A-List: Best Scenes from Superhero Films

By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis

June 16, 2011

I think I saw the dude on the right on Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law.

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Honestly, we could have chosen any number of scenes from The Dark Knight as one of the best, from “magic trick” to “I want my phone call” to the party at Bruce Wayne’s. The commonality is that Heath Ledger as the Joker owns every single one of them, even this first scene, where he only truly “appears” in the final moments. The brilliance of the bank heist is that it tells us in only a few minutes exactly who the Joker is. He’s demented, but he uses that “strangeness” to his advantage. He zigs when you expect him to zag. That first six minutes of film is a masterpiece of setup, unlike any other you will see in a superhero or any other movie.

Opening Credits (Watchmen)

Edited to the music of Bob Dylan's socio-political masterpiece, "The Times They Are A-Changin'," the credits of Watchmen chronicle the entire history of super-heroism in a dystopian version of the United States. From the moment the bloody “Have a Nice Day button” fades out and the credits roll, Watchmen proves the maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words. The very first image shown is of a masked vigilante, the original Nite Owl, delivering a bloody punch to a gun-wielding robber as a patrician couple looks on from a few feet away. The husband’s bruised cheek and a cheeky quartet of Batman posters on the wall imply that in this universe, Martha and Thomas Wayne are saved from an ill-fated trip to the theater.


From there, the images come in a controlled frenzy, beginning with a telling shot of the original Silk Spectre surrounded by several older male police officers. She is but a sexy figurehead representing male fantasy in a sexist period in American history. Her intrinsic nature as a sellout is reinforced throughout the film but the embodiment of every action her character takes is summarized with this single smile for the cameras. Of course, when it comes to smiling for the cameras, nobody does it better than The Comedian, whose nihilistic need for adrenaline makes him the scariest of the “heroes."

Moments later, the two of them are joined by the other six members of the original Minutemen, the hero guild of 1940. Their first appearance has them stand resolute, but the mini-stories revealed in the following moments demonstrate that despite their efforts to improve humanity, several die horribly. Dollar Bill’s armored costume made by the bank who employs him fails because…wait for it…they cut corners financially in its creation. Slutty Sally is forced to retire due to her pregnancy, her knowing smile during the retirement party hinting at a plot point that is not revealed until the very end of the film. Both sides of the table at this party are comprised of homosexual couples, and each relationship ends in bigot-based homicide. And the funny little dude in the silliest costume (a tough competition to win), Mothman is institutionalized, which seems like the most likely fate for any grown up who willing dresses as a superhero. In 180 seconds, Minutemen rise and fall before our eyes. This is a cinematic triumph and it’s only half of the story to be told.

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