I’ve been toying with this idea for some time now given that there are thirteen movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at present. In the wake of the recent release of Captain America: Civil War I thought now would be as good a time as any to take a look back at all the Marvel movies and compile a list of the best and worst ones according to my humble opinion.
After writing about my criticisms of Civil War on my blog, a movie that gravely disappointed me, I felt the urge to revisit the kind of movies in the MCU that I feel are vastly superior to it, as well as peek at those that were real Hulk smashes – and not in a good way at all. More than that I simply want to indulge in this behemoth of a movie world.
Now with there being so many movies I won’t give an extensive analysis of why each movie earned its spot in the rankings, otherwise we’ll be looking at a 10,000 word article or something along those lines. I’ll remain as brief as possible while providing as much (or as little) justification as I can.
Once again I have to put a giant SPOILER warning, because I will brief over major plot points for the thirteen movies in this universe. Save your eyes if there are any that you haven’t seen, or merely skip over the written justifications.
Without any further babbling let’s awaken this monster that is the MCU.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Winter Soldier is hands-down the best Marvel film of the current universe. It was the movie that made Captain America cool and it was the one that shook up the MCU in a way that mattered. What was so unique about it was that it didn’t feel like a superhero movie, but rather like a Bond-esque spy thriller that just so happened to star a Marvel hero.
In a way it was similar to how The Dark Knight felt like a crime epic that happened to have Batman in it, rather than a comic book movie.
With fantastic action set pieces, an unusually serious tone for a Marvel film and an engaging story that gave us the collapse of SHIELD and a compelling character evolution for Steve Rogers, The Winter Solider hit all the right notes to be memorable. A true peak of quality for this universe.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
I absolutely love this movie. Guardians of the Galaxy proved that when Marvel puts their mind to it they can make magic out of anything. Witty, funny, visually amazing, charming, heart-warming and stylish, Guardians was like the dream companion in movie form. Marvel brought a bunch of relatively unknown rejects and got the world to fall in love with them.
The movie also gave us the sense that the MCU had a bigger scope than we were otherwise exposed to, and I’m sure the presence of Thanos did well to ignite a few semis. By the time the credits were shown for this movie it was unlikely that anyone wouldn’t immediately thumbs up a sequel.
3. Iron Man
The original Iron Man was brought to us eight years ago, but watching it again recently made me realise how damn good it actually is. I don’t know what in God’s name happened to Tony Stark’s character since this movie, but I’m certain people forgot how interesting he can be.
A great introduction to Iron Man and the man behind the metal, this movie was a compelling character journey for Tony Stark that had an excellent balance of seriousness and humour. It also carried an air of excitement about it as it became the first teaser we ever got for The Avengers.
4. The Avengers
The Avengers is not necessarily the greatest movie out there. It’s pretty decent overall. However few can argue that it’s one of the greatest events in geek land, as it marked the first time we ever saw all of our heroes band together in one movie. Before The Avengers this was merely a pipe dream.
That said while it wasn’t the best movie it absolutely delivered in the ways that would satisfy most fans. The cast had great chemistry, everyone looked like they were having a fun time, the humour was on point, it did well to establish the Avengers as a unit and it had Loki on screen, which by default automatically elevated its quality. It also was a celebration of our heroes in a way that almost everyone could get on board with and could nerd out over. This was a crowning achievement for the genre.
5. The Incredible Hulk
I dare say that The Incredible Hulk is one of the most underrated and forgotten movies in the MCU. After recently going through it again I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Perhaps it was the Edward Norton factor, but I really had happy feels in my gut with this one.
The Hulk genuinely felt like a terrifying threat, they certainly didn’t cop out of him killing or severely injuring those who crossed him, I got a real sense of Banner’s fear at being unable to control the power he had and the action scenes were fantastic. It also wrote the wrongs of the past with the character and told a good Dr Banner story of self-control.
It also was the first time we saw Tony Stark invade another movie in a cameo.
Ant-Man is perhaps the least offensive movie in this universe. I’m sure there are still die-hard fans upset over Stark taking the credit for creating Ultron instead of Hank Pym, but I doubt many of them didn’t enjoy this film.
Similarly to Guardians of the Galaxy it had wit, charm, good humour, likeable characters and some really sweet visuals and set pieces. A point of love for me personally was seeing Ant-Man embarrass Falcon at the Avengers headquarters. That Clarence guy from 8 Mile really gets on my nerves.
Overall Ant-Man was rather low-key and had a pretty weak villain, but it served as a nice introduction for the character before Civil War.
7. Captain America: Civil War
This will be the most contentious entry on my list, and I’ve already been in the minority with my disappointment towards the film. To me this movie is just okay. It’s slightly above average. I discussed all my criticisms for it last week in a lengthy piece, so I’ll just summarise here.
The comic Civil War is one of my favourite storylines out there and I felt this movie was a complete disservice to it. It had no desire to take risks, copped out of major consequences for the characters and MCU, failed to provide decent motivations for most of its characters, had very little substance, had a cringe-worthy ending, had a seriously inconsistent tone unlike all previous MCU films, had too much manufactured conflict and failed to pack any emotional punch. It’s completely over-hyped in my books.
That said Spider-Man, who is my second favourite hero after Batman, was just perfect in this movie. It’s the first time I’ve seen both Peter Parker and Spider-Man done near flawlessly. Black Panther also had a rather exceptional debut, and was perhaps the only character who grew out of this whole ordeal and had genuine motivations for being in the war. Ant-Man was my third point of happiness as he just lit up the screen whenever he was on it with his dorky personality. If these characters weren’t present my opinion about the movie would be even less positive, if I have to really be honest.
