Fox and Warner Bros. have had their successes, but as of now, Marvel is the reigning king of the superhero movie world, at least in terms of live-action films. Their Cinematic Universe — which is now up to a dozen films, with a thirteenth just a few weeks away — has racked up over three and a half billion dollars in less than a decade, making it the highest grossing film franchise of all time. The impending release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice could prove to be a game changer for Warner Bros., but for now, they're a step behind their chief competitors in the live-action game.
The same cannot be said, however, for animated films. Warner Bros. has been producing top notch animated films for decades now (we'll publish a collection of their best in a separate article, due out in a few days), and Marvel's best efforts have inarguably not been held to the same standard. That being said, they've come out with some pretty entertaining stuff over the years, and we've collected the best of the best here, for your reading pleasure. While a few of these entries are more kid-friendly than most comic fans would prefer, there are some legitimate standouts that every Marvel fan should take the time to check out.
Here are the 13 Best Marvel Animated Movies.
13 Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United (2013)
Introducing a new animation technique called “2-D wrap,” which adds computer generated textures to traditional animation, Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United sees Hulk and Iron Man take on a living creature made of pure energy called Zzzax.
Slightly altering Zzzax’s origin from the comics, two Hydra scientists drain the Gamma energy from Hulk and Abomination in order to create the ultimate power source. This experiment of course backfires, leaving the duo of Iron Man and Hulk to deal with the newly sentient and extremely powerful Zzzax.
Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United tells an interesting story and is full of the witty humor and the sort of light-hearted moments newer MCU fans have come to expect from Marvel features.
12 Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher (2014)
Anime fans will find a lot to like in the 2014 release Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher. A followup to the Marvel Anime Series, this film features the titular heroes Black Widow and Punisher teaming up to stop a nefarious plot by the evil organization known as Leviathan.
The dark, gritty tone provides a perfect setting for the violence necessary to make The Punisher work on screen, although there is an odd, albeit temporary, shift in the ambiance of the film about halfway through, when viewers are introduced to a current Marvel Comics favorite, Amadeus Cho. The Avengers team does eventually make an appearance, but Widow and Punisher are the focus of this exciting adventure, featuring plenty of tense fight scenes and unexpected plot twists.
11 Iron Man & Captain America: Heroes United (2014)
Iron Man & Hulk ended with a teaser for the follow-up film which came just a few months later, with Iron Man & Captain America: Heroes United. Using the same “2-D wrap” animation technique as its predecessor, the second film in the series sees Cap and Iron Man battle the Red Skull and Hydra, as well as another fan-favorite villain, Taskmaster.
Each of the titular heroes believe they have to best approach to solving problems, and each take turns attempting to prove their tactics to be superior — though in a much more light-hearted approach than the differences the two have in the MCU.
10 Iron Man: Rise of Technovore (2013)
War Machine is dead and S.H.I.E.L.D. believes Iron Man is the culprit. In order to clear his name, Tony must escape from Nick Fury’s custody, and he ends up teaming with a fellow outlaw, the Punisher, as Hawkeye and Black Widow attempt to track down and bring the fugitive genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist back into custody. In order to prove his innocence, Iron Man must face A.I.M.’s newly developed techno-organic weaponry.
While Punisher’s screen time is somewhat limited, the character really shines in this tale of redemption, and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s hunt for Iron Man keeps the mood tense as Tony works against time to prove he is the hero he has always been.
9 The Invincible Iron Man (2007)
The Invincible Iron Man features everything one could hope for in an Iron Man flick; a self-assured tech billionaire who in an attempt to save his own life ends up transforming himself into one of the world’s foremost superheroes, and his battle against his comic book arch-nemesis the Mandarin. Tony must use his Iron Man technology to protect the world from the evil forces of the Mandarin, an ancient evil which Stark himself unleashed upon the world, in this fantastic telling of Iron Man’s origins.
Iron Man's arch nemesis hasn't made his way into the MCU yet (unless you count Ben Kingsley's character in Iron Man 3, which you shouldn't). It seems unlikely that the villain has any sort of future on the big screen, though The Invincible Iron Man could serve as a decent starting point for the supervillain, should Marvel change their minds.
8 Thor: Tales of Asgard (2011)
Young brothers Thor and Loki venture into Jotunheim in order to retrieve the legendary Sword of Surtur. The Warriors Three accompany the siblings on their adventure, as their quest presents challenges of both strength and will. Thor: Tales of Asgard sets itself apart from most of the other entries on this list by telling the story of a young future hero who has not yet been deemed worthy to wield the power of Mjolnir. Lionsgate studio once again proves that they can crank out some top-notch Marvel animation while telling a compelling coming-of-age story.
