When it comes to comic book television, there have been hundreds of shows over the years. Publishers like Marvel and DC dominate the networks these days. In fact, studios debuted nearly a dozen live action shows inspired by Marvel comic book characters in just the last decade. Not all of those shows can be critical (or audience) darlings.
When fans want to figure out if a series is right for them, a company like Rotten Tomatoes can them help the find the answers. Rotten Tomatoes compiles critical and audience feedback from various publications to give readers an idea of just how good, or bad, a movie or television show really is.
We’ve taken a look at Marvel’s TV offerings to find you the 7 Best (And 8 Worst) Marvel Shows According to Rotten Tomatoes.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Rotten Tomatoes grading system, the company considers a project “fresh” when it’s compiled scores are above 60%. It’s just like getting a passing grade in school. Less than 60% means the project is “rotten.” Marvel has a pretty good track record with its projects as more than half of the shows here come in at a rating considered fresh.
What you won’t find on this list are any of the animated series, as critics rarely review those en masse, so Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t have critical scores available for them.
15 Worst: Defenders (74%)
Kicking us off is a series that was highly anticipated in 2017, but landed to mixed reviews. The Defenders is actually the best of Marvel’s worst series. With a 74%, The Defenders garnered plenty of praise, but there were enough criticisms to leave audience members underwhelmed.
The Defenders united Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist against a common threat: The Hand. It featured an awkward team-up, some heroic growing pains, a lot of great fight sequences, and sarcastic one-liners. That should have made for a slam dunk from Marvel and Netflix. Unfortunately, fans found the pacing off and the villains not what they expected.
One good thing Defenders left the audience with was consequences. The fallout from the series will be felt across the solo series of the heroes as they return to the streaming site in 2018, starting with Jessica Jones on March 8th.
14 Best: Runaways (83%)
The first Marvel venture on Hulu, Runaways didn’t follow the Netflix streaming model. Instead of dropping an entire series at once, Hulu debuted the first three episodes of Runaways in one day, following a more traditional weekly broadcast schedule after that.
Runaways has been praised by those who love the comics for staying true to the tone and characterization that worked so well. Fans have also been pleased with the depiction of Old Lace - a dinosaur that uses a combination of practical effects and CGI.
The most common criticism of the series is that the title group of teenagers haven’t done what their name suggests - run away - even though the series is eight hours in. Given just how much the cast of relative unknowns and the changes from the comics have pleased even the most diehard fans though, a little patience will likely be rewarded.
13 Worst: The Gifted (73%)
The Gifted premiered in 2017 with the classic X-Men stories for inspiration. Weaving a tale of persecution and isolation, the show is familiar to those who know the comics. The difference? The series occurs in a world where the X-Men have vanished.
A point in the show’s favor is the use of characters who saw little to no appearances in previous live action adaptations. Blink, Thunderbird, Beautiful Dreamer, and Polaris have all been brought to life on the small screen for fans who thought they would never make it off the page.
Detrimental to the series is the large cast of characters the audience hasn’t had a chance to get to know by the end of the first season. The writers plucked so many characters from Marvel comics that they haven’t had a chance to serve them all.
12 Best: Daredevil (86%)
When Daredevil premiered on Netflix, it brought with it a new, bloodier version of Marvel for the screen. It demonstrated that the Marvel Cinematic Universe arm of the comic book shows weren’t afraid to get gritty when they needed to - and audiences loved it.
Over the course of two seasons, Daredevil borrowed from some of the character’s most iconic comic book stories while making them its own. Introducing Elektra and The Punisher in season two served to expand the series’ comic book roots, but it also turned some viewers off and slowed the pacing, making the show not quite the best of the best.
Of course, the critical score for the series might bump up a few points when season three finally lands on the streaming site. Season three promises to bring a new mix of comic and original stories.
11 Worst: The Punisher (62%)
Despite the love for the character Frank Castle, and Jon Bernthal’s take on him, his solo Netflix series debuted to mixed reviews. Some audiences members loved just how much the series stepped away from traditional comic book fair, while others lamented it seemingly not fitting in with the rest of the MCU.
The Punisher might just be the most deadly character on screen for the MCU thus far. He’s killed hundreds in his quests for vengeance - and he’s only appeared in two series so far. The amount of violence in his solo series isn’t for everyone, certainly not those who are used to the sanitized moves from Marvel, but it does create a whole new feel for a Marvel show.
The biggest concern from critics is the same following many of the Netflix projects - pacing. The series starts off strong, hits a lag in the middle, but finishes solid.
10 Best: Agent Carter (88%)
The first of the modern Marvel TV fare set in a different era, and the first to feature a female lead, Agent Carter was the queen of social media when she debuted. She was also a critical darling, as everyone wanted to see more of Peggy. Until they got to season two.
Season one of the series garnered itself a 95%, which would have bumped it to the top of this list. It was season two that dropped the ratings when critical reception cooled. An unnecessary love triangle and confusion about just what to do with the characters audiences loved in season one left people wanting to turn back the clock.
Those criticisms didn’t change the fact that Peggy was still one of the strongest, most vulnerable, and most endearing of the characters Marvel put on screen.
9 Worst: The Incredible Hulk (57%)
In the 1970s, The Incredible Hulk got his own made-for-TV movies and television series. A product of its time, the show is seen with both a certain degree of nostalgia and campiness today.
If the critical scores were from the series’ original run in the 70s, the percentage might have even been higher. Most critics took a look back on the series in the early 2000s when Universal Pictures exercised their rights to the comic book character and made more movies.
A 57% for a show that had limited special effects, but worked with what it had to make the character a fit for TV at the time, is actually pretty respectable. At least it ranked higher than the worst of Marvel’s worst!
