All 45 Marvel Movies Ranked Worst to Best

3:12 PM 2/17/2016

by John DeFore, Leslie Felperin, and Jordan Mintzer

Three THR critics rank all Marvel-inspired films from 'Man-Thing' to the best.

Courtesy of Marvel

The record-breaking success of Deadpool will surely have many side effects, the most obvious of which being a sudden uptick in curse words spouted by Spandex-clad protagonists.

For genre fans who've spent recent years obsessing over the arcana of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though, the film serves as a reminder that there's more to Marvel than the MCU. Marvel Studios, to its likely chagrin, isn't the only studio raking in dough from Marvel Comics properties; it's just the one whose business plan most closely resembles a supervillain's world-domination scheme.

For those who've forgotten that vast swath of the imaginary universe that falls outside the view of Asgard and S.H.I.E.L.D.: Here, ranked from worst to best, are all the features based on Marvel Comics characters. (Spoiler alert: Only half of the top ten are standalone Marvel Studios productions.)

  1. 45
    45

    Man-Thing

    2005

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Produced in the thick of the pre-MCU Marvel boomtime (by 2005, two Spideys and two X-Men had already stormed through cinemas), this nearly forgotten outing never even made it to Stateside theatrical release. Giving it to Lawnmower Man director Brett Leonard probably signified producers' lack of faith in a property easily confused with DC's Swamp Thing.

  2. 44
    45

    Captain America

    1990

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Produced in Yugoslavia by the late exploitation mogul Menahem Golan, this cheapie offers enthusiasm, but only the most ardent so-bad-it's-good-seekers will argue it's worth hunting down on video.

  3. 43
    45

    Howard the Duck

    1986

    Courtesy of Marvel

    The notorious bomb about a duck-billed creature from a faraway galaxy was, one now realizes, a very expensive research project for producer George Lucas' later creation, Jar-Jar Binks. The less said about this proto-Marvel adaptation, the better.

  4. 42
    45

    Fantastic Four

    2015

    A cast of up-and-comers and a promising young director gave discriminating fans hope for a seemingly doomed franchise. Instead, the latest outing furthered our distrust of the comic-book reboot in general, raising the bar for future efforts: Every new "reimagining" that conspicuously lacks imagination will make us come to the next with even stronger defenses in place.

    Read THR's film review here

  5. 41
    45

    Elektra

    2005

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Jennifer Garner was perfect for Alias's ass-kicker with a conscience, but was woefully miscast as the Greek assassin/love interest Frank Miller created for his Daredevil comics in the 1980s. Having made her part of the misbegotten Ben Affleck Daredevil movie, producers doubled down on the error in this best-forgotten spinoff.

  6. 40
    45

    Fantastic Four

    1994

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Sure, this Roger Corman-produced cheapie is worse than any other FF outing by several objective measures. But watching the hilariously klutzy movie, which has never had an official release but is widely shared on bootlegs, offers the illicit thrill of seeing what Marvel wanted to hide from you — and "thrill" is a word rarely associated with Fantastic Four movies.

  7. 39
    45

    Fantastic Four

    2005

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Pity the poor filmmakers who have to make Mr. Fantastic, whose body stretches like Silly Putty, look cool as a live-action champion of the universe. Maybe it's something that can't be done, like making Wolverine's hair lie down flat. Maybe Hollywood should stop trying.

  8. 38
    45

    The Punisher

    1989

    Courtesy of Marvel

    So ambivalent about its comic-book roots that it doesn't even let its namesake wear that cool skeleton-head shirt, this first adaptation of Marvel's take on Dirty Harry found a post-He-Man Dolph Lundgren dyeing his hair and hoping we wouldn't make the connection between the two pix. After kicking around international theaters for a year and a half, it went straight-to-video in the U.S.

  9. 37
    45

    Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

    2012

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Back by not-so-popular demand, this brand-milking dud can at least be credited with not taking the cheap reboot route. (Or should it be damned for not investing that kind of imagination?) Should-be-great co-stars Ciarán Hinds and Idris Elba are wasted in a muddled story.

    Read THR's film review here

  10. 36
    45

    Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

    2007

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Who would think that a CGI character resembling an Academy Award could actually increase the charisma quotient of an ensemble superhero movie? But even with the eponymous "Sentinel of the Spaceways" on hand, the film failed to capture the planet-consuming awe Kirby and Lee intended their villain Galactus to radiate.

  11. 35
    45

    Ghost Rider

    2007

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Picture a Vampire's Kiss-mode Nic Cage starring in a story about a stunt-biker cursed by the Devil to hunt down bad guys, transforming into a flaming-skull maniac whenever there's action afoot. Congratulations: your imagination just made a better movie than Ghost Rider, whose director, Mark Steven Johnson, managed to write three of Marvel's worst pictures and direct two of them.

