From Marvel’s worst to Marvel’s best.
In anticipation of Captain America: Civil War tonight, I thought it might be fun to rank all of the films in the MCU. While I am a huge MCU fan, not every film has been great. With 12 movies under your belt, not all of them are going to be winners. And some of them most definitely are. I know many people are going to disagree with many of my rankings, but they are my rankings. With that in mind, let’s get started with what is personally my least favorite:
12. Thor: The Dark World
Without a doubt the worst film in the MCU (in my opinion), and the closest to a bad film Marvel has produced. The film rides the fine line of mediocrity due to some baffling creative decisions that were made in this film.
My biggest issue with the Thor franchise is the decision to stubbornly focus on Earth. Thor should be the franchise that is the biggest change of pace for the MCU, yet it’s the one that feels the most formulaic and generic, while not really knowing what to do with itself. Too much time in Thor: The Dark World is spent with the annoying human supporting cast of Jane, Darcy, and Eric Selvig, and not near enough time on the actual interesting parts of the Thor mythos: Loki, Sif, Heimdall, Asgard itself, Odin, the Dark Elves, literally any one of the other nine realms besides Midgard.
But no, we spend too much time on boring Earth, with boring Darcy, doing boring things. And that’s Thor: The Dark World’s biggest problem! It’s just so..boring. Thor’s love subplot is boring due to the complete lack of chemistry between the characters. Their relationship seems forced and I don’t buy into Thor falling for Jane. Plus, while I am usually a fan of Natalie Portman, she is obviously phoning in her performance in Thor: The Dark World, and it doesn’t do her character any favors.
Marvel has always had issues with their villains, but Malekith is their biggest offender. He is the worst villain Marvel has put onto screen. Neither his evil plan nor his motivations make much sense, he has so little screen time that he barely makes any sort of impression, and he is easily killed off. It was a complete waste of Christopher Eccleston’s talents, and the waste of a potentially cool villain.
The thing is, even with all this negative stuff I’ve mentioned, there is still some good stuff in Thor: The Dark World that just emphasizes the franchise’s potential that is being wasted. Chris Hemsworth is a fantastic Thor, and he really shines in this film. He plays the role much more humble and subdued than in the first Thor, demonstrating the real character growth he went through.
Thor’s relationship with Loki is still the best part of the Thor films, and Loki almost always steals the show. He is tied with another villain as my favorite of the MCU, and love any chance to see him on screen. Thor: The Dark World had the best banter between the two brothers, so that was fun to see. Frigga’s death scene is beautiful, and is my favorite scene in the whole film. I just wish the rest of the movie could keep that emotional investment that that scene had.
So it’s not all bad, but it’s certainly mediocre. Oh well, nowhere to but up from here!
11. The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk certainly is the red headed step child of the MCU. It was only the second entry into the franchise, and as a standalone film it’s pretty enjoyable, yet as a part of the MCU it’s a weak link.
The film acts as a sort of pseudo sequel to the Ang Lee Hulk, in what at the time was very confusing. Why The Incredible Hulk chose pick up where Hulk ended remains a mystery to me, and served only to confuse general audiences who thought it was a continuation of the original film. Hell, I still meet people who think Hulk is in the MCU.
Being one of the earliest films in the MCU, the film has a few continuity issues. Edward Norton being the biggest one. Bruce Banner was played by the very talented Norton in The Incredible Hulk, but was eventually replaced by Mark Ruffalo in Avengers. Personally, this really messes with my head canon a lot, and always bugs me whenever I think about The Incredible Hulk. The film just feels so distant and unconnected (bar General Ross appearing in Civil War) from the rest of the MCU, that I hardly treat it as part of it.
Other than that, really the only negative thing I have to say about The Incredible Hulk is that it’s just so unremarkable. Besides the effects of the Hulk, there is nothing I can really overly praise about the film. Everything was just fine. Acting was fine, directing was fine, action was fine, but that’s about it. To me, The Incredible Hulk never really differentiated itself or made any real mark, and because of that the film remains low on my list.
This marks the end of the films I’m just meh about, let’s move on to films I like!
10. Iron Man 2
Sometimes I feel I’m one of the few who doesn’t think Iron Man 2 is a bad film. Yes, it’s nowhere near the quality of the first Iron Man, yet I was still able to have a lot of fun with it.
The film isn’t near as tight as the original, there are more plot lines, more villains, and more set up for The Avengers. While the main villain, Whiplash, isn’t near a good of a villain as The Dude’s Iron Monger, his short comings were made up for with Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer. I never felt threatened by Hammer or thought he was an effective villain, be he sure was entertaining as a wanna be Stark. Rockwell has such a natural charisma that I felt he was able to salvage that character, and is one of the reasons I enjoy the film as much as I do.
