Every 2017 superhero movie ranked worst to best

This year's crop of superhero movies has been pretty impressive. The studios brought us some projects fans had been waiting forever to see, from the first MCU solo vehicle for a certain web-slinging hero to the first big DC superhero team-up, and it's safe to say that more than one of these films—particularly the third entry in Marvel Studios' least-loved solo franchise—wildly exceeded expectations. We also finally got the awesome female-led superhero story that had long been conspicuously absent from the genre as a whole. 

Taking into consideration the reactions of critics and fans—as well as personal opinion—we're running down the seven superhero movies released by the major studios in 2017, ranked from worst to best. Minor spoilers follow.

Justice League

The DC Extended Universe has gotten off to one very long, very rocky start—with one exception, which we'll discuss later—and while audiences have been somewhat forgiving of the franchise's growing pains, critics have been merciless. Unfortunately, Justice League proved no exception. 

On the bright side, fans were finally treated to the visceral thrill of seeing most of the canonical members of DC's premier superhero team—Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash—together on the big screen for the first time, and writer/director Joss Whedon, who stepped in late in the production due to a death in director Zack Snyder's family, brought some of his famously quippy dialogue to the proceedings. 

The film's uneven plotting and forgettable villain are hard to overlook, but they were mitigated to an extent by a couple of rousing action sequences and the winning presences of Jason Momoa's Aquaman and Ezra Miller's scene-stealing Flash. It may not have been the Justice League all fans wanted—and its underperformance at the box office has raised some eyebrows—but it was ultimately an enjoyable, if flawed, vehicle for some of the most beloved comics characters ever to grace the page. 

The Lego Batman Movie

Fans were delighted when The Lego Batman Movie, a spinoff of 2014's surprisingly excellent animated feature The Lego Movie, was announced—and the finished product didn't disappoint. The film continued its predecessor's emphasis on clever, quirky, layered humor, and rewarded fans of the Dark Knight with a steady stream of references to his past cinematic incarnations (not to mention the appearances of a stunning array of classic Batman villains). Critics and audiences received the film warmly, and while it didn't quite do Lego Movie-type box office numbers, it still performed well.

As good as it was, however, The Lego Batman Movie is still largely inessential, especially compared to the rest of 2017's bumper crop. It broke no new ground in terms of superhero films or Batman stories, failing to hit the creative highs that the year's superior superhero movies all reached in one way or another. It's squarely in the middle of the pack—but as an animated Lego outing, it's still a heck of a lot better than the disappointing Lego Ninjago Movie.

Logan

Hugh Jackman's stunning 17-year run as Wolverine in the X-Men series may never be surpassed, and he could hardly have gone out on a higher note than Logan. Coming after two disappointing solo outings, the film hit the right notes for the character in a way that no previous X-Men movie truly had, thanks to its grim storyline (adapted from the Old Man Logan comics arc) and hard R rating, which finally allowed for an appropriately Wolverine-esque level of violence. Jackman's performance was pitch-perfect (as was Patrick Stewart's, in his final turn as Professor Charles Xavier), and critics and fans alike considered it a fitting sendoff for both characters.

If there was one consistent complaint about the film, it's that it may have taken its grim and melancholy tone a bit too far. The bleak and unforgiving world of its (perhaps alternate) universe is consistently rendered in stark, dusty tones, and the fates of our major characters aren't pretty—particularly Xavier, whose demise was seen by some fans as unworthy of the character Stewart had spent nearly two decades inhabiting. Logan is a great Wolverine movie at long last, but this year's best superhero movies were able to tell stories every bit as compelling—and not quite as bleak.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

For a movie that nearly everybody predicted would be Marvel's first major failure, 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy certainly overperformed. Nobody expected a team of virtually unknown characters featuring a sentient tree and a gun-toting raccoon to capture the hearts of moviegoers, but writer/director James Gunn brought passion and vision—not to mention a stellar cast—to the project. Guardians overcame low expectations to become one of Marvel's most-loved films, meaning that its sequel faced expectations that were anything but low.