Perhaps my expectations were heightened after the magnificent comic and the fact that The Winter Soldier is my personal best Marvel film, but Civil War was a real disappointment for me. It’s just not great.
8. Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The First Avenger did what it had to do. It was a decent enough movie that made for an entertaining watch, but it also didn’t really represent Captain America’s abilities as well as it could have and failed to make Bucky as important to Steve Rogers as future MCU films tried to.
When considering Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk it became clear to me that there were better origin movies in the MCU than this one, even though I definitely like it and don’t have many problems with it. In fact it may have even entered above Civil War if it wasn’t for the fact that Spider-Man, Black Panther and Ant-Man gave me so much of enjoyment in that movie.
Thor is another movie I would classify as inoffensive. It had good humour, more Loki and was not too bad as an origin. But it all felt rather low-key in the grand scheme of things, gave a fair amount of embarrassment to the talents of Natalie Portman, and wasn’t particularly memorable or interesting for me. At this point it was basically just the last piece of the puzzle until we got our Avengers team-up movie, and I don’t quite believe it made Thor as compelling a character to me as the others in their solo movies.
10. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Age of Ultron is my personal pet peeves in the MCU. It’s the one that first left me polarised even among my peers. I was legitimately looking forward to this one after the build-up, but when I first saw it I was disappointed and even bored at times. Unlike many movies in the MCU this one failed to even get that much enjoyment out of me. The first act was the only portion of the movie that had some good stuff going on that kept my interest, such as the Avengers party and Ultron’s introduction scene at the end of it.
Once I started realising that it was mostly content to be filler I turned to the humour, but even that uncharacteristically didn’t earn many laughs out of me. The humour fell flat as much as the movie did. It was hardly more than repetitive, tension-diffusing quips with little wit behind it.
Unfortunately I butted heads with Marvel fans over this one, including good friends of mine. Due to the movie’s very positive reception I wondered if I was missing something. Yet after discussing it for quite some time and eventually acquiring it to give it a second chance, I actually grew to dislike it more and more. It’s the only movie in this universe that had this effect on me. The movies below this one are those that I never watched more than once.
In a nutshell the movie had zero stakes, a determination to rehash the first Avengers, a largely inconsequential and predictable plot that felt like it was pure filler, a terribly non-threatening villain, forced attempts to make Hawkeye the moral centre of the group, a forced romance between Banner and Natasha that came out of nowhere, a finale that was the very definition of ‘mindless action’, a total lack of scope and no lasting consequences or signs of Ultron having achieved anything. More like Days of Ultron.
11. Thor 2: The Dark World
Thor 2: The Dark World was the first piece of Marvel entertainment that featured Loki yet did almost nothing to interest me. It was a drab, largely forgettable movie that had some cool visuals but mostly left me without any fond memories. I hardly know what to write here. The first time I watched the movie was when it was available for home release, and even then I stopped after half an hour because I had ceased to pay attention.
Before you think that’s because I have a small attention span, I actually prefer long movies. I even love slow burns like Breaking Bad that require investment and careful attention. But this movie just didn’t get me invested and it’s the only movie on this entire list that I have a hard time of explaining why that is.
I did appreciate the visuals in the final fight and rather enjoyed the banter between Loki and Thor. The ending was a bit of a nice zinger to leave things on. For those reasons I would still consider it of higher quality than the bottom two on this list. Probably mostly because of that Tom Hiddleston guy.
12. Iron Man 2
I don’t quite know what Iron Man did to deserve the treatment he got in his sequels. This was a rare comic book movie that I never bothered to acquire to browse through a second time once it was available for home release. I have brief, haunting flashes about the contents of this movie. Apart from that it’s best to just forget it existed. That’s pretty much what I did.
13. Iron Man 3
I won’t mince words with this one. I flat out hate this film. I seriously regret watching it. After the forgettable Iron Man 2 I had real excitement for this one. It would feature The Mandarin, Iron Man’s archnemesis, and the trailers showed a darker tone with a more personal journey for Tony Stark. As it turns out they grossly misrepresented the movie.
The movie was a complete joke. From Tony’s nonsensical actions like announcing his address to a terrorist and then having no defensive measures in place, to his PTSD being used as a comic relief tool, to flaming super Pepper Mortal Kombat, to the shrapnel-removing heart surgery that came out of nowhere, to the latest Iron Man suit being as weak as toilet paper just for gags, to the plot hole of blowing up all his Iron Man suits only to return without explanation in Age of Ultron. The film hit zero right notes for me.
The cherry on top was that when the big Mandarin twist came and ruined what was actually a compelling villain I got so frustrated I wanted to leave the cinema. If not for my friends I probably would have. They weren’t too impressed either. I honestly don’t recall many times I literally wanted to walk out of a movie and hated having spent money on a ticket.
However despite all that there was one thing that impressed me about this movie. In the movie’s present-day post-credits scene Tony Stark wakes up Bruce Banner, who fell asleep while listening to his story. Now that is some extreme level of self-awareness of how bad your film is.
There you have it. The best and worst of the Marvel Cinematic Universe from the warped perspective of one nerd. Whether you agree or don’t, know that I’m a straight-forward person. If I love something I’ll sing its praises, and if I don’t I won’t let whatever emotions I may have had towards it stop me from pointing out my true opinion. This list reflects that.
It genuinely agonised me that I didn’t love Civil War or think it’s great at all, and as such couldn’t put it any higher in the list. At the end of the day this is my honest account of the comic book films in this universe and I’d love to hear your own lists or points of discussion about mine.