If my calculations serves me correctly there have been around 40 (yes 40) Marvel movies. Now not all of these films are part of their more recent interconnected cinematic universe. Some came well before Marvel’s multi-billion dollar experiment was put into place. But they all qualify and help make up my rankings of all Marvel movies so far. Well, at least all that I have seen. I never watched “Blade: Trinity” (the first two were enough), “Punisher: War Zone” (I did try, but nope), or “Deadpool” (sorry fans, I didn’t like what they turned him into in the comics, and I certainly didn’t care about watching it on screen). But I have seen all the rest and here they are worst to first:
#37 – “Fantastic Four” (2015)
There is nothing wrong with taking a few liberties when making a movie. But you should never obliterate the source material especially when the end result is this bad. “Fantastic Four” is a train wreck. Bad casting, terrible direction, and the worst writing of any film bearing the Marvel name. Disastrous.
#36 – “Elektra” (2005)
Somewhat of a “Daredevil” spin-off, “Elektra” is killed by an incredibly flat and downright boring script. Jennifer Garner gives it her all, but she is let down by dopey dialogue, an uninteresting story, and completely uninspired action. Any possibility of Elektra showing up again was left dead in the water.
#35 – “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” (2012)
This just goes to show that the coolest movie poster doesn’t mean it’s a good film. The second Ghost Rider movie is really bad. So bad that even Nic Cage, the actor who will take any role thrown at him, completely wiped his hands of the series. This thing looks and feels cheap and its stupidity is sometimes beyond measure.
#34 – “Hulk” (2003)
While some critics went for this, I see it as a failure and a complete waste of a good cast. Eric Bana is particularly good but the writing lets him down again and again. So many ludicrous additions to the source material including a father/son conflict that plays out in a dumb and excruciating ending. Sorry Ang Lee.
#33 – “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014)
Bloated, overblown, overstuffed – all adjectives that fit this film and that will pop up again on this list. While “Amazing 2” made over $700 million it is still considered a franchise killer and yet another Spidey reboot was quickly announced. This thing never gets its footing. Jamie Foxx is a horrible villain and Dane DeHaan’s casting is still mind-boggling. Underdeveloped characters and rampant goofiness end up killing this mess of a movie.
#32 – “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006)
Brett Ratner’s turn at the wildly successful X-Men wasn’t a good one. The film instantly starts on a bad note and then becomes a tedious exercise with Wolverine and Jean Grey as its centerpiece. Too many mutants tossed in with practically no interesting buildup and an ending that had me throwing up my hands. No wonder the series met its temporary end after “The Last Stand”.
#31 – “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009)
An interesting concept that is completely trashed by the time “X-Men Origins” is done. It does some interesting things in the first act but flies completely off the rails. A good Liev Schreiber version of Sabretooth is offset by a literal butchering of other key characters and of X-Men continuity.
#30 – “Iron Man 3” (2013)
Yes I know, many people loved this $1.2 billion juggernaut. I found it to be all over the map, starting strong but ending horribly. Shane Black’s film tries to take a more human look at Tony Stark which is fine. But the slog through the middle is tough and the insanely dumb ‘twist’ at the end rightly put off a huge portion of fans. Once again a good cast is railroaded by some horrible creative choices.
#29 – “Spider-Man 3” (2007)
Oh those third installments. They certainly have a reputation and “Spider-Man 3” lives up (or down) to it. The definition of an over-stuffed movie that simply has too much going on. Three villains that never get the full attention they deserve and some wacky Peter Parker drama doesn’t mesh as a fun and cohesive whole. It was the first of the Spidey franchise killers.
#28 – “Ghost Rider” (2007)
It’s impossible to call the first “Ghost Rider” movie a good movie, but at least it knows what it is…kinda. There are some fun moments and at times the CGI looks really cool. But it is too ridiculous for its own good and the story itself leaves much to be desired. It made a ton of money but left no lasting impression.
#27 – “Thor: The Dark World” (2013)
It’s hard not to be mixed on “Thor: The Dark World”. There are things I like about the characters and story. But so much is lacking. The playful energy of the first film is gone for the most part and the story itself flatlines the closer it gets to its highly mediocre and forgettable ending.
