Which Marvel movie is the best? Which Spider-Man is truly amazing? Is Logan really the new cornerstone of cinematic achievement? These are questions for the ages. Or the last fifteen years, at least.
The past few decades have seen a glut of superhero movies hit theaters and, while DC had a solid head start, Marvel is clearly the undisputed leader. Between Marvel Studios, Universal, Fox, and Sony, dozens of Marvel properties have graced – or disgraced – the silver screen, with Spider-Man: Homecoming the most recent offering. Naturally, it’s time to rank them, comprehensively and definitively.
We tried to go deep with our picks, but it turns out there’s a reason Marvel wanted their own studio: a lot of early Marvel efforts sucked. While we considered every theatrically-released movie based on a Marvel property, ever, you’re still going to see a lot from this century.
Obviously, here there be spoilers. While we’re not necessarily getting into detailed recaps, some plot points might be ruined if you’re trying to go into these movies blind.
Also, please keep in mind that lists of this nature are always subjective. We tried our best to keep things democratic – polling our friends, sending an email around the office, asking our fathers-in-law, checking the Rotten Tomatoes ranking – but this is still just our opinion. You’re more than welcome to disagree. As long as you do it politely.
Now, without further ado, we humbly present The 25 Best Marvel Movies, Ranked.
25. Blade II
Four years after the original Blade, Guillermo del Toro was handed the reigns on the sequel. Following our half-human, half-vampire hero as he teams up with his enemies, the Bloodpack, to hunt down the Reapers, a group of artificially-enhanced vampires, the film was heavy on action and visuals, but light on everything else. Still, Blade II goes down as the best of the trilogy, standing head and shoulders above the other two.
Unfortunately, “better than the other Blade movies” is where the flick tops out. Blade, as Wesley Snipes himself has admitted, was not developed as a character with any emotional depth. And even with Ron Perlman, Norman Reedus, and Donnie Yen in the cast, there was only so much they could do. Guillermo del Toro did his best, but, even then, you could tell his heart was already with Hellboy.
24. The Incredible Hulk
After pretending Ang Lee’s Hulk never happened, Marvel tried their hand at creating their own Hulk movie franchise, only to discover that creating a narrative around a radioactive green rage monster was harder than it looked.
The Incredible Hulk finds Bruce Banner traveling the globe, trying to find a cure for the rampaging goliath within him. Pursued by General “Thunderbolt” Ross and the United States military, as well as the Abomination, Banner does his best to stay hidden and calm, only to end up in Harlem, punching the Abomination with cars and generally wrecking up the place.
Even Edward Norton and his uncredited script doctoring couldn’t save The Incredible Hulk from being decidedly mediocre. While it’s certainly better than 2003’s go-round, the movie’s tepid response seemed to be the nail in the Hulk coffin, confining the green goliath to the role of a supporting player – much to everyone’s benefit.
23. Iron Man 2
Following the events of the first Iron Man, billionaire inventor Tony Stark has exposed himself as the man in the metal suit and now faces the consequences. Under pressure from the government to share his tech with the military, Stark refuses, fearing that the information will fall into the wrong hands. Little does he know that the wrong hands are tech geniuses in their own right, as Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko have teamed up to take Tony down.
Even Sam Rockwell, the first on-screen appearances of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Don Cheadle as War Machine, and a scenery-chewing Mickey Rourke couldn’t elevate this one. Solid, but decidedly average, Iron Man 2 doesn’t quite have the legacy of its predecessor, or the scrappy, Shane Black-penned heart of Iron Man 3.
22. Thor: The Dark World
Lot of second movies at this end of the list, aren’t there? Guess the sophomore slump is real after all.
Anyway, Thor: The Dark World finds the mighty Asgardian god fighting to save Earth and the rest of the Nine Realms from Malekith and the Dark Elves, after Jane Foster accidentally releases the Aether (a.k.a. the Infinity Stone of Reality) and dooms us all. Along the way, Thor’s mom dies, his dad is kidnapped, and Loki generally wreaks havoc and steals the show.
The Dark World is Thor’s second standalone movie, following The Avengers and Iron Man 3, and released just before Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. And, honestly, that might be why The Dark World gets such a bad rap – wedged in between some of the best movies in the MCU, it just doesn’t shine as brightly as it could have.
Two years before Spider-Man made us believe a man could swing on webs, Bryan Singer’s X-Men exploded into theaters, ushering in the superhero movie age. Introducing the world to mutants and the populace that fears them, the movie finds Professor X and his team facing off against Magneto and his evil mutants. Meanwhile, Senator Kelly wants them all dead, refusing to see any difference between them. After the senator’s liquefied, the two groups of mutants have a showdown at the Statue of Liberty, with good eventually triumphing over both evil and some borderline ridiculous dialogue.
