There’s never been a better time to be a comic book fan, with superhero movies and TV shows coming at you from all angles, but 2016’s entries have been a bit of a mixed bag. On the Marvel front, while Deadpool became the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time, and Captain America: Civil War took the House of Ideas to new heights, reactions to Doctor Strange were good to mixed, and X-Men: Apocalypse fell a bit flat. Luke Cage never really improved after its first few episodes, and season 2 of Daredevil, though well received, couldn’t live up to its first outing.
Even from an unbiased perspective, DC had a rough year. Supergirl and Gotham lacked consistency at times, while The CW’s Arrowverse presented middling efforts in the first half of 2016 (the new seasons of shows like The Flash and Arrow have all kicked it up a notch in the latter half of the year, however). On the silver screen, Suicide Squad came as a disappointment following its trailer hype, and Batman v Superman divided comic book fans the world over.
But there were positives to find even in the negatives, and certainly enough to keep us excited for 2017, which will be the busiest year to date for superheroes on screens both big and small. Let’s take a look back at the 15 Best Superhero Moments Of 2016.
15. Flashpoint (The Flash)
Arrow set the bar high for Arrowverse finales with its first two seasons, and The Flash season 1 followed suit with an equally thrilling final episode. The season 2 finale, in which Barry faces off against Zoom with the multiverse on the line, had a lot to do to match its predecessor. Initially, it came nowhere close, as Barry defeated Zoom far too quickly (ahem) and easily, but then everything changed in the final couple of minutes.
Following the death of his father, Barry rewinds time to save his mother from the Reverse-Flash, and sets into motion one of DC’s most iconic comic book stories. After a predictable finale, the promise of Flashpoint was all fans were talking about in the lead-up to the season 3 premiere. The Flashpoint episodes turned out to be fairly short-lived, and it’s hard to compare them to the comic book arc, as the CW has limited access to some of the series’ most integral characters. Nevertheless, Flashpoint saved the season 2 finale, and its impact on the show and its characters is ongoing to this day.
14. Dormammu (Doctor Strange)
At its base, Doctor Strange is your typical superhero adventure, but where it supersedes your generic origin story is in its visuals. Marvel introduces sorcery, mind-bending special effects, and alternate dimensions to its universe even from the prologue, and this all comes to a head in the titular character’s final showdown with the legendary Dormammu.
In an attempt to bargain with the Lord of the Dark Dimension, Strange traps the pair in a time loop with the Eye of Agamotto. Dormammu repeatedly murders the future Sorcerer Supreme in increasingly imaginative and hilarious ways, but he eventually gives in to the good Doctor, recalling Kaecilius from Earth in exchange for being freed from the endless loop.
Here’s hoping Dormammu succeeds Thanos as Marvel’s big bad following Infinity War, because the villain opens up the universe to so many possibilities that it would be a shame if this was all we saw of him. In fact, he’s hinted at through the entire film, and his only appearance is so brief that he could easily go down as just another Marvel villain. The confrontation itself is far from just another Marvel boss fight, however, as everything from Dormammu’s design to the humour of it all makes for a wholly unique Marvel moment.
13. Francis Montage (Deadpool)
Talk about finding inventive ways to kill a person, and that brings us nicely on to Deadpool. Here, the Merc with a Mouth mercilessly murders his way to finding the whereabouts of Ajax, a.k.a. Francis, the man who turned Wade into the offspring of an avocado and… “an older, more disgusting avocado.”
Complete with its own version of Team America’s “Everybody Needs a Montage” (in this case titled “Deadpool Rap”), the montage subtly tells the story of how Deadpool ends up with his infamous red suit. As Wade runs over a man with a Zamboni, shoots another while on the toilet, and questions whether it’s more sexist to not hit a woman than it is to actually hit her, he becomes steadily more bloodied by the affair, eventually swapping out his white suit for a more appropriate red.
