Having seen and reviewed the most recent film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man and the Wasp, it’s time to do a ranking of all twenty MCU movies, from worst to best. I did a similar thing over at Cultured Vultures (my answers are actually a little different over there), picking out my top five at the time, but my editor thought doing all of them may be a bit much.
Luckily, no such rules exist on this blog! Let’s get into it:
The reason writing a post like this can be fun is because between when I first watched the film and the present day, my opinions can change substantially, as you may notice further down the list. Unfortunately for Thor: The Dark World, no such change has happened. It’s still pretty bad.
Thor is one of my favourite Marvel characters, so after loving the first film and Avengers, I was very excited for his second solo outing. Needless to say, I was disappointed. While there are some touching emotional moments, the majority of this film is bland, messy and has perhaps the worst villain in the MCU. No offence Christopher Eccleston, I still love you.
19. IRON MAN 2
Another strong contender for worst movie in the MCU. While not terrible, Iron Man 2, like Thor: The Dark World, is similar in that it tries to do too much (more, in fact, than Thor) and the end result is a bloated mess.
However, considering this is a film featuring the MCU’s original quipster and the character that launched the whole franchise, it’s main fault is that it’s actually quite boring. Sure, you have that big explosive fight at the end, but considering what this film is trying to achieve, it ironically ends up being all style, no substance.
Harsh? Maybe. But Ant-Man and the Wasp just hasn’t clicked for me like it has other people. When I’m watching a superhero/comedy film (like Deadpool) and I can count the times I’d laughed throughout with minimal effort (like Deadpool 2) then that’s a pretty bad sign, and unfortunately that was also the case here.
Furthermore, the mass of writers who all seemingly wanted different things means that this film, despite having the chance to be the vision of one director, struggles to be one interesting and cohesive narrative.
Although it wasn’t exactly comic-accurate, the first Guardians of the Galaxy was a pretty great film, and it placed high hopes on the second. Unfortunately, this one didn’t really cut it for me. It’s a fine film, don’t get me wrong, but I felt too much was poured into this, when what it needed was a more streamlined and focused approach.
Instead, what we got was a film bloated with hit and miss jokes and an overload of sob-stories (which is fine, but these could have been spread out across the movies), which, personally, couldn’t keep me invested.
The forgotten child of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I actually think this film has some really good things going for it. Not enough to make it into the top three quarters of the list, mind you, but it should be given more credit than it gets.
First off, Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner is pretty good, and seeing him attempt to control his power makes for a fun (if at times overlong) watch. Furthermore, the way it has a touch of horror to it works especially well, and it’s just unfortunate that eventually they have to give that up for your standard superhero brute punching showdown with the villain who suddenly goes crazy.
15. DOCTOR STRANGE
Like Thor: The Dark World, this had the potential to be one of my favourites, as, like Thor, Doctor Strange is another of my four favourite Marvel characters. And the film is pretty good, by general standards, but it is the definition of the Marvel formula, for the most part, and something you wouldn’t expect to find in Phase Three of the MCU.
The ending makes for a fun switch up, but the fact that this was magic’s entry into the MCU and for the most part all we got was glowy-weapon-martial arts was a bit of a let down. Luckily, that would later be remedied in Infinity War.
I don’t really have anything bad to say about Ant-Man. It was a fun film. And a nice bit of small scale action after Age of Ultron. It was funny, had a decent story and the cameo from Falcon was also quite enjoyable, and a great set up for Ant-Man’s big moment in Civil War (no pun intended).
Ultimately though, while fun and enjoyable, there are a lot of other films that rank above it, hence why it’s only at number 14.
13. IRON MAN
The one that started it all. Some might argue that this is quite low down for the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I would argue that that is just a testament to how great the franchise this film spawned has become.
The reason it doesn’t quite make the top ten, however, is because I personally think that the third act set the stage for the sort of formulaic parts of all the films that would follow. The first two acts, in my opinion, were fresh and exciting, but in hindsight, by act number three, it just becomes your standard Marvel movie (still a good thing, and not it’s fault, but it just makes it easier for the following films to outdo it).
