Ten years of Marvel Cinematic Universe building culminated to Avengers: Infinity War. We have to wait unit next year until the conclusion of the untitled sequel.
Until then, here’s updated rankings of all 19 films – from Iron Man to Avengers: Infinity War.
19. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Formulaic, predictable mindless action and bland romance sums up the worst entry of the MCU. Star Chris Hemsworth even admitted to being bored during the film. The writing and execution could have been better from Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.
Yost would later redeem himself for this with Thor: Ragnarok. The latter two would come to work on far more in the MCU. The film was directed by Alan Taylor, who would later direct the stinker, Terminator: Genisys.
It’s watchable, but it seemed to fulfill the typical checklist of the status quo of bare minimums for a superhero film. They gave Natalie Portman more to do as Jane Foster, but even she eventually wound up quitting the MCU for now. There was also more background behind Tom Hiddleston’s Loki when he started becoming more charismatic antihero than just villain.
Thor’s entourage – Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Fandral (Zachary Levi), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadonobu Asano) and Heimdall (Idris Elba) are sort of there to chew up some scenes, but ultimately left an underwhelming experience.
It’s as underwhelming as the MCU gets, especially due to how forgettable Christopher Eccleston’s performance as Malekith was. Even the former Doctor Who regretted taking the role.
18. Incredible Hulk (2008)
If it weren’t for how much a control freak Edward Norton was with the character, we could have seen his version of Bruce Banner/Hulk become an intriguing dynamic. Not that there’s anything to complain about Mark Ruffalo’s performance in the MCU, but it seems a bit disjoining given the continuity. What the irony is that director Louis Leterrier wanted Ruffalo in the part, but Marvel insisted on Norton.
As far as the film itself, it does build up some interesting plot points that will never likely get resolved until Universal relinquishes the solo film rights, which is disappointing since The Leader was what was going to be built for the sequel.
On its own merits, the films are only as memorable as the hero and villains themselves. While it was fun to explore Norton’s Hulk, we didn’t get an appealing “evil clone” villain as Emil Blonsky/Abomination was a forgettable villain that came off as glorified roid rage crossfit nut. It was a considerable waste from such a gifted actor like Tim Roth.
There was nothing memorable about Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross or her on screen father General ‘Thunderbolt Ross,’ played by William Hurt. Zack Penn developed the story and screenplay and has far better work with his later MCU showings.
17. Iron Man 3 (2013)
The worst of the Iron Man films looks to borrow on Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) weariness and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, whenever it becomes a convenient plot device for Marvel to use as a motivation to justify being Iron Man.
The marketing was revealed to be a bait and switch between cultural appropriation in the Mandarin to the spurned up and comer looking for revenge. At least 2004’s The Incredibles executed the latter plot much more effectively. This would be an effective swan song for the character if it was truly the end of the character, but no. Later MCU films completely make the ending pointless.
Director Shane Black and writer Drew Pearce turn in a decent enough script to get everyone involved and they give the supporting cast more to do with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and James “War Machine” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) looking like they’re having more fun in their expanded roles.
Ben Kingsley can certainly be as intense as he can be goofy when he needs to be and Syndrome…errr Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) was a definite upgrade from Mickey Rourke as an Iron Man villain.
16. Ant-Man (2015)
The MCU decided to change directions and not make Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) the primary focus, rather his protégé, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a reformed thief trying to make right. It’s like if Bruce Wayne in the world of Batman Beyond recruited Catwoman to be his successor as Batman than Terry McGinnis.
The two try to stop Pym’s former protégé Darren Cross/Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll) from weaponizing Pym’s research.
Written by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and Rudd, the film takes a less serious approach providing the Frat Pack humor and toning it down enough for Disney to provide a fun ride. The film predominantly explores Pym’s failure as a mentor with Cross and father to his daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). Pym and Dyne help train Lang in the ways of understanding the Ant-Man suit, which used to be Pym’s alter ego all the while teasing the potential sexual tension between Lang and Dyne much to her disgust.
What makes Lang’s Ant-Man with credit to the writing and director Peyton Reed is Lang is a hero who’s not full of himself. He’s reluctant to take up the mantle until he has a chance to truly turn his life around and make a difference. Lang’s ego is never as abrasive and selfish as Strange and Stark would be. He’s far from a boy scout and he doesn’t insist on plowing through everything. It’s also not some curse he’s trying to run away from.
