By: Randy Krinsky
Earlier this month, fans around the world rejoiced when the most recent installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Ant-Man and the Wasp, was released. However, as we near the end of MCU’s Phase Three, and with the next installment not set to be released until March 2019, it is now time to look back and reflect on the last ten years of Marvel films.
Ant-Man and the Wasp received a generally favorable critical reception and fans overwhelmingly enjoyed it. Avengers: Infinity War has reached a worldwide gross in excess of $2 billion, making it the fourth highest-grossing film of all time, 2018’s top earner, as well as the highest-grossing MCU film! With that being said, Marvel appears to be on top of its game. Though they haven’t really released any duds, films that bombed, not every MCU film has been embraced by fans equally or applauded by the critics. Though I don’t put much faith in critic reviews, as these films weren’t made for them, I do talk quite a bit to other fans and filmgoers, having regular discussions about which film is better than others. For this reason I decided now was the prime opportunity to sit down and rank all twenty current MCU movies from, what I feel at least, the not-so-great down to the best the MCU has to offer.
I’m only going to rank actual MCU films, which started in 2008 with Iron Man, not overall Marvel movies, which arguably began in 1986 with Howard the Duck. I also won’t including Sony films, like Spider-Man, or Fox films, like X-Men and Logan. That means no Deadpool or Deadpool 2 (great films by the way!). I’ll save that undertaking for later when I’ll undoubtedly update my previous article about the “10 Best Superhero Films of All-Time.” This ranking doesn’t take into account revenue generated, as even the not-so-great MCU films made a ton of loot! No, I’m looking more at fan reception, ongoing popularity, and maybe a little on how the film built on what came before it and connects to what comes after. Do you agree with my ranking? Sound off and let me know what you think!
20. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
I know many are in consensus with putting this one at the tail-end of MCU films; some will even try to argue that it is not even an official MCU entry, it is. The Incredible Hulk starred Ed Norton as the same Dr. Banner portrayed by Mark Ruffalo as first seen in The Avengers (2012). Zack Penn wrote the screenplay and the film was directed by Louis Letterier, who previously gave us Jason Statham in 2002’s The Transporter. It was a financially successful film and received some pretty good reviews; a solid popcorn flick. However, the film failed to really take on the internal struggle of Banner, or anything that would resonate with the viewer. Ultimately, the film is forgettable. I mean the only thing I really remember that stuck with me is the final scene, where we find Dr. Banner in British Columbia, his eyes closed, meditating. Instead of trying to stop his transformations, he has learned to control them; with a smirk, opening his eyes to reveal the signature green irises signaling the coming of the Hulk! Now that was a good scene! But, that was about it unfortunately.
19. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Iron Man 2 is Jon Favreau’s second installment helming the fledgling MCU. Terrence Howard was bounced in favor of Don Cheadle, pretty good choice, and he introduced a villain that was a combination of comic classic baddies Crimson Dynamo and Whiplash. Mickey Rourke was tapped to portray the new MCU version of Whiplash. With a screen play written by Justin Theroux, that’s right – Jennifer Aniston’s estranged husband, the sequel doesn’t quite deliver as much fun as the first film, but it was still solidly made and had great performances. The film received mixed reviews and many cited the film as being a hot mess of confusion, villains, and untenable storylines. I mean, I got the whole Mickey Rourke splitting race cars in half with a laser whip, but otherwise this film is the one MCU entry that I’ve watched the least since its original release.
18. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Thor: The Dark World had plenty of the action, humor, and mythos to satisfy any fan, but it was nowhere near the best the MCU has brought us. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are great together and you can really see the chemistry between them as they portray brothers Thor and Loki, respectively. However, I found that this film suffered from a lack of substance. I mean Frigga is killed, but I didn’t feel it like I felt the loss of Loki in Infinity War; Thor’s pain comes across so much more vividly in the Avengers’ film that it did in his own film. In fact, it was the opposite. Loki seemed to emote more at Frigga’s passing (even though she wasn’t even his birth mother)! Critics actually felt Loki stole the show. The battle sequences are entertaining but it seemed the rest was filler. Director Alan Taylor, who had previously directed television dramas like “Mad Men” and “The Sopranos,” seemed to excel in the action, but failed to deliver in between. Okay, saying that makes it seem like I didn’t enjoy the film; I loved it, but if I have to rank them, which I am, this one isn’t among the best.
