Back in 2008, the post-credits scene at the end of Iron Man launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, even before the genesis of the MCU, there had been several cinematic offerings based on Marvel characters, from Fantastic Four and Spider-Man to Daredevil and X-Men.
Marvel is still in glorious health, of course, with Deadpool smashing box office records this year and Captain America: Civil War (read our review) set to the same, if not better.
So, let’s do the right thing and rank every Marvel movie, from best to worst – including Civil War!
Note: Before you rattle off in the comments, we realise that some of the following movies were not produced by Marvel Studios. There is Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox in there, we know, but we are talking about movies based on Marvel creations here, so the likes of X-Men, Fantastic Four and The Punisher are all included. Glad we got that cleared up.
Now, on with the list!
All of the Marvel movies ranked, from best to worst
39. Fantastic Four (2015)
What a horrible mess of a film this was. Effectively disowned by its director Josh Trank, Fantastic Four was a monumental, big-budgeted swing and a miss from Sony Pictures, who subsequently pulled the sequel after awful reviews and a box office disaster.
38. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)
Nicolas Cage reprised his role as Johnny Blaze, the Devil’s bounty hunter, for this critically-panned sequel. An awful script, dodgy CGI and Cage performance that was a little too bat-shit crazy for everyone’s liking spelled the end of this franchise.
37. Elektra (2005)
Jennifer Garner starred in this Daredevil spin-off with such abysmal dialogue, it was laughable at times. The film garnered seriously hateful reviews from critics and comic book fan alike. Luckily, it looks like Netflix’s Daredevil has nailed the concept of Elektra for its second season.
36. The Punisher (2004)
Another character Netflix looks set on rectifying is the unstoppable vigilante known as The Punisher. Unfortunately, a solid cast couldn’t overcome the gratuitous violence and The Punisher’s debut on the big screen played out like a by-the-numbers direct-to-DVD flick.
35. Ghost Rider (2007)
The film made over $220 million at the box office but it was derided by critics, despite its impressive special effects. The hammy dialogue and OTT action sequences always meant this was going to be at the mercy of film scribes. We wish it would have turned out better.
34. Blade: Trinity (2004)
Hideously incoherent, the third instalment in the half-vampire half-human franchise chose style over substance — and that was a misguided choice. It was ironic that David S. Goyer, who was pivotal in getting Blade onto the big screen in the first place, killed the franchise with some mis-handed direction.
33. Punisher: War Zone (2008)
This remains the worst box office performance from any Marvel movie ever, taking in a paltry $10 million. Packed with violence, Ray Stevenson was unable to save the franchise after Thomas Jane departed for creative reasons (which become clearer once you see this gory mess).
32. Fantastic Four (2005)
The first movie featuring Marvel’s famed superhero team certainly had some entertaining moments and was a box office smash that summer, but the bland storytelling and poor attempt at bring iconic villain Doctor Doom to the screen means it’s definitely one of Marvel’s weaker attempts.
31. Daredevil (2003)
Ben Affleck is now Batman, but perhaps he thought that would never happen after his poorly-received debut as The Man Without Fear in 2003. Poor character development stopped from this being something greater, but it was saved partially by the considerable acting talents of the late Michael Clarke Duncan.
30. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Fans of the adamantium-clawed hero had been yearning for a standalone film, but they were to be disappointed by this 2009 prequel that ended up drowned by its own hype. Hugh Jackman was dependably excellent as Logan and Liev Schreiber did what he could with a poorly-written Sabretooth role but even Jackman expressed his dislike for the final product, which explains the subsequent attempts to give the mutant the origin story he deserves.
29. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
The follow-up to 2005’s cash cow was slightly better, but still failed to maximise the potential of its excellent titular villain, voiced by Laurence Fishburne. Perhaps the film was most skilfully summed up by Wesley Morris, writing in The Boston Globe: “The early dilemma in Rise of the Silver Surfer is this: Save the world or marry Jessica Alba. Your conscience says, ‘Save the world.’ But the Maxim reader in you knows better.”
