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With Infinity War hitting cinemas this week I thought it proper to set in stone my views on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and to catalogue the journey we have taken to get here. Below you will find all released pre-Infinty War MCU (From Iron Man (2008) to Black Panther (2018)) Marvel movies ranked from least good (worst is a little harsh) to the best they have to offer, plus some of my favourite scenes. This list may not match everyone’s personal taste but rest assured I am right and everyone else is wrong.
The list is packed to the brim with SPOILERS of every single movie so if you haven’t seen them skim past the blurbs. Got it? Let’s begin:
Marvel Movies Ranked
18. The Incredible Hulk (2008) Dir. Louis Leterrier
After Ang Lee’s 2003 film Hulk with Universal, the on-screen representation of the beloved green rage-ster couldn’t have gone much worse – and it didn’t. It just wasn’t very good. The Incredible Hulk however was in a lucky position where there was no real pressure for it to make millions. Iron Man was a roaring success and after Marvel acquired the rights of The Hulk they just needed it not to suck – and it didn’t. Upon its release it found mixed reviews but looking back after ten years of Marvel heavy-hitters, it just unfortunately doesn’t stand up to the rest and comes in last place.
Best Bit – Hulk smashing Abomination with boxing gloves he has fashioned out of an entire cop car. Pure comic book gold.
17. Iron Man 2 (2010) Dir. Jon Favreau
How the mighty have fallen. After Iron Man kicked the MCU off in style in 2008 Favreau returned for the sequel just two years later. Don Cheadle stepped in for Terrence Howard as James Rhodes, we had the introduction of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and a post-credit scene featuring Thor’s hammer. What more could we possible want, right? A decent story? A decent villain? Am I asking for too much? Sam Rockwell is enjoyable in the way that Sam Rockwell is enjoyable in pretty much everything that he does, BUT Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko is one of the laziest representations of a Marvel villain on screen. Ever. A Russian accent and a few prison tats does not a villain make.
Best Bit – Sam Rockwell’s you-just-love-to-hate-him Justin Hammer selling Rhodes an obscene amount of gear to pimp up War-Machine
16. Thor: The Dark World (2013) Dir. Alan Taylor
The dreaded sequel strikes again for Marvel as the follow up to 2011’s Thor is often cited as one of the worst movies in the MCU – however I have to admit I actually quite like it. Once Natalie ‘Phone-it-in’ Portman isn’t on the screen the film actually has everything you want. Some good humour, some good action, and a crafty Loki. Christopher Eccleston’s antagonist Malekith doesn’t ooze with the charisma of other MCU villains but as the broody ruler of The Dark Elves I think he ticks the boxes. Alan Taylor, directing for the first time in 10 years, after the poorly received Kill The Poor was a strange choice though and the film could have done with a director with more flair. It didn’t even have to be Waititi flair; I would have settled for more Branagh flair.
Best Bit – Although it lays it all out on a plate for the viewer, the narrated backstory of The Dark Elves and their battle with Odin’s father King Bor is a nice cinematic spin on Norse mythology.
15. Ant-Man (2015) Dir. Peyton Reed
We’ll never know what this movie could have been. What it should have been. The Edgar Wright debacle left a bad taste in the mouths of MCU & EW fans alike (of which I am both). The film feels as if it was a bit of a mess. The script by Wright and Joe Cornish getting taken over and overly peppered with jokes from Paul Rudd and Adam McKay (Anchorman) just seemed to lean too heavily on the humour and not enough on the characters. Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket is very one dimensional and although I get that fighting against the “evil twin” version of the superhero is basically a trope Marvel (and comic books) use – see Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Black Panther – this seems the least natural. Michael Peña, T.I. and David Dastmalchian are great as a rag-tag group and who doesn’t like a good heist movie?! Hopefully they can step it up for the sequel this July – looking forward to seeing Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp in action and they seem to be having a lot of fun with the shrinking van routine in the trailer.
Best Bit – The ‘Meet the Ants’ and training montage – everyone loves a montage.
