The Best Superhero Movies And Shows Of 2017
By Meg Downey on
If the superhero bubble is getting close to bursting, you'd never guess it by looking back at 2017. This year saw the release of too many comic book inspired shows and movies to really count, spanning just about every genre and demographic target you can imagine, from goofy and kid friendly to hyper violent and grim.
Busy as 2017 was for the business, the end of the year presents the perfect opportunity for reflection--and more importantly--for ranking. The competition was fierce, but we've put together a countdown of the 10 best superhero adaptations to hit screens both big and small in the past 12 months.
10. The Gifted
2017 was a banner year for the X-Men franchise, so much so that Fox's The Gifted was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Created by Burn Notice showrunner Matt Nix, The Gifted exists in a vaguely defined time period and dubiously shared universe in relation to the other X-Men and X-Men spin off properties where the X-Men had disappeared and mutants have been all but kicked to the very bottom of the social ladder thanks to public fear and systemic oppression.
From introducing new characters wholesale, like Marcos Diaz (aka Eclipse), a mutant with the ability to generate lasers from his hands and who bleeds molten plasma, to reinventing familiar favorites like Lorna Dane (aka Polaris) and Clarice Ferguson (now Clarice Fong,aka Blink), The Gifted played fast and loose with X-Men history just enough to keep things fresh and exciting. It may not be your ideal X-Men show, depending on where you stand with your comics puritanism, but it certainly gets a good amount of credit for messing with expectations and rules.
9. Crisis on Earth X
DC's television universe on the CW really found its stride this year with its massive four-part crossover event Crisis on Earth-X. The crossover shindig has been an annual tradition for the "Berlantiverse" family of shows--Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, and The Flash--but prior to this year, they've all been relatively phoned in affairs that were fun but either smaller in scale or lacking any real substance.
Crisis on Earth-X, however, pulled out all the stops. When the dopplegangers of heroes like Green Arrow and Supergirl from the Nazi-controlled alternate Earth codenamed "Earth-X" invaded, the entire cast (and then some) of all four main CW shows were called upon to stop them. There were deaths, weddings, and new additions to be found in each episode of the two night, four hour long event, along with no shortage of hilariously over the top superheroic camp. It was fun, funny, and surprisingly emotionally resonant for a cluster of shows that are typically more than happy to exalt in their CW-branded teen drama and angst.
8. The Punisher
The Punisher took its rather controversial baggage--the very timely debate about the appropriateness of a show featuring gun-toting, murderous superhero--in exceedingly self aware stride once it was finally released on Netflix this fall.
An immediate outlier to the streaming arm of the MCU, Punisher took more notes from movies like John Wick than it did from any of its shared universe counterparts--and that definitely wasn't a bad thing. Rather than try and sugar coat Frank Castle's murderous psychosis, the show leaned all the way in, focusing on traumatic violence and its after effects, the plight of veterans with untreated PTSD, and the inability for the system to help those who so desperately need it. It was serious, brutal, and almost relentlessly grim, but it earned the right to be with a well-paced story and an unflinching commitment to its message. The Punisher finally allowed the Netflix MCU to work with a character it didn't have to make excuses for or self consciously dress up in a costume, and the finished product was better for it.
The second entry on this list from the X-Men universe, FX's Legion was the live action adaptation of one of Marvel's most off-kilter mutants: David Haller, aka Legion. The thing about David is that his mutation isn't something that particularly lends itself to putting on a costume and punching bad guys. He's a powerful psychic who's brain happens to be home to to hundreds of alternate personalities, each of whom have a different mutation of their own--at any moment, David's brain can be taken over by one of his divergent personalities and his physical body can manifest their mutation. Oh, and also he's the semi-estranged son of Charles Xavier. Yes, that Charles Xavier.
So of course, Legion the TV show had a lot of potential for failure, just by virtue of how weird it's protagonist really was, but what could have been a coffin nail became the show's greatest asset. Feeling more like a superhero show as envisioned by David Lynch, Legion manifested as an art house leaning, experimental extravaganza, complete with musical numbers and monsters, drifting in and out of any established canon seemingly at will--and it worked. Legion took a gamble and committed to the bit early on, and it paid off with one of the weirdest, wildest comic book shows to date.
6. The Lego Batman Movie
As the ability to trade on grit and violence, or even to justify an R-rating, becomes increasingly important in superhero movies, The Lego Batman Movie dared to take the ball and run the totally opposite direction. Not only wearing, but flaunting its PG rated kid-friendly banner, Lego Batman did what Batman movies haven't been allowed to do since the days of latex nipple suits and ice-puns: it went completely, exorbitantly silly and nakedly earnest.
