Since the release of Blade in 1998, Marvel have dominated at the box office and managed to successfully bring even some of their widely unknown characters to the big screen. With the release of Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Doctor Strange in 2016, there’s still very much a high demand for the comic book publisher’s characters, and though some have been handled better than others, many of Marvel’s heroes have been brought to life brilliantly over the years.
Now, having released 40 films between 1998 and July 2016, I attempted to rank every single title that revolves around a character from the Marvel comic books from the very worst to the very best. Pushing personal bias to one side as much as is humanly possible, this list is the culmination of a lot of hard work which included re-watching the dreadful Elektra and sitting through the fantastic Civil War 3 times in the cinema. As this list only takes into account films which gained a wide cinema release, certain titles such as Man-Thing are disqualified due to them being made for TV and in turn being unknown to a wider audience.
Read on to find out where your favorite may have placed and let me know where I’ve gone wrong or whether or not you agree with the final ranking of each film:
Although it was close between this and X-Men Origins, Elektra proves to be not just a poorly acted film but also extremely dull and lifeless. Jennifer Garner is a capable actress when it comes to action, as she showcased in Alias, but the film’s underwhelming script ensures that Elektra is an unappealing central character. The villains are bland, the fight scenes are neither intense nor exciting thanks to unimaginative cinematography, and don’t even get me started on the flashbacks littered throughout the film. Having gone back to it in order to compile this list, I struggled to finish it.
39. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
While X-Men Origins commits what is perhaps the worst crime in the history of cinema by sewing shut Deadpool’s mouth, it’s not quite as dull as Elektraand so fails to find itself as the bottom of this list. It’s always a pleasure to see Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, even when the script isn’t up to scratch, and Tyler Kitsch is actually entertaining as Gambit, but apart from that, the film has nothing going for it which led Fox to remove it from the franchise’s timeline with the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past.
I actually found the first act of Fant4stic quite satisfying. Sure, it wasn’t true to the characters, but it was at least an interesting take on the source material. Unfortunately, the film is missing a second act altogether and when the four do get their powers, it grinds to a halt and feels unfinished. If that wasn’t bad enough, they ruined one of the greatest comic book villains ever by turning Doctor Doom into, well, I’m not sure what he was, but he certainly wasn’t a threat in a final battle that was over 5 minutes after it started. This reeks of studio interference.
37. Ghost Rider
Both of the Ghost Rider films are undoubtedly terrible, but the first one is the worst of the two due to the sheer campiness of it. Nicolas Cage is fun to watch for the most part, but here, his slow pointing and surly attitude mask his personality as an actor, and some decisions made by the film’s writer/director Mark Steven Johnson don’t help that – jelly beans, really?! Throw questionable CGI into the mix and a completely non-threatening villain in Wes Bentley’s Blackheart and you have a terrible adaption of an interesting Marvel character.
36. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Pretty much everything I’ve said about Ghost Rider applies to its sequel: questionable CGI, a non-threatening villain, campiness, however, Nicolas Cage is allowed to run riot in this film and if that doesn’t keep you entertained for an hour and a half, nothing will. Ghost Rider is presented as an animal when he first appears, which is interesting if nothing else, and Cage is at his most insane here, clearly loving every minute of it – it’s a shame that it’s very hard for viewers to share his passion thanks to the dreadful script.
35. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
As bad as Tim Story’s Fantastic Four films were, they at least provided a few laughs. Rise of the Silver Surfer, however, is far too short for the storyline it is attempting to tackle, and seminal Marvel big-bad Galactus is reduced to a space cloud defeated far too quickly. The addition of the Silver Surfer was a promising concept that wasn’t executed correctly, but Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis are still entertaining to watch as the Human Torch and the Thing respectively. Unfortunately, both Jessica Alba and Ioan Gruffard are once again out of place as Mr Fantastic and The Invisible Woman.
34. Blade: Trinity
Following on from the success of the first two films, Blade: Trinity decided not to stick to the tried and tested formula of its predecessors and aimed to be a much more comedic affair while also holding back on the levels of violence. Only Ryan Reynolds seems to be enjoying himself here, with Wesley Snipes phoning it in as Blade as he tackles Dracula, the most fearsome vampire in history who isn’t even close to intimidating here. It’s disappointing to see and ruins what could have been a fun trilogy of films which showed comic book adaptations didn’t always have to be for kids.
