Infinity War is nigh, bringing together all the things in a the crazier superhero mashup in the history of cinema. Basically, it is the most exciting day of the year for me in 2018, so let’s get the celebration started early with a ranking of every single movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. That’s 18 movies stretching over 10 years, and I have an opinion about each one. So, let’s get to it from worst to best!
18. The Incredible Hulk
Some may argue that this is better than the next movie in the list, but for me, this one takes the bottom. It’s just a horribly boring movie, with mediocre special effects, an angsty annoying performance by Ed Norton, and a complete lack of any joy. I get that being Hulk is probably a bad time full of misery and woe, but if I wanted dark and dreary, I would have dialed up Zack Snyder. At least there’s no one named Martha in this movie, I suppose. The best part is the post-credits stinger with Tony Stark.
17. Thor: The Dark World
I love me some Chris Hemsworth. He is a beautiful specimen of a man, but even his muscly muscles couldn’t save this movie. Neither could Dr. Who playing a weird space elf with some serious issues. There were some laughs to be had, and it gave us a happy ending with Jane and Thor, but that ending feels sort of hollow when we find out that they unceremoniously broke up some time before Ragnarok. Two important things happen, though: Thor goes to live on earth (which is handy for the Avengers) and Loki takes over the throne posing as Odin. Those end up being important later on in far better movies than this.
16. Iron Man 2
I frequently defend this movie to its detractors, but when I sat down to make my MCU list, this ended up falling to the bottom anyway. I admire this movie for what it set up. The inkling of a bigger universe was set in previous movies, but it was really Iron Man 2 that did all of the legwork. Black Widow, War Machine, Nick Fury inexplicably firing Tony from the Avengers before they’ve even become a thing. A bunch of weird disjointed things that turned out to matter in the end of this crazy ride, but ultimately not very useful in service of making this one a good movie.
15. Iron Man 3
A lot of people like this one, and I can see why. It’s one of the more personal Marvel stories, really trying to get at the core of Tony Stark and how he handles becoming a superhero overnight. Though he has an oversized ego, Tony ultimately is just a dude in an oft-destroyed mechanical suit. That’s gotta give you an inferiority complex when you go up against the likes of Thor and Hulk, not to mention the boy scout that is Captain America. I get what they were going for in this movie, but ultimately it just didn’t land for me.
14. Avengers: Age of Ultron
I rewatched this recently. It’s a really good collection of awesome scenes, but falls short of being a coherent movie. It’s ambitious in its scope, and manages to cram in a lot of new characters with Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Vision, Ultron, and Klau. Like Iron Man 2, it lays a lot of important ground work that is exploited in better movies down the road, but that’s about it. The best parts are finally getting more of a backstory on Hawkeye and the Hulkbuster armor going toe to toe with Hulk.
13. Dr. Strange
Pretty much starting here on my list, I can’t say anything bad about the movies anymore. Dr. Strange was fine. It was entertaining and different and trippy. Benedict Cumberbatch does a pretty good job with the character, and the movie manages to make “magic” seem believable enough. It deserves special attention for its clever ending that didn’t involve a sky beam or a horde of faceless bad guys. Not only does Dr. Strange’s indefinite persistence grate on Dormammu, but it also gives Strange a lot of time to become a master of the arcane arts.
When this movie came out, I really loved it. Kenneth Branagh brought a lot of class to a pretty crazy story, and even though this movie isn’t at the top of the list, I think it’s responsible for opening up the universe to more space-oriented fantasy, which eventually led us to awesomesauce stuff like The Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok. With Hulk being a bit of a disappointment, Thor was just good enough to save the idea that maybe there could one day be an Avengers movie.
11. Captain America: The First Avenger
I didn’t care for this movie the first time I saw it, but it’s grown on me over the years. It’s notable for starting on this crazy Infinity Stone thing with the Tesseract (which eventually comes to be called the space stone). It also deserves credit for telling the entire story as a WWII movie. This willingness by Marvel to use different genres under the umbrella of comic book movie is really what managed to cement their success. It was a risk that paid off for the most part.