17. Iron Man 3 (2013)
This film made buckets of money; actually the highest grossing film in the Iron Man series at $1.215 billion worldwide! However, I came out of it with mixed feelings. Many viewers believe this is the definitive Iron Man film. Directed by Shane Black, Iron Man 3 was a great action film with an interesting story and great performances; it had everything, except it just wasn’t very convincing to me. I can suspend my disbelief and use my imagination to fill in the gaps, like a true fan; however, sometimes I think I was just trying too hard to like this film more than I did. I got Tony Stark’s PTSD but I felt the climax carried on a little long, and we never really know the villain’s motivation. Maybe it was the whole Mandarin-is-not-the-Mandarin thing that left a sour taste in my mouth. I mean, that was a total waste of a character. I know the Marvel One-Shot, All Hail the King, clarified that the real Mandarin was not too pleased with Trevor Slattery’s impersonation of him. This let us know the real Mandarin was still out there somewhere, but the damage was done. In my opinion, this film was better than Iron Man 2; however, it only delivered half the fun of 2008’s Iron Man.
16. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
First, I enjoyed Avengers: Age of Ultron. I’ve re-watched it on Blu-ray quite a few times. Was it the best movie? Well, evidently not if I’m ranking it this low on the list. I didn’t buy they whole Natasha-crushing-on-Banner-thing. I mean, can an über-nerd pull a hottie like the Black Widow, darn straight he can, but it seemed like Marvel was trying to jam her whole crush on him down our throats and I just felt it was wasted film stock. Furthermore, the film failed to advance the overall MCU throughline. It does somewhat setup Civil War. However, what it lacks is compensated for by allowing us to delve further into some great characters. Written and directed by Joss Whedon, who basically took over steering the MCU from Jon Favreau. This ended up being the film that caused Whedon to leave the franchise behind citing fatigue and Marvel’s strict directions on plot. Given head honcho Kevin Feige’s always-advancing 10-year-plan for the MCU, it’s no wonder they were strict with Whedon.
15. Thor (2011)
In the months leading up to Thor’s release, I was hesitant to put any faith in the film’s success. I felt the world wasn’t ready for the fantasy element that Kenneth Branagh would bring into the MCU. However, he put out a great movie and proved his classical training and theatrical stylings were a perfect fit. I mean, ultimately, the film is kind of boring, but it looked great, and who couldn’t resist falling in love with Kat Denning’s Darcy! The story was written by Mark Protosevich and J. Michael Straczynski, famous for his Babylon 5 television series and movies. We got to see our first glimpse of Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and were introduced to the sibling rivalry and resentment held by Tom Hiddleston’s breakout performance as Loki. So even if the actual plot was lackluster, it offered some real gems that have resonated with filmgoers.
14. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
I think it was director Jodie Foster, who once said that superhero movies were ruining the overall cinematic experience, or maybe it was David Fincher; actually, I think they both said it, though I believe those remarks were aimed at big-budget tentpole films in general. Regardless, when someone watches Captain America: The First Avenger, the general filmgoer doesn’t come away with feeling like they watched another superhero flick. Sure, most superhero films don’t really break new ground. Critics will say they are basically the same, saving the world, never exploring new territory. However, they should really watch Captain America. It is not just an action origin story and MCU intro for Steve Rogers; it is actually a pretty good World War II film. That’s what I came out of it remembering. Take away his Marvel abilities and the film was about a patriotic young man who really wanted to serve his country. He had the valor and fearlessness to try, overcoming all obstacles, and succeeding in being the best he could be. Plus, we were introduced to Agent Peggy Carter and that character spawned a whole cinematic and small-screen life of its own.