#26 – “The Fantastic Four” (2005)
Generally criticized as a bad movie, “The Fantastic Four” really isn’t. It could be called silly and lightweight but that’s part of its charm. The cast has a lot of fun and it rarely takes things too seriously. Unfortunately that isn’t enough to carry it far in your memory. In the end it doesn’t stand out despite being fun.
#25 – “Daredevil” (2003)
Several years ago this film would have been lower on this list, but my opinion of it has changed over time. “Daredevil” has a lot going for it and it is one of the more unique and interesting superhero origin stories. It does flounder in spots particularly with its tone and pacing, but it isn’t nearly as bad as some say.
#24 – “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” (2007)
Much more serious than the first film but also more interesting. The addition of Silver Surfer to the mix is a lot of fun and some of the character drama works well. The serious tone does strip it of some of the above-mentioned charm, but the film still works. And toss in one of Stan Lee’s very best Marvel movie cameos.
#23 – “Ant-Man” (2015)
Widely adored by audiences mainly for its willingness to do something different within Marvel’s cinematic universe. I appreciated that too, but it is still a film with issues. The comedy keeps hitting the same note and the film features one of Marvel’s worst and most uninspired villains. Funny at times but not the grand mold-breaker it is made out to be.
#22 – “X-Men: Apocalypse” (2016)
The latest of the X-Men movies is such a mixed bag. The film starts on a slow note as it attempts to bring together so many characters from the film’s ridiculously large mutant catalog. Surprisingly it does pick up in the final act and it impressively brings everything together. But getting to that point isn’t the easiest thing.
#21 – “Blade” (1997)
Somewhat of a pioneer of Marvel movies. Wesley Snipes was a butt-kicking, sword-weilding, vampire superhero in 1998’s “Blade”. At the time the film was something fresh and the stylized action was a hoot. It is still a little rough around the edges and no one can argue against its silliness.
#20 – “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)
Again, another Marvel movie that is beloved for its willingness to go against the norm. But is “Guardians” really that great? Unquestionably it has some good laughs and the characters are fun. But some of the jokes land with a thud and (once again) a boring and wasted villain takes a lot of the steam out of the story. But you have to appreciate its aim.
#19 – “Incredible Hulk” (2008)
Edward Norton gives his one-shot take on Bruce Banner in a Hulk reboot that does a pretty good job of helping us forget Ang Lee’s disaster. The film is based on a really good comic book storyline and bypasses another origin telling. Norton is good as is his supporting cast. Unfortunately the final act gets ridiculous and keeps it from being as good as it should be.
#18 – “X-Men: First Class” (2011)
A surprisingly interesting reboot (kinda) of the X-Men series mainly due to the two lead performances from James McAvoy and particularly Michael Fassbender. Both actors flesh out their characters through some compelling storytelling. Unfortunately the back-end of the cast are significantly weaker and they bog things down a bit.
#17 – “Blade II” (2002)
A fun, ultra-violent sequel five years after the first film. There is tons of style and flare in Guillermo del Toro’s direction and the action certainly takes center stage. Wesley Snipes (in full pre-tax evasion tough guy form) has a blast swinging and slicing through his enemies and that’s what the movie offers in tons. The story is light, but who went to “Blade II” for the story?
#16 – “The Wolverine” (2013)
In many ways this is a stand-alone Wolverine film done right. It’s an odd movie that takes Logan back to past connections in Japan. The setting makes for a fun and unique setting and Jackman is at his feral best. But like so many of the movies, “The Wolverine” fails in the final act by giving a lame final battle that doesn’t measure up to the rest of the picture.
#15 – “The Punisher” (2004)
A widely undervalued and underappreciated film featuring Thomas Jane as the scarred and tormented Frank Castle. Jane fits the character well and John Travolta is a good mix of cheesy and vile as the film’s villain. It doesn’t hold back from the violence which is fitting. The one main problem is the small group of generic outcast side-characters. They distract from an otherwise good take on the Punisher.
#14 – “The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Talk about a movie both helped and hurt by its reboot status. After “Spider-Man 3” the webcrawler was in need of a reboot. This film did a good job of putting together an interesting story and characters. It also did several things to separate itself from the past trilogy. At the same time the decision to tell another origin story hurt the movie. It felt too soon and too familiar despite its attempts to be different.
