Avengers: Age of Ultron opens this Friday. It's the penultimate film of the so-called Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the last will be Ant-Man, coming later this summer). When all is said and done, there will be 22 movies in the MCU.
Now as you may know, Marvel Studios doesn't have the rights to all Marvel Comics properties. Sony owns Spider-Man, while 20th Century Fox owns the X-Men and Fantastic Four, neither of which have any say or role in the various MCU phases. So what follows, true believers, is the definitive ranking of all 36 Marvel movies released by the various studios. I'm excluding those released pre-1986 (sorry, 1944 Captain America serial) and those not released in U.S. theaters: Captain America (1990), The Fantastic Four (1994), Man-Thing (2005), and The Punisher (1989).
No, that last one was not released in theaters. You just think it was.
36. Howard the Duck (1986) Nothing — not camp value, not '80s nostalgia, not hidden Lea Thompson fetishism — should distract you from what a huge turd this is. And to think George Lucas actually *stepped down* as president of Lucasfilm so he could focus on making movies like this. Maybe the prequels shouldn't have been such a surprise after all.
35. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) I figured out the problem with this movie, aside from the incoherent plot and boring supporting cast, I mean: Wolverine is old news. He's still popular with the kids' set and your mom, but just like with the final reveal of his origin in the comics, they waited too long (i.e., after the third, craptastic X-Men movie) to give him his own flick.
34. Blade: Trinity (2004) Hey, it's Ryan Reynolds again. If we were including DC movies in this, he'd have three movies in the bottom 10 (Green Lantern). Then again, it's his calling Parker Posey a "cock-juggling thunder cunt" that keeps this from the bottom two.
33. Daredevil (2003) I had totally forgotten Colin Farrell was Bullseye in this. So that's another three spots down the list. I'm told the director's cut is superior, but I have other priorities right now, like reading the collected works of Paul Reiser and finding the Jade Monkey before the next full moon.
Screw it, let's just watch that fight scene from the Netflix series again.
32. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) You really can chart Nicolas Cage's choice of movie roles by his worsening financial position. Fun fact: the Ghost Rider franchise is another of those in which rights issues forced Sony to make another movie (see also Fantastic Four) so it woudn't be returned to Marvel.
Like they'd want it. Somehow I doubt the Avengers would have been improved by Johnny Blaze chain-whipping the Chitauri.
31. Fantastic Four (2005) I'm pretty sure Chris Evans signed a deal with the devil consigning each of his FF costars to (career) hell in exchange for his own success. Don't believe me? What blockbuster movies have Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, or Julian McMahon been in recently? Also, his character *bursts into flame*. Hail Satan.
30. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) Brett Ratner directed this. The same Brett Ratner who convinced child rapist Roman Polanski to play the French cop in Rush Hour 3 who gives a full cavity search to Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan. And that scene was still more artful than just about anything in the third X-movie.
29. Spider-Man 3 (2007) Too many villains, too little heart, too much eyeliner. And don't you dare blame an 'alien symbiote' for this crap:
28. Elektra (2005) I'm not really sure why I have this higher than Daredevil, the movie that spawned it, except I think I was on painkillers that whole year.
27. Iron Man 2 (2010) This was where Marvel first started actively building towards The Avengers — with the introduction of Black Widow and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s heightened presence — but it's mostly a mess. I also like the tidbit that Mickey Rourke visited a Russian prison for his role. You know, so his tattoo-festooned, electro-whip wielding physicist character would be more realistic.
26. Thor: The Dark World (2013) For being the only Avenger who's a literal god, Thor is really boring. The first movie at least had some humor and gave us Tom Hiddleston's Loki, but the sequel ... I'll just let the Honest Trailer go from here:
25. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) Sometimes the Marvel creators' 60s roots got the better of them. Case in point: the herald of Galactus, formerly an astronomer named "Norrin Radd." Why Fox felt the need to include this hippie crap (and not even show Galactus!) in the FF sequel escapes me.
24. Ghost Rider (2007) Rather than linger over what is empirically one of the lamest "superheroes" ever, let's enjoy some Willie, Waylon, Kris (he was in Blade!), and Johnny:
23. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) It's been ten years, what are the odds people still remember Spidey's origins from that Sam Raimi movie? Or from the comic books? Or the animated TV show? Or the live action TV show? And what was left out of the final cut?
22. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) And it's too bad they pulled the plug on these after two, because the obvious choice for Spidey's next villain would be Mrs. Stacy, who already lost a husband and a daughter thanks to that wall-crawling weirdo.
21. The Punisher (2004) They tried to give us a more human Frank Castle, one focused on a single villain (John Travolta's goofy Howard Saint) instead of methodically pursuing all criminals with murderous intent. Don't worry, they got it right the next time around.
20. The Incredible Hulk (2008) The more I think about it (and having seen the latest Avengers movie), the more it seems like the Hulk needs to remain a supporting character. Any solo movie will have audiences twiddling their thumbs waiting for the property damage to commence. Even then, it gets old pretty quick.