14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) Dir. James Gunn
This is one of the movies that I thought upon a rewatch might actually move up the listing (especially after I shared my initial rankings with a few like-minded friends). It actually ended up dropping down the list. I’m a huge fan of the original and I was really let down by Vol 2. Ego (Kurt Russell) isn’t a great Marvel villain, Mantis only seems to be brought in to have Drax bounce off so Star Lord and Gamora can concentrate on sexual tension and I was pretty sick of Baby Groot by the time the intro was done. All that aside, we are gifted to another funny, action-packed galactic adventure from Gunn. Michael Rooker’s Yondu was a real saving grace in this movie and pretty much all of the Ravager scenes are entertaining. Yondu will be sorely missed moving forward and I really hope that Sly et al get a Ravager spin-off.
Best Bit – Yondu’s sacrifice and that emotional ending – I’m not crying, you’re crying
13. Thor (2011) Dir. Kenneth Branagh
Matthew Vaughan (Lock Stock, Layer Cake) left this project leaving Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) to direct. What could have been we’ll never know but the movie that introduces the God of Thunder to the MCU was still a great success. Thor succeeded in a lot; it opened up the MCU to other dimensions, in a post-credit scene, directed by Joss Whedon, we are introduced the Tesseract paving the way for the Infinity Gauntlet storyline and it was genuinely laugh out loud funny in parts (I need a horse!). Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) reprises role from the Iron Man movies, expanding the character leading to the very enjoyable Agents of SHIELD television series. Jeremy Renner’s brief cameo introduced us to Hawkeye/Clint Barton and we all fell in love with Hemsworth and Hiddleston.
Best Bit – Seeing Asgard brought to life; props to the production design team.
12. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) Dir. Joe Johnston
Marvel’s introduction of Steve Rogers is an old-timey delight. Joe Johnston brings his family fun stylings (The Rocketeer, Jumanjii, Jurassic Park III) and his Academy Award winning expertise on visual effects (Original Star Wars trilogy, Raiders of the Lost Ark) to the mix in the MCU and it really works. It’s not as funny as most of the other stand alone MCU movies but Cap is not really a funny dude. He’s the heart and soul of the Avengers, he’ll always do what he thinks is right and The First Avenger sets up his character perfectly. His relationship with Peggy (Hayley Atwell) never feels forced throughout and the Howling Commandos are a welcome throwback to the silver age of comics. Christopher Marcus & Stephen McFeely rewrote the script to begin their Marvel adventure plus fanboy favourite from the Matrix franchise Hugo Weaving portrays Red Skull. Johnston is also an old hand at hitting you hard in the feels. I’m gonna need a rain check on that dance….
Best Bit – Dr. Erskine (the always brilliant Stanley Tucci) and Steve Rogers having a drink the night before the Super Soldier serum – “Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”
11. Doctor Strange (2016) Dir. Scott Derrickson
I had Doctor Strange nestled in the bottom few when I first made up this list and it wasn’t until the re-watch that it shot up the rankings. I think the only thing that pisses me off with this movie is Cumberbatch’s accent. It has a lot to do its 115 minute run-time; introduce us to a new hero, have that hero fall and rise again all on top of introducing us to the realms of magic in the MCU. Among the psychedelic special effects Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil) does struggle to develop the movie’s antagonist. Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius although enjoyable, lacks screen time for us to fully engage with his motives, instead he is used as a set-up for the revelation of Dormammu. If Kaecilius alone was the movie’s threat I feel we could have had a more complete picture of a formidable foe and we could have had more screen time for the always brilliant Mikkelsen. Benidict Wong’s namesake seems to be moving along with the Doctor and is appearing heavily in some Infinity War promotional posters. The uniqueness of Doctor Strange in the MCU I think gets overlooked; It was adventurous and ambitious, and although far from perfect it deserves more praise.
Best Bit – A lot of fantastic set designs during the kinetic fight scenes but I love the first meeting of Strange and Kaecilius. Inception corridors and The Cloak of Levitation, what more do you need?
10. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) Dir. Joss Whedon
James Spader’s Ultron alone bumps this movie into the top 10. As the eleventh instalment of the MCU, Age of Ultron had the benefit of having backstory for most of its main characters already covered. Those who have not been treated to a solo film are given prominence in Whedon’s second Avengers get together. The scene in Hawkeye’s cabin brings the pace of the movie to a standstill and the action on hold. But when we step away from the wormholes and talking robots these superheroes are relatable. We’ve watched them grow. We’re connected. It feels kinda real for a minute and it’s great….and then they drop a city on the Earth. Well, it is an Avengers movie after all.
Best Bit – Ultron introduces himself at the after party. Incredibly creepy, and I do love a good Pinocchio reference.
9. Black Panther (2018) Dir. Ryan Coogler
This is a very good movie. I understand the importance of this movie. This is not the best Marvel movie of all time. It is the 9th, so far. Everything that is great about this movie has been talked about incessantly since its release but I have my hang-ups. Firstly, we saw way too little of Wakanda. They had a massive opportunity to build a sense of community with beautiful backdrops and all we got was an Africanised lab Desmond Llewelyn would feel comfortable in. Secondly, Killmonger was fantastic but the final battle really lacked something for me. If that big-money closer was a 10, this movie jumps a few spots. Lastly, Boseman’s Black Panther also suffers as he is outshone in practically every scene. The entire cast give such varied and tight performances that the titular hero is often the last person I care about seeing. Give me a scene with Danai Gurira’s Okoye, Letitia Wright’s Shuri, Andy Serkis‘s Klaue or Winston Duke‘s M’Baku and I’m good. This is obviously a great movie. It’s just not the greatest. Calm the hype machine.
Best Bit – The shoot out in the casino and following car chase through the streets of South Korea was immense.
8. Thor: Ragnarok (2017) Dir. Taika Waititi
One of the funnest Marvel movies to date Thor: Ragnarok has a lot going for it; it’s hilarious, it’s action-packed, it looks amazing and the soundtrack is great. But, it’s pretty much Guardians of the Galaxy except with Thor & Friends; Thor the lovable leader (Star Lord), Hulk the simple yet ferocious Goliath (Drax), Valkyrie the kick-ass one without a penis (Gamora) and Korg the strange giant with all the jokes (Groot & Rocket combined). It is without doubt one of the best stand alone movies but as a MCU movie, it feels off. The Thor franchise definitely needed something different to bounce back from The Dark World. Unfortunately it over-stretches and relies too much on humour and focusing on the elements of Guardians that made it universally loved and more appealing to those who couldn’t really care less about the over-arching storyline the Cinematic Universe has been creating since 2008. Waititi does however deliver a true spectacle. We are treated to a kaleidoscopic multitude of fantastic set designs, something Coogler could learn from, and we have Jeff Goldblum at peak Goldblum. Big laughs, big action, extra-large popcorn.
Best Bit – I could just listen to Waititi’s Korg yammer away for hours. His introductory spiel is gold from start to finish.
7. Iron Man 3 (2013) Dir. Shane Black
Having already worked with Downey on the fantastic Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Shane Black must have known what he could get out his lead when he took the reins of MCU’s original franchise from Favreau. Downey has many of his best MCU moments in Iron Man 3 and although this film splits opinion I think it is a worthy addition in the Cinematic Universe, and this Top 10. The action scenes throughout, particularly the helicopter house-attack and the big multi-suit finale are awesome. The Mandarin was a point of contention for many MCU and comic book fans but I loved the twist, I welcome artistic license throughout Marvel movies. As a comic book reader I’d prefer a few surprises along the way rather than transplanting storylines from the comics verbatim. The screenplay is the best the Iron Man franchise has to offer and the movie feels like a Shane Black vehicle while maintaining the essence of the franchise it finds itself in.
Best Bit – the high-octane helicopter assault on Stark’s house is a beautiful piece of action cinema and keeps the heart racing throughout.
6. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) Dir. Jon Watts
From Tobey Maguire clicking his stupid-ass fingers walking down a street in Sam Raimi’s 2007 Spider-Man 3 to the fresh and funny Spider-Man: Homecoming – what a difference a decade makes. There was a lot of talk about what sort of Spider-Man might return when Marvel and Sony reached a deal and after Homecoming I am glad that they decided to play it safe and chose to go back and press re-do on the Parker version of the web-slinger. Director Jon Watts on the other hand seemed like a massive risk. Having directed supernatural horror and Eli Roth produced Clown and American road thriller Cop Car starring Kevin Bacon, a family fun time Marvel movie didn’t seem like the obvious next move. Watts however turned in a nuanced, coming of age, action-packed, fun-filled MCU movie with probably the most under-rated villain the MCU has produced in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. To be honest I could have done without the inclusion of Iron Man. It all seemed a little forced, plastered across promotional content. I’m not sure they trusted us to come out and see it if Stark wasn’t around to give a helping hand (just like the Guardians reemergence in the comics the year before their movie release). Throughly enjoyable, very re-watchable and it’s as good as Spider-Man 2 (i.e. the last good Spider-Man. Sorry Garfield).
Best Bit – On top of the fantastic action scenes like at the Washington monument or on the Staten Island Ferry, Homecoming really impresses in its character building. Every scene with the young talented cast feels natural (even when its cheesy – if that makes sense). Michael Keaton too is superb here, a flawed yet relatable adversary to our hero, something the MCU has only gotten so right very few times.
5. Iron Man (2008) Dir. Jon Favreau
The one that put Marvel movies back on the map. Iron Man not only kicked off the entire Avengers franchise but it did so in a way that would set the tone for the MCU moving forward. Although a major player in the Avengers comic series, Iron Man was by no means a household name before the marketing run for the 2008 movie. The Black Sabbath song was more popular than the character ever was up to this point. The movie rights for their characters were only just coming back; Iron Man and Black Panther were returned in 2005, Thor, Black Widow and Hulk in 2006 – and so The Avengers initiative was set in motion. Iron Man’s casting was on point, the dialogue free-flowing and the action scenes were top notch – it ticked all the boxes and fans new and old flooded into the screens. Downey’s Tony Stark has developed throughout the MCU and we’ve been with him from the very start.
Best Bit – Building the original suit and busting out of the cave sets the movie up perfectly.
4. The Avengers (2012) Dir. Joss Whedon
Joss Whedon’s accumulation of heroes set the box office on fire when it hit screens in 2012 and it was important for not only the MCU, but franchise movies in general. All the hard work pays off (literally) when thought and consideration is put in to building a universe (DC, take note). A smart move from Marvel was using a villain that we were already very familiar with in the MCU, Loki, to take on the heroes with the help of the alien Chitauri army (obviously). We saw the first interactions of the Avengers together, their squabbles and spats, we had the shock of Agent Coulsen’s death (one that meant a lot to those who were invested from the beginning) and the eventual NYC battle scene which was everything we hoped for and more. Although Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) don’t get a whole lot of development (something they amended in Age of Ultron) the team is very much a unit by the end of the movie, shawarma wraps and all. A fantastic payoff for years of world (and off world) building.
Best Bit – The 360 shot of the Avengers is a piece of modern pop culture that will go down in movie history. The Avengers have assembled!
3. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) Dir. James Gunn
Letting James Gunn (Slither, Super) direct a MCU movie featuring a talking racoon and a tree was the biggest risk Marvel had taken since the decision to kick off the Avengers franchise with Iron Man in 2008. Thankfully it is one of their finest productions to date. Packed full of crisp humour, amazing action, a silky throw-back soundtrack and an incredible cast Guardians ticked all the boxes. Taking the MCU into space was a big enough risk but to pick a relatively unknown team like the Guardians of the Galaxy over the likes of Captain Marvel or Nova was huge. Easily one of the most rewatchable MCU entries, GotG forged the way for Marvel to take more risks, add more unknown heroes and hire more exciting directors. This was a significant turning point for the franchise and the MCU in general.
Best Bit – There’re a heap of scenes in Guardians that I love but when they are coming up with a master plan to break out of prison and Groot saunters over and pulls that box from the wall triggering the alarm I can’t help but laugh out loud. It gets me. Every. Single. Time.