The first live-action X-Men movie, X-Men was a revelation and a solid harbinger of great things to come. But, looking back now, the flick is just not that good. Yes, it introduced the world to Hugh Jackman and his immortal Wolverine, but it also started the “everyone’s in black leather” fad. Plus, as mentioned earlier, the dialogue could be clunky and terrible at times, despite the occasionally perfect one-liner. For all the good it did, re-watching X-Men now, the film just doesn’t hold up as well as one might hope.
20. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Still reeling from the events of his previous movies, Tony Stark tries to create a global defense program, hoping to eliminate the need for the Avengers in the first place. Instead, he creates a sentient artificial intelligence hellbent on destroying humanity. Whoops. Along the way, the Avengers defeat Baron Strucker, fight Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, go on a magic acid trip, take a page out of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie and retreat to a farm to argue with one another, create another sentient artificial intelligence (this one with an Infinity Stone in its head), and then recruit the Maximoff twins to fight the first evil AI and his army of evil robots on a floating city.
Avengers: Age of Ultron was so close to being amazing. Ultimately, though, there was too much going on and the movie fell prey to world-building over storytelling. Also, Joss Whedon unnecessarily killed another beloved hero and we were all finally sick of it.
19. X-Men: First Class
After royally pooping the bed with X-Men: The Last Stand, a lot of people thought the X-Men’s days as bankable stars were numbered, if not over entirely. Then came Matthew Vaughn and X-Men: First Class, reinvigorating the franchise and introducing the world to the term “soft reboot.”
A prequel/re-do to the original trilogy, X-Men: First Class told the story of the first five members of Xavier’s team, taking liberties with both the comics and the movies’ own continuity. The professor’s X-Men, after learning to control their powers and use teamwork, join up with mutant supremacist and Xavier’s best friend, Magneto, to stop the Hellfire Club and then a nuclear war. Along the way, everyone falls in love with Mystique, despite the fact that she’s a shapeshifting murderer.
Despite being an ancient Asgardian prince whose exploits span the universe, the original Thor is a decidedly intimate story, taking place largely in a small town in New Mexico.
Thor, arrogant and reckless, accidentally reignites an ancient war between Asgard and the Frost Giants, and is banished to Earth for his transgressions, stripped up his powers by Odin until he proves himself worthy. While there, he falls in love with a human woman, learns to not be an a-hole, and defeats a set of homicidal, super-powered armor sent by his brother, Loki. Eventually, he’s allowed back home, where he makes peace with his father and realizes he’s not yet ready to be king.
With some amazing fights and a terrific cast, the movie was a worthy debut for the mighty Thor, even if it was, at times, a little too predictable. Had this list been made a few years ago, Thor would probably be higher, but the flick’s since been outclassed by its contemporaries.
The first Spider-Man movie worth watching, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man hits all the requisite origin notes: wallflower Peter Parker, bitten by a radioactive spider, failed wrestler, Uncle Ben’s death, great power, great responsibility, etc. Conveniently, just as Spider-Man fully realizes his powers, the Green Goblin realizes his, murdering the Oscorp board and jumping whole-hog into the supervillain thing. Kidnapping Mary Jane Watson, the Goblin forces Spider-Man to make an impossible choice, which, naturally, he’s able to overcome. There’s a final fight, the Green Goblin dies, and superhero movies were changed forever.
Much like X-Men before it, Spider-Man is better remembered for what it did than what it was. The movie is generally pretty by-the-book, the effects don’t hold up, and that scene where a bunch of New Yorkers pelt the Goblin with garbage is cringe-inducingly cheesy. Still, seeing Spider-Man realized in live-action, swinging through the skyscrapers of New York City, was breathtaking, giving the movie all the cred it needs to go down as a classic.
16. Doctor Strange
Renowned neurosurgeon Stephen Strange gets a little too cocky, totals his car, wrecks his hands, and, after exhausting all conventional means, resorts to magic to try and cure his shattered fingers. Turns out, though, the good doctor is a great sorcerer, and quickly finds himself surpassing the tutelage of Mordo, Wong, and the Ancient One to take down evil magician Kaecilius, stopping him before he can hurl Earth into Dormammu’s Dark Dimension.
Of all the Marvel movies, Doctor Strange is probably the most basic on paper, with a paint-by-numbers plot and a superfluous love interest. What elevates the movie to something worth remembering, though, is the amazing casting, the trippy visuals, and the “Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain” scene, all of which seemed lifted directly from the pages of a comic book. Maybe it’s a little too on the nose, but Doctor Strange was something magical to behold.
