Muppet Movies Ranked

There was once a time when a film starring a frog, a bear, a pig, and a…whatever could not only be released around the country, but could make hundreds of millions of dollars. Such was the case with The Muppet Movie, the first film starring the Muppet characters created by Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and others. When it was released 40 years ago this week, it was a massive hit and proved the Muppets could survive as much on the big screen as they did in their weekly TV variety show.

Over the last four decades, there have been eight Muppet features — not including side projects from Henson or Oz like The Dark Crystal — so let’s dive into the highs and the lows.

8. Muppets from Space (1999)

Hey, A Movie!: Overview

And we start with the very low. The fundamentals of the Muppets are absent in Muppets from Space. On first blush, it might seem like the premise is a can’t-miss: what if Gonzo wasn’t just a “whatever”, but an actual alien? After suffering a miniature existential crisis, Gonzo decides to figure out his own past, learning that he may have arrived on Earth from parts unknown. Gonzo’s journey brings him in conflict with a mysterious government organization whose leader is a self-described “paranoid delusional psychopath” who wants to find proof of extraterrestrials to justify his…paranoid delusional psychopathy.

The consensus is that Muppets from Space is a nadir for the Muppets in film, and sometimes, the consensus is right. From the early moments, where we see the characters come together to do a song-and-dance number scored to “Brick House” (Yes, that “Brick House”), it’s clear that whoever was making the creative decisions here straight-up did not understand why the Muppets are so charming. There are no original songs in the film, and trying to explore Gonzo’s past is inherently uninteresting. The answer to the question “Is Gonzo an alien?” is itself a question: “Who cares?”

Someday, We’ll Find It: Signature Moment

One of the few bright spots in Muppets from Space is when Miss Piggy (voiced by Frank Oz, but performed on set by another Muppeteer) has to fight off a black-suited government agent played by Josh Charles, of Sports Night and The Good Wife. It’s probably the only genuinely funny setpiece in the film, in part because Charles appears to be having the time of his life getting thrashed by Piggy.

The Standard Rich and Famous Contract: Best Quote

“I think before you answer that question, you’d be better be real clear on the final destination of that finger.” Rizzo the Rat lets this rejoinder fly when the head bad guy (Jeffrey Tambor) puts on a white glove, holds up his finger, and asks to put it on Gonzo…somewhere. (Don’t worry, he just wants to grab Gonzo’s nose.) Rizzo’s line is an oasis in this cinematic desert.

Have You Tried Hare Krishna?: Best Running Gag

Just as there aren’t any songs in this film, there aren’t any good running gags either. A true disappointment.

There’s An Informed Opinion: Conclusion

Muppets from Space is, putting it lightly and briefly, the only genuinely bad film on this list. Avoid at all costs.

7. The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

Hey, A Movie!: Overview

Though the Muppet crew is reunited for this film, in which they head off to the Big Apple after graduating college, there’s something missing here. It’s a sweet enough film, but the problem is that the Muppets, at their best, aren’t always sweet. Here’s a film where, at one point, we see what the characters would have been like as infants. That fantasy scene inspired the eventual Muppet Babies show, and while it suggests this as a more-than-appropriate film for the younger set, it doesn’t have the same liveliness as previous Muppet movies.

Where the first two Muppet movies — which are much higher on this list — felt cheeky and anarchic and playful, The Muppets Take Manhattan feels safer. It’s not outright bad, in part because hearing Jim Henson and Frank Oz sing songs like “Together Again” is enjoyable enough. But the Muppets excel at being better than just enjoyable enough, making this 1984 film something of a muted affair.

Someday, We’ll Find It: Signature Moment

“Together Again” is the kind of song that owes a debt to “Rainbow Connection”, but still works. It’s earnest and wistful and sincere, and altogether charming because there is something genuinely gratifying about seeing Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, and Miss Piggy…well, together again. (This would be the last time Henson, Oz, and Dave Goelz all appeared together in a Muppet movie, making it extra-poignant.)

The Standard Rich and Famous Contract: Best Quote

“No doubt about it, you’ve got amnesia.” Of course, Kermit does have amnesia, but his doctor (Linda Lavin) makes this pronouncement after fiddling with Kermit’s arms and legs. It’s the right kind of goofy, deadpan line that this film doesn’t have enough of.

Have You Tried Hare Krishna?: Best Running Gag

As a sign of trouble, there’s really…not a great running gag in this film. The anarchy of the earlier films is absent when it comes to vaudeville-style repeated jokes, which is a shame.

There’s An Informed Opinion: Conclusion

On one hand, it’s great to see the original Muppet crew together again. But The Muppets Take Manhattan is a lot more saccharine and sentimental than the Muppets ever should be.

6. The Muppets (2011)

Hey, A Movie!: Overview

This 2011 revival of the Muppets was their first film in over a decade, and exists in part as a referendum on the characters. When they band together to save their old theater, the Muppets have to convince a lot of people that anyone will even care enough to watch a celebrity-filled telethon. That core argument ought to have been resolved before the film was released — it exists, thus there’s clearly some audience for the Muppets. That said, the real issue with this movie (which is perfectly decent) is that the Muppets are supporting players in their own film.

Jason Segel, who had employed puppetry in the Judd Apatow-produced comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, stars as Gary, an ultimate Muppet fanboy with a brother, Walter, who is himself a Muppet. They learn of the Muppet Theater being set for demolition and try to get our heroes back together. But the journey in the film is really about Gary and Walter, who are two halves of a fairly dull straight man. The final act of the film, a kind of recreation of The Muppet Show on the big screen, is the highlight, but it takes a while to get there.

Someday, We’ll Find It: Signature Moment

The conflict of this movie is boiled down in one great musical number, “Man or Muppet”, in which Gary and Walter sing separate parts of the song, wondering about their own identities. Gary imagines a Muppet version of himself singing back, as Walter sees himself as a human (Jim Parsons in a charming cameo). In offering a fun song that’s both straightforward and slyly satirical, “Man or Muppet” is as good as it gets here in terms of focusing on the appeal of the Muppets.

The Standard Rich and Famous Contract: Best Quote

“Maniacal laugh…maniacal laugh!” Casting Chris Cooper as the odious oil man trying to rob the Muppets of their theater feels especially inspired when he unveils his evil plan and isn’t even able to actually laugh maniacally. Having the character basically read stage directions, but do so in an evil-sounding way, is all the funnier with the craggy-faced Cooper doing it.

Have You Tried Hare Krishna?: Best Running Gag

The weirdest new addition to the film is the Moopets. No, not the Muppets. The Moopets, AKA a group of second-run characters who look an awful lot like the Muppets but are just a rip-off. As Fozzie says, “They terrify me.”

There’s An Informed Opinion: Conclusion

The Muppets is moderately charming, though with hindsight, it spends more time than is necessary or appropriate on its human characters than on…y’know, the Muppets.

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