Cast your mind back to 2008; a simpler time. Well, in the world of movies anyway. Amidst the launch of the original iPhone and the start of the presidency of a man who isn’t completely insane, the film world was doing just fine. The superhero film in particular was a well established sub-genre, with box office sensations like Sam Raimi’s Spiderman movies, the X Men series and most critically, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series (at the time, a duo yet to be concluded by the wet fart of a trilogy capper). Yet in the same year that The Dark Knight set a new standard for the level of quality, something was happening that would completely change the landscape for how blockbuster films would be conceptualised for a decade to come. We just didn’t know it at the time. Director Jon Favreau created Iron Man, a movie adaption of a fairly B list comic book character, casting a leading man with a notorious past and who was in need of a second wind, career wise. Everyone thought that The Dark Knight would beat Iron Man both critically and commercially and you know what? They were right. But here’s the thing: DC won the battle, but Marvel won the war, and continue to demolish their direct competition at every hurdle. Through the crafting of an intricate connected universe, EVERYBODY now wants to emulate the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Why do you think we have the DCEU, the Universal Dark Universe, a wider Transformers universe, multiple Star Wars films, a Ghostbusters universe and literally dozens of others. Its because Marvel and therefore Disney, have made billions from this model and now have the creative freedom to take obscure comic book characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy or Black Panther and turn them into roaring success stories. This is largely due to the leadership of producer Kevin Feige, a man I admire to no end. So as we lead up to the culmination of ten years of groundwork, and not just the films, but multiple short films, movie based comics and shared universe Netflix shows, lets examine the eighteen (yes really!) movies that have been produced at the time of writing by ranking them in terms of overall quality and enjoyment. As my intro was far longer than I intended, I’ll keep each section pretty succinct and just focus on the main headlines for each.
18. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Easily the weakest; incredibly dull and forgettable with the worst villain in the MCU (and that’s saying something!) Most people forget it exists and to be honest, I can’t blame most people. It adds nothing to the overall Infinity War storyline and doesn’t even work as its own movie so my advice is to skip it. More like ‘Thor: The Dark BORE’ am I right? Am I right? Sorry.
17. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
A Mark Ruffalo-less Hulk film that was pretty standard for the representation of Hulk in film at the time- ie he is ‘big, dumb, green and runs away from tanks.’ Its run of the mill and doesn’t try anything hugely interesting, but it isn’t awful. Fairly decent villain, dull love interest and I’m not a huge fan of Edward Norton in this role. Again, pretty forgettable.
16. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Most people’s least favourite. It introduces War Machine which is cool, but suffers from terrible pacing and a seriously underdeveloped and under utilised villain. Consistent solid performances from the leads and the introduction of Black Widow to the MCU, push this one just slightly above the other two for me.
15. Thor (2011)
It was early days and these films were trying to find their feet, so I cut most of the phase one films some slack. Thor isn’t bad at all- the casting is spot on and the direction and depiction of Asgard is stunning. It also introduced us to the second best MCU villain, so props for that. Alas, its been eclipsed by a far, far greater sequel. No, not ‘The Dark Bore’, we’ll get to Ragnarok later…
14. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Another film finding its feet and thus suffers for having to establish so much in one solo movie: Howard Stark, the Tesseract, Cap himself, Bucky, Peggy Carter, Red Skull, Vibranium, the list goes on. The point is, there’s a lot going on here that the film needs to juggle. To its credit, it does it pretty well but again, becomes largely eclipsed by two stunning sequels that just do everything better.
13. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Most peoples other least favourite, but I think it gets a bad wrap for being worse than it is. It has excellent character development for Tony Stark that makes sense in a post-Avengers world and a great score, which is more than most MCU movies can claim. Sadly, a weak pull of the rug twist and an even weaker villain stop this one from soaring any higher. The Christmas setting and Dora the Explorer watch are both amazing though.
12. Dr Strange (2016)
I’m sure having this one this high up the list will be controversial. Don’t get me wrong, I liked this movie a lot, I just didn’t love it. Cumberbatch is a great Dr. Strange, but the villain is the weakest since Thor: The Dark World. Casting Mads Mikkelsen, one of the finest actors going as the villain and then writing a character so two dimensional he’s practically flat is unforgivable. For shame, Marvel.
11. Spiderman: Homecoming (2017)
Another one that people seemed to love that I just liked. I like Tom Holland in the role and loved Michael Keaton as The Vulture, but the rest of the film kind of dragged for me. Some great action scenes and a cool ‘breakfast club comedy’ kind of vibe aside, this one is still just good, not great, in my opinion. I like what they’re doing compared to the Amazing series travesty, but give me the original Sam Raimi trilogy any day.
10. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ah, the sequel that could just never live up to the hype. After The Avengers stunned audiences, Joss Whedon was under immense pressure to capture that same magic again. Alas, the result is more so-so than the original, but still a great blockbuster. The decision to make Ultron a more comedic presence is rather puzzling, but the voice acting chops of James Spader redeem it. The stunning team dynamic pulls this one forward for me, with the banter and chemistry between many now well established characters driving some of the more excellent scenes.