Ne’er-do-well Scott Lang, desperate and unable to hold down a real job, breaks into Hank Pym’s house and steals his high-tech shrinking suit. Hijinks ensue. Lang returns the suit, finds out he was being played by Pym the whole time, flirts with Pym’s daughter, goes through a training montage, and then becomes Ant-Man, just in time to try and steal back Pym’s stolen tech from Generic Corporate Bad Guy #3.
Despite a troubled production, Ant-Man burst onto the scene with panache, stealing audiences’ hearts and putting a distinctive bow on Marvel Studio’s Phase Two. Ostensibly a heist flick, Ant-Man was also the MCU’s first true comedy, with scene-stealing performances by Paul Rudd and Michael Pena, catapulting a pretty by-the-numbers plot into something memorable and unique.
14. Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 finds brash industrialist-turned-superhero Tony Stark stranded in Tennessee after the Mandarin blows up Happy Hogan and Stark’s cliffside mansion. Crash landing in the snow, Iron Man pulls his best Batman, taking on an underage sidekick and trying to get to the bottom of the Mandarin mystery, all the while battling crippling PTSD and Aldrich Killian’s Extremis soldiers. War Machine, meanwhile, gives his armor to the bad guy and accidentally lets the president get kidnapped, before both storylines collide in a bunch of explosions.
Written and directed by Shane Black, Iron Man 3 has all his usual hallmarks, including snappy dialogue and a Christmas setting for no apparent reason. The movie’s also both deeply personal and deeply hilarious, despite that weird scene the producers put in to keep China happy. More importantly, the flick also gave fans the Science Bros moment they’d been waiting for, with a button showing Tony Stark and Bruce Banner just hanging out.
13. Captain America: The First Avenger
Set almost entirely in the 1940s, Captain America: The First Avenger all but set up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, laying down the history and groundwork that everything else would be built upon.
Volunteering for the secretive Super Soldier program, skinny Brooklyn kid Steve Rogers is turned into the muscular hero Captain America. Originally used as propaganda by the United States government, relegated to performing at USO shows and hawking war bonds, Cap, with the help of Peggy Carter, disobeys orders and ends up behind enemy lines, freeing his friend Bucky Barnes from captivity. With the help of the Howling Commandoes, Captain America does what he does best and punches some Nazis in the face, before breaking Peggy’s heart and crashing into an ice floe.
12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The sequel to the groundbreaking Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 had some mighty big shoes to fill, a task it was mostly up to.
The Guardians are out hero-for-hiring, working for the Sovereign in exchange for Gamora’s villainous sister, Nebula. Rocket steals some batteries, all of the Sovereign are hot on their tail, and the Milano crashes as it tries to escape. There, Peter meets his father, Ego the Living Planet, only to discover that he’s actual a psychopathic madman. Snarky quips and laser fights ensue.
Really, the biggest problem with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is that the first one was so amazing. You can’t break the mold twice. The first Guardians set up a side of the Marvel universe we had literally never seen before, with breathtaking visuals, weird aliens, and a lot of unbelievable locales. Even if Vol. 2 was as technically good as the first, it was always going to pale in comparison.
Set in the near-future after some cataclysmic event wiped out almost all of mutantkind, Logan – even angrier and gruffer than usual – is an alcoholic limo driver, hiding out in Mexico with Caliban and a senile, seizure-riddled Professor Xavier. With dreams of escaping his miserable existence, Logan is forced into hero-ing once more when a woman approaches him, asking him to help move her and her daughter. Only it’s not her daughter, it’s his daughter, and she’s got the claws and bad attitude to prove it. Cybernetic Corporate Bad Guy #1 comes after them, allowing for a lot of gratuitous bloodshed and swearing, before unleashing his Kraken – a younger, crazier clone of Wolverine. There’s more bloodshed and swearing, and then there’s tears, as Hugh Jackman takes a tree through his chest, and then his final bow.
10. Iron Man
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Genius white guy is great at what he does, loses everything, comes to terms with what it really means to be great, fights some bad guys, and then devotes his life to fighting even more bad guys. Yeah, it’s a little played out at this point, but Iron Man gets points for being the first.
Forced to build a bomb by terrorists he helped to create, Tony Stark instead builds a suit of armor and murders his way out of the Middle East. Finding more villains at home, Stark creates an even fancier suit of armor, blows them up too, and becomes Iron Man.