12. Peter Parker (Captain America: Civil War)
Any worries we had about Tom Holland joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe were turned completely upside down by this scene, in which Tony Stark locates the YouTube sensation in a Queens apartment. Everybody and their grandmother knows Peter Parker’s origin story by now, and the film doesn’t waste the character’s already minimal screen time with backstory. Instead, it focuses on Peter, affectionately referred to as Spider-Boy by Stark, being introduced to the Avengers, and Holland’s chemistry with Robert Downey Jr.
The scene features everything you need to know about Spider-Man without ever being too expositional. From his scientific knowhow to his motivations, his full power set and even a quip or two, we get to know right out of the gate that we’re about to get the most faithful big-screen adaptation of the web-slinger to date.
Marvel received a lot of criticism for their decision to replace Andrew Garfield, who many thought was the perfect Spider-Man, but Holland proves his range in nailing down the Peter Parker role before we even see the suit. Any doubts were forgotten, and the slate was wiped clean for this new, MCU Spider-Man.
11. Sweet Dreams (X-Men: Apocalypse)
Following 2015’s Fantastic Four, 20th Century Fox’s grasp on its Marvel properties loosened. Deadpool gave them a brief moment of respite, before May’s X-Men: Apocalypse put the pressure firmly back on the studio. Fox has never quite matched the MCU for consistency, but one area in which it definitely holds the edge is in its portrayal of Quicksilver.
Debuting in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Evan Peters stole the show in his first appearance, in what was already a critically acclaimed movie. His slow-mo scene as he, Professor X and Wolverine are attempting to smuggle Magneto out of the Pentagon was always going to be hard to top, but the follow-up considerably upped the scale.
To the tune of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics, Quicksilver evacuates the entirety of Xavier’s school before it is torn apart by a Havok outburst. With more lives at risk this time, Quicksilver has to find new and inventive ways to save everyone, including hanging bed sheets from two nearby trees and launching students out of the windows at super speed. Not only does he seemingly save the entire student body from certain death, but he saves the school’s pets, restyles a kid’s hair, and prevents what appeared to be the beginnings of an awkward teen makeout sesh — all while setting aside enough time for a quick pizza break.
10. Wonder Woman (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)
The long wait for a big screen Diana Prince finally ended in March, and email attachments aside, Gal Gadot shines in her early appearances as the princess of Themyscira. However, it’s not until she suits up as Wonder Woman that she fully embodies the role, standing alongside Superman and Batman in our first glimpse of the Justice League.
With Superman rendered virtually helpless against Doomsday, it’s Wonder Woman who does the heavy lifting in the final battle. Her best moment comes when she is knocked back by the Kryptonian mutation, only to rise again with a mischievous smirk on her face. She proves to be as tough and battle-ready as the Man of Steel, and she even impresses Batman, one-upping the Dark Knight at Lex Luthor’s party earlier in the film, and he goes so far as to seek her help in forming the JLA after Superman’s “death”.
9. 100th Episode (Arrow)
The first two seasons of Arrow helped set the stage for small screen superheroes in the modern era, but when The Flash premiered as Arrow began its third season, the show struggled to survive in the same world as metahumans and magic. Season 5 got off to a strong start, taking the show back to its roots, but we soon learned that its 100th episode would fall in the midst of an alien invasion, and we prepared for the worst as Arrow stepped further outside of its comfort zone.
Instead, the Dominators actually set into motion a fitting and bittersweet tribute to the show, as Oliver, Diggle, Thea, Sara and Ray Palmer find themselves kidnapped by the aliens in the third chapter of the four-night crossover event. Put into a hallucinogenic sleep by the Dominators, Oliver and company get a glimpse at how their lives might’ve turned out if Ollie and Sara had never boarded the Queen’s Gambit.
It’s Ollie and Laurel’s wedding day, Ray is married to Felicity, and Diggle is the Green Arrow. We see Ollie’s parents again, and even Tommy and Roy get brief cameos as holograms. Everyone is happy and whole, before reality begins to manifest itself in the form of Deathstroke and Dark Archer. It’s Arrow all at once reminding us of a simpler time, promising to do better, and using an alien invasion as an excuse to play to its strengths.
