by Preston Tolliver
5. “Captain America 2: Winter Soldier” (2014)
The first ‘Captain America’ movie was great, but it was bogged down with the origin story that makes so many first installments of comic book films almost a drag. The second movie is where Marvel found its niche with Cap. It was fast and action-packed, while throwing in the perfect amount of drama with Steve and Bucky's backstory. It's also the most recent sequel of an individual hero movie that Marvel's done, and if it's any indication, ‘Civil War’ and “Thor 3: Ragnarok” can only get better.
4. “X-Men II” (2003)
Truthfully speaking, this is really the only good ‘X-Men’ movie. We had two alright ones (“X-Men” and “The Wolverine”), a couple "meh" ones (“X-Men: First Class” and ‘Days of Future Past’) and two absolutely atrocious films (“X-Men III” and “Wolverine Origins”).
“X-Men II” came at a time when it wasn't old or unoriginal to focus a film primarily on Hugh Jackman's Wolverine (It was the first — and therefore, the last acceptable one), and introduced just enough new characters to get fanboys excited (especially the crowd-favorite Nightcrawler, which, by the way, what the hell is happening here?).
“X-Men: Apocalypse” has some promise — the introduction of new characters on the horizon (God, please let these new characters have more airtime than in ‘Days of Future Past’) and X-Men's biggest villain seem like a combination that can't be screwed up ... but if there's one company that can do it, it's Fox.
3. “Iron Man” (2008)
This one didn't make the list until my friend Ben pointed out that it's the film that really kicked off the Marvel franchise (at least in terms of “The Avengers” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” films). Without “Iron Man,” we wouldn't have the 10-or-so movies that were built around it (OK, I would have been fine without “Iron Man III”). It was with this film that Robert Downey Jr., quickly solidified his role as Tony Stark, as much as Heath Ledger made The Joker his own. It was also Marvel's first hugely-successful origin story, and probably the only origin film that was better than its sequels.
2. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)
“Guardians of the Galaxy” accomplished everything “The Avengers” couldn't, and without all the origin stories. And perhaps that's what made this one so good. Instead of focusing on individual characters who were coming together as a team, “Guardians of the Galaxy” was able to focus on the team itself, dropping small bits of each character's history throughout the movie. Perhaps it was because it was a relatively unknown group to comic fans — not nearly as big as “The Avengers,” fans went to the movies unsure of what to expect, and for some reason, even skeptical. The movie hit theaters with a low bar to hit, and they pole vaulted over it.
The movie also hit Marvel's comedic peak — serving more as a self-parody for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While some of Marvel's movies have a tendency to take themselves too seriously, almost to a fault (see the ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Thor’ movies), ‘Guardians’ never did. The characters themselves knew they were part of something silly, nonsensical and reproduced — it was almost as if their knowledge of this (see Zoe Saldana and Chris Pratt's yawns while the team assembles together in cliché Marvel fashion) that made the movie Marvel's best yet.
1. “The Dark Knight” (2008)
There's a fundamental plot in every comic book storyline, only it gets recycled in different ways to (hopefully) become more and more appealing to the reader. Nearly every comic book story -- as well as any good action movie, in general -- is one quintessential conflict: that of good versus evil. Fans of Batman — not just Batman, but movie fans in general — were given this conflict in its most pristine form, with a story with the perfect combination of action and drama, and an even better performance by its two leading actors. Everyone knew from “Batman Begins” that Christian Bale was on pace to surpass Michael Keaton and Adam West as the best Batman yet — no one knew what to expect from Heath Ledger (to the point that fellow cast member Michael Caine was so speechless the first time he saw Ledger as The Joker that he forgot his lines).
Even in the comics, the story of The Joker seems to always be changing. Right now, he's currently immortal, for whatever reason, but the mystery that has always shrouded Batman's biggest rival along with his bizarre personality is one that Ledger personified to a T. Jack Nicholson was a wonderful Joker 30 years ago, and Ledger was given the opportunity to take the role's reins from Nicholson's hands — only he didn't just take them, he forced them away and made them forever his (Sorry Jared Leto, you won't ever be as good, especially with this).