33. Fantastic Four (2005)
Fantastic Four is not a complete disaster. At the very least, it’s a fun adaptation of Marvel’s first family and understood it’s characters much better than Josh Trank’s 2015 effort. Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis nail the relationship between Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm, and while the rest of the cast are miscast entirely, the film manages to entertain, largely thanks to its campy tone which only just borders on cringe worthy. The CGI may not hold up very well (and the less said about the rubber Thing suit the better) but the film is enjoyable for what it is – a camp, family friendly comic book adaptation.
32. Punisher: War Zone
Having recently watched Punisher: War Zone again in preparation for this list, I’m pleased to say it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. Ray Stevenson suits the role of the Punisher, and Dominic West seems to enjoy himself as Jigsaw after spending years playing McNulty in The Wire. While the violence is fitting for the character and there’s some interesting ideas in place, the film falls flat largely thanks to the story and the dialogue, particularly when Looney Bin Jim is concerned – a role in which Doug Hutchinson disregarded all of Robert Downey Jr’s Tropic Thunder wisdom.
Although Ang Lee’s Hulk moved along at a snail’s pace and failed to provide almost any moments of excitement, you have to respect the director for attempting to bring an actual comic book to the big screen, panels and all. Eric Bana was satisfactory as Bruce – or is that David? – Banner, but the supporting cast felt miscast across the board, with the exception of Sam Elliot as General Ross. The fact that the film featured very few scenes involving the not-so-jolly green giant also went a long way in making this a real disappointment, and the end product seems to be more a story about a scientist with daddy issues than a comic book adaptation.
30. Spider-Man 3
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3was set to be the perfect ending to the trilogy. Raimi had Sandman lined up as a villain, portrayed by the brilliant Thomas Hayden Church, and a storyline that would see Harry Osbourne exact his revenge upon Peter… and then the studio demanded Venom be included. What we got then, was a cast and crew that didn’t seem to enjoy any minute of the filmmaking process, an emo Peter Parker dance scene, and the most nonthreatening villain in comic book film history with Topher Grace’s interpretation of Eddie Brock, aka Venom. Overcrowding is always a risk when taking the ‘bigger is better’ approach, and Spider-Man 3 just didn’t pay off.
29. X-Men: The Last Stand
This is what happens when you don’t allow yourself a little patience. Bryan Singer was willing to complete his original X-Men trilogy after he’d filmed Superman Returns, unfortunately, Fox weren’t willing to wait and instead placed director for hire Brett Ratner at the helm. It may not be a disaster, but the poor characterization of new characters, a lack of respect for the world Singer had created, and Vinnie Jones yelling the infamous line ‘I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!’ ensured that X-Men: The Last Stand was a disappointing ending to the series… for a few years.
28. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Similarly to Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 tried to fit too much in to its storyline in order to set up future films and spin offs. Thanks to this, we received a mess of a film which featured poor villains and put the brakes on Sony’s plans for an extended Spider-Man universe. Jamie Foxx does his best impression of Jim Carrey’s Riddler from Batman Forever in the film’s early stages before being pushed to the side for the inexplicably crazy Harry Osborne, aka the Green Goblin. If there’s one saving grace in the film, it’s in the chemistry displayed by real life couple Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, who are a joy to watch in every scene they share.
27. The Punisher
The Punisher gets a lot of hate but up until season 2 of Daredevil on Netflix, it’s without a doubt the best onscreen incarnation of the character. Thomas Jane is great as Frank Castle, his origins being handled particularly well in a heart wrenching scene, while the storyline itself is a classic tale of revenge against an often wooden John Travolta, but even his performance doesn’t bring the film down too much. The group of misfits Frank shares an apartment building with provide some comic relief which is much needed after some of the heavier scenes, but the budget did it no favors and makes the whole film feel underwhelming.
If the Director’s Cut of Daredevil had never seen the light of day then this would find itself in the mid-30s on this list. Thankfully, there is a fantastic Director’s Cut that you should seek out right now. The additional 30 minutes adds a whole new sub-plot to the film which helps clear up some plot-holes present in the theatrical edition, and Ben Affleck isn’t actually that bad, merely bland. Jennifer Garner may be disappointing as Elektra, which she carried over into her solo film, and Collin Farrell is ridiculously over-the-top as Bullseye, but it’s an entertaining film if nothing else and features the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan at his most formidable as Wilson Fisk.
25. The Wolverine
While X-Men Origins: Wolverine proved that it had absolutely no idea how to handle any of its characters, The Wolverine vastly improved upon it’s [once] predecessor and gave us a version of the clawed mutant that we could be proud of. Taking inspiration from Frank Miller’s classic 1980’s run, The Wolverine presented Logan at his most feral, allowing Hugh Jackman to really showcase his physicality and present the character as a ferocious being as he travels around Japan. There are some issues involving the final villain – not least the poorly rendered CGI – but this is a fun action film that pays respect to its title character more so than some of the X-Men titles.
24. Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2 is one of the few MCU films that has failed to live up to the high standards we expect from Marvel studios, although as it was only their 3rd release, it can be forgiven. While its predecessor was a straight forward, enjoyable origin story, this is a film that was crowded by new characters and often felt like a trailer for upcoming installments in the MCU. Thankfully, Robert Downey Jr is still on fine form as Tony Stark, and the always excellent Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer saves the film from slipping further down this list, with Scarlett Johansson’s introduction into the MCU as Black Widow being particularly effective.
23. The Amazing Spider-Man
When Sony announced that it was rebooting the Spider-Man franchise many fans cried out that it was too soon – and they were probably right. Indie filmmaker Marc Webb took the helm for The Amazing Spider-Man yet was unable to recreate the tone that made (500) Days of Summer such a hit, while Andrew Garfield proved to be a satisfactory Spider-Man yet a broody Peter Parker that wasn’t particularly likeable. Throw in a half-hearted attempt at bringing classic villain the Lizard to the big screen as well as a dull retelling of Spider-Man’s origin and you have a film that failed to reach the heights of any of Sam Raimi’s versions.
22. Thor: The Dark World
For all the success they’ve had at the box office, Marvel seem to struggle when it comes to crafting compelling sequels featuring their characters. With the exception of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, none of their character’s second outings are as enjoyable as the first and Thor: The Dark World is no exception. Chris Hemsworth is great once again as the title character and Tom Hiddleston goes from strength to strength in each performance as Loki, yet a weak villain in the form of Malekith and an overly complicated – yet somewhat boring – script, make Thor: The Dark World one of the studio’s weakest efforts to this date.
21. Blade II
Blade was a surprising hit at the US box office – despite its R rating – and so it’s sequel was always somewhat inevitable. Directed by the wonderfully imaginative Guillmero Del Toro, Blade IIupped the stakes (no pun intended) and featured more vampire slaying than its predecessor as well as another impressive performance from Wesley Snipes. The action scenes are fantastically choreographed and the set designs are everything you would expect from Del Toro but unfortunately, the film seems to be style over substance to some extent and is a classic example that bigger doesn’t always mean better.
20. The Incredible Hulk
The second attempt at bringing the Hulk to the big screen in the modern era proved to be much more satisfying than Ang Lee’s 2003 effort yet still didn’t do the character much justice. Edward Norton was a better fit than Eric Bana for Bruce Banner and Tim Roth was entertaining to watch as Abomination but the Hulk’s most successful outing was to come years later as part of the ensemble that made up The Avengers. The film scores extra points for skipping the well-known origin story of the character and diving headfirst into the action, but Liv Tyler is out of place as Betty Ross and the script is completely risk-free leading to a predictable final product.
19. X-Men: Apocalypse
Brian Singer proved to the world in 2014 that he was still able to make a fun, clever, and interesting X-Men film with Days of Future Past but unfortunately, this follow up falls short of its predecessor. Weighed down by too many new additions and an underwhelming villain in the form of Oscar Isaac’s Apocalypse, the latest entry in the X-Men franchise is saved by strong performances from James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Professor X and Magneto. The younger members of the team are another highlight of the film – particularly Cyclops who finally receives some justice in this big screen incarnation of the character – but the film’s biggest weakness is Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique who appears to be phoning it in and fails to even slightly resemble her comic book counterpart.
When developing Thor, Marvel had a huge task on their hands in introducing one of their most powerful characters, the Norse God of thunder. Thankfully, director Kenneth Branagh brought Thor to the big screen in a way which was somewhat plausible and also fun, ensuring that the character’s powers and origins were explained in a scientific manner in order to fit in with the rest of the MCU up to that point. The addition of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki helps the film enormously and he remains the MCU’s most successful villain to this day, but the extended sequence in a small, New Mexico town is rather dull despite the ‘fish out of water’ comedy it brings to the table.
17. Iron Man 3
When Shane Black was announced as the writer/director of Iron Man 3,film fans everywhere rejoiced. What Black delivered was a much more personal story about Tony Stark than we had seen previously and one that allowed Robert Downey Jr to spend some time out of the iron suit and alone in the world. While this aspect of the film was an interesting turn in the MCU, the reveal that the Mandarin was nothing more than a washed up actor failed to impress audiences and left many claiming that Marvel had wronged the beloved villain. Thankfully, Black’s dialogue is as impressive as ever, keeping the film moving and delivering a fresh take on the character.
