Every Marvel Netflix Season, Ranked: From 'Luke Cage' Through 'Daredevil'

9:15 AM 3/8/2018

by Josh Wigler

Here's how Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, the Punisher and the rest of the Defenders stack against each other.

Courtesy of Netflix

The devil of Hell's Kitchen. The hard-drinking, harder-hitting detective. The unbreakable hero of Harlem. The man with the Iron Fist.

Four heroes have come together to form the backbone of a partnership between Marvel and Netflix, first launched in 2015 with Daredevil, starring Charlie Cox. From that first series, several others were born: Jessica Jones, starring Krysten Ritter as the titular private eye; Luke Cage, starring Mike Colter as the hero occasionally known as Power Man; Iron Fist, starring Finn Jones as the person who really wants you to know his name is Danny Rand; and the series that combines them all, The Defenders, Netflix's answer to The Avengers. Following the initial launch of shows, another series hit the Marvel Netflix Universe: The Punisher, starring Jon Bernthal as the lethal vigilante.

Three years and counting after the premiere of Daredevil, there are now eight full seasons of Marvel-Netflix television in existence. With Luke Cage having just launched its second season, here's how The Hollywood Reporter ranks the different entries in the streaming service's superhero pantheon.

  1. 9
    9

    "Iron Fist"

    Season 1

    Courtesy of Netflix

    It shouldn't require much (if any) explanation to lay out the case against Iron Fist, decisively the biggest failure in the Marvel-Netflix experiment. Between Danny Rand (Finn Jones) frequently pouting that nobody knows who he is, to this action-centric character spending at least half of the series dealing with boardroom politics, and all the misguided drug-fueled subplots in between, Iron Fist isn't just a low point for the streaming service's Marvel output; it's a low point for superhero television, outright.

  2. 8
    9

    "The Defenders"

    Season 1

    Courtesy of Netflix

    As the Marvel-Netflix endeavor's answer to The Avengers, the heroes of Hell's Kitchen and the surrounding neighborhoods should have been a widely celebrated event. Instead, the first team-up of Iron Fist, Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) landed with something of a thud. Even at eight episodes, the shortest entry in the Marvel-Netflix pantheon feels sluggishly paced, with the exception of a few blockbuster episodes (the first hallway fight and the Chinese restaunt sequences are highlights) and some legitimate surprises, such as the fate of Sigourney Weaver's Alexandra.

  3. 7
    9

    "Daredevil"

    Season 2

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Vincent D'Onofrio's powerhouse performance as Wilson Fisk towered over the first season of Marvel's first venture into the Netflix arena. In season two, he's relegated to a mere two episodes; better than nothing, but notably absent given the lack of a villain with equal weight. His relative absence is at least compensated by the arrival of two new breakout characters in the Marvel-Netflix universe: Elodie Yung as the deadly Elektra, and Jon Bernthal as the vengeful Frank Castle. The Punisher arc in particular stands out as a high point of season two, so much that it launched an entire spinoff for the trigger-happy antihero.

  4. 6
    9

    "The Punisher"

    Season 1

    Courtesy of Netflix

    In many ways, the sixth original series from Marvel and Netflix is a misguided one, given its brutal depiction of gun violence in the midst of America's mass shooting epidemic. It also suffers from many of the same pacing issues that plague its sister shows. With that said, Bernthal's turn as Castle stands out as one of the most dynamic performances in the entire Marvel-Netflix catalogue, certainly the most physically grueling. The Punisher also takes a surprisingly thoughtful approach to cultural issues, especially PTSD, most poignant in the closing monologue of season one.

  5. 5
    9

    "Jessica Jones"

    Season 2

    David Giesbrecht/Netflix

    The first season of Jessica Jones suffers from an unbalanced final act. The second season suffers from the opposite problem: a slow start, especially noted by the lack of David Tennant's Kilgrave. Almost halfway through the season, however, the Krysten Ritter drama undergoes a shift that gives the remaining episodes a stronger sense of focus. While it doesn't reach the highs of its first season, Ritter's performance remains powerful enough to elevate season two past many of Netflix's Marvel offerings. 

  6. 4
    9

    "Luke Cage"

    Season 1

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Featuring the best soundtrack in the Marvel-Netflix pantheon and it's not even close, Luke Cage comes out as the most visually and tonally distinct of these superhero shows. The graininess of Daredevil and the rest still exists here, but is often obscured by bright yellows and other neon hues, with a score that infuses the series with the proper amount of adrenaline. It also features Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple more than any other of Netflix's Marvel shows; always a plus. Season one of Luke Cage drags severely following its earliest major twist, but the opening arc of the season is among the best Marvel runs on Netflix.

  7. 3
    9

    "Jessica Jones"

    Season 1

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Ranking purely based on the single best leading performances across the Marvel-Netflix shows, this would be number one. Without a doubt, Krysten Ritter's turn as Jessica Jones is the top of the line in terms of the Marvel protagonists. Season one also features the most culturally powerful story across any of the series, exploring issues of consent, PTSD, rape and violence in ways no other Marvel show has managed before or since. It stops just short of the top spot due to a final act that's wobbly at best, outright terrible at worst, beginning with Will Simpson (Wil Traval) embarking on a super-roid rage that virtually completely derails the momentum of the season.

  8. 2
    9

    "Luke Cage"

    Season 2

    Netflix

    Mustafa Shakir debuts as Bushmaster, one of the most compelling villains in the Marvel Netflix Universe. Reg E. Cathey arrives as Luke's father, the reverend James Lucas, the late actor's final role. Alfre Woodard breaks all the way bad in her final turn as Mariah Dillard. All the while, Luke himself battles with demons both external and, even more severely, internal. While it doesn't necessarily hit the heights of Mahershala Ali's Cottonmouth reign over the first half of the first season, Luke Cage season two is a much more consistent entity, extreme in its emotional impact. Still too long by at least three episodes, much like the rest of the streaming service's Marvel offerings, Luke Cage season two still stands out as one of the very strongest editions of Marvel's Netflix partnership.

  9. 1
    9

    "Daredevil"

    Season 1

    Netflix

    The first of Marvel and Netflix's shows together remains the best of the bunch: Daredevil season one, hallway fights and all. Between the excellent chemistry of the lead characters, the pulse-pounding action, and setting a markedly different tone from everything else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe up until that point, Daredevil earns the top prize. What sets it over the top: D'Onofrio as the Kingpin, not just the best villain in the Marvel Netflix Universe, but one of the very best villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, full stop.