This is it! The mother of all Marvel lists! The one I’ve waited all of April to post throughout Marvel Month as we approach the premier of the culmination of a decade of films: “Avengers: Infinity War”. So far I’ve looked at the most iconic Marvel movie heroes, the best on-screen Marvel villains, the best group battles and wars, the best final battles, and the worst films based on marvel properties. So, to close out Marvel Month before possibly the biggest film of the year there’s only one thing left to do, look at Marvels very very best! Considering the high expectations of “Infinity War” to become one of the best Marvel has to offer, and one of the best superhero movies ever, it’s time to look back at the best that have come before it and there were so many to pick from I couldn’t go with just ten. So here are my picks for the Top 15 Marvel Movies (Pre-“Infinity War”).
There were a LOT of films that were considered for this list. To date, 46 notable theatrical films have been produced based on Marvel properties dating back to 1998. Films before that were either unreleased or considered critical blunders (“Howard the Duck” anyone?). The 46 films make up 23 different series and franchises including reboots, standalone films of franchise regulars, and of course the many different series within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So, to keep things as fair as possible and make my job of picking out the best of the best a little easier, I decided to set a few simple limitations.
The biggest limit is that only one film per individual series can make this list. As with my other lists, series within franchises can have their own entry so in the case of the “X-Men” franchise for example the original trilogy, the reboot prequels, “Deadpool”, and the Wolverine movies are all considered separate series that can have an entry on this list. Same idea goes for the MCU and so on. Also because this is the best of the best I could not stand for any movie that failed on Rotten Tomatoes to be on this list so a film had to be certified fresh, meaning a score of 60% or better on the aggregate website, in order to qualify. In the end every film in this countdown scored over 80% on the site so this really is the best there is.
HOWEVER, just because a film has a good Rotten Tomato score doesn’t mean it will make it high on this list. In addition to being good quality films these movies were also graded on their cultural impact, originality, overall story, memorability and of course my own personal preference worked in. I chose to leave out box office success because just because a movie made a lot of money doesn’t make it a superior film. These are the best of the best films based on Marvel properties that have stood out over the years and deserve to stand the test of time.
What is your favorite Marvel movie so far? Let me know in the comments below and look for my review of the long awaited “Avengers: Infinity War” this weekend. Let’s get started!
Let’s start off small shall we. The final film in Phase 2 of the MCU, “Ant-Man” was one of many superhero projects that was a long time coming but only became a reality after the creation of the extended superhero universe. Trading in Hank Pym (who is a mentor in the film) for another comic book Ant-Man Scott Lang, this film works as both a superhero origin story and a heist film as Lang, a knowledgeable small time thief, is recruited to take up the mantel as the world’s smallest hero to help prevent Hank Pym’s former protégé Darren Cross from copying the Ant-Man technology for his own evil gains. Sporting a complex villain in Cross, aka the Yellow Jacket, some great cinematography that seamlessly mixed the real world with the miniature one, and a charismatic performance by the ageless Paul Rudd in the title role “Ant-Man” is a funny, exciting surprise with massive stakes in a small package. While it’s only the first MCU movie on this list, “Ant-Man” shines well above many of the others in the franchise that missed this countdown and still remains one of the most charming films in Marvel’s filmography which is probably why we will get a sequel later this year.
14. “Big Hero 6”
Believe it or not, yes this animated film is based on a group of Marvel heroes. Characters and conflicts in this film barely missed many of my other countdowns for Marvel week, but there’s no denying this film deserves to be considered among the best Marvel adaptations to date. The only animated movie on this countdown, “Big Hero 6” sees the birth if a team of heroes led by a boy named…you guessed it, Hero. After his brother dies in an accident Hero bonds with an AI that his brother created named Baymax. After discovering a plot involving a masked villain utilizing nanobots Hero himself had created, Hero and Baymax team with his brother’s college friends to create a super group to solve the mystery and save the world. “Big Hero 6” is a well-balanced origin story that offers a very different feel than we’re used to getting from Marvel properties and packs some major emotional depth to boot. It has left a lasting impression as a modern animated classic in Disney’s more recent filmography and proves that just because Disney owns Marvel studios, that doesn’t mean every hero has to work within the confines of the MCU.
13. “Doctor Strange”
This isn’t the first time the Sorcerer Supreme has seen a film release, but it is by far the most memorable. Bringing the concepts of magic and alternate realities into the MCU, 2016’s “Doctor Strange” has been praised for its fantastic visuals and smooth storytelling as we get to see Doctor Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, reborn as an expert magic user. After an accident leaves the egotistic and pretentious Strange without the use of his hands he seeks out the Sorcerer Supreme to help regain his composure. In the process he becomes a sorcerer in training and comes face to face with a corrupted master of the mystic arts named Kaecilius and must put an end to a plot to bring the inter-dimensional conqueror Dormammu to Earth. Loaded with character development and incredible visuals, “Doctor Strange” introduced us to a new kind of superhero we had yet to see in the MCU and shines as a quality story in an era where origin tales are becoming harder and harder to sell. As a result Strange has become a favorite among the newer additions to the MCU as Marvel has explored bringing more unique and out-there characters into the fold.
