Over the past few years, Marvel films have been, if not always great, at least consistently good. It wasn't always that way, however. Marvel has been making theatrical films, in one way or another, for more than 70 years, and its efforts have been decidedly mixed. Through the rigorous, scientific method of "asking my co-workers what they thought," I've determined the definitive order of all 51 Marvel films ever made, from soaring superhero epics to villainous duds, and ranked them from worst to best.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine may not be the least watchable film on this list, but in terms of damage done to a classic character, this is about as bad as it gets. Before he joined the X-Men, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) was James Howlett, a mutant with exceptional healing abilities and longevity. When the Weapon X program turns him into a living weapon, he must hunt down his former squadmates. It sounds cool in theory; in practice, it's a mess of bad special effects, wooden dialogue and nonsensical plot points.
When Elektra died in the Daredevil comics, she was so popular that fans demanded she come back. Marvel thought it'd try the same trick for a solo movie, but this time, it didn't go as well. After a powerful ritual brings Elektra (Jennifer Garner) back to life, she becomes a hired killer, at odds with the villainous ninjas known as the Hand. It's not a bad setup, but the movie is completely bereft of a sense of fun, and its leaden action scenes and unrealistic dialogue only make matters worse.
As Marvel's very first modern superhero team, the Fantastic Four are all about family, exploration and having fun. The 2016 film Fantastic Four captured absolutely none of the above. With a dark, grim palette; claustrophobic action sequences; and a story line that would have been too dull for a 30-page comic, let alone a 2-hour movie, Fantastic Four isn't just bad; it completely misses the point of its subject matter. It's easily the worst Fantastic Four film, and that's really saying something.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer did a decent job at capturing the fun and lively tone a Fantastic Four film should have, but that doesn't quite make up for its unmitigated stupidity. The Silver Surfer (Doug Jones) heralds the arrival of Galactus, who threatens to devour the whole world, and only the Fantastic Four can stop him. Fair enough, but the character arcs have no teeth, the dialogue is cringeworthy, and the final battle is about as big a letdown as superhero fans have ever seen on film.
Ang Lee’s Hulk isn't absolutely meritless as a film, but as a superhero romp, it completely fails to understand the character's appeal. The movie paints an odd portrait of domestic abuse, father-son relationships and psychosexual desire, but there's a general absence of, well, Hulk smashing things. A thoughtful Hulk movie could theoretically work, but not one with glacial pacing, boring conversations and a "climactic confrontation" that was anything but. At the end of the day, a well-intentioned mess is still a mess.
Ghost Rider made a decent amount of money in theaters, but that probably won't help its legacy. Nicolas Cage stars as Johnny Blaze, a motorcycle stuntman who makes a deal with a demon in order to hunt down criminals as the fiery, skeletal Ghost Rider. While Cage can make just about any role entertaining, Ghost Rider is aggressively dumb, with scenery-chewing actors who can't quite decide if they're making a horror, comedy or action film. The unconvincing CGI doesn't help, either.
The Fantastic Four (1994) was never actually released — and that's one of the better things about it. Created not to entertain fans, but simply to maintain licensing rights, The Fantastic Four actually has a pretty solid setup. Reed Richards (Alex Hyde-White) takes his family into space, where they get superpowers, but Dr. Doom (Joseph Culp) opposes them when they return to Earth. That's about where the charm ends, as the movie seems hastily cobbled together with bargain-basement special effects and editing.