***To celebrate AwardsCircuit’s 10 Year Anniversary, a new series is born. “Circuit 10” is a brand new column that will run every week (often times more than once) until May 2019. Any articles or listings will only cover film or television within the last 10-year time frame and can also tie into that week’s respective releases.***
Ten years ago this summer, “Iron Man” announced the arrival of Marvel Studios. “The Dark Knight” roared into theaters, eventually helping to expand the Best Picture lineup at the Oscars. Even “The Incredible Hulk” mattered, as the existence of the film helped lay the foundation for the MCU. Since this summer, the superhero film has become a staple of the modern blockbuster and tentpole world. These films are some of the highest grossing films of all time, including 4 of the 5 highest grossing movies of 2018.
Shockingly, the entrance of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” looks like it could join those films in the blockbuster race. Before the end of the year, we’ll get three more superhero films including an animated “Spider-Man” film. With so many of these heroes abound, some have to be underrated. With that in mind, let’s look at the Top 10 most underrated superhero films of the past decade.
10. “Megamind” (2010) – Directed by Tom McGrath
The concept of animated superheroes had already come to pass by the time “Megamind” appeared. Unfortunately for “Megamind,” the concept of a villain becoming the hero had already worn out its welcome as well. After all, “Despicable Me” released in early 2010. Despite the timing of the release, “Megamind” was a quality film, even if was quickly forgotten by many.
The story follows the villain Megamind (Will Ferrell) when he accidentally beats his archenemy Metro Man (Brad Pitt). Unsure what to do with himself, Megamind trains a nobody to become a pseudo-hero to fight against, only to find his creation too powerful. While the movie does eventually get sloppy, the initial idea is still worthy of exploration. Just “One-Punch Man” has explored an overpowered superhero, “Megamind” began to explore the mental toll of villainy on its protagonist. For this thought alone, “Megamind” remains drastically underrated, and has value in the modern superhero landscape.
9. “Watchmen” (2009) – Directed by Zach Snyder
There are few superhero films more divisive than “Watchmen,” which released in 2009. It seems odd at this point to know that Zach Snyder directed the film, yet it features many of his trademarks. The intro to the film is gorgeous as it reimagines moments of history through a superhero lens. The colors are bright, and visually the film pops off the screen. Yet again, the human moments of the film don’t always work, as characters struggle to bind. In some ways, this is a stereotypical Snyder film.
However, “Watchman” deserves far more credit than some are willing to give it. First of all, the concepts seemed unfilmable by many. There had been many attempts to translate the iconic graphic novel to film, yet none had worked. In this regard alone, Snyder deserves some credit. He couldn’t necessarily shoot the comic panel-by-panel. Yet this was about as close as one could to pull off that feat. Characters came to life. Actors like Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earle Haley brought their characters to life. While “Watchman” is not a perfect film, it is far from a disaster. “Watchman” represents the peak of Snyder’s career and remains an underrated film despite being a near flawless adaptation of the source material.
8. “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (2008) – Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
One of the great prosthetic and make-up driven films of the past decade, “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” remains a weird, yet an exciting film. “Hellboy II” is often unfairly derided for losing its former protagonist. Frankly, audiences weren’t watching the film to see a human in a world of monsters. We wanted to see Hellboy (Ron Perlman), Liz (Selma Blair) and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones). Yet this presented an issue: who is the audience supposed to identify with?
It was this problem that forced the story outside of Hellboy’s comfort zone. While the weirdness of this franchise made the films so interesting, it also hurt them. The story never really gets fully reigned in, and the introduction of Seth MacFarlane’s Johan Krauss did not work. The brother/sister relationship of this film was a little uncomfortable for audiences. The campy acting mixed poorly with the weird elements, and the film lost some of the momentum of the first feature.
Money was also an issue for the franchise. While “Hellboy” felt like a viable franchise after the first film, the price of the 2nd film soared. “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” was definitely strong enough to warrant a sequel. However, Guillermo Del Toro wanted to invest too much money into the film. Audiences did not really show up for the film, and Universal only picked up $180 million worldwide on an $85 million budget. Worse, the film only grossed $75 million domestically. If the budget had been dropped to $40 or $50 million, we might have a had another Del Toro led film in the franchise. Del Toro went on to better things, and the reboot looks exciting.
7. “Split” (2017) – Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
We weren’t aware we were watching a superhero movie when this film started up. Yet the end of this film and the promotional materials for “Glass” seem to indicate we were. Whether “The Beast” is a superhero is still to be determined, but the monster that James McAvoy became has powers for sure. “Split” opened some interesting questions that have not really been addressed within the superhero genre to date. Namely, what would we do if someone with powers struggled with mental illness?
In other ways, “Split” represents the first horror/superhero film. The threat is very real to the girls in the film, namely Anya Taylor-Joy‘s star turn as Casey. McAvoy haunts the halls of the bunker where he keeps the girls, and he represents a psychological and physical threat at all times. The film also proved that director M. Night Shyamalan should get more chances to work. “Split” does not feel like your stereotypical superhero film. Yet it is also one of the best of the past decade.
6. “Kick-Ass” (2010) – Director Matthew Vaughn
There is little doubt that Matthew Vaughn is one of the more important directors for comic book material over the last decade. Not only did he bring “X-Men: First Class” to screen, but he also breathed life into “Kick-Ass” and “The Kingsman” franchises. “Kick-Ass” felt like it was overrated for a time after its release, but the 2nd film “Kick-Ass 2” killed that thought. Still, the original film is solid despite some of the problematic elements at play.