Iron Man 2 also features one of the other biggest continuity lapses in the MCU, as Terrence Howard is replaced by Don Cheadle as War Machine. While this change in casting does bug me when I re-watch the first Iron Man, it was for the best. Cheadle fits through role a thousand times better than Howard ever did, and has much better chemistry with Robert Downey Jr.
After re-watching the film, I have to say that the amount of set up for The Avengers has been highly exaggerated. Besides Coulson mentioning traveling to New Mexico so he can make an appearance in Thor, and the appearance of Captain America’s shield, the rest of the Avengers elements were a pretty natural fit. Following up on Nick Fury’s Avenger initiative felt natural in Iron Man 2, and I didn’t mind the inclusion of Black Widow to the story.
While the film is uneven, meanders at times, and has a fairly weak villain, I still found a lot of enjoyment in Iron Man 2, and remember it quite fondly.
Thor originally was a lot lower on my list. On my first watch I thought the film was pretty unremarkable and forgettable. Originally this was probably the lowest of my phase 1 films, but something clicked when I re-watched it.
I appreciated everything in this film so much more. I loved Kenneth Branagh’s directing style and over use of dutch angles, Thor’s character arc somehow become more compelling, and the central conflict between Thor and Loki felt even more impactful than before.
I enjoyed the hell out of my re-watch of Thor, and feel it is very under appreciated. It’s got some great actions sequences with the frost giants, beautiful looking Asgardian vistas, and an interesting family drama core. There is so much that Thor get’s right that just makes The Dark World look worse in comparison.
The Earth cast still takes away from the film yes, but not near to the extent as The Dark World. They still take away from all of the interesting stuff that actually occurs in the Thor films, but they almost felt like a necessity in the first one. Thor was still pretty unknown when his first film came out, so the Earth cast served to almost ground the character, emphasize the fish out of water story that the film plays with, and overall help make Thor a more relateable character. The execution of the characters could have been better, but they didn’t sink this film like they did The Dark World.
Hemsworth and Portman still have absolutely no chemistry, however.
8. Iron Man 3
Alright, this marks the point in my list where from here on out, every film is one I love. Yes, even Iron Man 3.
After the general disappointment of Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3 was a breath of fresh air. It felt remarkably different from the past two films in terms of tone and themes the film was dealing with. I really liked the PTSD Tony had to deal with due to the fallout from The Avengers, and I thought The Mandarin was a really compelling villain, that is until the big controversial reveal.
Now, I don’t hate the fact that the Mandarin was a fake out. I don’t need the movies to be 100% accurate to the comic books, so turning the Mandarin character on his head didn’t bother me. I actually loved the twist, it surprised the hell out of me and was hilarious. My one problem with the twist is that they replaced what I thought was an interesting villain with one that was a total bore. Ugh, Killian is almost on par with Malekith with villains I could not care less about.
Other than that, I have no real issues with Iron Man 3. I thought writer/director Shane Black brought a lot to Iron Man 3, and helped really differentiate the final film in the trilogy. Iron Man 3 firmly feels like a Shane Black film, and that’s what I love about it. The movie acts as almost a buddy cop movie between Rhodey and Tony at some points, and just has this wit that feels slightly different than many other of the MCU films.
I don’t care that there wasn’t a ton of Iron Man suit action in the film, because Iron Man is so much more than a metal suit. As a character study of Tony Stark, Iron Man 3 was a great conclusion to his personal arc that was started in Iron Man, and acted as a great character transition to where is is in Age of Ultron.
7. Captain America: The First Avenger
One of my main complains about the MCU (which Marvel seems to be addressing with their upcoming slate) is that at times they can begin to feel samey, stylistically. Well, that certainly isn’t true with Captain America: The First Avenger. In my opinion The First Avenger is the most unique out of all the MCU films, in the fact that film is a legitimate period piece. It’s a pulpy, World War 2 action film that just happens to feature a hero dressed in red and blue armor.
It’s cheesy, it’s fun, and it has heart. The First Avenger felt like a love letter to classic Marvel comics, and so perfectly captured what makes Steve Rogers stand out from the rest of the Avengers. I mostly just have good things to say about The First Avenger, and I could go on endlessly about what this film gets right. It has one of the better villains of the MCU in Red Skull, has some fun WW2 action, and acts as a perfect introduction to Captain America and his overall character arc.
