Can you believe it’s already been ten years since we were first introduced, to Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Tony Stark in Iron Man. Who would’ve thought back then, that we would be anticipating the climax to an entire cinematic universe of films all these years later. Avengers: Infinity War opens in cinemas worldwide this week. So there is better time for me to rank the previous eighteen films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To refresh my mind before I see Infinity War, I spent the past two weeks rewatching every film in the MCU thus far. So this is my definitive ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Let’s get started.
18. Iron Man 2 (2010).
After the surprise success of the first Iron Man film, Marvel quickly greenlit a sequel. This sequel had a lot to live up to due to the quality of the first film, Unfortunately a number of things held this film back from reaching the heights of the first. The character development of Tony Stark is much weaker this time round, attempts were made to shine a light upon Tony’s relationship with his father Howard, but none of these moments worked that well for me. The story overall is really bland and unfocused, it ultimately feels completely irrelevant and pointless, outside of introducing some new characters such as Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow. Aside from the story, the other big weakness of Iron Man 2 is the extremely forgettable villain, Whiplash. I find Mickey Rourke’s performance to be rather bizarre but not in a good way. The character never felt menacing or even interesting for that matter. His backstory and motivations felt rather rushed, and idea of his fathers history with Howard Stark felt convenient and shoehorned in, instead of compelling. The film isn’t a complete disaster thanks to another charismatic performance from Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, also the Monaco Grand Prix sequence is fairly exciting even if most of the visual effects don’t hold up that well today. Overall Iron Man 2 is a really dull film to watch that I simply don’t find any enjoyment in watching, that’s why it’s my least favourite film in the MCU, but also what I believe to be the worst film too.
17. The Incredible Hulk (2008).
This film is like the disowned sibling of the MCU. Many people ignore it’s existence because Bruce Banner was portrayed by Ed Norton, instead of Mark Ruffalo who we are used to seeing portray the character now. Upon it’s release I remember loving this film, but after watching it recently it’s clear to see that the film has many flaws. Those flaws include things such as the stiff chemistry between Ed Norton and Liv Tyler, which makes their on screen relationship not feel genuine at all. Another flaw is the really dated visual effects, that aren’t that great to at look at now that we’ve seen the Hulk brought to life with better motion capture. Despite those things the film still has it’s fair share of entertaining set pieces, like the Favela chase at the start of the film. The overall pace is fairly brisk, especially when compared to the meandering pace of Ang Lee’s Hulk from 2003. So even when it does start to get a little boring, it isn’t that long before it picks back up again. The biggest problem when you watch this film now, is it becomes very apparent that the film is nowhere near as strong, as most of the comic book films we’ve received since it’s release.
16. Iron Man 3 (2013).
This was the first film to kickstart Phase Two of the MCU after the release of The Avengers, and don’t get me wrong I certainly like how Shane Black took the events from the end of that film, and used it to showcase Tony Stark battling with PTSD. I think it was a smart way of doing something different with the character, but what could’ve been a great character story was immensely let down by a narrative that got too caught up in other plot threads. I believe the attempt at implementing elements from the Extremis comic arc really hurt this film, because it took the attention away from Tony’s mental journey as well as the more bleak tone the film was initially attempting to follow. Also the visuals effects used to showcase the Extremis virus were really poor, it became a constant distraction whenever the bright orange effects were on screen. The villain of the film was nothing more than a standard bad guy to me. The attempt at linking Aldrich Killian’s motives into Tony’s past felt lazy, but also a little repetitive and it was clear from the very beginning that he was the antagonist of the story. As for the infamous twist with The Mandarin, I wasn’t a fan of it back in 2013 and I’m still not now. It’s just too silly for my liking which is a shame because up until the point of the reveal, I thought Ben Kingsley had a very commanding screen presence that was effective. The two highlights of the film are easily the destruction of Tony’s Malibu mansion and the free falling rescue sequence, but as great as those sequences are, they can”t save Iron Man 3 from being this low on my list.
15. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015).