  12. 34
    45

    Daredevil

    2003

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Though he was a much better fit for Matt Murdock than he is for Bruce Wayne, Ben Affleck couldn't save this Mark Steven Johnson misfire, which manages the impressive feat of draining an origin story of its myth-building romance. And back before he found his footing with In Bruges, Colin Farrell's leather-boy Bullseye threatened to turn the whole thing into Schumacherian camp.

  13. 33
    45

    Punisher: War Zone

    2008

    Courtesy of Marvel

    The third time was not the charm for this character, who probably looked to producers like he should've scratched the fanboy-ultraviolence itch that Deadpool finally addressed. One problem: It's hard to get (intentional) laughs from a guy named Punisher. The first production from Marvel Studios splinter Marvel Knights, it should've been the last.

  14. 32
    45

    The Punisher

    2004

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Pretending its 15-year-old Dolph Lundgren predecessor didn't exist, this barely acceptable shoot-'em-up cast Thomas Jane in the title role and put him in the crosshairs of a kingpin played by John Travolta.

  15. 31
    45

    Blade: Trinity

    2004

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Though Guillermo del Toro breathed undead life into an unpromising franchise with Blade II, once David S. Goyer slid from the screenwriter's chair into the director's, it was goodbye to all that.

  16. 30
    45

    X-Men: The Last Stand

    2006

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Inaugurating a "the third one sucks" trend that would afflict several Marvel properties, Fox gave what should have been an operatic tale (in which a martyred character from X2 returns as something like a god) to one of Hollywood's most moneymaking hacks, Brett Ratner. Next time around, the series had to go back in time to make us forget.

  17. 29
    45

    X-Men Origins: Wolverine

    2009

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Plenty of fan-pandering action but too little brainpower went into this first Wolvie spinoff, which was especially surprising given the casting of typically thoughtful Liev Schreiber as the X-Man's taloned bro Sabretooth. Some fans will never forgive the fakeness of Wolverine's snickety-snick claws in this installment.

    Read THR's film review here

  18. 28
    45

    Blade

    1998

    Courtesy of Marvel

    When New Line released Blade in 1998, a schlocky supernatural actioner starring Wesley Snipes as a "daywalker" (read: half-vampire who isn't afraid of daylight), a layman would hardly have believed that soon the cineplex would overflow with Blade's kin. But the horror/action hybrid made enough cash to earn two sequels, and before it ran its course, we had both angsty mutants and an arachnid teen ready to pick up the baton.

  19. 27
    45

    Spider-Man 3

    2007

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Too many villains spoil the broth in this bloated conclusion to an otherwise successful trilogy. With Spider-Man battling best frenemy Harry Osborne, mutant dirtbag The Sandman and an alien "symbiote" that would become Venom, the film offered an overdose of action with little wit to spare. Though definitely not the charm, Raimi’s third effort still grossed a whopping $890 million, keeping Marvel’s coffers tingling.

  20. 26
    45

    Thor: The Dark World

    2013

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Tom Hiddleston's Loki has to do most of the heavy comic lifting to keep this otiose sequel buoyant, but there's still plenty to savor here. From a geek point of view, The Dark World helpfully fills in a bit of the cosmology behind The Nine Realms and the Infinity Stones and all that stuff, but the overall narrative arc and placement of action beats is a bit too formulaic to fully satisfy.

    Read THR's film review here

  21. 25
    45

    The Amazing Spider-Man 2

    2014

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Most of us who stood by the oft-maligned incarnation of Peter Parker in Amazing #1 got off the boat with this one, which was too overstuffed with goofy villains (Paul Giamatti's Rhino?!) to do justice to its affecting Petey/Gwen Stacy love story.

    Read THR's film review here

  22. 24
    45

    Iron Man 3

    2013

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Some superhero movies fail by throwing too many villains at us. IM3 glazed our eyes over with too many heroes as well: When Tony Stark sent all those robots out to do his dirty work, didn't anybody start to wonder why he needed to risk his own life in a suit? And that ending was intolerably wishy-washy about Stark's retirement from the game.

    Read THR's film review here

  23. 23
    45

    Hulk

    2003

    Courtesy of Marvel

    God, how we wanted to like a Hulk film by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's Ang Lee. And there were bright spots, like Lee's cheeky use of moving split screens to recall the irregular panels of a print comic. But no: Those Hulk dogs were absurd, the script problematic, and Eric Bana's Bruce Banner compares poorly with those who followed.

