Let’s be honest, Suicide Squad was an absolute mess. It was like watching a train-wreck that just couldn’t be stopped. After all of the hype and buildup – the release date was even pushed back, at least once – audiences were bursting with anticipation. Especially after a pretty underwhelming reception of Batman vs Superman, people wanted so much for DC to redeem itself, and Suicide Squad seemed like the answer. Instead, we were force-fed a combination of (mostly) flat characters and clumsy storytelling. Oh, DC – where do you go from here?
While fans are still holding out for the Wonder Woman movie (set to release this summer), based on recent productions from the DC cinematic universe, we also have to be cautious in our excitement. Fortunately, though, there is no shortage of great material sourced from the lively pages of comic books. Whether you’ve been smart enough to avoid the Suicide Squad movie, or still reeling from the disappointment of it, you may have spent the last six months binge-watching your trusted comic book favourites. Supplement that with any of the ever-increasing Marvel and DC series line-ups, and you’ve got yourself a pretty comforting remedy. You may even be on superhero overload, and just looking to revisit some fun comic book pics outside of the Marvel / DC universes, which is also completely justified. Whatever your fancy, here are 15 movies that are sure to get you out of the Suicide Squad blues.
Deadpool gave audiences a fresh (x-rated) take on the superhero, that came at the perfect moment. With the constant churning out of Marvel movies featuring the most popular comic book characters grappling with what it meant to be a hero – Deadpool shook things up by proudly being the anti-superhero. While Deadpool is not a villain, his sarcastic and self-deprecating attitude, paired with transparent self-motivation, makes him a pretty unlikely hero. This is evidenced in the movie by his resistance to join the x-men. He seeks only two things, bloody vengeance and love. For fans of Deadpool comics, the film was exactly what it should have been, a happy redemption for the character, which was essentially butchered in his Marvel cinema debut in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, when the Mirk with the Mouth had his moth sewn up (a mistake that is even referenced in Deadpool). Deadpool took the opportunity to engage with Marvel audiences on multiple levels, simultaneously mocking and paying homage to the genre, characters, and productions studios.
14 The Dark Knight Rises
It was unlikely that another Dark Knight film, this time with Heath Ledger’s brilliant portrayal of Joker, was going to live up to its predecessor. Still, it was far from a disappointment. An apocalyptic future, urban terrorism, and classism worked together to form one of the grimmest depictions of Gotham audiences had ever seen. Bane was an interesting villain with which to end the trilogy – he was all chaos, and very little rationale. Bane’s incoherence did cause the film to flounder at times, but never so much that audiences didn’t understand that the film was about how dreary the world of Batman had become. Surprisingly, the film actually used a lot less Batman than might have been expected. Rather, we are taken deep into the troubled psyche of Bruce Wayne himself, which was a welcome change of pace for a Batman movie. Whether or not you enjoyed the end, which arguably did not make a lot of sense, the film was an overall success.
13 A History of Violence
In just 96 minutes, stunningly short for a modern comic-book movie, A History of Violence brings to the screen all of the best parts of the graphic novel upon which it is based, as well as a variety of tweaks. All of which come together to create what feels like a perfect portrait of one night that changes everything for what seems like a simple and ordinary all-American family. Brilliantly, the film takes the time to point us to the inherent contradictions that lie within the image of the simple life, and how so much of it is an imagined ideal. For Tom and his family, this falsity is an overwhelming reality. The story questions how America indulges in violence and sensationalizes it by way of “heroism”, a term with which Tom is less than comfortable. Though not at all a superhero movie, it very much touches on those things that draw us to the superhero movie; notably, the hero-angst that comes with being adept with violence.
12 Superman II
It is a little difficult to talk about this film without making a distinction between the theatrical release, and the Richard Donner cut. That being said, the charm of the film as it was initially released largely had to do with the defining of the Clark Kent/Superman dichotomy. It may seem silly that Superman puts on a pair of glasses and no one is the wiser – but as Roger Ebert pointed out, it is not Clark’s glasses that are his disguise, it is his ordinariness. The film highlighted the difference between his personas, highlighted but the two different relationships with Lois Lane, and characterized almost solely by silly humour. It was undoubtedly a strong film, that established a lot of superhero tropes Marvel and DC studios still rely on today. As for the Donner cut, released in 2006, it has been praised for being a more coherent story that is far superior than the original.