12. IRON MAN THREE
This one isn’t all that popular among fans, and along with the next two choices on the list, it’s probably where people start to doubt my sanity, but when Iron Man Three came out, I loved it. Sure, at first, in the cinema, when the Mandarin twist happened, I was a bit burned that we weren’t getting the real Mandarin, but by the time it had made it to Home Entertainment, I’m pretty sure I watched this film every day after school for a solid week.
By taking Tony’s armour away for the majority of the film, we got a fun twist on the depowered superhero trope, and mixed with incoming director Shane Black’s humorous sensibilities, it made for a very enjoyable film.
Granted, I haven’t actually watched this film in a few years, so my opinion may change next time I see it, but it made a lasting impression.
Part two of my ‘controversial choice trilogy’, Avengers Assemble just misses out on the top ten, not because much like Iron Man, while it was fun at the time, it’s since given way to much better things (although some may disagree with that when we reach the end of this ‘controversial choice trilogy’).
In fact, much like Iron Man Three, Avengers was another film that I constantly rewatched when it came out, but in hindsight, it takes a little while to get going. Sure, there are fun bits filtered throughout the build-up, but the thing this film is mostly remembered for is the massive end battle, which I think, at times, doesn’t hold up so well, especially compared to other end battles like in…
10. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
The controversial choice trilogy comes to an end. Yes, I rank Age of Ultron over Assemble, and yes, Age of Ultron makes my top ten. I won’t lie, I’m quite surprised myself, but there it is.
I used to be pretty down on this film, mainly because of Ultron himself. I thought the character seen above was a mockery of the source material. In some ways I still do. But I’ve gotten over that. And because I’m over it, the reason this film ranks so highly is because really, it’s the only true Avengers film. Assemble is great, but it’s about them coming together. Similarly, Infinity War isn’t about the Avengers so much as it is Thanos and the Marvel Universe. But in Age of Ultron, we get to see the heroes work as a team. There’s camaraderie, cool action sequences and them saving not only the world, but also stopping to save civilians too.
Age of Ultron got a bad reception at first, but in reflection, it’s a solid superhero movie.
Black Panther is on thin ice, if I’m honest. And it reaches number nine more out of a courtesy, because I could just as easily knock it three ranks down. Because while the world raved about how amazing Black Panther was, I just saw another formulaic and somewhat predictable Marvel movie with a different lick of paint.
However, the reason it makes number nine is because that lick of paint is important. Sure, the story is fairly plain, the action’s not that good and Black Panther himself is more of a background character to Wakanda as a whole, but the aesthetic, the score, the incredible cast assembled and the themes of the story are what make this a landmark superhero film.
‘WAKANDA FOREVER’ (as long as they ditch that new suit – that really kills all tension).
Everyone rants and raves about how good the Phase Three films are, and Guardians of the Galaxy and Winter Soldier secured Phase Two a place in people’s memories, but I’ll be honest, Phase One had really great entries. In Phase One, they were still finding their feet, so not everything had the exact same tone pre-Avengers, and as a result, we got the ultra campy and utterly awesome Captain America: The First Avenger.
Like Iron Man, it does start to settle in to a more standard formula by the third act, but before that, we’re treated to a completely different type of superhero film, as The First Avenger goes all out with it’s wartime setting. Plus, that ending, where Cap realises he won’t make his dance with Peggy is heartbreaking.
Like The First Avenger, Thor is another standout from Marvel’s Phase One; my original favourite in fact.
As a big Thor fan, seeing the God of Thunder smashing his way onto the big screen was a delight. Under director Keneth Brannagh’s watchful eye, the film has the feel of a Shakesperean-esque tale, full of wonder and intrigue. Furthermore, it’s pretty amusing, and between Hemsworth’s acting and the wonderful music, the film presents a well-structured origin story for a character previously thought to be too ‘out there’ after the likes of Iron Man and the Hulk.
And, of course, it gave us the most enduring villain of the whole franchise.
