Total Recall: Marvel Comics Movies, Worst To Best

We count down every movie featuring a Marvel character to hit the big screen.

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5. X-Men

Blade's reign on top of the Marvel movie critical heap was short-lived, quickly yielding to the movie many fans point to as the first true example of what could happen when a comic book's transition to film was handled with enough care (and a big enough budget). Turning the long-running X-Men series was a huge gamble, both for Marvel and for Fox; not only is it a cornerstone of the Marvel empire -- and thus vulnerable to enormous fan backlash if done wrong -- but the series has always been known for its dense, soap-worthy plotlines and unwieldy cast. In an earlier era, X-Men would have been almost impossible to translate successfully, but with Fox's $75 million, Bryan Singer at the helm, and a picture perfect cast that included Patrick Stewart as Professor X, Sir Ian McKellen as Magneto, Halle Berry as Storm, and (of course) Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, the summer of 2000 brought Marvel's favorite mutants to the big screen in style, racking up almost $300 million in worldwide grosses and a healthy stack of positive reviews from critics like New York Magazine's Peter Rainer, who deemed it "A rarity: a comic-book movie with a satisfying cinematic design and protagonists you want to watch."

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4. X2: X-Men United

Given the long odds it faced just getting to the screen, let alone pulling off the transition so successfully, it seemed altogether unlikely that X-Men's inevitable sequel would be able to achieve the same standard, let alone exceed it -- but that's exactly what 2003's X2: X-Men United did, both at the box office, where it grossed over $400 million, and among critics, who praised it even more highly than its predecessor. This was, appropriately, accomplished two ways: One, the screenplay satisfied critics and longtime fans by tackling the comic's long-running sociological themes, most explicitly the fear of "outside" elements (in this case, sexy super-powered mutants) and how that fear is channeled by xenophobic authority figures; two, the sequel ramped up the original's gee-whiz factor by introducing characters like the teleporting, prehensile-tailed Nightcrawler -- and daring to tease at the Marvel title's Phoenix storyline, one of the most beloved, brain-bending plots in the publisher's history. The result was a film that remains both a fan favorite and a critical benchmark for writers like Variety's Todd McCarthy, who lauded X2 as "bigger and more ambitious in every respect, from its action and visceral qualities to its themes."

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3. Spider-Man

After 40 years in the comics, a handful of animated series, and one supremely silly live-action television show, Marvel's iconic webslinger finally made his way to the big screen with 2002's Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man. All those years of pent-up expectations cast a long shadow, but Raimi's vision for the wall-crawler held up to the scrutiny, both from fans -- who forked over $821 million in ticket receipts -- and the critics whose near-unanimous acclaim sent Spider-Man all the way up to 90 percent on the Tomatometer. Like X-Men, Spider-Man would have been almost impossible to make before the advent of realistic CG effects -- and as with X-Men, the fanciest special effects in Hollywood wouldn't have mattered if the screenplay or the cast hadn't been up to par. Fortunately, David Koepp and Alvin Sargent were able to split the difference between paying tribute to the character's rich history and serving up two hours of bang-up entertainment -- and Raimi's cast, including Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and a scenery-chewing Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin, tackled the material with enough panache to achieve the massive suspension of disbelief the material required. Ultimately, the responsibility for bringing it all together was Raimi's, and his success was duly noted by critics like Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, who gave him credit for "[giving] this unapologetic fluff a mind, a heart and a keen sense of fun."

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2. Iron Man

It's easy to forget this now, but before Iron Man debuted in May 2008, a not-inconsiderable number of people were skeptical of its chances for success; despite an incredible cast that included Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, and Terrence Howard, a passionate director in Jon Favreau, and a $50 million marketing campaign, many regarded the character as too obscure to draw a blockbuster-sized audience to theaters. What the doubters failed to recognize is that any movie that can combine a compelling storyline and character development with killer set pieces involving a man in a metal suit that can fly and shoot lasers (okay, repulsor beams -- whatever, nerds) is probably going to do all right for itself at the box office. Iron Man did just that, amassing more than $580 million worldwide -- and the critical response wasn't too shabby either: 93 percent of critics were sufficiently impressed with Ol' Shellhead's cinematic debut to deliver a Fresh rating. More often than not, the accolades had less to do with the iron-plated action than the smart, funny screenplay (written by John August with a slew of uncredited writers) and the top-notch acting. Downey, capping a hard-fought comeback, received some of the kindest words from critics, among them the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris, who wrote that "his sarcasm and almost drunken Tony Curtis body language transform the scenes."

