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Readers’ Poll: The 15 Greatest Superhero Movies

From “The Dark Knight” and “Superman 2” to “The Incredibles”

Christopher Reeve Superman

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Captain America: The Winter Soldier made a stunning $95 million this past weekend, which is a new record for the month of April. It was just further evidence that people absolutely love Superhero movies. This was clear in the late 1970s after the huge success of the first Superman movie, but it wasn't until the early 2000s that these things began completely taking over Hollywood. It seems like every summer more and more of them flood the marketplace. We asked our readers to select their favorite ones — click through to see the results. 

Spider-Man 2

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

8. ‘Spider-Man 2’

Many fanboys feel that the second movie of any superhero series is often the best. The first one is often too dominated by the origin story, which we've all seen countless times before. The second movie give the character a chance to really live and breathe. In the second Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie, Doctor Octopus unleashes terror on New York City while Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson grow closer. It's easily the most satisfying movie of that trilogy. 

The Dark Knight Rises 

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

7. ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

Expectations were very high for the final chapter of Christopher Nolan's Dark Night trilogy. Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker in the second movie was an impossible act to follow, but this movie was less focused on the villains. It was more about Batman's slow return to power as Gotham City is nearly destroyed by Bane and his minions. Anne Hathaway was very effective as Catwoman (erasing all memories of the Halle Berry debacle) and the film made a large fortune. The team could have easily carried on with more Batman movies, but they were wise to walk away on top. 

Iron man

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

6. ‘Iron Man’

Marvel's Iron Man was never a top-shelf superhero. Comic books geeks adored the character, but until this 2008 Robert Downey Jr. film the general public largely knew thought of Iron Man as a Black Sabbath song and nothing else. But the team of Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. brought a mass audience to multiplexes that never thought they'd care about a comic book movies. Downey turned the character into a superhero James Bond, establishing himself as the most bankable star on the planet. The character's popularity has only grown over the years, allowing Downey to earn more money than many medium-sized nations. 

Batman

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

5. ‘Batman’

Many comic book fans were scratching their heads when they learned that Michael Keaton was going to play Batman in Tim Burton's 1989 movie. Best known for his work in Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice, Keaton hardly seemed like the logical choice to play the caped crusader. But once the leather suit was on it hardly mattered that he was a little scrawny. He owned the role, and Jack Nicholson was an amazing Joker. Throw in a killer Prince soundtrack and you have a classic movie that set the stage for so many films to come during the past quarter century. 

Watchmen

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

4. ‘Watchmen’

The Watchmen from 2009 is a great example of a superhero movie that never reached a big audience outside of comic-book fanboy circles. The late-1980s comic Watchmen comic books by Alan Moore have an enormous cult audience, but for years Hollywood resisted turning them into a movie. The world that Moore created was simply too vast and complex, but superhero movies were so hot by the mid-2000s that Zack Snyder got the green light to make a Watchmen movie. The film earned a 65 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but it barely made back its budget and a sequel remains highly unlikely. 

Superman

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

3. ‘Superman’ (1978)

The modern superhero movie was born in 1978 when Superman first hit theaters. Warner Bros. didn't cheap out in bringing the iconic character to the big screen, hiring Marlon Brando to play Jor-El and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. Godfather writer Mario Puzo even worked on the screenplay. Christopher Reeve was the perfect Superman and the movie got an entire generation of kids — who had their minds blown by Star Wars the previous year — to run out and buy comic books. The 2006 movie Superman Returns tried to recapture the magic of this movie, but it felt flat and lifeless by comparison. 

The Avengers

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

2. ‘The Avengers’

The Avengers is the Laff-A-Lympics of superhero movies. After carefully assembling a bunch of beloved characters in prior movies, Marvel brought them all together in one grandiose, super duper event movie. It was a blockbuster's blockbuster, earning $1.5 billion, and that's not counting action figures, T-shirts and other side deals. They're going to have to sign over Fort Knox to Robert Downey Jr. to keep making these movies, but they'll gladly do it. 

The Dark Knight

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

1. ‘The Dark Knight’

A Batman movie is often only as good as the main villain. In 1997, Batman and Robin was hobbled by Arnold Schwarzenegger making an absolute fool out of himself as Mr. Freeze, while Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman seriously elevated 1992's Batman Returns. None of them can compare to Heath Ledger's Joker in 2008's The Dark Knight. The fact he died so soon after shooting certainly made the character seem more dramatic, but even if he'd lived it's likely he would have won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.