I wrote recently about how I’m getting off the Marvel movies train. It’s not that the MCU is “bad” now. It’s just that Phase 4 really hasn’t been doing it for me. This got me thinking about the Marvel movies that aren’t in the MCU, like X-Men. Headlines are dominated by Thor: Love and Thunder and Ms. Marvel, but there are lots of great Marvel movies that aren’t a part of the Disney brand.
These movies weren't released after 2017. That’s not to say that other companies aren’t making movies with Marvel properties, as Sony is still mining Spider-Man with the upcoming Kraven the Hunter movie. And, recently, it was “Morbin’ time!” with Morbius, a bad comic book movie. These more recent movies, like the Venom films, qualities we had in earlier Marvel, non-MCU movies.
Before anybody DM's me on Twitter, keep in mind that I haven’t forgotten about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It’s not only my favorite Spider-Man movie, but might be my favorite non-MCU Marvel movie, period. That said, it’s not live-action and it’s so different from every other Marvel movie, that I decided not to include it. Now, on with the rest!
10. Daredevil (Director’s Cut) (2004)
Is the original, 20th Century Fox Daredevil movie starring Ben Affleck, Michael Clarke Duncan (as Kingpin), Jennifer Garner, and Colin Farrell a good movie? No. In fact, it’s terrible. And not fun terrible, like the oft-forgotten Elektra Marvel movie. There are scenes that don’t make any sense, cheesy action, and it feels rushed overall.
But, Mark Steven Johnson's director’s cut is way better; it fleshes out the storyline more, adds more with other characters, and has a more violent tone. It doesn’t change the movie completely like, say, the definitive Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but it definitely feels like more of an actual story. If only we could have gotten the director’s cut the first time around.
9. Hulk (2003)
Universal’s Hulk is the best Hulk movie ever made. I mean, there’s really only one other Hulk movie I can compare it to – 2008’s The Incredible Hulk – but, the differences between those two movies are staggering. Ang Lee’s Hulk is good; The Incredible Hulk is not good.
Starring Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, and Nick Nolte, Hulk gets deep into the psychology of Hulk, and it actually feels like a live-action comic book at times, with panels and cool cuts. I also love how it brought Hulk to life in a way that the old TV show never did, with Hulk leaping through the air and destroying with reckless abandon. I know a lot of people don’t like this movie, but I have to disagree. It’s awesome. Plus, without it, we probably never would have gotten the excellent, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction video game, and I don’t want to live in a world where that doesn’t exist.
8. Blade (1998)
The movie that pretty much started the whole Marvel comic book movie craze, New Line Cinema’s Blade got pretty much everything right on its first go-around. In fact, I wrote a whole article about how the Wesley Snipes movie is just as good as you remember it.
Directed by Stephen Norrington, and also starring Stephen Dorff and Kris Kristofferson, the original Blade was full of violence, had a badass lead character, and TECHNO MUSIC! To be honest, Marvel comics always kind of had a sort of endearing goofiness to them in the ‘90s, but Blade made superheroes look awesome. For that, it has to be on this list.
7. Deadpool (2016)
Directed by Tim Miller, and starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, and Gina Carano, Deadpool was years in the making, and it was all the better for it. It came out when the very PG13 MCU movies were, so this super R-rated 20th Century Fox movie really stood out for being brash, bold, and bloody.
It’s also really funny and super true to the character, and actually feels even closer to the comics than a lot of the MCU stories that were actually mining the comics themselves. Ryan Reynolds is a national treasure. Not necessarily ours (he’s Canadian), but a treasure nonetheless.
6. X-Men: Days Of Future’s Past (2014)
The X-Men movies were always the crown jewels at 20th Century Fox, and X-Men: Days of Future’s Past is definitely the best film in the franchise to include the original cast. The cool thing is, it also features the new cast from X-Men: First Class, making a unique crossover that feels exciting and necessary at the same time.
Directed by original X-Men director Bryan Singer, and starring Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, and Halle Berry, to name a few, this time-traveling tale somehow manages to give screen time to both versions of the X-Men, and it’s totally engaging all the way through, with Wolverine being the linchpin that holds it all together. It may not be the best X-Men movie ever, but it’s damn close.
5. Spider-Man (2002)
It’s hard to imagine where we’d be today with comic book movies if not for Sony’s first Spider-Man. Directed by Sam Raimi, and starring Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco, it's bright, flashy, colorful, and unabashed about being a comic book film. So, no Spider-Man dressed entirely in black leather, a la early X-Men films.
It's just a lot of fun, and endlessly watchable, even today. It’s really cool that Spider-Man: No Way Home was able to bring this version of Spidey back to the big screen, because he’s one of the best Spidey’s ever. I mean, he’s not my favorite version of Spider-Man, but he’s close, and this movie is one of the reasons why.
4. Blade II (2002)
The first Blade? Awesome. The second Blade? One of the best Marvel movies outside of the MCU. Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II is everything you could want in a sequel and more. The stakes are higher, the action is better, and the world-building is impeccable.
Reprising Blade is Wesley Snipes, and he’s kicking more ass in this movie than probably any other movie he’s ever been in. The new threat is also quite terrifying, with del Toro lending his fascination with creepy monsters to this sequel. If only Blade Trinity wasn’t the Godfather Part III of superhero movies, we’d have the perfect trilogy.
3. X-Men: First Class (2011)
The best X-Men movie ever, Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class is so much better than it had to be. Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Kevin Bacon, it goes all the way back to the inception of the X-Men, showing Professor X and Magneto going their separate ways.
What’s so great about this movie is the 1960s setting, as this world truly feels lived in, and the movie becomes a sort of historical fiction film that takes the premise that mutants were there during the Cuban Missile Crisis seriously. This could have been gimmicky, but it wasn’t, and we’re all the better for it.
2. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The best live-action Spider-Man movie ever, this film asks, "What if Peter Parker doesn't want to be Spider-Man anymore?" This leads to a sort of existential crisis, and then a willingness to throw the mask back on once Dr. Octopus comes to town.
Sam Raimi’s second outing is better in every way than the original, and adding the cerebral Alfred Molina to the cast is genius, as his approach is incredibly different from the manic performance of Willem Dafoe in the first movie. Spider-Man 2 is just solid from front to back, and you care for every single character, who have their own arcs, with Dr. Octopus’s probably being the most tragic. I was definitely going to put this at number one, since it’s been my favorite live-action Marvel movie for so many years, but…
1. Logan (2017)
But then, 2017’s Logan came out, and it’s the last truly great non-MCU Marvel movie. Directed by James Mangold, and starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Dafne Keen, I don’t even consider Logan an X-Men movie. Or, if it is, then it’s like the Joker of X-Men movies, meaning it can’t exist without the mythos already established, but it’s also its own thing entirely.
That said, Logan is WAY better than Joker, in my opinion. It feels like a western, and it’s so dour and depressing that it’s more like a drama than a superhero film. Mining the Old Man Logan storyline, Logan feels weighty and introspective. It’s a comic book movie, sure, but one that feels like it could exist even if comic books didn’t. Plus, it never stops surprising you with where it’s going, and its conclusion is substantial and feels justified. No question, Logan is the best-non MCU film, and it’s better than most of the MCU films, period. I love this movie.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.