- Comic book movies have dominated movie theaters for the last 10 years, grossing billions at the box office.
- Marvel Studios and DC, with the help of Iron Man, the Avengers, and Batman, are largely responsible for all that.
- To wrap up the decade, we’re ranking its 10 most influential comic book movies — from “The Avengers” to “Deadpool.”
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Numerous comic book films have made waves at the box office and among audiences this past decade, including films like “The Avengers” and “X-Men: First Class.”
Big name heroes like Batman and the Hulk were a hit, as were more obscure heroes like Deadpool.
Keep reading to find out the most influential comic book movies from the 2010s.
11. “X-Men: First Class” (2011) rebooted the entire franchise.
AKA “X-Men: The College Years,” “First Class” had the then-unenviable task of rebooting and reinvigorating the X-Men movie franchise, after 2006’s “X3” proved to be a box office hit but critical and audience disappointment.
“First Class” exceeded expectations, playing like a James Bond movie from the ’60s (especially Magneto’s first act Nazi hunt) that would recharge the mutants for the better part of another decade before “X-Men: Apocalypse” and “Dark Phoenix” would crater the series once again. Oh, and it pushed a coin through Kevin Bacon’s head in one of the best scenes the genre has ever done.
10. “Justice League” (2017) features several well-known superheroes.
Warner Bros. and DC’s long-awaited team-up of heroes should have been their “Avengers”-sized hit, but it grossed throughout its entire theatrical run what “Avengers” made in about a week.
The making-of and behind-the-scenes struggles — Zach Snyder notably left the project, and Joss Whedon stepped in — are the film’s legacy in an increasingly IP-driven Hollywood. While it was a disappointment, “Justice League” significantly altered DC and WB’s cart-before-the-horse franchise planning for their comic book heroes. But in general, “Justice League” all but sent WB back to the drawing board on the future of its comic book heroes and villains.
9. Joaquin Phoenix starred in “Joker” (2019).
Who knew the director who gave us “The Hangover” trilogy would deliver one of the most polarizing and groundbreaking comic book movies ever?
Like the fellow R-rated comic book movie “Logan” before it, “Joker” further proves that audiences are willing to pay record-breaking box office dollars for the genre to color outside the lines, even with brushstrokes as violent and nihilistic as Joaquin Phoenix’s gritty Joker. The movie appealed to more than the Comic-Con set, with word-of-mouth propelling it to be the highest-grossing R-rated movie ever. Thanks to that, expect more big swings like this within the comic book genre.
8. “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) featured an unconventional director.
The third chapter in the creatively disappointing “Thor” franchise (the dimmest jewel in Marvel’s crown) gave the series a much-needed shot in the arm, delivering one of the funniest movies of the decade — regardless of genre.
The inspired choice to bring director Taika Waititi onboard to help carve a new, irreverent path for Chris Hemsworth’s Avenger — and showcase the actor’s scary-good comedic chops — reinvigorated both the genre and Marvel’s stranglehold on it. The Marvel mold is as close to being broken with this film, as “Thor: Ragnarok” turns the comedy and action of “Guardians of the Galaxy” into the blockbuster equivalent of an airbrushed van mural or ’80s rock album cover.
7. “Logan” (2017) paved the way for “Joker.”
There wouldn’t be a “Joker” without “Logan” — a then-risky gamble (turning a PG-13 character into an R-rated anti-hero on a big-ish blockbuster budget) that paid off with great box office and an Oscar nom.
James Mangold’s swan song to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is an R-rated Western hiding out within some of the most successful IP ever. Tapping into the X-Men movies’ well-tread themes of identity and finding purpose from a life spent defending a world that fears and hates you, “Logan” succeeds at finding a corner of the franchise never before explored and investing it with legit drama and big emotional stakes. The end result is a moving, tragic adventure that subverts genre expectations in ways that movie fans should and will be examining for years.
6. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) catapulted C-list Marvel characters into the spotlight.
Credit must always be given to a movie that turned a talking tree and sentient, gun-toting raccoon into household names.
