Superheroes can bring a lot of joy to our lives -- and a lot of misery. From great films to bad ones, comedies to tragedies, or just films so bad they’re tragically comic, superheroes delivered some of the most memorable media we’ve ever had in 2017 alone. Wonder Woman smashed records while Inhumans seemed to crash and burn. Batfleck struggled in Justice League while The LEGO Batman Movie soared. But who really made us smile a little brighter, and who left us cringing in our theater seats?
As audiences get more discerning, and more vocal, comics and films are offering more diverse and exciting options than ever before. In a year as wild as 2017, we needed plenty of heroes to look up to. Marvel, DC, and even smaller publishers like Lion Forge delivered new works with our role models in spades. They’re taking more risks, but not every choice was a good one. Despite their best efforts, not all of their offerings delivered the hope and optimism we’d been hoping to see. Who could have used a few more reshoots? From mustaches to military contractors, Themyscira to the Batcave, here’s how superheroes made the world a little worse, and a lot better, in 2017.
16 BETTER: WONDER WOMAN
Wonder Woman was a bright spot in a sea of excellent superhero offerings this year. Gal Gadot delivered a stellar performance as Princess Diana, playing everyone’s favorite Amazonian with warmth, charm, and strength. After years of Marvel hemming and hawing about delivering a solo film for any number of the women in its heroic ranks, DC threw down the gauntlet with an action-packed tear-jerker of an origin story that went on to smash box office records. Its $821.74 million box office take even made it the highest grossing superhero origin story of all time.
Wonder Woman inspired countless fans who have been clamoring for a more diverse array of heroes in solo outings on the big screen and gave fans who had been disappointed in Batman vs. Superman a glimmer of hope for Justice League.
15 WORSE: JUSTICE LEAGUE
Despite breakout performances from newcomers to the league, one of the lowest-grossing superhero films for Warner Bros. and DC since Batman Begins. In the wake of its disappointing box office delivery, rumors are swirling that Ben Affleck may be out as Batman and the DCEU may be rebooted all together.
Joss Whedon’s last minute pinch hit directorial input are keenly felt throughout the film, and give it an inconsistent tone that feels more like the blooper reel from Avengers: Age of Ultron than a follow up to Zack Snyder’s previous instalments. Justice League seemed to squander all the good will DC and Warner Brothers built up after Wonder Woman. CW may have launched a successful shared universe to rival Marvel on the small screen, but chances for Warner Bros. may be running out.
14 BETTER: THE FLASH
Make no mistake, there were some high points in the roller coaster ride of Justice League! Ezra Miller’s performance as a high-strung squatter version of Barry Allen gave Justice League a fresh and youthful boost. Miller’s easy chemistry with the rest of the league, particularly with fellow break-out star Ray Fisher as Cyborg, helped tie together Diana and Bruce with the rest of the team’s newcomers.
Despite his difficult history, Barry Allen is at his best a devoted, loving friend and perpetual optimist, and Miller captured that perfectly. Barry didn’t necessarily need a gritty reboot, but despite the DCEU delivering “Barry Allen, homeless genius” on top of “Barry Allen, his dad’s in jail for murdering his mother,” Miller captured the optimism and hopefulness of the Flash perfectly. His fist-bump with Cyborg in the final moments of the film was one of its most satisfying.
13 WORSE: INHUMANS
Inhumans turned into an unmitigated disaster for Marvel. The IMAX showings of the series’ first two episodes garnered a measly $2.6 million debut worldwide in its opening weekend, and ratings have tanked since it finally debuted on ABC. With visually distinctive characters like Medusa and Black Bolt, Inhumans had a lot to offer a cinematic universe scrambling for an analog to mutants.
Instead, Inhumans decided to shave off Medusa’s iconic prehensile hair and center the story on Maximus’ quest to overthrow the Attilan royal family… to achieve equality in a powerless slave caste. Maximus the Mad is a devious manipulator who doesn’t deserve much sympathy, but this might not have been the best way to kick off a series starring characters unfamiliar to casual fans.
12 BETTER: THOR
Do you remember anything about Thor: The Dark World? We sure don’t, but we'll never forget Thor: Ragnarok. The real hero here might be Taika Waititi. His debut foray into the Marvel world turned into one of the surprise hits of the Marvel universe. Thor went from filler between Avengers movies to a hero capable of holding his own against strong solo entries like Iron Man 3 and Captain America: Winter Soldier.
