What’s your favorite movie genre? It’s “superheroes,” right? If not, what are you doing here? 2017 was a transitional year for superhero films, generally. By “transitional” I mean, we’ve reached key endpoints for several franchises and universes, resulting in cloudy to murky futures (at best) , in a couple cases the franchises-trilogies-sagas were just getting rolling, while a few want us all to forget the past entirely (or just plain rebooting, if you’re down with the trendier term).
Overall, there were some truly epic movies in this best-of-all-movie-genres, which we’ll describe below, and also a few flops, dogs, and turds scattered throughout the year too — we’ll bring up the bad with the good, because it’s the end of the year and that’s what we do. You’re list may differ from mine, and that’s good, it’s why we have a comments section where you can tell me what an idiot I am. Happy holidays everyone!
Here are my top 5 best superhero films of 2017:
1. Thor: Ragnarok
Release Date: November 3, 2017
Domestic Box Office: #6
Production Budget: $180 million
Global Box Office: $843 million (and counting)
What? I’m not kidding. Thor: Ragnarok might not be the smartest, or deepest, superhero film this year, but what it nails better than any other recent superhero movie is its use of humor, color, action, and pace. Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t have the emotional impact of Logan or the social impact of Wonder Woman, but what it does better than anyone else is embrace its comic-book roots — it’s a remarkable homage to the art of Jack Kirby and Walter Simonson. It’s also the funniest superhero film in a year of very funny superhero films. Basically, Thor: Ragnarok is Marvel’s best example to-date of a pure, dumb, fun night at the movies.
Thor: Ragnarok also marks the end of the Thor trilogy… kind of. Director Taika Waititi slyly rebooted the franchise via a marked shift in tone and style — the film is a major departure from the previous Thor iterations, which was desperately needed after the unsatisfying Thor: The Dark World. By the film’s conclusion several major changes had transpired that will be hard to walk back: Mjolnir is destroyed, Thor loses an eye, Loki is redeemed and heroic (maybe), Odin is gone, and Asgard laid to waste. Where Thor goes from here is anyone’s guess, and that’s great news!
We’d also be remiss to overlook the impact of the Hulk in this film. Thor: Ragnarok is a superhero team-up in the truest sense. Launched into space at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we discover the green goliath on the gladiator planet of Sakaar, where he’s the undefeated champ and local legend. Thor encounters Hulk via hand-to-hand combat, and a renewed friendship ensues. Also, for the first time in an MCU film, Hulk has a voice and a personality (beyond “Smash!” and “puny God!”), and it’s a revelation. I can’t wait to see where Marvel takes Thor after this!
Release Date: March 3, 2017
Domestic Box Office: #9
Production Budget: $97 million
Global Box Office: $617 million
If Deadpool proved that a mid-budgeted, R-rated superhero movie was precisely the jolt this formula-driven genre so desperately needed, then Logan established that the same blueprint can also be applied to a serious, emotional, and adult take on comic book characters. Logan is a visceral, gut-wrenching tale of mortality and redemption, set in an alternate or “What if” X-Men universe of the near future. The film also introduced X-23, as a pre-teen girl who shares a bit of Wolverine’s DNA (and a whole lot of his berserker attitude).
Logan is also a road movie, taking audiences through a near apocalyptic landscape from the deserts of Mexico to downtown Vegas to remote Louisiana farmlands and ultimately to parts unknown along the Canadian border. Throughout this journey we see the decline of our heroes, to age and injury, and it’s in these scenes that the characters are most human and relatable. The performances in this film are as powerful and emotional as anything in film this year, across any genre.
Sadly, Logan marked the end for Hugh Jackman in the central role, and it’s also Patrick Stewart’s final act for the beloved Professor Charles Xavier. But man, what a way to go out. Logan is a bittersweet movie for its cast departures, but it’s also exciting to see where X-23 goes in the future. Big question now is what happens with X-23 once Disney acquires Fox?
3. Wonder Woman
Release Date: June 2, 2017
Domestic Box Office: #2
Production Budget: $149 million
Global Box Office: $822 million
Wonder Woman is remarkable in so many ways, but perhaps its most notable achievement is its inherent message of female empowerment. Certainly just a coincidence, but this movie arrived in a year of extraordinary change for women in America, which this movie symbolizes in all the best ways. Wonder Woman definitively established that female protagonists are not only viable, but are also crucial for the growth of the overall genre — Wonder Woman sets a very high bar for all future female-centric superhero films.
It’s not a perfect film, however. Wonder Woman is an origin story set in WWI that leans a little too heavily on formula (and arguably borrows a bit too much from Captain America: The First Avenger), and its villains are also disappointingly cliched and cookie-cutter. These are really just minor knocks in an otherwise fantastic film. Wonder Woman primarily achieves its greatness through its fantastic characters, terrific action, and clever dialog. Gal Gadot is an amazing bad-ass — she was born to play this role — and her supporting cast does a great job of selling the world and events around her.
