The Superhero Movies of 2018, Ranked
Hate it, love it, [extremely Josh Brolin voice] dread it, run from it, the fact of the matter is our pop culture landscape is ruled by superheroes. The modern-day watercooler is the Tweets, forums, and message boards that light up like an Infinity Stone following the release of a comic book movie. Hell, the trailers for the upper-tier entries stop office productivity, traffic, and social interaction for days at a time. This year was a wild, wide-ranging one for the genre; we got massive franchise-cappers like Avengers: Infinity War, decades-in-the-making standalone stories like Venom, blockbusters like Aquaman that are so unlikely Entourage turned it into a running joke for years. Superhero movies got weird. Superhero movies got animated. Superhero stories are absolutely, positively here to stay.
But as pretty much any X-Men villain will tell you, not all those with superpowers were created equal. So here, I’ve ranked all seven superhero movies that were released in theaters in 2018. If you disagree, that’s incredibly okay! That’s actually the most beautiful part about comic book movies; not one caped crusader soaring through the clouds will mean the same to two people. Disagreements can be fun. Debate can be fun. Superheroes should be, above most things, fun. To quote an icon: ‘Nuff said.
9) Ant-Man & The Wasp
In such a crowded space, one of the worst things a superhero can be is “fine.” Ant-Man and the Wasp is perfectly, serviceably fine. It’s good! But it’s a bit of a bummer that both of Peyton Reed‘s Ant-Man films tease getting truly wacky with the character’s powers and the Quantum Realm but always pull back into something much more formulaically Marvel. With that said, this movie has some gems. The size-swapping chase scene that sees Michael Pena basically driving a Hot Wheels car and a motorcycle thug getting wiped out by a giant Pez dispenser is a fantastic set-piece; honestly, boiled down, it’s everything an Ant-Man movie should be. Paul Rudd continues to be one of the most perfectly-cast heroes in the entire MCU, and Evangeline Lilly kicks an ungodly amount of ass as Hope Van Dyne. I’m not sure I really need a third Ant-Man, but I’m dying for these two to pop up in as many other MCU films as they want.
Oh, Venom. Venom, Venom, Venom. How best to describe a film that is so shoddily shot, paced, and scripted and yet I will most likely re-watch on HBO for the rest of my days? Ruben Fleischer‘s big-screen take on the alien Symbiote is a clunky ride, stuck between rote origin story and oddly plot-less romp that ends so suddenly you could probably see the editing marks from outer space. But Tom Hardy, man. As disgraced journalist Eddie Brock infused with a sentient ball of outer space goo, Hardy does not just go balls to the wall, he goes through the wall and into a lobster tank filled with physical-acting gems. And honestly, Hardy’s energy permeates the rest of the movie, elevating everything from the surprise appearance of an uncomfortably sexual She-Venom to Michelle Williams‘ completely earnest delivery of the line “I’m sorry about Venom.” If you want a well-crafted piece of comic storytelling, look elsewhere. If you want to get intoxicated in whatever way you choose and have a goddamn blast, Venom has so many snacks and so little time.
7) Deadpool 2
By now, you know if you love or hate the Merc with the Mouth played with puppy gusto by Ryan Reynolds, and Deadpool 2 goes all in on the character’s fourth-wall-breaking meta-comedy and over-the-top violence. I fall somewhere right in the middle, so while I don’t think Deadpool 2 is a great movie I think it’s borderline great for what it very, very specifically is. There’s a Wolverine: Origins-worth of flaws, yeah; no amount of winkity-wink-that’s-lazy-writing meta-humor can take away the actual ingrained laziness of killing off Morena Baccarin‘s Vanessa before the opening credits. But what the movie lost on worthwhile supporting characters it does eventually re-gain in spades with the addition of a jacked out of his freakin’ mind Josh Brolin—2018’s superhero villain of the year—as a pitch-perfect Cable and the endlessly watchable Zazie Beetz as Domino. The movie’s best gag takes place in its time-hopping end-credits scene, which is a bit of a drag, but get your pulse checked if you don’t find the newly-minted X-Force—Bedlam (Terry Crews), Shatterstar (Lewis Tan), Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgard), Vanisher (Brad Pitt for like two seconds), and Peter W. (Rob Delaney)—jumping from a plane into their immediate deaths to be an inspired bit of lunacy.