Though there had been other superhero/comic book movies before 2002’s Spider-Man, this was the film that set the Blockbuster trend for the genre. It set a lot of precedents, and intertwined a healthy mix of action, humour, and romance. The story is engaging, and the plot is entertaining. As a testament to its impact on audiences, the image of the upside-down kiss has become iconic, and the series went on to spawn two sequels – the first of which is largely regarded as even better than the first. But probably its biggest boast to date is earning the undisputed respect of Stan Lee who created the character Spider-Man himself. In 2016, Lee named the film as his favourite comic book movie, which is obviously a massive compliment. Lee noted it was the first of its kind to be such a hit, and that everything afterwards just “seemed easy.”
10 Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Winter Soldier captivates right from the very beginning. Despite being set in the past, it evokes so many modern themes of government, war, and politics, that it’s difficult to not get sucked in. It’s all so relatable and familiar; even the “superheroes” are shown to be grounded in science that feels close to reality. After all, the concept of the super-soldier is by no means a new one. The movie delivers a character-driven story in such a way that even viewers who knew nothing of Captain America going in could become invested. Having a villain that, though wiped of personality, is someone who was once important to our hero makes the showdowns all the more intense adding a layer of emotion that would not have existed otherwise. With a consistent energy and tone throughout, there isn’t much to criticize in this epic. And yet, it was followed up with an even stronger sequel, that again relied on a raw connection to the real political atmosphere.
9 Captain America: Civil War
Like its predecessor, Civil War perfectly captured the modern political climate. In a more globalized approach than other superhero films, Civil War posed a very unique but reasonable question: what is the responsibility of a superhero on a global level? And it’s about time this issue gets addressed. With the seemingly unstoppable popularity of superhero narratives, at some point this direction was inevitable; but it was executed with perfection here. Having the Avengers ideologically torn apart allowed the issue to be explored from both sides; and although technically a Captain America movie, it never felt as though there was a bias to side with him on the subject. Instead, it allowed the characters to grapple with the desire to do right, and what that really meant – while weighing the greater good on a global scale. As a bonus, it also offered an enticing set up for Black Panther, of whom we can’t wait to see more.
8 Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy was an exciting way to mix up the oh-so-typical superhero lineup. The anti-hero premise is actually not exactly dissimilar to that of Suicide Squad, but what a success! The characters all balanced each other well, with their relationships being realistically established. Their stories were compelling and helped to further establish their connections. As might be expected from a group of convicts, they are initially entirely self-motivated and yet this sets the stage for a natural progression to heroism. The movie subverts comic book clichés just enough for us to take notice, but not so much that it lands in the hit-or-miss territory of the parodic. The most surprising successes though are the computer-generated characters, Groot and Rocket. In saying very little, Groot’s presence dominates (partly due to his sheer size, which makes the ending all the more charming). Meanwhile, Rocket defies all stereotypes; he is not a cute furry rodent at heart, nor is he a family-friendly cartoon. He is, however, deeper than he lets on.
7 Ghost World
Promoted as “the underground comic book come to life”, Ghost World derives its success from its inherent difference. Superhero comics can usually be argued as having an appeal to outsiders because of the fantasy that the ordinary can become extraordinary in an instant, but Ghost World is simply about the ordinary, and Enid’s distaste for it. The film is not a straight adaptation of the graphic novel, which does not even feature Seymore, but can be described as a more light-hearted approach to odd-ball culture. It gives a sense that being an outsider is okay – and even admirable – which might be a better message than fantasies about becoming superior. The brilliance of the story, though, is the casual disintegration of the friendship between Enid and Becky as the two spend a summer growing apart. Although that sounds sad, the film is so colourful and quirky and thoughtful, that it’s hard not to have a good time watching it.
6 Men in Black
In so many ways, Men in Black was the perfect summer blockbuster. It was funny, thrilling, and had aliens – which for 1997 was a big and exciting deal. It managed to stay light on the secret government cover-ups anxiety that might plague a film like this today, while playing on people’s fascination with conspiracy-theories like Roswell. The agency is portrayed as a badass humanitarian organization, wherein even a tough guy like Agent K is a softie at heart. This is a different kind of agency than the one that exists in the comics; for example, Agent J is not originally offered a place in the agency because he’s earned it, he is essentially kidnapped and forced into it. Changes like this keep the movie fun and apolitical, which is why it remains such a breath of nostalgic fresh air with each re-watch. Though most would advise you stay away from the second instalment, the third film was a well-liked. Rumours abound about a reboot, though without Will Smith’s involvement.
