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The 10 worst Marvel movies ranked

The story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has largely been one of historic — and more or less unbroken — success with critics and audiences, pulling in record-setting sums at the box office while enjoying widespread acclaim. But as easy as it might be to forget, Marvel characters started making their way to theaters long before the MCU got its start with 2008's Iron Man — and as much as the films they've released since have had their share of ups and downs, a number of the publisher's other adaptations have been downright embarrassing.

Whether you're a completist, simply curious, or just an absolute glutton for punishment who's looking for the worst of the worst that Marvel's had to offer theater audiences, we've got a list for you. The misguided movies below are the most embarrassing Marvel movie adaptations that cinema has to offer — even if none of them were technically released as part of the MCU. Take a breath, read on, and watch them if you dare.

Captain America

Could you imagine anyone other than Chris Evans playing the great Captain America, Steve Rogers? How about Matt Salinger, son of The Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger? Salinger made his cinematic debut in 1984's Revenge of the Nerds and in 1990 wore the red, white, and blue uniform for Captain America, a movie that was supposed to be released in theaters but eventually just aired on TV.

Judging from the trailer, which makes the movie look downright goofy, it's easy to see why this was waylaid on its journey to the cineplex. With a lowly 7 percent critics score and 16 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, it seems that no one enjoyed this clunker.

The plot follows the now-familiar origin story of Steve Rogers, a World War II draft reject who volunteers for a scientific experiment and becomes an American super soldier. He fights Red Skull and the Nazis, and after a few decades frozen in ice, thaws out to finish the job and save the President. The problem is, the movie is so hokey that you don't even care. Salinger is completely lacking in the charm that makes Evans' Cap work so well, and the villains feel like they've been ripped from the pages of Dick Tracy comics. An abject failure, this Captain America was just one of many false starts the first few Marvel movies faced before hitting their stride.

Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Long before Samuel L. Jackson donned the eyepatch and played Nick Fury for the MCU, Fury was played by another famous face: David Hasselhoff. Yes, the Baywatch star and international singing sensation played Fury for the 1998 TV movie Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The plot follows a retired Nick Fury who, after the end of the Cold War, has settled in Yukon territory for some peace and quiet. But "Lady Viper" (Sandra Hess), the granddaughter of HYDRA Nazi Baron Von Stucker, threatens to destroy America with a deadly virus. Fury is forced back into the fight, but calls upon his friends for help. The Contessa (Lisa Rinna), Dum-Dum (Garry Chalk), Gabriel (Ron Canada), and Alexander Goodwin (Neil Roberts) round out the cast.

To say this Fury was a bomb is an understatement. It earned a dismal 16 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, and the series that the movie was meant to launch never went forward. And Hasselhoff seems a bit bitter about the whole thing, too. In 2012 making the press rounds for Piranha 3D, he told Movieline, "I love Sam Jackson, but you know… my Nick Fury was the organic Nick Fury that was written and discussed with Stan Lee before anyone got in there to change it."

Howard the Duck

Adults today who can recall watching Howard the Duck when they were kids might be surprised, upon watching it now, just how creepy this movie truly is. The 1986 adaptation of the Marvel comic stars Chip Zein as the voice of Howard, an anthropomorphic duck from the planet Duckworld who finds himself mysteriously shot into space, landing on Earth. He befriends a human woman played by Lea Thompson, fights something called The Dark Overlord, and plays in a band. Marvel's first theatrically released live-action feature film, Howard the Duck has its cult followers, but ultimately, it's kind of cringeworthy.  

The obvious thing that makes Howard the Duck super creepy is his eyes, which Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn called creepy and upsetting. Additionally, there were so many inappropriate moments in the movie that are just downright gross. If you need a refresher, check out this YouTube fan video of all of the lowlights. But despite the mess, Thompson doesn't sound embarrassed by her role. In fact, she once considered pitching a new Howard the Duck movie — and director Kevin Smith reportedly wants her for a new animated series. Not a bad gig for the woman who's crowned herself the "First Queen of Marvel."

