Not #1 on the list, but Hellboy II is my favorite to watch.
1. Dark Knight
These top four were the hardest for me to rank. I could shuffle them ten different ways and never feel completely comfortable with the order. I'm putting Dark Knight here because its just solid. Everyone knows Heath Ledger was an amazing Joker and the film has a very strong ending. A great movie starts with a great script. One factor that has me debating Dark Knight's spot at number one is Batman himself. Should the movie be this high when the superhero himself is completely overshadowed?
1978. This is the movie that started it all. It's gorgeous. It holds up. Other filmmakers revere Richard Donner for his work on Superman for good reason. The humor and tone work well for a character like Superman. But, it isn't all camp. The emotions still play. And the power of Superman still awes and commands respect. Christopher Reeve is perfect and his sincerity in the role is so different from anything before or since.
Bryan Singer got all the beats right on this one. From top to bottom this is a tough film to beat. The Nightcrawler sequence reels you in right away and the movie never lets you go. The plot and villains are complicated and realistic and all their motivations ring true. This might be the number one factor in making a great superhero movie. At no point does it seem hokey. It carries a ton of weight. The script is solid. There is real emotion and great performances from Marsden, Jackman, and the rest; and the more I think about it, the more I think X2 should possibly be moved to the top spot.
4. Hellboy 2
Hellboy 2 is probably my personal favorite out of the bunch. The one I want to grab off the shelf and watch at any given moment more than all the others. It capitalizes on and perfects everything Guillermo Del Toro was trying to do in the first film. It also stands alone. You don't need to watch the first Hellboy to enjoy this one. Plus there aren't many better matches of actor and character in history than Ron Perlman and Hellboy.
5. Iron Man
Iron Man was fun in a way that superhero movies hadn't been in a long time. It set the tone for what Marvel movies would be. A far cry from the dark, brooding realism of Nolan's Batman films. Robert Downey Jr. was probably the best casting decision Hollywood has made in decades. All the credit goes to Favreau on that one. Without Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man films are probably lackluster affairs. With him, Marvel Studios sells to Disney for billions and becomes a predominant force in the summer movie landscape for years to come.
6. Incredible Hulk
I actually re-watch Incredible Hulk second most out of all the movies on this list. THIS MOVIE IS UNDERRATED. End of story. Incredible Hulk paid the sins for Ang Lee's absolute trainwreck years before. The taste it left in peoples' mouths was so bad, audiences weren't ready to move on and give Hulk a chance yet. I really like Norton as Bruce Banner. And the story flows from start to finish better than a majority of these films. Go get it. Watch it again. I'm telling you, this one is better than you think. And what a great decision to use the opening credits to set the film up and get right into the story.
7. Batman Begins
Good stuff. Christian Bale made a somewhat odd voice decision for Batman, but we still really dug this movie. I bet you nerds are setting your computers on fire because this one is below Incredible Hulk.
8. The Avengers
Avenger took a tumble for me over the course of the year. Nobody loves Marvel and what they're doing more than I do, but I have to be honest here. Joss Whedon did a very good job of cobbling together the pieces he was given. But on repeated viewings... it does feel cobbled together. Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie in the theater and saw it several times. It was an experience, years in the making and it paid off. Amazingly so. However, it doesn't hold up over time like the top half of this list.
Like I said before, it's all in the plot and villains. Loki's motivations are surface-deep and the Chitauri are... what exactly? They want to take over Earth or something? Blah. It's a fun movie to watch, but that kind of plot isn't going to stand the test of time and keep you coming back for more. Avengers is hokey. The dialogue and some of the one-liners are literally cringe-inducing. None more than Captain America's line about the last time he was in Germany and there was a man standing over people who were kneeling blah blah blee boo yuck.
9. Spider-Man 2
I can remember thinking this was the best of Raimi's offerings and unlike some people, I really enjoyed the 70s-inspired montage of Peter Parker happily walking the streets of New York with his burdens lifted. And again, Doctor Octopus as the lone villain works the best by far in this trilogy.
I changed this one. Burton's Batman movies slipped my mind and I would likely have to put this above Captain America and X-Men First Class as well. (I really need to watch all three again to make the call.) Batman is a difficult watch for people these days as the tone is so completely different from the most recent saga. If you can somehow separate the two, Burton's version still works and Keaton and Nicholson did a great job.
What do you think? Did I come close? Let us know what you'd change and why in the Comments.