How I Rank: The Marvel Cinematic Universe
With Avengers: Infinity War opening in theaters this weekend, I thought it would be a good opportunity to put out another installment in my editorial series, "How I Rank". Here, I take something in the film world. It could be a director, an actor, a franchise, or anything really along those lines, and I rank the films within it based upon my personal preferences. Some of these rankings you may agree with, and some of them you may view differently. Please feel free to jump into the comments section to voice how you think these movies should be ranked. These aren't necessarily based on how objectively good the film is; it's all based on my own personal preferences, and how I would rank these movies based on my individual enjoyment of them. So take a look at the list I've crafted for how I would rank the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
#18 Thor: Ragnarok
This may be the point in this article where I lose people, but so be it! I recognize I am in the minority for thinking this way, but I am not a fan at all of Thor: Ragnarok. And it is my least favorite MCU film. I found it opted for comedy way too much, sacrificing some crucial emotional moments. Instances that should have been handled with more maturity and grace were turned into the butt of a joke. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is made out to be a buffoon, literally tripping over his own feet. He comes across as completely incompetent, and entirely incapable of performing the smallest of tasks. I also found a lot of the visual effects to be rather unpolished. There are some fun moments in Ragnarok, but I was ultimately let down by it. To me, it's the perfect representation of where I don't want the MCU as a whole to head towards. I don't want the MCU to suddenly be a never-ending joke machine, constantly cranking out half-baked comedy in order to desperately get laughs out of the audience. That's what Ragnarok felt like to me, and so far none of the other movies have done that. I just hope they continue to avoid that formula. You can read our full review for Thor: Ragnarok here.
#17 Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The First Avenger is also a film I'm in the minority on. I've seen this movie three times-- far more times then I've ever seen a movie I just don't like-- and I can never get into it. To me, it feels rushed. It feels like Marvel needed to get Cap (Chris Evans) into the modern world for The Avengers, so they tried to tell his origin story as quickly as possible. Everything with him as a scrawny Steve Rogers is great. But as soon as he gets his powers, they suddenly have nothing for him to do in the movie except dance on stage. That whole sequence makes me cringe every time, and, in my opinion, is on par with the Spider-Man 3 dance scenes. The character of Captain America is supposed to be a World War II icon that inspires people for decades after. It's what makes his return to the modern world so monumental. And I didn't think Cap does anything in the movie to gain him that status, to make him still relevant in the modern world. But they still try to attribute him that status anyways, and it doesn't feel earned. Plus the technology used in this 1940's setting is way too advanced. I know HYDRA is supposed to have advanced technology, but this is shit that's not even in the modern world, let alone in the 40's. That was far too much of a leap. So Captain America: The First Avenger is one that was instantly surpassed by its two successors.
#16 Thor: The Dark World
I think a lot of people consider Thor: The Dark World to be their least favorite MCU movie. I have more problems with the last two movies I talked about than I do with this one, so that's why they are lower on the list. I don't think The Dark World is a poorly made movie; I just think it's boring as shit. The pacing drags at a monumentally slow rate, making it extremely difficult to watch. The first time I saw The Dark World in theaters, I enjoyed it. I didn't think it was great, but I liked it. Every time I've seen it after, I like it less and less. Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) is one of the worst MCU villains put to screen, if not the worst. He is so dull and lifeless, with nothing compelling about him. Once again, Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman have zero chemistry. One of the best parts of Thor: Ragnarok is that Portman isn't in it, but with The Dark World we have to suffer through it again. The action scenes are the most interesting parts of the movie, but even they aren't that extraordinary. The Thor franchise has been the weakest of all the other MCU franchises. They just don't know how to make a compelling Thor movie, so I really hope they stop making them. However, since everyone loved Ragnarok, I'm sure we'll get more of them. But The Dark World is certainly a sore spot in the MCU's past.
Iron Man 3 is a controversial film for MCU fans to talk about. I'm not going to say that I disliked it; I enjoyed it a good deal. Iron Man 3 is by far a Shane Black film over an MCU movie. And because it doesn't feel like an MCU movie, or an Iron Man movie for that matter, I find myself liking Iron Man 2. That film at least feels like an Iron Man movie. My issues with Iron Man 3 actually don't come from the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) twist. I actually think it's clever and I like it. However, I do think it would have made for a better film had the Mandarin actually been a real villain and not just a fake-out. I like the twist and I gets a good laugh out of it, but it would have made for a stronger movie if the Mandarin had actually been real. They tried to retcon it with a Marvel One-Shot, but the damage was already done. There's a lot of cool and interesting things done in Iron Man 3 that I appreciate, especially exploring Tony's (Robert Downey Jr.) PTSD after the events of The Avengers. However, the fact that it doesn't feel like an MCU or an Iron Man movie, paired with the weakness of the twist, makes me rank Iron Man 3 just below Iron Man 2.