8. “Penny and Dime” (Daredevil)
So often on television in general, we the audience are forced to sit through wholly unnecessary flashbacks to learn about a character’s past. Jon Bernthal and the Punisher are living proof that you don’t need to rely on cheap tricks to tell a convincing, heartfelt backstory.
After Daredevil saves Frank Castle from the Irish and the pair wait for the police at a cemetery, Bernthal delivers a six-minute long monologue that transcends superheroes and enters the realm of pure, award-worthy drama. Even The Man Without Fear tears up as Castle opens up about losing his daughter after having refused to read her a story the night before.
Following so many failed attempts to bring the Punisher to the big screen, this scene is proof that Frank Castle done right belongs in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a brilliant script rounded off with a beautiful performance worthy of any drama, and it only highlights the potential of superheroes on TV.
7. Test footage comes to life (Deadpool)
Even those unfamiliar with the Merc with a Mouth knew what they were in for after just the opening credits, and everything up to Deadpool’s 127 Hours tribute, as he escapes from Colussus’ handcuffs by chopping off his own hand and leaving a middle finger raised for the X-Man, makes for the perfect introduction to the character.
Somewhere directly between those two moments is the scene adapted almost directly from the “leaked” test footage, shot before the film was even a thing. After a one-sided conversation with the camera, Deadpool jumps from a bridge and into a car full of armed men. Stopping to laugh as he throws a man from the car, and shoving a lit cigarette lighter into another’s mouth, Deadpool provides a running commentary in a moment choreographed pretty well for a fight scene in a full truck.
There’s action, there’s humor, there’s even some sort of plot as Deadpool takes the time to ask everyone if they’ve seen the man in his hand-drawn picture. Everything you need to know about the movie is on full display, and the scene is the ultimate payoff to the fans who saw the test footage, and whose furious campaigning ultimately got the film made.
6. Best. Team-Up. Ever. (Legends of Tomorrow)
With far too many characters and Supergirl literally fighting on the same team as John Diggle, the four-night Arrowverse crossover probably should have been a complete mess. The Flash had the tough job of introducing everyone to Supergirl, and in Arrow’s case, the show had struggled with metahumans and Lazarus pits, let alone an alien invasion.
Surprisingly, everyone gets their time to shine as the Dominators’ plan unfolds through both shows, so that the Legends of Tomorrow finale could focus solely on the epic team-up we were promised since Supergirl joined The CW. The teams split into two; the nerds of Teams Arrow and Flash geek out over E.T. (and other such films with aliens in them), while the Emerald Archer, the Flash, Supergirl and the Legends prepare to take on the Dominators.
You expect the par-for-the-course special effects, but what you don’t expect is how much you care about seeing these characters interact. We’re not naming any names, but it turns out that time spent with your main characters will always win out over big action set pieces, and the Legends finale somehow pays off across the board.
5. “Bulletproof Love” (Luke Cage)
Luke Cage falters a bit towards its end of season run-in, but one musical montage in episode 12 proves the exception by reinforcing a message we can all get behind. Never was a bulletproof black superhero more necessary than in 2016, the year in which black men and women being shot and killed by law enforcement was in the headlines more than ever before. Luke Cage knew exactly what it was doing, and it was proud to do it — as was its main character.
Cage himself is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of justice, refusing to arm himself or stoop to the level of criminals, and rapper Method Man appears on a local radio show to explain why Harlem needs a “black man that’s bulletproof.”
The broadcast transitions into Method Man’s “Bulletproof Love,” as a montage of Harlem’s citizens wearing Cage’s bullet hole-riddled hoodie unfolds on screen. It’s a turning point for the character, as people begin to realize they’ve been fearing the wrong person. But more than that, it’s Marvel television once again reaching beyond superheroes, and engaging with real-world issues.
