Here are our picks for the most controversial superhero scenes of the last decade. The superhero genre is bigger than ever, in large part thanks to the breathtaking success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's no longer unusual to see a superhero film break $1 billion at the global box office, and Avengers: Endgame became the highest-grossing movie of all time.
For all that's the case, though, not every superhero film is actually good. 2011's Green Lantern is generally mocked due to its appalling CGI, while behind-the-scenes chaos meant Josh Trank's Fantastic Four became so bad the director criticized it on social media on its opening night. Justice League was a Frankenstein's Monster that divided the DC fanbase, and there's still a popular campaign for Warner Bros. to release the Snyder Cut.
But sometimes the controversy is really over a handful of scenes, either because they're emblematic of a film's problems, or because they stand out as particularly ill-thought-out compared to the rest of a masterpiece. Here are the top 15 most controversial superhero moments from the 2010s.
15. The Rape Scene - Super
James Gunn's Super contains probably the single most disturbing sex scene there's ever been in a superhero movie. Fresh from his time at Troma Studios, Gunn created a film starring Rainn Wilson as low-budget superhero the Crimson Bolt. Ellen Page played Boltie, the kid who decided her life wouldn't be complete unless she became the Crimson Bolt's sidekick. Then, in a disturbing and psychopathic twist, Boltie raped her mentor. Disturbingly, in an interview with Ain't It Cool News James Gunn described the rape scene as "sort of beautiful."
14. The Joker And Harley Quinn - Suicide Squad
No, the Joker and Harley Quinn are not #RelationshipGoals. Both the Batman animated series and the comics have always treated Harley Quinn as a victim of abuse, her mind twisted and warped by the Joker. And yet David Ayer's Suicide Squad decided to play it straight, with the Joker genuinely seeming to care for Harley. The abusive scenes were mostly cut - even though many of them were in the trailers - and the Joker actually rescued Harley from Task Force X. Twice. The DCEU seems to be trying to course-correct on this, with the recent Birds of Prey theater-only trailer declaring that Harley is so over clowns.
13. Gamora's Death - Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Infinity War revealed the terrible price that must be paid for the Soul Stone, but it did so in quite a disturbing way. The film established that anyone who wished to acquire the Soul Stone had to sacrifice someone they love, trading a soul for a soul. At first the superhero Gamora was delighted, laughing in her "father" Thanos' face because the universe had conspired against him. But then she realized that Thanos truly did love her after all - and that consequently, she could be his sacrifice. Gamora's Infinity War death scene was powerful and emotional, but it was also deeply troubling, because it was hard to see Thanos' love as genuine. Rather than an object of love, Gamora was properly viewed as a victim of abuse at Thanos' hands. And yet, Avengers: Infinity War implicitly treated Thanos' love as genuine, given the Soul Stone accepted his sacrifice.
12. Black Widow's Death - Avengers: Endgame
Avengers: Endgame may have been a blockbuster hit, but it utterly failed Black Widow. The character had always been under-developed by the MCU, and in Avengers: Endgame she and Hawkeye were placed in a position where one of them had to be sacrificed in order to acquire the Soul Stone. It devolved into a by-the-numbers scrap between the two friends, who've previously dueled in The Avengers and Captain America: Civil War; Natasha ultimately won, falling to her death from the cliffs of Vormir. Unfortunately it all felt arbitrary rather than completing a character arc. Marvel then slipped up by not shooting a funeral scene, and even Spider-Man: Far From Home minimized Black Widow's significance.
11. Flash Vision - Batman v Superman
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was easily the most controversial superhero film of the decade, and the Flash vision sequence is one of the worst moments in it. In this sequence, a sleeping Batman dreams a vision of a dark future, and then encounters a time-jumping Flash with a mysterious warning. The scene fits uncomfortably with the plot of Batman V Superman, and was intended to set up Zack Snyder's overarching narrative. It caused a lot of confusion for casual viewers, and the DCEU changed direction, meaning said narrative was abandoned. The whole sequence therefore points the way to a plot that will never happen.
10. The Destruction Of Auschwitz - X-Men: Apocalypse
The last decade has seen the superhero genre become increasingly destructive, but no example has really been quite so crass as the obliteration of Auschwitz in X-Men: Apocalypse. The titular villain was attempting to turn Magneto to his cause, and in order to do so he took the Master of Magnetism to the old concentration camp at Auschwitz, reminding Magneto of his personal history. In what was clearly meant to be a powerful and emotional moment, Magneto lashed out with a flare of power and tore Auschwitz apart. Unfortunately, it just came across as crass and tasteless, given the place Auschwitz holds in world history.
9. Batgirl & Batman's Sex Scene - Batman: The Killing Joke
In general, DC Animation's movies are high-quality and beloved by fans. An exception is Batman: The Killing Joke, which adapted Alan Moore's beloved comic book arc but added in an entirely unnecessary romance subplot between Batgirl and Batman. It came to a head in a sex scene on a rooftop, in which Batgirl straddled the Dark Knight. It's important to remember that Batman is essentially Batgirl's mentor, and that in the comics she's best known for her relationship with his protege Dick Grayson. The general consensus is that this whole addition was tasteless.
