Long before Marvel Studios started producing its own movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, some of Hollywood’s biggest film studios were bringing iconic Marvel characters to life on the big screen. Although a number of productions failed both critically and commercially, some have truly hit their stride and become quintessential superhero films. Granted, not every movie that releases in theaters can be perfect adaptations. After all, some comic book characters (and stories) are notoriously difficult to adapt onto the silver screen.
Over the years, Artisan Entertainment, Sony, 20th Century Fox, New Line Cinema, Paramount Pictures, and Universal Pictures have all produced an distributed various Marvel movies – ranging from PG to R, depending on the material – but with Marvel Studios now overseeing the vast majority of Marvel releases, only Sony and Fox are still going strong, particularly with regard to Spider-Man and the X-Men, respectively. Even though they’ve had some hits and misses in recent years, they’ve all produced some truly great superhero films.
With the news of Disney’s deal with Fox sure to change cinematic Marvel forever, we’ve gone back and taken a look at which Marvel movies are the best and which are, frankly, the worst.
Here are the 10 Best (And 10 Worst) Marvel Movies, Ranked According To Rotten Tomatoes.
20. Best: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – 91%
James Gunn broke the mold with his 2014 film, Guardians of the Galaxy. He became the face of a new movement in comic book movies and, especially, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His film took a group of anti-heroes – one of whom is a talking raccoon and another a seemingly immortal tree – and turned them into intergalactic heroes that prevented the destruction of an entire planet (and race).
Coupling the ’70s and ’80s-themed music with a wild, comedic adventure story, and Gunn had himself an astounding hit on his hands. Guardians of the Galaxy starred Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper, as well as Benicio del Toro and Lee Pace. It went on to become one of the MCU’s highest-rated film at 91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
19. Worst: The Punisher (1991) – 28%
While Punisher: War Zone was the worst film to feature Frank Castle, it wasn’t his only bad adaptation. Mark Goldblatt’s 1991 film, The Punisher, starring Dolph Lundgren as the eponymous character, was Castle’s first live-action adaptation and his first dud as well. Although it premiered in West Germany in 1989, it wasn’t until 1991 that the film released in the United States.
The Punisher earned a 28 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes for its “boring” story and unimpressive special effects. However, some critics did praise Lundgren’s performance as the Punisher, even though he didn’t don the character’s iconic skull logo. It just wasn’t enough to outweigh all the bad. Funnily enough, 2004’s The Punisher reboot earned 29 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, just high enough for it not to make this list.
18. Best: Captain America: Civil War (2016) – 91%
Anthony and Joe Russo followed up their enormous success with Captain America: The Winter Soldier by directing the sequel, Captain America: Civil War, in 2016. Many viewers likened the film to Avengers 2.5 since it contained virtually every major Avenger except for Hulk and Thor (and audiences later found out why that was in Thor: Ragnarok).
Civil War was significant not only because it brought the two Avengers leaders into opposition but because it also introduced Black Panther and Spider-Man into the MCU – two characters that fans had been clamoring to see alongside the Avengers for several years.
17. Worst: Punisher: War Zone (2008) – 27%
Some comic book characters are easy to adapt onto the big screen, while others are seemingly impossible. Sure, Netflix has given The Punisher his due on the small screen, with Jon Bernthal as the titular antihero, but that’s something that Artisan Entertainment (and now Lionsgate Studios) wasn’t able to do.
There were three attempts to bring Punisher onto the big screen before the character’s rights reverted back to Marvel – and the last attempt was with Lexi Alexander’s Punisher: War Zone in 2008.
Starring Ray Stevenson as Frank Castle, Punisher: War Zone is one of the most violent comic book films ever made. While that’s in-line with the character the film is based on, it’s as close to being comic accurate as the movie got.
16. Best: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – 91%
Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class successfully launched 20th Century Fox’s X-Men prequel series (after the X-Men Origins: Wolverine spinoff was a critical failure), and it was followed up by X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2014. Original franchise director Bryan Singer returned to helm the sequel, and he brought some of the original X-Men actors with him, such as Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Halley Berry, among others.
Based on the iconic comic book story arc of the same name, Days of Future Past became an astounding critical and commercial success for the studio, earning 91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It cemented the new series’ stars in the continuity while also giving the original actors a proper ending that X-Men: The Last Stand had denied them seven years prior.
15. Worst: Fantastic Four (2005) – 27%
Josh Trank’s 2015 Fantastic Four film wasn’t the first time that 20th Century Fox attempted to bring Marvel’s First Family onto the big screen. The first effort was with Tim Story’s 2005 Fantastic Four movie, starring Ioan Gruffudd as Mister Fantastic, Jessica Alba as Invisible Woman, Chris Evans as Human Torch, and Michael Chiklis as the Thing, with Julian MacMahon playing Doctor Doom.