Certain elements of Tales of Asgard made their way into the first Thor film (namely, the brash inexperience of the young Thor) but it's nevertheless worth a look for any true Marvel fan.
7 Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (2008)
The Avengers are dead, and it is up to their children to right this terrible wrong in the animated feature Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow.
Hardcore comics fans may find the sudden appearance of the Avengers’ offspring a bit tough to swallow, but if you can move past this pretty major retcon, there is a captivating and emotional story to be found. The next generation of Avengers must fight through tremendous adversity to avenge the death of their parents under the guidance of the older Iron Man and Hulk. If you can let go of Marvel canon (as convoluted as it already is) for 78 minutes, Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow will tell you a superhero story worth watching.
6 Ultimate Avengers 2 (2006)
Ultimate Avengers 2 picks up where the first Ultimate Avengers animated feature (don’t worry, we’ll get to that one in a minute) left off. The adventure introduces Black Panther to the team as The Avengers travel to Wakanda after T’Challa seeks out the superhero team’s assistance in dealing with a Chitauri invasion of his kingdom.
One of the most commercially successful animated films in the Marvel library, Ultimate Avengers 2 features a veteran Avengers team working together to take down a dangerous foe while providing ample screen time to feature each hero’s contribution to the fight. This is a film any true Avengers fan must have in their library.
5 Big Hero 6 (2014)
It’s impossible to argue that Big Hero 6 isn’t Marvel’s most mainstream and commercially successful animated film to date, but it only lands at number five on our list of the best-of-the-best Marvel animated movies. It’s hardly a knock on the film to be in the top five, but mass appeal wasn’t quite enough to topple some of the less widely known animated features Marvel has put out over the years.
Big Hero 6 does tell a fantastic story that will pull at your heartstrings one minute, then have you laughing out loud the next. For those looking to digest everything Marvel has to offer, this film is definitely worth checking out.
4 Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme (2007)
With a solo feature film on the way starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange is about to get the mainstream attention he's long deserved, but there is already a fantastic origin story for the Sorcerer Supreme out there featuring top notch animation and superb storytelling.
If you’re not so familiar with the titular character, then Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme will give you the necessary crash course while also hitting the right marks for fans more familiar with the magic-wielding hero. The film features the origin story of Dr. Steven Strange acquiring his powers, his internal struggles with vanity, and his journey to become the true Sorcerer Supreme.
3 Ultimate Avengers (2006)
Ultimate Avengers was the movie Avengers fans turned to six years before the live-action MCU version of the team hit the big screen. The overall story-arc takes place similarly to how the team formed in the MCU, with Captain America being resurrected in the modern day to lead a misfit team of heroes against a global threat, but Ultimate Avengers keeps a little closer to the comics as far as character development goes.
Even with the MCU Avengers in full swing at this point, Ultimate Avengers is very much worth checking out anytime you need your Avengers fix. Even though Civil War has essentially being deemed Avengers 2.5, we still have long (read: 2+ year) wait until Earth's Mightiest Heroes officially grace the big screen once again. Ultimate Avengers is a nice way to tie you over in the meantime.
2 Hulk Vs (2009)
If you’re a fan of the Hulk smashing things (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?), this is the movie you’ve been looking for. Best of all, it’s a two-for-one adventure, as Hulk takes on both Wolverine and Thor in two separate stories featuring the Hulk doing Hulk things.
Hulk’s rivalries with these two heroes are well documented in comic history, and this animated film skips right to the good stuff: fighting, fighting, and more fighting. While these animated mini-films may be a bit lean on the storytelling, they certainly don't skimp on the action. Simply put, when the Hulk is angry, things get smashed, and the Hulk is pretty damn angry here.
1 Planet Hulk (2010)
One of the most popular storylines in Hulk’s comic history was brought to life in 2010 with the animated film, Planet Hulk, and it proved to be one of the most popular animated films Marvel has produced to date.
The basics of the story remain the same from the comics: Hulk is sent off to live out his life on some abandoned planet after being deemed too dangerous to remain on Earth, but during his travels, things go wrong (of course) and Hulk ends up on a war-torn planet ruled by a ruthless king. Hulk is subsequently enslaved and forced him to fight in a gladiatorial arena for the amusement of the ruler and the masses.
Hulk’s need for revenge against the heroes of Earth who exiled him into space is naturally toned down for the animated feature, but the overall story remains intact — and just as compelling as it was in the comics. Planet Hulk is a must-see for any serious Hulk fan or Marvel die-hard, and it's as good an idea as any for the next Hulk solo film. Whenever that's actually happening.
Which of Marvel's animated adventures was your favorite? Be sure to let us know in the comments.