The 2000s were an exciting time for superhero movies. The decade started off with X-Men and Spider-Man, two films that reinvigorated the superhero genre, each successfully taking a different approach to the source material. If you revisit these now, it is easy to see why they were so influential and had the ability to launch their respective franchises. As the genre became a box office favorite, studios started to pump out many superhero movies over the decade. Most of them adapted popular comic book characters, but some ambitious studios released original superhero stories, written specifically for the big screen. Pixar did this with The Incredibles and Columbia Pictures used Will Smith as their titular hero in the movie Hancock.
Looking back on all of these movies the question is, which ones have aged well and which ones haven’t? There are many factors to consider when contemplating how a movie has aged. The visual effects can play a huge part in the perception of the movie and can either be a distraction or an asset to the plot. Another factor is the movie’s relevance and with the direction the industry has gone, some of these movies do not fit well with their successors. The movie’s relevance can also be linked to the cultural atmosphere at the time, as the world was not ready for a few of the movies on the list when they were originally released, so when we look at them now, they have gotten better over the years. Let’s get right to it and examine 10 superhero films from the 2000s that aged well and 10 that didn’t.
20 AGED WELL: BATMAN BEGINS (2005)
Christopher Nolan’s first Batman film was critically praised for its realistic approach to the world. It also resonated with fans, who were desperately trying to forget the days of George Clooney and that costume. While other Batman movies centered around eccentric villains, Batman Begins explored who Bruce really is.
Bruce blames the city of Gotham for his parents’ tragic end, but instead of delivering vengeance he strives to bring hope. He wants to clean Gotham up from the dark inside, until it doesn’t need him anymore. To do this he turns to fear, the city's number one currency, against criminals. This movie has only improved since 2005, standing as the best (and arguably the only) Batman film with a fully explored Bruce Wayne narrative.
19 GOT WORSE: CATWOMAN (2004)
In 1993 after Batman Returns, development on a Catwoman movie began with Michelle Pfeiffer lined up to reprise the role. The film was stuck in development hell for years, but eventually got some traction and Halle Berry was cast. Unfortunately, the movie is complete nonsense; it gives Catwoman no characterization and is essentially a 104-minute exhibition of absurdity.
Unfortunately, it does not get better with age. All the problems it had in 2004 are now amplified as more people are educated on the feminist theory of male gaze, which is designed to examine the reason for gender inequality over the years.
18 AGED WELL: THE INCREDIBLES (2004)
Before 20th Century Fox brought Fantastic Four to the big screen, Brad Bird and the Pixar Animation Studio perfected the superhero family movie with The Incredibles. The movie is funny, heartwarming and exciting, boasting some of the best action sequences of the decade.
The family dynamic in The Incredibles is… incredible! Bird made each character a unique individual, which made the film relatable to both kids and parents. The adults have real conversations and the kids feel like actual people, not overacting versions of kids. As the decade went on it became clear The Incredibles was the definitive superhero family movie, which is still true today. If you want to track the movie’s relevance just look at the box office numbers for its sequel.
17 GOT WORSE: HANCOCK (2008)
Hancock is an original superhero story starring Will Smith, Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman. It centers around a superpowered immortal vagabond named Hancock, who often has heroic intentions that are overshadowed by his carelessness. Hancock employs Bateman’s character to help with his public image in hopes that one day he will be viewed as a hero. This movie sounds good, so what went wrong?
Hancock finds out that he isn’t alone in the world, Theron’s character reveals to him that they are the last of their kind. This interesting thread, which should be the crux of the movie, is diminished by lame twists, like their proximity to each other decreasing their power. Much like a hangover, Hancock will leave you with a headache and a sore stomach.
16 AGED WELL: BLADE II (2002)
The special effects of Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II have allowed it to age well. It shouldn’t be a surprise, as Del Toro films are known for their exceptional costumes and practical effects. The movie works well as a popcorn comic book film, packed with action scenes that stay true to its twisted tone.
Blade may be the titular character of this movie, but the true stars are the “Reapers”, a mutation of vampires that don’t share all the weaknesses regular vampires have. We will never forget the first time that a Reaper opened his chin down the middle and grabbed ahold of its prey. This movie still gives us chills, which is a testament to how well it holds up today.
