We all have Marvel to thank for every major studio rushing to make an extended cinematic universe around their owned properties. Since 2008 with the release of Iron Man, Marvel has owned the superhero landscape on the big screen. Characters that we never thought would get their own films are now beloved by millions. And guess what: it’s not ending any time soon.
But how does each film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe stack up? Let’s take a look (SPOILERS to follow):
I repeat: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW.
#23: Thor: The Dark World (2013)
The Dark World is the ultimate punchline of the MCU, with many using it to show the worst example of what these massive, tentpole movies can become when things go wrong. Granted, there was much upheaval during the production of The Dark World with Patty Jenkins leaving the project and director Alan Taylor having his vision of the film taken away from him in the editing room, so maybe the blame can be put on Marvel Studios for not having the formula to making these movies down pat as of yet.
Loki and Thor are still fun, but with Malekith and other laughably forgettable tidbits, The Dark World is a merely a big ball of nothing.
#22: Iron Man 2 (2010)
Iron Man 2 is by no means a disaster, but it is certainly a letdown after the brilliance of the first Iron Man film. Robert Downey Jr. is still great as Tony Stark, but Iron Man 2 largely acts as an Avengers set-up movie with large breaks between action set pieces that really make the movie drag, leaving Tony to sit around and eats donuts.
Like with the actors and their characters in The Dark World, you still love RDJ as Tony Stark, but as for everything around him, there’s simply no need.
#21: The Incredible Hulk (2008)
This movie, unfortunately, gets lost in the shuffle when people discuss the MCU movies, in part because Edward Norton did not return to play Bruce Banner after this movie. The Incredible Hulk is a moderately engaging, turn-your-brain-off movie that contains massive gamma-infused monsters demolishing a neighborhood. Just don’t expect too much character or plot depth…or imagination…or inventiveness.
#20: Captain Marvel (2019)
After her very own movie AND an appearance in Avengers: Endgame, I still don’t understand Captain Marvel as a character. What is her defining trait? Is she overly-confident? Plucky? An underdog? What makes her tick?
Captain Marvel the movie is all over the place, offering glimpses at many different movies without ever deciding on one for most of the focus to reside. Brie Larson feels the worst of the mess as her character is extraordinarily underwritten. We should all be hoping for a Winter Soldier-esque rebrand to Captain Marvel like we saw with Captain America. Maybe then we’ll have something to praise.
Other than some pretty convincing de-aging effects on Samuel L. Jackson, I’m already having trouble remembering anything from Captain Marvel.
*To read the site’s full review of Captain Marvel, please click here.
#19: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ultron has continued to fall in my estimation since its release back in 2015. While it has arguably one of the best inconsequential scenes (all the Avengers attempting to lift Thor’s hammer) in the franchise, Ultron only exists to set up future movies, losing the concept of what made the first Avengers film so special.
James Spader is pretty great as the voice of the titular villain but other than that, this team-up is fairly underwhelming on all fronts — and it appears to have broken Joss Whedon, who hasn’t been the same since.
#18: Thor (2011)
Thor was the first risk for the MCU as they tried to make a god and Asgard seem believable within the realm of the already established cinematic universe. As we know now, Chris Hemsworth is an absolutely perfect match for the title character, though this movie didn’t entirely take advantage of his comedic timing and overall star power.
The thing is: does anyone really talk or care about this movie anymore? It’s perfectly passable, but really only acts as a relic to what Thor later became. There simply isn’t much to write home about here.
*To read the site’s full review of Thor, please click here.
#17: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
After the original Guardians of the Galaxy surprised us all, expectations were sky-high for the sequel. Unfortunately, Guardians 2 was a bit of a letdown for this critic, failing to create a compelling plot for the lovable characters at its core. It’s nice to hangout with these wonderful characters again, but they essentially rehash all the same problems between for the second movie in a row. I don’t need another 2+ hours with the Guardians to realize that they’re a family when the first film already did such a great job!
*To read the site’s full review of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, please click here.