I like Iron Man 2 more than most. Is it nearly as good as the first one? No, it's not. However, I do think there are a lot of redeeming qualities in the film. I enjoy just spending more time with Tony Stark. Robert Downey Jr. plays the role perfectly, and it is just so damn entertaining. Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) and Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) are not super well developed villains, but the actors gave good, fun performances. I also really like seeing Don Cheadle as War Machine, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. This movie is basically about Tony having fun as Iron Man, and then realizing the responsibilities and consequences that follow his actions. So while it does have a meandering second act, I had fun with it! Iron Man 2 was the first MCU film I saw in theaters, so maybe that's why it has a special place in my heart. But I look at Iron Man 2 as just a fun, entertaining movie that isn't nearly as good as its predecessor, but is still a good time regardless.
#13 The Incredible Hulk
I don't think The Incredible Hulk is given as much credit as it deserves. It's a very different film from what we've come to associate with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tonally, it doesn't exactly fit in. However, I still think it's a really good movie. Edward Norton is great as Bruce Banner. As much as I love Mark Ruffalo in the role now, I do kind of wish Norton had stuck around. Ultimately, Ruffalo is the better Bruce Banner/Hulk, but I wish we could have seen more from Norton's take on the character. And I think the Abomination (Tim Roth) is one of the best Marvel villains. He can go toe-to-toe with the Hulk, making him a formidable foe. He didn't die at the end, so there's still a possibility that Marvel will bring him back. However, at this point, I think Marvel is trying to distance their films from The Incredible Hulk, so it doesn't seem likely the Abomination will return. So since this movie is completely different from the style and tone of subsequent Marvel films, I don't think a lot of people really think of it as that good of an MCU movie. However, I really enjoy it, and it's certainly the best Hulk movie we have ever had.
Avengers: Age of Ultron has a lot of great elements to it, and then a lot of weaknesses. All of the action sequences are some of the best in the MCU that are not directed by the Russo Brothers. The ending battle with all of the Avengers fighting the Ultron drones, with the Alan Silvestri theme blasting, just gives me chills. I also love all the scenes with the Avengers just hanging out. The party scene with them trying to lift Thor's hammer is so entertaining, and it's because we are just spending time with these characters. Where Age of Ultron falls apart for me is with the story and with Ultron (James Spader). The narrative feels so rushed, jumping from action scene to action scene, without spending any time developing the story. The thread holding all of these action sequences together feels so thin that it makes it hard to appreciate Age of Ultron as a movie, rather than just as a fun experience. I also find the characterization of Ultron to be incredibly weak. They have all the right pieces in place to deliver on an awesome villain. Spader is a perfect choice to voice the villain, and I thought Ultron was going to end up being the MCU's best. But he ultimately falls in line with every other villain with simply being wasted. So while all the action sequences are spectacular, the movie's narrative and the actual characterization of Ultron both fall flat for me.
Ant-Man is one of the Marvel movies that I saw once in theaters and haven't seen again since. That's not to say I didn't enjoy; it's just not one I feel the need to see again and again. Paul Rudd is the perfect choice to play this character. He brings so much energy to the role, and it's a nice contrast to some of the other characters in the universe. The biggest thing Ant-Man does right is it makes us take the character seriously. I know a lot of people, leading up to the film, were thinking, "Ant-Man? That's a stupid character!", and the movie ultimately shows us why we should care. Ant-Man's greatest accomplishment is bringing the character into the mainstream. The supporting characters, played by Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, and Michael Peña, are all fantastic and contribute a lot to the movie. It does suffer from a weak villain, and some of the story beats don't work for me. But overall, Ant-Man is an enjoyable and entertaining film, and I'm looking forward to seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp when it comes out in just a couple months.
#10 Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange did a fantastic job in introducing us to the mystical side of the MCU. Once again, Marvel nails the casting by bringing on Benedict Cumberbatch to play the titular hero. Like a lot of their other casting announcements, as soon as I first heard it, I claimed it to be absolutely genius. Cumberbatch does such a great job in bringing the character to life, and is a great addition to the MCU. The movie has a fantastic supporting cast, including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, and Mads Mikkelsen. Doctor Strange has some of the best visual effects of the entire MCU, considering all the work that went in bringing the mysticism and the sorcery to life on screen. Once again, however, the film has a lackluster villain, and I found the character work done with the Ancient One to be rather underwhelming. But everything involving Stephen Strange and his character arc is fantastic, as well as all of the action sequences and the visual effects.
