This list is purely opinionated, and not factual in any way. Last edited on July 24th, 2015. Tell me how you’d rank the MCU films below, and I’ll use it in an upcoming post.
12. The Incredible Hulk
Putting the Incredible Hulk this low on the list is a bit sad, because it’s actually many times better than the first Hulk film by director Ang Lee. Edward Norton did a superb job of recreating a Bruce Banner we could have the utmost sympathy for. Unfortunately, this film’s stamp on the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the weakest. The only reprised characters are Bruce Banner himself (played by yet another actor) and General Ross (who shows up in Captain America: Civil War). Despite having an engaging villain, it’s probably the most forgettable of Marvel’s films.
11. Iron Man 2
With the second Iron Man film following in the steps of its predecessor, one would think this would be higher on the list. But ultimately the story was less compelling, and the villain even worse. Iron Man 2 is the first film to really start pushing the greater cinematic universe, which was very cool. It also introduced Black Widow, as played by Scarlett Johansson, to the moviegoing audience. But it couldn’t save itself from being sophomoric, with little else to offer.
10. Thor: The Dark World
The Phase 2 sequel of Thor added a boatload to the mix. It introduced us to all seven of the Norse realms at long last, and the battles waged within were truly epic. We got a glimpse at our second Infinity Stone, the aether, and that will have a ton of ramifications in the years to come. But despite putting an unseen level of darkness onto the heroes of the MCU, Thor: the Dark World also claimed the MCU’s worst villain to date, as well as the least positive critical response.
9. Captain America: The First Avenger
The First Avenger sees the MCU in its infancy for most of the film. Much of the movie takes place in the 40s during World War 2, and this is where we see the transformation of scrawny teenager Steve Rogers become the heroic and morally stable Captain America, thanks to a little something called the Super Soldier Serum. It’s rare for this to happen, but Captain America: The First Avenger is one of the only films to actually become less entertaining once he gets his abilities, thanks to nearly an hour of him doing zilch with the war effort. And although this was clearly an homage to the origins of the comic book character, it shouldn’t take up so much screentime. This drastically hurt the second act of the film, which is a shame because the first act included one of the greatest origin stories.
8. Avengers: Age of Ultron
This movie was huge. And it encompassed so much. We got to see a redemption for Hawkeye, the introduction of three new Avengers, and the fall of nearly everyone else. The villainous Ultron, although fantastic, wasn’t exactly hard to defeat, and his countless minions fell like flies. This movie suffers in the fact that it was filmed to be a 3 and a half hour film, but over a third of its content was left on the cutting room floor, leaving the film disjointed at best and confusing at worst.
7. Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 takes Tony Stark in a new, self-weary direction. After the attack on Manhattan in the Avengers, Tony is all over the place mentally. A new threat looms in the face of the so-called Mandarin, and the Extremis project that turns the worst of thugs into downright superpowered threats – the explosive kind. The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley, turns out to be none other than a cracked-out, has been actor, a decision that took some guts on the Marvel production, as it’s a decision that made a lot of fanboys very upset. Have no fear fanboys, the Mandarin will likely have a bigger role in future films. This film makes the stakes for Tony very personal, as Pepper’s safety is put on the line.
Marvel’s biggest surprise yet comes in it’s smallest package. Ant-Man takes burglar Scott Lang on a mission to save the world, all while trying to save his image enough so that he can see his daughter again. Paul Rudd is an excellent choice for the role, delivering just enough quirky fun to leave you satisfied and wondering what the company can cook up next. The villain’s delusional state likely comes from his exposure to his version of the Pym particle, and his intent to militarize the concept could have seen incredibly dangerous results for earth. The film introduces us to the quantum realm which we’ll surely see more of in films to come. That, and the injection of just enough MCU spice, a new Avenger included into the mix, make Ant-Man one of the better Marvel films in a while. Sadly, and perhaps expectedly, it didn’t do as great as its contemporaries at the box office.
