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Ranking The MCU Films

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If you are anything like me, quarantine sucks. But such is life right now. We are entering week eight of global shut down, at the time of me writing this, so like most everyone, I’ve scoured the internet trying to find movies and tv shows to keep my mind occupied. And while we have released several great lists of movies and tv shows to stream on each major streaming service, I found myself revisiting the MCU first. Also Black Widow is eventually going to hit theaters, so an obligatory rewatch was in order. 23 films strong- this franchise will keep you entertained for 50 hours and 51 minutes. Some of you can ingest all of that content in a few days, while some of you can do it within a couple of weeks. Regardless of how long it takes you, if you haven’t rewatched the entire MCU since Endgame, I highly recommend it. There are a few forgotten plot threads and characters, but for every misstep, there is a fan-service call back that brings joy to my soul. I decided to watch them all in chronological order, which is my recommended order. Without further ado, here is my personal MCU ranking. Aide note: since there are 23 films to rank, I will keep each entry as short as possible-shorter than the entries used for any of my other franchise rankings.

23. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Kevin Feige and the gang hadn’t quite figured out what to do with this character yet. And well-documented production issues-losing Patty Jenkins as director-really held this one back. They tried to set up the Infinity Saga with the introduction of the Aether-the reality stone, but they don’t really explain what is or what it does. It has the most uninteresting villain and wasted a fantastic actor in Christopher Eccleston. And it’s very obvious that Natalie Portman did not want to be involved in this project, as she gives her worst non-Star Wars performance. While not a terrible film, this is by far the most forgettable film of the MCU.

22. Iron Man 2 (2010)

Most of the lesser quality films on this list are sequels, and Iron Man 2 was the MCU’s first attempt at a sequel. RDJ’s natural charisma carries this film through a mire of uneventful plotlines. The subplot about Tony refusing to let the US government confiscate and govern Iron Man makes Tony’s decision in Civil War feel hypocritical, and Tony’s search for a new element to power his arc reactor is interesting, but it’s not a very cinematic story line. This film needed more of a reason for Tony to be the hero, as he doesn’t even know Whiplash is alive until the final act of the film. Therefore, the final confrontation doesn’t carry the weight that it should. While this film introduced us to Black Widow and gave us war machine, they missed the mark and eventually drove John Favreau away from the director’s chair.

21. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

This one was tough for me to place. I don’t hate this film as much as others, however I have some major problems with it. Firstly, Edward Norton is great. I’m a big fan of his on screen presence, though Hollywood rumor has it he is very difficult to work with. But let’s state the obvious, he and Mark Ruffalo feel like 2 entirely different iterations of the character. The only part of this film to carry over into the larger MCU is General Thunderbolt Ross, so you would be forgiven if you didn’t even realize this film was a part of the franchise. The tone and the look just don’t fit with the rest of the MCU. It’s not bad, but it feels like it takes place in some other part of the multiverse. Therefore, it falls pretty low in my list.

20. Captain Marvel (2019)

This may be the most controversial placement in this entire ranking, but this movie didn’t really do it for me. Jude Law and Ben Mendelsohn are both great in the film, and Samuel L Jackson is as entertaining as ever. And the de-aging effects used on Fury are some of the best we’ve seen. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson).  But Annette Bening gives one of the most awkward and hollow performances in recent memory. I also believe the “hero with amnesia” plot line is lazy and makes Brie Larson’s titular hero come across as unrelatable and boring. They also made the character too overpowered to be interesting. Initially, upon its release, I was much higher on the film, but upon rewatch, it just doesn’t hold up to the rest of Marvel’s ensemble.

19. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Here is where it starts to get difficult for me. I for the most part, I enjoy all of the remaining films. But the 19-10 tier are all particularly close in quality. Following in the footsteps of the ground breaking The Avengers, this film had massive shoes to fill. And it did a decent job. Though this film reeks of studio interference more than any other, and because of said interference, this was director Joss Whedon’s last MCU film. They tried too hard to set up the Infinity Saga and Ultron as a character suffered. The love story between Hulk and Black Widow feels forced. And it’s hard to ignore the terrible Eastern European accents the Maximoff twins are using here. It was so bad, in fact, that the studio made Scarlet Witch forget to use it in the sequels. All-in-all there is a lot of fun to be had with this film-especially the scene where everyone tries to lift Mjolnir, but it doesn’t quite hit the highs of the later team up installments.

