(UPDATE 8-31-15: Added Fantastic Four, Ant-Man, and Avengers: Age Of Ultron to the list)
Rank every single motion picture featuring a Marvel Comics character, and write something about each one to back up the placement? You’d have to be an idiot to even attempt such a thing!
Well, meet that idiot, ladies and gentlemen.
It took time, a boatload of research, and a lot of hemming and hawing, (and probably some deep-seeded masochistic tendencies) but I was finally able to lock down the order. So, my beloved Marvel zombies, it is my distinct pleasure to present to you – the ultimate, definitive (in my opinion, anyway) rankings of ALL MARVEL COMICS MOVIES:
(Ed. Note -Before we dive headlong into this massive undertaking, I think it’s important to explain what isn’t going to appear on this countdown. My criteria for the rankings was simple – only feature-length, live-action movies featuring Marvel comic book characters released into theaters or direct-to-video were eligible. This eliminated the Roger Corman 1994 Fantastic Four movie from consideration because it was never actually given an official release, as well as all of the made-for-TV flicks like Hasselhoff’s Nick Fury: Agent Of SHIELD, Doctor Strange, Generation X, Spider-Man, Captain America, and all of the Bill Bixby Incredible Hulk stuff.
I also excluded the Captain America movie serials from the 1940s because I’ve never gotten the opportunity to see them, and they were never intended to be screened as a single, feature-length presentation, anyway. Also, some of you hardcore sticklers out there may call me out on the inclusion of the Kick-Ass movies on this countdown, and technically speaking, you’d be right to do so as Kick-Ass is a creator-owned IP that’s only published by Marvel. Still, that logo is on the issues, so I added them to make this list a solid 40 films. Oh, and one more thing – in the interest of full disclosure, there are one or two entries that are, shall we say “recycled” from reviews and features I’ve written in the past. So yes, I’ve plagiarized myself. But it’s okay, I forgive me.)
43.) Elektra (2005)
Scraping the absolute bottom of the Marvel movie barrel is this colossal misfire from 20th Century Fox, who somehow thought a spin-off of the dreadful—and critically loathed—Daredevil adaptation (we’ll get to that soon) was a smart business decision. Elektra was completely ignored by average moviegoers and hardcore comic book fans alike upon its release in January 2005, grossing a paltry $12 million over the weekend, finishing with a $24 million domestic take on a $43 million production budget. The movie returned the most white bread, WASP-y actress in Hollywood at the time, Jennifer Garner to the role of the exotic, deadly Greek assassin, who was somehow resurrected after her impalement in Daredevil and became embroiled in a kidnapping plot involving ninjas and terrible super-powered villains that’s quite honestly too tedious and stupid to bother re-capping.
42.) Howard The Duck (1986)
Howard the Duck was a subversive, satirical Marvel comic created by Steve Gerber in the ’70s. It was one of the first comics to contain meta-textual content, political commentary, and was oftentimes a send-up of the office politics going on at Marvel itself. The movie adaptation, however, is a schlocky Hollywood blockbuster about a wacky anthropomorphic duck who gets sucked through a vortex on his home planet and crash-lands on Earth, where he gets mixed up with a nerdy Tim Robbins, a big-haired Lea Thompson, and mad scientist Jeffrey Jones. Howard The Duck manages to be simultaneously creepy, unfunny, and pretty gross (It’s strongly implied that Lea Thompson’s character and Howard are doing it). When people talk about the transformation of George Lucas from benevolent, imaginative creator of timeless fantasy-adventure films to crass, money-grubbing, creatively bankrupt producer of empty spectacle, Howard The Duck is usually one of the first things cited as evidence.
41.) X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the absolute low point for 20th Century Fox’ X-Men franchise, and is one of the worst superhero movies ever made. Rushed into production with an absolute mess of a screenplay, hacked to smithereens in the editing room, and incompetently directed by Gavin Hood – the film completely botches an attempt to combine an adaptation of the Daniel Way-Steve Dillon Wolverine: Origins comic series with the cinematic continuity of the previous X-Men films. Among Origins‘ transgressions is a completely toothless, wussy Wolverine; a mangled timeline; the needless shoehorning in of dozens of extraneous mutant characters like The Blob, Deadpool (perfectly played by Ryan Reynolds, to be fair), Gambit, Emma Frost, and more; and a ludicrous final battle sequence on Three Mile Island between Wolverine and a surgically enhanced Deadpool, who could teleport and shoot lasers out of his eyes. Oh, and his mouth was sewn shut. Yes, really.