15 GOT WORSE: THE SPIRIT (2008)
After co-directing the 2005 success Sin City, Frank Miller decided he would try tackling a comic book film on his own. In 2008, he wrote and directed The Spirit, based on the character created by the great Will Eisner. The movie displayed a similar look and tone to Sin City, but was a huge box office bomb.
At the time, the movie was visually striking and it came as somewhat of a shock that people were not lining up to hand over their money. However, the characters of this movie are about as deep as a puddle, lacking any semblance of human emotion. The novelty of the stylized shots in this film wears off quickly.
14 AGED WELL: UNBREAKABLE (2000)
Oscar nominated director M. Night Shyamalan followed up his smash hit The Sixth Sense with a highly anticipated superhero origin film. However, the movie was not the monster box office success the studio had expected. The director’s sombre approach in both look and story left audiences feeling dispassionate, resulting in many neutral opinions. Perhaps the world was not ready for Unbreakable.
Shyamalan’s directorial talent is on full display in this movie. He impressively frames the scenes to look like a comic book, while telling a realistic origin story. With the hidden sequel Split being such a huge success and Glass set to come out in 2019, many people who are revisiting Unbreakable will be pleasantly surprised.
13 GOT WORSE: PUSH (2009)
After Chris Evans was Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four, but before he was Captain America, he was a superhero alongside Dakota Fanning in the movie Push. The movie exists in its own superhero universe, where a number of people have psychic powers. It defines the nine types of psychic abilities in the world and references characters by their respective categories. The three main powers are Watchers, Movers and Pushers. The Watchers can see the future, the Movers have telekinesis and the Pushers can put thoughts into someone’s mind.
On paper, the movie sounds really interesting. Unfortunately, it has a convoluted plot that is near impossible to piece together. Nowadays flashy visuals are not enough to carry a movie, it must have substance as well.
12 AGED WELL: HULK (2003)
A year after Spider-Man took the world by storm, the viewing public, now with superhero movie expectations, rushed to the theater to see Ang Lee’s Hulk on opening day. Unfortunately, the movie was criticized for its fake-looking Hulk and lack of “smashing”.
This movie is far from the Marvel films we get today, but we think it is an excellent deconstruction of the Hulk. It zeroes in on the real issue Bruce Banner faces with the monster inside of him. It also explores themes of dysfunctional father-son relationships and the repercussions that follow. It is especially relevant today as Universal Studios is rebooting their classic monster movies. When it comes time for The Wolfman, they should look to Hulk for inspiration.
11 GOT WORSE: THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)
Let’s start by pointing out the obvious reason this movie got worse overtime; in all subsequent Marvel Cinematic Universe films Bruce Banner is played by Mark Ruffalo, not Edward Norton who plays him in this movie.
The Incredible Hulk was the second film to be a part of the MCU and at the time it was not regarded as measuring up to Iron Man, but it was certainly seen as an adequate entry in the universe. However, the movie doesn’t explore the repressed monster like Ang Lee’s film does, leaving it with little reason to be revisited. With each movie the MCU releases The Incredible Hulk is even further forgotten.
10 AGED WELL: HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008)
While the first instalment in the Hellboy franchise had a dark and gritty tone, similar to the comic, the sequel dove deeper into the fantasy world. The magic that the comic possess is the ability to tell a dark fantasy tale through incredibly likeable characters. Director Guillermo del Toro hit all these points hard in Hellboy II: The Golden Army. He made the characters more charismatic and the visuals more imaginative than the first film.
Again, another Del Toro film has aged well because of the incredible looking practical effects. Before the new Hellboy movie comes out in 2019, you should give the 2008 sequel a rewatch.
9 GOT WORSE: GHOST RIDER (2007)
Whether you liked Ghost Rider in 2007 or not, one thing is certain: the movie did not age well. We love Nicolas Cage as much as the next movie fan, but he does not work as Johnny Blaze in this film. There is nothing about the character on-screen that is likeable, which is a major problem in a superhero story.
There is also an issue with the CGI of Ghost Rider in this film. As time goes on, it continues to look worse. The character has a flaming skull for a head, which should be quite scary, but the CGI makes it look cartoony instead. This movie never comes together and has only declined over the years.
8 AGED WELL: X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003)
After the success of X-Men in 2000, the question wasn’t “will there be a sequel?” the question was “will the sequel be any good?”. Not only is the sequel better than the original, it still holds up today as one of the best instalments in the franchise.
