100 Essential Superhero Movies: Early Marvel

I decided that I wanted to make a list of 100 superhero movies that I thought were the essentials, the ones that everyone needs to see at one point in time if they want to be a fully fledged superhero movie afficionado, and while I am having guest bloggers this month help me fill out the list, there are many much more obvious choices that were easy to make and I’m here to share some of those with you. I’ve taken a look at the more recent Marvel Cinematic Universe already, but before they became a movie studio powerhouse partnered with Disney, they tossed around a lot of their characters to other studios with some often disastrous results.

Howard the Duck

Howard the Duck

It may be quite surprising when you find out that the very first Marvel Superhero to get a feature length live action film wasn’t Spider-Man, the Hulk, or Wolverine, but instead it was Howard the Duck. A fowl from another planet brought to this world through some fairly random means and it’s up to him to make it in this human world while at the same time there’s a more sinister alien presence trying to use the Earth for its own ends. Not to mention that this was a pet project from George Lucas. If it sounds bizarre, that’s because it is. The tone is a weird mix of a seemingly child-friendly duck-creature who comes from a planet that shows duck boobs and he temporarily works at a porn shop before the adventure kicks in and he ends up saving the world and getting the girl.

Fantastic Four

From one disaster to another, this one was so bad that it was famously never intended to be released. This is the ultra-low budget version of the Fantastic Four from noted low-budget director Roger Corman. The studio supposedly thought that instead of letting the rights to the comic book slip back to Marvel it was worth it to hire Roger Corman to produce this Fantastic Four movie, but none of the cast or crew realized that it would end up never being released. It’s also not too terribly difficult to find as a bootlegged movie and it’s just as bad as you might expect a movie like this to be. There’s even a documentary in the works dedicated to dissecting and examining this entire fiasco.



While many people credit X-Men with creating the superhero movie boom back in 2000, this is really the comic book movie that came out a couple years earlier that was almost as successful and played just as big a part in showing people that a comic book movie other than Batman could be done well and be taken seriously. While it isn’t a superhero movie on the surface, as there have been plenty of vampire and vampire hunter movies before and since, Blade is still considered a superhero in his own right and is fully integrated into the Marvel Comics universe, I believe even at one point in time he was a member of the Avengers. Wesley Snipes was a great fit for this role both in attitude and his martial arts abilities. It looked great, and played equally as well.

Blade II

After the first Blade movie was a success, it didn’t take a genius to expect a sequel. Not only that, but this is the first Marvel movie sequel to be created. A new director was brought in by the name of Guillermo del Toro who would later go on to make the two Hellboy movies. This movie has a very different feel than the first one, bringing in a bit more action and sci-fi where the first one was a bit more geared towards action and horror. It also brought in Ron Perlman as one of the vampires who would also go on to work on Hellboy with del Toro. Often considered as good if not better than the original movie, this is one of the great early Marvel movies.



After a few successes under their belt, Marvel hit a bit of a snag when trying to bring another one of their most popular characters to the big screen for the first time since the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno TV show. They brought in acclaimed director Ang Lee who made some interesting decisions for good or for ill. While it seemed like a good idea to incorporated split screens to simulate a comic book feel, it often wasn’t utilized in the right spots. The Hulk is best known for his action scenes, yet the most intimidating thing he got to fight in this movie was some mutated dogs including a poodle. And to cap it all off, the climactic battle was centered around him just getting really really angry. At the same time, there was a lot of added drama between the characters, and while looking back at it now it seems like an awful idea, it was worth noting that Ang Lee took a chance and made a movie that some people do still enjoy even if it’s not generally a hit with comic book fans.

The Punisher

The Punisher

This is another movie similar to Blade that took a character that isn’t entirely a superhero and put him into an R rated revenge movie. There’s actually a surprising amount of material in this movie that was pulled from various actual Punisher comics including the often maligned goofy neighbors and the popsicle torture scene. While this isn’t often considered a great version of the Punisher, it is often considered the best of the three attempts, especially after Thomas Jane later went on to do a Punisher short film called Dirty Laundry which gave him some extra geek cred. I’m still a fan of this movie, and I hope that the Punisher comes back in some capacity again soon.

Fantastic Four

Yes there is another Fantastic Four movie on this list, and even though I haven’t re-watched it in years, I still think of this movie as a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. Even though it does have Chris Evans in it, this was before he was cast as Captain America and that’s the role that he has really made his own. Here he played a bit of an annoying jerk as Johnny Storm (not to be confused with Johnny Blaze who I’ll be talking about in a moment). Some people aren’t a fan of Jessica Alba’s role in this, or Ioan Gruffudd, but I really enjoy Michael Chiklis as Benjamin Grimm aka the Thing here and I also like the bickering family dynamic. Besides that, the Fantastic Four is one of the more well known Marvel titles and as of now, this is the best representation of them on screen that there is.

Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider

Similar to the Fantastic Four movie, this is also a guilty pleasure of mine with Nicholas Cage playing the daredevil turned bounty hunter for the devil with a flaming skull for a head. It has plenty of Nicholas Cage being Nicholas Cage, but it also has Sam Elliott being awesome in his small role, and at the end of the day, it’s still a superhero with a flaming skull for a head riding a flaming motorcycle wielding a flaming chain whip, you don’t get much cooler than that. Sure some of the dialogue is cheesy and the romance angle is tired, but there aren’t very many superhero movies that have a good romance angle in them. And besides that, even though I’m not a fan of the sequel at all, the fact that it has one has got to account for something, right?

What I Left Out

I left out pretty much all of the sequels outside of Blade II, as often times the original was on shaky ground to begin with and the sequel just goes that much further into the wrong territory, so no Silver Surfer, Blade: Trinity, Punisher: War Zone, or Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. I also left out the Dolph Lundgren Punisher movie as well as the Affleck Daredevil and its spin-off Elektra. Even though I’m a fan, I ignored the 90’s practically unreleased Captain America movie, and the first Marvel Studios picture Man-Thing for a couple reasons: one because it’s an awful movie, and two because it’s a horror movie and not anything close to a superhero movie. As for the X-Men and Spider-Man movies? I’ll be covering them a little bit later. Agree? Disagree? Let me know, if there’s a movie that I left off that you think should be included, feel free to argue your case and I just might share it with my readers to let them decide if it should be an essential superhero movie. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.


About Bubbawheat

I'm a comic book movie enthusiast who has watched and reviewed over 500 superhero and comic book movies in the past seven years, my goal is to continue to find and watch and review every superhero movie ever made.

Posted on June 1, 2014, in Blogs, Lists and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Aside from the Blade movies, everything here is horrible. Sad what Marvel let happen to some of these characters. For me, the guilty pleasures I’d be inclined to include are Daredevil and Punisher: War Zone. I think DD is underrated and War Zone is so bad it’s awesome.

    • I’m a fan of Daredevil as well, especially the director’s cut. I did have someone who was going to write up a “You Decide” for it, though if he doesn’t get around to it I’ll have to give it some love myself. I wasn’t a fan of War Zone’s style of so-bad-it’s-good though, outside of Wayne Knight. If you wanted to write a couple paragraphs defending it, I’d be happy to post a “You Decide” poll for it though. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Victor De Leon

    Just re-watched “Hulk” recently and man, that movie does not hold up well at all. Way too melodramatic and full of dull symbolism and trite drama. I think Lee forgot it’s about a dude that turns into a huge green goliath and goes around smashing stuff. All of that overt parental angst / repression crap bogged it down. Even the CGI made me cringe much more this time than ever before. I do like the Blade films (especially Del Toro’s) but many others on this list don’t measure up as well. Still, some aren’t total losses and die hard fans could find some things to like. Even in “Ghost Rider.” …Ugh. Did I just say that?

    • I don’t know, there’s a lot worse movies out there than Ghost Rider though maybe I should have gone to bat for that one instead of automatically including it. Hindsight being 20/20 and all that. And Hulk is still a pretty big mess all things considered, though I re-watched the Norton one and that one holds up better now than it did when I watched it last.

      • Victor De Leon

        I actually watch Norton’s Hulk quite often. I love putting the blu ray on late at night when every one is asleep. I put my headphones on and just enjoy all of the great action and FX. It does hold up very well indeed.

  3. Coming in late again… I’ll get caught up eventually, I swear. 🙂

    For importance, as the first “Marvel movie”, yeah, I’d say Howard the Duck belongs. Also does pretty well at filling in the “this is how it can go wrong” niche (granted, I’m only going by reputation), so the Corman F4 isn’t essential in my eyes (though I have seen that.)

    I’m fond of the Dolph Punisher, but I understand not including it. Daredevil I think probably should be included. Yeah, it’s not everyone’s favorite, but I think it’s too good of a discussion piece to leave out.

    Blade… the first one is good, and definitely deserves a spot on the list. I wasn’t a fan of the second one, and haven’t watched the third yet.

    Hulk… Yeah, include it, again for the discussion points. I understand what Lee was going for, I just don’t think it panned out well. I know some critics (Ebert among them) consider this to be a better film than the Norton one. I can see their point… but even if I concede it’s a better movie, I don’t think it’s as good at being a Hulk movie.

    F4 should probably be included as well, hokey though it is in spots. Gruffudd didn’t bother me, but Alba did. Chiklis was perfect, though, and I wish the reboot was still using him.

    I didn’t like Ghost Rider hardly at all. But I agree that Sam Elliott was great, and if they were to do a Phantom Rider spin-off I’d certainly watch it.

    • I really need to revisit the Fox F4 soon, especially if I’m putting it on this list. I think the story behind the unreleased F4 is notorious enough, can you think of any other unreleased movie that’s more well known? As always I appreciate hearing your thoughts on the subject, and I’ve finished with posting these so you’ve got a bit of time to catch up.

      • It’s true that I can’t think of any unreleased films that are as well known, but I don’t think it’s really well known either… it’s just the hardcore superhero-movie fandom that knows of its existence.

  1. Pingback: 100 Essential Superhero Movies | Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights

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