(Miss me with that PG-13 nonsense, though.)
6) Teen Titans Go! To the Movies
It’s a shame Teen Titans Go! To the Movies didn’t leave much of a footprint when it hit theaters, because it’s such a clever animated film, one that took me by complete surprise having never seen the source material Cartoon Network series. It’s so weird. There are plenty of “is this for kids?” moments mixed in with the splashes of color, like the “Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life“— featuring Michael Bolton as a keytar-playing outer space tiger—that had me wondering if I’d spiked my pre-movie direct with something a little more hallucinogenic. But what’s really a blast about Go! is that while it certainly does work as a breezy ninety-minute comic book movie for kids, it also acts as a satire on the superhero movie landscape in general, dissecting with a shockingly sharp scalpel. If superheroes were real, of course they would judge each other by who had a standalone story on the screen. (And of course like 90% of them would somehow feature Batman.) Lil Yachty‘s John Stewart saying “there was a Green Lantern movie…but we don’t talk about that” is a hilarious remedy to the idea Warner Bros. is too self-serious to poke fun at its own DC Universe.
5) Incredibles 2
Incredibles 2 is ostensibly two movies in one, but writer/director Brad Birdmanages to make them work in tandem to show both sides of what makes superheroes such an enduring storytelling idea. While we follow Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), Incredibles 2 is a wildly inventive comic book caper, complete with wonderfully inventive super-powered set-pieces and the mystery of the villainous Screenslaver* to boot. But that plot leaves Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) at home with the kids—Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Miner), and Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile)—and there’s something so wonderful and endearing about the world’s strongest man being brought low by laundry and homework. Like, same, my superpowered friend. That humanizing aspect has always been the beauty of the Incredibles, and though this sequel never reaches the height of the original, it still does an [apologies in advance] incredible job reminding us why we care about these characters both in and out of a super-suit.
(*I also just love the name The Screenslaver. One of the most genuinely impressive things about the Incredibles movies is how they feature such unique hero and villain names. That’s harder than you think. Seriously, Google a random adjective or verb and there’s a chance Marvel had a character with that name at some point.)
4) Avengers: Infinity War
There’s almost no doubt in my mind that when the Russo Brothers complete their vision next year with Avengers: Endgame, the entire story will stand as one of the best, if not the best comic book tales put to screen. But there’s just no denying that this year’s Avengers: Infinity War—for all this technical wizardry, character juggling, and overall impressiveness—is only half the story. Infinity War is a damn miracle; this movie shouldn’t have been possible to make, much less end up this enjoyable. But still, it’s incomplete, with the fate of half the universe still quite literally floating in the air.
With that said, hot damn this movie’s a good time. Infinity War might be the most rewatchable two-hour-and-forty-minute movie of all time. The second time I saw it in a theater I was shocked when the battle for Wakanda arrived after what felt like 90 minutes, tops. That comes down to how much the Russos work to give every single character their time to shine. Chris Hemsworth has completely settled into a groove as a Thor who is funny as hell but still an Asgardian badass, and unsurprisingly his story provides the lightning-bolt fuel that moves this movie along. Chris Evans‘ bearded Captain America entrance on a subway platform cracked my mind into pieces in ways I still haven’t processed. Danai Gurira‘s Okoye needs a standalone series on Disney+ to be announced yesterday. I could do this all day, because somehow Infinity War gives all of its beloved heroes—from Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) down to Groot (Vin Diesel)—a memorable moment. This movie is ten years of meticulous homework finally turned in and almost, almostgetting a perfect grade. Bring on the endgame.
