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The MCU's Biggest Misses Ranked

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is estimated as of 2022 to have earned more than $25 billion worldwide, making it the biggest movie franchise of all time. That's a lot of cheddar, and Marvel Studios shows no signs of tightening its belt in the near future as its films almost always turn a significant profit. Simply put, the MCU is a global phenomenon unlike anything Hollywood has ever seen. 

The brilliance of the MCU is in forming a shared universe sandbox, encompassing both film and television, via a world of interconnected stories that are all canon and make sense in one singular timeline. This ensures that a large percentage of the fanbase will see every film. Not interested in "Eternals"? Then how will you understand Kit Harington's Black Knight when he pops up in an MCU film in a year or two? Not a fan of Kung Fu? Well, you'd better see "Shang-Chi" anyway, lest you don't get some reference Wong makes in the next Doctor Strange film.

While all this cross-pollination may sound easy to execute, it means the studio needs to be in sync with multiple directors, writers, producers, and crew members at all times. Plus, everyone needs to be careful not to leak any secrets.

It's key to the entire MCU, because this way, the gamble is minimized. Even the "duds" make enough money to keep the ship afloat. It's an insurance policy few other franchises can even approach.

Below are the Marvel films and TV shows whose poor critical and fan receptions could have sunk a lesser franchise. Ultimately, these proved to be nothing more than minor speed bumps in the franchise's quest for global domination. From the not entirely bad to the absolute worst, they are the MCU's biggest misses.

11. Iron Man 2 (2010)

Following the rip-roaring success of 2008's "Iron Man," the expectations were sky-high for the sequel. In the lead-up to the production, one of the biggest changes made to "Iron Man 2" was Terrence Howard being fired from the film, and Don Cheadle replacing him as James Rhodes/War Machine, but even that didn't damper the anticipation. Throw in the introduction of Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell's tag-team effort as the villains of the film, Australian rockers AC/DC's contribution to the hard-hitting soundtrack, and all signs pointed to the sequel outshining the original. 

Unfortunately, "Iron Man 2" didn't quite hit the same lofty standards as its predecessor. "The whiz-bang stuff here — while never less than slick — doesn't produce anything we haven't seen before," said CNN. "It mutes Downey's cavalier charisma. He's still what makes this show tick, but I'm not sure we want to see him wrestling with his own mortality when it's his instinctive immorality that's his sexiest attribute."

It remains the lowest-rated film of the "Iron Man" trilogy on Rotten Tomatoes, with a critical approval of 72%. Not quite an earth-shattering disaster, but also far from the precedent set by the original "Iron Man" film.

10. The Defenders (2017)

Netflix's master plan was always to introduce Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist in their own series, then bring them together in a big team-up project that would rival the Avengers. It was meant to be the streaming platform's epic team-up, but with more of a boots-on-the-ground sensibility than a CGI extravaganza. Everything seemed to be on track, as "Daredevil," "Jessica Jones," and "Luke Cage" received rave reviews from critics and fans ... but then, "Iron Fist" arrived and soured the anticipation, bogged down by a perception of intolerant casting and described by IndieWire as "incredibly inessential, even boring at times."

No matter how "The Defenders" was positioned, it couldn't quite escape the shadow of Danny Rand's face-plant. In a brutal assessment of the team-up series, Flickering Myth's Anghus Houvouras didn't pull any punches on Iron Fist, referring to the character as "too stupid to live" and "the Cheddar Bob of The Defenders." 

While "The Defenders" failed to come anywhere near the same fever pitch of anticipation that accompanied "The Avengers," it also wasn't a glum disappointment like Joss Whedon's "Justice League." Instead, it was simply serviceable entertainment, deemed unacceptable due to the high standards introduced in those first few Netflix shows.

9. Black Widow (2021)

Comic book movie continuity can be a slippery slope. With so many Marvel projects tying back to other features, series, and events, then moving forward a few years, backtracking here and there ... it does feel like there should be a map handed out with each new release. "Black Widow" didn't help the cause. 

While there's no disputing that Natasha Romanoff deserved her own movie (perhaps even a trilogy), many fans were puzzled why her solo film arrived 11 years after the character debuted in the MCU, served as an origin story, and was largely robbed of any dramatic tension by her death in "Avengers: Endgame."