  24. 22
    45

    Blade II

    2002

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Producers could hardly have made a smarter move than giving this franchise to Guillermo del Toro, whose gifts were known mostly to horror fans willing to read subtitles in Cronos and The Devil's Backbone. Ensuring over-the-top production design and oodles of bloody-ninja cool splattered onto the screen, the director bought himself not a recurring Blade gig but something better: the clout to get his vision of Hellboy out into the world. (And thus, the Marvel universe begets even more comic-book adaptations.)

  25. 21
    45

    X-Men: First Class

    2011

    Courtesy of Marvel

    A step in the right direction that wasn't quite witty enough to renew our faith in this series, First Class got some mileage out of casting Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy as the young Magneto and Xavier. But it lacked imagination in its embrace of a 1960s setting, relying on too-obvious retro design cues, and the let's-save-this-cash-cow desperation was difficult to ignore.

    Read THR's film review here

  26. 20
    45

    The Incredible Hulk

    2008

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Edward Norton brought more charismatic pathos to the big green brute than Eric Bana did a few years earlier, and a long hideout in Rio's slums helped give this version a fresh start. Even so, the pic didn't make a great case for Hulk as a solo movie star: Mark Ruffalo's subsequent Avengers turns, in which he plays so deftly with louder co-stars, suggest Hulk is best as color in other heroes' stories.

  27. 19
    45

    Thor

    2011

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Despite the fact that they're anchored by arguably the most self-serious character from the Avengers' posse, Chris Hemsworth's terminally noble Nordic beefcake, the Thor films have a gleeful, subversive wit, thanks especially to Tom Hiddleston's deliciously naughty villain Loki. And how can you not like a film in which the hero tries to buy a horse in a pet shop?

    Read THR's film review here

  28. 18
    45

    The Wolverine

    2013

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Finally, a superhero movie that behaved like an unpretentious genre pic. (And reminded us that comic books come out once per month, sometimes going long stretches between world-threatening cataclysms.) If this had been the first Wolverine solo outing, Hugh Jackman's razor-clawed beastie might have carried a whole series of his own films by this point.

  29. 17
    45

    Iron Man 2

    2010

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Action-packed and delivering the same smart-ass kick of its predecessor, the second Iron Man go-round hinted at the overkill that would plague the next — and which, to be fair, tends to make most of these movies less fun than they oughta be. Paving the way for IM3's dubious villain The Mandarin, Mickey Rourke munches all the scenery without swallowing his toothpick as the vengeful Russian Whiplash.

    Read THR's film review here

  30. 16
    45

    X-Men: Days of Future Past

    2014

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Hard to follow? Yeah, kinda. But this time-travel story stayed digestible enough to justify the presence of actors we wanted to see from both the old and new incarnations of the team — while, natch, introducing new ones like Evan Peters' Quicksilver. Whether future chapters (like May's Apocalypse) can keep this conflicting-timelines notion afloat remains to be seen.

    Read THR's film review here

  31. 15
    45

    The Amazing Spider-Man

    2012

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Yes, it was much too early for a reboot (unless we're judging by Hulk standards), but Andrew Garfield brought an intelligent 21st century emotional edge to the 60-year-old icon of teen anxiety. Throw in Emma Stone, a richer love interest than comics movies (including Spider-Man ones) usually get, and you have an enjoyable first chapter whose promise went unfulfilled.

    Read THR's film review here

  32. 14
    45

    Deadpool

    2016

    Though overrated (sex and sadism! Ryan Reynolds making Ryan Reynolds jokes! and check out those box-office figures!), this quite funny jab in the side of the superhero aristocracy eventually slides into conventionality but has a lot of fun along the way. One can already feel the forces of corporate homogeneity assimilating its thorniness, looking for opportunities to naughty-up other properties on the assumption that an R rating accounts for Deadpool's success. Sigh.

    Read THR's film review here

  33. 13
    45

    Captain America: Civil War

    2016

    Posing serious questions about violence and vigilantism while reveling in both, the third Captain America film is overlong but surprisingly light on its feet. It builds upon the plotlines of previous Avengers outings, bringing together known marquee quantities and introducing the Black Panther and a new Spidey in winning fashion.

    Read THR's film review here.

  34. 12
    45

    Guardians of the Galaxy

    2014

    Wildly overrated upon its release because it was such a refreshing change from familiar formats, Guardians is a winner despite its occasional forays into ordinariness. It seemed to have as little to prove as its roguish lead characters, but that didn't keep director James Gunn from treating this goofy corner of the galaxy like it was a real place inhabited by alien beings, not mere production-designed eye candy.