40.) Fantastic Four (2015)
20th Century Fox’s disastrous fecal bomb of a Fantastic Four reboot became one of the biggest financial catastrophes in comic book history after it opened to a humiliating $25.6 million, and subsequently dropped off 69% the following weekend. It was also utterly annihilated by critics (the film currently sits at 9% on Rotten Tomatoes) for its bleak visuals, dour tone, claustrophobic bunker/lab sets, and a lack of chemistry among its young cast. The majority of the film’s issues can be traced back to the studio’s backing of controversial and erratic young director Josh Trank’s vision of a grim and gritty take on Marvel’s “First Family” that had more in common with a “David Cronenberg body horror movie” than the lighthearted, adventurous spectacle portrayed in the pages of the comic books.
Trank’s behavior on set and off was the subject of intense Internet scrutiny in the months and weeks leading up to the films release – he reportedly caused $100,000 worth of damage to the house he was renting during shooting thanks to his dogs, he didn’t get along with Invisible Woman actress Kate Mara (who apparently was forced on him by Fox), he was confrontational and moody, and he nearly came to blows with Mr. Fantastic actor Miles Teller on set. Eventually the Fox suits lost faith in Trank, slashed the budget, eliminated three key action scenes, and did a hasty reshoot of the film’s third act which delivered a rushed, out-of-nowhere CGI battle sequence with Dr. Doom (the second time this character had been mishandled on screen) and the worst blonde wig in cinema history.
39.) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
This movie is terrible. TERRIBLE. I eviscerated Amazing Spider-Man 2 in my full-length review, and it continues to make me angrier and angrier the more I think about it. Aside from the phenomenal scenes of Spider-Man swinging, wise-cracking, and saving people in spectacular fashion (which takes up about 8 minutes of a 2-plus hour film), this sequel to an unnecessary reboot is an unmitigated disaster in almost every way. It’s bloated, garish, boring, intelligence-insulting, and it just flat-out doesn’t work.
Jaime Foxx plays his Electro/Max Dillon role like a guy who has only ever watched two or three superhero movies from the ’90s, turning in an over-the-top, way too broad, cringe worthy villain caricature. Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborn is an immediately unlikable asshole, Andrew Garfield’s Peter is still too cool, aloof, and smoldering to be an effective Peter Parker, and I just feel bad for Emma Stone for having to waste her effortless effervescence in these turd movies. This is the lowest-grossing Spider-Man movie of all time, and for good reason; it’s so bad that it forced Sony to completely scrap their release slate, pushing back Amazing Spider-Man 3 to 2018. I guess their hope is that people will forget about this mess and actually want to see another Spider-Man movie by then.
38.) Man-Thing (2005)
Honestly, Man-Thing isn’t too horrible for a Direct-To-Video movie (especially considering what we’ve come to expect from those movies these days), but it’s still populated by dull, faceless characters; and turned a bizarre and unique Marvel comics creation into just another B-horror movie creature. The effects are surprisingly good for a straight-to-video flick in 2005, but beyond that, there really isn’t much to say about this very brief footnote in Marvel cinematic history.
37.) Captain America (1990)
Before Chris Evans strapped on the shield and became the living embodiment of the star-spangled Avenger on-screen in the current Marvel Cinematic Universe, the cheapie 21st Century Film Corporation put author J.D. Salinger’s kid Matt Salinger in a rubber Cap suit (complete with rubber ears!), and trotted him out in an embarrassingly cheap and shoddy direct-to-video adaptation. A WWII battle sequence following Cap’s (mostly faithful) origin in the first act showed some promise, but it’s obvious that the $10 million budget was chewed up after that and the remainder of the film is laughably bad.
The worst aspect of this movie for me was Captain America’s complete ineptitude when it came to fighting the Red Skull. Cap, of course, is supposed to be the greatest hand-to-hand fighter on the planet, yet he gets his ass handed to him by the Red Skull during their first meeting, barely getting a punch in. Oh, and did I mention the Red Skull is ITALIAN, and not German? Yeah, that should tell you all you need to know about this turkey. But hey, Ned Beatty’s in it, so it has that going for it.
