Ah, superheroes. That staple of comic books for decades, going through peaks and troughs of movie making for just as long. But just what are the best films featuring superheroes?
Looking at movies that received a theatrical release (i.e. not made for television movies or old Republic serials converted into movies) and that were based on characters that first appeared as comic book characters, it seems the past ten years or so have been the heyday for superhero movies. With especially Marvel characters and DC's Batman getting some very impressive on-screen treatments, this question is a tough one.
One of the better ones has been one of the more recent - The Avengers (2012). Playing off a number of previous Marvel movies, both good and indifferent, it brings the heroes together as a whole in a way that is so over-the-top and glorious, it is hard not to be carried away by it all.
Avengers movie poster
But one of the first of the modern superhero films still holds up as one of the best - Superman (1978). Some great acting and a strong story (even if the time warping thing was a bit silly), this was just a wonderful film, looking even better on the big screen.
Superman movie poster
A sort of anti-hero film is Watchmen (2009). Based on one of the best graphic novels ever written, the changes from the book to the film (especially the ending) are marked, but as a movie it is just another over-the-top celebration of what it really means to be a hero.
Watchmen movie poster
A look at the best superhero films cannot go past The Dark Knight (2008). Heath Ledger's Joker completely overshadows everyone and everything else in the movie, but it is such a great piece of film-making that it stands as a great film, not just a great super-hero film. And it must be said the first of the trilogy (Batman Begins) and the concluding chapter (The Dark Knight Rises) are also not bad films either.
The Dark Knight Rises movie poster
Having said all that, for what it's worth, my son's favourite superhero film comes from 1966:
I have to agree with your number one choice, Steven. The Avengers is a great piece of escapism that avoids taking itself too seriously and yet manages, as you say, to succesfully bring together an incongruous group of would-be heros, each bouncing off the other's strengths (and weaknesses!). The Avengers may be over the top but it's also a lot of fun. And your other choices are pretty accurate too. I didn't expect to agree with your selection so wholeheartedly but there you go, I'm pleasantly suprised!!