When X-Men arrived in 2000, the landscape of the cinematic blockbuster was changed forever. Superheroes still dominate the summer and more often than not, they tend to have come from the Marvel comic book universe. Sure, the occasional Batman or Superman film (or Batman vs. Superman film) arrives every few years and soon will be arriving much more often, but let's face it: lately the face of the comic book movie belongs to Marvel.
But of the 32 Marvel movies to emerge in the wake of X-Men (we're not counting the 'Blade' films since that series got started before the superhero movie renaissance), which one is the best? Which one is the worst? Which one is squarely in the middle and barely worthy of discussion? With Avengers: Age of Ultron finally upon us, it's time to rank every Marvel movie since the year 2000. Join us as we journey from some of the worst comic book movies ever made all the way up to some of the very best.
A lame duck superhero. An uninspired director. A moronic screenplay. An oddly toned down Nicolas Cage. The problem with 'Ghost Rider' isn't that it's a very bad film: the problem with 'Ghost Rider' is that it refuses to be awful in a way that encourages conversation. At least its sequel (which we'll get to in a moment) had the grace to be terrible in a memorable way. There is no joy reveling in the badness here -- this is a lazy, half-assed and instantly forgettable hunk of garbage.
Someday, someone will write a book on what went wrong with 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine.' How many compromises did director Gavin Hood have to suffer through? Was anyone on the visual effects team proud of their work, which would've looked bad in 1999? Did the writers (both credited and uncredited) create the "amnesia bullets" that wipe out Wolverine's memories and feel pleased with their work? Everything about this film feels compromised, a true case of too many lousy cooks overcrowding the kitchen, wrecking what should've been a sure thing.
The 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four was doomed from the start. Director Josh Trank clashed with the studio, who desperately reshaped the film through extensive reshoots (although the original cut probably wasn’t too impressive to begin with). The result is a schizophrenic experience, a movie that changes its tone at the drop of hat and focuses almost entirely on characters delivering exposition to one another in cheap, dimly lit sets. There are no rich characters, the actors seem bored out of their minds, and the action (all two minutes of it) is uninspired nonsense. This movie is a disaster, but at least it has the decency to be fascinating disaster worthy of study. This is how wrong things can go when you make a superhero movie.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Okay, this is more like it. If you're going to be a bad film, you might as well be bad with a, uh, vengeance. 'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance' is a repulsive nightmare of lousy filmmaking, ugly cinematography and atrocious writing, but at least the 'Crank' team of Neveldine and Taylor inject the film with their own personalities and ensure that, if nothing else, the second 'Ghost Rider' film is anything but generic. Unlike its predecessor, there's nothing forgettable about this film (particularly Nicolas Cage's ten shades of crazy performance), but it's the kind of thing you wish you'd forget.
Marvel's first family can be tricky. The Fantastic Four are almost deliberately old fashioned with a bizarre combination of superpowers and a charmingly hokey origin story. No one has quite managed to crack how they should work on screen (something that we hope is rectified with the upcoming reboot), but transforming these great characters into wacky sitcom stars who spend their entire film bickering and fighting each other instead of actually being superheroes is not how you do it. Is it the fault of director Tim Story or 20th Century Fox, who have a reputation for meddling in their comic book movies? We're not sure, but this movie is enough of a hacky mess to spread the blame to all parties involved.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Almost everything about 'Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer' is just as bad as the first film, but it's ranked higher for one reason and one reason only: this one actually features Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and The Thing actually being superheroes and saving the world. But the rest is unforgivable. Marvel's greatest villain, the megalomaniacal Dr. Doom, is bungled for a second time. The evil Galactus is rendered as a cloud. Reed Richard uses his stretching ability to show off in a nightclub and the result is an orgy of embarrassment. This film can't vanish into the cracks of time soon enough.
Frank Castle, AKA, The Punisher, is such a generic character that's he's only as good as the people bringing him to life. He can either be a cliched violent, half-insane vigilante or he can be an interesting violent, half-insane vigilante. Somehow, director Jonathan Hensleigh's take on the character manages to be neither, neutering the character and transforming him into a goofy action hero whose idea of vengeance is a putting a portable fire hydrant next to John Travolta's car so he'll get a parking ticket. The Punisher is barely character already, so by removing his trademark bloodthirstiness, we're only left with a forgettable action movie.
You forgot that 'Elektra' was even a thing, huh? A 'Daredevil' spin-off that was forgotten the week after it was released, the film bombed and Jennifer Garner's attempt to become the next female action star was aborted on the spot. To be fair, 'Elektra' isn't a particularly awful movie (it's certainly no 'Ghost Rider') but its greatest sin is that it's a non-film, a movie so forgettable, lightweight and uneventful that it doesn't even linger on in the popular consciousness in any way. It might as well have not been made.
One of the first superhero films to follow in the trailblazing wake of 'Spider-Man' and 'X2,' 'Daredevil' was like a splash of cold water to the face: "Oh, you mean that every Marvel comic book movie won't be that good?" 'Daredevil's reputation has ebbed and flowed over the past decade, but to revisit it now is to watch a perfectly competent superhero movie with its fair share of problems (why does Matt Murdock, whose powers are limited to super senses, have the acrobatic ability of Spider-man?) and its fair share of highlights (Michael Clarke Duncan and Colin Farrell really are pretty terrific villains). It may have taken us a decade, but we've finally decided that 'Dardevil' is a completely inoffensive and mediocre experience that hasn't aged as well as movies that came out before it. Eh, it's fine.
'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' is a train wreck. Outside of spirited performances from Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, the film is loud and stupid, driven by an obnoxious score and characters whose decisions are head-scratching at best and moronic at worst. Somehow, 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' manages to be both too small and too big, needlessly making Spidey's origin part of a grand conspiracy while shrinking his rogue's gallery so that each of his foes have an identical place of origin. This stinks.
There's no denying it: 'Iron Man 2' is mess. There are times where it feels like a non-movie, a collection of scenes strung together with little rhyme and reason, going nowhere. The off-the-cuff spark that makes the first 'Iron Man' so satisfying transforms its sequel into an ambling mess with an awful villain, head-scratching plot holes and bizarre diversions (why did Tony's father hide the cure for his heart problem in a theme park model?). Somehow, the film remains totally watchable thanks to its charming actors (including a severely underutilized Sam Rockwell) and breezy tone, but it's easily the worst of the Marvel Studios produced movies.
Like 'Daredevil,' 'X-Men: The Last Stand' isn't nearly as bad as its reputation suggests. It just has the misfortune of being a serviceable follow-up to one of the best superhero movies ever made. Although Brett Ratner's direction lacks the style and subtext of Bryan Singer's films, it delivers on the "meat and potatoes" front, providing plenty of twists, nifty mutant characters and exciting action scenes, including a climax that's bigger and more involved than any X-Men movie before or since. It may be no 'X2,' but it's certainly not 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine.'