The Superhero Movies of 2017, Ranked
In a year where real-life heroes often felt too hard to find, their on-screen counterparts thrived. Superhero movies flourished in 2017, serving up a healthy mix of artistic heights, box office triumph, and historical moments in the genre. We got our first female-led superhero movie. We said goodbye to Hugh Jackman‘s Wolverine. We got our first live-action team-up of the Justice League. We got a new Spider-Man, finally in the hands of the MCU. We got a Taika Waititi blockbuster, for goodness sake. That variety and quality paid off in spades at the box office, making it the biggest year for the superhero genre to date.
With that in mind, I’m taking a look back at the six major superhero movies of 2017, from The LEGO Batman Movie, which arrived in theaters way back in February, to Justice League, the freshest of the bunch, though only in terms of release date. It’s been a hell of a year, in terms of sheer volume (six superhero tentpoles in one year!), financial and critical success, and creative merit. Forget about superhero fatigue, if anything, the genre just seems to be getting more interesting and successful by the year.
If you read my list of best popcorn movies the other day, you might notice some of these were listed in different order. That’s not a mistake, I just don’t always look for the same things in popcorn movies that I do in superhero films — they can cross over, but the metrics aren’t the same, which is why #1 on this list didn’t even appear on the other.
Sound off with your ranking in the comments, and because I know this is a very serious, sensitive issue, don’t all rush at once to tell me how wrong I am.
7) Justice League
Justice League is a mess. It’s occasionally a very entertaining mess, and it’s not nearly as bad as it could it could have been all things considered, but all the same, it sure is a mess. The product of two very different filmmakers, which means it’s ultimately the product of the studio above all, Justice League is a freaky little Frankenfilm that ducks and weaves between downright awful and pretty darn fun. The fingerprints of former DCEU shepherd Zack Snyder are all over the film, but so are Joss Whedon‘s with his humor punch-ups and weird gender dynamics (that Bruce-Diana stuff is almost certainly his). Somehow, the chaotic, choppy combination of those two visions achieves a strange alchemy that makes it all go down easier than it should. But what really works in Justice League comes courtesy of its cast, who do the heavy lifting to make their characters charismatic and heroic, despite the ugly CGI action scenes and strained dynamics.
Justice League is a film that comes to the table with a laundry list of visible flaws, but it also has some entertaining, if bombastic, bits of splash page action and ensemble chemistry with iconic superheroes that will thrill DC enthusiasts. Is it a good movie? No, but it is a fascinating one and often a fun one.
6) The LEGO Batman Movie
With Justice League out of the way, the rest of the films on this list are all winners and The LEGO Batman Movie only ranks so low because it was such an outstanding year for superhero cinema. This is a fine film, all around. Clever, colorful, creative — the feature debut from The LEGO Movie animation supervisor Chris McKay continues in the vein of self-aware silliness established by Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s surprise 2014 hit, but can’t quite reach the same heights. While Will Arnett’s Batman continues to delight in his morose single-mindedness, and the introduction of Michael Cera’s Robin makes him all the more entertaining as the reluctant dad, The LEGO Batman Movie ultimately falters in its final act when it sidesteps The Dark Knight’s robust rogue’s gallery in favor of a fairly egregious display of corporate cross-promotion. Voldemort, King Kong, the Wicked Witch of the West and all of Warners’ biggest bads show up to battle Batman and the citizens of Gotham, and while the shared worlds worked in The LEGO Movie because of the film’s general conceit, here it feels like force-fed brand awareness.
All the same, The LEGO Batman Movie is the most fun the Caped Crusader has been since Adam West hammed it up in the 60s, jam-packed with witty in-world references for diehards and casual Bat-fans alike, and McKay and his team of writers and animators do almost enough fancy footwork to make you forget you paid ticket price for a corporation to sell you other films. Almost.
5) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is very, very good but for some reason, it just didn’t quite capture audiences in the same way as the first film. Perhaps the second chapter of James Gunn’s Guardians trilogy suffers from a case of comparison, and it just can’t match the pure surprise factor of the original, which caught everybody off guard when it introduced audiences to the far reaches of the Marvel universe (and Chris Pratt with abs). Now, we’ve been around Marvel’s galaxy, we know Chris Pratt has abs, and spoiled by the uniqueness of Gunn’s Guardians universe, which we absorbed so fully, we can kind of see the beats coming. Not all of them though, Gunn still has some crowd-pleasing surprises and endlessly quotable dialogue up his sleeve, but the sequel really thrives when it focuses less on the needle drops and stylistic trappings of the Guardians-verse (though it should be noted that Vol. 2 is a feast for the eyes) and focuses on expanding and deepening the relationships introduced in the first film.
