Why it's in last place: For DC, 2017 truly represented the best of times (the unexpected and wild success of Wonder Woman) and the worst of times (their most recent release, Justice League). Gal Gadot's ever-grounded Wonder Woman and Ezra Miller's eccentrically charming Flash are welcome highlights, but their performances can't rescue the tired mishmash of superhero tropes that Justice League tries to force-mold into a narrative.
Justice League manages to accentuate every strength Marvel's Avengers have that the Justice League is currently without: chemistry, tonal continuity, and heart. Not even two-time Avengers director Joss Whedon, who stepped in after director Zack Snyder suffered a family tragedy, could salvage the film in reshoots (though Whedon's creative influence is still evident).
It didn't help that the film was also the center of some production controversy, most notably the infamous redesign of the Amazons' costumes established in Wonder Woman and Henry Cavill's much-memed mustache removal CGI job. But even if Paramount had let Cavill shave the 'stache, it wouldn't have saved Justice League.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Why it's in second-to-last place: The first 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy was such a breath of fresh air in the cinematic superhero landscape and proved that weird can work — and might even be the best combatant against superhero fatigue. Its critical and box office success arguably set a new overall tonal standard for Marvel.
It's no surprise that, while returning writer and director James Gunn miraculously ups the stakes with an even funnier and weirder sequel script — including a hilarious Pac-Man visual, adorable physical comedy from Baby Groot, and perhaps the greatest joke in 2017 cinema (“I'm Mary Poppins, y'all!”) — you can't really break the same ground twice.
So much of what made the original Guardians a standout has since become an integral part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The cast is still amazing — Pom Klementieff turns in one of the most delightful performances of the year as Mantis — but Chris Pratt is no longer the exciting breakout star he was in 2014. Now, post Jurassic World and Passengers, he's a bona fide movie star. His charming everyman hero schtick is still reliable, just not as fresh.
In the face of new superhero properties and new superhero stars (Wonder Woman's Gal Gadot and Spider-Man: Homecoming's Tom Holland, for example), Guardians gets a bit lost in the mix. Gunn's fantastic second pass at Guardians ends up falling prey to the very symptom the original so excellently squashed: superhero fatigue.
Why it's in fourth place: There have been six Spider-Man movie adaptations and three separate Peter Parkers within the last 15 years. What could possibly make Spider-Man: Homecoming, the sixth and most recent in the series, stand out against that level of superhero saturation? Unlike past adaptations, Homecoming plays more like a teen comedy than a superhero saga, and it's just refreshing.
Much like Tobey Maguire's 2002 Peter Parker, and totally unlike Andrew Garfield's 2012 Parker, Tom Holland's Parker is deeply uncool (and finally looks like a high schooler — Holland's only 21 years old). No secret superpower can save him from being called “Penis Parker,” make it easier to talk to his crush (Laura Harrier), or lighten the workload of high school academia and extracurriculars. If anything, Holland's Parker could do without the added pressure of saving New York from Michael Keaton's sinisterly charming Vulture.
Homecoming is at its best when director Jon Watts leans into the awkwardness of adolescence, due in large part to the strong supporting cast. The film utilizes its ensemble more then past Spider-Man iterations, including breakout performances from Jacob Batalon as Ned, Parker's equally uncool best friend, and Zendaya as Michelle, Peter's sharp-tongued and socially conscious frenemy on the debate team. Hopefully we'll see even more of them in the sequel.
Why it's in third place: Hugh Jackman's swan song as Wolverine, the character he's played for 17 years, is finally the standalone film the character deserves. First introduced in 2000's X-Men, Jackman's Wolverine has since starred in two character origin films — 2009's disappointing X-Men Origins: Wolverine and 2013's much-improved The Wolverine (also directed by Logan director and writer James Mangold) — but Logan finally, and completely, humanizes the hero.
As his superpowers wane in the year 2029, fate finds Logan's previous role as badass X-Man giving way to the more decidedly human roles of caretaker (to Patrick Stewart's aging Professor X) and mentor (to his biological daughter and similarly gifted mutant, Laura, played by the ferociously talented Dafne Keen).
Mangold leans into the gruesomeness of Logan's physically grounded powers, and because Logan can no longer instantly heal, the audience is forced to square with the bloody nature of superheroism that's often glazed over. It's not an easy movie to watch (the final scene will stay with you long after the credits roll), but it's the heartbreaking and memorable end both Logan and Jackman deserve.
Why it's in second place: For all his Asgardian charm and flowing golden locks, Chris Hemsworth's Thor has been consistently outshone by his trickster brother, Tom Hiddleston's Loki. In both 2011's Thor and 2013's Thor: The Dark World, Thor was stoically concerned with Doing The Right Thing while Loki was getting the good one-liners and hoarding all the fun. And that's what Thor: Ragnarok, the third charm in the God of Thunder's solo film series, finally gets right: It lets Thor have fun.
Director Taiki Waititi stops emphasizing Hemsworth's dreaminess (he even chops off those golden locks), and instead showcases the impressive comedic chops we saw from the actor in 2016's Ghostbusters. From the first scene, Ragnarok sets the stage for equal parts farce and fantasy.
Fans still get plenty of Hiddleston as Loki, but Waititi also gives us a stronger and more varied group for Hemsworth to play against. He reunites Thor with fellow Avenger The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and gifts us Jeff Goldblum basically playing himself as the Grandmaster. But most importantly, we get to meet Tessa Thompson's drunken, steely Valkyrie (who deserves an origin film of her own), and watch Cate Blanchett have the time of her life as Hela, Goddess of Death, the MCU's first major female villain.
Why it's in first place: From a purely monetary standpoint, Wonder Woman set a new standard for superheroes. Since its May 2017 release, the first major solo female superhero movie in over 10 years has become the most successful live-action movie directed by a woman (director Patty Jenkins) and the highest-grossing superhero origin film in history. Its opening weekend won Jenkins the best domestic box office debut ever for a female director ($103.3M), and its second weekend in theaters only showed a 43.2% drop in box office sales (compared to the usual 59%–60% drop-off).
So what made Princess Diana of Themyscira (played by the incredible Gal Gadot) so captivating to audiences? Her bevy of strong female role models? Her unselfconscious belief in love? The way she can casually accessorize her party dress with a sword? Absolutely, all of that.
But what truly seems to set Wonder Woman apart is her earnestness. With so much superhero fare on the market, self-aware snark and meta audience nudge-nudging have slowly begun to waterlog the lexicon. It's as if creators can feel the audience's fatigue. But Allan Heinberg keeps the Wonder Woman script focused on Diana's origins as an otherworldly hero who's chosen, and entirely dedicated to, her fate. She's a fighter, first and foremost. Diana's not in the business of deflective quips and one-liners; she's in the business of marching the hell across No Man's Land and saving that village.
Wonder Woman is still a funny, light film, balanced with naturally comedic moments — Diana discovers ice cream, loses her shit when she sees a baby, and wonders how women do battle in such constrictive modern clothing — but Jenkins doesn't shy away from letting her lead, and the audience, feel. She wisely leans into what might read as cheesy under a less deft hand. It works, well, wonderfully.
The 6 Big Superhero Movies Of 2017, Ranked From Worst To Best