This film has a very entertaining opening sequence. It showcases all of the heroes in battle in yet another one of Joss Whedon’s long take shots, this time ending with a superb side profile shot of all of the characters, that looked like it was ripped straight from a comic book panel. The character chemistry and dialogue exchanges were still as fun as they were in the first film, and I’d say the film is an enjoyable viewing experience. Up until the fifty minute mark that is. From that point onwards the film becomes really messy. Many of the characters start having dreams and premonitions, which just make the middle portion of the film feel rather jumbled and unfocused. Some of the themes the script attempts to highlight in the first act are interesting, but they could’ve been explored far better if the film didn’t get sidetracked by other things. The Hulkbuster battle didn’t entertain me that much and Ultron had great potential as a villain, but that potential was unfulfilled. He is a very unsatisfying villain, the trailers made him look like a menacing threat, whereas the film himself made the character too comedic and whiny. This is certainly a disappointing sequel, especially when compared to the successful execution of the first film.
14. Thor: The Dark World (2013).
This sequel is the film that disappointed me the most in the MCU. I was anticipating it with plenty of excitement, yet the finished product is so painfully average that I remember leaving the cinema so unhappy back in 2013. Without a doubt the best elements of this film are the great action set pieces, as well as the fantastic visual effects and stellar production design, such as the excellent sets and costumes. Everything else is pretty flat. The narrative wasn’t engaging, it felt as if the sole purpose of this story was just to introduce an another infinity stone. The villain was as one note and bland as they come. This is one of the reasons I was so disappointed because Malekith looked like a formidable foe judging by the films marketing, but he ended up being the opposite of that. Allow me to take a bit of time to give a special shoutout to Kat Dennings, because her character is probably the most irritatingly unfunny character in the entire MCU. Every scene that gave her lines of dialogue was a drag. That character should’ve been cut out of the film entirely.
13. Thor (2011).
This film was the first major test for Marvel. They had to introduce Norse mythology, magic and Gods into the previously grounded universe. Thankfully Kenneth Branagh succeeded in bringing Thor and the rest of Asgard into this cinematic universe in a way which felt believable. One of the things I like the most about this film is the Shakespearean approach Kenneth took, when telling this story of two brothers clashing with one another, in order to impress their father for the throne. It helped make this very different element of the MCU, feel comfortably familiar from a dramatic point of view with the characters. The battle sequence in the first act between Thor and the Frost Giants is a very underrated sequence that still remains great to watch. The visual effects and cinematography were also great, and the fish out of water comedic moments with Thor adapting to earth were quite amusing. The main bulk of the issues I have with this film, almost entirely revolve around some of the sequences on earth, with the criminally underused Natalie Portman and company. I felt some of the scenes involving them on earth dragged out for far too long. The first Thor film is a film not too many people mention nowadays, but we have to remember that we have this film to thank, for introducing us to the cosmic side of the MCU that we are now so accustomed to.
12. Ant-Man (2015).
I found this film to be a nice little departure from the main films in the MCU. Instead of being a part of the larger MCU storyline, Ant-Man is it’s own contained story that still features a handful of fun references, to the larger universe the film exists within. The cast is great, Paul Rudd is a really likeable lead, his relationship with his daughter serves as a believable motive for his actions in the film. The film is rather funny in certain scenes especially those that feature Michael Peña and the cinematography and action set pieces were creative and unique. The only real downside to the film was the villain who didn’t feel very three dimensional, but despite that I must say I do love the Yellow Jacket suit.
11. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017).
When I walked out of the cinema after watching Vol.2 I said that I liked it more than first film, and that I found it to be even funnier than the first film. Upon watching it for the second time I’ve come to the conclusion that I actually prefer Vol.1 overall. That doesn’t mean I dislike the sequel. James Gunn delved into themes of family and childhood with this instalment, and explored how each characters experiences have affected them over time. It was a great direction to take this film in, because it gave the audience even more of a reason to view the Guardians as emotionally layered characters, that we should care about. The visual effects and production design is beautiful and the climatic action sequence is high on spectacle. Whilst I like Kurt Russell’s Ego I think more work could’ve been done to cut back on the expository dialogue that he is given, also the decision to split the Guardians up for most of the film whilst understandable, did take away from the fun of the overall film a little.
10. Thor: Ragnarok (2017).
When I put my issues aside, Thor: Ragnarok is still an incredibly fun film. I do believe it often tries too hard to be funny and the humour doesn’t always land. I also don’t like how it doesn’t treat the potential destruction of Asgard, with the level of drama and seriousness that it ought to have. Despite all that, Taika Waititi’s stylistic flair is infectious and highly entertaining. Who would’ve thought back in 2008 that nine years later, Marvel would release a Thor film that is an unapologetically retro 80’s adventure film, that features elements of the Planet Hulk story, as well as the great Jeff Goldblum. You simply couldn’t have predicted this.
09. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017).
After the crowd pleasing introduction to Tom Holland’s iteration of Spider-Man in Civil War, Homecoming suddenly became more anticipated by fans than it previously was. What we got was a high school teen comedy, with Spider-Man thrown into the mix. The strength of the younger cast really helped make this film feel fresh and unique when compared to the previous Spider-Man films that have been released. Michael Keaton was perfectly cast as The Vulture and I think he is one of the MCU’s best villains to date. His motivations and the purpose for his actions are clear, and the third act surprise when we learn who his daughter is was a great shock. The scene that then followed as he drives Peter and his daughter to prom is the hightlight of the entire film, only Keaton could’ve made the character so terrifying through a simple dialogue exchange. The main theme of the musical score composed by Michael Giacchino is among my favourites in the MCU, it perfectly suits the tone of the film and this version of Spider-Man.
08. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).
I remember how excited I was when I found out Marvel were going to adapt the Guardians of the Galaxy to the big screen, it was a big risk for them but boy did it pay off! I still think this is easily one of Marvel’s best looking films to date, the colour palette is vivid and there’s always something interesting and detailed to look at on screen. The entire visual aesthetic of the film is visually arresting. In this one film James Gunn successfully introduced and brought all these characters together, whilst simultaneously expanding the cosmic aspect of the MCU even further. Unfortunately the villain Ronan the Accuser is a one note villain who we didn’t learn that much about. Lee Pace’s performance was so serious that it didn’t really fit within this more lighthearted space adventure, but that still wasn’t much of a hinderance for a film that is as enjoyable to watch as this.
07. Iron Man (2008).
The film that started it all still remains to be one of the better origin stories that the MCU has to offer. I don’t need to say how great Robert Downey Jr. is, we all know how he embodied and became Tony Stark. What I love the most about this film is the character arc Tony goes through in this one story. Despite this film taking a shot at creating a a larger universe, it’s still own story with a satisfying beginning, middle and end. It’s a less conventional origin story which also made the hero very vulnerable, which created great stakes for the rest of the narrative. The action set pieces are awesome and the rock soundtrack fits the film impeccably. If it wasn’t for the strength of this first film, maybe I wouldn’t be here ten years later ranking the eighteen films in this one universe.
06. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).
I have only seen this film twice. Once at a pre release screening back in 2011 and the other time was just the other week. I remember walking out of the screening disappointed and not that impressed with the film. Ever since then I’ve had it in my head that Captain America: The First Avenger was one of the weaker films in the MCU. It was then a massive surprise when I rewatched the film because my opinion had completely changed. I throughly enjoyed this film and it’s now among my favourites. The entire film has very adventurous feel to it, which is certainly helped by Alan Silvestri’s terrific score. I love the WWII setting and think it was utilised well within the story. Our introduction to Steve Rogers and his principles and values was very important, and this film absolutely got it right. So once he becomes a super solider we truly get behind him and root for him on this journey he goes on, but also we understand why he is doing what he does. I think Chris Evans performance in this film doesn’t get enough credit, and Hugo Weaving’s performance as the Red Skull was a suitably menacing and enjoyable one.
05. Captain America: Civil War (2016).
There are many factors as to why this film works so well. First of all it fractures the team of Avengers, by utilising past events from previous films as well as the opening sequence of this one. The fact that we have grown to love these characters over the years, makes this central conflict of the story very compelling to the viewer. The film smartly makes you contemplate who you agree with and which side you would personally take. Both sides of the argument are presented so well that I found my stance on the situation shifting back and forth, between the two sides through out the film. Layered on top of this conflict is the intrigue of one of the Winter Solider’s assassinations, and how that has impacted Tony’s life without him even realising it. The development of this plot thread culminates in an emotionally riveting confrontation between Iron Man, Captain America and The Winter Solider. Amongst all of this chaos we have who I believe to be one of the MCU’s most under appreciated villains, Helmut Zemo. We also get a fantastic superhero battle royale at an airport, and of course this film gave us a well executed introduction to Black Panther and Spider-Man.