Inspired by the original graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills, the story continues to stress the divide between the mutant race and humans. The movie seamlessly teams up the villains from the first movie with the heroes to defeat a greater evil. This is done so well, we never even stop to question the likelihood of the incompatible team working. X2: X-Men United is a fantastic film and still sits as one of the best superhero films ever.
7 GOT WORSE: X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006)
Following up the box office and critical success of X2, the franchise released its third instalment. The movie is so concerned with throwing in as many character cameos as possible, it fails to hit the emotional beats of the first two movies.
The movie is held in low regard, so much so that when X-Men: Days of Future Past effectively started a new timestream that greatly diminished the emotional outcome of this film, fans were not upset, they were pleased. With 11 movies in this franchise with two more being released next year, there is no reason to revisit this one.
6 AGED WELL: IRON MAN (2008)
The first movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still one of the best. Iron Man set the stage for all of the following Marvel movies, establishing that these films would be intelligent and fun, just like the source material.
One of the biggest criticisms across many of the Marvel movies is the lack of compelling villains. A number of the films in this universe simply present the villains as one dimensional characters with little cause for their destructive nature. This is a reason why Iron Man has aged so well; its villain Obadiah Stane is one of the MCU’s best. If you are looking to revisit some MCU films before the next Avengers movie, give Iron Man another watch.
5 GOT WORSE: ELEKTRA (2005)
Elektra is not a good movie -- it wasn’t good in 2005 and it isn’t good now. What makes it even worse in 2018 is the incredible portrayal of Elektra by Elodie Yung in the Netflix Daredevil show and Jennifer Garner’s proof that she can carry an action flick like she did in Peppermint, making us look back on Elektra and think of what could have been.
There is no question Garner could have carried the movie. We also know Elektra can be a compelling character, as Yung has shown us on Daredevil. What we are lacking is a better script with a focused plot. We wouldn’t be surprised if Garner makes her return to Marvel after her outstanding performance in Peppermint.
4 AGED WELL: SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004)
Sam Raimi made some ambitious choices in the 2004 follow-up to the box office behemoth Spider-Man. He chose the villain of the movie to be Doctor Octopus and gave him the signature four mechanical tentacles we are used to seeing in the comic. The visuals should be outdated by now, just look at The Matrix Reloaded from one year earlier. However, due to Raimi’s combination of practical and computer effects, the tentacles look incredible and truly do hold up today.
The movie also posits that the tentacles are slowly driving the doctor mad as they deviously take over his mind, making the villain a compelling sympathetic character. Combine that with Peter Parker’s arc and we really do get a great comic book film.
3 GOT WORSE: SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007)
Spider-Man 3 suffers from the classic movie downfall of trying to shove too many villains into a two-hour movie. The movie has three villains and it makes a mistake with all of them. First it neutralizes the Green Goblin, then it retcons Sandman as the guy who shot Ben Parker and finally it wastes Spider-Man’s greatest foe Venom with limited screen time.
This movie ended the franchise, which was cruising until this time. Watching it back now is disheartening as it starts out so well with the Green Goblin sequence, but by the time Tobey Maguire is singing at a Jazz club we wonder what this movie is trying to be.
2 AGED WELL: THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
The Dark Knight proved to film studios that a superhero movie can be taken seriously as a piece of art. There were a lot of people who felt the movie deserved a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars and in response the Academy expanded the category the following year to include more films.
Obviously The Dark Knight was in high regard in 2008, but looking back on the film with 2018 eyes, it is even better. The movie set the tone for the Worlds of DC films and although it is not part of the shared universe, it is clearly a heavy influence. Think of how much better that universe of films would be if this was the official introduction.
1 GOT WORSE: X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine was such a disappointment that there have been two movies to attempt to erase its timeline. First was X-Men: Days of Future Past, where a time traveling storyline retconned the events of this movie. The second attempt at erasing the timeline was recently in Deadpool 2 which had a mid-credit scene that showed Ryan Reynolds using time travel to end his highly criticized X-Men Origins: Wolverine depiction of Deadpool.
With every passing X-Men film this movie becomes more and more irrelevant. The CGI effects are outdated, Wolverine’s claws look goofy and although Hugh Jackman does his best with the role, he has many other X-Men films far better than this. Only the people who really love this movie are rewatching these days.