8 Best: Legion (90%)
A story that many thought would never make it into the world of the X-Men on the screen, Legion follows David Haller as he discovers his mental health issues might come from a place of power.
The series is based on the comic book character revealed to be the son of X-Men leader, Charles Xavier. A powerful telepath, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and trapped inside his own mind by a villain. The series, in its first eight episodes, strived to embrace that storyline and place its own spin on it.
Critics loved that Legion told its story from David’s point of view, making what the audience saw an unreliable interpretation, but also visually stunning. The series allowed the viewer to be a part of David’s internal struggle without being well-versed in the superhero mythos as well.
Season two returns to television early this year.
7 Worst: Powers (48%)
Inspired by comics where superpowered people were both heroes and celebrities, Powers was a police procedural instead of a show strictly about superheroes. It was a great concept, but it just didn’t hit.
The show was one of the first for PlayStation’s streaming service, though it was originally conceived as a series for FX, the same network that currently aires Legion. A pilot was shot for FX and scripts were developed, but eventually it was dropped by the network. A few years later, PlayStation developed it into a series.
Unfortunately, despite many critics citing the “great potential” for the series, they also termed the dialogue clunky, the characters dull, and the pacing too slow. The show failed to find its audience, or move beyond its initial criticism, and was canceled after two seasons.
6 Best: Jessica Jones (92%)
Audiences can no longer cite superhero shows as all the same. That’s due in part to series like Jessica Jones, which wasn’t the origin story of a superhero, but a detective series about a woman dealing with trauma.
Jessica Jones was gritty and unnerving in a different way than Daredevil. It was a fresh take on the idea of mind control. The series earned praise for taking the instruction for women to “smile” and turning it into a villainous catchphrase, amongst other ways to recognize misogyny in modern society.
With a female lead, a female sidekick, and even a female frenemy, the series placed women at the forefront of a Marvel series in a way that hadn’t been done in recent years. It genderbent one comic book character, featured a same-sex couple, and took on stories of abuse from different angles, ushering in a new type of superhero show.
5 Worst: The Amazing Spider-Man (43%)
There have been many adaptations of Spider-Man over the years, but one of the earliest was the live action CBS series in the 70s. Like NBC’s The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man is most definitely a product of the time in which it emerged.
The series was fun for the 1970s, featuring Peter Parker beyond his high school days and fighting crime in a New York that looked suspiciously like California. Fans loved the action and it had some of the highest ratings the network saw when it aired, but it didn’t appeal to the coveted 18-49 year-old audience that CBS loved.
Consequently, CBS ended up making some changes, like lessening Spider-Man’s powers, introducing characters that never appeared in the comics, and changing the actress that played Aunt May every time she appeared.
Despite the changes, fans still wanted more Spidey. CBS cancelled the show anyway.
4 Best: Luke Cage (95%)
The first Marvel series written with the people who lived in its setting in mind, Luke Cage certainly broke the mold for Marvel TV. Critics and audiences loved it.
Cheo Hodari Coker made sure you could feel Harlem in every page of the script. He made music a part of the show instead of something played to amp up tension in the background. He also brought Luke Cage into the modern age, shaking off the chains of the blaxploitation era and giving audiences a hero in a hoodie.
There was very little for critics to complain about when it came to Luke Cage. In fact, the most common complaint is that the series killed off its most compelling villain in favor of bringing in another that didn’t live up to his comic book hype.
Season two, coming in 2018, might be able to remedy that though.
3 Worst: Iron Fist (19%)
Nearing the worst of the worst Marvel shows is Iron Fist. The series was seen as the first true Marvel misstep for the MCU as fans didn’t connect with the characters and tired quickly of the story.
The first red flag for many fans was that showrunner Scott Buck and other producers decided to cast a white male in the role of Danny Rand, leaning into the era of comic book exploitation in which the series originated. Lewis Tan, whom many advocated for the role, even auditioned, though he was cast as a one-off villain. As many worried, the series fell into comic book tropes that other Marvel series had moved beyond.
Despite its seeming lack of popularity, and its lukewarm critical reception, Iron Fist was heavily binge watched, so it does have that going for it.
2 Best: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (95%)
One of the most surprising placements on this list might be Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The series has an incredibly loyal (if small) fan following, but often finds itself the butt of jokes amongst fans and critics alike.
However, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is actually both the longest running and most favorably reviewed Marvel series to date.
Not without a few missteps, fans remain unhappy with threads the show hasn’t revisited (Graviton, why the Avengers don’t know Agent Coulson is alive, etc.), but the series took creative leaps and bounds that other Marvel shows haven’t. In its five years on the air, the show unmasked Hydra traitors, introduced Inhumans to the MCU, created an artificial reality, went to space, and even time traveled.
The show also boasts the most diverse cast and crew in the MCU, making it a breath of fresh air.
1 Worst: Inhumans (10%)
To the surprise of almost no one, Inhumans earns the dubious honor of being the worst Marvel series according to Rotten Tomatoes at the low, low, score of 10%. Announced as a television series instead of the movie originally in development, there was some confusion as to just how the stories could be done on a TV budget. Fans were right to be concerned.
The series had issues with pacing, characters the audience didn’t care about, and visual effects that weren’t up to snuff compared to the rest of the MCU. It was also hard for the audience to empathize with main characters that were selfish and spoiled.
Marvel and ABC tried to do the show a favor by setting it in Hawaii. Unfortunately, even the beautiful scenery couldn’t distract from the show’s shortcomings, brought to the screen by Scott Buck, the same showrunner as Iron Fist.
Were the critics way off the mark with their consensus on these Marvel shows? Or do you think they hit the nail on the head? Let us know which Marvel series you think deserve their rankings in the comments!