13. Doctor Strange (2016)
When it was announced that director Scott Derrickson would be taking the helm for the Doctor Strange film, I was a little reluctant to get behind it. He was mainly known for his horror films and I thought it odd Marvel would turn to such a writer/director for a more fantasy-based story. However, having seen the film opening weekend (of course), I was excited and proud to sing the man’s praises. If it wasn’t for having to slag through the origin story, this film would definitely rank higher in my list, as I’m sure it would for many others as well. The visuals were incredible and it almost made you feel like a child again being exposed to the cinema for the first time as we witnessed the wonders of movie magic! I can’t wait for the second installment (Kevin Feige confirmed there’s a film in the pipeline, but as to when and what, everyone’s pretty mum!).
12. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Everything that had to come together to make this MCU film a reality was a dream come true. For too long fans had hoped Marvel would be able to either re-acquire the rights or somehow otherwise negotiate with Sony to integrate Spider-Man into the MCU. The resulting film did not disappoint. It was funny, it was fast, and it was action-packed. It’s not the best Spider-Man film made, but it is up there. Michael Keaton as the Vulture turned out to be one of the best Marvel villains we had seen yet. Director Jon Watts and the writers went the right route in not giving us yet another retelling of Peter Parker’s origin story. They instead chose to respect the fans, who already know the specifics: radioactive spider, Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility,” yada, yada, yada… No, the filmmakers chose instead to focus on the high school aspect of Parker, a teen with superhuman abilities, trying to find balance between fighting crime and getting his homework turned in on-time. This was a film that was different from any other superhero film that came before, with a hero who simply has yet to master all he can do. The film revealed Parker’s very real fears and weaknesses. I placed Spider-Man: Homecoming at #12, but some viewers could easily make an argument that this film belongs in the top ten, and I really wouldn’t be able to argue with them.
11. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Some say Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was even better than the first film. I wouldn’t go that far but I can say that I loved it and thought the film was fun from start to finish. The whole Yondu subplot might have taken away from the main plot a little, but you can’t say it wasn’t emotional and full of heart. I mean Yondu’s now-iconic line, “He may have been your father, boy. But he wasn’t your daddy…” has to rank up there with the greats! Don’t tell me you don’t get teary-eyed when you think about it. Also, the five mid- and end-credit scenes were fun and ambitious. I wish I could crank my top-ten up to eleven, because this one was good, real good.
10. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
I really liked Ant-Man and the Wasp, maybe it was the newness of it, I don’t know, but it squeaked into the top ten for me. Taking place between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, this film follows the further exploits of Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and Michael Douglas as they juggle evading the feds, finding Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeifer), and dealing with a new dangerous foe. Hannah John-Kamen, who I loved in SyFy’s Killjoys, joins the MCU’s growing list of great villains who connect with the audience. Originally a male villain in the Marvel comics, John-Kamen’s Ava/Ghost is fighting for her life and, after years of service to S.H.I.E.L.D., won’t go out without a fight. I felt her pain and her desperation and I thought the writers, director, and John-Kamen herself, did a great job in portraying that. Another standout was Randall Park’s loveable FBI Agent Jimmy Woo and I hope we see more of him in the future.
9. The Avengers (2012)
Marvel’s first big team-up, the one we were all waiting for ever since that first teaser in 2008’s Iron Man. Some believe it was plot disaster that relied too heavily on filmgoers remembering what happened in all the previous films. Well, I can tell you, as someone who saw all those previous films that was not a problem. Joss Whedon, and co-writer Zack Penn, balanced all the personalities perfectly and gave ever hero and star something to do; no one fades into a secondary character. The process which made this film possible was a huge gamble for Marvel; ambitious but, “In Feige We Trust,” and it paid off. Tom Hiddleston weaseled his way back into our hearts as the devilishly evil Loki and the dynamic between him and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) continued to shine. I honestly have nothing negative to say about this film. In my opinion, it is a new classic.