18. Iron Man 3 (2013)

Upon rewatch, this film isn’t as bad as I remember it. RDJ is great, as always. And the action set pieces are very entertaining. But they teased a better villain than they actually gave us. The Mandarin is Iron Man’s greatest foe from the comic books, so you can understand why fans of the source material felt betrayed by the line “My name is Trevor!!” This twist isn’t terrible if you can deliver something that meets or betters the villain you teased. Unfortunately, Aldrich Killian isn’t menacing or terrifying. In fact, he is ripped right out of Batman Forever and The Amazing Spiderman 2. Which isn’t a good thing, if you’re keeping score at home. This film also doesn’t respect the Tony of past films. Let me explain. It was previously made clear that surgery to remove the shrapnel in Tony’s chest wasn’t an option. Because of this, Tony created several mini-arc reactors and even created a new earthly element because the original arc reactor was killing him. All of the sudden, surgery comes along that is able to remove the shrapnel. Not to mention that this could have been a great moment to tease Doctor Strange. And finally they close the film with a monologue from Tony that feels as though he has retired from being Iron Man. This “retirement” is never mentioned again.

17. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Riding high off of the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, my expectations for this film were understandably high. Unfortunately, it did not deliver. They decided to split the group for most of the film, and you lose the chemistry and characters’ ability to play off each other. Kurt Russell was a great addition to the MCU. And they ended the film with a great emotional touch that I wasn’t expecting. Other than that, I don’t have much to say about the film, good or bad. It just turned out to be my most disappointing film in the MCU.

16. Thor (2011)

This film’s biggest weakness is the direction they eventually took the Thor character. As previously stated, Kevin Feige and the Marvel Studios brain trust hadn’t figured out how to make Thor relatable yet, which hurts this film. He is still played for comedy, however instead of utilizing Chris Hemsworth’s excellent comedic timing, they relied heavily on the fish-out-of-water gag which, to be fair, works pretty well. The visuals on display of Asgard and the bifrost bridge are eye-popping. At the time, this was our only adventure that didn’t take place solely on Earth. Most of the cast here is charming. There aren’t any Oscar worthy performances, but there’s no one struggling to give a believable performance. And even though we are taken into space, I enjoy that the story is small and self-contained. The fate of the world isn’t at stake, but it opens the world to bigger and grander ideas.

15. Doctor Strange (2016)

This film feels like they just took the Marvel origin story template and just slapped a new skin on it. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it feels like we’ve seen this before, so I have to count it as a negative. The cast is quite great. Though I wish Rachel McAdams was a bit more involved; it feels like her talent is wasted. And Kaecilius is another in a long line of wasted actors in uninteresting villainous roles. Other than that, I quite enjoy this film. The final act and the use of the Time Stone make for a lot of fun scenes. And the dive into the mystic arts is interesting and lends itself to some astounding visuals. In my not-so-humble opinion, the most visually appealing film in the entire franchise.

14. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

When it was first announced that Johnny Storm from the awful Fantastic Four films was playing Captain America, I was not thrilled. But since then, I’ve learned why I am not a studio head in charge of casting major block buster films. Joe Johnston is a name we need to see more in Hollywood. His work as visual effects supervisor on Raiders of the Lost Ark and as director of The Rocketeer proved he was more than capable of directing a period piece about an American hero. Chris Evans is as perfect for this role as RDJ is for Tony Stark. And the visual effects used to transform him into the scrawny kid from Brooklyn are seamless. My only major complaint of this film is the choice to montage through the entirety of World War 2. It disrupts the pacing and feels lazy. It is not enough to derail the film-train pun entirely intended-though it is enough to hold it back from the upper echelon of the MCU.

13. Ant-Man (2015)

Once again we delve into the tried and true Marvel origin story template, although it is on a much-excuse the pun-smaller scale. Paul Rudd is delightful. He adds a comedic force to the greater MCU ensemble and yet is able to drive home the emotional weight of a father just trying to be the hero his daughter needs. Michael Douglas adds some gravitas to the cast, and Michael Pena absolutely steals every scene he is in. With this film, and The Winter Soldier before it, the MCU started to explore super hero films that fit into different genres which is a nice tweak to the status quo. And a super hero heist film is perfect for the Scott Lang version of this character. While some may prefer this one over its sequel, it suffers from the aforementioned long line of one-note, uninteresting villains. Speaking of the sequel…

12. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

I prefer this film over its previous installment. Unlike Ant-Man, while the villain isn’t as menacing, we spend enough time with the Ghost character to feel sympathy, and Walton Goggins is incredible in just about everything. This movie also isn’t held back by the obligatory origin story template; it is allowed to be its own film, and when it came out in theaters, it was a breath of fresh air after the devastating events of Infinity War. Adding Michelle Pfeifer to the mix adds even more sophistication to the cast, though I wish we had been able to spend more time with her character. Though this film is much smaller-again, sorry for the pun- in scale than the team up movies it is sandwiched between.

11. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Jake Gyllenhaal is one of my favorite actors working today, so I was understandably excited when it was announced he would portray the villainous Mysterio. And while his character’s actions versus motivations are a bit over-dramatic, boy did he deliver. Some hail this as the best Spider-Man movie ever. I’m not quite in that camp, but I do have a lot of fun with this film. It’s one I find myself wanting to rewatch more than some others even higher on this list. Tom Holland continues to deliver the best film adaptation of Peter Parker, and the rest of the supporting cast continue to knock it out of the park. I love how they addressed the effect of “the blip” on society and some of the awkwardness it created. Sadly, I agree with those who find the glasses sub-plot to be poorly thought out and a bit unbelievable. And while the finale is great, it’s not quite as good as the action sequence we saw just 15-20 minutes before this. All of that aside, this is quite possibly the closest thing we have to a comedy in the MCU.

10. Black Panther (2018)

Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER L to R: Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) Ph: Matt Kennedy ©Marvel Studios 2018

Marvel takes a dip in to the Shakespearian drama genre as we dive into the incredibly thought out world of Wakanda. It feels as though Marvel finally figured out how to handle its villains with this film. Killmonger is among the best and most fleshed out villains in the franchise. You don’t agree with his methods, but you understand why he is doing it. He even is successful at changing the hero’s world view to closer align with his own. Ryan Coogler is a masterful film maker and this film is no different. Though the trip to South Korea feels like a cash grab to ensure overseas box office success. And there is some pretty shoddy CGI in this film considering some of the incredible visual effects in the franchise. Particularly, the final fight scene between out titular hero and Killmonger is a mess and far inferior to their previous bout in the 2nd act. While I don’t agree this isn’t worthy of a Best Picture nomination, it is an excellent film with a well-handled social commentary.

9. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thank God for Taika Waititi. If any of the sub-franchises within the larger MCU needed a shot of adrenaline, it was Thor. And Waititi was the right man for the job. Bright vibrant colors, a great sense of humor, and pairing him with the Hulk turned the least interesting avenger into a genuinely fun buddy cop(ish) adventure. There are a few jokes that don’t land, and the comedy can feel forced at times. But Jeff Goldblum is spectacularly weird and Cate Blanchett brings a menacing view of what Galadriel would have looked like had Frodo given her the One Ring. This was a great change of pace for the Thor Franchise, and I hope they continue to trend in the right direction.

8. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

After a disappointing 3rd Spider-Man film from Sam Rami and a failed reboot attempt, Sony and Marvel struck a deal eliciting joy among fanboys across the world. Tom Holland’s take on Peter Parker perfectly fits the John Hughes high school drama they were going for. Michael Keaton’s villain is wonderful and mesmerizing. This film builds tension better than most in the franchise; no scene displays this more than the excellent verbal confrontation in the car Homecoming night. This film suffers a bit because it feels too reliant on Iron Man. Iron Man is a fantastic and bankable star, however I’d like to see future installments highlight more iconic Spider-Man imagery and be less reliant on the larger MCU.

7. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Some may enjoy this film a bit more than I do, even if only for the pure spectacle of the airport scene. While that scene is brilliant, I have some issues with the main plot of the Sokovia Accords and how they fit into the later installments of the MCU, and this film always felt like more of an Avengers 2.5 rather than a true Captain America story. That all being said, I loved how they scaled back the action for a more intimate final confrontation between our heroes. And while his grand plan is dependent on a lot of unpredictable plot convenience, Baron Zemo feels like a fully fleshed out villain with understandable motivations. It also doesn’t hurt to make the Winter Soldier such a main focus of the film, as you will see later, I’m a bit of a sucker for Bucky Barnes.