So right away, he’s more distinctly different from the other powered Avengers and more even-tempered about his flaws.
The movie isn’t pioneering and doesn’t take risks, which is its biggest downfall.
15. Doctor Strange (2016)
A majority of Doctor Strange felt like a rinse and repeat of Iron Man, except the role was made for Benedict Cumberbatch as the Sorcerer Supreme.
So stop if this sounds familiar, an overconfident man of science is at the top of the world when tragedy renders him unable to continue his life as he knows it. Searching for a renewed purpose of self-discovery, the main character discovers an epiphany to help mold him to the hero he’s meant to be.
While it’s fun to see Cumberbatch pretend to struggle mastering his magic as Strange, you do get immersed into his world with a literal kaleidoscope of special effects.
Rachel McAdams was expected to do as much as say Tyler was in The Incredible Hulk and Portman in the Thor films, which is play the bare minimum love interest. Chiwetel Ejiofor turns in a commendable performance as Strange’s guide in Mordo, while Mads Mikkelsen fulfills his duty as main lackey to CGI main villain Dormammu.
Despite the film’s controversy of whitewashing but later explained as a re-imagining of the character, Tilda Swinton gets to play a role rare for any woman to play in science fiction/fantasy/superhero film as the Ancient One, a leading teacher and expert in her field passing her knowledge to the main protagonist.
The film was written and directed by Scott Derrickson and co-written by Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill. It’s a serviceable story and largely plays it safe.
14. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
For Joss Whedon, it likely was hard to top his first outing in The Avengers, but unfortunately, the villain in this film had no build up whatsoever in Ultron (James Spader).
There was no previous dynamic throughout the MCU films between Stark and Banner about what they could do together or any real chemistry. Even their chemistry in the first film had little to nothing to do with scientific innovation. So they both built this not-Terminator as the ultimate in artificial intelligence to help the Avengers become their backup to police the world.
Naturally SkyNet…err…Ultron gains self-awareness and finds humans to ultimately be the problem. We get introduced to more new characters with little to no build up. We had meaningless drones and a near meaningless death as people kept trying to up the ante about how many robots can be destroyed as opposed to the aliens destroyed from the first film.
The team is more united and you get a sprinkling of some new faces, but nothing really remarkable. For Whedon, it was all over but the burnout. At least we got to know more about America’s favorite archer not named Katniss or Arrow in Hawkeye.
13. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Due to the nature of film and Marvel’s grand plans, the film was an even bigger disappointment than Age of Ultron.
The registration of superbeings has been a major issue in Marvel Comics striking fear and resolve among all the heroes.
In the case of Captain America: Civil War,it was about the implications of exposing themselves to the public and if privacy is warranted to those with these unique gifts. Ultimately, the “Sokovia Accords,” which the events were stemmed from Age of Ultron, causes divide among the Avengers ultimately breaking them up.
While should have been compare to what really happened was the lack of effective execution for the film counterpart. At the comic Civil War’s conclusion, Steve Rogers meets his own end at an assassin’s bullet. The film had both anti-registration Rogers and pro-registration Stark going their separate ways with the earlier going into hiding.
The film was more about Rogers protecting his best friend, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) from his would-be captors because of his life as an enslaved member of H.Y.D.RA.
The Russo’s provide a serviceable, but underwhelming job with the material and the most forgettable villain of the MCU in Zemo (Daniel Bruhl).
12. Thor (2011)
Director Kenneth Branagh brought his Shakespearan vision to the world of Asgard in this fish out of water tale between Marvel’s Norse Gods in something that looks like a much better looking Masters of the Universe with a much more eloquent Chris Hemsworth in the title role as opposed to Dolph Lundgren.
The reason why the film ranks as high is because of the world-building aspect. We got to know Asgard as intimately as we do the research team on earth with Jane Foster (Portman), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings).
The camaraderie between Thor’s band that initially included Loki was genuine and their interactions with Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and Frigga (Rene Russo) made Asgard a world worth caring about, unlike future films in the franchise.
11. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
One of the best MCU origin stories, the film establishes what may become its universe’s biggest strength: Steve Rogers’ heart. As an actor who used to be the over the top Human Torch in the first incarnation of the Fantastic Four films, Chris Evans comes across as the most organic and authentic performances in a superhero film.