If we’re not getting another Hulk solo any time soon, Thor: Ragnarok was a nice way to tie in the “Planet Hulk” storyline with an Asgardian twist. Chris Hemsworth was clearly having a blast during filming, too, and his good nature and comedic timing help make Thor: Ragnarok one of the best Marvel movies in recent memory.
11 WORSE: DOCTOR STRANGE
Sure, his film officially came out in 2016, but its ramifications were felt well into 2017, thanks also to his cameo in marvel's biggest movie that year. A wealthy, aloof wunderkind does incredible work but makes almost everyone hate him... until a life-changing accident forces him to change his ways! This movie was more compelling as Iron Man. While Doctor Strange did deliver some incredible visuals, did we really need a two hour introduction to “Tony Stark with magic” just to get to Benedict Cumberbatch’s way more entertaining cameo appearances in Thor: Ragnarok?
The Sorcerer Supreme is a great Marvel character with a lot of potential, but Doctor Strange seems destined to fill the role Thor finally launched himself out of with Thor: Ragnarok: a fun character better in small doses in other, bigger movies. Doctor Strange didn’t deliver a compelling enough final product to make up for the rocky road it faced during its casting process.
10 BETTER: BLACK PANTHER
It’s not all bad for Marvel this year. The company did finally deliver a trailer for Black Panther that immediately made it one of the most anticipated movies of 2018; a trailer so good it made 2017 better in just two minutes. Black Panther is something a little different for the MCU, a royal family drama that focuses on the strength of family ties rather than in-fighting between siblings.
Chadwick Boseman proved in Captain America: Civil War that he had the chops to play the distinguished, beleaguered King T’challa, and Michael B. Jordan may finally have found a super role to suit him in the villainous Erik Killmonger. Black Panther may have only delivered a few minutes of footage in 2017, but it gave us something big to look forward to in the year ahead.
9 WORSE: WOLVERINE
Logan is a beautiful, moving, absolutely heart-breaking movie. The seemingly final appearance of the Wolverine in a Fox film -- at least as played by Hugh Jackman -- is a high point of X-Men focused cinema from the last few years. It gets a minor "worse" here just for being so heart-breaking, but it’s really here because the death of Old Movie Logan serves as a reminder of just how confusing things are for Wolverine in print.
After dying a very final death in 2014, 2017 found us with not one, but two Wolverines. Wednesday Warriors still may be turning up to snatch up every issue he’s in, but how are newcomers supposed to make the leap from film to page with storylines this convoluted?
8 BETTER: NOBLE
Lion Forge launched its Catalyst Prime superhero line to offer a streamlined alternative to the bloat of larger publishers’ convoluted character histories this year, and it kicked off with a bang in Noble #1. Noble follows astronaut David Powell, a man with no memory of how he acquired impressive telekinetic powers, and his wife Astrid Allen-Powell as she attempts to find out what happened to her husband.
Writer Brandon Thomas and artists Roger Robinson and Juan Fernandez delivered a compelling, fresh take on the superhero genre that offered plenty for new and old capes comics fans alike to enjoy. While DC and Marvel continue to pile on reboot after reboot, Noble is an easy jumping-on point for anyone who needs a break from complicated new launches.
7 WORSE: CAPTAIN AMERICA
Nick Spencer’s Secret Empire was plagued by controversy from the moment fans found out Steve Rogers was an agent of Hydra. Spencer initially claimed the turn wasn’t just a shock-value swerve, but then-Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso revealed it was in fact the result of memory tampering with the Cosmic Cube. Steve Rogers spent months as the head of a fascist American government and blew up Las Vegas, and all for what?
At the end of it all, the “real” Steve Rogers showed up, punched himself, and now Captain America is back to normal. Does that kind of reveal immediately wipe away the months of profoundly awful actions now associated with the name Steve Rogers? If Marvel wants to explore the potential of a Hydra-brainwashed Captain America, maybe a stand-alone graphic novel would have been a better venue.
6 BETTER: SPIDER-MAN
On a lighter note, Spider-Man: Homecoming finally delivered a definitive version of the titular webslinger for the MCU. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker was finally the awkward, high school outcast we’ve been waiting for, and he looked like a real high schooler for once, to boot. Spider-Man: Homecoming was a late addition to the MCU after Marvel reached a deal with Sony Pictures, but the film didn’t feel like filler.