"'Black Widow' represents the MCU looking back when it should be moving forward," wrote James Berardinelli of Reelviews. "Everything about the movie seems small, even the big action set-pieces." The film's Metacritic score stands at 67, indicating that it was received favorably if not spectacularly by critics. For the MCU's standards, that's just not good enough.

8. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

What is it about Marvel movies that almost always makes the second one the dud? You can ponder that as you think about revisiting "Age of Ultron," or wiser still, don't.

No one could have foreseen the seismic influence the original "Avengers" would have on pop culture and cinema in general. After raking in over $1.5 billion at the box office (via Box Office Mojo) and proving that shared cinematic universes can work, it heralded a new era for comic book movies, announcing them as the future of blockbuster entertainment. Naturally, 2015's "Avengers: Age of Ultron" had large shoes to fill. It would be the second time that Earth's Mightiest Heroes would be on the big screen together, and everything needed to be grander and more audacious than before. Anything less and it would be considered the "Age of Mehtron."

The action was certainly frenetic and the film received a host of striking set pieces, but "Avengers: Age of Ultron" didn't convince everyone that it was in the same league as its predecessor. SF Weekly described the film as "loud, fluffy, and rather unsatisfying," while other reviewers weren't exactly glowing in their praise for it, either. Even if it is Certified Fresh at 76% on Rotten Tomatoes, it still is the lowest-rated "Avengers" film to date.

7. Helstrom (2020)

As per Newsweek, "Helstrom" was a precarious series. Initially, it was meant to kickstart a darker universe for Marvel properties on Hulu, which would have included Gabriel Luna's Ghost Rider too, but it ended up being the final show for Marvel Television as it was shut down and merged with the overarching Marvel Studios. As a result, "Helstrom" was left adrift at sea, all on its lonesome, since it was essentially dead on arrival and led down a cul-de-sac of worldbuilding. It received little to no hype, and nowadays, most people tend to forget it even existed.

Under normal circumstances, the Helstrom siblings aren't exactly A- or even B-list Marvel personalities, which certainly didn't help. They were magical characters created to capitalize on the success of the edgier Ghost Rider, but were never quite as popular or seminal as the Spirit of Vengeance. Their foray into the TV realm didn't go as planned either, since "Helstrom" was hammered by reviewers and received a hellish 27% approval on Rotten Tomatoes. The audience was far more generous to it, though, offering a kinder 71% rating from 392 user reviews.

6. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Looking back, "The Incredible Hulk" was the most important movie in the MCU, as its post-credits scene confirmed it took place in the same universe as Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man. It was the a-ha! moment that allowed fans to truly dream and consider how far this connected universe could span. Sadly, this huge reveal and the addition of an A-list actor like Edward Norton to the titular role didn't do enough to convince the general audience to head out and see the film. To date, it remains the lowest-grossing film of the MCU, making only $264.8 million worldwide (via Box Office Mojo).

Box office slump aside, "The Incredible Hulk" didn't capture the hearts of critics or audiences, either, as it holds 67% critical and 70% fan approval on Rotten Tomatoes. Norton would never again return as Bruce Banner, with Marvel Studios honcho Kevin Feige telling Entertainment Weekly that his return was "definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members." Judging by how this film is hardly mentioned by anyone at Marvel anymore (Emil Blonsky resurrections notwithstanding), it sounds like a project they'd all rather forget existed.

5. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Another subpar second film, the MCU somehow seems to be the opposite of "Star Wars" films when it comes to which is the good one. In the case of "Thor" movies, fans fondly remember 2011's "Thor" and 2017's "Thor: Ragnarok," but 2013's "Thor: The Dark World" is hardly ever mentioned as anything but a punchline. 

With a 66% critical approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it is the MCU's second-worst ranked film on the aggregator, and is often cited as the worst Marvel film. But here's the thing: it wasn't a bad movie per se, just a largely forgettable one. In fact, does anyone even remember what the plot was about? Or who the villain was?

"The clutter makes your head feel like it's about to explode — and not in a good way, with wonders upon wonders," said Rolling Stone in its Time. "Instead it seems like arcana that might show up on the midterm final: the next Marvel movie."

Such indifference isn't a good look for a movie that contains characters like Thor and Loki, though, as there's endless mythology and lore to pull from. Director Alan Taylor revealed to Collider before the film's release that part of the reshoot process was to include more of Loki; yet, even that didn't manage to save the film from being one of the MCU's most bland.

