Walt Disney Studios
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been expanding for years. Each subset of films has been split into phases, with the MCU currently being in phase three of storytelling. There are some films in the MCU that are incredible even outside of the idea that they're superhero movies. And then there's a few that aren't so super.
Ahead of the release of Thor: Ragnarok this fall, it's only appropriate that we take a look at the best and the worst the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer. Here is the definitive ranking of every single MCU film to date!
In phase one of the MCU, where the Avengers assemble and backstories are fleshed out, Thor is the weakest of the bunch. The 2011 film introduces Thor (Chris Hemsworth), brings him to earth to romance Natalie Portman and regain his powers so he can wield his magical hammer Mjolnir again. The film is a bit flat — Thor isn't exactly the most charismatic Avenger, though he does have some silly moments as he assimilates to earth culture. But it does have one great thing going for it: the introduction of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor's mischievous brother. Hiddleston's Loki continues to be a bright spot in whenever he appears in an MCU film.
Before Marvel was shoving infinities-long contracts at all their actors, they had Edward Norton as the original MCU Hulk. Released only two months after Iron Man, (remember when we didn't have to wait a year between Marvel movies?!), this film explores the Hulk's backstory and introduces his place in the MCU.
It ranks low for one specific reason: Norton. While there's nothing inherently wrong with his portrayal, he's no Mark Ruffalo, a.k.a the Hulk we've all come to know and love. It's still a fun romp and helps start building the universe, but it's not much more than an establishment piece.
After the hit success of Marvel's The Avengers, the pressure was on to create an equally compelling sequel. Unfortunately, the pressure must have been too much because this film was a bit of a letdown. To be fair, it was always going to be difficult to follow the original film, which marked the first big team-up of the Avengers. The second film packed a bigger punch, widened the scope of superheroes, and featured what sounded like a fascinating villain.
But when all was said and done, the film felt cluttered and messy. The villain, Ultron (James Spader), just wasn't entrancing enough to carry a film. The big thing this film did accomplish, though, was setting up the rifts that contribute to the excellent Captain America: Civil War (more on that later!).
Another case of a sequel gone wrong. Iron Man was the film that kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so following it up was never going to be easy. Unfortunately, there was just too much going on in this film for it to feel cohesive. Mickey Rourke gives a perfectly villainous performance, but he is one of the multiple villains and convoluted plotlines that amount to little.
Luckily Robert Downey Jr. is as genial as ever here, showing why Iron Man has become such a fan favorite superhero. The film also kicks into overdrive the amount of "easter eggs" it has referencing other films and superheroes within the MCU. Last but not least, it also introduces one of the most kick-ass women in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Black Widow(Scarlett Johansson).
Thor was a bit rough but the sequel, luckily, softened some of those rough edges. With higher stakes and familiar humor, Thor: The Dark World packs a bigger punch than its predecessor. Thor was primarily focused on table-setting but the sequel finally digs in for dinner, providing key mythological and romantic moments. Plus, Loki is helping Thor instead of battling against him, giving everyone's fave bad boy/man-crush a hero role for once.
The original Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the biggest surprise hits of the MCU. A sequel had a lot to live up to. Fortunately, it delivered the same laugh out loud humor and incredible soundtrack as the original. Unfortunately, it didn't have much of a connection to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — something that fans have come to expect from these movies now. Despite not having high stakes or anything vital to offer, it's still a hilarious sequel well worth watching. Plus, baby Groot steals the show.
While Iron Man 2 was a bit of a letdown, the third one was quite the opposite. After the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark is experiencing extreme PTSD — wouldn't we all if we'd just had to fight off literal space aliens? The movie deconstructs Tony and brings him back to basics, a... stark... contrast to the jam-packed action movie its predecessor was. There's certainly no shortage of action, but it also has some authentic emotion that we don't often see in most superhero films.
Tom Holland is the most recent Spider-Man and the youngest iteration of the hero on-screen to date. He first appeared briefly in Captain America: Civil War, which set up his relationship with Tony Stark. His standalone film fills in the gaps between how he got his powers and his mentor-mentee relationship with Tony. It also interestingly shows what life is like in a post-Avengers world, as highschoolers now learn about various things that happened in past movies.
Even better: Hi, Zendaya!
The first Captain America film introduced ~ dreamy ~ Chris Evans as Cap himself. This is how you do an origin story right. Cap's introduction sets the film primarily in the 1940s — but it doesn't feel irrelevant to the rest of the MCU. It's entertaining and exciting, not to mention vital in setting the stage for The Avenger's finally coming together.
It also introduces us to Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), one of the OG dreamboat bad boys of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so we weren't disappointed.
Doctor Strange introduced a superhero that isn't as well known to audiences as Iron Man or Spider-Man, making it a bit of a gamble. Luckily Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is introduced flawlessly, employing much of the humor and levity that makes the MCU great. Cumberbatch also proves that everyone has some type of involvement in superhero movies these days.
The very first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains one of the greatest. Iron Man set the stage for everything to come and brought Robert Downey Jr. a career resurgence. The humor that has become a trademark of the MCU is perfected here as Downey's wry sarcasm becomes synonymous with these films. The film also sets the precedent of post-credits scenes. Iron Man's post-credit scene has Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) introducing the "Avengers Initiative" — and we all know how important that ends up being!
This movie brings superhero team-ups to a whole new level. In the aftermath of all the destruction the Avengers have caused, Tony Stark is beginning to think they need to be kept in check. Cap doesn't quite agree. And so begins the rift that forms within the Avengers, pitting them against each other as they fight for what they think is right. The film includes almost every superhero in the MCU to date, but it never feels oversaturated. It's also the most political, and poignant, MCU film. Asking the question of what needs to happen when those saving the earth are also responsible for collateral casualties is of extreme relevance in the IRL universe we live in.
Ant-Man introduces another hero that isn't quite as well known as his contemporaries very successfully. Plus it brings in Paul Rudd as Ant-Man so you can't really go wrong here. Rudd is almost equal to Downey in sarcastic humor, and Michael Peña's scenes are comedic gold, thus making Ant-Man one of the funniest MCU films to date. The film takes the silly premise of a man literally turning into the size of an ant and makes it badass. Plus, did I mention Paul Rudd's in it?
Guardians of the Galaxy was the movie that made Chris Pratt a household name and a bona fide movie star. That in itself gives it a top three spot. It's also the funniest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, thanks to Pratt's Starlord and Bradley Cooper's Rocket especially. The film was not only a massive hit due to its silly nature, but it provided a lot of forward-motion for the MCU. The introduction of another infinity stone, some key Thanos moments, and the fun of the Collector's Museum all have key roles to play going forward. And luckily the Guardians and the Avengers will be uniting soon.
Walt Disney Studio
This sequel explores Captain America's a.k.a Steven Rogers's life in the modern day and is one of the finest Marvel films. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is packed with thrills and suspenseful moments, but doesn't shy away from smaller, quieter character moments. While there's no mistaking this is a superhero movie it has a shocking amount of heart. One of the most important relationships in any of these films is the BFF love story between Steve and Bucky Barnes and this film gives more edge to that tale.
This movie has it all. There's the very first team-up of all our superheroes thus far. There's Loki as the villain. It marks the introduction of Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk...
and who else could you possibly imagine reciting that "you know what my secret is?" line?! Marvel's The Avengers is a nonstop thrill ride, but since these characters have been fleshed out a bit beforehand none of them get lost in the shuffle.
This movie also had the benefit of Joss Whedon at the helm, adding in his witty humor and a dash of humanity in a story involving the supernatural. It remains a special, exhilarating film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a mark of the heights these films can achieve.
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