The first movie in the at-the-time unnamed Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man paved the way for everything that came after. Contrary to the dark and brooding Batman movies, the first film from Marvel Studios played up the light and the humor inherent in their comics, and cinematic history was made.
9. Captain America: Civil War
After a boo-boo on a mission in Lagos results in a bunch of dead Wakandans, the United Nations is forced to enact the Sokovia Accords, requiring all super-powered people to register with their respective governments. The Avengers are split on the issue, with Tony Stark on the pro-registration side and Captain America against. Meanwhile, a shifty German guy is impersonating the Winter Soldier and causing trouble, because he doesn’t think the Avengers have enough problems already. Everything reaches a head, everyone punches everyone else, and also Spider-Man is there. The movie ends with Captain America and his friends on the run, while Tony Stark and the Avengers feel terrible about what they’ve done.
Captain America: Civil War is not a perfect movie, by any stretch. Zemo’s motivations are a little suspect, the schism between Stark and Captain America is a little too pronounced, but who cares. Civil War gave us a superhero brawl for the ages, a fight we’ve wanted to see since we were eight, so we’re willing to forgive its indiscretions.
8. X-Men: Days Of Future Past
In one of many possible post-apocalyptic futures, Sentinels have exterminated most of mutantkind, save for a small holdout of X-Men. In their fortress, Kitty Pryde discovers she has the ability to send a person’s consciousness back in time, allowing Wolverine to hop back to the 1970s to try and save the X-Men.
Now in the past, Wolverine convinces Professor Xavier to help him help everyone. Along with Beast, Magneto, and Quicksilver, they successfully stop Mystique from assassinating Trask, only to realize that the future is still screwed. Mystique tries to assassinate Trask again, Magneto decides to murder the president instead, Xavier stops everyone, and Wolverine wakes up to find a future different from the one he fled.
While we’ll readily admit that Days of Future Past nerfed Kitty Pryde’s role in the story, the movie also juggled a convoluted time travel story admirably, had solid character work along the way, and it erased X-Men: The Last Stand from existence. That alone gets it a place in this list.
A gun-for-hire, Wade Wilson finds out he has cancer and volunteers for an experimental procedure, against his girlfriend’s wishes. Once he arrives, Wade discovers that the shady organization he’s involved with is even shadier than he’d thought, not so much curing him as turning him into an evil super soldier. Wade wrecks up the place in protest, but not before he’s made invulnerable and ugly. Hunting down the man behind the program, Wade takes the name Deadpool and gleefully murders his way through throngs of henchmen, breaking the fourth wall and talking directly with the audience all the while. Eventually, there’s a big showdown, Wade defeats the bad guy and gets the girl, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead is elevated from one-panel joke to everyone’s favorite supporting character.
Proving once and for all that comic movies don’t have to be so serious, Deadpool was an incredible gamble that broke the box office and ended up changing the genre forever, for better or worse. Because, come on, despite what the creators said, there’s no way Logan would have been R-rated, or Suicide Squad would have had all those reshoots, without Deadpool.
6. Spider-Man 2
Spider-Man 2 finds Peter Parker attempting to juggle college, pizza delivery, the Daily Bugle, and web-slinging, while simultaneously dealing with being on the outs with Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborn. To make matters worse, Doctor Octopus is in town, and he’s teamed up with Harry to get rid of the wall-crawler. Unfortunately, Doc Ock is slowly losing his mind, kidnapping Mary Jane to get to Spider-Man. After fighting on a subway train, Doc Ock dumps Spidey on Harry’s doorstep, Harry realizes it’s Peter, and the two put aside their differences to go and rescue Mary Jane. Spider-Man convinces Octavius of the error of his ways, and Doc Ock sacrifices himself to save the city. Mary Jane thanks Peter for saving her life by dumping him forever, then changing her mind on the day of her wedding to someone else. Harry, meanwhile, goes nuts and become the Green Goblin.
Based, at least in part, on the “Spider-Man No More!” storyline, Spider-Man 2 is often remembered as one of the better superhero movies of all time, balancing heart and cheesiness, and adding depth to Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus, one of the first fully fleshed-out villains.
After a brainwashed Nightcrawler tries and fails to assassinate the president, Professor Xavier and his School for Gifted Youngsters are framed for the crime. Storm and Jean Grey head to Germany to locate Nightcrawler, while Cyclops and the prof go and talk to Magneto, suspecting he was behind the attack, only to be captured instead. Meanwhile, the genocidal Colonel Stryker attacks the school, scattering the students and sending Wolverine on the run.
