Netflix has never offered a ton a blockbuster movies on its streaming service, but lately it always seems to offer at least a handful of great superhero and comic-book movies from both Marvel and DC. All seven of the following movies made our list of The 100 Best Superhero Movies of All Time, even if Batman Forever just squeaked on there at #86.
If you love comic-book superheroes, all seven of these movies are worth your time (especially the top five).
It’s difficult to consider Joel Schumacher’s initial turn at the helm of the Batman franchise absent an awareness of the hideous film that would come after. All the signs are there—cartoonish flair threatening, scenery-chomping actors where Batman villains should be, bat nipples—but if viewed without remembering this would all lead to Batman and Robin, it’s possible to enjoy aspects of the film. Opening mis-en-action, à la Bond movies—here with Batman (Val Kilmer) foiling Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones)—Schumacher’s film establishes off the bat a sense that this is a day in the life for our caped crusader. Unfortunately, once Jim Carrey’s Riddler fully takes the stage, it all dissolves into a mug-off between two of Batman’s more important non-Joker adversaries that’s in no way true to the actual characters. (Though, granted, Ahnold’s turn as Mr. Freeze a few years later was enough to make one long for the subtlety of Carrey’s performance.) Still, ultimately, for anyone who has seen Batman and Robin, it’s difficult not to suppress a shudder when viewing this particular take on the Dark Knight. —Michael Burgin
There’s still healthy debate as to which of the original Tim Burton Batman films is actually superior, but Batman Returns has a case to make as one of the most entertaining takes on the Caped Crusader. Michelle Pfeiffer certainly is responsible for the most fun take on the Catwoman mythos, although that’s certainly not saying much when the alternatives are the disastrous Halle Berry feature or the disappointing mundanity of Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises. But the casting is so strong all around—a wild-eyed Christopher Walken as the bizarre-looking corporate villain, a more comfortable Michael Keaton who has settled into the Batman role and the impeccable Danny DeVito as the real star of the film, the hideously makeup’d Penguin. Oswald Cobblepot is a character of significant pathos and audience empathy here, alternately shrewd and pathetic, which makes for a fascinating villain. Yeah, the movie dives into Bruckheimer-esque absurdity during the portion when it’s revolving around penguin soldiers with missiles strapped to their backs, but you can’t argue that doesn’t jibe with the tone of classic Batman comics of the ’60s and ’70s. —Jim Vorel
When the folks at Marvel Studios truly realized, likely via The Avengers in 2012, that these films were comedies just as much as they were action-adventure stories, it crystallized the format in ways both positive and somewhat limiting. The result is that one can never quite take seriously claims that a new film is going to “break the mold” of the MCU, but at the same time it’s hardly something to complain about, when that mold is fundamentally solid and entertaining. To that end, Doctor Strange is crowd-pleasing and exciting—funny when it should be, sober when it has to be and crackling with a magical mystique that adds a veiled layer of depth to the inner workings of the Marvel universe. Even without too many overt references to the rest of the MCU, everything in Doctor Strange makes one wonder how the revelation of the Marvel Multiverse will affect the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and others. (See full review.) —Jim Vorel
With each passing year, it becomes harder to remember that for decades, the popular perception of Batman was not that of the brooding, grim vigilante. Before Tim Burton’s Batman, it was that of the super-campy TV series (and 1966 movie) Batman, colorfully portrayed by Adam West. Though hyped to unholy hell ahead of release, Burton’s version of the character and world restored a great deal of respectability to not only the Caped Crusader, but to comic books in film. Applying the Burton house style of German Expressionism-inspired visuals, Gotham City was again rebuilt as the Great Depression-era New York-at-midnight it was originally conceived as. And Michael Keaton’s astonishing sharp-left turn from being perceived as only a comedic actor to that of the split personality Billionaire Playboy/World’s Greatest Detective, created what may have created the film’s biggest critical shockwaves. With Jack Nicholson applying the full second half of The Shining mode as the Joker, the full package amounted to one entertaining-as-hell summer movie. (Enough so to forgive a archvillain’s needlessly changed origin story.) As both the genre and the Batman mythos itself have received more and more sophisticated treatment, it’s harder and harder to view Burton’s film a Batman film, and easier to see it as as pure Burton. Still, in 1989, it was an initial glimmer of things to come. —Scott Wold
Batman Begins is a classic case of a superhero movie arriving at exactly the right time and place. It had been eight years since Batman & Robin, almost an unfathomable stretch of time by today’s franchise standards, but you can consider that to be a mourning and healing period. Rejecting the gaudy, cartoonish excesses of the ’90s Schumacher movies, and in a time before audiences had come to reflexively roll their eyes at the idea of a “dark and gritty reboot,” Begins was simply, exactly what the character of Batman needed in that moment. Hewing more closely to its comic source material, it gave us what will likely be the definitive portrait of Bruce Wayne’s training to become the Batman, a la the influential comic Year One, and it made the wise decision of making the film’s true villain one of Batman’s greatest but least-utilized rogues, Ra’s al Ghul. It’s a film that codifies what makes Batman, Batman—a psychological warrior unafraid of brutality but unwilling to go all the way to judgement and execution (see also: Dredd). It helps that it launched an impeccably cast trilogy of Nolan films as well, featuring iconic turns by Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson and of course Christian Bale as probably the best take on “millionaire playboy asshole” Bruce Wayne. With all that, you can overlook a little Katie Holmes in this one. —Jim Vorel
The Russo brothers’ second film in the Captain America trilogy, and their last before tackling the upcoming two-part Avengers: Infinity War films, Civil War maintains the same balance of action and significant (if brief) character development/interaction that made Winter Soldier so enjoyable. The fight and chase scenes are frenetic without being confusing, while the comic relief, mostly supplied by our bug-themed heroes, provides a Whedon-flavored lightening of the otherwise dark proceedings. Even more impressive, the film introduces two additional MCU Phase Three stars—one brand new to filmgoers and the other oh-so familiar—and both generate a real sense of “Man, I can’t wait to see his solo film!” All this is achieved without once veering too far from the core plot of the film.
If one thinks of the each MCU film as a juggling act—and each hero’s origin, “flavor” and power set as its own subset of items that must be kept in motion and in proper relation with each other—then as a series both Avengers films and Captain America: Civil War can be seen as an escalation of the routine that’s as impressive as it is necessary. After all, with each additional hero added, with each additional demand placed on the script in both action and dialogue, Kevin Feige and company are building toward Infinity. (See full review.) —Michael Burgin
To a large extent, GotG Vol. 2 follows the playbook from the first film, though now, with the entire cast familiar faces to the audience, Gunn skips introductions and goes right to the funny. In this case, that means an opening credits sequence featuring the entire team and what amounts to a highlight reel of character traits meant to amuse: rapid banter from Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), humorous ’roid-rage from Drax (Dave Bautista), quiet bad-assitude from Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and an extended cute-Groot frolic. During this sequence and throughout the movie, the comic elements of this particular space opera feel as if they have been ratcheted up. But though he doesn’t seem to want the audience to have too much time between laughs, Gunn also seems determined to match the increased comic volume with more heart. Daddy issues, sibling rivalry, friendship struggles and questions of what makes a family, all themes present in the first film, are even more evident in the sequel. That’s not to say they are subtly or deeply explored—this is space opera, after all—but they give the proceedings a bit more oomph than if it were all quips and pratfalls. By the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the audience is unlikely to feel they’ve seen anything that different from Vol. 1, but it’s clear that Gunn and company knew exactly what qualities made the first film so enjoyable, and what they needed to do to make sure this particular sequel was worth the wait. (See full review.) —Michael Burgin