The Thor franchise is my least favorite franchise in the MCU, but the original Thor is the best of the three. I lov all of the stuff on Asgard. Getting to explore that world and meeting the people is really fascinating, and it is the best part of the movie. Kenneth Branagh does a great job in realizing Asgard on screen. This is also the first time we meet Tom Hiddleston as Loki, and he is phenomenal in this film. While Chris Hemsworth is great as Thor, Hiddleston ultimately steals the show. He is the greatest villain the MCU has ever done. However, I am hearing that Thanos (Josh Brolin) is even better in Avengers: Infinity War, so I'm excited to see what they do with that character. Where the movie falls apart is the time spent on Earth, which is a good chunk of the film. Like I mentioned before, Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth have zero chemistry. And since such a big portion of the movie is spent on their relationship, the film drags to a halt. But luckily, the brilliance of the performances and the realization of Asgard makes up for this.
#8 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was my most anticipated film of 2017. I absolutely love the first one, and I couldn't wait to return to this world and these characters. I like Vol. 2 a lot, but I don't think it's nearly as good as the first one. There is a magic quality to the original that Vol. 2 just doesn't share. I think Vol. 2's biggest problem is that it splits up the characters. What makes Vol. 1 so good is that we get to see all of these characters interacting and we get to listen to their banter. That's half of the entertainment value! But with Vol. 2, the characters are split up and they go on their own missions, and the movie suffers for it. Even with that, I do find this film to be super enjoyable. The jokes don't all land like they do in the first one, but there are some great hilarious moments in this one. The action is great. They do a lot with Yondu (Michael Rooker), and flesh him out a lot more as a character. There are also a lot of great themes about fathers and sons that I found to be really powerful. So while Vol. 2 isn't as good as Vol. 1, it's still a film I very much enjoy. You can read our review for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 here.
#7 Black Panther
Many would put Black Panther in their top five MCU movies, but it just misses the top five for me. I don't think any of us were expecting Black Panther to be as successful as it was. It demolished the box office, and it's a far more mature movie than many people were expecting. Ryan Coogler does a phenomenal job in crafting this film. I think as far as movies go, this is most layered MCU film. There are specific characters in the universe who have more depth to them, but this is the most emotionally intricate film Marvel has made. It also gives us one of the MCU's best villains in Killmonger, played brilliantly by Michael B. Jordan. Andy Serkis, as Ulysses Klaue, is a great villain as well. The realization of Wakanda is fantastic, and the exploration of the culture is utterly fascinating. Like I said, I don't personally hold it as one of the top all-time best Marvel movies, but I love this movie. We go into far more depth on the movie in our spoiler discussion, which you can watch here. Overall, Black Panther was a movie I was looking forward to, but I wasn't expecting it to be the cultural phenomenon that it was. You can read our review for Black Panther here.
Spider-Man has always been my favorite superhero, and when I found out he was going to be joining the MCU in Captain America: Civil War, I nearly lost my mind! Tom Holland did a brilliant job bringing that character to life in that movie, so I couldn't wait to see what how Spider-Man: Homecoming would turn out. Even with my incredibly high expectations, Homecoming surpassed them. We finally get the true high school Peter Parker that I've been wanting to see on screen ever since I first read the 1960's The Amazing Spider-Man comics. I still think Tobey Maguire is the best Peter Parker we've had, but I think Tom Holland is the best Peter Parker/Spider-Man. The supporting characters in Homecoming were also really good, especially Ned (Jacob Batalon), who damn near stole the movie. Jon Favreau is also great as Happy Hogan. But Michael Keaton gives us one of the best villain performances in the MCU as the Vulture. He is terrifying and formidable, while also being relatable. He's just a guy doing what he needs to do in order to provide for his family, and I love that take on the character. Homecoming was such a fun time in the theater, and it completely sells me on this new version of Spider-Man. You can read our review for Spider-Man: Homecoming here.
#5 Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Between Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014 was a great year for Marvel. This was our first introduction to the Russo Brothers and what they can do, and I don't think anyone was prepared for just how damn good The Winter Soldier was going to end up being. It completely redefines the character. I was not a fan of Captain America: The First Avenger, so that didn't really get me on board with the movie version of Cap. I really liked what they did with the character in The Avengers, but he wasn't the sole focus of the film. The Winter Soldier was really the first movie where I thought, "Holy shit, I love Captain America." What the Russos do with the character is just incredible. There is so much depth to this character as he struggles with living in the present and coming to terms with it. While the Russos would later top themselves with Captain America: Civil War, the fight scenes in The Winter Soldier are breathtaking. At that point, there were some of the best the MCU had ever done. This movie is also our first introduction to Falcon (Anthony Mackie), who is a fantastic supporting character. The Winter Solider showes us a different kind of Marvel movie, and it teases what Marvel can be, and it's something that they have since explored further and even improved upon.