Blade is the film that started it all for Marvel at the box office, with Wesley Snipes proving to be a perfect fit for the daywalker. Released by New Line Cinema in 1998, Blade is an extremely violent comic book film that showed not all superheroes needed to be as camp as Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. Stephen Dorff’s Deacon Frost may be a typical 90s villain, but the opening scene alone in which Blade takes on a nightclub full of vampires makes up for the film’s weaker aspects and remains one of the coolest scenes ever to appear in a comic book film.
15. Captain America: The First Avenger
Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger may not be in line with the tone of The Winter Soldieror Civil War but it was never supposed to be. A much lighter affair than it’s sequels, The First Avenger is a fun period piece which brings to mind old action adventure serials and features a villain to match in the form of Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull who remains menacing despite a somewhat lazy performance from the actor portraying him. Chris Evans showed that he was ready to take on another comic book character after The Human Torch and though Cap isn’t as showy a role as Tony Stark, Evans proved that he was a great choice for Steve Rogers.
14. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Avengers: Age of Ultron had a lot to live up to given that its predecessor is the highest grossing comic book film of all time, and for the most part Joss Whedon once again did a good job at juggling all the characters involved. While scenes such as the battle between the Hulk and Tony Stark’s Hulkbuster armor were visually and narratively thrilling, Whedon struggled to give some of the film’s new characters any real depth and so their inclusion slightly cluttered the film. James Spader’s Ultron also proved to be rather underwhelming and not nearly as sinister as the trailers suggested, continuing Marvel’s run of disappointing villains outside of Loki.
Paul Rudd may be one of the most unlikely actors to find himself cast in a comic book film but 2015’s Ant-Manshowed that the comedic performer was up to the task. As funny as it is thrilling, Ant-Mantakes a slightly ridiculous concept and brings it to life in a thoroughly entertaining way, largely thanks to great special effects and Rudd’s likability. The addition of Michael Douglas as Hank Pym was genius casting by Marvel and allowed one of their seminal characters to be given justice in his first big screen appearance. Many liberties were taken with the source material – particularly the character of Yellowjacket who is another throwaway villain – but it’s a fun, fast paced adaptation that managed to please a wide audience.
Bryan Singer first brought the X-Men to the big screen in 2000 and since then, Marvel’s team of mutants have featured in 6 full length films. Taking inspiration from the comics yet very much its own interpretation of the characters, X-Menshowed studios that costumed characters could still be box office draws, especially with actors such as Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart involved. The then-unknown Hugh Jackman was a revelation as Wolverine and though he has since gone on to superstar status, his enthusiasm for the role remains a constant. Featuring themes of persecution, segregation, and discrimination, X-Men is more than just a fun comic book film, it also has an important message at its core.
By the time Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was released in 2002, the web-slinger had long been overdue a big budget film. Arguably the most popular Marvel character, Spider-Man was brought to life expertly on the big screen by the Evil Dead director who perfectly recognized what made Peter Parker such a compelling character. With Willem Defoe portraying classic villain the Green Goblin and a slightly campy tone, Spider-Manwas a great success and is still one of the better films featuring the beloved wall crawler. The CGI is now a little dated but the action sequences are still entertaining, and seeing Spider-Man swinging through New York in a live action production for the very first time provides a sense of awe that Marc Webb was unable to match in his take on the character.
10. X-Men 2
Everything Bryan Singer brought to X-Menwas present in its sequel X2, except this time it was a much bigger outing for the mutant superheroes. With a bunch of new characters making their appearance – the best of which is Alan Cumming’s Nightcrawler, X2 featured fantastic action sequences and an engaging storyline inspired by the much loved God Loves, Man Killsrun in the comic books. It’s this film which perhaps showed that superhero films could tackle a heavy subject matter such as genocide and yet still remain great fun if the right characters are handled the right way.
9. X-Men: First Class
Following the disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand, Fox’s mutant franchise was dead in the water just as Marvel Studios was beginning to find success with its own films. Enter Matthew Vaughn who brought the X-Men back to the big screen in spectacular fashion with a story set in the 1960s that felt much truer to the comics than Singer’s films – yellow costumes and all. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy proved to be a great duo as a young Magneto and Professor X while the film used real events brilliantly, such as the Cuban missile crisis, as a backdrop to the action playing out on screen. The highlight, however, is undoubtedly the first act featuring Magneto on a revenge mission which plays out almost as a spy thriller rather than a superhero film.