    Read THR's film review here

  35. 11
    45

    Captain America: The First Avenger

    2011

    Courtesy of Marvel

    One of Marvel's most boring major print characters became arguably their movies' most likeable one thanks both to a note-perfect characterization by Chris Evans (thanks for not blacklisting him after Fantastic Four, Marvel!) and to the filmmakers' rejection of "USA! USA!" jingoism. This Cap's patriotism, however steadfast, never plays like propaganda.

    Read THR's film review here

  36. 10
    45

    Big Hero 6

    2014

    Disney/Screengrab

    Didn't know this absolute charmer was a Marvel adaptation? Sure was, though the screenwriter reportedly avoided reading the source material in order to keep his take on it fresh. Calling it a superhero team pic is technically accurate, though the core story — of a grieving teen inventor and his emotionally sensitive robo-protector — feels more like a classic kids' movie that wins grown-up love as well.

    Read THR's film review here

  37. 9
    45

    Avengers: Age of Ultron

    2015

    It sometimes felt like a hangout movie focused on figuring out how these unthinkably powerful characters could share a room without their supercharged egos destroying space-time. But Ultron also offered one of the more conceptually appealing villains in Marvel-movie-dom, and almost offhandedly created a hero, The Vision, unlike any of his predecessors.

    Read THR's film review here

  38. 8
    45

    Ant-Man

    2015

    An outsider Marvel pic that didn't work to make its novelty obvious, Ant-Man deflated overblown superhero pomposity like a pinprick to a giant balloon. The persistence of a team that saved it from development turmoil may be irrelevant to the merits of the finished product, but it's certainly worth celebrating.

    Read THR's film review here

  39. 7
    45

    X-Men

    2000

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Sorry Blade, but this 2000 Bryan Singer film deserves credit (or blame, if you lean that way) for pulling the superhero movie out of its dumb-DC-sequels doldrums and initiating its current reign. It also clued Hollywood in to the wealth of characters birthed by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, et al. From here on out, Batman and his Justice League cohort had to work a lot harder for their big-screen cred.

  40. 6
    45

    X-Men 2

    2003

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Adapting one of the comic series' best stories, the franchise's second installment deepened its social metaphors and, having done plenty of exposition in the first chapter, dug into its core characters' personalities while introducing intriguing new ones. Wolverine came into his own, with Hugh Jackman's charismatic performance explaining to uninitiated viewers what devotees always saw in the character.

  41. 5
    45

    Spider-Man

    2002

    Courtesy of Marvel

    X-Men beat it to the screen by two years, but with its gimongous box-office take and certified pop appeal, the first of five (and counting) live-action Spider-Man features launched the superhero genre into its current stratosphere. As light on its feet as Tobey Maguire’s web-head himself, this fast and funny origin story holds up more than a decade later, especially in comparison to Marvel’s CGI-serious reboot.

  42. 4
    45

    Captain America: The Winter Soldier

    2014

    Courtesy of Marvel

    With the WWII origin story out of the way, filmmakers didn't stop to wallow in the culture shock of their frozen super-soldier's 21st century awakening. They gave the square-jawed hero a hell of a conspiracy to face down, one that slyly encouraged viewers to question the kind of vastly powerful authorities another costumed hero might blindly obey.

    Read THR's film review here

  43. 3
    45

    Iron Man

    2008

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Where Sam Raimi's Spider-Man fulfilled every pimply nerd's fantasy of superpowered liberation, the Iron Man embodied by Robert Downey Jr. understood the next phase of adolescence, in which a fanboy desires not just supernatural abilities but panache. Director Jon Favreau was the right man for this job, with one foot in the fantasy world of Zathura but a strong ear for contemporary swagger.

    Read THR's film review here

  44. 2
    45

    Spider-Man 2

    2004

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Though Batman would beg to differ, comic book sequels rarely surpass their predecessors. But Sam Raimi’s follow-up to his Spidey sensation improves on the first film’s action and f/x while giving us the best baddie in the Marvel screen universe. As the tortured Doctor Octopus, Alfred Molina’s psychological reach was as long as his tentacles, culminating in a rare case of super-villain suicide.

  45. 1
    45

    The Avengers

    2012

    Courtesy of Marvel

    Single-hero pictures offer one kind of thrill, but Joss Whedon's rollicking, bantery ensemble movie delivered something bigger: a giddy group dynamic one might imagine to be impossible for teammates who fly separately through the chaos, battling the forces of destruction. It captured the energy of a classic team comic while doing right by the diverse individual plotlines that team contained.

    Read THR's film review here.

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