36.) Ghost Rider (2006)
This movie is the cinematic equivalent of lighting a bag of dog shit on fire, plopping it down on someone’s front stoop, ringing the doorbell and running away laughing. Director Mark Steven Johnson (who will appear again on this list soon) enlisted noted Marvel Comics superfan Nicolas Cage—who at this point, was just beginning his descent into madness and insolvency—to strap on the worst hairpiece in the history of film to portray Johnny Blaze, the motorcycle stuntman alter-ego of the demon with the flaming skull known as Ghost Rider.
Cage decided to essentially play Johnny as Elvis Presley, and along for the ride was a mumbly, wooden Eva Mendes; a bored Peter Fonda; a paycheck-cashing Sam Elliot; and American Beauty‘s Wes Bentley as the villain Blackheart, who looked like a proto-Edward Cullen from the Twilight franchise. Terrible dialogue, a nonsensical narrative involving an ancient scroll, inert action sequences with zero stakes, and shoddy CGI effects all colluded to send this fiery stinker to eternal cinematic damnation.
35.) The Punisher (1989)
On paper, The Punisher seems like one of the easiest Marvel comics properties to adapt to the big screen. He has no superpowers, so you don’t need a massive budget for special effects, and the narrative is a relatively straightforward one — war veteran returns home, sees his family brutally gunned down in a park by the mob, and vows to take vengeance on all criminals using stealth, martial arts skills and enough guns to arm a third-world nation. Yet, somehow, studios and directors can’t seem to make a successful adaptation out of this basic premise.
The first attempt was this direct-to-video cheapie starring Rocky IV‘s Ivan Drago, Dolph Lundgren as a Punisher who likes to sit Indian style in grimy sewers completely naked and deliver cheap hooch to his hobo informants in a Radio Shack RC car. The flick also stars Louis Gossett, Jr, as a cop hunting the Punisher down, and eventually the storyline involves the Yakuza kidnapping the children of mob bosses, and the mafia turning to the Punisher to help rescue them. Yes, it’s as dumb as it sounds. Also the costume designer on the project thought it was a good idea to leave out the single most iconic element of the character — the skull on his chest. So to recap, skull on chest = too silly. Sitting naked in a sewer = acceptable.
34.) Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance (2011)
I’m ranking the Ghost Rider sequel a couple notches above the original because it had better directors (The Crank tandem of Neveldine & Taylor) who brought a more kinetic action style to the film, Badass Supreme Idris Elba is in it , and by this time the career meltdown of Nic Cage was at peak levels, making his batshit Elvis impersonation quite entertaining to watch. (His hairpiece was much better this time around, too.) The sequence where some goons fire hundreds of bullets into Ghost Rider’s face and he spits them all back out like a hellish machine gun is also pretty badass. However, even with all of those elements in play, Spirit Of Vengeance is still a near-unwatchable nothing of a movie, with no one to care about and ugly, sparse locations. There is a scene in this film where Ghost Rider literally pisses fire. That happens. In a movie. I think we’re done here.
33.) Fantastic Four (2005)
Marvel helped usher in the Silver Age of comics with The Fantastic Four #1 in November, 1961. “The First Family Of Comics” M.O. was high adventure, mind-blowing science, huge super-heroic spectacle, and encounters with bizarre creatures and beings from outer space and parallel dimensions. All of that sounds like it would make for a pretty insane summer blockbuster, right? Get Michael Chiklis to play a note-perfect Ben Grimm/The Thing and you’re on to box-office glory, right? Well, not if you’re 20th Century Fox, who saw the FF as a middling, moderately budgeted affair rushed into production to capitalize on the success of the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises (and to retain those pesky film rights to the IP).
Flatly lit, flatly shot, and just plain flatly executed by journeyman director Tim Story, The Fantastic Four is a weightless bit of superhero fluff that fails in capturing the spirit of the comic book in almost every aspect, save one — the antagonistic but loving character dynamic between The Thing and Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, the latter perfectly realized by Chris Evans, years before taking on the Captain America role for Marvel Studios. Everything else in the movie is just lame, from Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba’s terrible chemistry as Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, to the brief, dull action sequences. But the ultimate atrocity perpetrated by this weak adaptation is the catastrophic mis-casting of Nip/Tuck‘s Julian McMahon as Doctor Doom, who reduces the most fearsome villain in the entire Pantheon of Marvel baddies to a weaselly Business Tycoon constantly trying to get into Jessica Alba’s panties. Unforgivable.