The Marvel Cinematic Universe has blossomed into one of the greatest cinematic success stories of the 21st century so far, but it’s easy to forget that Marvel comics properties have much more humble beginnings than that. There was a period of time near the end of the 20th century where Marvel was practically giving their properties away so they could bring some money in, seeing as how they were on the verge of bankruptcy in the 1990s. That all changed when Iron Man dropped in 2008, featuring Samuel L. Jackson now-legendary post-credits Avengers Initiative stinger, but even with the company’s new financial and creative renaissance in full swing, other movie studios, most notably 20th Century Fox, still have the rights to other characters because of Marvel’s loose grip back in the day; X-Men and Fantastic Four (the reboot of which opens in theaters today, August 7) are still with Fox, and Universal has first dibs on distribution for solo Hulk features and the rights to the Submariner, but just about everybody else falls under Marvel’s umbrella now.
This gnarled ratking of comic book continuity had to start somewhere, and has led to some of the very best – and very worst – comic book movies ever created. Remember watching Howard the Duck almost have sex with a human girl? Remember when Captain America was nothing more than just a dude who did a lot of car-jacking? Remember when Blade kickstarted the modern fixation with superhero flicks? Marvel’s got some beauties and some horrors waiting in their archives, so here’s every single movie based on a Marvel property up to this point, ranked from worst to best.
43. Elektra (2005)
This Daredevil spinoff took one of Marvel’s most assured and badass unpowered heroes and trapped her in this self-serious yet hilarious campy action flick with what’s arguably the worst team of super villains in the history of film. Never forget Tattoo.
42: Fantastic Four (2015)
Fox’s third attempt at Marvel’s First Family comes across as a dull and pointless remake of director Josh Trank’s previous movie Chronicle that’s kinda like the Fantastic Four. What else really needs to be said?
41. The Fantastic Four: The Movie (1994)
Before you say it, yes; the overall quality of this movie is shitty enough that it should probably be #1 on this list. But Roger Corman’s infamous technicolor turd from the mid 90s is #2 because it’s at least earnest and fun in all of its awful glory. Terrible special effects and B-movie level acting rank this more as movie night drinking with friends punching bag fare the likes of The Room more than a genuine affront to filmmaking – though it’s definitely still that.
40. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Fans of the X-Men trilogy at the time were clamoring for a solo film revolving around metal-clawed Wolverine, and what we got was an unmitigated disaster. A few decent action scenes and Jackman playing Wolvie to perfection couldn’t make up for an overlong and overcomplicated screenplay that managed to piss off casual moviegoers, cinephiles, and comic book fans all at the same time.
39. Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer (2007)
Guilty of changing two iconic villains for the worse and completely underutilizing Laurence Fishburne, this sequel also has to live with a Fantastic Four with zero chemistry and a bizarre plot logic all its own.
38. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Sony Pictures threw this together in a hurry before Marvel could take the Spider-Man movie rights back, and that careless decision is reflected in almost every aspect of this lazy filmmaking-by-committee reboot. How do you mess up “With great power comes great responsibility?” Ask the guys who thought The Lizard and his doomsday device would make for a good story.
37. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
See #37, but with more villains and less consistency.
36. The Punisher w/ Dolph Lungeren (1989)
The Spawn of bad Marvel movies.
35. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
After the success of X2: X-Men United, all it took was a change of directors to show just how tangled and messy the X-Men movies could become. Director Brett Ratner brought his badly staged generic director’s eye in and turned The Last Stand into Ground Zero for all the mediocre to just plain bad X-Men movies to follow.
34. Fantastic Four (2005)
Michael Chiklis had to change into that hot rock suit every day for *this*?
33. Howard The Duck (1988)
George Lucas, still flying high off of the Star Wars trilogy, decided to bring Howard The Duck to life in what’s still considered to be one of the worst and most confusing comic book movies of all time. Tonal inconsistencies and an overall hamminess did their part to hold this one back from greatness.
32. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)
Johnny Blaze deserves a good movie to go along with that awesome flaming skull effect. Unfortunately, directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor aren’t the ones to bring it to us. Their second go at Ghost Rider is more more boring than the title Spirit of Vengeance is generic.
31. Blade: Trinity (2004)
The next time you want to bring the guy who wrote Man of Steel on to direct your movie, don’t. Poorly edited fight scenes and a lack of narrative direction compared to the first two flicks left this sucker bone-dry. Even Wesley Snipes couldn’t save it.
30. Ghost Rider (2007)
Aside from some impressive special effects and the usual acting lunacy from Nicholas Cage, Ghost Rider bites off more story chunks than it can chew.
29. Daredevil (2003)
This infamous stinker starring Ben Affleck was silly beyond belief and was rife with boring dialogue and story turns, but at least we got a great Michael Clarke Duncan performance out of it?
28. X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014)
At this stage in the X-Men movie saga, there are so many concurrent timelines that 20th Century Fox decided to do what comic book publishers do: create a time-travel story that wipes all the bad stuff from existence but keeping the “good” stuff. Days of Future Past can be fun and engaging, but it’s the cinematic equivalent of brand damage control.
27. Hulk (2003)
Oh boy, was this movie ambitious. The poignant themes and comic book panel-style presentation, coupled with the breathtaking cinematography and fight scenes should’ve made this movie better than it was, but the whole never matched up to the sum of its parts. What a shame.
26. Iron Man 2 (2010)
At the backend of the Marvel Cinematic Universe sits the second Iron Man flick. The movie’s second act is non-existent, the bad guys serve no purpose, and not much of anything happens throughout; chalk that up to Marvel not realizing that Tony Stark would be the breakout character of their first phase of movies and throwing this together in a hurry, but even so, the movie’s far from “bad.” The cast is great and the action’s plentiful, even if it all serves little to no purpose.
25. The Punisher (2004)
Thomas Jane stars as the vigilante gunman aiming for vengeance against the mob for his slaughtered family. And you know what? It’s not bad. It moves along at a steady clip, has some killer fight scenes, and Travolta makes for a great bad guy. However, the overly self-serious tone drags this into 13-year-old boy fantasy territory.
24. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
I know what you’re thinking: Emo Peter. Barroom dance scene. Venom sucks here. Director Sam Rami and Sony Pictures had completely different ideas for this movie (Sam Rami originally wanted The Vulture and Sandman to team up instead of having Venom, Sandman, and New Goblin), and their clash resulted in one Frankenstein’s Monster’s of a disjointed but still utterly entertaining movie.
23. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
This monster movie rendition of the spy thriller show from the 1980s starts off a little slow and will forever confuse fans by featuring a Bruce Banner that’s not played by Mark Ruffalo (Edward Norton in this movie) and plot points that have yet to pay off in the grand scheme, but as a straightforward adaptation of the TV show, this is a good little movie. Even Lou Ferrigno gets in on the fun.