28. Blade (1998)
The first Marvel hero to be successfully adapted to the big screen, the Wesley Snipes-starring vampire flick helped spawn two sequels and should be best remembered for a memorable opening scene where blood literally rains from the ceiling in spectacular fashion.
27. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
Stuffed with villains, under-developed plot lines, the follow-up to Andrew Garfield’s debut as Peter Parker was supposed to launch a shared universe but, after performing below expectations, that went down the toilet. It was far too long, at 142 minutes, but the special effects were superlative, that much can be spared.
26. Blade II (2002)
The best of the Blade trilogy, the sequel is perhaps most important for introducing English-speaking audiences to Guillermo del Toro, who would go on to direct Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy. If you go in expecting a gory, trashy B-movie with a budget, you’ll enjoy it.
25. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
The weakest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor: The Dark World offers more humour and exhilarating action but ultimately fails to live up to some of the MCU’s stronger efforts thanks to a completely forgettable villain in Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith.
24. Hulk (2003)
Perhaps Ang Lee wasn’t the best choice of director for a movie essentially about an enormous green giant smashing things up. Anyway, at least Lee instilled some gorgeous cinematography and poignant familial themes to offset the confused tone, part superhero bonanza, part arthouse. It needed to be more smashy, less talky.
23. The Wolverine (2013)
It’s a tough ask making Wolverine seem boring, but James Mangold tried his best. Although it moved along at a glacial pace, The Wolverine scored surprisingly well with critics and surpassed the $400 million mark at the global box office. It tried to do something different, we can admire that, but the results were uneven. Hugh Jackman will make one final appearance as Wolverine in Mangold’s R-rated sequel.
22. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
The climactic chapter in the original X-Men trilogy was easily the weakest. It had all the sound and fury you’d expect from a superhero trilogy-ending blockbuster, but something about it felt empty and left the mutants with an uncertain cinematic future until First Class came along in 2011.
21. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Following an enormous hit of a predecessor, Iron Man 2 had plenty of entertaining sequences and another on-point performance from Robert Downey Jr, but Mickey Rourke’s unintelligible turn as Whiplash was a huge misstep and a bit of a bum-note in an otherwise stellar trilogy.
20. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Tobey Maguire’s swansong as Peter Parker was the most successful in the franchise’s history, financially speaking with $890 million to its name. However, although it delivers plenty of action, Topher Grace’s miscasting as Venom meant it was satisfying, not spectacular.
19. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
None of it was new, and Garfield as Parker didn’t quite sit right with some hardened fans of the comics, but Marc Webb pulled off an exciting reboot that was fresh, exciting and loaded with amazing special effects.
18. The Incredible Hulk (2009)
Managing to pull of the story of everyone’s favourite green Avenger with much more conviction than Ang Lee’s version five years earlier, Edward Norton’s sole stint as Bruce Banner was solid blockbuster entertainment that also benefitted from a strong performance from William Hurt as General Ross (returning in Captain America: Civil War).
17. Ant-Man (2015)
Hey, don’t knock him because he’s Marvel’s smallest superhero! Ant-Man is funny, light-hearted and distinctly popcorn, doing what it set out to do. Paul Rudd as Scott Lang was a shrewd piece casting too and the effects were truly breathtaking.
16. Iron Man 3 (2013)
After the disappointment of Iron Man 2, Tony Stark bounced back with a hugely entertaining third instalment, while not quite living up to the brilliance of the original. Bombastic thrills and a twisting narrative kept us intrigued for the duration of the movie, which is more than you can say about Iron Man 2.
15. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
OK, so it wasn’t as good as the first film, but Ultron maintained the sense of fun and camaraderie that impresses on a mostly aesthetic level, with its gargantuan set-pieces. It never quite hits top gear but we’re expecting the two-parter Infinity War film to make up for that.
14. Thor (2011)
It introduced to the kingdom of Asgard with visual splendour and also succeeds thanks to the acting talents of Tom Hiddleston and Anthony Hopkins, but Thor’s debut doesn’t quite match up to some of Avenger friends’ movies. It’s not a film you hate, but not many people love it either.
