Total Recall

Marvel Movies Ranked Worst to Best by Tomatometer

by | February 14, 2018 | Comments

With the arrival of this week’s Black Panther, the Marvel Cinematic Universe officially passes the midway point in Phase Three of its ongoing quest for blockbuster box-office receipts — and brings the number of “official” Marvel movies to an impressive 18. Keeping track of all those titles can be tough, so we’re here to make your life a little easier with a list of every MCU release, organized by Tomatometer. Excelsior, superhero fans — it’s time for Total Recall, and don’t forget to check back on Monday when we add Black Panther to the list! [Updated on 2/14/18]

17. Thor: The Dark World (2013) 66%

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

Tom Hiddleston’s Loki was a scene-stealing delight in Thor and Marvel’s The Avengers, so a Thor sequel throwing his character into an uneasy alliance with the God of Thunder could only be a good thing, right? For the most part, yes, but 2013’s Thor: The Dark World still felt like something of a squib grounder after the solidly satisfying long-distance thrills of its predecessors. What it might have lacked in impact, it did its best to make up for with a wider scope — a storyline pitting Thor against the Dark Elf Malekith in a cosmic battle for the fate of the Nine Realms — as well as a few fresh strands of franchise-building to help set up the next round of MCU movies. “The picture is a mess,” admitted Soren Anderson of the Seattle Times. “But it’s kind of a fun mess.”

16. The Incredible Hulk (2008) 67%

(Photo by Universal)

Ang Lee‘s Hulk left Marvel wanting another crack at establishing a franchise for the big green brute, and they got their shot with The Incredible Hulk in 2008. With Louis Leterrier in the director’s chair and Edward Norton taking over as the gamma-afflicted Bruce Banner, this pass at the character’s origin story offered a more thoughtful take on Banner’s tortured existence as the Hulk while taking care not to skimp on the rock ’em, sock ’em action. When the end credits rolled, it was still dismayingly clear that building a compelling franchise around a guy whose most exciting moments came after he morphed into a non-verbal human wrecking ball remained easier said than done, but the second Hulk had its fans. Calling it “Broad, loud, straight-ahead and raucous,” Tom Long of the Detroit News wrote, “The Incredible Hulk may not be the smoothest or smartest movie ever made, but it sure captures the spirit of its giant green protagonist.”

15. Iron Man 2 (2010) 73%

(Photo by Francois Duhamel/Paramount)

Even without the glowering good time Jeff Bridges gave us in the original, Iron Man 2 still has plenty going for it. In addition to returning franchise stars Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow, the sequel added Don Cheadle (taking over as James “Rhodey” Rhodes from the departed Terrence Howard) and Scarlett Johansson as the superspy Avenger Black Widow, all while working in a story about the core of Tony’s arc reactor slowly poisoning him to death. The only problem? The movie’s two villains, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and Ivan “Whiplash” Vanko (Mickey Rourke), failed to offer much in terms of compelling dastardliness or a truly high-stakes threat. Still, even if it was a step down from the original, Iron Man 2 nevertheless offered a reasonable amount of fun; as Scott Tobias wrote for the A.V. Club, “It’s a clean, efficient, somewhat generic piece of storytelling and most of the additions are not subtractions. This passes for success in the summer movie season.”

14. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) 75%

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

Given how tough it must have been to pull off the bajillion-ring circus that was Marvel’s The Avengers, it stands to reason that the follow-up would, to some extent, fall prey to the law of diminishing returns. And so it was with 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, which added more of everything to the original’s CGI-coated stew and ended up with a sequel that most people liked well enough without being totally bowled over by it. Which is not to say there isn’t a lot to enjoy about the team’s second trip to theaters — or that the stakes aren’t appropriately high in a story that sees Tony Stark’s titular AI creation turning against him and deciding it needs to rid the world of the human race. “As he did in the first Avengers,” wrote the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, “writer-director Joss Whedon avoids the fatal trap of comic-book self-seriousness, leavening a baggy, busy, overpopulated story with zippy one-liners, quippy asides and an overarching tone of jaunty good fun.”

