With Avengers: Endgame opening this weekend, I felt it only right to take a look back at where we have come over the course of the last 11 years and 21 movies. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is historic in a number of ways, unlike anything that came before, and laying the foundation (for better or for worse) of what is likely to come in the future. You may suffer from superhero fatigue, and you are right to find yourself in such a state, but what Disney and Marvel have done with these films is undeniable and immeasurable feat. I did a ranking of the Marvel movies back in 2017 and in 2015 but for such a momentous occasion as Endgame, I thought we should bring in a few more voices than just my own. Yesterday featured the rankings of Megan Spell from the On the Download podcast. Today, we feature Ariel Rada from the Geek101 podcast. And I’ll conclude the series tomorrow with my updated rankings. Thanks for reading! -Brian
21. Thor: The Dark World
What a boring, forgettable waste of time. Dark World was an effortless sequel that didn’t know the riches it had at its disposable. Thor’s world can be full of magic, mysticism, and monsters but instead we got more Kat Dennings. BOO.
20. Iron Man 3
My distaste for Shane Black has been vindicated since Iron Man 3 came out in 2013. There were parts of Iron Man 3 that were ultimately “fine” but its complete disregard for the continuity and context of the MCU make this film a baffling addition to the MCU.
Not a great showing for the god of thunder. My distaste for Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation is probably due to my expectation and knowledge of source material but I’ll stick by it. Thor is a warrior-god with limitless power and instead we get awkward smiles, boring desert “fights”, and Natalie Portman phoning it in.
18. Avengers: Age of Ultron
In 2012, Joss Whedon managed to pull off a miraculous feat: bringing the Avengers together in one movie as pseudo-sequel with a massive, star filled ensemble cast. The follow-up should have been much easier to pull off...yet he didn’t. Whedon’s worst instincts came out in this one. The film was clunky, had baffling character relationships, and was bogged down by the universe’s machinations. A shame because having James Spader play one of Marvel’s premier villains should have been an amazing experience.
17. Iron Man 2
It always takes me a minute to remember that Iron Man 2 was only the third film in the MCU franchise. Apparently, Jon Favreau got lots of push back on how to craft this film and as a result we get this messy sequel. There’s still lots of good in IM2. The bad? The baffling acting choices of Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko and a lackluster conclusion to the final showdown.
16. The Incredible Hulk
I would LOVE to put this film higher. I really would. There’s so much I like about it. Ed Norton and Tim Roth were great casting choices and the Hulk was given plenty of time to shine. Its greatest sin, I think, is that it failed to commit to what type of movie it wanted to be. It was scary but not too scary, action-y but not too much action, dramatic but not too dramatic. It was fine. Just fine.
15. Doctor Strange
I’ve seen Doctor Strange once, in the theater. I got everything from it that I needed and never needed to look back. It’s forgettable. There are cool visuals but if I need that itch scratched, I’ll watch Inception. The film is clever but doesn’t scratch the surface of what a Doctor Strange movie could do. Want a better Doctor Strange movie? Watch the fights in Infinity War.
14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
James Gunn’s second go round with the notorious space vigilantes is a fun space-romp. It’s exactly what you want from a GotG sequel. He doubles down on what makes the first film successful and moves away from some of the rough parts of the first film. It’s a fine sequel but it didn’t have the franchise growth that the best MCU sequel films have.
13. Captain Marvel
Captain Marvel is a wondrous movie that knows exactly what it is and has no hesitations or reservations about accomplishing that goal. The film is unpredictable and fun. Director Anna Boden isn’t scared to throw curveballs and allows the film to wear its badge of honor proudly. A strong entry.
12. Captain America: The First Avenger
The farther away I get from Steve Rogers’ the more I heart it <3. It’s not a great film. The emotions and ideas are all there but the MCU at this stage was a baby still learning how to walk; as was Chris Evans in his role. Don’t worry, if you’re a Cap fan you’ll love the top of my list.
