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My Top 10 Favorite Heroic Superhero Movie Scenes (SPOILERS)

Updated on July 21, 2016


Which is the more important part of the word superhero: the “super” or the “hero”? While their skills and powers are admirable, it is what they do with them that are the scenes that stick out in this genre of film, and those are the moments that keep you rooting for these characters. Superheroes often seem to be able to easily do the right thing all the time due to the advantage of their powers, but their film adaptations have demonstrated how the decisions that these heroes make are often much tougher than one would realize, and they may even be much tougher than the average person must endure.

In their history on the big screen, superheroes have lost loved ones, battled with their own identity, been weakened both mentally and physically by their enemies, and typically have to deal with the personal daily struggles of an average person on top of everything else. The hero in them comes out in the following 10 scenes which show that it takes more than just powers to be a superhero.

Superman Returns (2006) – Lifting The Kryptonite Continent

Synopsis: Lex Luthor laces a crystal from The Fortress of Solitude with deadly Kryptonite and plants it in the bottom of the ocean to grow a new continent where he can charge those who don’t perish from the inevitable flooding a high price for his alien land. Superman is powerless on this land. After he lands on the rock to confront Luthor, he is stabbed by a shard of Kryptonite and thrown into the water. After he is saved by Lois and her family, he recharges in the sun for a few moments before plowing into the earth and hoisting it into space, potentially saving billions of people before succumbing to Kryptonite poisoning and falling to earth.

Why it’s Great: Superman isn’t as popular today as he has been in the past because it’s hard to find a flaw in him. He will always have the upper hand because he is superior in both strength and goodness, and in his world, he always wins. It seems like a no-brainer, and his flawlessness makes him boring and irrelevant in today’s world where flawed, conflicted characters and morally ambiguous plotlines take center stage. What this scene proves is that Superman’s powers are not what make him great. Like most heroes, he will do whatever it takes to save the day at any cost. Rendered powerless by the kryptonite-laced rock, he finds the strength to lift it out of the earth, knowing full well that every second he holds on he is that much closer to death. Here, he shows moviegoers that he is still up for a challenge, including one that is over his head.

Iron Man 3 (2013) – Tony saves Pepper by Protecting Her in the Suit

Synposis: At the beginning of the film, Tony had just developed a suit that will attach to him like a magnet at his command. After he gives The Mandarin his home address and challenges him to come after him, The Mandarin does just that, and a trio of helicopters attack Tony’s house, starting with a rocket that explodes while he, Pepper, and Maya Hansen are talking in the house. In this slow motion shot, the three are thrown backwards, and without a thought, Tony orders the suit to latch on to Pepper, protecting her from the blast.

Why it’s Great: Tony Stark is not the kind of hero to go around looking for people to save in his free time. His superhero duties are restricted to large missions. Still, this does not make him invulnerable to enemies, and for the first time, he has something in his life that needs to be protected. Despite this lapse in judgment, Tony is instantly redeeming in his decision to throw the suit onto Pepper. He could have easily suited up himself and then saved the girls, but his first priority was making sure that Pepper endured the least amount of trauma possible, taking back the suit as soon as Jarvis notified him that she was out of danger.

Spider-Man (2002) – Saving M.J. and the Cable Car Full of Children

Synposis: The Green Goblin Kidnaps Mary Jane and holds her hostage on a bridge while a cable car full of children is hijacked and torn from its cable. Holding the cable in one hand and M.J. in the other, The Goblin releases them both in Spidey’s presence. Spider-man runs for M.J., catches her, and then uses his webbing to secure the car, suspending them all beneath the bridge as The Green Goblin charges at Spidey again and again until he is stalled by some angry bystanders, giving Spidey enough time to get M.J. and the cable car to safety on a passing barge.

Why it’s Great: When forced with this ultimatum, Spider-Man is not content to sacrifice one life for another. That is the type of decision that superheroes are typically faced with, and he does all he can to hold on to all of the victims as The Goblin charges at him. Watching him take a hit and continue to reach for the cable car rope shows how determined he is not to fail anyone - except The Green Goblin. His uncle’s teachings are always in the back of his head, and as long as he is conscious, he is determined to hold on.

Superman (1978) – Turning Back Time

Synopsis: After Lex Luthor launches two missiles, Superman is forced to minimize the damage. He saves a school bus full of children, plugs up a dam, and patches the fault line to keep California from falling into the ocean. However, he is too late to save Lois from being buried in a rockslide. As a result, he ignores his father’s teachings and turns back time to stop the event from ever happening.

Why it’s Great: This may seem like a selfish attempt to save his girlfriend’s life, but in doing so, he undoes all of the destruction and saves all the lives that he spent his time saving while Lois was buried alive. He has to go against everything that he was taught, and he must resist his father’s voice pounding into his head as he does it. It’s not easy for someone so morally centered to go against the wishes of their authority figures, but he does it for the right reasons and with the best intentions. In this way, he cements himself as a hero.

The Dark Knight (2008) - Ending

Synopsis: A vengeful Harvey Dent kidnaps Jim Gordon’s family and holds them hostage in the ruins of the building where Rachel Dawes was murdered by the Joker. When Gordon and Batman find out, they rush to the scene, and Batman saves Gordon’s son from a coin flip that would have led to a gunshot wound to the head. Dent falls to his death, and his heroic reputation dies with him. So, Batman convinces Gordon to have him take the blame for Dent’s murders and corruption. He flees the scene, having been shot by Dent himself and is deemed a villain by everyone but the Gordon family and the bewildered audience.

