After watching and thoroughly enjoying both The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man for different reasons, the thought popped into our heads that 2012 might just go down as the summer that gives us the best trio of superhero movies ever. Naturally that germ of an idea has now expanded to whether 2012 will go down as the best year for superhero movies ever, and when you take a look at everything leading up to right now, there's definitely an argument for that to be the case.
Of course The Dark Knight Rises has not arrived in theaters yet, but if advanced buzz is right -- and this film really is better than The Dark Knight -- then 2012 will go down as a critical year for superhero movies, not only in terms of box office grosses, but also in terms of overall quality.
Below is a list of years that produced three or more superhero films, which we feel is a necessary amount for us to seriously consider whether it was the best year for superhero movies or not. The only year we've included that doesn't meet this requirement is 2002 because it represents the best (in our opinion) of all the years that gave us less than three superhero movies.
Check out the list below, then meet us at the bottom for a discussion. We've bolded our personal favorite years and/or the ones we think should be in the running for best superhero movie year ever.
Note: With the exception of one movie, we only chose theatrical releases for this list. Also, our definition of "superhero movie" is based on the two lists we used for research, via Wikipedia and Box Office Mojo.
1989 -- Batman, The Return of Swamp Thing, The Punisher
1990 -- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dick Tracy, Darkman, Captain America (direct-to-dvd in US; released in theaters internationally)
1995 -- Batman Forever, Judge Dredd, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie
1997 -- Spawn, Batman & Robin, Steel
2000 -- X-Men, The Specials, Unbreakable
2002 -- Blade II, Spider-Man
2003 -- Daredevil, X2: X-Men United, Hulk, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
2004 -- Hellboy, The Punisher, Spider-Man 2, Catwoman, Blade: Trinity, The Incredibles, Zebraman
2005 -- Batman Begins, Fantastic Four, V for Vendetta, Sky High, Constantine, Elektra, Son of the Mask, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D, The Legend of Zorro, Man-Thing
2006 -- X-Men: The Last Stand, Superman Returns, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Zoom, Special
2007 -- Ghost Rider, Spider-Man 3, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Underdog, TMNT
2008 -- Superhero Movie, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hancock, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, The Dark Knight, Punisher: War Zone, The Spirit
2010: Kick-Ass, Iron Man 2, Super, Jonah Hex, Megamind, Griff the Invisible, Haunters
2011: Thor, X-Men: First Class, Green Lantern, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Green Hornet
2012: The Avengers, Dredd, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Chronicle
Verdict: Funnily enough, the one year we've included that doesn't feature three or more superhero movies is the one year many of you might pick as the best ever. But we feel it'd be too easy to just toss 2002 that title because other years took more chances and, therefore, deserve more praise. Many of these years include one -- maybe two -- solid superhero movies, which are surrounded by some truly awful attempts. So which one is our favorite?
Here are our top three ...
3. 1990: To this day TMNT is the most successful live-action attempt at bringing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the big screen. Also: Both Dick Tracy and Darkman presented impressive inventiveness with their completely different interpretations of heroes and their war against an inner-city criminal underworld.
2. 2004: You'd be hard-pressed to find a better trio than Hellboy, Spider-Man 2 and The Incredibles, especially when one of those (Spider-Man 2) is arguably the greatest superhero movie ever made. A miserable Catwoman movie and a sub-par Blade sequel bring the rest of the year down, but those three were memorable enough to make it the second best year for superhero movies ever.
1. 2012: We throw Ghost Rider 2 a bone just because it's so bats**t insane that we give credit to a studio for even allowing that film to exist (and for giving us Nicolas Cage literally pissing fire). We really dug Chronicle and the way it played around with superhero conventions and expectations. Word is still out on Dredd and The Dark Knight Rises, but both The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man are unique superhero films that are so successful at different things. The Avengers gives us some of the best stand-up-and-cheer action sequences we've seen from any superhero film, while Spider-Man provides more emotional depth (as well as characters you can invest in) than any superhero movie in recent memory. We anticipate The Dark Knight Rises concluding the greatest superhero trilogy ever in impressive style, and perhaps Dredd will surprise (but honestly it doesn't even have to).
It might be wrong to award 2012 the title of "Best Year for Superhero Movies Ever" without having seen The Dark Knight Rises or Dredd, but in terms of overall quality and box office, we just don't see another year beating this one. We'll definitely revisit this discussion at the end of August, but between what we've seen so far and what we think we're going to see from Christopher Nolan in two weeks, 2012 is indeed the best year for superhero movies ever.
Throw out nostalgia (we know it's hard) and give us your choice for best superhero movie year below ...
While we're at it, here's looking ahead to what 2013 and 2014 will give us (so far) ...
2013: Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, The Wolverine, Kick-Ass 2, Thor 2
2014: Captain America 2, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Ninja Turtles, X-Men: First Class 2
Follow along on Twitter @ErikDavis and @Moviesdotcom.