As vanilla as it sounds initially, Evans’ genuineness as Cap resonates across any audience because of how stern to his principles he is in a changing world. Doing what’s right and not judging others as long as they don’t deprive others of those same rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The Joe Johnson-directed picture serves as the impetus for who will be easily the most evolved character of the MCU. It’s a shame he hasn’t directed another MCU film.
10. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
What was supposed to be another round of “here we go again” turned into another refreshing take on the Spider-Man character where we didn’t have to keep revisiting Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) origin as previously visited by Sam Raimi and Marc Webb.
This time, Parker’s an underground sensation trying to figure how to intuitively keep Spider-Man-ing.
Unfortunately, they undercut Parker’s prodigy mind and made Tony Stark (Downey) his science surrogate father with hand-me downs.
While Downey’s appearance doesn’t take too much away, it’s essentially Marvel Studios and Disney’s way of telling Sony you can’t do this without us.
Another difference between previous adaptations and Homecoming is we see Peter become a real high school student trying to keep his cover as Spider-Man, an aspect that was rushed in previous film franchises.
Finally, we have an intense villain of the Vulture played none other than Michael Keaton, who was as intimidating as Willem Defoe’s Green Goblin was in Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film. Homecoming did as little as possible to reinvent the wheel and it was effective for a second reboot.
9. Iron Man 2 (2010)
We see Iron Man/Tony Stark come more on to his own as we see the MCU taking more shape in expanding characters from S.H.I.E.L.D. and where they start to stand in the grand scheme of things. We also see Scarlett Johansson’s debut as Black Widow, who at the time is just a benevolent henchwoman without as much backstory.
The film’s grand appeal was Tony’s battle through alcoholism and his search to save his own life from his first arc reactor which is slowly poisoning him. It’s the rare superhero film that expands the main character’s role in learning more about responsibility and growth. The film’s only weak spot was Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko/Whiplash.
As predicable a villain as Iron Man villains go, he merely builds a robot version of his original suit and some vague revenge plot having to do with the “sins of the father begot the son.” We don’t get any background of any of this, except what comes from Vanko’s mouth. Meanwhile, we learn more about Stark’s father in flashbacks, but hey why waste resources learning as intimately about the villain as we do the hero? Written by Justin Theoroux and returning to direct is Jon Favreau (who also plays Happy Hogan), the film could have been better, but is certainly a competent sequel.
8. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
The best Thor film shed its skin of the previous films as we see more tragedy befall Asgard with a returning Hela (Cate Blanchett) to wreak havoc after being banished by Odin (Hopkins).
One of the prevailing themes of the Thor films is emasculation where he bases his entire strength on his worthiness to wield Mjolnir, but unfortunately Hela destroys the legendary hammer. Thor must find a new source of inspiration.
We see a few new characters with new alpha female protagonist in Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). We’re also given another refreshing take on the Hulk (Ruffalo) since they haven’t given the character anything worthwhile to do since The Avengers films. He reunites with Thor and Loki (Hiddleston). The face on Loki’s face was priceless seeing him for the first time since the events of the first Avengers film.
The film was far more inspired than The Dark World and advances the franchise better than the first film. Director Taika Waititi clearly drew inspiration from James Gunn’s use of retro from his Guardians of the Galaxy films.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
There’s nothing wrong with playing it safe when it comes to the film with its dynamic set of characters, but it’s certainly hard to top the original. The film primarily focuses on Peter “Starlord” Quill’s (Chris Pratt) past and explores his relationship with Ego (Kurt Russell), who sports the similar majestic beard he had in John Carpenter’s The Thing as if that didn’t foreshadow the film.
Unfortunately, not much else is given to the rest of the crew. They give enough for Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) to do barely enough to advance the plot. Drax (Dave Bautista) is largely wasted and just performs his obligatory one-liners with a few action sequences. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) irons out her sister issues once and for all with Nebula (Karen Gillan).
Vol. 2 is a fun film that didn’t live up to the precedent set by the Guardians‘ first outing.
6. Iron Man (2008)
The film that set the tone for the modern superhero genre and the MCU as we know it. Downey was born to play Tony Stark trying to make right from his previous mistakes.
Given the technology available at the time, the special FX accomplished what it set out to do. It never overwhelmed the actors themselves, because director Jon Favreau pulled off the feeling out process of becoming a superhero much like Richard Donner did generations ago in 1977’s Superman.
It’s the struggle to understand how the process works that many in today’s CGI-laden films take for granted as everything is seamless, but not as much in 2008.
While Jeff Bridges may not have been my first choice to play the main villain Obadiah Stane (Iron Mongerer), he did set precedence for future MCU villains come as the familiar formula of the colleague filled with professional jealously of the protagonist’s success.
5. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
The Russo brothers topped themselves when it came to shock value in an MCU film. The gut punches are there, but anyone with half a brain knows to take these with a grain of salt since there is a part II coming out next year.
This is one of the most consistently paced films of the MCU and given the 10 years of build-up, it’s not easy to evenly sequence each character where one isn’t significantly left out. There are members of the cast announced for the film that were purposely left out of part one. Whether or not if it’s lazy PR or intentional is up for you to decide.
Since part two was announced, you also had a feeling of what the ending may very well be and what you can start expecting from the next series of films to the coming next year.
Given all the action of the film, there was no real room to properly build up anyone of significance, except for two of the protagonists and the main villain himself, Thanos (Josh Brolin).
He was teased and only started to have real substance in the Guardians of the Galaxy films. The film could have been much more if there was more left to the imagination for the plot, but given the build up and payoff, the Russo’s pulled off the balance when it could have been much more.
4. The Avengers (2012)
Back when the MCU’s sandbox was a bit smaller, Joss Whedon came up with the best way to do his first superhero team up, have the heroes primarily fight amongst themselves and have a very charismatic and over-the-top villain in Loki (Hiddleston).
The perfect formula and clash of egos were the perfect storm of fanboy moments and a highlight reel where everyone shined. The film truly hit the MCU’s creative peak of sense and awe.
3. Black Panther (2018)
While we constantly seen films’ origin stories follow the familiar formula, the reason why this film stands out is its heart from the protagonist, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and antagonist Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).
Their passion, motivation and vision are clear as day thanks to the effort of director Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, who both wrote the film. The film shows that both T’Challa and Killmonger are alike in that they want to fight injustice, but have taken different paths to achieve it. We see the nobility of T’Challa constantly challenged, even when discovering his world isn’t what it seems.
While the revenge and the past are thematic throughout the MCU, Coogler and Cole really poured depth into Killmonger to not simply make him some template, but a real character of flesh and bone. You could his pain and understand his reasoning far more than other MCU villains.
Black Panther is by far the best executed MCU origins film.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The reason why the Russos are trusted with such an important story like Infinity War is this film. The Winter Solder is one of the smartest, most intuitive films that just-so-happens to be a superhero film. It could’ve easily be a Bourne or Bond film, but given the stoic nature of Steve Rogers, he makes a far more interesting rebel than boy scout.
When the world around him crumbles up in a H.Y.D.R.A. coup of S.H.I.E.L.D., the surviving remnants find themselves in a struggle to survive. Auxiliary characters like Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) all share equal parts of this thrill ride.
Cap faces his greatest challenge when his former best friend is discovered brainwashed by the very group he’s fought since World War II in H.Y.D.R.A.
The film is a fun ride from start to finish, and helps solidify Cap as the moral compass of the Avengers.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The film hits all the right notes when it comes to the fun of filmmaking. Audiences love a story about a band of rejects going against the grain against all odds. It’s the rare story where the entire ensemble is the focus, not just one person. You can pick any specific character to resonate with you.
The film is a perfect case study from director James Gunn about how to let your imagination run wild and to have fun by never taking yourself too seriously. You feel throughout the film that it isn’t just characters based on the comic, but perhaps each character representing the extension of the artist come to life.
Even the cookie-cutter villain in Ronan (Lee Pace) can’t erode this fun ride. If there was any mandatory Marvel films to see before Infinity War, then you should check out the first two GoTG films as they have more direct ties to Thanos than the other films.
While is not to sound too poetic, the stylized choice of relying on seldom referenced music from the 1970s and 80s on top of the subtle pop culture references solidifies the film as an iconic piece of cinema history.
Do you agree with my list? How do you rank the MCU films? Comment below, let us know!