Maybe it’s my odd love for adventure serials of the 1930s and 40s and the swashbuckling high-seas journeys from the likes of Ray Harryhausen. Maybe it’s something about the way James Wan can take his obvious skill for intimate, shadowy horror and flip it into grand, tense action set-pieces. Maybe it’s because Jason Momoa could sell me matches inside a burning building. Whatever it is, I love Aquaman, a messy tidal wave of energy and light that’s straight bounding with a sense of adventure and discovery in every floating frame. I know in a post-Dark Knight age things like earnest cheesiness are a dirty word, but Aquaman wears it proudly on its sleeve; it’s a throwback to a certain type of comic book where nothing was off the table—sea monsters! gladiator fights! an octopus playing the drums!—as long as it was accompanied by several exclamation points and the flashiest gosh dang colors you’d ever seen. And oh, what colors: Wan and his art department army and VFX crew created an Atlantis that pops off the screen not just with shades and tints but with life; if I could hit pause on an IMAX screen and just pick out the individual crustacean people and shark steeds, I would. Aquaman was, and remains, a bit divisive, but if you’re waiting for me to say it wasn’t some of the best fun I’ve had in a theater all year, don’t hold your breath, not even under the sea.
2) Black Panther
It’s hard to quantify the exact effect of Black Panther on pop culture. Because there is the impact of it, not just in box office terms—which, in itself, was massive—but in the idea of the first Marvel movie to be led by a predominantly black cast, in the fact that African American kids are still, ten months after premiere, tearing open T’Challa and Dora Milaje toys and screaming “Wakanda forever” because finally, a set of superheroes are kicking ass but they also look just like them. That, my friends, is undeniably real. But what occasionally, and maybe rightfully, gets lost in the discussion is that as a movie Black Panther just sort of fucking rules. Director Ryan Coogler—who also co-wrote the script with Joe Robert Cole—beautifully paints a Shakespearean tragedy set within the MCU, a wonderful combination of world-building and soul-searching that also includes waterfall brawls and an insane Andy Serkis rocking a bazooka arm. Chadwick Boseman becomes the definition of a leading man here; the most interesting Black Panther stories deal with T’Challa’s uneasiness with the title of king, and that anxiety runs through Boseman’s entire performance. It’s a subtle showing that sometimes goes overlooked next to Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger, the best on-screen Marvel villain by a large margin. Jordan’s powerhouse take on the character, who introduces the idea that Wakanda stood by and watched slavery happen in a Marvel movie, is the solid bedrock that keeps the MCU’s best movie standing. The character’s final line is likely the realest a Marvel entry will ever be: “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage.”
1) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
The number one entry on this ranking is the hardest to describe in words because it’s best to experience it. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an experience. My original instinct walking out of my first screening was to describe it as a “comic book theme park ride on several hallucinogens.” Not much about that has changed. When we talk about comic book movies we often mean movies based on comic books. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a capital-letter Comic Book Movie, a wave of digital ink that immerses you in multi-panel pages, speech bubbles and block-lettered THWIPS bouncing past your head. It’s nothing less than a love letter to comics. An homage to the past and future of comics.
Written by Phil Lord and co-directed by Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, and Rodney Rothman, Spider-Verse is, first and foremost, the story of how Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) adopted the mantle of Spider-Man, and that’s what makes it special. Because Miles is largely un-special, just a kid from Brooklyn who is into graffiti art, spending time with his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), and obscenely catchy songs featuring Post Malone. Through Miles, Spider-Verse hops through several dimensions to arrive at the idea that an average high school New Yorker could save this world and a few others if they just take a leap of faith. Combine this beautiful theme with John Mulaney as a talking cartoon pig, a gender-swapped Doctor Octopus (Kathryn Hahn), Nicolas Cage dramatically performing 1930s slang, freakin’ Spider-Gwen’d out Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), and an alt-universe Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) whose gut barely fits into his Spider-Man suit? Comic book perfection. Point to whoever had the best superhero movie of the year.