Entertainment Magazine

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Posted on the 10 July 2018 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

After the release of Thor: Ragnarok last year, I put forth my first ranking of every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's time for an update now that Marvel's busy 2018 is nearing its end.

10 years. 20 movies. 20 #1 hits.

That's the Marvel Studios record. What began as a foolhardy attempt to finance a slate of movies built around Marvel's B-squad as a way to simply prop up toy sales has transformed into a historically unprecendted and industry-altering run of success. However, not all Marvel Cinematic Universe entries are built exactly alike.

Case in point: in 2018 alone, we've had old-fashion mythmaking and idealism applied to Black Panther, spectacle cinema at its most dazzling and soul-crushing in Infinity War, and the zany, family-friendly comedy of Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Moreover, not every MCU movie is actually worth watching. Sorry, Incredible Hulk.

Still, even with its lowpoints the MCU has richly become the world's biggest film franchise and arguably also its most-watched TV show, since Marvel's gang of filmmakers are often stuck making glorified TV episodes to a story with no foreseeable end.

As such, when I sit down to rank the films in the MCU I feel more like I'm ranking the episodes of a TV show. I end up asking myself questions like, "Is that actually a good, complete story? Or is just, basically, the best season finale ever?" And my thoughts on that vary from year to year. In truth, though, there are only two MCU movies I outright dislike. So, let's start there.

From worst to best: 20. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Unchanged

What I Said Then: "It's a perfectly ho-hum mid-2000s superhero movie, the kind Fox was churning out at the time. There's no real hint of Batman Begins-style gravitas nor of the signature, Marvel Studios blend of comedy and action. That makes Hulk a film without a country or identity and thus easily the most skippable in MCU history."

What I'll Say Now: Probably everyone's least-watched MCU movie.

19. Iron Man 2 (2010)

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Unchanged

What I Said Then: "It all lacks the vibrancy and certainty of purpose of the first Iron Man. Y ou leave the film only barely remembering Mickey Rourke was even in it."

What I'll Say Now: Such a shame the wonderful Sam Rockwell got his MCU shot in Iron Man 2. He could have been a great addition to the universe in a better movie.

18. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Unchanged

What I Said Then: "This overstuffed sequel does everything it can to start laying the groundwork for Civil War, Black Panther, Ragnarok, and even Infinity War while also trying to be a satisfying sequel to one of the biggest films of all time. Not surprisingly, it struggles under all of that weight and leans a little too much on expecting us to actually care about Hawkeye and his secret family."

What I'll Say Now: Remember Quicksilver? Anyone? No, seriously, what this film does with Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver might soon prove to be the template for how Marvel will introduce mutants and thus the X-Men - namely, they'll get their powers from the Infinity Stones, probably as some sort of universe-wide event when Thanos is inevitably defeated.

17. Doctor Strange (2016)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Back one spot.

What I Said Then: "If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then what about self-imitation? Is that just you patting yourself on the back? This is the trap Doctor Strange does its best to avoid. It doesn't always succeed."

What I'll Say Now: Marvel has produced three official Iron Man movies, but they've also arguably made three un-official Iron Man origin stories: Iron Man, Ant-Man and Doctor Strange. Point being: both Ant-Man and Doctor Strange are just re-dos of the Iron Man formula. Of the three, I prefer Doctor Strange the least. That being said, the Dormammu sequence is easily one of the better final fights in MCU history.

16. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Up one spot.

What I Said Then: "Perhaps all you need to know about The Dark World is its critical and financial reception caused Marvel to wait four years to release a sequel, the longest gap to date for any of the MCU's sub-franchises."

What I'll Say Now: I like this movie more than I probably should.

15. Iron Man 3 (2013)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Back 5 spots.

What I Said Then: "If the Iron Man franchise is ultimately the story of a man accepting responsibility for his actions and coming to terms with who exactly he is without his most famous creation then Iron Man 3 is the perfect encapsulation of that journey."

What I'll Say Now: My opinion of Iron Man 3 keeps slipping with each passing year, possibly because much of the film's initial power has been completely lost at this point. Shane Black made the end to a trilogy about Tony Stark's personal journey and love affair with Pepper Potts, yet Age of Ultron, Civil War, Homecoming, and Infinity War have had to evolve Iron Man 3's ending. Now, the days when Tony Stark put Iron Man behind him and fully committed to Pepper seem so, so long ago, especially since the two of them are still having that same basic "stay"/"I have to go" argument in Infinity War. Still, as a clever, slightly throwback detective story told in the distinctly Shane Black mold Iron Man 3 has an overabundance of charm.