4. Eternals (2021)

For Feige, "Eternals" was the MCU's way of paying tribute to the late, great Jack Kirby. "The whole movie is a love letter to what one man was able to do with a pencil, sitting at a little desk on the East Coast," he told The Hollywood Reporter. Unfortunately, a number of critics didn't agree with Feige's thoughts. 

Slant Magazine's review, in particular, pummeled the comparison, saying that "[director Chloé] Zhao ultimately robs the artist's comic of its sweep by constantly turning a space opera into a repetitive character drama." Other reviews mentioned that the film deviated from what fans traditionally expected from an MCU film — for better or worse.

On Rotten Tomatoes, "Eternals" holds a 47% critical approval rating, making it the worst-ranked MCU film on the platform. That said, there was a disparity in consensus between the critics and viewers, as the audience approval sits at a respectable 78%. While it isn't uncommon to see this happen, it proved that "Eternals" might very well be the MCU's most polarizing film to date.

3. Marvel's Most Wanted (2016)

After "The Avengers" gobbled up the box office receipts and went back for seconds, it widened eyes in the entertainment industry. If one property could be so successful and practically print money, why not tap into the goodwill and reap similar benefits across other mediums? "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." proved to be the template of the best way to make an Avengers show without the actual Avengers, and ABC knew it. But the network wanted more, so it pondered the possibility of potential spinoffs. One idea was to create a series called "Marvel's Most Wanted," which would have followed Adrianne Palicki's Bobbi Morse and Nick Blood's Lance Hunter.

"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." showrunner Jeff Bell confirmed to IGN in 2016 that a pilot had been shot and he was happy with the result of the episode, stating that the two co-stars had fantastic chemistry. It appeared like the show would be picked up without incident, especially considering the success of other Marvel properties at the time; however, ABC wasn't convinced. 

In a 2016 TCA panel (via /Film), ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey said, "'Most Wanted,' ultimately at the end of the day, did not feel as strong as some of the other pilots that we shot." Whether that's true or not, fans may never get to find out; ABC holds the rights to the pilot, and there's no incentive to ever release it.

2. Iron Fist (2017)

In the comics, Iron Fist is one of the greatest fighters in the Marvel Universe. Combining action and mysticism, he's a character who has dazzled fans for decades. So when the "Iron Fist" TV series dropped on Netflix with hardly any magical elements and a lead actor who had no fighting background, it was clear that the series wasn't about to win over any longtime fans or fence-sitters. 

Every bit as concerning was the missed opportunity of correcting a wrong when it came to cultural appropriation issues tied to the character. Rather than expanding the palate of the Marvel universe, "Iron Fist" just came across as another whiny, rich white guy.

Unsurprisingly, Season 1 of "Iron Fist" received a Rotten rating of only 20%. The second season was a marked improvement, receiving a 55% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, but a mortal blow had already been struck. "Iron Fist" couldn't escape the fact that it was the worst of Netflix's Marvel series, and despite the continued love for other characters from these shows, no one will be clamoring to see this Finn Jones' Danny Rand return in the MCU anytime soon.

1. Inhumans (2017)

In a review for Forbes, Paul Tassi described the "Inhumans" TV show as "easily the biggest mistake Marvel has made to date." It was a sentiment shared by many critics at the time, as the series garnered a measly 11% critical approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

From its messy CGI to a weak storyline and even fake-looking wigs, nothing was spared from criticism. "Do not spend any of your limited time on this planet watching this show," read the Variety review. "If you have a superpower, use it to race away from 'Inhumans' faster than the speed of light."

It came as little surprise when "Inhumans" only received a single season. It might possibly get another shot at redemption via an all-new cast and showrunner on Disney+, however, if you believe Black Bolt actor Anson Mount's comments to the Dallas Fan Days convention in 2019.  

"People might not know this, but in the sort of Hollywood trades, there's rumored to be a negotiation going on with Disney+ to reattempt this," the actor said at the time. "And apparently ... it's well-known that Vin [Diesel] has always wanted to play Black Bolt, so there's some kind of negotiations going on."

"I really want there to be another shot at the 'Inhumans,' and I want it to be successful because I'd love to watch it," he continued. "I think it is the most interesting little corner of the Marvel universe, and I think it just has to be done — it has to have the right home, the right tone, and the right vision overall."