Gradations of Marvel: Ranking MCU Films
Film | Opinion
by Benjamin Ferrarini
With the release of “Avengers: Infinity War” there have been 19 films that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Following is my ranking of the MCU films from worst to best, admittedly with one exception.
Left out: The Incredible Hulk
I have yet to see all of this phase one entry which featured Edward Nortan as Bruce Banner/The Hulk. What I did see wasn’t overly compelling and had little if any impact on later films. Regardless I won’t give it a formal ranking since I haven’t seen it.
18. Iron Man 2
This film came in the middle of phase one and was a bit of a disappointment. It’s forgettable villain and convoluted plot didn’t leave a mark with me and the focus on the rift between Stark and Rhodey felt forced an unnecessary. However, it did introduce Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow to the MCU even if she was underutilized. Over all I feel Iron Man 2 remains the weakest of the MCU’s films.
17. Thor: The Dark World
Like “Iron Man 2” Thor’s second outing was not as strong as his first. It banked too much on spectacle to hold together it’s thin plot and another horrendously weak villain. It also showcased some truly bizarre moments such as a crazy Dr. Selvig parading around in his birthday suit or Jane’s research associates who didn’t offer anything but needless comic relief. It has some strengths to be sure, such as formerly introducing the concept of the Infinity gems, but over all “Thor: The Dark World” isn’t one of Marvel’s best.
16. Captain America: The First Avenger
Despite the title Cap’s first film was actually the fifth MCU film released and the last stand alone film before Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers”. The first film wasn’t bad per se but it did have odd tonal shifts between taking itself too seriously and being a goofy comic book film. I thought the special effects used to transform Chris Evan’s from a short lanky Steve Rogers to Captain America worked for the most part but wasn’t totally without the shadow of the uncanny valley. Still, the writing beautifully set up Roger’s character and it perfectly blended all the elements of the MCU prepping for the first Avengers film.
15. Guardian’s of the Galaxy Vol. 2
I may get flack for this but I really wasn’t impressed with GotG’s second outing. It recycled too much of the original, focused on perpetuating some unfunny jokes and tried to build up an emotional attachment for a character who was clearly meant to be unlikable in the first film. Also far too much of the film’s plot was told rather than shown. Ego’s past, his journey and even Rocket’s arch was mostly provided through exposition not action. It’s still entertaining but not as strong as the first entry.
Thor’s debut was a fairly solid one. Directed by Kenneth Branagh and boasting a stellar cast and a tone very different from what had come before. The basic story of Thor’s personal progression was similar to that of Tony Stark’s arch in the first Iron Man. This focus on character grounded the film’s more fantastical elements. It also established Tom Hiddleston as Loki MCU’s best and most dynamic villain.
13. Iron man 3
The third outing for Iron Man was somewhat divisive among fans many of whom panned the film for the subversive bait and switch of the films villain as well as Guy Pearce’s portrayal of the Mandarin. However, “Iron Man 3” did accomplish something much-needed for the series and for the MCU. It offered us a different look at Tony Stark. Stripped of his suits and bravado Stark evolved as a character making him more relatable and giving him some compelling character progression.
12. Guardians of the Galaxy
James Gunn brought his peculiar style and sense of humor to bear as the MCU departed earth for the stars. “Guardian’s” was not well-known by film going fans which some believed made it a gamble. In fact some who were more bearish critics had predicted “Guardians” would be Marvel’s first major misfire. Kevin Feige and James Gunn proved them all wrong as the film proved to be a smash hit. With the charisma of Chris Pratt leading a strong cast “Guardians of the Galaxy” legitimized Marvel’s MCU plans. While the film is far from perfect its balance of humor, action and nostalgia blend perfectly while also advancing the infinity stones subplot.
11. Doctor Strange
Harnessing the charisma and star power of actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor “Dr. Strange” offered another expansion of Marvel’s MCU. Opening up the realm of spells and wizards “Dr. Strange” offered something stylistically different while staying thematically consistent. The focus on Strange’s personal journey from cocky surgeon to astute super hero was entertaining and compelling. Unfortunately Mads Mikkelsen was underutilized as the kind of vapid antagonist that has given MCU villains a bad name. However, the visual aesthetic is beautiful, the writing spot on and the acting passable enough to make “Dr. Strange” a successful entry in Marvel’s cinematic universe.
10. Ant Man
Exploring a lighter side of the MCU “Ant Man” offered a fun adventure with a different kind of hero. Scott Lang played pitch perfect by Paul Rudd was a sympathetic and believable underdog trying to put his life together. While there were some logic gaps in the plot and the particulars of Ant Man’s powers weren’t fleshed out the film manages to build a lot of positive momentum. It all works together well enough to earn “Ant Man” a top slot on this list.