Wonder Woman is also the first DC movie embraced by critics and fans alike, while also raking in an absolutely incredible haul at theaters. Given the struggles of DC movies (before and after Wonder Woman), this shouldn’t be overlooked. DC needs to string together several hits in a row, and Wonder Woman is unquestionably the foundation they should build upon.
4. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Release Date: July 7, 2017
Domestic Box Office: #4
Production Budget: $175 million
Global Box Office: $880 million
What happens when you reboot a character for the third time in 15 years? A disaster probably, but instead what we got was actually pretty damned amazing. We can debate whether or not Tom Holland is the best Peter Parker/Spider-Man, but there’s no debating that he was fantastic in this movie. Add to that a solid villain in Michael Keaton’s Vulture, Robert Downey Jr.’s father-figure/mentor Tony Stark/Iron Man, and Marisa Tomei’s sexy Aunt May… this is a reboot that not only works, but we can’t wait to see the follow-up.
One of the big reasons for Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s success is the character’s inclusion in the MCU (established with pizazz in last year’s Captain America: Civil War). Sony finally realized that getting the wall-crawler right required a significant creative alliance with Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios, who took the reins and produced a definitive take of a high-school aged Parker and his coming-of-age super-antics.
Similar to Thor: Ragnarok, this film reinforced the incredible importance of team-ups in the MCU. Almost every Marvel film since The Avengers has included at least one or two secondary Marvel heroes, as allies or partners — in some ways, this is the secret sauce of these films, providing foils that deepen our understanding of the main protagonist. Oh, and Spider-Man: Homecoming is also very, very funny (a well-established MCU hallmark).
5. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Release Date: May 5, 2017
Domestic Box Office: #3
Production Budget: $200 million
Global Box Office: $864 million
A lot of superhero movies talk about family, but generally in a “my family was killed violently” or “I’ll do anything to protect my family” kind of way. Few superhero films really embrace the notion of family as a core foundation of their franchise. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is about an extended family of misfit, broken toys who desperately want and need a great big hug. Each of the characters has a gaping hole in their souls, and this film is essentially an epic journey to repair said damage… with lasers!
Writer-director James Gunn has built a sci-fi, superhero franchise around a collection of odd characters with serious sibling and parental issues. The underlying message is that they need each other more than they need closure from their pasts. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 gets a lot of mileage out of humor and slapstick, but this movie is really about acknowledging and moving past pain, and ultimately growing into adulthood. The fact that this is achieved via a talking raccoon — or is it panda? — and a sentient tree is just icing.
In an interesting aside, the next chapter of the MCU (Phase 4) seems fixed on Marvel’s “Cosmic Realms,” which kind of places the Guardians as the centerpiece going forward. By the end of this film we’re also introduced to a bunch of new characters — including Sylvester Stallone’s Stakar Ogord (look it up) — this franchise is only going to get bigger. Granted, now that the MCU’s future also includes X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Deadpool, it’s anyone’s guess where we go from here. However, strange as it might seem, the Guardians of the Galaxy is one of Marvel’s top-performing and most-beloved franchises (and should be for years to come).
Release Date: November 17, 2017
Domestic Box Office: #11
Production Budget: $300 million
Global Box Office: $637 million (and counting)
Let’s be honest, Justice League is a fun, energetic movie that brings together (most of) DC Comics’ top superheroes. It was also an extraordinarily expensive film, due to a swap in directors late into production, and significant interference from WB executives. Justice League has made a lot of money to-date, but it will ultimately come about $100 million short of breaking even. By any definition, this is a financial and critical flop, and it’s also divided fans (and the media too).
What went wrong? How is it possible that a film with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman — particularly given the success of the latter’s origin film — could under-perform to this degree? Where to begin. The script was weak, the dialog cringe-worthy, the action muddled, and the color palette just plain muddy. Justice League was a tonal and storytelling mess, but it definitely had its moments. So now what?
Ben Affleck is almost certainly done as Batman and it’s unclear whether we’ll get any more Henry Cavill as Superman. Those are big problems and must be addressed by DC immediately. Fortunately, fans really liked Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and Ezra Miller’s Flash (and we already loved Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman). In December 2018 we’ll see Aquaman‘s movie… and that’s about it for next year. Justice League didn’t ruin DC movies, but it didn’t do it any favors either — and the future for all future DC movies feels totally up-in-the-air right now.
What’s your list or ranking of top superhero films of 2017? We left out a couple (LEGO Batman Movie), but it’s not because we don’t care — we just love some more than others. (It’s the holiday season, it’s what you do.)