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1. Spider-Man 2

Sam Raimi knew he was setting up a franchise with 2002's Spider-Man, but still, following up that kind of success must have been daunting, especially given the studio's immediate hunger for a sequel, not to mention a protracted search for a workable script which saw Raimi and the producers turning to a succession of writers -- including Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, David Koepp, and Michael Chabon -- before ultimately turning to Alvin Sargent, who stitched together the most workable elements of the previous drafts to come up with a story that centered on Spidey's struggle to conquer his own self-doubt while battling Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina). It might sound like a piecemeal approach, but it worked; although Spider-Man 2 didn't meet or exceed Spider-Man's global box office tally, it came close -- and critics actually liked the second installment better than the first one, sending it all the way up to 93 percent on the Tomatometer on the strength of reviews from writers like Lou Lumenick, who wrote, "sequels don't get much better -- or smarter." While touching on a dizzying array of storylines from the comics, Raimi and Sargent delivered a bigger, more intense version of the original that still managed to keep the action streamlined (and, of course, set up a third installment in the process).

Don't forget to check out out the rest of our Total Recall archives.

Finally, here's the trailer for Roger Corman's unrleased Fantastic Four, from 1994:



Ben Tracy

Put Iron Man at number one and fix the description so it's about him and not Spider-Man, and by golly, I think you've got it.

Apr 30 - 08:45 AM

Paulo P.

Paulo Pereira

Agreed; another vote for Iron Man. Spider-Man 2...meh...

May 2 - 07:49 AM


Alex D.B.

A tie between Iron Man and Spider-Man 2 for the best Marvel SUperhero movie? Did you copy my own list or what, RT?

At last a RT list I completly agree with. Tough the first Hulk would be lower and Darevil a tad higher. Come on, Bullseye was awesome!

Apr 30 - 08:53 AM


jeremy burnside

i thought a tie was good, thats how i would of put them in order

Apr 30 - 09:16 AM


lotr23 .

Can't complain about this - I loved Spider-Man 2.

Apr 30 - 09:17 AM


Anthony Kipp

My personal favorite was X-2. The mansion scene with the special ops guys in the mansion with wolverine are some of my all time favorite scenes.

Apr 30 - 09:28 AM

Nate A.

Nate Austin

Blade II is one of the best action movies of the past ten years.

Apr 30 - 10:01 AM


jack giroux

Yeah I thought Blade II was awesome, and I liked it more then the first movie, which I also liked. Spiderman 2 is probably my favorite Marvel movie.

Apr 30 - 12:15 PM

Kevin S.

Kevin Sander

Why is the description for Iron Man about Spider-man 3?

Apr 30 - 10:19 AM


Jonathan Schwarzbach

i would have put X2 above the first Spidey, but that's an incredibly tough choice still.
And SM2 IS better than Iron Man, it's just that it's not as fresh in our minds. But I recently re-watched it, and that in combination with just remembering the day it came out-- it's the most purely enjoyable and still intelligent comic book movie ever made. I loved Iron Man, but you just DON'T beat Spider-Man 2. (And TDK was not a popcorn film, so it doesn't count.)

Apr 30 - 10:39 AM



No, it doesn't count because it's DC.

Apr 30 - 01:53 PM


Mike PArker

(And TDK was not a popcorn film, so it doesn't count.)
huh? you mean it was a serious film where these others weren't?

gimme a break...if all a film needs to be considered "serious" is an extra pointless hour tacked on to a mediocre script with sub-par acting, then yeah...I guess Dark Knight is a serious film after all.

IF it were Marvel (and therefore on this list) and IF this list were based on quality and not the incredibly random tastes of critics...the Dark Knight would fall somewhere under Fantastic Four and just above Daredevil (which would be at the bottom).

Apr 30 - 06:53 PM


gibby blaylock

Nobody ever gives BLADE enough credit. That's the movie that really launched the new superhero movie era. Sure, there was Superman in '79 and Batman in '89 but Blade really got the ball rolling. It made the film studios perk up and say "hey, people will shell out the dough for these flicks"!

Apr 30 - 10:42 AM


Daniel Klooster

I agree with the top three. I'm not a fan of the X-Men or Fantastic Four movies at all and would put them all towards the bottom. I'm not sure why the 2008 Incredible Hulk isn't here, but that would be my #4. Blade 2 was solid.

Apr 30 - 10:52 AM


Daniel Klooster

Oops, it is there at #6! I'd definitely bump that up on my list.

Apr 30 - 10:54 AM


Martha Boatright

I definitely like the first Blade over Blade II...or rather, Blade II once it left the sewers and became ridiculous. Blade had its flaws, but I love its use of color (red as evil, black as good), not to mention the soundtrack.

And yes, Iron Man and Spider-Man 2 deserve the top spots, no question. The top 5 here are movies everyone should see.