8. The Biker Scene - Captain Marvel
Captain Marvel proved to be one of the most divisive superhero films of the decade, in large part because of its pro-feminist message. One scene is seen symbolic of this - ironically so, because it was cut and only released as a deleted scene. In "What, No Smile?" Captain Marvel is harassed by a biker while trying to read a map; the biker jokes about how she's not giving him a smile. In response, Captain Marvel uses an energy discharge to humiliate the biker, and then makes off with his bike and his jacket. This is particularly pointed given there was a strange controversy over whether actress Brie Larson smiled enough in her titular role. Marvel was probably wise to cut this.
7. Superman And Zod's Trail Of Destruction: Man Of Steel
Even comic book writer Mark Waid, generally considered one of the best in the business, felt that Zack Snyder's Man of Steel went too far; he memorably described it as "Disaster Porn." Snyder felt all the destruction was necessary in order to make the film feel mythological in terms of scale, but even he appears to have accepted that it was overkill. The number of fatalities became a major subplot in the next DCEU movie, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, which then went to hilarious lengths to move the Doomsday battle to a deserted island to prevent another Disaster Porn accusation.
6. "Eight Years Later" - Spider-Man: Homecoming
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a unique Hollywood franchise, but it has its flaws. One of these is continuity; the timeline works, right up until the moment you look too closely and realize that it doesn't. Marvel generally get away with it, simply because they've earned a lot of goodwill, and audiences are happy to overlook most MCU continuity errors. Unfortunately, Spider-Man: Homecoming contained one that proved far too obvious; a title card claimed the film happened eight years after The Avengers, when it only took place four years later. There was absolutely no way to make any sense of it, and in the end even Marvel described this as "very incorrect."
5. Batman Kills - Batman v Superman
In the comics, Batman is famous for his "no killing" rule - that's why the Joker is still around, even when he's pushed the Dark Knight to the brink of madness time and again. Director Zack Snyder had a different vision, and in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice he presented a Batman who had given up hope long ago. As a result, this Batman no longer cared who he killed, as demonstrated in a stunning Batmobile chase. Given the amount of damage Batman caused, it was no surprise Superman told him to give up the vigilante gig.
4. Superman Breaks Zod's Neck - Man Of Steel
Man of Steel's final confrontation between Superman and General Zod came to a dramatic close when Kal-El broke his opponent's neck. Director Zack Snyder was attempting to present a new, rookie Superman who was seriously out of his depth, and he set up a scene in which even Superman would be forced to kill. Ironically, there's precedent; even Christopher Reeves' iconic iteration of Superman was willing to kill when he needed to. Modern audiences proved a lot more sensitive, however, and Zod's death become one of the most controversial superhero scenes of the decade.
3. Henry Cavill's Mustache
How can one mustache cause so much trouble? When Joss Whedon took over as director of Justice League, he conducted extensive reshoots. The problem was that many of his actors had moved on; Henry Cavill, for instance, was shooting scenes for Mission Impossible: Fallout. He'd grown a mustache for the roll, and Paramount wasn't willing to have him shave it off for the benefit of a rival studio. As a result, Warner Bros. used CGI to digitally remove Henry Cavill's mustache from their Justice League reshoots. The CGI shave didn't go well, and Superman's lip proved distracting to audiences every moment he was on-screen. The problem was especially pronounced in Justice League's opening scene, ensuring audiences got off on the wrong foot.
2. The Mandarin Scene - Iron Man 3
Marvel Studios' biggest misstep was in Iron Man 3, with its infamous Mandarin twist. The film subverted fan expectations, revealing that the supposed terrorist called the Mandarin was really a down-on-his-luck actor. It was actually quite a clever twist, but unfortunately it just didn't meet fan expectations. Comic book readers expected Marvel to play the Mandarin straight, and he'd been set up pretty effectively in Iron Man and Iron Man 2. The Mandarin twist proved so controversial that Marvel filmed an entire one-shot as an apology to viewers to reassure them that the real deal was still out there. The actual Mandarin is finally due to make his MCU debut in the upcoming Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, played by Tony Leung.
1. The "Martha" Moment - Batman v Superman
The top slot can only go to the scene that launched a thousand memes. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice saw the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel go head-to-head, and although Batman seemed outmatched, it was a fight he'd prepared for. The brawl came to an end when Superman appealed to Batman to save his mother, Martha, and his cry for help forced Batman to reevaluate him and see him as a human. Depending on who you ask, this is either a well-signposted, well-nuanced scene that fits well with the themes of the film as a whole; or else it comes out of the blue, strains belief well beyond breaking point, and just doesn't work at all. The "Martha" moment has been mocked throughout popular culture, and will go down in history - just not in the way Warner Bros. would have preferred.