With ANT-MAN having been released, Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has now completed and we are about five months away from kicking off Phase Three with CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.
This seems like a great time to look back on the movies of the MCU thus far and put together an official Filmthusiast MCU movie ranking!
Here is the ranking for the twelve movies thus far:
12. IRON MAN 2 – 2010
(dir. Jon Favreau)
This was the moment where everyone thought that maybe this Marvel Cinematic Universe experiment might fail. The first IRON MAN was an unexpected joy and launched Robert Downey Jr. into super-stardom. The follow-up, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, wasn’t great but was more enjoyable than Ang Lee’s HULK and therefore got a pass. This movie had a convoluted plot, too many characters, an underwhelming villain, and a unfocused theme. This felt like Marvel was rushing to get to the finish line, THE AVENGERS, and not taking the time to actually get us to care about the people involved. It also wasted Tony’s “Demon in the Bottle” arc… Which was one of the character’s most iconic stories.
11. THE INCREDIBLE HULK – 2008
(dir. Louis Letterier)
There is a lot to like in THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Edward Norton is pretty good as Bruce Banner, the sequence in Brazil was pretty exciting, and Tim Roth delivers a good performance for the first two-thirds of the movie. However, when this movie goes bad… It goes really bad. The climax of the movie is almost incomprehensible. In their formative years, Marvel had a big problem with just having the villain be a bigger, meaner version of the hero. They did it in their first movie and by the time they got to their second it had already become beyond stale. The performances, dialogue, story, etc all seem to go off the rails around the halfway mark and it just descends into madness.
10. THOR – 2011
(dir. Kenneth Brannagh)
This is a movie that gets a ton of credit for the casting of Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki and not much else. This movie also retroactively coasts on the goodwill that they generated in THE AVENGERS and THOR: THE DARK WORLD where they were able to really dig into these characters and give engaging, humorous performances. This movie, however, feels like an episode of a bad Marvel television show. There really is not much going on beyond Thor getting banished to Earth, dealing with SHIELD, Loki turning on him, and him “sacrificing” himself for a girl he just met. Teamed with a goofy supporting cast, a weird Hawkeye cameo, the worst dutch angles committed to the screen, and most of the action happening on a small New Mexico back-lot… This ends up being one of the weaker entries in the MCU canon.
9. THOR: THE DARK WORLD – 2013
(dir. Alan Taylor)
Marvel struggles with their Thor movies. It’s a fact. THOR: THE DARK WORLD may be a better movie than the first THOR, but it’s not by much. The sequel gets points for fleshing out the relationship between Thor, Loki, and their parents while also giving the rest of the supporting cast a little bit more to do this time around. Their third act is also quite a bit of fun and feels like a big, epic movie… Unlike the first one. The biggest issue with this movie is that there isn’t much of an arc for Thor (which the first one managed to have, albeit an unearned, rushed arc) and the villains are incredibly terrible. I’m actually still not sure what their deal was beyond the destruction of the universe… Fun portal fight though! This was a movie coasting on the goodwill of the MCU post-Avengers and it mostly played into that correctly.
8. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
(dir. Joe Johnston)
This is where the list shakes off the lesser movies and begins to focus on Marvel’s successes. The first Captain America movie is a minor success, but one that managed to cast the perfect Cap in Chris Evans and surround him with an extremely capable supporting cast. Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, and the rest all deliver in this movie. The only downside is that it didn’t focus on more of Cap’s WWII adventures and jumped from his inception to his final mission before going into the deep freeze. It would have been far more exciting to see more of that and build up his friendship with Bucky as much as his romance with Peggy (which this movie nailed). I also wish that they had done away with Red Skull using a human face for the first half of the movie and just had him out and proud with his crimson cranium.
5. IRON MAN THREE – 2013
(dir. Shane Black)
This movie should have been IRON MAN 2, but instead it feels like it is the post-Avengers conclusion to Tony Stark’s ongoing origin story. There is a ton going on in this movie, but most of it works like a charm. Showing Tony’s PTSD after flying a nuke through an alien wormhole was a great touch and having to deal with that while dealing from a long gestating threat from his past is pretty terrific. Also great is Sir Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin and the twist that occurs with his character is fresh and unexpected. The only downside is the Extremis stuff is a little too much sci-fi tomfoolery and the final battle with all of the suits doesn’t quite live up to its potential. Still, this movie is a great entry in the Iron Man/MCU canon and Shane Black is always going to be a great match for Robert Downey Jr.
6. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON – 2015
(dir. Joss Whedon)
This should have been a home run. This could have been a home run. It comes close with numerous sequences. Unfortunately, the movie had to service more than just it’s creators vision (no pun intended). They had a leg up on most of the other MCU movies by having one of the better villains with Ultron and his feud with his father figure, Tony Stark. The creative team, however, felt the need to make every single plot point as complicated as humanly possible. The creation of Ultron? Insanely complicated. How Ultron and the Avengers created The Vision? I couldn’t even begin to explain what they did. How Ultron lifted a whole city off the ground to plummet it back to the Earth and create an asteroid-esque extinction event? I think it had something to do with rockets and dreams. I just don’t know. The rest of it is pretty great, though! The cast is back and doing their best. They get a ton of great lines and have wonderful chemistry when they banter. The new actors: James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson all do fine work with Spader’s work as Ultron being the clear standout. The party scene is great, the ending is pretty fantastic, the fight scenes (while somewhat repetitive of the first movie) are a ton of fun, and the Iron Man vs. Hulk fight is a showstopper. My biggest wish is that we saw more of Ultron and his take-over of Earth. Oh well. I guess we’ll always have the funny books…
5. ANT-MAN – 2015
(dir. Peyton Reed)
After a civil, but very public, break-up between Marvel and Edgar Wright over the movie, ANT-MAN became the biggest question mark of the MCU series. It’s impossible not to discuss when talking about the movie and it’s expectations. Thankfully the movie erases any concerns that we wouldn’t get the best Ant-Man movie possible. It is on par with the first IRON MAN in terms of quality and world-building and does a great job of setting up their tiny superhero. Like the best Marvel movies, ANT-MAN is hilarious and filled to the brim with heart. This is a story about fathers and daughters and it nails those two dual relationships. The final battle in Scott Lang’s daughter’s bedroom is a terrific antidote to the bloat that was the massive AGE OF ULTRON finale. ANT-MAN does provide us with another lackluster villain in Darren Cross but, like Lee Pace in Guardians, the actor (Corey Stoll) has enough charisma and presence to rise above the material. Paul Rudd, Michael’s Douglas & Pena are incredible and Evangeline Lilly does such good work that we can’t wait to see how she ends up in the suit in 2017’s ANT-MAN & THE WASP! But we’ll find out. Baskin Robbins always finds out.
4. IRON MAN – 2008
(dir. Jon Favreau)
This is the beginning of the MCU and it deserves all the credit in the world for getting it off to a great start. The movie is flawed and has a pretty rough third act (again suffering from the hero vs. bigger, badder version of himself), but that doesn’t matter when you have Tony Stark going from careless playboy to dedicated hero while tinkering in his workshop on mechanized suits of armor. Robert Downey Jr. is the absolute perfect choice for Tony Stark and is the reason that this MCU exists at all. Coupled with a great supporting cast and a rousing score, this film is pretty wonderful. The cave sequence in the film is perfection with it’s blend of action, humor, pacing, and emotion and the rest of the movie tries hard to live up to it, but doesn’t quite ever reach that high again. If only there had been a little more action to go with all the wonderful characters, humor, and fun.
3. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – 2014
(dir. James Gunn)
Depending on what day it is, the top three movies on this list are almost interchangeable, but this is a list and a list is what you are getting… GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY feels like a lost 80’s movie that has the best special effects ever. Just like Downey was made for Stark, Evans was made for Rogers, and Hemsworth was made for Thor… Chris Pratt was made for Peter Quill. His humor, swagger, and hidden innocence brings Star-Lord to life and gives him a ton of depth. This is the funniest movie in a movie series that is known for having a great sense of humor. From the opening dance sequence in the remains of an alien temple to the final moments where the Guardians of the Galaxy have fully assembled and fly off to do some good, some bad, and a bit of both… This movie is a miracle. It also proves that the Marvel machine can go outside their main stable of superheroes to find big hits and wonderful movies. The villain, like all of the Marvel movie villains (they should be looking at the Netflix shows to see how to handle villains), is a bit under-developed but it hardly matters when we are having as much fun with the heroes and scoundrels of the galaxy!
2. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER – 2014
(dir. Anthony & Joe Russo)
This is the definitive MCU picture thus far. It has everything you would want in a Marvel movie and manages to avoid the mistakes of all the others. Chris Evans perfects the role he nailed in both the first Captain America and THE AVENGERS. This is a big, expansive movie that sits right in the center of the MCU and yet works perfectly as a standalone film. The villains are great and surprising, the supporting cast is terrific with a great new addition to the MCU with Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, and the action is the best that any Marvel movie has managed to put on screen. It is beautiful, bright, and brutal all in equal measure. The movie is a smorgasbord of awesome with the opening siege on the hijacked ship, the elevator fight scene, the rooftop scene that name drops Dr. Strange, the freeway fight with the Winter Soldier, and the climactic battle on the helicarriers. The fact that this same team is returning to direct CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and eventually AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR gives me so much confidence that the Marvel Cinematic Universe will thrive for at least another decade.
1. THE AVENGERS – 2012
(dir. Joss Whedon)
This was the moment where everyone knew that this Marvel Cinematic Universe experiment was going to work. Marvel made all the right choices on this film from hiring Joss Whedon to bring all of the disparate heroes together to fight Loki and a legion of aliens from taking over the planet. This movie is a complete blast. Despite a slightly underwhelming pre-title sequence, this movie keeps getting better and better until we reach the zenith of geek euphoria with the last 45 minutes of the film which hold a battle royale on the streets of New York City. You can’t beat the rousing score, the editing that gracefully reintroduces us to each Avenger, the excitingly over-saturated colors, the bombastic action, the characters that we’ve come to really care for, the snap-crackle-pop dialogue, and absolutely everything else that made this movie the most watchable movie of all time. For my money it can’t get better than Hulk flipping Loki around like a rag doll or punching Thor directly off-camera. Bliss. This never should have worked. This should have failed, but it didn’t. It pulled off the most ambitious long game in the history of cinema and is the #1 Marvel Cinematic Universe movie because of it.