13. X-Men (2000)
Director Bryan Singer delivered with the first live-action X-Men flick. It’s that simple. Having Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart on board is always a massive plus for any director, but Singer delivered a story filled with substance and characters we cared about, not shying away from the odd thrilling action scene either.
12. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Riding along with the World War II vibe, Cap’s big-screen debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has now been surpassed by his appearances in The Avengers and this movie’s sequel, but it still delivers a mix of nostalgia and fanboy thrills for the historic character. It’s mid-level Marvel, vastly superior to Iron Man 2, but not quite matching the studio’s finest efforts.
11. Deadpool (2015)
The foul-mouthed, fourth-wall breaking Merc with a Mouth finally got the movie he’d been waiting for and allowed Ryan Reynolds to forget ever being in The Green Lantern. It’s the highest-grossing R-rated superhero movie of all time and has already paved the way for a sequel. Deadpool was hilarious, violent and a refreshing departure from some of the more light-hearted superhero fodder. A roaring success.
10. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
It’s messy at times, and Peter Dinklage’s Trask was definitely an under-written villain, but the results here are undeniably electrifying. Rightly nominated for an Academy Award for Visual Effects, Days of Future Past was an enormous spectacle that has balanced things nicely for this year’s X-Men: Apocalypse.
9. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Gloriously fun, Guardians of the Galaxy was a breath of fresh air in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that featured a band of likeable superheroes and an absolute cracking soundtrack. It was hailed as an instant classic and with Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell on board for the sequel, dare we say Vol. 2 will be even better?
8. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
So, here it is then. The MCU’s latest offering was nothing short of a lot of fun. As you can see, it was definitely worthy of a place in our top ten. However, the reason it hasn’t cracked the top five is it lacked a real powerhouse ending (we’ll not spoil anything). Spider-Man, Black Panther and Ant-Man helped this ranking enormously and the Russo Brothers also delivered quite possibly the greatest action scene in superhero movie history. They pulled it off, but it’s not a masterpiece.
7. The Avengers (2012)
Joss Whedon successfully brought together a band of favourite superheroes for this enthralling blockbuster roller-coaster. With a script that emphasised the more human elements of these superheroes, The Avengers suitably raised the bar for future Marvel movies and remains the most successful movie in the box office.
6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
With the dismantling of S.H.I.E.L.D, The Winter Soldier had enormous ramifications for the MCU and was also an example of how Marvel can showcase superior storytelling, remaining suspenseful and politically astute. Can Civil War surpass its impressive predecessor?
5. Spider-Man (2002)
Providing plenty of web-slinging fun and a heart to match, Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film opened the floodgates on an avalanche of superhero films in the subsequent decade. It was likably modest and heartfelt, buoyed by an excellent villainous turn from Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin.
4. X-Men: First Class (2011)
A brilliantly fresh and exciting franchise revival, Matthew Vaughn’s First Class was the perfect combination of stylish direction, strong writing and some outstanding performances (particularly from Michael Fassbender), delivering a pitch-perfect origin story that reinvigorated a franchise that had lay idle for five years.
3. X2 (2003)
A sequel that was undeniably bigger and better than its predecessor, X-Men’s follow-up featured more solid acting and a water-tight script that elevated it above your standard superhero flick. It was definitely a benchmark for comic book movie sequels, with only one beating it on this list (a sequel that came a year later, it must be stressed)…
2. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Yes, it’s Spider-Man 2, coming up just short as the greatest Marvel movie ever made, but deservedly earning the mantle of greatest superhero Marvel sequel. It takes everything about the first movie and improves it in spectacular fashion, benefitting from some top-notch villainous acting from Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus. The special effects were mind-blowing and won the Oscar and you have to applaud the film’s richer emotional moments.
1. Iron Man (2008)
Yes, the film that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe may not be the most surprising pick as the greatest Marvel movie ever, but it’s the right choice. Director Jon Favreau took the famous character’s story and translated it perfectly for the modern Hollywood audience, gifting us with Robert Downey Jr.’s debut as Tony Stark, who struck as a quippy, clever life force at the time. It’s difficult to find a fault in Iron Man, it’s just that good.
You’re probably shaking your head in disbelief right now, so make sure to let us know what order you would have had it!