9. Captain America: Civil War
Billed as the third “Captain America” film “Civil War” operated on a scope closer to “The Avengers” then any of the other stand alone films. Offering a much scaled back version of Marvel’s comic book series which pit heroes from across the comics against each other. This “Captain America” film changed the MCU in ways both subtle and strategic. It broke up the Avengers and set in motion plot threads that led directly into “Infinity War”. While some of the character motivations weren’t fleshed out the plot was undergirded by a compelling personal story between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barns. The airport fight scene is also one of the best in the series.
8. Avengers: Age of Ultron
The second “Avengers” film and the second outing for Joss Whedon. Messier and more convoluted than its predecessor with an overuse of CGI the middle “Avengers” film is oft considered the weakest. The romance between Black Widow and Banner came out of no where and though James Spader’s voice acting was excellent it didn’t save Ultron from ending up a one note villain. Yet, there’s plenty to like about this “Avengers” film including Whedon’s impeccable script and some great action set pieces.
7. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Having appeared in “Captain America: Civil War” new comer Tom Holland makes his formal entry as Spider-Man into the MCU with this stand alone film. “Homecoming” is significant for a couple other reasons. First it’s a direct continuation of Peter’s story after the events of “Civil War”. Second it has a compelling hero journey and lastly it has effective nemesis in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. Fully immersed in Marvel’s grounded approach Peter’s high school struggles and desire to be a hero held more resonance than previous incarnations. Best of all they resisted the temptation to retell Spidy’s overtired origin story.
6. Iron Man
Thought to have launched the MCU Marvel Studios first movie was actually a trial run. “Iron Man” was an experiment to see if Marvel could successfully produce their own films instead of licensing out the rights to other studio’s like 20th Century Fox. Obviously “Iron Man” worked out well with much of the credit falling on executive producer Keven Feige and star Robert Downey Jr. With a tight script and a grounded take “Iron Man” did a fantastic job of setting the stage for what would come.
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
It’s hard to understate what this film did for Captain America as a franchise and for the MCU as a whole. The first film did a good job portraying Cap’s origin story which kept some of the campy elements of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s early Captain America comics. “Winter Soldier” managed to modernize the character and make the Captain a legitimate force to be reckoned with. With a solid script and some amazing action set pieces it’s one of the strongest of the MCU films.
4. Black Panther
The end of Marvel’s Phase 3 has produced some of their best films to date and “Black Panther” is no exception. Expanding on the aesthetic, setting and mythos of the MCU “Black Panther” has broken multiple records. But, beyond that it’s a compelling journey with a surprising amount of philosophical depth. T’challa’s journey from prince to king in a time when culture and tradition come under attack helps this film operate on another level from anything that came before it.
3. Thor: Ragnarok
Aside from being the best of the Thor trilogy, more than providing much-needed advancements in story and character, even beyond it’s unique style and look “Thor Ragnarok” is a lot of fun. It has a joy and enthusiasm that permeates the entire film. It’s a beautiful and stylish epic with action and heart. It provides a gateway into “Infinity War” and is one of Marvels very best.
2. Avengers Infinity War
The capstone of phase three and supposed culmination of the entire MCU up to this point. I’m not going to lie a lot of this was marketing hype. “Infinity War” did bring together a bunch of threads from across multiple films. It united characters and waved together plots. It balanced all these elements extremely well. It also did justice to Thanos the biggest, baddest villain in the MCU. The spectacle, the characterization and the pathos work better than is probably should. However, that said it is a lot of set up for “Avengers 4” which will hopefully pay it all off and pave the way for the next evolution of the MCU.
- The Avengers
The first Avengers stands as a landmark film for a variety of reasons. It was the first of Marvel’s films to twine together its various films from Phase One. The first big budget film to bring together a group of heroes. Joss Whedon’s script balanced an impressive cast giving each screen time and made the excellent choice to recast Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. It also introduced Thanos and set in motion threads that would weave through phase two and three of the MCU. It’s a near perfect Marvel film which set an impressive standard that would be chased by others both inside and outside of Marvel.
There’s my list of the MCU so far. With “AntMan and The Wasp” on the horizon along with “Captain Marvel” and “Avengers 4” coming next year this list has plenty of room to grow. Please let me know if you agree with my list, if you disagree or I’d love to see your own rankings if you want to share them in the comments below.
Also you can find my spoiler free reviews for:
Avengers: Infinity War HERE
Black Panther HERE
Thor Ragnarok HERE