With a central message about loving your friends and finding your own family, LegoBatman managed to be both heartwarming and hilarious; something that ran a high chance of becoming a complete pop culture catastrophe but wound up lovingly molded into a joyful, hilarious romp through all the very best parts of the Gotham City and its cast of characters. Lego Batman is a Batman movie for every type of fan, no matter their age, and a great reminder of just what makes these superhero movies so worthwhile.
5. Wonder Woman
Diana of Themyscira finally got her due this year with the release of Wonder Woman in June--the first ever modern superhero movie to focus on a female hero, something audiences have been waiting for for over a decade.
There was a lot riding on Diana's shoulders, both in and outside of the movie--as a character with a complicated and often times contradictory comic book past, she lacked the recognition that the other two prongs of DC's trinity, Batman and Superman, and she was picking up no shortage of slack following in the footsteps of a roster of not-so-beloved films like Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad. But despite it all, Diana's first solo outing since the '70s was a major success, spearheading an entirely new brand of optimism and hope for the DCEU that has now become a mission statement for the franchise as it moves forward. Sure, WonderWoman might not have been a magic bullet cure-all for the systemic problems of DC's movies, but it certainly was a massive success and a course correction for the better.
4. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Peter Park's solo debut into the MCU came with an unexpectedly fresh take on the oft-rebooted web slinging hero, finally delivering a Spider-Man story that didn't rely on a retelling of the "with great power, comes great responsibility" origin as its narrative spine. Spider-Man: Homecoming dropped viewers directly into the heart of Peter's story, thanks to some quick introductory work in Captain America: Civil War, which allowed plenty of room for director Jon Watts to play with fan expectation.
Homecoming was a sharp, funny, and well earned entry into the MCU's pantheon of solo outings, taking as many queues from The Breakfast Club as it did the original IronMan. We all know Peter's story by now, but we've never seen him quite like this before.
Somehow, it took the world nearly a decade of superhero fever to actually sit down and make a live action show focusing on one the comic book movie's biggest demographics: teenagers. Runaways, now streaming on Hulu, is the first ever live action adaptation of the offbeat team of the same name, a group of outcast kids from Los Angeles who learn their parents are secretly operating as supervillains. Runaways the comic has had a cult following since its original run in the early 2000s.
The show isn't a completely faithful recreation of those comics, but it proves right away that it doesn't need to be. Rich with all new mysteries, totally new character dynamics, and a smile-and-wink humor about its own campy, comic book roots, Runaways is a show that is aiming to rope in those die-hard fans but still keep them on their toes. It oozes all the style of teen drama hits like Pretty Little Liars and TheOC, it just also happens to include a telepathic dinosaur and a girl who can turn into rainbow light, which might just be a combination of things you never knew you needed.
2. Thor: Ragnarok
If Spider-Man: Homecoming was the MCU dipping its toe into the idea of breaking its tried-and-true formula, Thor: Ragnarok was a full on cannon ball. Director Taika Waititi probably got the rulebook at some point in the making of this film, but it undoubtedly got left on the side of the road somewhere--and somehow, against all odds, neither Marvel nor Disney ever stopped to tell him, or anyone involved in the process "no."
Thor: Ragnarok was a neon drenched, hair metal screeching, over the top action comedy that dripped with the sort of irreverent, deadpan humor Waititi has made his brand, all under the banner of a giant superhero blockbuster. With a heart it happily wore on its sleeve and a blatantly self-aware sensibility about just how absurd the whole concept of Thor as a superhero actually is, Ragnarok lobbed good natured barb after good natured barb both at itself and at the MCU as a whole--and it had an absolute blast doing it. With any luck, the MCU will take some pages out of Ragnarok's book to keep things from getting too stale or too predictable as it transitions to the end of "Phase 3" in 2018--and with a whole "Phase 4" still on the horizon, these movies need as much new energy as it can get.
Logan was everything the rest of the X-Men film franchise never could be: gritty, hyper violent, and endlessly bleak with a hard-earned R rating to match. It also managed to be one of the year's most unique superhero movies, and not just because it was full of F-bombs and bloodshed.
What Logan did right, by both fans and critics, was finally embrace the heart of what makes people like Logan as a character so much--his relentless lone-wolf persona crumbling away under the weight of a love for the family he's inadvertently made for himself. Beneath the comic book camp and history, behind the blue and yellow spandex and goofy hair, Wolverine has managed to instill himself in the pop culture zeitgeist so firmly because he touches that nerve in fans--the one that makes him seem like the coolest dad you never had (and probably never wanted) and the boogie man all at once. With stellar performances by Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Dafne Keen, Logan managed to be one of the year's best, and an appropriate pay off for nearly 20 years of X-Men movies.