#16: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Ant-Man and the Wasp is perfectly acceptable. It had Paul Rudd doing Paul Rudd things, so there’s a plus right off the bat; and Evangeline Lilly is a wonderful addition in the action, acting as the perfect partner and co-lead to Ant-Man.
This sequel is breezy and fun, but that’s also its biggest problem: it has no staying power whatsoever. After over 20 films, there needs to be a bit of a wow factor, or else the film will fade to the background, like Ant-Man and the Wasp already has.
*To read the site’s full review of Ant-Man and the Wasp, please click here.
#15: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The First Avenger serves as a great origin story to Steve Rogers/Captain America while also serving as a really fun retro backdrop to World War II. I look at The First Avenger as a movie that has GREAT character moments that have been used again and again throughout the rest of the MCU but ultimately struggles as an overall product. Still, Joe Johnston injects plenty of that roaring, pro-America spirit that he perfected in The Rocketeer, and that’s enough for most people to fall in love with this movie.
#14: Ant-Man (2015)
Marvel most definitely scraped the bottom of the barrel when they decided to make Ant-Man into a feature film. But the movie succeeds thanks mightily to the charm of Paul Rudd as Scott Lang. Ant-Man is a clever heist movie that is very different from the other MCU movies, but still obviously fits in well to the big picture of the cinematic universe.
After the big miss that was Ultron, the movie was very refreshing in that it scaled back the stakes, making it a more personal storyline rather than a massively scoped, impending-Earth-destruction type of movie that has been beaten to death in the superhero genre.
#13: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
Far From Home is perfectly enjoyable from start to finish. We get a lovely continuation of the relationship between Peter and MJ, and Jake Gyllenhaal is suitably hammy as Mysterio, an actor who simply wants to become the next great hero. And, even though I would contend that Homecoming is a better overall film, Far From Home is even a step up in the action department, highlighting Tom Holland’s excellent parkour skills whenever possible.
However, it’s a tad unremarkable, isn’t it? I have the sneaking suspicion that we will slowly forget about this movie over time. Hell, we might have forgotten about it completely if it wasn’t for J.K. Simmons’ return as J. Jonah Jameson.
#12: Doctor Strange (2016)
Doctor Strange is worth repeat viewings just to see its mind-being special effects. Though the film has much ill-timed comedy that has plagued the MCU and relies on the standard superhero origin story, I’ll always go back to the third act of this film, which has aged quite nicely in an age when every superhero movie has to destroy a planet in its finale. Doctor Strange beats Dormammu on somewhat of a technicality, using time and space to his advantage to show his smarts instead of his strength.
*To read the site’s full review of Doctor Strange, please click here.
#11: Iron Man 3 (2013)
Iron Man 3 gets a pretty bad rap for a few specific choices, most notably the Mandarin fake-out. But for the film Shane Black set out to make, those choices were just fine, and Black creates the snappiest MCU ever with his patented wit and zippy dialogue.
Iron Man 3 is peak Robert Downey Jr. in the MCU in terms of pure hilarity and charm, and I’ve always admired how well Black uses him as a comedic force in this movie.
This is the film in the MCU that deserves a recontextualization FAST.
#10: Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
We have this movie to thank for the zillion team-up movies currently in development. Avengers does such a fantastic job juggling every single character and giving them a chance to shine. It’s so memorable and fun that every movie since has tried to copy a lot of its elements with things such as disposable armies and sky beams coming from the sky. While the first half of the movie really drags on repeat viewings, Avengers was so iconic and fun that Warner Bros. is kicking itself for not getting the DCEU started earlier.
#9: Avengers: Endgame (2019)
The word that first comes to mind when discussing Endgame is “satisfaction. This three-hour long conclusion to the previous 21 movies has so much awesome stuff in it — headlined by Cap wielding Mjölnir as part of the final battle against Thanos — that it makes up for when the movie ultimately falters.
The time travel is messy, the fan service is overwhelming, and the humor is horribly misplaced at times, but Endgame does exactly what it’s supposed to do: act as a culmination and a sendoff for our favorite heroes.