2. Captain America: Civil War (2016) Dir. Anthony & Joe Russo
I may have slightly over extended myself when this was released and I called it, right here on HeadStuff, the greatest Marvel movie of all time. It was a bit sudden and I’ll probably feel the exact same way about Infinity War when it comes out this week. But, it is phenomenally good. It brings everything that was great from The Avengers, mixed with everything that was built up from Winter Soldier (which if you’ve been paying attention hasn’t been mentioned yet) and builds a story that hits hard at the heart and sole of comic book movies. The Russo brothers’ direction and the Marcus & McFeely screenplay bring us on a journey of what it means to do the right thing. It’s a whirlwind expedition of human emotion, loyalty and friendship through the guise of a Marvel blockbuster. Zemo, played by the immensely talented Daniel Brühl, is an underrated villain in the MCU; using brain over brawn without being a wacky stereotype or mad doctor. Civil War also introduces us to Black Panther AND new and improved Spider-Man, all while not making the movie feel over-crowded. From the deaths at the hands of Scarlett Witch, to the arguments over the Sokovia Accords, from the Raid-esque stairwell fight to the pull-at-the-heartstrings final battle between Stark, Bucky and Rogers, Civil War keeps you on your toes, keeps you thinking and keeps you coming back for more.
Best Bit – That stairwell and final fights are immense but the amount of greatness in the airfield exchange probably makes it the winner. Introduction of Spider-Man, Ant-Man goes LARGE, one-liners to beat the band and Rhodey plummeting to the ground. Over ten minutes straight of pure MCU bliss.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) Dir. Anthony & Joe Russo
So if you can’t tell I’m a massive fan of Captain America, of the Russo Brothers and of Marcus & McFeely. The reason why Civil War was so damn good was because of the work put in to develop the characters and their relationships in Winter Soldier. A critical turning point for the Marvel cinematic and extended television universes, Winter Soldier deals with the overthrow of SHIELD by those pesky regenerating HYDRA heads and the attempted assassination of hundreds of thousands of people. Any fans of Agents of SHIELD can attest to the gravity of this movie’s importance. But for the everyday movie goer The Winter Soldier offers so much more. If you were not familiar with the Winter Soldier story or character the fact that it is Cap’s lifelong best friend Bucky, is a fantastic twist. Cap’s struggle to make Bucky remember who he is and the constant loyalty Rogers shows towards him is the stuff of a perfect bromance. They’re more than childhood friends; they are brothers. Everyone wants someone to love them as hard as Cap loves Bucky. While trying to find the way back to Bucky’s heart, Cap builds himself a sweet posse along the way. The trio of Cap, Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) progress naturally as a group as the movie plays out. Amidst the epic friendships we are gifted to a fantastic political (PG-13) thriller full of twists and turns. Ask someone to think of a political action film starring Robert Redford. They might throw out Three Days of the Condor or All The President’s Men, and now you can add Captain America: The Winter Soldier to that list. We are also greeted with lots of excellently choreographed close combat (which is often missed in superhero movies) as well as big, bombastic action. Although one of the lowest box office returns in the MCU’s history, Marvel owe a whole lot to the Russo Brothers and Marcus & McFeely. They have acknowledged this by letting them continue on from their Captain America trilogy to take on the responsibility of the latest Avengers ensemble; Infinity War. With Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely on screenplay duties we can be sure to have a brilliantly paced story with twists and turns throughout and with the Russo’s behind the camera you know that the action will be highly entertaining be it on the large scale (Civil War airport battle) or small (Cap vs 10 guys in an elevator). I feel/hope this top spot will be under pressure with the release of Infinity War. Let the Russo Reign live long.
Best Bit – The aforementioned elevator scene is quality stuff. Where so many comic book movies fall down is trying to go too big. Close and personal adds so much to a scene and as someone brought up on late night movies centred around martial arts (Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Steven Seagal, Jean Claude Van Damme) I noticed they give a sense of nostalgia to the spectacles onscreen. Two people duking it out is so much more relatable than say flying around, smashing a city to shreds (DC, take note. Again). The Russos know exactly when to use these touches of old school scrimmage, hopefully there’ll be more to come in Infinity War.