12. “Spider-Man: Homecoming”
You would think that after five standalone films and two reboots the love for Spider-Man would have died out by now, but in 2017 we saw fans of the wall crawler turn out in droves once again to make the hero’s first MCU solo film the highest grossing movie of his famed big-screen run. Showcasing a younger Peter Parker in the aftermath of “Captain America: Civil War”, “Homecoming” sees Parker struggling to prove his value as a true Avenger when he comes across the underground weapons dealer the Vulture and tries to put an end to his schemes. For years fans had awaited Spider-Man’s entry into the MCU and his first solo adventure did not disappoint. “Homecoming” offers a look at a young hero in a world of heroes trying to find his value and his way. Charming and well written, “Homecoming” may not be able to stand up to the original “Spider-Man” films in terms of iconic status but that doesn’t make it any less memorable. In some ways it’s a more polished film than those that came before it and proves that even after all these years Spider-Man can still dominate the screen. The hero is great, the villain is among the best the MCU has offered to date, and overall “Homecoming” is among Marvel’s smoothest productions in Phase 3.
Just barely missing the top ten is the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time, “Deadpool”. A passion project for star Ryan Reynolds, “Deadpool” attempts to make up for the disappointment tied to the character’s portrayal in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and succeeds by flipping the superhero formula on its head. Reynolds is flawless as the Merc with a Mouth and the fourth-wall breaking hero gives us everything we hoped from a standalone film including snarky, well timed jokes and dialogue mixed with brutal and heartfelt emotional moments that humanize Deadpool in unexpected ways. The only reason it doesn’t get placed higher on this list is because its villain isn’t the most memorable and in some ways it leans on generic origin-story tropes. Despite this however “Deadpool” is a hilarious thrill ride that lived up to nearly every expectation set upon it. The film’s legacy alone makes it a worthy entry for this list as it not only became a record-breaking R-rated comedy, it also proved that adult-oriented comic books films were still marketable. Before “Deadpool” only the “Blade” franchise had been able to draw a crowd successful with an R-rating. “Deadpool” was a fan favorite before this film but after its release he became an even more beloved Marvel icon. Although the upcoming sequel promises to raise the stakes a bit higher it’s hard to ignore the subtle and not-so-subtle brilliance of this fan-focused superhero flick.
10. “Thor: Ragnarok”
I’ve said it before and I say it again, for years Thor was the redheaded stepchild of the MCU. He was the hero all the rebels turned to who didn’t want to jump on the Iron Man or Captain America train, but it took three films for him to truly shine on his own. After the original “Thor” showed the hammer-wielding Gods could sell and “The Dark World” proved to be a step back Marvel finally hit a home run with “Ragnarok” in 2017. A massive hit upon release, this film teams Thor with the Hulk, Loki and the Valkyrie to stop Thor’s sister Hela from destroying Asgard and in the process changed the MCU forever. For the first time it felt like the “Thor” films found their identity making for an excellent blend of science fiction, comedy and action with a story that’s engaging and a setting filled with colorful characters and set designs that draw you right in. it provides closure to some stories and promises more development to others making it a project aware of its larger universe implications while keeping the action pretty well confined. A killer soundtrack and great chemistry among the actors certainly help as well and the sheer magnitude of “Ragnarok’s” central conflict which gives it a foreboding sense of dread to level out the humor. With all this combined it’s no secret why this film was one of my personal Top 20 best pictures of 2017.
9. “Guardians of the Galaxy”
As the MCU grew Marvel became more willing to take a chance on its more obscure or lesser-known characters and while “Ant-Man” and “Doctor Strange” were great examples of that the first attempt truly came with “Guardians of the Galaxy”. Focusing on a team of intergalactic beings from different backgrounds forced together after escaping a prison, the groups takes on the mission of stopping a tyrant from destroying an entire world. “Guardians” combines nostalgia, humor, spectacular visuals, a catchy and unforgettable soundtrack and an action packed story to give the MCU a space opera of its own. Not to mention it provides major revelations as to the overarching conflict of the MCU with a fully fleshed out introduction to the Infinity Stones and the true introduction of Thanos. That said “Guardians” works well on its own as a great space adventure that elevated the titular hero team from little-known properties to some of the most well-known characters in Marvel’s lineup basically overnight. While the sequel successfully replicates this charm, there’s no beating the original which perfectly balances the stories and development of every one of the team’s members and hints at even bigger things still to come for the entire expanded MCU. Unlike most hero films that depend on established popularity to draw in moviegoers, “Guardians of the Galaxy” had to work for it and it succeeded in nearly every way.