While the movie garnered some relatively big names at the time, it did so without regard for their acting skills (at least in this film). Fantastic Four featured sub-par acting, bad storytelling, and poor CGI (which was bad even for its time) – all of which contributed to the film earning 27 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.
14. Best: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) – 92%
Getting Spider-Man on-screen alongside the Earth’s mightiest heroes seemed like a pipe dream at one point in time.
Following the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony Pictures signed a landmark deal with Marvel Studios to share Spidey on the big screen (with some specifics in the fine print, of course). That allowed Marvel to bring Peter Parker into the MCU, and although Civil War was his first film, Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming was Spidey’s first solo movie in the MCU.
Watts and co. created a John Hughes-style coming-of-age comedy mixed with teenage heroics in Homecoming. Starring Tom Holland as the eponymous superhero, Homecoming was refreshing amongst the established “adult” superhero franchises, earning 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
13. Worst: Ghost Rider (2007) – 26%
Five years before Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance released, Nicolas Cage made his debut as Marvel’s Johnny Blaze in Mark Steven Johnson’s Ghost Rider. The film, released in 2007, also starred Eva Mendes and Wes Bentley.
Although the character’s journey to the big screen was long anticipated, it wasn’t quite what comic book fans were hoping for. In the end, Ghost Rider became an unmitigated critical disaster.
Ghost Rider just barely doubled its production budget by pulling in $228.7 million at the worldwide box office, but it arguably could’ve gone much higher if it was actually good. It wasn’t, though.
12. Best: Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – 92%
Taika Waititi brought his unique style of filming to the third and final installment in Marvel’s Thor trilogy in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok. The film differed in many ways, not only from past Thor movies but from the MCU as a whole. After two mildly successful installments in 2011 and 2013, Ragnarok successfully reinvented the character and reinvigorated interest in Thor’s story arc.
The best decision Waititi made was throwing out most of what came before and developing a story that prioritized comedy over Thor’s traditional Shakespearean themes, which had, admittedly, become tiresome over time.
The results were outstanding. Ragnarok scored a 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and garnered over $850 million at the worldwide box office. Who knows, perhaps its success will eventually result in Thor 4 or Thor: Ragnarok 2.
11. Worst: Blade Trinity (2004) – 25%
The Blade trilogy may not be the best or most financially successful comic book series out there, but it’s certainly one that people recognize. Wesley Snipes played the eponymous character throughout the trilogy, which ended with David S. Goyer’s Blade: Trinity in 2004, also starring Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds. Unfortunately, the film wasn’t as successful as the previous installments, evident by its poor Rotten Tomatoes score of 25 percent.
It was because of Blade Trinity that Snipes couldn’t devote time to finding a decent writer and director for a potential Black Panther film. Still, despite being a series filled with “bad” movies, the Blade trilogy is very well regarded amongst its fans, which is why many people would love to see Snipes reprise his role as Blade in the Marvel Cinematic Universe… one day.
10. Best: The Avengers (2012) – 92%
Marvel Studios started developing their own movies in the late 2000s, starting with Iron Man, and continuing with Hulk, Thor, and Captain America. It all led up to the release of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers in 2012, featuring Earth’s mightiest heroes together, for the first time on the big screen. Team-up movies have happened before, but not on this level.
The Avengers – which saw the aforementioned heroes unite with Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Nick Fury – changed the game when it grossed over $1.5 billion globally and scored a whopping 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
The film didn’t just change things for comic book movies but for filmmaking as an industry. While remakes and reboots are still happening, every major studio wants to get in on the shared universe trend because of The Avengers‘ incredible success.
9. Worst: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) – 17%
While 2012 is known to comic book fans as the year both The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises released (not to mention The Amazing Spider-Man), it’s also the year Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance hit screens – much to the chagrin of people who detested Nicolas Cage’s portrayal of the supernatural motorcyclist.
Spirit of Vengeance was the sequel to 2007’s Ghost Rider, and it was worse than many people expected, earning a dismal 17 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Since Columbia Pictures showed no interest in making another Ghost Rider film following Spirit of Vengeance‘s release, the rights reverted back to Marvel Entertainment, and Marvel TV subsequently incorporated the antihero into ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. during season 4.
8. Best: Logan (2017) – 93%
Hugh Jackman officially hung up his claws as Wolverine in James Mangold’s Logan after spending 17 years playing the character on the silver screen. Patrick Stewart also retired as Professor X in the film, which has been hailed as one of the best comic book movies ever made. As Wolverine’s first and last R-rated film, Logan earned rave reviews and garnered a 93 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Logan became the first superhero movie ever to be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards, thus setting a precedent for future comic book movies. It’s only the second time in history that a superhero film was nominated for an Oscar outside a technical category. The first time was when Heath Ledger was nominated – and won – for Best Supporting Actor for playing the Joker in The Dark Knight.