Setting the first film during World War 2 was a ballsy move by Marvel, and it really paid off for them. It makes the man out of time aspect of Cap’s character much more effective, and subtlety sets up so many game changing elements in the MCU, such as: Hydra, The Tesseract, the super soldier serum (which eventually leads to the Hulk), the origins of the founding members of SHIELD, and the relationship between Cap and Bucky, which seems to be at the center of the conflict of Civil War.
I have my nitpicks about The First Avenger (such severely under using the Howling Commandos) but for the most part, The First Avenger is a knock out first entry into the Captain America trilogy.
6. Iron Man
What is there to say that hasn’t already been said about the original Iron Man. It’s the film that started it all, our introduction into the MCU and the boon to the current comic book movie explosion we are experiencing. Iron Man was a game changer.
Iron Man released in 2008, before the release of The Dark Knight. The superhero genre was kind of going down the toilet around this time, as Iron Man was following the release of classic films such as Spider-Man 3, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and Ghost Rider. Iron Man was Marvel Studios first film, the first Marvel movie made in house, and it starred Iron Man of all characters.
Marvel had sold off the rights to their most popular characters: Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four. At the time, Iron Man was a B-list character, but they had to work with what they had. And they blew all of their a-list competition out of the water with their first film.
Iron Man was a shot of adrenaline air for superhero cinema. Tony Stark didn’t have a secret identity, didn’t have any real powers of his own, and was a bit of an ass hole. A likable ass hole. The most genius thing Marvel ever did was snag Robert Downey Jr. to play the titular role of Iron Man, and they didn’t even want him! Director Jon Favreau had to fight for Downey, and it lead to the multi billion dollar franchise we have now.
Iron Man was smart, witty, and original, and this was almost by accident. The script was still being written as the movie was filmed, was lead to much of the dialogue being composed of improvisation. Much of Stark’s personality was infused into him by Downey’s improv, which of course is one of the reasons the film was so successful.
The stinger that followed the film is still one of the best post credits scenes Marvel has ever done. Nick Fury emerging from the shadows to talk to Stark about the Avengers initiative? Oh my god, 2008 me lost his shit. The idea seemed like an impossibility at the time. Oh how things have changed.
The film has lost it’s luster a bit over the years, and hasn’t held up as well after the large amount of re-watches. Still, the legacy and impact of this film can not be over stated, and I will forever consider it one of Marvel’s best.
Ant-Man had no right to be as good as it was. Marred by production issues, the film was originally slated to be a phase 1 film, but kept getting pushed back farther and farther. Edgar Wright was attached to this film for years after multiple delays, before dropping out the at last second due to creative differences between with Marvel.
Many thought the project was going to end up dead on arrival. Finding a last minute replacement director is never a good sign, and worries that this was a sign of Marvel restricting creative freedom began to rise. Was this the beginning of the end for Marvel?
No, no it was not.
Ant-Man actually ended up being a really solid film! It isn’t near as groundbreaking as the original Iron Man, nor as smart as a Captain America film, but it doesn’t have to be.
I had so much fun with Ant-Man. After the large scale, mass destruction that encompassed Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man was a great pallet cleanser. It’s a small scale movie with a small scale hero. Ant-Man works so well because it doesn’t concern itself with saving the world, instead it simply focuses on Scott trying to reconnect with his daughter in any way he can.
Which just happens to involve Scott becoming a superhero with a ridiculous name, with an equally ridiculous power. Ant-Man’s shrinking ability lead to some really inventive action scenes, and I thought the way the film played with that aspect of the character was pretty original. While Yellow Jacket was another somewhat disposable Marvel villain, Corey Stoll actually brought some menace to that character. He wasn’t the worst villain by any means, and I was actually able to have fun with him.
At the end of the day, the success of Ant-Man begins and ends at Paul Rudd. He has such a natural charisma and unique humor, that it’s almost impossible not to care about Scott and his plight to win his daughter back. Rudd helped make Scott relatable, and he brought his welcome sense of humor to the project. All in all, Ant-Man was a delightful surprise from Marvel, and I appreciate it a little more every time I watch it.
4. The Avengers
Four years later, and it’s still hard to believe that this film worked. If you had told me ten years ago that one of the highest grossing movies of all time was going to be a Joss Whedon directed Avengers, and it would be a culmination of solo Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Hulk movies, I would have called you nuts. But here we are. Four years later. I still can’t believe Whedon pulled it off.
Whedon was able to coherently combine the characters and tones of four distinct franchises, and have them play off and intermingle with each other in a way that felt organic and earned. Watching this film felt like watching cinematic history, as it was the first time anything of this caliber had been attempted, let alone succeeded.
Seeing all of the Avengers come together from their separate franchises and interact with each other felt like it was ripped straight from a comic book, and the fact that Whedon was able to craft this into a compelling film is nothing short of astounding.
