Definitive, completely subjective… same thing, right?
With Avengers: Infinity War just a month away and Black Panther in the rear view, I thought I’d mark out my definitive ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films to date. It’s pretty amazing to think they’ve been doing this for 10 years, and that we have 18 films released, and five more announced films coming up after Infinity War. As a kid growing up reading Marvel Comics in the 1980s, I certainly didn’t imagine I’d ever see anything like this in my lifetime.
Without further ado, here’s the list:
I think these films can be broken down into four tiers. From 1 to 4: Really good, good, formulaic/average, and bad. Let’s do ’em in reverse order.
Tier Four (The Bad Marvel Cinematic Universe films)
18. Thor: The Dark World
The worst MCU film, and I don’t think it’s even close. This one has all the bad things rolled into one: A CGI slugfest, a completely forgettable villain, silly Easter eggs and bad gags. Oh, and portals! Ugh.
17. Iron Man 2
As if the army of CGI robots and Mickey Rourke and that stupid bird weren’t bad enough, this one also gave us Drunk and Dancing Iron Man and Rhodey playing bad cop. Ugh.
16. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Joss Whedon apparently hated making this movie, and it shows. It’s all over the place. I still have no idea how or why the Vision was built or created or born or whatever the hell happened. And they ruined one of the all-time great Avengers villains. And killed Quicksilver. And did it all with another stupid CGI army. Also, nitpicky nerd alert: Captain America should be able to lift Thor’s hammer.
Tier Three (The Formulaic/Average Marvel Cinematic Universe films)
15. Iron Man 3
This one is… OK. Downey is good. But they ruined another classic villain. The ending features a CGI army (shocker!) and Tony giving up on Iron Man… which is then completely forgotten by the next movie.
14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
This one’s fine, it’s just more of the same as the first Guardians, and this time… it’s not new or different. So, meh?
13. Doctor Strange
I enjoy Doctor Strange, but it’s the same old MCU formula, with magic thrown in. And a bad Benedict Cumberbatch accent. Cool visual effects though!
I enjoy Ant-Man, but it’s the same formula, with extra humour. Which I guess puts it a step up on Doctor Strange. Michael Pena is fun and good. And I am pretty stoked to see Evangeline Lilly as The Wasp this summer.
11. The Incredible Hulk
I consider this Hulk movie the lost entry in the MCU; no one ever talks about it, presumably because of whatever went down between Ed Norton and the studio, and because of that other Hulk movie, and because it came out in the shadow of Iron Man. But it’s entertaining! And fun! And Norton and Liv Tyler are good! I like this movie.
10. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Homecoming has a nice twist at the end that saves it from being too formulaic, and a straightforward plot that doesn’t try to do more than it should, which is a nice relief. They captured Spider-Man incredibly well. And Michael Keaton is great, as always. But it’s also kinda… just another Spider-Man movie?
Tier Two (The Good Marvel Cinematic Universe films)
9. Thor: Ragnarok
The hype this film received still seems out-of-whack for what it was. It’s fun, it’s a good romp, it’s got decent action scenes… but it just goes too far with the humour, to the point where it becomes “can you stop telling jokes long enough to tell the story?” Much like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, they simply took a formula that worked once (cosmic/sci-fi… but also funny!) and just slammed it into our heads over and over. Also, there’s just way too much CGI in this film… it’s a bit lifeless. I don’t know, maybe I’m just an old man.
8. Captain America: The First Avenger
Good casting, solid villain, fun action sequences, cool period stuff… there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this film. It’s just a bit slow at times—that’s the only reason it’s not higher.
7. Iron Man
The original, and surprisingly rewatchable, Marvel Studios film. It set the formula for all future films (perhaps to Marvel’s detriment…), had star power, captured the feel of the character and the fun of comic books.
Thor is probably higher on my list than most other people would put it on theirs, but I throughly enjoyed it, and having rewatched it recently, I can say that it still holds up. I love its straightforward, focused plot and its supporting characters. Thor’s earnestness is wonderful. And Marvel proved they could bring in the more fantastical elements of its stable of super-heroes and still make it work.
5. Captain America: Civil War
This one should be higher, because proving that you can tell a story with 12 super-heroes in it (two of whom, Black Panther and Spider-Man, who are introduced in the film) and have it remain engaging and enjoyable and not four hours long is impressive. But the bad guy’s plot to move all of the heroes into position to fight is convoluted at best (nonsensical at worst) and ultimately, pointless. You could take Zemo out of this film and everything would proceed in the same way. (And that’s a shame because both comic book Zemo and Daniel Bruhl deserved better.)
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
This one is really, really close to Tier One, but as much as I enjoyed it in the theatre, rewatching it has not proven to be as much fun. It really drags in the middle. But Marvel and James Gunn deserve a huge amount of credit for taking these unknown characters and bringing that aforementioned “cosmic/sci-fi… but also funny!” angle to the Marvel roster.
Tier One (The Really Good/Best Marvel Cinematic Universe films)
3. Black Panther
This latest MCU film, Black Panther is very similar to Captain America: The Winter Soldier in execution and tone, but the climax gets bogged down by – you guessed it! – a giant battle with a CGI army at the end. Other than that though, the performances are all excellent, the villain and his story might just be the best in a Marvel movie to date, and you can’t discount the cultural importance of the film either. I’ve only seen it once, so it’s possible that after a re-watch or two it might move into second place. I really could have done without the CGI rhinos…
2. The Avengers
It’s easy to forget now, a mere six years later, how unlikely this film was to ever be made. It’s an extraordinary acheievement. The film has its problems: the CGI army + skybeam two-fer; Captain America’s ridiculous costume; and it tries a little too hard to be witty at times. But it’s a comic book come to life, with heroes struggling to get along, a villain seeking ultimate power, heroes finally coming together to kick ass… and another villain lurking in the shadows.
1. Captain America: The Winter Solider
Part of what makes Captain America: The Winter Soldier work is what it does not have: CGI armies (or any CGI characters), greenscreen locations, skybeams, and all the super-hero cliches that drag down some of these movies. What it does have is a standalone story and a personal journey for the title character, and a couple of villains, Alexander Pierce and the Winter Soldier, who were real and whose motivations made sense. And, it had a plot that didn’t get bogged down trying to be clever or adding extra twists. It’s as close to a perfect film as Marvel has made.
That’s my definitive ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Let me know if you agree/disagree… and come back in a month to see where Avengers: Infinity War ranks!