14. Marvel's The Avengers (2012)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Back 8 spots.

What I Said Then: "The trick with The Avengers, at this point, is to remember what it was like to see it for the first time. With each new Avengers sequel or superhero team-up movie, the genius accomplishment of Joss Whedon's original seems less and less special. Moreover, the sluggishness of the film's first half becomes harder to ignore."

What I'll Say Now: When the main draw of your movie is "watch all the heroes working together for the first time" and you've done that countless times with better storylines, pacing, and action since then it's hard to look back so favorably.

13. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

I have seen this three times now, and with each re-watch, I've become more and more aware of just how barely stitched together the plot actually is. It's, basically, a madcap "Scott, Hope and Hank's Very Busy Day" adventure, and in the immediate aftermath of Infinity War this is exactly the light-hearted change of pace we needed as an audience. However, in the years to come, I predict the film's many weaknesses will look all the more glaring when not viewed through "I just need a really good laugh right now"-colored glasses.

That being said, laughter and maybe a mad case of the feels over the various relationships on the screen is all Ant-Man and the Wasp really wants from its audience, and it pulls that off beautifully. Plus, I have so much goodwill for these specific characters in this little arm of the MCU I will watch and enjoy just about anything they do, and I can't come down too hard on any movie featuring an ant playing electric drums and a giant man using a flatbed truck like a scooter.

12. Thor (2011)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Back 2 spots.

What I Said Then: "The best part of Thor is the mid-movie humbling of the conceited, titular hero when he is exiled to Earth and forced to learn the true nature of heroism; the worst part of Thor is everything you have to sit through to finally get to Earth."

What I'll Say Now: Still the best origin story for any MCU villain and one of the most emotional endings.

11. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Back 1 spot.

What I Said Then: " Homecoming is one of the most joyous films in the entire MCU and possibly its most post-modern. This is a film about a 15-year-old kid who has grown up in a world full of superheroes, which gives his modified origin story a refreshingly original "just trying out for the big team" feel. Tom Holland plays the extreme exuberance and anxiety of the scenario to perfection, and slings into his own colorful cast of villains and co-stars which promises great things for years to come from the inevitable sequels."

What I'll Say Now: Damn, that reveal of Michael Keaton as Liz's dad is killer.

10. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

All the hype. All the theorizing over who was going to die. All the years upon years of mythology leading up to this. After all of that, we somehow ended up with a genuinely surprising film that, though imperfect and ultimately incomplete, ranks as the most stunning displays of cinematic spectacle ever recorded on film. It feels wrong, though, to even rank it since despite everything Marvel has said this is clearly part one of a two-part story. Where Infinity War falls in any MCU ranking will ultimately be determined by how Avengers 4 finishes the story.

9. Iron Man (2008)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Back 4 spots.

What I Said Then: " Iron Man is actually about as good as it gets for superhero origin stories, giving us a selfish man forced in selfless action by circumstance and, more importantly, conscience. Robert Downey, Jr. owns the role instantly and shows us something we'd never seen before: a superhero tinkering and testing his costume like a good engineer, and a hero who ultimately decides against hiding behind a secret identity. The villain might eventually go crazy for no good reason, a common MCU problem, but the hero was strong enough to build an entire universe out of nothing but spare parts found in a cave somewhere. Feels like an apt metaphor for the entire MCU."

What I'll Say Now: The problem with Iron Man, for me, is and has always been the uninspired mech suit vs. mech suit finale against a villain who goes crazy for no good reason. Otherwise, it's flawless superhero storytelling.

8. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Back 4 spots.

What I Said Then: "There was and remains something remarkably charming about First Avenger 's unabashed idealism landing smack dab in the age of cynicism. That kind of naked sincerity is usually missing in the MCU. Not here, though."

What I'll Say Now: Still works even though it's since been repurposed to bigger acclaim in Wonder Woman.

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

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Unchanged.

