It was a shame when it was announced recently that a reboot of The Muppets franchise in development at Disney+ was called off, because these characters are timeless icons and it’s been a while since we saw an on-screen incarnation of them that did them justice and was as colorful and entertaining as they can be at their best.
Astoundingly, there hasn’t been a single theatrically released movie about those lovable marionettes that has received a “rotten” score on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, obviously, some have higher “fresh” scores than others. Let's take a look at the ratings for each movie to see which comes out on top.
8 Muppets from Space (63%)
This sci-fi-based take on the Muppets characters was controversial among the franchise’s fans right off the bat, because it was the first original Muppet movie to be made after creator Jim Henson’s death. Without Henson’s input, these characters and their stories (and their voices!) just hadn’t been the same.
It also wasn’t a musical – the only Muppet movie ever to not be a musical – so die-hard fans didn’t really take to it. Still, the plot involving Gonzo experiencing recurring nightmares and trying to figure out his own past while Kermit and co try to save him from a government conspiracy was delightfully wacky.
7 Muppet Treasure Island (73%)
Following the success of The Muppet Christmas Carol, the producers decided to adapt another classic work of literature with live-action actors in the lead roles and Muppets in the supporting roles. This time, they tackled Robert Louis Stevenson’s pirate story Treasure Island. The swashbuckler genre had gone out years earlier, and this was before Pirates of the Caribbean would revitalize it.
The live-action actors are all great in their roles, particularly the brilliant Tim Curry as the definitive on-screen portrayal of villain Long John Silver. Once again, though, it’s the Muppets who take center stage in this cinematic outing.
6 The Muppet Christmas Carol (75%)
In what is arguably the greatest screen adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic holiday-themed novella A Christmas Carol, Michael Caine stars as Ebenezer Scrooge with the Muppets all playing supporting roles from the book.
Each of the Muppets is cast perfectly as a supporting character – Kermit as Bob Cratchit, his little cousin Robin as Tiny Tim, Fozzie as Mr. Fezziwig (or, rather, Fozziwig), Statler as Jacob Marley etc. – to give an extra layer of entertainment to one of the greatest stories ever told. Despite its puppet-based deviations from the source material, this is an incredible adaptation of the original Dickens book.
5 The Great Muppet Caper (76%)
The second Muppet movie was the first to figure out how fun it can be to put Kermit the Frog and co. into movie genres they don’t belong in. In this case, they get swept up in a crime caper, traveling to London in an attempt to foil a jewel heist.
The Great Muppet Caper may have been a little too safe (and less than innovative when it comes the plot), but what of it? At the end of the day, these are musicals about puppets for children – why do they need to have edge to be truly acclaimed? It's a fun, silly, endlessly entertaining movie.
4 Muppets Most Wanted (80%)
The sequel to 2011’s Muppets reboot didn’t see a return from star/co-writer Jason Segel, but there was some impressive talent working on it. Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and Ty Burrell make up a star-studded human cast, while all the Muppets themselves are on fine form as they tour Europe and get swept up in an international criminal conspiracy.
The first movie’s co-writer Nicholas Stoller returned to write the script for the sequel with the returning director, Flight of the Conchords’ James Bobin. As a result, it’s almost as refreshing, well-written, well-acted, and filled with catchy new songs as its critically acclaimed predecessor. It’s not as great – sequels rarely are – but it is still pretty great.
3 The Muppets Take Manhattan (83%)
The first Muppet movie to be directed by Frank Oz, the guy who performs a ton of characters (from Animal to Sam Eagle to Fozzie Bear to Miss Piggy and even Star Wars' Yoda), The Muppets Take Manhattan does what it says on the tin: it sends the characters to the titular New York borough.
Threequels tend to be more than a little disappointing, but The Muppets Take Manhattan is a fun, fresh, charming big-screen outing, taking our favorite characters to refreshing pastures without losing any of their signature charm. It also has the bittersweet baggage of being the last Muppet film before Jim Henson’s death.
2 The Muppet Movie (88%)
The Muppets’ first big-screen outing set the template for the rest. The characters from the variety series play “themselves” as celebrities working in Hollywood. As they go on a zany adventure, they find themselves surrounded by famous faces cameoing as themselves.
The original was an origin story, telling the tale of a young, starry-eyed Kermit the Frog’s journey to Hollywood to follow his dreams. He picks up all the other Muppets, who share his ambition to become a star, along the way. The list of A-list cameo appearances is endless: Milton Berle, Dom DeLuise, Bob Hope, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Cloris Leachman, Mel Brooks, Carol Kane, and last but not least, Orson Welles.
1 The Muppets (95%)
Who would’ve thought that the R-rated comedic minds behind Forgetting Sarah Marshall would make the greatest Muppet movie of all time? Well, actually, anyone who saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall would, because there was a terrific in-universe Dracula musical made with Jim Henson-style puppets.
2011’s The Muppets stars Jason Segel as a guy with a Muppet for a brother, attempting to get the stars of The Muppet Show back together for one last hoorah. They face contention from an oil tycoon, indifferent Hollywood executives, and the Muppets’ personal differences along the way. The movie has some wonderful new songs, including the Oscar-winning “Man or Muppet” by Bret McKenzie, and on the whole, it’s a wondrous romp that can be enjoyed by audiences of adults and children alike.