The film contains the usual snappy and snarky script from Whedon, which fit perfectly for the tone of an Avengers film. The Avengers felt like a celebration of the superhero genre, and a celebration of everything Marvel had accomplished up until this point. It was Marvel’s victory lap, and there will never be anything quite like seeing The Avengers together for the first time on the big screen.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy was probably Marvel’s biggest risk. It was mostly an unknown property outside of comic book geeks like myself, director James Gunn wasn’t exactly known for his work on blockbuster space operas, and two of it’s main characters were a talking raccoon and a talking tree.
Yet there’s a good chance it beats Batman v Superman at the domestic box office.
Marvel gambled with Guardians of the Galaxy and it paid off wholeheartedly. Guardians of the Galaxy was just such a fun, unique, and heartfelt movie, especially when compared to the rest of the MCU. Once again, Marvel turned Z-listers into A-listers, in large part thanks to James Gunn.
The film has such a unique sense of style and irreverent sense of humor. It’s like James Gunn took the best aspects of Firefly, Star Wars, and the 1970’s music scene and blended it together into a fantastic space romp.
Besides it’s soundtrack, the best part of Guardians of the Galaxy is its excellent characterization. You get to really know and understand each member of the Guardians, and in such a short amount of time I found myself greatly attached to Star Lord, Rocket, Groot, Gamora, and hell, even Drax. They all felt like fully realized characters, and there sense of camaraderie is highly entertaining.
Guardians of the Galaxy is a property that is totally separate from the rest of the MCU, yet Marvel was able to incorporate the film into the over arching infinity stone story line, as well as gave us our first real look at Thanos. Guardians of the Galaxy was another knock out from Marvel.
2. Avengers: Age of Ultron
This will certainly be the most controversial placement on the list. I know a lot of people were disappointed with Avengers: Age of Ultron, but I absolutely loved it. Sure it’s got its flaws, namely rushed development for Ultron and the whole Hot Tub Thor Machine sub plot, but there is so much more to be found in the film than that.
I feel like the film did a better job of balancing it’s ensemble cast better than The Avengers, and each character truly got their own moment to shine. Whedon really dug into each of the Avengers in Age of Ultron, exploring each of their fears as well as giving each character a fully realized arc. I find myself picking up on something new almost every time I re watch the film, and I think it’s one that gets better every time.
I bought into the Widow x Hulk romance, I loved the entire portion at Hawkeye’s house, and I thought the additions of Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver (RIP), and the Vision were great. I loved that the film ended with a more bittersweet ending, capping the film off with the temporary retirement of many of the phase one Avengers, as well as introducing our second Avengers team. There is just so much to dig into with Age of Ultron, and most of it really resonated with me.
I enjoyed Ultron as a villain (aside from his rushed creation). I thought his snarkiness made sense in the context of the film, as he is a creation of Tony Stark instead of Hank Pym, and at times I honestly found the character to be sympathetic. His final scene with Vision is so cathartic, and is honestly my favorite scene in the entire MCU saga. It’s just so good.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I’m sure this is a lot of people’s number one, and for good reason. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the most competently crafted film Marvel has ever put out. Similar to The Dark, The Winter Soldier transcends it’s super hero genre and becomes so much more.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a perfect example of a superhero film done right. It stayed true to each and everyone of its characters, had wide reaching affects on the rest of the Marvel universe, and actually had a statement to make about the real world. The film felt darker than other MCU films, and really stayed true to it’s spy thriller aesthetic it strived for. The Hydra reveal played well into that aspect, as did the inclusion of Arnim Zola.
I absolutely adored Bucky as a villain in The Winter Soldier. He didn’t have many lines, but he had such a physical presence on screen, as well as a haunting theme to accompany him that I couldn’t help but feel anxious whenever he came on screen. His effectiveness as a villain is only increased by the tangible relationship he has with Cap. Steve doesn’t want to fight Bucky, and you can see that it breaks his heart that he has to, which provides a really interesting character dynamic.
The film has by far the best action out of any other Marvel film. The weight and impact of every punch thrown, every bullet shot, and every shield thrown is truly felt, and helps to make the action that much more effective. This was the first film to nail Cap’s super soldier abilities. The knife fight between Cap and Bucky remains one of the best scenes in the entire film for me.
Speaking of Cap, The Winter Soldier provided an even deeper exploration into his character than The First Avenger did, and this is where Chris Evans really grew into the role. While The First Avenger made me like Cap, The Winter Soldier turned him into my favorite Avenger. The way the Russos were able to make a selfless, pure hero so damn interesting is just a testament to their skills of filmmakers, and I can not wait to see that continued in Civil War.