8. Spider-Man 2
Similarly to X2, Spider-Man 2was bigger and better than it’s predecessor and at the time was the pinnacle of superhero filmmaking. With Alfred Molina’s sympathetic Doctor Octopus as the film’s antagonist, Raimi’s sequel was on to a winner and the return of Toby Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco allowed the character arcs from the first film to continue, leading to a broken friendship that was slightly wasted in Spider-Man 3. Scenes such as the train battle and Doctor Octopus’s arms attacking a team of surgeons are still some of the best sequences in comic book film history and help make Spider-Man 2the most satisfying adaptation of the character to date.
7. X-Men: Days of Future Past
When Bryan Singer returned to the X-Menfranchise in 2014, he brought his original cast along for the ride to team up with the younger actors that made up First Class. What he created was a sequel/reboot which allowed further stories to be told in the world of mutants whilst providing proper closure to the characters he first brought to the screen in 2000. It’s a film that is expertly crafted given everything it has to do and managed to successfully introduce new characters into the universe, with Evan Peters stealing the show as Quicksilver in what could be the franchise’s best sequence.
6. Iron Man
In 2008, Robert Downey Jr was still struggling to get his career back on track just as Marvel Studios were planning their own wave of superhero films. The marriage of the two by director John Favreau proved to be possibly the greatest piece of casting in any film ever with Downey Jr showcasing that he was able to perfectly embody the character of Tony Stark. While many origin stories feel weighed down by character introductions, Iron Manwas a thoroughly enjoyable piece of superhero cinema which paved the way for the entire MCU and made Robert Downey Jr a superstar once again.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy
When Marvel announced that they were making a Guardians of the Galaxy film even some diehard comic book fans were perplexed. Who were these colourful, cosmic characters and why were they being brought to the big screen ahead of much more popular superheroes in the Marvel universe? The answer became very clear when James Gunn delivered a thrilling space opera which featured endless amounts of fun and turned Chris Pratt into a household name. With characters such as Rocket Raccoon and Groot proving to be nothing short of loveable, Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the biggest surprises of 2014 and showed that Marvel are capable of adapting just about anything.
X-Men Origins: Wolverinefeatures what is without a doubt the most disappointing adaptation of a Marvel character that the world has ever seen in the form of Deadpool. Completely mishandled, the merc with a mouth was given a second chance on the big screen in this year’s Deadpool thanks to fan campaigning and great desire from Ryan Reynolds, and the film has since become the highest grossing R rated release of all time. Completely true to the character, Deadpool is an extremely violent and funny superhero film which pokes fun at genre conventions and proves that not all modern day comic book adaptations have to be made with the entire family in mind.
3. The Avengers
When Samuel L. Jackson appeared as Nick Fury in the post-credit sequence of Iron Man,comic book fans around the world rejoiced knowing exactly what was due to happen over the course of the next few years. The formation of the Avengers in Joss Whedon’s 2012 ensemble is a masterclass in how to juggle an array of characters yet still allow them moments to shine as individuals. Fun, thrilling, and featuring a fantastic villain in the form of Loki, The Avengers was a box office smash and a fantastic culmination of everything Marvel Studios had been building towards up until this point.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The tone of film’s within the MCU was fast becoming somewhat stale prior to the release of The Winter Soldier, with many of the studio’s Phase 2 productions failing to impress audiences in the way that their predecessors did. Thankfully, the Russo brothers threw a curveball in 2014 and delivered a spy thriller which just happened to be a Captain America film. A much darker affair than any other entry in the Marvel Universe, The Winter Soldier explored what it would be like for a veteran of the first world war if they found themselves in the security obsessed contemporary America, and the results are nothing short of brilliant with Chris Evans being allowed to give Captain America more depth and show the character’s impressive fighting style and physicality. The introduction of the Winter Soldier during a city wide chase sequence is one of the most thrilling scenes in the MCU and set up a formidable villain for the remainder of the film.
1. Captain America: Civil War
While The Avengers was the culmination of everything Marvel had been building to with Phase 1 of their universe, Captain America: Civil War feels like a culmination of everything the studio has been building to since Iron Man was released in 2008. With a large cast of characters perfectly handled by the returning Russo brother’s, Civil War pits hero against hero and establishes a tone much more in line with The Winter Soldier than any other Marvel film.
The addition of new characters such as Spider-Man and Black Panther proved to be a fantastic decision by the screenwriters and has got everybody anticipating their solo films in the coming years, while the airport battle could be the greatest sequence ever featured in a superhero outing. With the Avengers being disassembled by the end of the film, it’ll be interesting to see where some of these characters will be when the Russo brothers take the helm of Avengers: Infinity War and it’s currently untitled sequel in a few years’ time.
What do you think of the list? Tell us below!