#13 – “Iron Man 2” (2010)
Not quite the superhero groundbreaker its predecessor was, but still a fun romp and a showcase for Robert Downey Jr’s laser-tongued wit. Not everything works perfectly. The longer it goes the louder it gets and Sam Rockwell’s performance is borderline bizarre. But while many rail against the film, I’ve always found it to be highly-polished fun.
#12 – “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015)
The Avengers films are the centerpiece of Marvel’s cinematic universe and the ambition behind them is almost as high as their budgets. This, the second of the superhero ensembles, still has the strength of the many characters we have grown to know well through their host of movies. That alone makes it worthwhile and helps get past the film’s shortcomings.
#11 – “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014)
Inspired by one of the comics most classic storylines, “Days of Future Past” is a fascinating accomplishment. It is a crazy mixture of past and present both in terms of story and in X-Men franchises. The fact that it all comes together so smoothly is amazing. That’s not to say you won’t have to endure some mental gymnastics in order to keep up. But it’s worth it in the end.
#10 – “Thor” (2011)
Talk about a movie that had every right to fail. It could have been a catastrophe. Instead “Thor” is cool entertaining fantasy movie with a surprisingly good sense of humor. That is what sells it. It knows not to take things too seriously. Chris Hemsworth nails the role with his stout stature and his willingness to mock it at the same time. Again, much better than it had any right to be.
#9 – “X-Men 2” (2003)
A top-notch sequel once again inspired by some the X-books’ classic stories. This particular installment builds on the groundwork laid by the first film and expands the characters in the ways you want. The action is well-done and the ending certainly packs a significant punch.
#8 – “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011)
Here is another example of a creative team who understands the importance of tone and knowing not to overplay their hand. “The First Avenger” is an origin story that actually feels fresh. It has a ton of heart and creates authentic characters ripe with emotional complexities and all. It plays out in a wonderfully realized 1940s setting before cleverly connecting to the existing MCU.
#7 – “Spider-Man” (2002)
Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” was somewhat of a groundbreaker. I know I didn’t expect it to be nearly as competent or effective yet what it manages to do is impressive. Raimi and writer David Koepp wisely focus on the human side of their characters which gives weight and emotional value to all of the superhero action that would follow.
#6 – “X-Men” (2000)
You could say that Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” is the film most responsible for the 15+ years of comic book movies that has followed. “X-Men” was a huge surprise and amazed many of us with how well it brought these characters to life. The story is solid, the relationships feel genuine, and the action is a blast. “X-Men” deserves to be this high because in many ways it legitimized superhero movies as true quality entertainment.
#5 – “Iron Man” (2008)
At the time of its release some of us didn’t see how an Iron Man movie could work. Many of us were baffled by the casting of Robert Downey, Jr. to play such a superhero. We were so wrong. Marvel showed they knew exactly what they were doing not only in casting Downey, Jr. but in making a fun, easy to digest, action picture that also develops smart and believable characters outside of the flying armor and special effects.
#4 – “The Avengers” (2012)
I had a hard time believing that Joss Whedon would be able to corral all of the moving parts that make up “The Avengers”. Talk about a movie that could have been a studio-crippling disaster. Instead Whedon gained a ton of respect from critics and fans alike by making a film so perfectly mixed with action, drama, and humor. Too much of either ingredient could have doomed it. Instead it set an incredibly high bar for any Avengers film to follow.
#3 – “Captain America: Civil War” (2016)
This is the second Captain America film on the list, but it is essentially an Avengers installment and an excellent one at that. In “Civil War” there is a ton at stake both narratively and financially (for Marvel Studios). The careful balance of personal conflict and big budget action is incredibly well handled. It also shows how to set up what’s to come without sacrificing its own story.
#2 – “Spider-Man 2” (2004)
Sam Raimi’s second “Spider-Man” film is not only a good Spidey movie but a brilliant sequel that builds upon everything his first film did so well. It’s obviously full of spectacular special effects and some great action. But the true heart of the film is in how it presents its characters especially Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus. Easily the best Spidey films, and one of the finest superhero movies period.
#1 – “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2015)
Notice a common theme among all of the best superhero films? The ones that put a priority on the human element tend to be the best ones. Such is the case with “The Winter Soldier”. But there is so much more to the film. A crafty 70s spy thriller influence is seen all over the story and it melds perfectly with the broader focus. I also love the fact that (aside from the big finale) much of the action was done with old-school practical effects. Everything clicks from opening credits to the end credits stinger. For my money this is Marvel’s best.