13. Thor (2011) 77%

(Photo by Paramount)

On the printed page, Marvel has made a mint with characters far sillier than Thor, the mighty Asgardian God of Thunder — but on the big screen, it’s an awful tall order to take a guy with flowing blond locks and a hammer and turn him into a modern-day action hero. Yet that’s exactly what director Kenneth Branagh did with 2011’s Thor, which effectively straddled the line between building the mystic mythology of the MCU and dispensing good old-fashioned wisecracking and butt-kicking here on planet Earth. It certainly didn’t hurt that in the title role, Branagh was working with Chris Hemsworth, who brought the perfect blend of light humor and burly physique — or that Hemsworth shared the screen with Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, and Kat Dennings. Toss in Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo as our hero’s royal parents, and you’ve got a fantasy action thriller with epic heft as well as enough sense not to take itself too seriously. “For those with a taste for the genre,” advised the Atlantic’s Christopher Orr, “Thor is a worthy addition to the pantheon.”

12. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) 80%

(Photo by Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios)

While he’s easily one of the more recognizable heroes in Marvel’s stable, Captain America has spent the last several decades battling the same perception that’s dogged Superman — namely, that he’s too noble, too upstanding, and too square to resonate with generations weaned on more morally ambiguous anti-heroes. With Captain America: The First Avenger, director Joe Johnston hurdled that obstacle by embracing Cap’s WWII origin story and making his first movie a period piece with a colorful Saturday serial feel. Anchored by Chris Evans‘ suitably patriotic performance in the title role, and enlivened by a supporting cast that included seasoned vets like Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones, The First Avenger compellingly laid the groundwork for one of the MCU’s central stories — and served as a springboard for the Hayley Atwell spinoff series Agent Carter in the bargain. “Of course it’s loaded with CGI. It goes without saying it’s preposterous,” admitted Roger Ebert. “But it has the texture and takes the care to be a full-blown film.”

11. Iron Man 3 (2013) 80%

(Photo by Walt Disney Pictures)

Enjoyable as the Iron Man movies are, the franchise has always had a big problem — namely, that Ol’ Shell-Head’s biggest comics villains aren’t exactly movie material. Director Shane Black took a novel approach to tackling this problem with Iron Man 3, wiping out the problematic stereotypes at the root of the would-be conqueror known as the Mandarin and reimagining the character as a nefarious warlord (played by Ben Kingsley) who turns out to be an alcoholic actor posing at the behest of the movie’s real bad guy, industrialist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). If it all sounds a little complicated, well, that’s to be expected from the third film in a trilogy—and after the relative disappointment of Iron Man 2, most critics saw it as a step in the right direction. “Downey is as funny as ever, if not more so,” wrote Bill Goodykoontz for the Arizona Republic. “He ensures that Iron Man 3 is a solid installment in the franchise, and helps to make it seem, at least for a time, that it might be something more.”

10. Ant-Man (2015) 82%

(Photo by Zade Rosenthal/Walt Disney Studios)

Comics creators have dozens of weapons at their disposal when it comes to establishing a level of narrative context to aid the suspension of disbelief a reader needs in order to truly invest in outlandish stories. For filmmakers, it’s a little trickier — they don’t have dozens of comics issues, or those ever-so-helpful thought balloons, to lay the emotional groundwork that makes viewers ignore a silly costume and really care about the character. All of which is a long way to say that Ant-Man had a lot of cards stacked against it from the beginning, and the problems only seemed more insurmountable when the film’s original director, Edgar Wright, parted ways over creative differences with the studio. In the end, however, it turned out to be yet another smoothly delivered burst of superpowered entertainment for the MCU, with Paul Rudd proving a perfectly charming action hero while an ace supporting cast — including Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly — added the finely calibrated doses of humor, genuine emotion, and universe-building context Marvel fans have come to expect. Praising it as “One of the more entertainingly human fantasies to come out of the studio,” Time’s John Anderson added, “it also defies the bedrock fanboy aesthetic that you don’t want to merely watch the superhero — you want to be the superhero.”

9. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) 83%

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

When the first Guardians of the Galaxy arrived in 2014, it offered a colorful antidote to the serious tone that had gripped many superhero movies since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy proved fans were ready for their comics adaptations to go dark — and while the MCU has always made room for plenty of laughs, Guardians took it to another level while proving there were still vast unexplored reaches of the Marvel Universe just waiting to be adapted for the big screen. Needless to say, fans were eager for more in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 — and the movie delivered, perhaps somewhat to a fault. While the vast majority of critics and moviegoers enjoyed the Guardians’ next adventure, more than a few reviews pointed out that the proceedings couldn’t help but feel a little familiar the second time around, and what once seemed effortlessly fresh had started to show some slight signs of creative strain. None of which is to suggest that Guardians 2 is anything less than an action-packed, quip-filled thrill ride; on the other hand, the laws of diminishing returns to seem to apply to us all, even if we’re a profanity-spewing raccoon-like creature or an adorable alien who looks like a teeny-tiny tree. “If it’s overstuffed in the way of most sequels,” shrugged the New York Post’s Sara Stewart, “well, at least it’s stuffed with good cheer.”

8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) 89%

(Photo by Zade Rosenthal/Walt Disney Studios)

Death in the comics is a lot like death on your average soap opera: timed for maximum story impact, and very often temporary. It can have the unfortunate effect of undercutting the narrative stakes of a character’s demise, but it’s also pretty useful sometimes, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a perfect case in point. Mirroring the classic Marvel Comics story that sees Captain America’s old sidekick Bucky returning decades after his presumed death in World War II — only brainwashed into being the murderous bad guy known as the Winter Soldier — the First Avenger sequel dropped Cap into an emotional conflict that posed thought-provoking questions about real-life politics while paving the way for Civil War. As Owen Gleiberman wrote for Entertainment Weekly, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the first superhero film since the terrorist-inflected The Dark Knight that plugs you right into what’s happening now.”

7. Doctor Strange (2016) 90%

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

In the early days of the MCU, it seemed perfectly reasonable to question the wisdom of bringing lesser-known — or simply weird — comics properties to the big screen. But as we approach a decade of Marvel cinematic supremacy, it looks like there might not be a title the studio can’t successfully adapt, and for further proof, here’s Doctor Strange. An eminently trippy comic book whose earliest adventures took Marvel in a thrillingly psychedelic new direction, Strange faced all sorts of obstacles on its way to theaters: Would audiences even be interested in suspending their disbelief long enough to watch a goateed dude in a cape save the world with magic? And how best to deal with the comics’ frankly dated racial subtext? With director Scott Derrickson at the helm, the 14th MCU movie sidestepped those potential troubles with dazzling special effects and a top-shelf cast that included Benedict Cumberbatch as the Doctor, Mads Mikkelsen as his adversary Kaecilius, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Mordo, and Tilda freakin’ Swinton as the Ancient One. Although it still added up to yet another origin story in a genre lousy with them, the end results were still thrillingly entertaining; as David Ehrlich wrote for indieWIRE, “If Doctor Strange can be dispiritingly safe, it can also be just as impressively bold – an hallucinogenic trip along a very familiar path, watching the film is like adding a large dose of LSD to your morning commute.”

6. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) 91%

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

It took a long time — and a lot of box-office receipts — before Marvel was finally able to eradicate the old notion that there was only one kind of “superhero movie,” and it needed to be based around immediately recognizable characters who fit a simple mold. Over and over again, pundits doubted that audiences were interested in seeing the big-screen adventures of characters perceived as either outdated (Captain America), silly (Thor), or second-tier (Iron Man) — but with 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the studio may have erased those doubts permanently. After all, if you can score a hit with an adaptation of a comic about a team of do-gooders whose ranks include aliens that look like a tree and a raccoon, you can do anything, right? Of course, it didn’t hurt that director James Gunn took a suitably irreverent approach to the material, or that he rounded up an outstanding ensemble led by Chris PrattZoe SaldanaDave BautistaBradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel (those last two providing, respectively, the voices of the raccoon and tree). Like most Marvel movies, Guardians came packed with laughs and action, but this tale of intergalactic derring-do also boasted surprisingly poignant moments. Describing it as “Part George Lucas and part Chuck Jones,” TheWrap’s James Rocchi wrote, “Guardians of the Galaxy has enough scrappy heart and smart humor to make it seem like the best possible kind of product, one where the talent of all involved makes it easy to enjoy their hustle.”