Thor’s all well and good, but when it comes to my favourite super-heroes, Spider-Man will always take the top spot. And while I liked the Raimi trilogy, and was a fan of Webb’s films (at the start, anyway, I’ve soured on them a bit since), neither really captured the essence of Peter Parker or Spider-Man the way Homecoming does.
For the first time, we get a Spider-Man who actually feels like a teenager, and is full of that youthful naivety. Furthermore, he clearly demonstrates the smarts and tech-savvy nature that Peter is famous for, while also giving off a strong underdog vibe. Perhaps one of my favourite things about this film, however, is the Toomes family. The Vulture gave us a new sort of villain, one who isn’t trying to rule or destroy the world, while his daughter reintroduced that famous Parker luck (or lack thereof, if you’re not into you comics) to the Spider-Man series in that she doesn’t end up with him at the end.
5. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
When Guardians of the Galaxy was announced, the generally consensus seemed to be one of confusion. However, having read the comic-book run that the film was based off, I was pretty excited.
And sure, I could bemoan the fact that in the end, it didn’t turn out to be a very faithful adaptation, so much as it did a comedy movie wherein the characters are more or less similar to their comic-book counterparts in name only – the fact remains that what we got was one of the most enjoyable rides in all the MCU.
This film is filled with heart, some great visuals and an awesome soundtrack. Even better, it gives you that same euphoric feeling on repeat viewings, thus granting it a spot in the top five.
I was already a big fan of Taika Waititi, and I was already a big fan of Thor. And yet, when Waititi was announced as the new director for Ragnarok, I was skeptical. How would a tale as dark as Ragnarok work with a comedy director in charge?
Fortunately, Waititi proved to be the right man for the job, bringing us a vastly different Thor movie, better than both it’s predecessor, and, at the same time, delivering a solid Hulk movie. Mixing such vastly different storyline as Planet Hulk and Ragnarok shouldn’t have worked. But it did, and the result was the funniest film in the MCU, as well as one of the greatest superhero reinventions to date.
My favourite MCU movie from four years ago, The Winter Soldier is great on so many levels. So great in fact, I thought it was worth giving a presentation on in a screenwriting seminar back in my university days.
Like Waititi on Ragnarok, The Winter Soldier saw a serious concept undertaken by former comedy directors. Yet unlike Waititi, the Russo Brothers didn’t lean in to what they knew, instead delivering an intense action thriller with some of the best fighting choreography seen in superhero cinema to date.
On top of that, the film made Captain America seem like the coolest Avenger (at the time), further fleshed out Black Widow AND fundamentally changed up the MCU unlike any film before it.
The biggest and most anticipated movie in the whole franchise, Infinity War wowed everyone with it’s scale, characterisation and surprisingly morbid ending (well, if you’re not a comic-book fan, otherwise you probably saw it coming).
And to be honest with you, I could put this movie at the top. If you view it through it’s intended lense: that of a Thanos movie, then it could take the top spot. It revels in it’s achievements, delivering bombastic action, fan service and one of the stronger villains in the series, who brings with him some truly staggering stakes.
However, if you view this as an Avengers movie, as the title would suggest, then it’s an incomplete story, and for that reason, it cannot be number one (at least until Avengers 4 arrives).
And so, with Infinity War out of the way, the top spot goes to…
I love this movie so much. When I want to just sit down, relax and rewatch a film, my mind will often go to Civil War.
Bringing everything great from The Winter Soldier with them, the Russo Brothers return as directors and turn everything up to 10 (I’d say 11, but really, Infinity War blew that idea out of the water). The fight choreography, the (relatively) grounded storytelling, the heartfelt character interactions; it’s all here.
Plus, it introduces Black Panther and Spider-Man perfectly, which of course leads in to that airport scene. Which, frankly, is so full of delightful comic-book madness that I think it speaks for itself.
Furthermore, it rounds out what is now my favourite super-hero trilogy. If you’d said to me a decade ago that I’d end up thinking Captain America had the best super-hero film trilogy, I’d think you were insane (and yes, I realise The Dark Knight trilogy is great, but this just resonates with me more), but here we are. Captain America rules.