8. “X-Men: Days of Future Past”
Considered by many to be the best film of the X-Men prequel series, “Days of Future Past” may have its detractors in hindsight but it’s still an incredibly good film. Bringing together the casts of both main X-Men series “Days of Future Past” sees Wolverine go back in time into his younger self to help prevent the creation of the Sentinels, an arsenal of robots that destroy mutants and mutant supporters in the future. This film effectively resets the “X-Men” timeline while offering us a look at the evolution of these characters during different parts of their lives. The story plays out smoothly despite juggling two completely different casts and conflicts and gives us great moments like Magneto’s first true solo act of destruction when he picks up an entire stadium and both Professor Xaviers talking to each other through Wolverine’s mind. “Days of Future Past” surpasses expectations by taking one of the most popular X-Men stories and successfully adapting it to a feature length film, doing justice to the history of the series and respecting the source material. The biggest names from the entire franchise to that point came together to make this movie a success and thankfully it was worth the wait. “Days of Future Past” is epic and everything an “X-Men” movie and a sequel in general should be, building on its predecessor in all the right ways while also touching on issues like prejudice and political fear-based bias like only this franchise can. Oh…speaking of the X-Men…
7. “X2: X-Men United”
While “Days of Future Past” is an amazing film the second “X-Men” movie in the original trilogy remains probably the most popular so far. “X-Men” helped usher in the modern era of superhero film that made lists like this possible and while the first movie was groundbreaking the second proved that superhero films didn’t have to be just shameless entertainment. When an anti-mutant military man named Styker from Wolverine’s past targets Professor Xavier’s school the X-Men must team up with Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants to put an end to his plans. “X2” is the whole package. Favorites new and old take center stage in a film that focuses more on story than action although there are some amazingly fun scenes including the opening Nightcrawler White House attack that remains a classic in the genre. “X2” helped set the standard for many films that followed and while it can feel dated today there’s no denying the legacy it helped establish. A committed cast and a well written story help “X2” continue to shine above many of its contemporaries as an example of superhero films done right. Even the prequel series hasn’t quite matched the quality level and fun of this classic just yet. It’s safe to say that not only was “X2” a trend setter, it was way ahead of its time and remains today a popular quality superhero classic.
6. “Iron Man”
The film that kicked off the MCU is still considered one of the franchise’s best today. Featuring Robert Downey, Jr. in the role that revitalized his career and popularity as Tony Stark, the first “Iron Man” movie may not have been as epic in scale as the two that followed it but it’s widely considered the best in the trilogy and a movie that redefined what a superhero film could be. Depicting the origins of Tony Stark and his Iron Man persona as he must match wits with the Iron Monger, “Iron Man” perfectly set up a universe of movies while also balancing its own story layered with social commentary and character development. What it lacks in action it makes up for in heart with a likable lead, a smooth and well-paced story and a credible villain that remains one of the most underrated in the MCU. Over the years it has also proven to be a prime example of less-is-more as the resulting sequels upped the ante but still couldn’t quite match the quality of the original despite bigger stakes and more amped up battle sequences. As one of the most hilarious and charming films in Marvel’s library “Iron Man” also proved that B-level heroes could be marketable properties as many considered it a risk to even bring Iron Man to the forefront of cinema in the first place. While many great movies followed there’s no denying the original MCU film has stood the test of time better than most.
5. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
Of all the series in Marvel’s library the “Captain America” trilogy was the toughest one to pick from for this list. Three quality movies make up a near perfect trilogy that chronicles the transformation of Steve Rogers from scrawny wannabe to an American legend and while “The First Avenger” was one of the best in Phase 1 of the MCU and “Civil War” was an epic thriller that saw hero battle hero, in the end I had to go with a film that didn’t lean on the appearance of other heroes or general universe building to find success. “The Winter Soldier” sees Steve Rogers adapting to modern society after the events of “The Avengers” but when an old friend shows up to terrorize Cap’s allies and a hidden conspiracy rears its ugly head Captain America must question everything he knows in order to save the world from another nefarious plot by Hydra. Marvel has been great at bending genres over the years and “The Winter Soldier” is one of the best examples of that as both a super hero film and a spy thriller of sorts mixing the stakes of movies like the “Bourne” franchise with the action, suspense and fun of a superhero film. “The Winter Soldier” is often considered among the greatest sequels in all of film, which is impressive as “The First Avenger” really wasn’t half bad. The film still holds up today as one of Marvel’s best and, like most in the top five on this list, is considered one of the greatest standalone superhero movies of all time.
4. “Black Panther”
The highest rated superhero movie of all time on Rotten Tomatoes to date “Black Panther” took the world by storm earlier this year and even leading up to “Infinity War” is still a hot ticket at theaters months after its release. Picking up after the events of “Captain America: Civil War” that introduced the titular King of Wakanda to the MCU fold, “Black Panther” see T’Challa grow into his new position as leader as he works to establish his own identifying leadership. He also takes on a new foe named Eric Killmonger who challenges him for the thrown. “Black Panther” adds a whole new layer to the MCU by expanding its world setting and giving us a capable and charismatic, but still maturing hero. With an amazingly deep villain, one of the MCU’s best in fact, and a story that revisits T’Challa’s penchant for revenge and his urge to live up to his father’s legacy “Black Panther” offers a little bit of everything for superhero movie fans to embrace. It’s all wrapped up in a tight package filled with wonderful visuals, mesmerizing set pieces and action scenes you have to see to believe. In terms of Marvel movies specifically it’s one of the most well rounded and complete projects the studio has ever put out and it’s among the greatest all-around superhero film ever in the eyes of many. It only ends up this low on the list because it is a young film whose legacy remains to be seen beyond the hype of its initial release.
A lot of superhero movie dwell on character depth and development for the hero but few have perfected it as much as 2017’s “Logan”. The third and final film in the “Wolverine” trilogy and Hugh Jackman’s last take on the character that made his career, “Logan” takes inspiration from the “Old Man Logan” comic books and follows a now aged Wolverine/Logan scarred, in more ways than one, by his experiences in the world and trying to protect an isolated Professor Xavier. When a new young mutant turns up with a deeper connection to Logan than he original perceives the Wolverine must come out of the shadows to protect her in a journey that sees the mutant face mortality and true self-satisfying redemption for possibly the first time in his entire life. “Logan” is an emotional thrill ride that leans very heavily on the transformation and personal journey of its main character. It packs more depth than many films on this list as Logan is forced, literally and figuratively, to battle himself and come to terms with a past he can’t help but regret. After years of watching this character grow throughout the “X-Men” franchise “Logan” is possibly the most satisfying appearance of the self-healing hero since the original trilogy and provides closure while making Wolverine feel more human than he ever has before. Incredible performances and a patient, relatable and engrossing story make “Logan” a must see even those who may not enjoy the comic book movie genre as a whole.
2. “Spider-Man 2”
While “X-Men” kicked of the superhero craze of the new millennium a very different superhero truly proved that the genre was here to stay. Spider-Man holds up today as the most popular Marvel hero out there with more standalone films than any hero on this list, but his most legendary outing was his second in “Spider-Man 2” which sees the wall crawler go toe-to-toe with Doctor Octopus who is expertly played by Alfred Malina. “Spider-Man 2” not only contains some of the greatest superhero moments of all time it introduced the world to one of the greatest interpretations of a classic comic villain and further explores the depth and struggle of a young man who only wants a normal life but takes the responsibility of his heroism seriously. While a bit dated today, “Spider-Man 2” holds up better than the other two entries in the franchise and still holds a slim margin over “Homecoming” in terms of fan appreciation. It’s as fun to watch today as it was back then and originated many of the tropes and themes we’d see other heroes deal with in countless films that followed. In many ways “Spider-Man 2” was a trend setter of trend setters and, like “The Winter Soldier”, is often considered among the greatest sequels in cinema history. While Sony hasn’t always succeeded in its interpretation of Spider-Man or his enemies, this was the one they truly got right with a complex hero, a sympathetic villain and a whole lot of fun action throughout this thrill ride of a movie.
1. “Marvel’s The Avengers”
We’ve see a lot of movies from many different franchises on this list, but none have captured audience attention or taken the stakes quite as high as “The Avengers”, the culmination of the first phase of the MCU that provided possibly the most satisfying fan service to date of any Marvel-based project. The movie brings together Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye for the first time on the big screen to fight off an invasion by the Chitauri alien race led by Thor’s estranged step-brother Loki. There was a lot of pressure to make this movie as good as can be and, for the most part, director Joss Whedon gave us exactly what we were looking for. Balancing different tones, character arcs and a worthy and familiar villain for the heroes to face as a team “The Avengers” proved that cinematic universes could work and as a result gave birth to a whole new format of marketing and filmmaking that many have tried to replicate but few have done successfully. “The Avengers” is an exciting and enthralling culmination of everything that came before it and upped the ante for everything, Marvel or otherwise, that has come around since. It’s a truly unique superhero epic that even set the stage for an even larger conflict that will finally come to life in “Infinity War” this week. It’s one of the best superhero movies ever made, one of the most ambitious long-game projects ever conceived and by far Marvel’s most iconic project to date making it a perfect fit for the title of the best Marvel based project so far.