Since 2008, moviegoers have had the unique pleasure of digesting the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), a grand experiment that began with Iron Man and has been recently updated with the second installment of Captain America.
Of course, we still have plenty of MCU films on the way, including the long-awaited sequel to the movie that changed everything--The Avengers--and even a foray into deep space with the [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073) coming this August.
Thus far, we've had 9 of these movies come out, and with MCU now hitting the top of the list of cinema's most successful movie franchises, we at Moviepilot thought it would be worthwhile to look closely at these films and see which ones stack up best among the others.
This list is just the opinion of one author, so we strongly encourage the rest of you to provide your own lists and reasons behind them via the comments in order to give readers an even broader insight into how Marvel has performed so far with their expansive universe.
#9. Iron Man 2
Some will say that they outright hated this sequel, and I can see where the disappointment comes from. The film is clunky, full of itself and serves better as a commercial and trailer for The Avengers, rather than a story that stands well on its own.
Hammer and Whiplash were poorly executed villains in my opinion, and the film honestly had too many protagonists to juggle. Not only did we have to see what would happen to Tony, Pepper and War Machine, but we were also inundated with Tony's family legacy, Black Widow and Nick Fury on top of that.
The movie was still a fun outing, however, and the final team-up battle was well-earned. I just wish they had learned their lesson from the first Iron Man, which was that we want just as much action as we want Tony's sarcasm!
#8. The Incredible Hulk
I had very low expectations walking into this film, and I remember leaving impressed. Wow, I thought. They actually made a good "Hulk" movie.
I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that Ang Lee's version, while ambitious, was a disaster for the character, and this revamp definitely had a lot of people to convert. It was a tall order, and Director Louis Leterrier (along with Zak Penn who streamlined the writing) managed to do a great job.
Plus, Edward Norton made a fantastic Hulk. The only reason this film doesn't really stand out among the rest of the MCU films is because of its inherent disadvantage of having to pay for the sins of its predecessor. Still, it was a great monster movie with an actually memorable villain in Abomination.
Thor is a good movie, but it's not great. The recipe was good and even executed well, as it introduced Thor's redemption arc quite nicely and built a simple, epic fantasy around a lesser-known Marvel character with a much more limited budget than future films. The problem, of course, is that the movie's budget was still limited, making it feel like it was lacking something.
I personally didn't like the romance between Thor and Jane, though I think some would disagree with me on that point. I just didn't buy how quickly it all played out, regardless of how much I loved the characters anyway.
In a nutshell: it says a lot about the movie when your most important character turns out to be a villain. This can be a good thing, but in the end, I just felt like Loki was a more interesting character than the guy with his name in the title.
#6. Thor: The Dark World
I put this one above Thor because it truly is an improvement upon the original in almost every way. The theme of Phase 2 thus far has been, "Hey, we have money now! Let's give these fans some straight up action."
The sequel fulfilled this promise by giving us a bigger, meatier Thor movie that wasn't perfect, but still pretty good. The only real flaw I credit to the movie was its underuse of Malekith, the film's alleged villain. I never bought the idea that he was that dangerous or dastardly because the film was still trying to prove that Loki was an awesome villain/anti-hero.
Overall, the movie was definitely satisfying as an epic fantasy movie with truly memorable characters and battle sequences, even if it did end up on relying on Loki a bit too much.
#5. Captain America: The First Avenger
You want to talk about risk-taking? This movie took one of the most old-fashioned superheroes of all time, bragged about that fact and then delivered one of the best MCU movies of Phase 1. They didn't try to make it "dark" or supposedly modern for the sake of pleasing everyone. They just made a fun Captain America movie.
Chris Evans made the film as good as it was as Cap, of course. His innocence and earnest "should" have made us cringe or leave us feeling disenfranchised, but it ended up being a refreshing story about doing good things for the sake of good itself--a trope that Hollywood has mostly abandoned in favor of morally ambiguous characters as seen in The Dark Knight and even Man of Steel to an extent.