04. The Avengers (2012).
This is the film we were initially promised during the post credits scene at the end of the first Iron Man. This was an event blockbuster on a level rarely seen but what was so impressive was that Joss Whedon managed to pull it all off. The writing is excellent and the well orchestrated scenes of dialogue interactions between the heroes, are among the most entertaining moments of the film. All the personalities are well balanced and played off each other for maximum impact. You could say the story lacks depth, but it doesn’t really require it. This film put the characters first and is all the better for it. The musical score is suitably heroic and grand, the visual effects and cinematography are superb. The final battle in New York City still gives me goosebumps, seeing the 360 shot of the Avengers assembled generates the same feeling of awe now in 2018, as it did back in 2012. It marks the culmination of a very ambitious vision that we once thought would never occur on screen. I can’t talk about this film without mentioning the exhilarating long take sequence, that tracks all the heroes through New York as they fight to save the world. That sequence might just be the single greatest example of a comic book panel come to life on film.
03. Doctor Strange (2016).
Here we have the most underrated film in the MCU. I love this film. I didn’t expect much from it and I was left stunned by the time the credits rolled. It features wholly unique action set pieces that have outstanding visual effects, that impeccably bring Steve Ditko’s mind bending artwork to life. Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast as Stephen Strange. He portrays Stephen’s arrogant tendencies whilst still managing to make the character likeable, and his arc through out the film is great. He starts the film being incredibly self obsessed and ends the film, caring about the world and everyone in it so much, that he was willing to sacrifice himself going through the pain of death over and over again in order to protect the world. Many people criticise the films third act, especially his confrontation with Dormammu. I loved that scene, it was completely subversive of the genres typical conventions and it served to complete his character arc. Something that also deserves a lot of credit is how the film develops Mordo’s descent into villainy, it’s terrific. There’s pretty much a super villain origin story woven into Strange’s hero origin story. We get to witness first hand what has caused a shift in Mordo’s actions and I really hope Marvel bring him back for a sequel. Also I need to give another shoutout to Michael Giacchino’s score, which I think is equally underrated just like this film is.
02. Black Panther (2018).
This film surpassed every expectation I had. It is a culturally significant blockbuster that balanced themes of politics and oppression with finesse. It’s a celebration of African Culture on a scale never done before, and I will never forget what it was like to witness it for the first time. I had tears in my eyes as we entered Wakanda for the first time, seeing my race and culture represented like this was emotional and special. The entire cast were fantastic, it’s one of the best ensemble casts I’ve seen in years. As for the villain. Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger is in my opinion the best villain in the MCU. He’s cold, calculated, compelling but above all else he is somewhat justified in his beliefs. He is the perfect adversary of T’Challa in this story of him becoming king. He’s an instrumental factor in T’Challa’s development, and is the Yin to the heroes Yang like most exceptional villains are.
01. Captain America: The Winter Solider (2014).
So here we are, my favourite film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Captain America: The Winter Solider. An excellent political thriller, that just happens to feature a superhero. From a narrative standpoint this film is enthralling. We get to witness how Steve is dealing with living in the modern world, and how his ideologies differ to the governments and even Nick Fury’s ideologies. There’s some wonderful character moments such as Steve reliving the memories of his past, through looking at an exhibition of himself at the Smithsonian. Another great character moment comes when Steve is interacting with his former love Peggy Carter, who is now old, hospitalised and suffering with Alzheimer’s. These smaller moments are really effective at developing Steve in subtle ways. I also particularly like the organic bond and mutual respect that is formed, between Steve and Sam right at the beginning of the film during the sequence of them both jogging. It’s nice to see how that random encounter was the beginning of a long friendship. Now most people remember this film for the major revelation that shook up the entire MCU at that point. How this twist was crafted and handled is just another element as to why this film is my favourite. The Winter Solider himself is another reason, he’s a dangerous adversary for Cap to deal with, and whenever he was on screen you felt as if things could take a turn for the worse very quickly. The ease in which he able to almost end Nick Fury’s life and the fact that he caught Cap’s shield as if it were a frisbee, helped showcase that he is a great threat to even the Super Solider himself. The revelation that he is Steve’s best friend Bucky, only amplified the emotional stakes between Captain America and The Winter Solider. This is the first film in the MCU that truly tried to tackle a specific genre, and implement it within the confines of the comic book film genre. At the time of it’s release that made this film a welcome breath of fresh air, and for me it still stands as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s greatest film.
So that’s my ranking of the MCU. I wonder where Infinity War will end up on this list.