Regrouping in the woods, Wolverine and his students meet with Magneto, Mystique, Nightcrawler, Jean Grey, and Storm, and they go after Stryker, locating him at Alkali Base, the same base where Logan was Weapon X-ed. Stryker wants to use Xavier to kill all of mutantkind, but is stopped by the X-Men. The base is flooded, Jean Grey dies, and hopes of a decent sequel blossomed, as we didn’t yet know that all third X-Men movies are hot piles of city garbage.
Despite the terrible title, X2 was the first superhero movie to achieve its full potential. The writing was on point, the action was incredible, the CGI was actually good, and heroes like Wolverine and Nightcrawler got to stab and bamf to their hearts’ content.
4. The Avengers
There was a lot riding on The Avengers when it first came out. Would the movie be able to live up to all our hopes and expectations? Was a shared universe possible? Could Joss Whedon truly do no wrong? Yes, yes, and for now.
Loki’s tasked with retrieving the Tesseract by one of Thanos’ henchmen, promising the Asgardian trickster an army with which he could subjugate the planet. Loki attacks a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility to get the cube, forcing Nick Fury to pull the trigger and assemble the Avengers. After some infighting, the team teams up for the first time, fails almost immediately, and Phil Coulson is killed, allowing the Avengers to get their crap together and avenge him, while simultaneously destroying half of New York City.
The Avengers was a solid movie all the way around, delivering everything audiences wanted, without getting bogged down in its own mythology. Much like Spider-Man before it, the sheer thrill of see all of Marvel’s heroes on screen at once, working together, for the first time, added another element that will never again be replicated.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
The comic Guardians of the Galaxy were a C-list team of space-faring anti-heroes for a long time, before rebranding and finding some cred in the “Annihilation” storyline. Still, giving them their own big budget movie? Was that really a smart idea?
Yes. A thousand times, yes.
Guardians of the Galaxy opened up the entire cosmic chapter of the Marvel Universe to mainstream audiences, adding a healthy dose of humor and giving the world a space opera in the vein of Star Wars, if Star Wars focused on Han Solo instead of Luke Skywalker. Scruffy-looking nerf herder Peter Quill is out stealing an ancient orb, only to find himself on the wrong end of two bounty hunters and Thanos’ daughter. They fight, they get thrown in prison, they break out, they get drunk, they all nearly die at the hands of Thanos’ lackey, and then they come together to save the day using teamwork and hand-holding.
A movie that probably never should have worked at all has gone on to become a fan favorite, reigniting the comics careers of all the characters, and making Marvel boatloads of money. All that from the guy who wrote Tromeo and Juliet.
2. Spider-Man: Homecoming
The second reboot of Spider-Man in fifteen years, Spider-Man: Homecoming had a lot riding on it. Specifically, Spider-Man’s entire cinematic future.
Coming back to Queens after fighting Captain America and Ant-Man in Civil War, fifteen-year-old Peter Parker is having a hard time settling in to being a friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man, wanting bigger and better things, like a real shot at becoming an Avenger. After stumbling onto the Vulture’s alien gun-running ring, though, Spider-Man finds himself in over his head and on the wrong side of both Tony Stark and the Vulture. But, even without anyone saying it on-screen, Pedro’s well aware that with great power comes great responsibility, and he steps up and saves the day.
Seamlessly blending a John Hughes-inspired teenage romp with the best parts of Marvel’s movies, Spider-Man: Homecoming is the Spider-Man movie we’ve wanted for decades. It’s smart, it’s funny, and it’s honest, with a teenage protagonist that feels like a teenager and, for once, seems to be having a blast as a superhero.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
After the events of The Avengers, Captain America is working for S.H.I.E.L.D. under Nick Fury, simultaneously trying to get a handle on this whole “being unfrozen in the future” thing. On a mission to free hostages and retrieve information, Cap realizes that S.H.I.E.L.D. might not be as on the up-and-up as he’d imagined. As he and Fury begin to dig into the agency’s true goals, Fury’s ambushed by a metal-armed maniac that’s able to go toe-to-toe with Captain America. Soon enough, he realizes Hydra has been hiding within S.H.I.E.L.D. for decades and it’s up to him, Black Widow, and Falcon to uncover the truth and set things right.
If The First Avenger was everything you expected from a Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier was everything you ever wanted. Where the rest of the MCU is made up of great, fist-pumping action movies, this is Marvel’s first true film, a taut conspiracy thriller that could hold its own against Three Days of the Condor. Captain America: The Winter Soldier transcends the movies that came before it, and elevated the entire superhero genre along with it.
Did we somehow miraculously get this entirely right? Are you enraged with every part of this list? Let us know in the comments. Just keep it civil, please.
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