The movie had its flaws, of course. The Red Skull wasn't that great, and the commandos took to long to make an appearance. But the love story between Cap and Peggy? My favorite MCU romance yet. Cap's rise to superhero fame as a result of risking it all and earning his title as the First Avenger? Unforgettable.
#4. Iron Man
I'm expecting a lot of flak for this, but I have to admit that while this movie has the grandfather clause of being the first one and therefore "great" because of it what it represented rather than how it was played out, it's still not the best Iron Man.
Is it the best Tony Stark? Maybe. It definitely enjoys the top spot as the best origin story, giving us the genuinely entertaining and thrilling experience of seeing an arrogant man lose it all and then build his way out of it.
The film also has the advantage of being novel, as this was the first time we were able to witness Robert Downey Jr. create one of cinema's greatest modern protagonists in the form of Tony Stark. Oh, and it has the absolute best post-credits sequence because it was our first (ever) clue that the MCU was happening.
But it's only #4 because if you judge the movie on its own, it's actually not that great. Like most of the other Phase 1 films, it didn't have the budget to give us the full Iron Man experience, save for a few great scenes that meandered throughout and a forgettable final battle.
#3. Iron Man 3
Yes, I'm aware that many people absolutely hate this film. Some try to argue that it's not just because of how they handled Mandarin, but that's really what it comes down to. If the twist worked for you, then this movie was phenomenal. Otherwise, you left the theater in a fit of anger.
And that's fine for you, but if I have to be honest and rank these movies, I have to declare that this was my favorite Iron Man film and one of the best MCU movies yet.
Unlike the rest of the Iron Man outings, this movie had the resources to pull off epic battles and a villain that ended up being Extremis, which was much more interesting than I think they could have executed with a fully realized Mandarin. Of course, I still hope that the Mandarin comes back in a way that might redeem what infuriated fans so harshly, but I don't think it would be pivotal to the franchise's success.
Judged on its own, Iron Man 3 is a great film both technically and conceptually. It took Tony Stark's character in new directions and let him bleed a little as an echo to the first film. Also, it still boasts one of the best third acts in the MCU, period.
#2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Everyone loves a good underdog story, and there's probably no better one in recent memory than the story of how a sequel to one of the most "meh" films of the MCU (to most people) managed to become one of the most celebrated superhero films of the last decade. I was even pretty close to making this #1, but we'll get to that.
[Captain America: The Winter Soldier](movie:254973) is a great example of how to do a sequel because it took a character we know and inserted him into a world we also know, but don't want to accept as a reality.
The Project Insight storyline within the film was a less-than-subtle commentary on current events, and watching a superhero who is known as a defender of "truth," whether it be American or not, have to deal with these moral gray areas was far more compelling than just watching him fist fight with the Red Skull.
And it wasn't just the story that resonated with moviegoers. The action sequences were some of the most visually pleasing ones I've seen in a long time. They were well-choreographed and actually demanded my attention throughout.
It wasn't perfect, obviously, but Winter Soldier still managed to exceed my expectations as both a Captain America film and an entry in the MCU, which is something I am pleasantly surprised to say.
#1. The Avengers
Do I really need to verbalize my reasoning here? It was one of the most anticipated superhero films of all time and didn't crumble under the expectations. What more could we have asked for?
I liken The Avengers to a big party. It wasn't the most compelling or complex movie in the MCU, but it still felt earned. By relying on the complexity of the films that preceded it, we were able to just enjoy a nonstop crossover movie, which had never really been attempted at this scale before. For that reason, The Avengers will likely retain the top spot among the MCU for years to come, depending on what we can expect from its sequel, Age of Ultron.
Agree? Disagree? Despise my opinions? No problem! Let your voice be heard in the comments with how you think the movies should be ranked and why. Thanks for reading!
The MCU will return in "Guardians of the Galaxy."