8. Ant-Man (2015)
Ant-Man was a film that was long in the making. Original director Edgar Wright has been famously working on it and promised something funny and action-packed that fans would love. He and Joe Cornish wrote the story and began their hard journey towards making the film. Then, all of a sudden, Edgar Wright was gone! Fans were aghast! What did this mean for the film? New director Peyton Reed jumped in while Adam McKay and Paul Rudd adapted the screenplay. The result was truly refreshing. The MCU now had its first true comedy hit! Aside from Paul Rudd as Scott Lang (Ant-Man), Michael Pena was a standout as Lang’s best friend and former prison cellmate, Luis (the man who keeps mad-secrets for his boy!). I loved this film!
7. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Thor: Ragnarok possessed a completely different tone than the first two films; it was something entirely new. This was thanks in no small part to talented comedian and filmmaker Taika Waititi. As director, Waititi, who also acted in the film as the loveable warrior Korg, gave filmgoers the most fun we might have had in a 2017 film! Written by Christopher Yost, Craig Kyle, and Eric Pearson, this third installment offered up more of the Thor-Loki dynamic, and through in a darker element with their estranged sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett). It also amped up the humor and featured great performances by Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie), Jeff Goldblum (Grandmaster), Idris Elba (Heimdall), and Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk). Throw in a little scene with Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange) and you have film gold! Unfortunately, we did witness the tragic demise of the Warriors Three: Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg (Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano, and Ray Stevenson, respectively). Karl Urban was decent enough as Skurge. Overall, I felt the film had a Guardians of the Galaxy vibe to it. That’s not a bad thing as I really liked those films too.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Just like Deadpool (2016) made it okay to have an R-rated superhero movie, Guardians of the Galaxy signified a tonal shift in the MCU, bringing the comedy to the forefront of the film. Now, I’ve heard some people grumbling that the plot wasn’t very strong and that only the charisma of the cast carried Guardians of the Galaxy. To those people – TTTTHPBT! I loved it! Originally, when the film was announced, and even up to the premiere, I was hesitant to believe that it would be successful. It was a vastly different setting from what the MCU had shown us before; delving into the far reaches of space with a group of second- maybe third-tier superheroes. They pulled it off nicely!
I know director James Gunn has recently come under fire from Disney and was unceremoniously removed from his helm of the Guardians’ ship. However, it is a testament to his impact on the cast and whole Guardians mythos that nearly all the film’s stars have come out publicly in his defense. I don’t know the man personally, so I’m staying out of the controversy. That being said, Gunn made one heck of a film. He also wrote it, alongside Nicole Perlman, who I believe is also writing the treatment for the announced Black Widow film as well as had some input on the screenplay for Captain Marvel (2019). Remember, this is the film that re-introduced a svelte Andy Dwyer to millions of filmgoers around the world! This was Chris Pratt’s breakout role. Plus, you can’t forget the film’s incredible soundtrack, with all those classic hits from the 60’s and 70’s.
5. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Captain America: Civil War was, again, something new for the MCU. It was a wholly Captain America story with an Avengers film feel. It was basically the best of both worlds and it came through that way. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo delivered an emotional and action-packed punch to our chests with yet another multi-dimensional villain. Not quite on par with Killmonger or Thanos, Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is still a man in pain but instead of letting his quest for revenge play out in simply a bid to destroy the Avengers, he weaves an intricate plan to have them destroy each other. After all, he knows he is no match for them in a direct confrontation, as he says; “more powerful men” than him have tried. This is an incredible action film on its own, and one of the best of the superhero genre.
4. Iron Man (2008)
Just like Guardians of the Galaxy re-introduced us to Chris Pratt, Iron Man reinvented Robert Downey Jr. Unlike Pratt; however, Downey Jr. was already a movie star, but his stature had waned after years of turmoil and legal issues. This film saw him rematerialize as the character he was born to portray! The story was perfect, showcasing Tony Stark as the billionaire playboy weapons manufacturer who, after seeing firsthand what his weapons are doing to the world, decides to put his talents, his fortune, and his company’s immense influence, to better use. Director Jon Favreau, anointed by Kevin Feige to give the new fledgling MCU a strong start, delivered a strong origin story, as well as instituted now-familiar MCU fixtures like post-credit scenes and Stan Lee cameos. This was the film that started it all! I mean, who didn’t gasp when Samuel L. Jackson, as Nick Fury, emerged from the shadows and make Stark aware of the Avengers Initiative. This film was the foundation that the entire MCU was built upon! And a strong foundation it is!
3. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
The actual beginning of the film picks up the story already in its second act, relying on the filmgoers to recall all that came before in previous films. But if you’re a fan, you had no problem in doing so. If not, then you were undoubtedly asking pesky questions of your neighbor in the theater (hint: you shouldn’t talk during the movie). For those of us who have been following along, Avengers: Infinity War was the culmination of a ten-year cinematic journey. It was built upon the shoulders of all the films that we enjoyed before it. Though it signified the beginning of the end for Marvel’s Phase Four, I’d really call it the endcap for the 1 st MCU Era, directors Anthony & Joe Russo, and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, have given us what became Marvel’s most successful film to date. It is the 4 th highest-grossing film of all-time, topping $2 billion worldwide. The film delivered such an emotional gut-punch and a villain worthy of this monumental team-up. Thanos, much heralded and hyped over the years, did not disappoint. Josh Brolin portrayed the role, via CGI motion capture, brilliantly. He injected the right amount of emotion into the ruthless galactic terror; a villain not bent on universal domination, but rather universal liberation. His motives were pure, but he lacked the empathy to see the horror in his actions. One of the most powerful scenes is when he sheds those tears upon realizing what he must sacrifice to achieve his goals; a sacrifice that will haunt him for the remainder of his life (or until the Avengers figure out a way to reverse it).
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Anthony & Joe Russo made their MCU debit directing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and what a debut it was! Previously known for their work as producers and directors of the hit comedy series Community, the Russos were, to me, a gamble into uncharted territory. I was familiar with their work on the television series, you could even call me a fan, but to take on a property like Captain America seemed at first to be a delusion of grandeur. I mean, sure the MCU is known for it more light-hearted dialogue and witty banter between characters, but to go full-steam and hire television comedy directors seemed a bit much for me. Their pitch to Kevin Feige must’ve been incredible. Again, I should’ve trusted Feige more because the film was great! Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is struggling to find his place in this modern world only to have a piece of his past return; his old friend Bucky has been reborn as the assassin known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Captain America joins forces with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to take on this new threat, while Hydra makes its move to tear apart S.H.I.E.L.D. from within. It’s a classic spy thriller with a superhero slant. Robert Redford adds gravitas as the villain you never knew was there. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely delivered the goods once again as Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not just a great superhero film; it’s a great film period!
1. Black Panther (2018)
When King T’Challa appeared as the Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War, fans were eager for more. 2018’s Black Panther did not disappoint, as is evidenced by the fact that it went on to become the third-highest grossing film off all time in the United States (beating out Avengers: Infinity War domestically). Critics hailed the film, not only for its commercial success and excellent plot, but for being a giant leap forward in minority representation in film. Directed by Ryan Coogler, and written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, the film could arguably be called the superhero movie with the most substance to it. Is this film an overt political statement in cinematic form? Maybe, but if so, it’s definitely the most successful political film ever. This is thanks in no small part to Coogler’s choice of Michael B. Jordan as the villain, Killmonger. Coogler had previously cast Jordan to star in his previous critically acclaimed films Fruitvale Station (2013) and Creed (2015).
They say a hero is only as good as his villain. For example, DC’s Batman movies, the best of which were the films that featured the Joker, Batman’s arch-nemesis. This is true whether we’re talking about Jack Nicholson taking on Michael Keaton in Batman (1989), or Heath Ledger opposite Christian Bale in The Dark Knight (2008), which is arguably the best superhero movie ever made. You can’t have a good superhero, or a good superhero movie, without a good villain. Thanos was good, definitely a multi-layered, deeply motivated character, but Jordan’s Killmonger was undoubtedly the best the MCU has come up with yet. You actually felt and understood his pain, his motivation, and then you understood that he was not your average murderous sociopath. Ultimately, at the end of the film, even T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) begins to understand this as well. That is why it was sad when Killmonger met his demise. How often do you feel this way when the bad guy gets it in the end? Not too often. For this reason, Black Panther ranks way up there as the best the MCU has ever produced.Share: