Total Recall: Marvel Comics Movies, Worst To Best
We count down every movie featuring a Marvel character to hit the big screen.
After two top-grossing, well-reviewed installments, the X-Men film franchise was due for a fall -- and with 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, it arrived in the form of a second sequel whose $400 million-plus grosses were overshadowed by poor word of mouth and a rash of negative reviews that prevented a Fresh certification for the first time in the series. Though 56 percent isn't a terrible Tomatometer rating -- and some critics enjoyed the movie, such as the New York Observer's Andrew Sarris, who wrote that he was "strangely moved" by it -- the lukewarm response was a significant comedown for the franchise, particularly after Bryan Singer, who directed the first two installments, left the project to take on Superman Returns, taking the previous installment's screenwriters with him. New director Brett Ratner took his fair share of critical lumps (the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday accused him of "[making] hash of the story and characters"), but there was plenty of blame to go around; in the words of the Chicago Reader's J.R. Jones, "despite all the grand gestures of climax and resolution, there's a pronounced sense of autopilot."
9. Blade 2
It's a late-period Wesley Snipes movie and the sequel to a vampire flick, but don't dismiss 2002's Blade 2 out of hand; for starters, the second installment of New Line's Blade franchise brought in Guillermo del Toro to take over for original director Stephen Norrington, lending the sequel more smarts and visual flair than you might otherwise expect from a film including a scene that takes place in a vampire nightclub. Though the plot is bogged down with more double-crosses than a bad heist movie (and giggle-worthy stuff like UV grenades), screenwriter David S. Goyer was smart enough to include plenty of action -- and to set up a third installment in the epilogue. At 57 percent on the Tomatometer, Blade 2 ain't exactly Citizen Kane, but it's the best-reviewed of the Blade trilogy, and its $150 million worldwide gross makes it the most financially successful, too -- something several critics attributed to the change in director. "If you can keep your eyes open amid all the blood and gore," wrote the Denver Post's Steven Rosen, "you'll see Del Toro has brought unexpected gravity to Blade 2."
After having success blending costumed action with heavy subtext in the X-Men and Spider-Man movies, it was only natural that Marvel would take a similar approach for the first big-screen appearance of the gamma-powered monster known as the Hulk; indeed, the long-running title's exploration of psychological issues -- particularly the repressed rage of the Hulk's alter ego, mild-mannered physicist Bruce Banner -- has provided grist for some of the publisher's most enduring storylines, and the '70s television adaptation, while cheesy, proved that the books were a solid foundation for a live-action exploration of identity issues, even when budgetary and effects limitations required the use of a bodybuilder covered in green paint. With realistic CG graphics eliminating the need for a real-life Hulk, all the project needed was a director who could bring the action without losing track of the subtext -- and Ang Lee seemed like the perfect fit. What looks great on paper doesn't always translate to the screen, however, as proven by the nonplussed reaction that greeted Hulk: though it broke the $100 million mark at home, and grossed nearly $250 million worldwide, Hulk seemed like a letdown compared with the mind-boggling totals earned by Marvel's heaviest hitters -- and at 61 percent on the Tomatometer, it underperformed critically, thanks to lukewarm reviews from writers like Salon's Charles Taylor, who waved it away as "leaden," "pretentious," and "just schlock art for the NPR set."
7. Spider-Man 3
The Blade and X-Men trilogies both took a tumble with their third installments, but part of Spider-Man's charm is that, costumed shenanigans notwithstanding, he's always been one of the least outlandish and most relatable superheroes around -- so you'd think he'd stand a better chance of avoiding the second-sequel curse. Going strictly by Tomatometer, you'd be right; at 62 percent, Spider-Man 3 is easily the best reviewed of Marvel's third chapters (and probably one of the highest-rated movies ever to have a "3" in its title). In the context of the Spider-Man franchise, however, it's is easily the black alien symbiote -- er, sheep -- of the bunch; whether it's because of the tangle of storylines, the infamous "emo Peter" scenes, or the simple fact that Venom's long-awaited film debut arrived in a PG-13 production, Spider-Man 3 is almost universally regarded as the weakest of the trilogy. (In the words of Roger Ebert, it has "too many villains, too many pale plot strands, too many romantic misunderstandings, too many conversations, too many street crowds looking high into the air and shouting 'oooh!' this way, then swiveling and shouting 'aaah!' that way.") Not that the mixed reviews put a dent in the movie's theatrical run -- though it was a mild disappointment domestically, its $890 million global total is the highest of the series, setting a high bar for Spider-Man 4 to cross in 2011.
Five years after Ang Lee's Hulk was met with a resounding shrug, Marvel and Universal tapped Louis Leterrier to direct what would eventually be termed a "requel" -- a movie that essentially ignored Hulk while still using it as an introduction to the character, thus eliminating the need for a lot of pesky exposition in the first act. With Edward Norton on board to star as Bruce Banner -- and eventually rewrite Zak Penn's script -- The Incredible Hulk became the second Marvel-branded superhero movie of 2008 to attract a marquee cast; Norton's list of co-stars eventually grew to include Tim Roth, William Hurt, and Liv Tyler. Unfortunately, all that star power -- and all those script rewrites -- didn't have much of an impact on the requeled Hulk's bottom line, which was only slightly better than the original's. Part of the problem, according to critics, was the film itself -- the New Yorker's David Denby groaned that "when you've seen one half-ton piece of metal flung through the air, you've seen them all" -- but for many, The Incredible Hulk's biggest flaw was simply that its central character isn't really all that interesting unless he's smashing stuff, and may be better suited to action-injecting supporting roles (like, say, as the rumored villain in 2012's The Avengers) than as the focus of his own film. On the other hand, Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno managed to keep TV audiences tuned in for five seasons of big green fun, so a rock-solid Hulk movie may not be impossible -- and execs at Marvel and Universal remain committed to the franchise, so we're likely to see at least one more attempt.