9. Iron Man (2008)
The one that started it all, propelling both Robert Downey Jr and Tony Stark out of the depths of obscurity and into household names. Iron Man is still a solid movie with great pacing, excellent casting and a brilliant retelling of what could easily be a pretty clunky origin story. The standard of weak Marvel villains to come is somewhat set by Obadiah Stane, but as the first film in the series and an origin movie, that can be overlooked simply because the rest of the film is still so tight.
8. Ant Man (2015)
This could potentially be another controversial pick due to it beating out other solo movies like Dr. Strange and Spiderman: Homecoming, but in my opinion, Ant Man sets and achieves its goals with more success. It establishes a key cast of characters and makes them likeable and memorable from the get go. It provides a new genre for the MCU to take on with a heist premise and it uses the gimmick of the film (things getting smaller or bigger) in amusing and creative ways. All in all, its a pretty awesome flick. Oh, but the villain sucks. SHOCKER.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
This was the turning point for Marvel: a risk that other studios would’ve never taken in a million years, no matter how successful their films were. But Kevin knew better and produced, alongside director James Gunn, one of the most fun films we’ve seen from the studio yet, whilst simultaneously expanding the universe quite literally into the stars. The spot on casting of the team, the seamlessly integrated retro soundtrack and the consistent tone make this film a favourite of mine. Can you guess the weak link? It starts with a v and ends with an -illain.
6. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Essentially an ‘Avengers 2.5’, Civil War takes its namesake and basic gist from the widely successful comic book of the same name. Obviously the only thing it really takes is the concept of ‘Team Cap’ and ‘Team Iron Man’ as the conflict is based on events from previous movies rather than secret identities. The juggling of characters is insanely well handled and the film does a good job in making both sides of the argument compelling to really illustrate the tragedy by the time you get to the final fight. The movie handles previous continuity of The Winter Soldier perfectly and introduces new fan favourite Black Panther nicely. It also marks the triumphant return of Spiderman to the MCU, with perhaps the best casting for the wall crawler ever in actual teenager Tom Holland. I look forward to seeing what directors The Russo brothers do with Infinity War.
5. Black Panther (2018)
The newest MCU movie on the list is also one of their best. There isn’t much to say that hasn’t already said as the box office and critical reception has been insane. The use of a mainly black cast is so appropriate and such a big step forward for Hollywood that Black Panther gains props outside of the movie as much as it does with its excellent content. The film itself owes a lot to the James Bond series and again tackles an expanding world for Marvel by introducing us formally to Wakanda. It also contains the single greatest MCU villain we’ve seen yet, perfectly captured in the angry and determined weight of Michael B Jordan’s incredible performance. Yes, I think he’s better than Loki.
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
If Ant Man is a heist movie, then The Winter Soldier is a 70s spy flick. Everyone was blown away that a movie about Captain America, the boyscout of the Avengers could be this good. Sebastian Stan brings a terrific performance as the titular Winter Soldier, being genuinely intimidating at times as well as sympathetic. Robert Redford also makes for a great un super powered antagonist. Throw in Nick Fury, Black Widow and lame newcomer, Falcon and you’ve got one of the slickest solo movies we’ve seen yet.
3. The Avengers (2012)
The first culmination of the MCU also remains the tightest team up so far. Despite a fairly generic plot, the juggling of characters, organic relationships and excellent antagonist make this one of the best and most exciting adventures the studio has put out yet. It laid the groundwork for every film to come since and has become the gold standard for how to combine your solo films into one truly epic team up. Justice League take note. It also ties in nicely to the Infinity War storyline, giving us our first glimpse of Thanos in the end credits, even if 90% of the audience at the time had no idea who he was, its still hype as hell.
2. Thor Ragnarok (2017)
The biggest surprise on the list yet, Thor: Ragnarok can only be described as a breath of fresh air. After a pretty good origin movie followed by the dullest MCU movie yet, Thor needed a big break. Thank Odin, he got one, with this weird comedy/buddy cop/road trip/gladiator/space opera epic. Completely flipping our perceptions of these characters on their head, director Taika Waititi showed us the first glimpse that the MCU would need to adapt and evolve in order to stay fresh and exciting, not being able to just repeat the same movie every time. Taking more from Planet Hulk than the actual Ragnarok storyline, the inclusion of fan favourite, Hulk, also made this particularly special. Throw in Loki, the amazingly camp and hilarious Grandmaster and a semi-good villain in Cate Blanchett’s Hela and you have one ‘Hela’ fun ride. See what I did there?
1. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017)
Damn, 2017 was a good year for the MCU. This is a potentially jarring pick for the number one spot and I may be slightly bias in that its one of few on the list that I was able to see on a proper cinema screen in IMAX. However, theres no denying that this film completely achieves its objectives. It manages to capture the spirit of the first film without feeling like a retread. It moves the story forward and further develops every single one of the team. Rocket and Star Lord must overcome their ego (little Marvel joke for you there), Gamora must settle differences with adopted sister Nebula, Drax befriends a new alien and Groot is reborn as a tiny baby twig. The show stealers are the two ‘fathers’ of Peter Quill though; EGO, the living planet who gets third place in the MCU villain rankings and Yondu, a previously one note character who provides one of the few tearjerkers in the series. Add to that another stunning retro soundtrack and some epic visuals, with a slightly darker, Empire Strikes Back esque tone and you have, in my opinion, the finest film that the MCU has produced to date.