What I Said Then: "James Gunn's approach to a second adventure with the Guardians is to tear them apart. However, unlike Ultron Gunn does this in the most low-key way possible, delivering a movie where nothing much of consequence actually happens until the inevitable universe-threatening finale. Bickering, crazy outer space action, and groovy tunes ensue, and the pleasure of being in the company of these characters again is more than enough to make it worthwhile."

What I'll Say Now: Will always hold a special place in my heart for all the times I got to watch my niece joyously re-enact Baby Groot's opening dance number in sync with the movie on Netflix.

6. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Back 6 spots.

What I Said Then: "The first moment an innocent civilian died during one of the MCU's climactic battles, Civil War became inevitable, and our engagement in the conflict was always going to be greatly enhanced by the relationships we've formed with these characters (and they with each other).Thus, Civil War is less a movie, more the season finale to one of the best TV shows ever. So much drama over Bucky."

What I'll Say Now: So much of Civil War is depressingly analogous to the political direction of the world right now. The best way to defeat someone, apparently, is to manipulate them into a series of self-inflicted wounds.

5. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Up 3 spots.

What I Said Then: "New-to-the-franchise director Taika Waititi doesn't take any of it seriously nor does he expect us to, and new additions like Cate Blanchette's Hela, Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster, and Tessa Thompson Valkyrie up the fun factor considerably. However, there is a disposable element to it all which wasn't there before, and the action scenes are decidedly ho-hum. Ragnarok is the rare trilogy-capper which seems to have been made for people who didn't really like or never even saw the first two films in the trilogy."

What I'll Say Now: One of the best choices available if you simply want to put on a Marvel movie guaranteed to make you smile.

4. Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Back 1 spot.

What I Said Then: "This is a more mature, politically topical, and intricately plotted effort from Marvel than usual. Impressively, it never forgets to also be fun and emotionally affecting, with Chris Evans coming into his own as a man out of time whose idealism is perfectly checked by Scarlett Johansson's amorality."

What I'll Say Now: Would maybe be my favorite if not for the "Nick Fury's not really dead! Can't believe you fell for that" twist.

3. Black Panther (2018)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

This is what a traditional superhero movie is supposed to do, dammit. It's not about hitting all four-quadrants, selling toys, setting up sequels, and fitting neatly into familiar story structures and language-neutral action beats; it's about finding the truth inside the fantastical and presenting the world with something new and hopeful. Only real downside: Black Panther's the least interesting character in his own movie.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Unchanged.

What I Said Then: " Guardians of the Galaxy, like much of the MCU, has a villain problem. Heck, it has an MCU problem in general. Lee Pace's Ronan is forgettable and the hamfisted injection of Thanos into the storyline is regrettable. Apart from that, Guardians is nearly flawless - perfectly cast, impeccably paced and directed and sneakily heartbreaking. Underneath all of Guardians ' irreverence, 80s nostalgia and jukebox soundtrack beats a sentimental heart, one which celebrates the formation of a group of damaged people and weeps when the least verbose among them makes the ultimate sacrifice."

What I'll Say Now: Marvel's best realization of its unique formula. Also, I actually enjoy Lee Pace's extreme hamminess now.

1. Ant-Man (2015)

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Post-Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ranking Compared to Last Year: Up 12 spots.

What I Said Then: "Edgar Wright would have undoubtedly made a more visually inventive film, but one wonders if he would have leaned as hard into the sentiment as his replacement, Peyton Reed. Ant-Man might have been the poorer for it since the most effective material on display is Rudd striving to be a better father to his young daughter and Douglas struggling to explain himself to his adult daughter. Reed crafts a suitably smaller film than usual for the MCU. It focuses more on character than circumstance and dutifully executes a heist story that leans on a rich supporting cast."

What I'll Say Now: The older I get the more I gravitate toward this film's simpler, family friendly slant and message about fatherhood. Also, when watched in comparison to Ant-Man and the Wasp I have a higher appreciation for just how tightly/perfectly constructed Ant-Man's plot is. It does repeat the Iron Man formula, right down to the suit vs. suit finale, but the deeper personal connections between the characters and sheer visual inventiveness gives Ant-Man the edge between the two for me. Is it truly the best, bravest or most impressive MCU movie? Maybe not. But it's the most charming and the one I most connect to right now.

What does your MCU ranking look like? Let me know in the comments.


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