Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe (#MCU) became the multi-billion dollar pop culture juggernaut it is today, #Marvel movies were mostly seen as disposable mental junk food. With a few exceptions, such as the early Spider-Man and X-Men movies, many fans would prefer to act like Marvel's first cinematic experiments never happened.
Today, the #MCU is respected by fans and casual movie-goers alike, but in honor of the bad films that came before, let's take a look back at the 10 best Marvel moive guilty pleasures from those early days.
10. Pimping Strange
- Movie: Dr. Strange
- Director: Philip DeGuere
- Years Of Release: 1978
Contrary to popular belief, Benedict Cumberbatch is not the first person to bear the title of Sorcerer Supreme in a movie - that honor goes to Peter Hooten from the 1978 adaptation, Dr. Strange. (Check out the trailer above.) Unlike today's visual spectacle, the '70s Dr. Strange took nearly an hour before Strange even wielded magic. This was because the "movie" was actually a combination of episodes for the failed Dr. Strange TV show that never saw the light of day.
Doctor Strange is currently enjoying a strong box office revenue, but for those who want to see where the character began his live-action adventures, the '70s Dr. Strange is a guilty pleasure that shouldn't be missed. It also features the titular Sorcerer hitting on pretty much every female character in his sight while wearing some pimping '70s duds, which is a costume that's bound to give avid cosplayers some cool new ideas.
9. Captain Awkward
- Movies: Captain America, Captain America II: Death Too Soon, Captain America
- Directors: Rod Holcomb, Ivan Nagy, Albert Pyun
- Years Of Release: 1979, 1979, 1990
Before Chris Evans brought him to life for a new generation, Captain America slogged through some lackluster TV-movies that had the financial budget of a single sitcom episode. Captain America is the Marvel Universe's greatest soldier, but his TV movies also made him look like the cheapest super-soldier.
Those early films are filled with awkward costumes that made Cap look more like an extreme sports reject, obviously choreographed action scenes, and a huge lack of screen time for the hero himself.
Still, the Captain America movies are charming products of their time that should be given a shot - if only to see how to interpret Marvel's most American hero on a child's allowance.
8. Ducking It Up
- Movie: Howard The Duck
- Director: Willard Huyck
- Years Of Release: 1986
Many people blame Fox's Marvel movies for killing Marvel movies in the early 2000's, but folks tend to forget that Howard The Duck is responsible for killing the trend before it even began.
Howard The Duck was actually the first live-action Marvel movie to be released after the war-time Captain America TV serials ended in 1953, and it would be nearly a decade before Marvel movies came back to cinemas.
Originally planned as an animated feature, producer George Lucas instead opted for a live-action movie featuring animatronics that gave viewers lots of unintentional nightmares. The combination of live-action filming and a talking anthropomorphic duck bombed at the box office.
Despite all this, the movie gained a cult following and its lead duck scored a cameo in the equally offbeat, but better made, Guardians Of The Galaxy in 2014.
7. Nick Fury: Lifeguard of S.H.I.E.L.D.
- Movie: Nick Fury: Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
- Year Of Release: 1998
- Director: Rod Hardy
Nick Fury is known as the badass director of the S.H.I.E.L.D. who is also an expert spy and a war veteran - which is why it made perfect sense to get Mitch (David Hasselhoff) from Baywatch to portray him.
Nick Fury: Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a B-Grade action movie on par with movies that starred Chuck Norris and Steven Segal, guaranteeing Fury's first live-action venture a niche audience.
Samuel L. Jackson would later immortalize Fury starting with the famous post-credits scene of Iron Man, but Hasselfhoff's take on the character is still a great source of fun, unintentional humor.
6. Dared To Ham It Up
- Movie: Daredevil
- Director: Mark Steven Johnson
- Year Of Release: 2003
Daredevil's first cinematic outing didn't go as planned. The fault mostly lies in 20th Century Fox's decision to cut so much out of the movie. However, one consistently good element in the Man Without Fear's first big screen appearance were the villains.
As generic as Daredevil's story was, the crime boss Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) and the deadly assassin Bullseye (Collin Farrell) were having so much fun in their overt villainy that it was hard not to join them for the ride.
Kingpin and Bullseye chewing up so much scenery may be considered campy, but for those like myself, they make the perfect villainous guilty-pleasure duo.