Why it’s Great: In the Chris Nolan universe, everything is very black and white. Harvey’s tarnished reputation will certainly cause the city to “lose hope” as Jim Gordon puts it. Gordon and Batman are forced into a corner. Their small progress has been destroyed by Harvey’s actions in the final day of his life. The final chapter of this trilogy will prove that Batman’s plan in this final scene did little more than throw a band aid over the gash in the city’s well being, but his intentions are so noble and selfless that the credits roll with a scene of a humble man who inspires others with his quiet selflessness in an attempt to save the city. If nothing else, moviegoers should be inspired to always make the right decision, no matter what the risks to their reputation.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) - Charles stops Raven from killing Trask

Synopsis: In the film’s finale, Raven is out to murder Bolivar Trask to keep him from experimenting and killing mutants for his research. Wolverine goes back in time to recruit Charles and Eric to stop her from killing him as her actions trigger a dystopian future for both humans and mutants. Just as Eric pulls the panic room that hides Trask, the President, and numerous Secret Service agents out of the safety of The White House, Raven points her gun at Trask, and Charles freezes the humans around them. Instead of using his powers to will her to put down the gun, he convinces her that killing isn’t the answer. Of her own free will, she puts down the gun, changing history and saving the day.

Why it’s Great: For a film that features so many characters with super powers, this last battle is an internal one. Charles is determined to use words and not his powers to stop Raven, realizing that forcing her to do something against her wishes will never permanently solve the problem. The fighting mutants, like Wolverine and Beast, are incapacitated, and Charles is pinned to the ground by fallen debris, forcing him to confront her with a projection of himself guarding Trask. The best in both characters comes out in this scene, and everything wraps up unexpectedly and perfectly in a way that today’s films don’t usually allow.

Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Spider-man Saves the Train Passengers

Synopsis: Unmasked, Peter Parker must use every ounce of his strength to stop a train full of passengers that Doc Ock has sabotaged and disabled the brakes in order to make his getaway during a fight with Spider-man. Spidey is successful, though it takes a lot out of him, and he collapses forward after saving the day. The grateful train passengers catch him as he nearly falls forward off of the train and lifts him over their heads to safety.

Why it’s Great: The interaction between hero and victims is very important in this scene. Spider-man is an enigmatic character flying around New York City, and he doesn’t have the greatest reputation thanks to influence from The Daily Bugle. It would have been just as easy for Spider-man to swing off of that train and pursue Doc Ock, leaving the passengers to fend for themselves, but he stays behind to save the train full of innocent victims. Being unmasked, he is especially exposed during the rescue, and, even with chiding from the passengers, he is determined to bring the train to a stop. The strain on his face and the determination in his screams illustrates the spirit of Spider-man, and his actions are rewarded when the car of people who save him back agree to maintain his secret identity. It is just the gratification he needs to continue his quest to save the city, but it is a quest that he would have taken on either way.


X-Men: The Last Stand (2006): Wolverine Kills Jean Grey

Synopsis: In the film’s finale, Jean Grey unleashes her cosmic powers on Alcatraz, destroying everything in her sight. The rest of the X-Men get the innocent people to safety, but Logan stays behind and walks up to Jean who relentlessly rips him apart until he stalls her long enough to bring out the old Jean Grey who begs him to kill her. He does just that with a stab into her abdomen with his razor sharp claws.

Why it’s Great: From the time that The Phoenix emerges in Jean and Logan sees her in this new, evil form, there is an underlying realization that she will have to be killed in order to stop her destruction. Only Logan is able to get close enough to endure her powers long enough to make this happen. Unfortunately, he is the least willing to do the job. It’s a heartbreaking moment to watch him destroy the woman he loves, even out of the necessity that the situation creates. Few of us would be able to do the same to a loved one, even under those circumstances.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – A Hero Can Be Anyone

Synposis: Batman, Selina Kyle, and Jim Gordon are able to get control of the nuclear bomb with under two minutes to spare before it explodes. With no other option, Batman kisses Selina goodbye, reveals his identity to Gordon, and flies the bomb out of the city before it explodes, seeming to have sacrificed himself in the process.

Why it’s Great: Beginning at the emotional climax of the sequence when Batman gives his “a hero can be anyone speech,” you know that something big is about to happen. It’s apparent that Bruce does not intend to survive this mission, and the look on Gordon’s face as Batman takes off with the bomb in tow is heartbreaking. This scene sums up the spirit of Batman and his motivations for doing what he does. He is not there to be placed on a pedestal. He is one man trying to do what is necessary to save his city. To him, he is no different than that moment after his parents’ murders when young Jim Gordon wraps Thomas Wayne’s coat around young Bruce’s shoulders and comforts him in his worst moment. The sacrifice of his life is not questioned for one second. This is even more poignant an action after watching Bruce rekindle his will to live and fear of dying in order to “learn the strength to escape” from Bane’s prison. This restored will to live is shot down in an attempt to save Gotham from a nuclear bomb. It’s no longer that he has to die, but he wants to die, and that is more heroic than any self-sacrifice he could have made in his former mindset.

The Avengers (2012) – Tony Flies the Missile Out of Range

Synopsis: Out of options, SHIELD decides to launch a missile at New York City to stop the spread of the aliens who are invading and attacking Earth at Loki’s command. With a warning from Nick Fury, Tony Stark grabs hold of the missile while en route to its destination and flies it up into the portal, away from the innocent New Yorkers. It is a sacrificial action that nearly costs him his life, if not for a few miracles pulled out at the last second.

Why it’s Great: Tony stark is not a likely hero to sacrifice himself for the win, but being that he is the only one equipped and free to stop the bomb from hitting the city, he becomes the only chance that they’ve got. In his stubborn way, he ignores his orders from SHIELD and concentrates on the task at hand. It’s a side that we don’t see very often that is executed in his very Iron Man way.

Who are your favorite superheroes, and what are your favorite heroic moments in their films? Leave your answers in the comments below!


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