This movie is small and inconsequential, having practically no bearing on the great Marvel Cinematic Universe, and having very low stakes, even for the main character. Still, it’s incredibly charming, and one of our most “normal” heroes. Scott Lang, Hope Van Dyne, and Hank Pym are all wonderfully played and the movie sets all three characters up as ones I was keen on seeing again. Luckily, we’ll get our chance this summer with Ant-Man and the Wasp!
09. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2
This one almost made it higher. I love this movie; in a lot of ways more than the first. It was very well written, with a strong theme played out from the perspective of multiple characters. I really appreciate that. Still, though, the fact that it’s the second one managed to dull the excitement and novelty of it all causing it to come in at number 9. It’s free on Netflix right now. Watch it again if you only ever saw it in the theater.
08. Thor: Ragnarok
For four movies, Thor was a painfully sober character. Beautiful and powerful, sure, but not really charismatic. Ragnarok changed all of that by basically rewriting the entire Thor formula into a crazy buddy road trip movie with Hulk. This movie is exceptionally rewatchable and introduced Valkyrie to the MCU, who I suspect will end up being vital in the future. The most important takeaway, though, is that Thor has been reborn as a lovable oaf.
07. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Spider-Man is back! After the mega success of the Toby Maguire franchise and the middle success of the Andrew Garfield one, Tom Holland takes the reigns and puts Spider-Man back in high school where he belongs. That move is hugely effective, and gets a lot of extra oomph from how he fits into the greater universe, with Tony Stark acting as a mentor, and Peter having a hard time adjusting back to normal life after a superhero brawl in Germany.
06: Captain America: Civil War
For all intents and purposes, this is really Avengers 3. It’s better than Age of Ultron, and builds upon that story with the ever-widening rift between the philosophical approaches to life that Tony and Cap have. While Tony evolves over the course of the MCU, Cap doesn’t. It’s his defining trait. He lives by his code, no matter the cost, which is, at times, admirable, but also sometimes incredibly painful. This movie falls into the latter, and it’s awesome to see everything blow up between all of the heroes. It also left everyone in a very interesting place for the upcoming Infinity War.
05: Black Panther
It’s a mega-success, having passed Avengers at the box office. T’Challa is likely an very important face of Marvel going forward, and with good reason. Black Panther gave us an afro-futuristic world, some social commentary about American society, and a whole host of new characters to take into the future. After Civil War, I expected Black Panther to be good, but I never imagined it would be this good.
04: Guardians of the Galaxy
The first time I watched this movie, I wasn’t quite sure what I had watched. It was weird and different, and a complete departure from everything that had come before it in the MCU. Was it even part of the MCU? Only in name this early on, but it did deal with another Infinity Stone which loosely tied it to everything else, and we’ll finally get our meetings in Infinity War. This movie was so beautifully cast, that the Guardians quickly went from unheard of comic book heroes to household names.
The top three are hard to differentiate. This movie proved it all out. It made everything worth it. The pain of Iron Man 2. The awkwardness of Thor. The bore of Hulk (actually, this movie could have been made just fine without Hulk having a precursor movie). It’s this movie that really kicked it off for me. This is when I became completely invested and a true believer that there were no limits to where this universe would go. It’s hard to imagine there ever being another movie as epic as this one was for its time.
02: Iron Man
Before there was an MCU, there was Iron Man. And sure, a greater world was hinted at when Nick Fury showed up in the post credits stinger of this movie, but we didn’t need that for this to be an awesome movie. Robert Downey Jr. was inspired casting. Jon Favreau did an amazing job making the movie. Everything hinged on this and they knocked it straight out of the park. To this day, I am still impressed with this movie.
01: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America went from meh to awesome in the span of just a couple of hours. The Winter Soldier takes the top spot on the list, because it is the most perfectly executed movie of the MCU. It has a strong message that centers around its main character, and then surrounds that main character with everything he needs to both highlight and challenge him at every turn. It was genius to team him up with Black Widow here, a woman with a fluidity of morals in stark contrast to Steve’s rigidity. But they need each other, and from each other they can become more. This movie is just amazing. It is The Dark Knight of the MCU. There are movies that are more fun, but none as well made.