Fantastic Four

Marvel's First Family, the Fantastic Four are made up of Mr. Fantastic, also known as Reed Richards; Sue Storm, a.k.a. The Invisible Woman; her brother Johnny Storm, whose fire-induced abilities earn him the nickname the Human Torch; and Ben Grimm, also known as the Thing, a kind of giant, rock-like creature with super strength. The foursome, a team of scientists, earned their abilities after being exposed to intense radiation during a space voyage.

This 2015 release marks the third Fantastic Four film in existence, and it's definitely the worst of the bunch. It might have been doomed from the start: there were reported issues with director Josh Trank and execs at Fox, who were apparently unhappy with Trank's first cut and commissioned rewrites and reshoots without his involvement, making a giant mess of the story. Trank trashed the film, writing on Twitter, "A year ago I had a fantastic version of this… You'll probably never see it." Other reports suggest Trank was disruptive on set and behaved erratically. No matter what happened behind the scenes, this is a terrible misfire that all involved would presumably prefer to forget.

Ghost Rider

Nicolas Cage's career has had some pretty wild ups and downs, and Ghost Rider is one of those times when it just didn't work out. It's hard to blame Cage for wanting to play a superhero, but the Ghost Rider franchise started lame and never really got much better.

Ghost Rider tells the story of a motorcycle stuntman named Johnny Blaze who makes a deal with the demon Mephistopheles; in exchange for curing his father's cancer, Blaze gives up his soul. Years after their pact, Mephistopheles comes calling, demanding that Blaze become his bounty hunter, a Ghost Rider, in order to prevent the demon's own son from usurping his power. As an origin story, it's no stranger than any other comics-derived tale, but it needed a bigger budget, as evidenced by the cheesy CGI. And although Ghost Rider was a box office hit, earning over $228 million worldwide, it isn't exactly loved by critics or audiences, given its 27% and 47% Rotten Tomatoes scores.

Thankfully, the Ghost Rider movies weren't Cage's last shot at the superhero genre. In the animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, he voices Spider-Man Noir, a fedora and trenchcoat-wearing Spider-Man who's actually pretty darn hilarious.

Elektra

Before Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel hit the scene, the comic book movie world was severely lacking in female-led films. Of course, there have always been great female superheroes as side characters or even villains in other comic book movies, but it was a long, difficult haul through some bad whoppers. 2005's Elektra had promise, but it's painfully bad — though through no fault of Jennifer Garner, who'd already proved her action chops on the spy-thriller TV series Alias before debuting as Elektra in the Daredevil movie. This seemed like the perfect vehicle for her, but it really didn't pan out.

Elektra Natchios was half-villain, half love interest in Daredevil, but was killed off in that movie. Part of Elektra's underwhelming storytelling involved bringing the character back to life and turning her into a hired assassin, despite the turning point she took in Daredevil. The movie also makes no mention of Daredevil at all, making it feel like a prequel of sorts, or existing in an alternate universe.

The move was a critical and box office failure, and many found the plot confusing and the tone off-putting. In his review, Roger Ebert asked, "Does [Elektra] wonder why she became a paid killer instead of a virtuous superheroine?" Good question, Rog.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Before Chris Evans played Captain America, he was the arrogant yet suave Johnny Storm in the first two installments of the Fantastic Four franchise. In some ways, the Fantastic Four movies may have prepared him for the MCU, but there's no doubt Evans makes for a better Cap than a Human Torch, and that's mostly because the Fantastic Four movies are basically junk.

The first Fantastic Four movie, released in 2005, introduced Jessica Alba as the Invisible Woman, Ioan Gruffudd as Mr. Fantastic, Michael Chiklis as the Thing, and the aforementioned Evans. It was a fun enough romp, and was a box office success.