The standouts of the film are undeniably Chloë Grace Moretz and Nicholas Cage, who both bring it in every scene. Moretz gets the showier performance, but Cage’s pseudo-homage to Adam West has aged extremely well. Mark Strong as the villain of the film is fun as well, despite his despicable actions. Aaron Taylor-Johnson rode the film to break out into other work, and there are hints of his talent in this film. Ultimately, Vaughn’s direction elevates the film from another “Sin City” rip-off. Instead, the Tarantino inspired superhero film features creative and bloody fights that had never been seen in a superhero film to that point. For that reason alone, this film makes the list.
5. “Justice League: Doom” (2012) – Directed by Lauren Montgomery
One of the underappreciated aspects of superhero films in the past decade has been the home releases. Specifically, the DC animated universe is going strong. While many hardcore fans won’t admit there’s an issue with the DCEU, the animated universe DC has built proves otherwise. “Justice League: Doom” is just one of many spectacular entries into this universe.
“Justice League: Doom” follows the League after Batman’s computer has been hacked. Batman has assembled plans to take down each member of the Justice League, and with this knowledge in their hand, a new Legion of Doom attacks. Across the board, the villains push the heroes to the brink.
A lot of the weightier concepts of what it means to be a hero are on trial in this film. There’s also a true representation of Batman’s true power, his mind, brought to life on screen. The cast is also filled with all-stars, including Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly from the 1990s animated shows. Nathan Fillion and Michael Rosenbaum also lend their voices to the cast. It’s an amazing cast, that tells an interesting story. It proves these characters can work together in a film. The problem is that the stories of the DCEU simply aren’t good enough. Luckily, the animated world has the strong stories we deserve. Oh yeah, and a woman directed this film 5 years before Patty Jenkins. Think about that.
4. “Super” (2010) – Directed by James Gunn
An extremely interesting and dark superhero film emerged from the shadows in 2010. While “Super” did not release theatrically until 2011, it felt more at home on the festival circuit where it first showed up in 2010. the film was an indie darling, that blends extreme violence with a powerhouse performance. Rainn Wilson has never been better in a film, and he had plenty of help from the ensemble. Kevin Bacon is chilling as a villain. Ellen Page gives one of the best performances of her career, and its a shame she didn’t get more traction as a supporting actress nominee. Michael Rooker is frightening and again showcases how brutal he can be when he wants to. It’s a deep cast, and the performers really up their game across the board.
Director James Gunn was a little-known entity at the time, mostly known by true cinephiles. Gunn was building up to something weird just a few years later. “Super” became a great stepping stone for Gunn, and really showcased what he could do as a writer and director. Gunn has always gotten the most out of his actors, and his work here seems to preview that. Once again, the film gets far more violent than traditional films. Yet the stakes work and evoke emotion that is rare to come by in the genre. It makes sense that “Guardians of the Galaxy” is so imbued with heart.
3. “The LEGO Batman Movie” (2017) – Directed by Chris McKay
The argument that “The Lego Batman Movie” isn’t overrated can certainly be had by some. Yet the film is looked at as a comedy for the most part when it should be looked at as a true superhero film. The choice to spoof a superhero with the very same superhero is daring. Yet “Lego Batman” does it over and over again, while still remaining mostly loyal to the canon of the films.
Will Arnett is absolutely brilliant as Batman and Bruce Wayne. Ralph Fiennes might be the best Alfred yet. Michael Cera is the best Robin we’ve gotten so far. Perhaps most surprising, Zach Galifianakis gives such an awesome turn as the Joker, it’s a shame he isn’t brought up as one of the best Jokers ever. After all, the character is always 5 steps ahead of Batman and sees their relationship as paramount to all else. He’s willing to sacrifice his plans to interact with Batman, a concept that is often left out of the movies. Their relationship is what drives the Batman comic, and whether audiences want to admit it or not, the two are symbiotic. This film hooks into this truth and blows it out to the utmost degree.
2. “Ant-Man” (2015) – Directed by Peyton Reed
One of the more amazing things about the MCU is that even some of its best films remain underrated. “Ant-Man” is the perfect example. Almost perennially underrated since Edgar Wright left the project, the film could never live up to the potential of what Wright’s film could have been. Despite this attitude, “Ant-Man” opens doors few superhero films had at that point. Instead of a disaster, the comedic and diverse cast delivered one of the more creative films in the franchise.
While Paul Rudd is an atypical superhero actor, he’s also the perfect lead. Rudd is able to blend into the background to make moments work for his co-stars. Rudd’s at his best when interacting with Michael Peña. Peña delivers one of his best performances of his career as the fast-talking Luis. Introducing Luis and normal thieves make the world around Ant-Man pop and come to life in ways other films can’t. The heist elements throughout the film are fun, and the film bears a closer resemblance to an “Ocean’s” movie than an MCU flick. Michael Douglas is game throughout, and Evangeline Lily dominates the film. While the film still has a villain problem, Rudd and the others breathe life into a film that had no right to be this good. Hats off to Peyton Reed and Adam McKay, who seemed to save this film at the last minute.
1. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2010) – Directed by Joe Johnson
Looking back at this film makes me wonder if I saw a different film than other audiences. Why did people/why do people still not like this movie? Chris Evans was perfect as Captain America from the word go. He breathes life and passion into the film. Hayley Atwell is brilliant as Peggy Carter, and she still has not been given enough credit for her work. Stanley Tucci is great in his limited screen time. The Howling Commandos are marvelous. This film is essentially an Indiana Jones film. What was wrong with everyone? Seriously, we need to reevaluate this movie big time.