7. Worst: Howard the Duck (1986) – 15%
Long before Howard the Duck appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy, he starred in his own standalone film in 1986, from director Willard Huyck. The movie is widely considered one of the worst comic book movies ever made, on top of being a critical and commercial failure.
Something about truly horrendous productions drives a certain selection of moviegoers to cherish this sort of movie’s existence – and Howard the Duck falls into that category of being so bad it’s good. But is it? The film has a 15 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes for many, many reasons.
If Howard the Duck was filmed as an animated movie, it might’ve actually had a better shot at redemption, but for some reason, Hollywood was obsessed with mixing animation and live-action in the 1980s and 1990s – and this is the result.
6. Best: Spider-Man 2 (2004) – 93%
Years before Iron Man and The Dark Knight hit theaters in 2008, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 was considered by many to be the best superhero movie of all-time. It’s still highly regarded to this day, but unfortunately, as with most CGI-heavy movies from the 1990s and early 2000s, it’s a product of its time. Still, Spider-Man 2‘s story is something else entirely, and its villain, Doctor Octopus, is someone comic book villains should aspire to be.
Starring Tobey Maguire as the eponymous superhero, Spider-Man 2 took the story in a much darker direction and came out on top, snagging 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and just under $800 million at the worldwide box office. Unfortunately, its sequel, Spider-Man 3, wasn’t as well regarded as the second installment in Raimi’s trilogy, though it still earned big bucks.
5. Worst: Elektra (2005) – 10%
Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Daredevil was widely criticized, and Jennifer Garner’s portrayal of Daredevil’s ally and lover, Elektra, didn’t fare much better. Rob Bowman’s 2005 Elektra film starred Garner as the eponymous character. It’s a spinoff of Mark Steven Johnson’s 2003 Daredevil movie and follows Elektra being revived by Stick after she died in the original film.
Garner’s portrayal of Elektra Natchios was praised by some and loathed by others, but virtually everyone agreed that the story is what really brought the movie down, with some calling the script “tone-deaf.” Ultimately, the screenplay and directing garnered Elektra a horrendous 10 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
4. Best: Iron Man (2008) – 94%
As previously mentioned, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man is what launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Being Marvel Studios’ first in-house production, Iron Man had a lot riding on its success, especially since the filmmaker strongly supported Robert Downey Jr.’s casting as Tony Stark. While it seemed like a risky bet at the time, it turned out to be an indisputable success in the end.
Iron Man was more than well received by critics and audiences alike (it’s still regarded as one of the franchise’s best), earning 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It became the highest-rated Marvel movie ever made… until Black Panther, that is. But it will always be remembered for kickstarting the most expansive as well as critically and commercially successful cinematic universe to grace the big screen.
3. Worst: Fantastic Four (2015) – 9%
While the X-Men series has had its fair share of ups and downs, 20th Century Fox just can’t seem to get it right with the Fantastic Four – and Josh Trank’s attempt in 2015 resulted in a catastrophic failure that resulted in the property being put on ice. After all, it earned only 9 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
What’s interesting is that one day prior to the film’s release, Trank insisted that he made a fantastic version of the movie a year before but that it would likely never see the light of day, thus blaming the studio for all of the movie’s issues. Trank’s grievances were dismissed at first, but then, Doctor Doom actor Toby Kebbell expressed a similar sentiment, thereby implying that Fox had perhaps meddled a bit too much in the film’s production.
2. Best: Black Panther (2018) – 98%
It took 24 years but Black Panther finally made it onto the big screen. Starring Chadwick Boseman as the eponymous superhero, as well as a host of other top-tier actors and actresses, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther sees T’Challa take over his father’s mantle as King of Wakanda. To protect his people (and Wakanda), T’Challa dons the Black Panther costume and mantle.
With a rating of 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Black Panther is currently the highest-rated movie ever made based on a Marvel Comics character (and one of the highest-rated superhero films ever).
1. Worst: Captain America (1990) – 8%
Long before Chris Evans defeated the Red Skull as Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there was Matt Salinger’s Cap, who fought the Red Skull in Albert Pyun’s 1990 Captain America film for 21st Century Film (not to be confused with 20th Century Fox).
While 1990’s Captain America and 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger shared some similarities, particularly with its villain, the actual resemblances couldn’t be further apart, as The First Avenger is actually good. Meanwhile, the early Cap film was an astonishing failure, both critically and commercially. After all, it grossed just over $10,000 against an estimated production budget of $10 million.
To make matters worse, it’s not only the worst Marvel-based film ever to release, but also one of the worst comic book movies ever to disgrace the big screen.
What are your favorite and least favorite Marvel movies? Let us know in the comments!
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