6. Iron Man (2008)

In my opinion, these last 6 films are all excellent, and one could make an argument that each of them is the best film in the franchise. I hadn’t seen this film in about 5 or 6 years before my most recent rewatch of the saga, and I forgot just how great this film is. Some will make the argument that this film deserves to be higher “because it started it all.” I disagree. It is incredible how far the MCU has come in the last 12 years, however I can’t ignore how flat the Iron Monger villain and the final fight are. Jeff bridges is fantastic in the role, although giving him his own version of the Iron Man suit started a lazy trend of making the main villain a clone of the hero- see Ant-man, Black Panther, The Incredible Hulk, Doctor Strange, Iron Man 2, and Age of Ultron (Vision/Ultron).

5. The Avengers (2012)

On a similar note, whereas Iron Man was the initial MCU film, The Avengers was ground breaking in its ability to merge 3 franchises and utilize all of its characters equally. Loki had been an interesting character in Thor, but Joss Whedon took him to a new level here. And while the final battle in New York is the definition of entertaining, I think its entertainment value masks the films biggest weaknesses. Although Loki is the main antagonist, the nameless faceless evil army isn’t compelling, and this film falls into the “menacing sky beam” trope we’ve come to see far too often in block busters. Thankfully, Hollywood seems to be steering away from this over used idea. Don’t let my nitpicking fool you into thinking I dislike this film. I just need to justify why it isn’t higher on my list. This is an excellent team up film that set the stage for the amazing highs that came after it.

4. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

I realize this may be a bit controversial to have Endgame this low, but I just have less problems with the others higher. I felt like the time travel to fix everything was too predictable and lazy, and I quickly grew bored with the Big Thorbowski jokes. I understand what they were going for, but I can’t get past them using his depression as an overused punchline. I also feel like they found a way to make Thanos less interesting than he was in Infinity War. Problems aside though, this film delivered some of the greatest moments in the entire franchise. They find a way to payoff and tie in so many small moments from the previous 21 films, and the final act is a wonderful rollercoaster ride of emotions. It has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It makes me cheer and cry every time. This may not be my favorite film in the franchise, but it’s a cinematic masterpiece nonetheless. And it deserves its place as the highest grossing film of all time.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I love this film. It could possibly be my affinity for Star Wars and space operas, or it could be the incredible cast and characters. This film shouldn’t have worked. It was from an obscure comic book that only the biggest of comic book fans knew about before this film was announced. It was so very different from anything Marvel had done to this point, and it was banking on “that guy from Parks and Rec” to be its lead. Yet somehow, they pulled it off, and the result is a wonderfully great time at the cinema. This film could be perfect, but suffers from the dreaded weak Marvel villain syndrome. With the introduction of so many new characters and places, someone was going to suffer, and unfortunately it was Ronan. But his loss allows us more time to enjoy this rag tag band of characters, which is hard to complain about. Let us not forget the music. This is my personal favorite movie sound track of all time.

2. Avengers Infinity War (2018)

Let’s start with the bad. There is some weak CGI in the film mostly with Proxima Midnight, and it feels as though they have to find a way to sideline their most powerful characters because they are too powerful for the threat at hand. Hulk and Vision are out of the picture for most of the film and Scarlet Witch is possibly the most underutilized character in the series. That’s it. Everything else is nearly perfect. Treating Thanos as if he is the main villain of the story worked masterfully, and though he’s clearly a genocidal sociopath, you understand how he became that way. We are treated to wonderful character pairings we haven’t seen before. And the ever looming/teased threat of “the snap” leads us on the edge of our seats. It’s a master class of building tension and not being afraid to have your heroes lose. Ending the film after an emotional gut punch was a brave choice, and even though we knew the result of the snap wouldn’t last, it didn’t take away from the devastation we just witnessed.

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

With a huge tonal shift into a more grounded darker film, the Russo brothers’ first foray into the MCU is a masterpiece. The action is great throughout including that impressive elevator fight. And as I said before, I am a sucker for the Winter Soldier character possibly because I enjoy redemptive arcs for once fierce villains. While it doesn’t have the grand spectacle of the later Avengers team up films, it doesn’t need a massive ensemble and non-stop action to keep you invested. The screenplay and the character work are the strongest they’ve ever been in the franchise. And the “hail Hydra” line completely flipped the script on everything we had seen so far in the MCU. This film directed the franchise into unknown waters and I enjoyed every moment of it.

What are your favorite MCU films and moments? Feel free to join in the conversation in the comments or let us know on Twitter. Be sure to download our app to follow Black Widow’s release information and for great news and articles just like this one.  

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