After two stalled-out Spider-Man reboots, Homecoming was precisely what the character, and Marvel, needed to integrate him into the broader cinematic universe in a way that made sense. As an added bonus, 2017 even brought us the first trailer for the animated Miles Morales film Into the Spider-Verse. Peter Parker looks like he’s in for a rough ride in Infinity War, but maybe Miles will have better luck.
5 WORSE: IRON FIST
The first set photos of Finn Jones as Danny Rand in Iron Fist set a low bar for the show and the Netflix series didn’t really do much to leap over it. Danny Rand’s origin story is extremely dated as is, and with no real effort made to modernize it for the series, Iron Fist would have needed at least some incredible production to overcome its ingrained handicaps. Unfortunately, the show turned out to be slow and plodding.
Finn Jones was no match for the natural charm of Mike Colter, the palpable emotion of Charlie Cox, or the charisma of Krysten Ritter. Instead, Iron Fist wound up feeling like the Thor (or maybe Doctor Strange) of the Netflix series, tacked on just to fill time until Defenders finally rolled around.
4 BETTER: RUNAWAYS
Fans of Runaways have been clamoring for a live-action adaptation for years, and Marvel finally delivered with its Hulu-exclusive series. Set in the MCU but not obligated to make the adventures of the east coast Avengers central to the plot of the L.A.-based series, Runaways has the freedom to focus on the teens themselves without having to shoehorn in references to storylines or characters that have minimal impact on the goings-on of the villainous Pride.
The casting is spot-on, particularly Lyrica Okano as Nico Minoru, and the adaptation holds true to the spirit of the comic with some differences to keep it fresh for returning fans. Paired with Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka’s new sequel series, the Runaways closed out 2017 with a bang.
3 WORSE: N.G.E.N.
In the span of a day, Marvel announced and cancelled an event for its partnership with Northrop Grumman, the world’s fifth largest defense contractor. Marvel planned to announce a comic featuring the Northrop Grumman Elite Nexus, known as N.G.E.N, at 2017’s New York Comic Con. The backlash was swift and merciless.
Many furious comic book fans vocally protested the idea of Marvel launching such a public, positive team-up with a munitions dealer. It was definitely an odd choice given the tenor of movies like Iron Man. While Marvel claimed the partnership was intended to show “aerospace technology and exploration” in a positive way, it’s not clear why a defense contractor was the first choice. Marvel quickly scuttled the event and cancelled the partnership, sweeping it under the rug as quickly as possible.
2 BETTER: LEGO ROBIN
The LEGO Batman Movie was a delight from start to finish, but LEGO Robin, voiced by Michael Cera, really took the cake. His comical naïveté and boyish charm were the perfect counterpoints to Will Arnett’s growling caped crusader. Cera’s Dick Grayson had all the goofy camp of the ‘60s version played by Burt Ward and updated it for a new generation of Batman fans. He was heartwarming without being over-the-top weird, particularly paired with his wide-eyed character design.
Seeing young Robin manage to change Bruce Wayne (and Batman) from an aloof and unwitting foster parent to an enthusiastic, if inexperienced, father figure (or papa, or padre, depending on who you’re asking). To see a film, even a LEGO film, center Bruce’s transformation from lone wolf to unconventional family man is refreshing in the wake of some of the recent decade’s more solitary takes on the character.
1 WORSE: SUPERMAN
Last but not least for superheroes who made 2017 worse, we have Superman, or more specifically, Superman’s unsettling CGI face in Justice League. Once you see it, it can’t be unseen. Henry Cavill’s carefully reconstructed clean-shaven face is intensely distracting in each close-up scene. The need to reshoot, and the awkward CGI results, encapsulate DC and Warner Bros. problems with Justice League.
Superman’s scruff-free visage plagues the movie’s final act, and while it certainly isn’t the film’s biggest flaw, it’s easily one of the most widely-mocked. It’s a shame the climactic moment of the film revolves around several long shots of Henry Cavill’s intense remastered visage, particularly when one scene is quite an impressive one opposite Amy Adams’ Lois Lane. There’s no escaping this unfortunate accident, but much like 2017, at least we can be glad it’s over.