For the sequel, Marvel gave Gunn the space to focus on those dynamics essentially free and clear of larger MCU world-building and it pays off in some pretty stellar character beats across the board. Most notably in the filled out tale of fatherhood between Peter and Yondu and the dance of deadly, damaged sisterhood played out between Nebula and Gamora. The film is a bit meandering, but I like that about it. Somehow, Gunn got to take a big-budget philosophical trip through the galaxy to investigate daddy issues. It’s weird and honest, and it stars Kurt Russell, for goodness sake.The only reason it’s not higher on this list is because 2017 was such a ridiculous wealth of riches.
4) Tie: Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming
I love both of these movies dearly and when it comes to rewatch value, I guarantee that these will be the two superhero movies from 2017 that I revisit the most often. They’re both light and breezy, super fun, and together, they make a perfect example of how the superhero genre can shapeshift according to the vision of the filmmaker.
On the one hand, you have Spider-Man: Homecoming; a classical Spider-Man story if there ever was one, updated to the times, but firmly rooted in the iconography and comic book origins of the beloved character. By contrast; Taika Waiti approaches Thor: Ragnarok as an iconoclast, entirely disinterested in things like canon and world-building, killing off familiar faces without a second glance in order to pave the way for the zaniest trip through the galaxy he can muster. Both films are joyful to boot, and they exemplify Marvel Studios’ keen eye for impeccable casting and locking down the right filmmakers to translate their stories to the screen.
2) Wonder Woman
Of all the great superhero movies in 2017, none of them conjured awe and inspiration like Wonder Woman did. Admittedly, the film struggles with third-act contrivances and the requisite hideous CGI finale, but with her first film in nearly 15 years, Patty Jenkins’ delivered a spectacular superhero rooted in optimism, love and all the good stuff that’s made Wonder Woman an iconic hero for 75 years. Huge credit goes to Gal Gadot, who embodies the wholesome goodness of Diana Prince with remarkable charisma, but the real magic is in Jenkins’ filmmaking and the way she packs emotion into every critical moment. Few scenes this year have transported you so directly to another’s shoes so viscerally and whole-heartedly as the No Man’s Land sequence, which leaps off the screen with such empathy and determination it really does fill you with wonder. It’s easily the superhero moment of the year.
Wonder Woman has kick-ass action, especially the glorious sequences set on Themyscira (I’m still not over Antiope. I’ll never be over Antiope.), it has charming romance, and endearing side characters, and just about every other element you could want from a great superhero movie, save a good villain. What’s more, Wonder Woman is a historic moment in the history of superhero cinema. It proves that people are hungry for female-led superhero movies, it proves that female-directed tentpoles can shatter box office records, and it proves that people still believe in old-fashioned heroes. Which is nice timing, because we need them now more than ever.
What a stunning accomplishment Logan is. After playing Wolverine for two decades, more often than not in subpar films, Hugh Jackman finally got the solo feature he deserved just in time to hang up the claws. Logan proves that Deadpool’s success wasn’t a one-off and the R-rated superhero movie is a viable format, but the lesson I hope the studio’s really take from it is that it proves that audiences are hungry for timely, intelligent stories of heroism that challenge the mind and the spirit.
Logan takes the themes of oppressive, hateful violence and bigotry that have always underscored the X-Men films and finally goes deep with them, digging for the roots. At the same time, the film provides an essential arc for our heroes, both Logan and Professor X (Patrick Stewart in a franchise-best performance), long past their glory days when one grand last stand could truly cost them everything. But they’ve got to get the guns out of the valley, and director James Mangold puts the characters up against the consequences that come with a life of violence — even one waged on the side of good — in a farewell that ties up family, duty, and the decisions that make life worth living even when your light is fading. Touching as it thrilling, tender as it is brutal, Logan is hands down one of the best superhero movies ever made.
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