Unless you are living completely off the grid — and if you are, mazel tov! — you’ve probably noticed that superhero movies are having a major moment these days.
Back when my kids were little, I was completely, thoroughly, 100% anti-superhero. The kids I knew who were into superheroes always seemed to be beating the crap out of each other, so we basically banned all superheroes from our home.
After nearly a decade of superhero-free living, things changed drastically last summer. Superheroes came on the scene in our family, and it wasn’t just because my boys got older. Rather, it was the release of Wonder Woman — starring the incredible Israeli actress Gal Gadot. Seeing a movie with a Jewish mom-of-two as a badass superhero is basically a mitzvah, right? And then, later in the year came Justice League — which meant Gal Gadot again and another mitzvah!
Seeing Wonder Woman altered my whole perspective on the superhero thing. Maybe it was the strong female protagonist and the whole Greek mythology tie-in, what with the Amazons and Wonder Woman being the daughter of gods and all. Or maybe my status as a mom of boys has made me more receptive to superheroes — much in the same way I have unexpectedly embraced Star Wars, football, and fart jokes.
Still, after Black Panther came out in February, I realized how woefully uneducated I was in the world of superheroes. I didn’t even know that Black Panther is part of the Marvel Universe, while Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman are DC Comics. (And be warned: Messing this up has been known to provoke extreme eye rolls and even rage among serious superhero aficionados.)
My 10-year-old has been extraordinarily helpful in catching me up on everything I didn’t know — and it has been a fun bonding experience. Like many moms, I often fall into the trap of tuning out his narratives on Minecraft, YouTube, the NFL draft and so on, so it’s been really special to have something that we can nerd out about together.
In total, I’ve watched 7 superhero movies over the past two months. Some were (and are) in theaters, others are available for rental on cable and streaming services, and some are even FREE courtesy of Netflix.
You, too, can become wise in the ways of superheroes. The movies listed below were required coursework for my superhero education. Some were more enjoyable and instructive than others, but I would recommend all of them for family movie night. Here they are – ranked:
1. Black Panther (2018)
We saw this as a family in glorious IMAX 3D. It cost approximately the same as a mortgage payment but it was (almost) worth it! It was a fantastic movie about the mythical country of Wakanda and its leader, the Black Panther. It had an appealing undercurrent of social commentary, great special effects, and — most important — almost zero superhero knowledge required. (Available for rental/On Demand)
2. Avengers Infinity War (2018)
This is the record-breaking blockbuster movie of 2018 (so far). And it lived up to the hype. It had aliens, superheroes, Greek gods, and a talking raccoon — all of whom were fighting against baddie Thanos and his evil quest to collect magical infinity stones and radically alter the universe. Having said that, if you have not seen any of the previous Marvel movies, it will prove somewhat confusing since it pulls together plotlines from all of the other movies on this list. (In Theaters – May 2018)
3. Doctor Strange (2016)
This movie was a favorite among the adults. It is the story of Dr. Steven Strange, a wunderkind surgeon who loses the use of his hands in a car accident. During his journey to physical and spiritual recovery, he becomes a powerful wizard. (I promise, it is better than it sounds!) Highlights: No previous superhero knowledge required and the special effects are awesome. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch. (Available on Netflix)
4. Thor Ragnarok (2017)
I’m a big fan — this movie was entertaining and, at some points, even funny. My inner nerd loved all of the references to Norse mythology (thank you, Neil Gaiman). Bonus: It also provided important background for a superhero newbie since Thor features prominently in Avengers Infinity War. Major bonus: Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) is also not so bad to look at, even with his eye patch. (Available for rental/On Demand)
5. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017)
We saw this at the recommendation of my 10-year-old, who said it would provide important background to Avengers: Infinity War. It did — but, even better, it was genuinely entertaining. Rocket, an obnoxious talking raccoon, along with the animated sapling Groot and a variety of colorful aliens add up to a fun story. Plus, I did not see the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie and was still able to follow this one. After seeing this movie, I would probably even agree to sit through the first one. (Available on Netflix)
6. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Confession: It took my husband and me three evenings to get through this one. It was a bit long, and somewhat hard to follow because I had not seen any of the previous Captain America or Avengers movies. Despite the 10-year-old’s assertion that this was not a prerequisite for my superhero education, I found that it provided useful background for both Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. If you want to become fully conversant in superheroes, I definitely recommend this one. (Available on Netflix)
7. Spiderman: Homecoming (2017)
My young superhero instructor touted this as his favorite superhero movie, but I was underwhelmed. However, it did provide an introduction to the new Spiderman, played by Tom Holland, and, as the mom of a teenager, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Spiderman as an awkward high school student. Chronologically, this movie takes place between Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther, so there is also some useful background information that will add to your enjoyment of other superhero movies. (Available for rental/On Demand)
After watching all of these movies, I kind of feel like I need a to take bath in pink glitter and a ride on a unicorn. Nonetheless, it’s been a great bonding experience with my son, and I’m now able to converse semi-knowledgeably about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (something that’s been surprisingly useful in other aspects of my life). I feel proud of how I’ve made up for my previous 40-plus years of ignorance — but I still have some serious catching up to do when it comes to DC Comics.