*To read the site’s full review of Avengers: Endgame, please click here.
#8: Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Civil War builds on the blueprint developed by The Avengers. The so-called Avengers 2.5 handled even more characters while finding a way to be even more action packed. I still contend that the airport scene is the best action scene in a comic book movie. Just within one scene you have every single character performing to their highest capabilities, especially Ant-Man turning into Giant Man.
But this movie is much more than just that scene, it’s fueled with true emotion and passion. You feel that characters are out for blood, a trait that not many Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have.
#7: Iron Man (2008)
We all have Iron Man to thank for the multiple Marvel movies released per year these days. Iron Man has a great take on terror in the Middle East and made a C-list Marvel character into a household name. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark gave us our favorite arrogant superhero while also including arguably the best origin story in the MCU. Many of the earlier MCU movies feel like relics of the past, but Iron Man continues on and will continue to be beloved.
*To read the site’s full review of Iron Man, please click here.
#6: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
After Marvel created a hit movie with a talking raccoon and a tree, it was obvious that we were going to see every Marvel movie on opening weekend from there on out. Guardians of the Galaxy is the space opera that the MCU needed to broaden the universe even further. Guardians has all the heart, humor, and action that we want from a Marvel movie. Fueled with hilarious banter between the Guardians, this a superhero movie we never thought we wanted. Now, we can’t wait for subsequent movies with the Guardians to come out.
#5: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
My appreciation for Infinity War has grown considerably since its release in 2018. I admire how the film smartly breaks up our heroes into what are essentially multiple B-stories, having them accomplish their own tasks before they all come together for two separate battle sequences, one of which has the most stakes that I’ve felt in an any of the MCU films.
Infinity War established Thanos as the MCU’s premiere villain, and his will is felt all over this movie. No other Marvel movie has this kind of weight.
*To read the site’s full review of Avengers: Infinity War, please click here.
#4: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Thanks to Marvel, we finally have a new version of Spider-Man that everyone can get behind.
Tom Holland expresses all the inexperience, charisma, and quick wit that many expect from the webslinger, becoming arguably the best Spider-Man to date. Thankfully, he also has a worthy adversary to go up against in Michael Keaton’s Vulture who is much more than the typical villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Above all else, Homecoming is flat-out fun, which is a lot more than many movies can say about themselves.
*To read the site’s full review of Spider-Man: Homecoming, please click here.
#3: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Zany and fun, Thor: Ragnarok proved that Marvel is going to continue to push the envelope. With bizarre characters and an even crazier sense of humor, Marvel allowed Taiki Waititi to operate as he pleased — creating a very different Marvel film in the process.
The film updated Thor into a charismatic, funny individual. Clearly, the Shakespearean act wasn’t going to work much longer. He’s now the lovable, ridiculous god that will hopefully lead the MCU into a bright, hilarious future.
*To read the site’s full review of Thor: Ragnarok, please click here.
#2: Black Panther (2018)
Black Panther changed the game for the MCU. Not only did it deliver on an entertaining superhero film, it had something to say. Built into the plot is a discussion of protectionism and the need for outreach that is very relevant today.
Set in a fully realized world, Black Panther has true emotion and depth. Marvel has developed a reputation for creating light and fluffy movies. Thankfully Black Panther does not fit into that mold. There’s escapism to be had here, but there’s much more for other kinds of audiences.
At this point, everyone should be excited to see whatever movie Ryan Coogler directs next.
*To read my full review of Black Panther, please click here.
#1: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Winter Soldier is the best example of changing genres within superhero films, working as a political spy thriller while including some of the best villains the MCU has had so far in the Winter Soldier and Alexander Pierce. Cap 2 has some amazing hand-to-hand combat and action in general, maybe the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From the opening action sequence, you know that this is a much different movie than The First Avenger.
The Winter Soldier is the reason we love Cap so much to this day, and it turned the page to the Golden Era of the MCU.
Thanks for reading! What are some of your favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe films? Comment down below!
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