The problem with superhero movies is their infrequency. I could watch a new superhero movie every day and not tire of the genre. But, alas, only a few are released each year. We must wait several years for the next installment in any particular franchise, and we seldom have the promise that more will follow in the series.
Contrast this to reading comic books. A typical title will be released monthly; the more popular heroes have multiple titles. In five years of films (May 2002 - May 2007), Spider-Man fought five villains (three of them in the third movie). During that same period there were at least four Spider-Man comic titles running. Four titles * twelve months * five years = 240 comics (and that doesn't count one-offs, limited series, bi-weekly publishing in the summer, or guest appearances in other titles). Now, many comics have a story arc that spans several issues. Let's be generous and assume that the average Spider-Man arc spans four issues. Using that math, in the time that Hollywood told three Spider-Man stories, Marvel Comics told sixty (and, considering the most recent Spider-Man movie, told them better), probably fighting sixty villains.
This matters only because of my expectation. Because I know there are so many Spider-Man stories to tell, I'm impatient for them to appear in film, and disappointed to know that most will never make it to the big screen. Nobody wants to watch a movie about the time Dr. Octopus became a renter in Aunt May's bed & breakfast. If I waited two years for a movie, and that's what Hollywood delivered, I might riot in the streets. But for a story that need only last me a week, it works. So, write a letter to your congressperson to demand that Hollywood produce more superhero movies!
The infrequency of the movies means they are slow in ramping up to what we consider a given for the canon. At this point, Star Trek: Voyager wouldn't be the same without Seven of Nine, so I wouldn't want even a single movie to predate her inclusion in the crew. In Spider-Man comics, Black Cat and various other heroes make regular cameos, filling the Spider-Man universe with life. In the movies, Spider-Man is all alone, and I feel lonely for him. When Superman can't figure something out, or needs some extra muscle or specialized skills, in the comics he can call on any number of other heroes. The endless combinations of possible interactions make for interesting stories. In the movies, it's just Superman vs. Villain. No variety. No team-ups. No team-ups! The team-up goes way, way, way back. But movies isolate our heroes. I like to think my hero has someone to talk to at the end of a long day fighting evil. What does Superman do at the end of the most recent movie? He floats in the darkness outside Lois's house, wishing he could be part of her life. If Batman were around, the two could commiserate. "You know what sucks, Bats?" "No, what sucks, Supes?" "Secret identities. Secret identities suck." "Tell it, Supes."
So, all this is to say that when it comes to superhero movies, what I really enjoy are movies featuring teams (even teams of villains, but I'm going to focus on heroic teams). Teams suggest a larger world, where characters each have their own plot threads, and come together on occasion for common causes. When the dust clears, there's someone to share a high-five with, or a good cry. I mean, our heroes are only human (except for the ones who are aliens or robots), and need a good cry every now and then just like the rest of us.
So, here are my Top 10 Superhero Teams in movies. I'm excluding direct-to-video movies (which are numerous and often superior to their big-screen counterparts), and using my own loose definition of what a superhero movie is (powers, tights, code names, and not necessarily adapted from a comic book).
10. Sky High (2005)
Roster: Will (strength, flight), Layla (plant control), Ethan (water form), Magenta (hamster form), Zach (luminescence), Warren (pyrokinesis). This group doesn't have an official team name, since they're still in high school, but we can be sure that when they graduate they will stick together, bucking the trend of the hero/sidekick dichotomy. In their first outing, they defeat a powerful, seasoned team of villains who have the element of surprise on their side. Layla is a standout, using her control over plants to subdue a replicating cheerleader with vines.
9. Hellboy (2004, 2008)Roster: Hellboy (strength, guns, cigars), Liz Sherman (blue flame), Abe Sapien (clairvoyance, underwater breathing). These three form the core away team for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. We get the sense that these three have been a team for quite some time, and there is an old, tumultuous flame between Hellboy and Liz.
8. Watchmen (2009)
Roster: Nite Owl II (gadgets), Silk Spectre II (hotness), Rorschach (attitude), Dr. Manhattan (control over space, time, matter, and the bedroom), The Comedian (being a jerk), Ozymandias (my vote goes for enhanced strength, agility, and speed, but others disagree). The movie's narrative deals with a period after the dissolution of the team, so we only ever see a limited team-up between Nite Owl II, Silk Spectre II, and Rorschach (even so, those three working together is awesome). But we get flashbacks showing us not only the heyday of this team, but their previous incarnation as well. Aside from a few bad seeds, they all seem to get along in the naive, "we fight in tights and God Bless America" sense.
7. Batman & Robin (1997)
Roster: Batman (brains, gadgets, fighting skills), Robin (acrobat), Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone), Alfred (he butles). I used to defend this movie, because I enjoyed the complexity of Mr. Freeze's character, and George Clooney is always good. But I've since changed my mind, and fallen in with the rest of you: this movie is terrible. Still, it's the closest we've come thus far to a DC Universe super team. I've found that I enjoy Batman stories best when he has Robin and Batgirl working with him. Teams are inherently more interesting, and the youth of these two sidekicks help counteract Batman's broody nature, giving him something a bit more personal to fight for. This was the case in Batman: The Animated Series, The Batman (another animated series), and in Batman & Robin.
6. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
Roster: Allan Quatermain (adventurer), Captain Nemo (submarine captain), Mina Harker (vampire), The Invisible Man (uh, invisibility), Dorian Gray (immortality), Tom Sawyer (adventurer), Dr. Jekyll (wicked alter ego). What a great concept, to bring together a bunch of Victorian-era characters into a superhero team. Nemo actually has a small army with him, so it's more like these seven are just the away team of a larger force. Another terrible movie, so disappointing, but it doesn't undermine the brilliance of the concept, and how cool it is to see all these characters in the same room together. Quatermain's and Nemo's friendship forms the core of the team.
5. Mystery Men (1999)
Roster: Mr. Furious (maybe super strength), The Shoveler (he digs), The Blue Raja (he forks), The Spleen (he smells), Invisible Boy (he turns invisible, but only if no one is watching), The Bowler (she has a mystical bowling ball that flies around and kicks ass), The Sphinx (he spouts useless aphorisms), Dr. Heller (he makes gadgets). I didn't particularly care for this movie. The ineptitude of our team makes it difficult to enjoy the action. But they do always hang out together. After what to them is a victory (they strutted their stuff around the villain's car) they go back to their diner to celebrate. Hey, take the wins where you can get them.
4. Fantastic Four (2005, 2007)
Roster: Mr. Fantastic (brains, elasticity), Invisible Woman (invisibility, invisible constructs), Thing (strength, durability), Human Torch (flight, flames). Arguably the first super team in the Marvel universe, these four were friends first, and now are a family: Thing is Mr. Fantastic's best friend; Torch is Invisible Woman's brother, and Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman are in love. That's a tight-knit bunch. What they lack in numbers they make up for in competent coordination, and having a variety of useful powers.
3. The Specials (2000)
Roster: Strobe (lasers from his hands), Ms. Indestructible (durability), Minute Man (shrinking), Deadly Girl (demon summoning, teleportation through the demon dimension), Weevil (strength and agility proportional to a weevil's), Amok (anti-matter discharges), U.S. Bill (strength), Mr. Smart (brains), Power Chick (matter mimesis, e.g. she can turn into steel), Alien Orphan (shape shifting), Eight (eight minds, one body), Nightbird (bird powers). This team is so awesome, the only thing that keeps them from being number one is that we never get to see them actually fight. Instead, we get one day in their monotonous existence as the world's sixth or seventh best superhero team. Strobe and Ms. Indestructible are having marital problems, and different members are taking sides, but that doesn't mean there isn't time to see the unveiling of their new action figure line ("actors get oscars, we get toys"), or to go clubbing. They exist within a world populated by other do-gooder teams, including the Crusaders and the Femme Five (there are eight of them, because traditional counting is a tool of patriarchal oppression). Having a roster of twelve means there are always a bunch of characters around. My favorite moment is when Deadly Girl sticks up for Strobe; up to that point we didn't even know she cared about anyone, but as it turns out, she counts Strobe as one of her few friends.
2. The Incredibles (2004)
Roster: Mr. Incredible (strength), Elastigirl (elasticity), Violet (invisibility, invisible constructs), Dash (speed), Frozone (freezing), Jack-Jack (shape-shifting), Edna Mode (gadgets). First, they are a family. Second, they love each other. Third, and more than any other team on this list, we get to see them in action working together efficiently and to the detriment of their foes. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Violet, and Das synching up in the jungle for the first time and taking on the goon squad. They are quite awesome.
1. X-Men (2000, 2003, 2006)
Roster: Professor X (psionics), Cyclops (optic blasts), Storm (weather control), Jean Grey (psionics, telekinesis), Wolverine (healing factor, claws), Rogue (power absorption), Iceman (freezing), Pyro (pyrokinesis), Nightcrawler (teleportation, acrobatic), Colossus (strength, durability), Shadowcat (intangibility), Beast (agility), and a bevy of young heroes-in-waiting. In comics, nothing beats the X-Men. Because they are a persecuted minority defined by their genetics, they have a tendency to already be related and to stick together (when you're a mutant, there aren't that many hero tracks to follow). Professor X brings them all together at his School for Gifted Youngsters, and sends out away teams as necessary to combat evil (usually in the form of rogue mutants). These films hit all the notes of the comics, including showing how the mutants with lesser powers can still be useful, and how the writers must contrive ways to keep their all-powerful mutants (like Professor X) out of the plot, lest they defeat the villains all on their own (Professor X is sidelined in all three movies). I love that the team all live at the Xavier mansion together, teach and attend classes together, and, in the comics, have friction with the local townies when they head into town for some R&R. The movies do a good job of refreshing the roster, cycling in younger mutants so we can see the next generation in action. I could watch these movies forever. My only complaint is that they should never kill a character to get them out of the plot because the actor has other commitments. One line of dialog would fix this: "so-and-so is in Russia fighting Omega Red". That's all it takes. Problem solved. And now I can enjoy an entire movie about Shadowcat, Siryn, and Artie fighting street thugs.