5. The Introspective Hulk
- Movie: Hulk
- Director: Ang Lee
- Year Of Release: 2003
Before Christopher Nolan legitimized the superhero movie as a viable source of character study and drama, future Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee attempted to give Bruce Banner's tragedy as the Incredible Hulk a reflective cinematic spin of its own.
Hulk was a strange mix of genres, where supposedly tense dramatic scenes would transition by means of choppy comic panels shifting across the screen. Though a bit too talky for some and featuring some of the most awkward CGI seen in any superhero movie (special mention goes to the gamma powered dogs), Hulk shows curious viewers how far the genre has evolved when it comes to balancing blockbuster spectacles and character pieces.
4. Edgy Parker Dance
- Movie: Spider-Man 3
- Director: Sam Raimi
- Year Of Release: 2007
Though shoe-horned by a producer, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3 featured Venom as one of three main antagonists. The Venom Symbiote was used to show Peter Parker's (Tobey Maguire) temptation to embrace the dark side of his superpowers, and Spider-Man 3 showed this in the most awkward way possible.
Spider-Man 3's idea of Peter's initial amplified aggression was through a montage featuring him doing evil things such as: growing bangs, being a dick at the Daily Bugle, buying a fancy three piece suit, and dancing in public. It's a testament to Raimi's talent that he was able to turn Spider-Man 3 into a serviceable movie despite producers' excessive interference, but Peter's descent into cartoon villainy is something that will be fondly remembered for all of the wrong reasons.
3. Fantastic Chemistry
- Movie: Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer
- Director: Tim Story
- Years Of Release: 2005, 2007
Before Josh Trank shot superhero comics' first super-family into obscurity and infamy with his edgy and universally mauled Fant4stic, the Fantastic Four were known for a pair of generic superhero movies from the 2000's and a campy Roger Corman adaptation.
Tim Story's Fantastic Four movies may be no masterpiece, but one thing they got right was the characters' chemistry. Both movies suffered from an anticlimactic ending and weak villains, but they enjoyed comedic banter and organic bickering. It's been theorized that Story prioritized the Fantastic Four's family aspect instead of their world saving fights, and his movies are proof of this.
They may be forgettable, but the Fantastic Four movies from the 2000's will always be more enjoyable than what Trank did to the team.
2. Hardcore Punishment
- Movie: Punisher: War Zone
- Director: Lexi Alexander
- Year Of Release: 2008
With the exception of Jon Bernthal's spine-chilling depiction in Netflix's Daredevil and the indie-short Dirty Laundry, Frank Castle (aka the Punisher) has nothing but bad live-action ventures to his name. One of the most common complaints with the character's cinematic outings was that he was too tame, which is something Punisher: War Zone thankfully fixed.
If The Dark Knight is the superhero genre's critical darling, Punisher: War Zone is the genre's version of a brutal, shameless B-movie from the '80s. Though partially based on the Punisher comics written by the title's savior Garth Ennis, Punisher: War Zone lacked any of the author's trademark hidden depth and signature themes. The end result was a cathartic yet enjoyable hour and a half of gunfights, creative kills and carnage.
1. Caged Heat
- Movies: Ghost Rider and Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance
- Director: Mark Steven Johnson; Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
- Years Of Release: 2007, 2012
When it comes to bad yet memorable superhero movies, Ghost Rider is sure to top anybody's list mostly because of its lead actor, Nicolas Cage. Ghost Rider may have showcased Cage in all his hammy glory, but the sequel Spirit Of Vengeance redefined overacting as we know it.
This left viewers with two hours of Cage's exaggerated face and all-around insanity from the guys behind the Crank movies. Add in the fact that Cage literally channeled Voodoo deity Baron Samedi while wearing various occult charms on set, and watching Spirit Of Vengeance with this in mind makes it even better. Spirit Of Vengeance was actually neutered by a PG-13 rating - denying viewers the chance to see Cage at his craziest while his head was on fire. Still, this can be a fun ride.
Today's Marvel movies are so different from what came before. As silly or outright bad as some of the comic giant's previous ventures may be, it would be a shame to just act like they never happened. There's no better way of reminiscing Marvel's early days than looking at their first awkward steps, if only to see how they got to the position they're currently in today.
Because of that incredible feat alone, Marvel rightfully deserves the respect and adoration it enjoys today - but that doesn't mean fans should ignore the fact that Marvel is the same company that made Ghost Rider piss like a napalm flamethrower on the big screen.
For the other side of the front, check out this list of DC's best guilty pleasure moments.