11. Ant-Man and the Wasp
Sequel’s haven’t had a good rep on this list so far, but Peyton Reed’s follow-up film is quite solid. The movie has some awesome action set pieces and is emotionally strong. Also, Evangeline Lilly should be in more things, thanks.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy
I’m admittedly quite low on James Gunn’s space comedy franchise. Why? I love action. Guardians of the Galaxy is high on laughs and adventure set pieces but low on plot and watchable fight scenes. The movie is simple but effective. The stars? A raccoon and a tree. Who woulda thunk it?
9. Spider-man: Homecoming
Marvel needs Spider-man to be strong. The success of the franchise’s future rests on whether or not Tom Holland’s Spider-man can carry films. Homecoming has awesome moments and a GREAT villain. I think its greatest sin is it’s over reliance on the MCU’s world. If Marvel can identify what makes their Spider-man work and capitalize on that, fans should be happy.
8. Avengers: Infinity War
This movie shouldn’t get to be on this list. It’s an incomplete movie. The directors made choices in the direction they want to go with this film/franchise. I don’t like those directions, but I respect them (and hope they pay off). The reason this film gets such a high ranking is that the action scenes are OUT OF THIS WORLD AMAZING. We’ll see how it all ends.
7. Black Panther
Ryan Coogler’s afro-futurism epic was great. Ground-breaking, even. Still, it’s not quite the masterpiece I’ve seen it hailed as. The fight scenes are boring and it doesn’t stick the landing. Still, the way the Coogler has crafted Wakanda is masterful and the classic tale of kings and brothers is timeless. Wakanda forever!
My love for Ant-man is a shocker to everyone who reads my MCU rankings. Ant-man is funny, charming, wonderfully paced, and full of great action set pieces. The movie has a great cast (despite a boring, predictable villain). Ant-man’s focused story doesn’t let it get bogged down by some of the pacing issues that plague other MCU films. One of my favorite origin films.
5. Thor: Ragnarok
Someone finally did it. Six years after Thor’s introduction, we were finally given a film that did the character justice. Taika Waititi knew how to use Hemsworth, he knew how to use Thor, he knew how to craft this crazy Kirby space universe. He did it! Ragnarok is the best ride in the MCU and while I’m not crazy on the overall MCU implications (as well as the use of The Hulk), the movie is so silly and fun that you tend to ignore all of that and enjoy the rollercoaster. P.S. Cate Blanchett’s Hela is AMAZING.
This movie isn’t perfect. There’s some tough pacing in the beginning and is in no way able to stand on its own. Even so, Joss Whedon’s Avengers was able to take the unprecedented task of tying this universe together in a coherent way and nailed it. Avengers set the bar for how team-up movies should be. Whedon balanced silly costumes, multiple story arcs, and a star-filled cast to create a cultural phenomenon.
3. Captain America: Civil War
This movie. THIS MOVIE. Civil War was almost as difficult to pull off as the original Avengers. The Russo brothers had to be able to put two whole teams of heroes against each other without making either side completely unlikable. The movie has a brilliant villain with a brilliant plot. The action is *chefs kiss* perfect. The motivations are simple and effective. Black Panther’s introduction is flawless! The only criticism I have for this film is that it took twenty minutes to go out of its way to introduce the other new character, Spider-man (who ended up playing perfectly into the action scenes so we forgave it). As a strong Team Cap member, I can’t recommend this movie enough.
2. Iron Man
Rarely do you see the genesis of a franchise remain so close to the top as the years go by. Favreau’s Iron Man is able to stay at the top of the MCU due to its tight script/story, excellent character moments, and awe-inducing introduction of superheroes to the modern world. The movie is near flawless and I’ll have no one slander it.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
This whole list I’ve been ragging on sequels and yet a sequel stands alone at the top. The Winter Soldier was a wakeup call to the MCU to be better. And it worked. This film is full of emotional attachment, was the coming out party for Chris Evans as an actor ,and it might still have the best action scene in the MCU (elevator fight hellooooo). Cap’s second go round is the most balanced, complex film in the series; successful adaptation of excellent source material, top notch action scenes, A-List actors, emotional moments, heroic sacrifices, GIANT ROBOT BRAIN ROOMS (okay maybe not this one). My tendency to lean towards action films and justice make Captain America: The Winter Soldier my #1 MCU film.
Ariel is a frequent Mad About Movies guest voice and contributor. His podcast, Geek101, can be found wherever fine podcasts are sold.