- Some Marvel movies that were met with low critical reception are actually worth watching and have unique qualities that set them apart from the typical superhero formula.
- Films like “Venom” and “The Incredible Hulk” may have received lower ratings, but they offer enjoyable viewing experiences with interesting characters and darker tones.
- Despite their low scores on Rotten Tomatoes, movies like “The Punisher” and “Blade II” deliver solid action and memorable performances that make them better than their ratings suggest.
Marvel has several undeniably classic movies in its catalogue that were met with critical and commercial success on release, but some projects fail to connect with critics despite being well worth a watch. Superhero movies overall have faced somewhat justified criticism in recent years for falling into a predictable formula, but that formula generally – though not always – guarantees that a movie is at least reasonably decent. However, before films like Iron Man and The Dark Knight solidified the genre in their own ways, superhero movies were often much stranger, more offbeat, and sometimes plain weird.
This style often led to questionable critical reception, but it doesn’t mean that the movies aren’t worth the time to watch for the first time or revisit. Furthermore, some projects that have come out in the more modern era of superhero movies have simply gotten better with time, separated a bit more from release-date expectations and preconceived notions. While some of the lowest-rated Marvel movies deserve their scores, these seven movies outshine them.
7 Venom (2018) – 30%
In many ways, Sony Picture Entertainment’s Venom was fighting a steep, uphill battle before it was even released – and it landed a poor 30% on Rotten Tomatoes. Venom as a character is deeply tied to Spider-Man, and the announcement that Sony was developing a series of movies based on the Wall Crawler’s villains without the hero himself was reasonable cause for concern. While there’s no doubt that the Sony Spider-Man Universe movies seem long overdue for their own version of Peter Parker, Venom actually functions well when viewed in a vacuum for what it is instead of what it could be.
Intentionally or not, Venom very much feels like a product of a bygone era in a largely good way. From its “dark and edgy” visual style to its main theme rapped by Eminem, Venom eschews the sensibilities standardized by the MCU behemoth. Tom Hardy and Venom have a delightfully over-the-top strange and darkly comical relationship, and the movie doesn’t shy away from Venom’s absurd sense of violence. Venom: Let There Be Carnage sported a better villain but lost some of the charm of the original, so hopefully the in-production Venom 3can embrace the best of both movies.
6 The Incredible Hulk (2008) – 67%
The Incredible Hulk is a bit of an odd movie in the MCU. Releasing so early in the MCU and developed before Iron Man came out the same year and popularized the franchise’s signature sense of comedy and quippy snark, The Incredible Hulk‘s markedly darker and more serious tone stands out from other MCU Phase 1 projects. Add to that the complication of Ed Norton being the only central Avenger to be recast (with Mark Ruffalo), and it’s easy to see why The Incredible Hulk is often overlooked.
However, there’s a lot to love about The Incredible Hulk, and the movie outperforms its 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Bruce Banner is presented as a much more tragic and complicated figure than he is in later projects, and several side characters, including Thunderbolt Ross and Emil Blonsky/Abomination have gotten better in hindsight with interesting appearances later in the MCU. The movie’s importance to the MCU is on the rise, too, as Ross and Tim Blake Nelson’s Samuel Sterns are set to appear in the MCU Phase 5’s Captain America: Brave New World.
5 The Punisher (2004) – 29%
John Bernthal’s version of The Punisher may be on the heels of a return to the small screen in the MCU’s streaming series Daredevil: Born Again, but Thomas Jane’s 2004 film deserves remembrance as a solid action movie far better than its 29% on Rotten Tomatoes would imply. The plot is kept simple as a fairly classic revenge story against John Travolta’s crime boss Howard Saint, but the movie brings to life an element of the character not commonly seen in live-action interpretations.
While Frank Castle is fueled by an unhealthy level of rage to bring his brutal flavor of punishment to those he deems deserving, The Punisher also gives the character a deserved level of intelligence. Frank isn’t a man without a plan; he’s a predator with the foresight and skills to set up and execute his plans to perfection. Jane’s Frank Castle also thrust The Punisher’s now-infamous skull logo into pop-culture popularity, where it remains famous – or infamous – for better or for worse.
4 Blade II (2002) – 57%
Blade II joins Spider-Man 2, X2: X-Men United, and, to a lesser degree, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer as early, pre-MCU Marvel movies that outshine their predecessors. Blade, with his black leather get-up and often cheesy dialogue, seems straight out of the 90s, but the whole thing works extremely well for the character, and the movie completely owns it. Blade II takes everything that worked in Blade and turns it up to 11, and the movie makes full use of its R rating to deliver fantastically gory vampire kills one after the other. Blade II isn’t deep cinema, but it’s better than its 57% score implies.
3 Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer (2007) – 38%
The Fantastic Four have had a famously difficult time finding success on the big screen, but Marvel’s First Family makes for a surprisingly fun flick in 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Improving on its 2005 predecessor in nearly every way, the movie’s biggest success is in doing justice to the titular Silver Surfer. Laurence Fishburne’s voice acting brings the character the gravitas and impact that he deserves, and the special effects, while a bit dated by today’s standards, hold up well for such a visually unique character. The movie isn’t terribly deep, but it’s quite entertaining and worth a watch despite its 38% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
2 Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance (2011) – 19%
The first Ghost Rider movie is a largely unexciting string of clichés and banal set pieces that struggle to settle into a groove as they balance an inherently bizarre character with more traditional action movie beats. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance fully commits to its over-the-top main character (and Nicholas Cage’s portrayal of him) to deliver a Johnny Blaze story that’s too wild not to enjoy. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance doesn’t deserve to sit in the 80 or 90% range on Rotten Tomatoes – and maybe not even the 70s – but it’s far better as a mindless string of good action than its actual 19% score.
1 Eternals (2021) – 47%
As it currently stands, Eternals is the lowest-rated MCU movie on Rotten Tomatoes with a score of 47%. The movie has shortcomings – most notably a disappointing conclusion to the story of secondary antagonist Kro – but its flaws are the fruits of interesting risks. Marvel receives justified criticism for often sticking to a predictable formula, and, if nothing else, Eternals bucks that trend with its huge cast, centuries-spanning narrative, and methodical narrative pace. Eternals succeeds in far more ways than in falters, succeeding in mixing quiet character moments with some fantastic third-act action scenes.
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