Apr 30 - 11:22 AM

Charles W.

Charles Weber

Iron Man shoulda been #1... it was the by far the best marvel movie...
Then the original spiderman as #2....

Apr 30 - 11:23 AM

Charles W.

Charles Weber

Iron Man shoulda been #1... it was the by far the best marvel movie...
Then the original spiderman as #2....

Apr 30 - 11:24 AM

Ben O.

Ben Olson

I have been saying it for years...and I am proud that Spiderman 2 got the nod for the best Marvel film, as well as the best Spiderman film. The reason Spiderman 2 was so appealing is because of the storyline's ability to not stray from the comic books. Doc Oc was awesome, Toby had his best performance (if u call it a performance because he has ruined Peter Parker's character), and young Harry Osborn was foreshadowed as taking the reigns of the Green Goblin. Who woulda' thought 3 years later they would release the 3rd that totally butchered any type of shot it had as a good trilogy. I don't even have to I?

Apr 30 - 11:47 AM

Jordan L.

Jordan Lynn

Where the hell are the Batman movies? At least put the Dark Knight on the list. Wtf?

Apr 30 - 12:13 PM

Ben O.

Ben Olson

Dark Knight is not marvel...DC Comics

Apr 30 - 02:41 PM

King Thor

Chris Kalmin

Jordan L.,

Hahahaha really? Batman is DC, this is a Marvel list.

Some good movies here. Personally, Iron Man is my favorite Marvel movie.

Apr 30 - 05:16 PM

Dylan M.

Dylan McKenna

This is a list of Marvel Movies. Batman and Superman are owned by DC. different companies.

Apr 30 - 07:31 PM

Joe S.

Joe Spader

Batman's D.C. Not Marvel.

Apr 30 - 08:04 PM

J S.

J Simmons

I think you just raised the ire of many a comic book nerd. Better change your address before they declare a geek jihad on you.

Apr 30 - 08:07 PM


Justin Siler

they're not marvel, that's why.

Apr 30 - 10:37 PM

Paul J.

Paul Jackson

marvel.... not dc comics.....

May 1 - 12:06 AM

Colyn B.

Colyn Bowman

The Batman movies are DC comics you goober head!

May 2 - 02:41 AM

Joey A.

Joey Anderson

are you serious? batmans dc.....

May 2 - 07:35 AM

Paulo P.

Paulo Pereira

Batman is a DC property.

May 2 - 07:47 AM

Jorge D.

Jorge Duran

Batman is DC not Marvel

May 2 - 08:33 PM


Max Nelson

Batman is DC Comics not Marvel :P

I loved the trailer for the unreleased Fantastic Four, it looked hilarious.
The thing was obviously the main character in that one.

As far as this list goes, I think Iron Man should definitely be #1; Blade deserves more credit; and I think I liked the 1st Spider Man more than the 2nd, but only because Willem Dafoe is the best actor in all of the movies and I've never really like Tobey(It's my younger brother's name, and I don't think Maguire does the name credit. He's too much of a wuss).

Also, putting this out there, I think they should make a Venom movie (unrelated to the current Spider Man franchise) that's similar in style to the new batman movies. Venom is one of my favorite comic characters, and I think he deserves something intense, dark, and interesting.

May 3 - 01:40 AM

Dave A.

Dave Armstrong

Err this is a Marvel Comics listing. Batman is DC Comics.....

May 3 - 11:43 PM


Mitchell Terranova

... Are you kidding me? Batman is owned by DC!

Aug 31 - 09:42 PM

Eugene B.

Eugene Boucher

You do know Batman is a DC Comics property and not Marvel, right?

Oct 15 - 11:19 AM


jack giroux

Yeah I thought Blade II was awesome, and I liked it more then the first movie, which I also liked. Spiderman 2 is probably my favorite Marvel movie.

Apr 30 - 12:15 PM


Richard Crismore

Jordan, this is a list for MARVEL COMICS movies. And once again, people miss the fact that these lists are put in order of TM percentage, not on the writer's opinion.

Apr 30 - 12:15 PM

Jeff Giles

Jeff Giles

Thanks for pointing that out, snickerskicker.

Apr 30 - 03:43 PM


Hector Moran

I think Spiderman 2 is easily the best Marvel Movie. I do think that the critics we're a little to harsh on The Incredible Hulk, for me it should be rated higher on the T-Meter.
I guess we can also say Wolverine won't be part of the Fresh club.

Apr 30 - 12:30 PM


Aakash Kumar

Iron Man should be tied with Spidey 2, both are just too good.
Wow, Wolverine is the lowest rated X Men film
but it wasn't bad, unless you compare it to the real story
the script was messy i suppose

Apr 30 - 01:04 PM

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