5. Captain America: Civil War (2016) 91%

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

Comics are built upon the never-ending conflict between good guys and villains. But what happens when a pair of heroes find themselves so irrevocably at odds that the only solution is fisticuffs? The answer lies in Captain America: Civil War. With Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel laid the groundwork for a story about the real-world implications of super-beings; here, those ideas come rushing to the fore as Cap and Tony Stark find themselves on opposite sides of an ideological divide drawn when the world’s governments seek to impose regulations reining in the growing population of “enhanced” individuals. Naturally, there’s a lot of weighty sociopolitical subtext inherent in its themes, but this is still a Marvel movie, with all the action and quippy one-liners that implies — and a darn good one, according to the vast majority of critics, who deemed it one of the better efforts to come out of an increasingly complex cinematic universe. “With Civil War,” wrote Barry Hertz of the Globe and Mail, “Marvel Studios has proven, once again, that the world’s heroes remain in good hands.”

4. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) 92%

(Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Columbia Pictures)

Getting lightning to strike with one movie is hard enough, let alone an entire franchise — so when Sony’s plans for the first Spider-Man reboot fizzled after a pair of films, it wasn’t hard to understand why the studio turned to Marvel for a series-steadying hand. Sharing the creative reins turned out to be exactly what the web-slinger needed. After hiring Tom Holland to play Spidey, Marvel introduced his version of the character in Captain America: Civil War, which turned out to be a mighty effective teaser for the main event — Spider-Man: Homecoming marked a rebound for the flagging franchise while sending our hero back to his high school roots. Part superhero adventure, part coming-of-age story, it delivered the action comics fans craved — but the quieter moments in between the battles might have been its strongest. “It delivers eye-popping spectacle in spades,” wrote the Tribune News Service’s Katie Walsh, “but it’s the characters that make it count.”

3. Thor: Ragnarok (2017) 92%

(Photo by Marvel Studios)

Blond locks notwithstanding, Thor has been the black sheep of the MCU for some time — after all, his franchise’s second entry, 2013’s The Dark World, still stands as the saga’s low point on the Tomatometer. As it turned out, the secret to making the God of Thunder fun was always pretty simple: embrace the inherent silliness of the character’s cosmic roots, even when you’re depicting something as serious as the long-prophesied end of days. Director Taika Waititi went all in on the comedy for Thor: Ragnarok, taking a loose, improv-friendly approach to the dialogue and adopting a dazzlingly colorful aesthetic for a story that sees our hero exiled, imprisoned, mutilated, and orphaned; it isn’t a story that sounds like a lot of laughs, in other words, but it ended up being one of the funniest — and most all-around fun — entries in Marvel’s cinematic universe. As Philip de Semlyen put it for Time Out, “In a world of portentous blockbusters getting ever darker, it’s a joy to see one throwing on the disco lights.”

2. Marvel's The Avengers (2012) 92%

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

It’s one thing to turn a slew of comics characters into successful film franchises. But to fit them — and the actors bringing them to life — into a single movie? That takes moxie, not to mention millions of dollars. Fortunately, director Joss Whedon had both resources at his disposal when he wrangled the cast of the MCU’s Phase One into Marvel’s The Avengers, somehow managing to guideex his overstuffed assemblage of heroes and villains in an all-star bonanza. The movie’s 140-minute length suggested lumbering overkill, but even with a CGI-enhanced battle for the fate of humanity in the final act, Whedon’s Avengers remained light on its feet, balancing high-stakes action against an intoxicatingly zippy plot that gave each of its many characters at least a few moments to shine (not to mention a laugh-out-loud one-liner or two). “Audiences have been eagerly anticipating this first all-hero extravaganza for years,” wrote USA Today’s Claudia Puig. “The wait was worth it.”

1. Iron Man (2008) 94%

(Photo by Paramount)

All these billions of dollars in box-office grosses later, it’s easy to forget how many people thought the idea of an Iron Man movie was a little silly — as well as the not-unpopular notion that Marvel was taking a major risk by handing a superhero franchise to Robert Downey, Jr. Needless to say, those doubters were quickly silenced when Iron Man arrived in theaters in 2008, proving a comics character didn’t need Superman levels of name-brand recognition in order to send filmgoers flocking. With Downey in rare form as a quip-dispensing playboy/action hero and Jeff Bridges chomping cigars while exuding oily villainy, Iron Man hit all the requisite origin-story beats while establishing the first cornerstone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — and offered plenty of blockbuster action in the bargain. “If every superhero franchise had a Robert Downey Jr.,” mused NPR’s Bob Mondello, “the genre might actually be watchable again.”

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