4. Cap vs. Iron Man (Captain America: Civil War)
Steve Rogers and Tony Stark had clashed over their ideals on a few occasions since The Avengers, but not until 2016 did it actually mean anything for the MCU. When Stark finds out his parents were murdered by Bucky Barnes, Cap steps up to honor his brainwashed buddy, and the tone of the film changes entirely.
This time, there are lives on the line, as Tony goes all out against the super soldiers in some of the rawest action you’re ever likely to see from Marvel. Cap and Bucky start off on the front foot, using some inventive choreography to quickly exchange the vibranium shield, but when Iron Man removes Bucky’s metal arm, his suit is able to combat Cap’s fight pattern.
The momentum of the brawl changes hands as quickly as Cap’s shield, and if the film works for you as it was intended, then you don’t even know which hero you’re rooting for. After watching their relationship develop over a long period, the throwdown is equally captivating and gut-wrenching, as the two biggest Avengers leave the fate of the superhero team hanging in the balance as they go blow for blow.
3. Prison Fight (Daredevil)
The one-shot hallway scene in season 1 is still the definitive Daredevil moment, and while the second season tried to replicate it with a staircase fight that doesn’t quite stack up, the moment that actually comes closest doesn’t involve Matt Murdock at all. Instead, Wilson Fisk (now officially the Kingpin) sets an angry bunch of prison inmates on Frank Castle, and every last one of them gets dispatched in a manner befitting of someone nicknamed the Punisher.
The brawl doesn’t hold back in its bloody violence, but it remains one of the most elegant fight scenes in Marvel’s collection, for its careful choreography and stylized editing. But what truly propels the moment to the number three spot on our list is its representation of character.
It’s not just action, it’s asking you to question your own morality, which is something Punisher goes through every day. Kingpin’s manipulation of the prison guards lands you firmly on Castle’s side, even as he brutally murders a cell block full of people. In fact, the more brutal the better, because that’s who Punisher is, and Daredevil doesn’t shy away from that fact.
2. Warehouse fight (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)
Ben Affleck surprised just about everyone with his portrayal of a Dark Knight Returns Bruce Wayne, and he was just as impressive as Batman. Most of his scenes serve as a blessed relief from the rest of the movie, but only one stands out enough to make it the second best superhero moment of the year. In an action scene Straight Outta Arkham, Batman finds his path to saving Superman’s mother (we don’t mention her name) blocked by a bunch of Lex’s mercenaries. You already know the rest.
We’ve seen our share of great Batman action of the years, but never a scene choreographed quite so ruthlessly. A virtually unarmed Batman dispatches several gun-wielding guards with very little effort and an inventive array of moves seldom seen on the silver screen. All that, and it remains faithful to its source material. The scene is shot as though taken directly from Batman: Arkham City, while fans of the Dark Knight Returns comics recognize this particular Batman as a little more calculated, and a little less hesitant to snap a few necks.
1. Giant-Man (Captain America: Civil War)
For all the excellent storytelling and character building in these other moments, sometimes you just can’t top a good old-fashioned superhero throwdown. Ant-Man turned out to be a better movie than fans were giving it credit for, but the end of the film — where an ant and a Thomas the Tank Engine toy are enlarged during Ant-Man’s defeat of Yellowjacket — dropped a super-sized hint that there was more to come from Scott Lang.
This pays off and then some at the infamous airport scene in Civil War, as Scott has to provide a distraction for Team Cap to make their escape. The surprise of the transformation alone is spectacular, made even better by the exceptional effects and the fact that it wasn’t spoiled in the trailers (looking at you, Dawn of Justice). But what comes next is pure comic book fun, starting with War Machine’s “Okay, tiny dude is big now. He’s big now,” and ending with Spider-Man pulling a trick straight out of that “really old movie,” The Empire Strikes Back, and tripping up Giant-Man with his webbing.
The airport scene as a whole goes down as some of the most entertaining 20 minutes in Marvel’s catalogue, but Scott’s first appearance as Giant-Man is the centerpiece of the action, and deserves its place as the number one moment on our countdown.
What was your favorite superhero moment in 2016? Let us know in the comments.