Fortunately, with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Gunn and his ragtag team of space heroes largely delivered. The action sequences are even crazier this time around, but the family-oriented story—centered around Peter Quill discovering, for better and worse, the identity of his father—also serves as a framework for Gunn to explore some of the more unlikely and interesting family dynamics of his characters, and to delve into some of the more complex aspects of their personalities (such as Michael Rooker's Yondu, who more than earns his absolutely heartbreaking death scene). Vol. 2 may not quite have lived up to its predecessor, but it benefited from not trying too hard to achieve that lofty goal. Plus: any film that features Kurt Russell as a quasi-immortal living planet in human form earns points for sheer awesomeness. 

Wonder Woman

The DC Extended Universe has largely failed to live up to expectations so far, but there's been one brilliant exception. Director Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman, starring Gal Gadot as the legendary Amazonian, blew away audiences last summer, storming to an $821 million worldwide box office take and single-handedly resurrecting hope for the DCEU as a whole. Jenkins—the first woman to direct a big-budget superhero feature—knocked all kinds of holes in the well-worn theory that audiences wouldn't respond to a female-centric superhero movie by turning in a spectacularly shot and choreographed, well-paced, and flat-out entertaining feature, anchored by Gadot's alternately graceful and badass performance.

Wonder Woman suffers from only minor imperfections: plot-wise, it bears more than a passing resemblance to Marvel's Captain America: The First Avenger, and some critics felt the character of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) could have been de-emphasized in terms of the title character's motivation. But overall, Wonder Woman is a triumph, a spectacular big-screen solo debut for a character Hollywood has famously struggled to adapt. Jenkins' deft directorial touch and refusal to sexualize her lead only served to make the character's subsequent appearance in Justice League function as a reminder of this far superior film. 

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Until 2015, Sony Pictures held the sole film rights to Spider-Man, Marvel's flagship character—and while Marvel built its cinematic empire on such former "C-List" heroes as Iron Man and Thor, Sony nearly ran audiences' affection for the wall-crawler straight into the ground. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 helped establish the modern superhero genre, but the little-loved third entry and subsequent reboot series provided the kind of diminishing critical and box office returns that can torpedo entire franchises. Sony's deal with Marvel to share the character's film rights was seen as a wise and long-overdue move, and the first appearance of Spidey in the MCU—in 2016's Captain America: Civil War—proved what audiences have long known: Spider-Man belongs in a larger universe with the rest of Marvel's heroes, and Spider-Man: Homecoming finally did the character justice.

It doesn't hurt that Tom Holland is terrific in the role of Peter Parker, or that Michael Keaton—in a casting masterstroke—creates one of the more compelling villains in the MCU as Adrian Toomes/Vulture. But the true genius of Homecoming is in the decision to give us the bumbling, insecure, 15-year old Peter that previous cinematic incarnations never showed, and to let interactions with classmates and other heroes (like Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man) inform and develop the character as they've always done in the comics. This Spider-Man has plenty of room to grow, and his first solo vehicle is an outstanding beginning.

Thor: Ragnarok

The best superhero film of 2017 had the lowest expectations of them all. As a sequel to 2013's Thor: The Dark World (widely considered to be among the MCU's worst offerings) and a late arrival behind the highly anticipated Guardians and Spider-Man movies, Thor: Ragnarok seemed like almost an afterthought—except to fans who'd been paying attention. The signing of indie director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) piqued the interest of those familiar with his unique comic voice, and the news that the plot would incorporate elements of the Planet Hulk storyline from the comics—as well as intriguing cast additions including Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum—clued them in that they might be in for something special.

And indeed they were. Thor: Ragnarok destroyed critical and box office expectations by finding the innate silliness in the MCU's God of Thunder (and finally exploiting Chris Hemsworth's crack comic timing). The movie's nonstop humor is liberally balanced with plenty of stunning action, an absolutely brilliant soundtrack, and a truly threatening villain in Blanchett's Hela—and even finds a moment to give Odin (Anthony Hopkins) a moving sendoff. The welcome returns of Tom Hiddleston's Loki and Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner/Hulk—not to mention some strongly drawn new characters (Valkyrie, anyone?) and one well-placed Doctor Strange cameo—connect the film to the larger MCU, but Thor: Ragnarok is its own singularly insane flick—and one of Marvel's best. Here's hoping we get a Waititi-directed Thor 4 as soon as possible.