The Guardians of the Galaxy were, at best, C-List level Marvel characters who became comic book movie all-stars and royalty overnight in August 2014, when writer-director James Gunn offered his instantly iconic vision for the team of misfits forced to team up and do the saving-the-galaxy thing. In doing so, “I am Groot!” became a permanent part of the lexicon, and Marvel proved that the genre had room for a comedy disguised as a four-quadrant action movie, setting the stage for 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok.” The movie also inspired rivals to find their version of “Guardians” — the success of which no one has been able to replicate since.
5. “Deadpool” (2016) stars Ryan Reynolds.
Deadpool was the part Ryan Reynolds was born to play. After years of development hell and false starts, Reynolds — along with director Tim Miller — deliver a movie that came at the perfect time to go outside the box Marvel Studios was conditioning audiences to get way too comfortable with.
Reynolds’ full-tilt, fourth-wall-breaking performance is as refreshing as the movie’s R-rated, fearless interpretation of the material. The beauty of the first “Deadpool” was how effortless it felt, how natural. You knew as you watched that it was a labor of love from a team that had an intense love for the character and an intimate understanding of why fans loved him, too.
4. “Wonder Woman” (2017) was the first comic book movie with a female lead.
“Wonder Woman” beat Marvel to the punch (literally) with the first comic book movie featuring a female lead.
Director Patty Jenkins created a heartfelt and action-packed blockbuster, one that takes the Amazonian princess seriously but not too serious — resulting in a movie that’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” starring a hero who wields a truth lasso and sword. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman seems to collect one iconic moment after another — especially that WWI trench scene. The timing of its release with #MeToo deservedly on the rise, coupled with audience demand reaching a fever pitch, helped make “Wonder Woman” a movie we needed and deserved. It’s just too bad we had to wait so long for it.
3. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018) is an animated take on a comic book classic.
One of the most GIF-able and meme-friendly movies ever made, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” defied expectations with its mashup of comic book styles and animation tropes that pushed the boundaries of both genres to the tune of a best animated feature Oscar win.
Poking fun at and doubling-down on both the genre and Spider-Man movie tropes with meta references proved to be a crossover hit that resonated with non-comic book movie crowds. The film turned Miles Morales’ Spidey into a household name, with his “anyone can wear the mask” credo serving as inspiration for any person in the theater struggling with the same issues of self and identity. This, in concert with the soundtrack’s perfect needle drops and effortless balance of varying tones and animation styles, stick with you long after the end credits roll.
2. “The Avengers” (2012) was a major blockbuster hit.
To quote a rival DC film, “The Avengers” changed things forever. Writer-director Joss Whedon’s monster hit was the first team-up movie between our favorite Marvel heroes — one comic book fans have dreamed about for decades. The wait was worth it, as this blockbuster did not disappoint. While not a perfect film, it has plenty of perfect and great moments in it. And it sparked Hollywood’s arms race to raid their IP for similar team-ups, especially for DC Comics and WB.
If it wasn’t for “The Avengers,” we never would’ve gotten “Batman vs. Superman” or “Justice League” or Universal’s killed-in-the-womb Monsterverse that died with 2017’s “The Mummy.” All of those movies wanted Marvel’s success without doing the necessary legwork to earn it. And none of them came close to being as good as “Avengers” is in its worst scene.
1. “Black Panther” (2018) broke barriers in more ways than one.
The first comic book movie to be nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards, “Black Panther is a movie experience unlike any other. Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler (“Creed”) and his production team (some of which would win deserved Oscars) achieve a level of dense but inviting world-building not seen since “Avatar,” but much more welcoming and successful than that James Cameron blockbuster.
Kevin Feige’s Marvel assembly line approach wisely, seemingly, stepped back and let Coogler and company do its thing, turning “Black Panther” into a pop-culture event that challenged Hollywood’s narrow belief that movies led by mostly African-American casts don’t travel internationally with great success at the box office. It opened the door for future, similar projects to get the greenlight and challenged what the genre can do.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).