Along with capes and tortured psyches, big cities are an essential part of superhero flicks. Heck, Superman‘s Smallville is pretty much the only small town in the entire genre. And whether fictional (Gotham) or real (New York City), a comic book movie hero’s city defines him just as much as his cool car or red and blue tights. But which is the toughest, grittiest, most rough-and-tumble city of them all?
1. Champion City (Mystery Men)
Home to loser heroes like Mr. Furious and The Spleen, Champion City’s name is more than a little tongue-in-cheek: Regular joes grab shovels and bowling balls and the only hero with any real power (Captain Amazing) is a total sellout. Visually, Champion City is a generic mish-mash of comic book and scifi movie tropes, and with all these misfit heroes running around, you’d think it would be a dangerous place to live — or at the very least, an expensive place to buy insurance. But any city where Dane Cook can pass as a hero can’t really be all that tough.
2. Metropolis (Superman)
As depicted in the Superman movies, life in Metropolis is pretty posh. Spelling-challenged reporters live in cozy apartments with spacious balconies for easy nighttime flight access. The Daily Planet, immune to economic woes, is housed in a sprawling skyscraper with a giant globe proudly proclaiming its name. Metropolis is such a chic city, its chief villain is a rich bald dude. Sure, there’s the occasional runaway helicopter or Luthor-created landmass threatening to destroy the population. But I’d much rather live in Metropolis than our next ‘hood.
3. Detroit (The Crow)
Detroit is regularly portrayed as a tough town on the big screen. But in The Crow, it’s basically a lawless demilitarized zone run by crime boss “Top Dollar.” The movie is set on “Devil’s Night” (basically a criminal free-for-all) where punks with names like Funboy and T-Bird rip off convenience stores, murder nice young couples and generally annoy Ernie Hudson’s poor beleaguered cop. It’s like 1970s New York with a dash of Blade Runner‘s Los Angeles — the kind of place where a hero needs Goth harlequin makeup and leather pants just to fit in.
4. New York City (Spider-Man)
New York will always be iconic in comic book movie-dom thanks to Spider-Man and the rest of the Marvel Comics gang. But in keeping with the lighter tone of Marvel movies, it isn’t really all that tough. Sure, you have the occasional supervillain interrupting your World Unity Fairs or dangling you and your fellow tram passengers over the East River, but what New Yorker takes the tram anymore? And, yes, The Thing’s sour mood did cause a huge traffic jam on the Brooklyn Bridge in Fantastic Four, but outside of Watchmen‘s grim alternate 1980s setting, the Big Apple of comic book movies is more hazardous than tough. And it’s a regular Celebration, Florida compared to…
5. Gotham City (Batman)
It isn’t easy being a resident of Gotham City. First of all, you live in a sprawling urban nightmare where the sun comes out about every six months or so. Your local politicians are inept (remember the Batman Returns mayor who couldn’t even host a safe Christmas tree lighting ceremony?), your ferries and trains are constantly being hijacked by maniacal villains (see Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) and your only hope for survival lies in the hands of a caped vigilante with serious daddy issues. Add in roving circus folk (Returns), parade balloons that spray deadly gas (Batman) and Coolio-led Day-Glo biker gangs (Batman & Robin) and it’s a wonder anyone stays. Let’s face it: Gotham is in desperate need of urban renewal.