#4 Iron Man
Iron Man is still one of the Marvel's best, even after all the movies they have put out since its debut ten years ago. It is one of the best superhero origin stories put to screen. Jon Favreau does a marvelous job in crafting this movie, and with essentially laying the ground work for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movie is fun and exciting, while also having a lot of depth to it. The character work they do with Tony Stark, and Robert Downey Jr.'s performance, is just incredible. Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) is one of the MCU's most underrated villains, and I'd say he's one of the best they have ever done. He is fierce and powerful, but he also has his weaknesses. His dynamic with Tony is great, and Bridges gives a brilliant performance as the character. Similarly to The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man has a far different tone than the rest of the MCU movies, but I really appreciate it for that. For this particular movie, it works beautifully. Iron Man also has one of the MCU's most underappreciated scores, done by Ramin Djawadi. Iron Man's theme in it is excellent, and the score does a great job in elevating the film. Overall, Iron Man is still one of Marvel's best, and it's one I could re-watch endlessly.
#3 Guardians of the Galaxy
It's easy to forget just how much of a pleasant surprise Guardians of the Galaxy was. When the movie was first announced, nobody had any clue who the hell the Guardians of the Galaxy were. And it has a talking raccoon and a walking tree? We all underestimated the film, and James Gunn delivered on something truly special. There is a magic quality to the movie that I don't think any other Marvel film has quite captured, not even its own sequel. The characters are so well written, and are so well realized by the actors. Having all of these personalities collide is endlessly entertaining. This is easily Marvel's funniest movie, and the humor fires on all cylinders. And the comedy holds up incredibly well with repeat viewings, which is hard to pull off. While the comedy and the performances are the stars of the show, the action is also really good. The prison break scene is one of the film's most exciting sequences, and it's one of the highlights of the movie. Yes, the villains are rather weak. Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) is not the greatest antagonist, but the strength of the protagonists more than make up for this weakness. Guardians of the Galaxy is a truly fun and entertaining film, and very few MCU movies have and can top it.
#2 The Avengers
Of course, The Avengers was the most exciting thing the MCU ever did. The anticipation I had for this film was through the roof. Getting to see Captain America and Iron Man and the Hulk and Thor and Black Widow and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) all on screen together was insane, and it was such a satisfying experience. Now, six years later, it feels rather minuscule having only six heroes team up, but the original Avengers film still retains its specialness. It was something we had never seen before, and I still get that feeling every time I re-watch it. While Joss Whedon dropped the ball a little bit with Age of Ultron, he gives us everything we ever wanted with The Avengers. Plus, this is the film that reinvents the Hulk, giving us Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. Having Loki return as the villain is a smart move, as he was easily the best villain the MCU had done at that point. And just the sheer excitement of seeing the Avengers battle an army of aliens to save New York cannot be matched. For the longest time, The Avengers was my favorite MCU movie. That is, until another little film came out a couple years ago...
#1 Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War topped The Avengers for my favorite MCU movie of all time. It was really the Russo Brothers' audition for Avengers: Infinity War. They take all of these characters and manage to give them all a spotlight and time to develop. Each character is well fleshed out and has plenty of great moments. Not only do they do a great job with the preexisting characters, but they also introduce us to Black Panther and Spider-Man. The story is deeply political, with a moral crisis between Iron Man and Captain America's philosophies. This is so well realized, because I completely understand and sympathize with both sides of the issue. And the action scenes. Holy shit, the action scenes. When I saw that airport sequence for the first time I nearly lost my damn mind! It goes down in history as the single great MCU action scene, if not the greatest action scene ever in a comic book movie. And dear God do I hope that the Russos can match-- if not top it-- with Infinity War. Civil War is packed to the brim with brilliant action, great comedy, and impactful emotion, with a compelling narrative and riveting character development. I have some issues with Zemo (Daniel Brühl), but that's a tiny issue. Captain America: Civil War is Marvel's best, and I cannot wait to see what the Russo Brothers do with Avengers: Infinity War.
What do you think? How would you rank the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Are you looking forward to seeing Avengers: Infinity War? How do you think it will compare to the rest of the MCU? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Written by: Nathanael Molnár
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