5 The Avengers
Although it’s fair to assume no one had doubted Joss Whedon’s ability to pull off this mega-masterpiece, when his vision for The Avengers hit the big screen, everyone was so impressed. The action was unstoppable, the humour never missed a beat, and the characters were all so likeable. The cast was incredibly balanced, so that no character out-shined any other, and each felt equally important to the story and to the team itself. The philosophy that there is no I in team really comes through here, even in large-scale action sequences in which all team members are cut to evenly. The players don’t feel thrown together (tsk tsk Suicide Squad), but rather seem to have genuine rapports bordering on familial. And the humanity of these characters is what makes this film (and all of Whedon’s work) so astonishing. Moreover, by working with the previous Marvel cinematic universe movies rather than paralleling them, The Avengers felt well thought-out and a part of something bigger than itself.
4 Spider-Man 2
It’s a rare thing to have a sequel outshine its predecessor, but that is definitely the case with Spider-Man 2. As much as people loved the Peter Parker origin story in 2002, the sequel had the benefit of having this out of the way. This time around, the story focuses on what it means to be Spider-Man AND Peter Parker. Everyday life is always a balancing act, which can be especially overwhelming in college when every move you make is supposed to reflect what you want out of life. The sequel really captured what it meant to be a young adult with secrets, and responsibilities. The characters feel real, as do their interactions, which allows viewers to connect with their protagonist. Even if he does have superpowers, he is not fully defined by them alone. Insert a few laughs and some impressive action scenes, and you’ve got yourself a die-hard hit.
It has been nearly forty years since the original Superman movie was released, so it may seem redundant to place it on any best of superheroes movie lists. But the truth is, there is no expiry date on cinematic genius. We can credit Superman for setting so many precedents, including creating a movie-audience for comic books, which Marvel and DC studio execs probably thank the stars for every night. By aside from all that necessary tribute and appreciation, it’s just a great film. It is an origin story through and through, with so much of the film dedicated to showing viewers who Kal-El is (and who Clark Kent is), and what makes him special. And yet, nothing is over-explained. The simplicity that surrounds the complex nature of Superman is part of its charm, and keeps audiences coming back again and again. Unfortunately, more recent takes on Superman have been less compelling – giving all the more credence to this classic.
2 The Dark Knight
It’s all been said a thousand times over; in sum, Heath Ledger’s Joker is nothing short of brilliant. This take on Joker, and (by extension) villainy entirely changed the game. It was the role for which Heath Ledger was awarded a posthumous Oscar. Within the film, Joker’s state of mind and the way in which he thinks is simultaneously scary and intriguing. It almost seemed as if the film had no choice but to focus on him, and it was the right choice. That roller-coaster of a ride was something audiences will never forget. Unfortunately, it also means the Joker has been done, and there’s nowhere else to go with that character. This is part of the reason Suicide Squad was such a letdown; it is unfair to hold new incarnations of the Joker to this standard, but we do it anyways – even if only subconsciously. The Dark Knight relies heavily on Joker, but it is also a complex and fascinating story that always leaves us with chills in the best way.
Superheroes be damned, Snowpiercer gets the job done without them. Set in a dystopian future, humanity is confined to a train that must keep moving in order to keep everyone safe from the icy-dessert Earth has become (a result of a failed attempt to undo global warming). Of course, there is no better setting than a train to discuss issues of class and privilege, and Snowpiercer happily uses this to its advantage. The historically iconic image of class segregation on trains is brought to life here as the poor masses rise up against the injustices they suffer at the hands of the wealthy and privileged. Cramped quarters and unhygienic living conditions are a daily reality for these folks, but the mysterious protein bars they are fed are their greatest woe. And so it begins – a thrilling mystery complete with sci-fi, action, and filled with questions about what it is to be human, and what it means to be treated as if you are not.
Sources: Screen Rant; Roger Ebert; Collider.