenomenon, led by Ryan Reynolds’ obvious glee in the title role, and it proved there was an appetite for more R-rated superhero fare. Hugh Jackman had been wearing the claws as Wolverine for nearly 20 years by the time he decided to make Logan his curtain call as the character. Jackman’s final Wolverine effort could’ve been a glorified cameo in another massive X-Men film. Instead, he and director James Mangold made sure the character went out like an old gunslinger in a futuristic, superhero Western. From the opening sequence to the heart-wrenching final act, Logan is the kind of masterpiece every franchise actor hopes to go out on.
With Wonder Woman, director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot gave us a dynamic, fierce film that followed Diana from her childhood to her first great battle among mortals. The film is packed with instantly memorable sequences, from the “No Man’s Land” battle that became its centerpiece to Diana and Steve Trevor’s slow-burning romance. Meanwhile, the supporting cast, led by an absurdly charming Chris Pine, make sure that even the quieter scenes are fun to watch. Even now, Wonder Woman still stands as the DC Extended Universe’s very best film.
Thor: Ragnarok gave the god of thunder the kind of boundless science fiction overtones that he’s often had in his comic book adventures. The film also threw in an added extra dose of comedy to underline Thor’s place among the most lovably well-intentioned idiots in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Director Taika Waititi’s visual stamp, from the brightly colored sets to the oddly shaped spaceships, is all over the film. Ragnarok is proof that even the most established franchise heroes can still be refreshed with new blood.
There was a lot riding on Black Panther, the first superhero film in the mega-popular Marvel Cinematic Universe to feature a black lead character and a primarily black leading cast. Everyone wanted it to change the world, but they also wanted a great superhero blockbuster. With the deck stacked against them, director Ryan Coogler and his cast managed to do both. With its Oscar-winning score, costumes, and production design, the movie tapped into a culture and mythology rarely seen in Hollywood movies. Plus, it gave us one of the best supervillains to ever grace the silver screen Michael B. Jordan as the deadly yet sympathetic Erik Killmonger. Black Panther absolutely changed the superhero genre, and it’s the kind of film that will remain a touchstone of the genre for years to come.
If there’s one superhero who’s arguably oversaturated the big screen in the 21st century, it’s Spider-Man. Then Into the Spider-Verse arrived and quickly proved that there’s no such thing as too much Spider-Man if you know what you’re doing. The film’s dynamic and endlessly compelling animation style, killer voice cast, and moving story combined to create what might just be the best Spider-Man movie to date. It’s a film that understands the Spider-Man journey with such precision that it can communicate vast emotional truths in the span of a single moment. You leave the theater believing that anyone really can wear the mask.
Directed by Julia Hart, Fast Color tells the intimate story of a family, the strange powers they keep, and the troubles that have kept them at a distance from one another in a dying world where it hasn’t rained in years. Gugu Mbatha-Raw leads a fantastic small ensemble of actors as they navigate the tense emotional landscape of a story that’s as much about family ties as it is about superpowers. Tense, well-crafted and full of heart, Fast Color is a masterclass in how to use genre conventions judiciously. It builds and builds in a patient, careful way right up until a deeply emotionally satisfying climax. In a landscape full of mega-franchises, it’s a reminder that there should be room for smaller films like this, because they can often hit us just as hard as the blockbusters.
The concluding film in what Marvel Studios dubbed “the Infinity Saga,” Avengers: Endgame is like Infinity War in that it’s a sprawling ensemble piece with the fate of the universe at stake. Beyond that, though, the two films diverge in a number of powerful ways. Endgame was a sure thing at the box office, but that didn’t stop the team behind it from taking any number of risks, including an early death scene, a major time jump, and of course, a time-traveling caper that takes up a big chunk of the film. It’s a swing for the fences with a massive payoff that covers not just the three-hour film but the entire previous decade of filmmaking at Marvel.