The sequel, released in 2007, has a better critical rating than its predecessor (37% vs. 27% on Rotten Tomatoes), but the cheesiness of the title character's depiction makes it a less enjoyable watch. How can anyone honestly take a Silver Surfer seriously? Sure, Fantastic Four is supposed to be campy and fun, but when one of your main characters looks like he's dressed out of an '80s music video and literally surfs the sky, it's hard to do anything but groan. There are numerous comics stories the filmmakers could have chosen, which makes it hard to understand why they went in this direction — and ruined the live-action debut of legendary Marvel villain Galactus. A planned third movie was scrapped, freeing Evans to move on to bigger and better superheroes.

Hulk

Every Oscar-winning director has made a bad movie at one point in their careers, and Ang Lee is no exception. For proof, look no further than the 2003 Hulk movie — the character's big-screen debut after a long-running show and a series of TV movies starring Lou Ferrigno. Lee may have been trying to usher in a new wave of artier superhero movies, but the movie he made is ultimately far less fun than comics fans had any right to expect.

This Hulk stars Eric Bana as Dr. Bruce Banner, a scientist who accidentally exposes himself to intense gamma radiation, cursing himself with a rage-fueled alter ego who takes over his body (turning green and growing to an immense size in the process) when he gets angry. Jennifer Connelly co-stars as Betty Ross, his fellow scientist and love interest whose job, it seems, is to calm the Hulk and bring Banner back to his normal self so he doesn't destroy everything around him… and so her father can take advantage of his genetics.

How much you like Hulk depends on what you want from your superhero movies. If you're tired of campy, flamboyant comic movies, then this film's more serious tone might totally be your thing. The problem here is that the special effects just aren't the best, and Hulk kind of comes out looking like as cartoon. Technology had thankfully improved by the time Marvel made the rebooted Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton — and the subsequent MCU movies, for which Mark Ruffalo took over the role.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

After three X-Men movies, the most popular character of the bunch, Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackman), broke out on his own for X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It was the first standalone character movie in what seemed poised to be a series of individual outings, but perhaps the movie's poor reception put a damper on those plans.

The movie goes back in time to Wolverine's youth, when he was named James Howlett. A traumatic experience reveals his bone-like claws, his healing ability, and the fact that he has a half brother, Victor Creed, played by Liev Schreiber. They fight in the Civil War, both World Wars, and the Vietnam War, killing as they go. When Wolverine, going by Logan, is approached by William Stryker to join Team X, he does so for a time, but their violent tactics turn Logan away, and the team turns on him as a result.

The problem with X-Men Origins: Wolverine is that it is simultaneously repetitive but also retcons some of what we were told in the previous three X-Men movies. Liev Schreiber is his half brother and nemesis Sabertooth, but Sabertooth appeared in the previous films with no recollection of Logan? There was also a de-aged version of Patrick Stewart as Professor X, but the CGI is awful — and that goes for Logan's claws, too. That said, the poor depiction of Deadpool in the film helped lead to the Deadpool movies, which we're all thankful for.

Spider-Man 3

There's a reason that Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) cracked "The third one's always the worst" in X-Men Apocalypse. When it comes to comic book movies, it's usually true. Spider-Man 3 was the third movie in the franchise set that starred Toby Maguire as Peter Parker, and although it was the most technically advanced of the three, its hokey dialogue, cartoonish plot points, and weird choices make it one of the worst Marvel movies out there. It might be the best of the worst, but it's not great.

In this movie, Peter Parker is high on life. He's a superhero, and he's about to propose to his girlfriend Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst). But when a meteorite lands in Central Park, the symbiote Venom threatens the city. Topher Grace plays Eddie Brock, Peter's nemesis photojournalist, and Bryce Dallas Howard is Gwen Stacy, Peter's new competing love interest.

The issues with Spider-Man 3 stem from its repetitive nature. The return of James Franco as Harry Osborn, the retconning of Uncle Ben's death, and the rehash of previous fights make the movie a mirror image of the previous two. Spider-Man 3 does deal with some interesting themes, and Peter's "evil dance number" is a fun scene, but you either love it or hate it. Watching this, it's easy to understand why the studio rebooted the franchise.