19. Spider-Man (2002) The first movie to open with $100 million dollars on its first weekend. There are some inspired touches (J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, the death of Uncle Ben is actually quite powerful), but it hasn't aged well. The CGI makes Spidey look like he's Woody from Toy Story when he runs, and the Green Goblin angle leaves a lot to be desired.
18. Hulk (2003) Ang Lee's take on the gamma-enhanced goon split audiences and critics down the middle. I think it's one of the more thoughtful superhero movies out there, but it was waaay too long and the effects — even for 2003 — are processed cheese. Still, it's got this:
17. Thor (2011) Works best when the God of Thunder is on Earth, because seriously, who gives a shit about Asgard? I though Thor was perfectly adequate when I first saw it, but have never felt the desire to check it out again.
16. X-Men: First Class (2011) My views on this may have been colored by impressions lingering from Ratner's atrocity, but I like it when these movies insert themselves into current/historical events. I'm also not buying that Magneto — who can lift submarines from the water — couldn't stop a bullet from killing JFK. We lost Camelot because of you, mutie.
15. The Wolverine (2013) Man, there are a lot of X-movies. This one focuses a little more on Logan the man, at least at first. At this point I think they're just trying to see how many ways they can torture the poor, rapidly healing bastard. To wit, an A-bomb:
14. X-Men (2000) It's uneven in spots, and looks really cheap by today's standards, but director Bryan Singer does an admirable job juggling the characters and keeping them distinct, even if we can see the beginnings of the Wolverine-centrism of Fox's Marvel efforts.
13. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) Big Cap fan here. Also big WWII history buff. And I'm in love with Hayley Atwell. Come to think of it, maybe this should be higher on the list.
12. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) Review pending. To quote the Simpsons version of President George H.W. Bush: "Good, not great."
11. Blade (1998) You can be forgiven if you didn't realize the Daywalker was a Marvel property, but not for disregarding career zenith performances from Wesley Snipes and pre-e-cigarettes Stephen Dorff, and a dude getting crotch-kicked to death (1:15):
10. Punisher: War Zone (2008) Yeah, even I'm kind of surprised to find this so high up on the list. Or maybe not; it's hands down the bloodiest Marvel adaptation, and I was a big fan of Dredd. Whatever your thoughts on Frank Castle, and most have coalesced around the opinion that he's a complete psychopath, I think we can all agree parkour is dumb:
9. Iron Man (2008) The one that started it all, in the modern Marvel sense of the word. Director Jon Favreau keeps things humming, even if Obadiah Stane was a poor choice of Big Bad. But it's Robert Downey, Jr. (who was born to play Tony Stark), who makes this so memorable. Plus, I'm nostalgic for the Mark I.
8. X2 (2003) Iron Man 2 notwithstanding, the second installment in many Marvel series are often generally better than their predecessors. Singer had a bigger budget and much more leeway after the first movie's success, introducing Nightcrawler and Colossus and finally letting Wolverine cut loose. This was also Ian McKellen at his Snidely Whiplashiest.
7. Blade II (2002) I loved the original, but leave it to Guillermo Del Toro to kick things (gore, action, mythology) up a slimy notch or two. Teaming Blade up with the Bloodpack was also a canny move, and look for a pre-Walking Dead Norman Reedus as the traitorous Scud.
6. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) 2014, as we'll see, was a year that may not be topped for Marvel movies. My favorite X-Men movie is also the most recent one, not just because of the groovy duds, baby, but also the fairly faithful representation of the post-Sentinel world and the uniformly strong performances.
Also, Storm dies.
5. Spider-Man 2 (2004) 11 years and three Spidey movies later, who knew this would end up being (to date) the high point of the franchise? Doctor Octopus was a refreshingly multifaceted baddie, and everything from the effects to the fight scenes to the supporting cast represented an improvement over the original. For a long time, this was my favorite Marvel movie.
4. The Avengers (2012) Makes the top five almost for "Hulk. Smash." alone. It probably shouldn't have worked, but give Joss Whedon credit for getting everyone to play (mostly) nice together. It's satisfyingly epic in scope and still grounded by solid performances. Then again, I'm still trying to figure out why Man of Steel gets so much grief for body count when these guys destroyed most of Manhattan:
3. Iron Man 3 (2013) Anyone who knows me knows my love of 80s action, and that's what this Shane (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) Black-helmed entry feels like. Fine, it plays extremely fast and loose with the idea of the Mandarin and, well, most of the preceding movies' robo-continuity. The hell with it, it's a lot of fun, and even the end credits are just, yeah.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) Proof that James Gunn knows what he's doing? Or that people will see anything with "Marvel" attached to it? As I said when I reviewed it, GotG takes us back to a time when movies afforded audiences the opportunity to lose themselves in another world without embarrassment. Excellent use of Bowie, also.
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1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) A Cold War era thriller in superhero trappings, with one of the best action sequences of any MCU movie (start with the Winter Solider throwing Sitwell out of the car and go from there) and a fully fleshed-out story arc for Black Widow. I may be showing my favoritism toward spy movies (and Cap, who as I said was one of my faves as a kid), but TWS isn't just a great comic book movie, it's a great movie, period.