Marvel’s first film to explore the more cosmic aspect of their universe, Thor is also one of the most memorable. Between smashing cups in diners and smashing Frost Giants on Jotunheim, Thor is one of Marvel’s more beloved characters, particularly for his brutish barbarism. We also receive one of Marvel’s greatest villains, Loki, the conniving, backstabbing, behind-the-scenes trickster. He is everything Thor isn’t, but they share an unbreakable bond in that they are brothers. Tragically, Thor loses his ability to wield Mjolnir, his mighty hammer. He must learn to humble himself in order to reclaim his right to be considered the Son of Odin. This film also introduces Hawkeye into the mix, although sadly his role was a tad too short.
4. Iron Man
The film that birthed the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a big bang, is also quite a miracle. It was the first hugely successful superhero film not based on one of Marvel or DC’s A-list characters or teams. It ushered in a new, faithful following for Marvel-produced films, and is still to this day one of the series’ best. Not only is the tale a redemption story for Tony Stark, but also for actor Robert Downey Jr. at the time. And now both Iron Man and Downey are A-listers in their own right. This is perhaps Marvel’s best standalone story, as it has very little in the way of external MCU easter eggs. Aside from that, a great villain, excellent direction, and a supporting cast that gelled with Downey’s ridiculous acting style, puts Iron Man all the way up at number 4.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
This political thriller redefined what it meant to be a superhero flick, and was the perfect side adventure for Cap to embark on. We got an excellent team up with Black Widow, as the two are on the run, all the while trying to track down the Winter Soldier. The Winter Soldier turned out to be Bucky Barnes, an old friend of Steve Rogers from before the war, making his sudden behavior all the more heart wrenching. On top of that we see Marvel’s biggest twist yet with the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the unexpected return of Hydra. These ramifications are still being felt in recent movies, as well as heavily influencing Marvel’s television universe. The direction of Joe and Anthony Russo is some of the best seen, and is a major reason they’ll return again in future installments. This is Marvel’s most emotionally compromising films, and deserves its place in the top 3.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
Forget not being an A-list comic book title. Guardians of the Galaxy was a relative unknown even for people who regularly read comics. And all of a sudden, before the film even arrived, it became a household name. And upon arriving in theaters, Guardians went on to become an instant classic, searing its imprint onto pop culture consciousness for years to come. This vagabond team of rejects and scum become Marvel’s second greatest team, travelling through space and cracking jokes at each corner of the galaxy. Guardians of the Galaxy not only helped affirm to the audience that Marvel always know what they’re doing, it has allowed the company to risk putting lesser known franchises onto the big screen, it’s redefined what it means to be a superhero movie (again), and it’s shown that space operas aren’t dead. Guardians of the Galaxy is also a highly important film in the scheme of Marvel’s master plan. It taught the audience what the Infinity Stones were, how dangerous they can be in the wrong hands, introduced Thanos in something other than a credits scene, and showed us the greatest glimpse of Marvel’s cosmic realm. I am groot.
1. The Avengers
What other film could really be at number one? While none of the films above were outright failures, critically or financially, Avengers is the most critically acclaimed and financially successful of the batch. It’s the first film in history to bring together 4 highly successful franchises and prove to the world that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a force to be reckoned with. And on top of that, it was the pinnacle of awesome, the (almost) perfect blend of character action, and the biggest threat the world had yet seen (up to that point). The direction by Joss Whedon is one to applaud, and the balance of storytelling never felt choppy. Never a dull moment, this film is often considered the greatest superhero film ever created, on par with the such greats as The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2. Even the seemingly minor threat of Loki, who was truly only the face of the forthcoming evil, was enough to keep us at the edge of our seats. The Avengers has great re-watch value, and promises even bigger things from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the future.
How did I do? Does my list match yours? Agree or disagree, I wanna know. Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.
For more Marvel goodness, check out some of my recent posts: