My favourite Christmas gift, without a doubt, was my Marvel Comics encyclopedia that gave the history to every character, fictional location, and alternate universe that has ever been created by the comic giant to the date of its publishing. This encyclopedia sparked my love for Marvel Comics and eventually my love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Since the release of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk back in ’08, we’ve gotten 15 movies that have introduced new characters from all over the galaxy. This Friday, the universe will get a little bigger with the release of Spiderman: Homecoming, the 16th entry into the MCU. Based on the trailers, TV spots, and current word of mouth, Tom Holland’s Spiderman looks very promising; possibly the best cinematic portrayal of the character to date. Before I get a little ahead of myself, I thought I should rank my favorite MCU films thus far. So here it is, my 15 favorite MCU films ranked from worst to best.
15. Iron Man 3
In the third Iron Man film Tony Stark faces a serious case of PTSD after successfully ending the Chitauri invasion at the end of The Avengers. A lot of fans complained at how this film saw more Tony than Iron Man, yet the decision makes perfect sense at a writer’s standpoint. Iron Man 3 is a character driven story that follows the personal drama of the man within the suit rather than his superhero self. The biggest issue with this film is what usually holds back all MCU films, its lackluster villain(s). The Mandarin was advertised as a menace in trailers but turned out to be a puppet of the actual villain of the movie. The film tried to pay off this twist, or whatever it was, in a campy manner but ultimately failed. When the actual villain is introduced, they hardly seem threatening after much of the film’s runtime was spent alluding to the Mandarin. Iron Man 3 is arguably the MCU’s worst project to date but still managed to haul over $1 billion at the global box office.
14. The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk, along with Iron Man, are the two films which put the MCU into full swing. In all honesty, this was a pretty decent film. Edward Norton was a fantastic Bruce Banner and Abomination, the film’s villain, was developed quite decently. With respect to where the MCU began, the Incredible Hulk has not aged that well and isn’t near the quality of movies later projects in the franchise reached. It’s a fun film but still contains some of the campiness that comic book movies in the 2000s were not able to mature over yet.
The first act of Thor was mind blowing in comparison to what the MCU had released up to then. The introduction of Asgard and the early fight scenes set in Jotunheim were unlike anything that we’d ever seen in comic book films. CG had reached the point to where god like abilities of superheroes had finally looked, in a sense, realistic. The costume design, hair and makeup of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor was so perfect that he looked as if he was practically ripped right of out of the comics. However, where Thor fails is when the film spends time on Earth after the hero is banished there by his father. It leads to a lot of exposition and quite an underwhelming finale. Contrary to most, I don’t hate the Thor films but they won’t place very high on my list either.
Ant-Man was a surprise hit, not at the scale of Guardians of the Galaxy, but still shocked a lot of people with how good it was. Paul Rudd added a lot of character to Scott Lang/Ant-Man and the film is amongst Marvel’s funniest. The sequences where Scott shrinks to microscopic levels are so fun, well done, and comedic. It’s certainly not Marvel’s best film and suffers from a weak villain as well, Yellow Jacket (Carey Stoll). For a movie about a small guy, Ant-Man did a great job at expanding the MCU by introducing the quantum realm, later seen in Doctor Strange, and Hank Pym, the former Ant-Man, who worked with Howard Stark linking the world of Ant-Man and Iron Man together.
11. Thor: The Dark World
I was quite fond with The Dark World as it reintroduced one of Marvel’s best villains, Loki, and added more depth to an already expanding universe. Another infinity gem was introduced which, if you didn’t know, are a pretty big deal in the MCU, as well as a new species, the Dark Elves. A lot of the best sequences are on Asgard but, just as its predecessor, the film takes a toll when the plot moves to Earth. The writers are extremely aware that the film exists in a shared universe and also completely blind at this fact. When worlds are literally colliding and an all powerful gem is brought to Earth, similar to what had transpired in The Avengers, you’d think that other heroes would be involved but it’s all left to Thor. The movie is messy, and has a forgettable villain, Malekith, that is hardly threatening.
10. Iron Man
Starting from here, the MCU movies start to improve in quality quite a bit. Releasing in the same year as Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Iron Man helped prove that comic book films could be serious. Nonetheless, Robert Downey Jr.’s first every portrayal of Iron Man was very funny and introduced Marvel’s now distinguishable comedic banter. Downey doesn’t oddly resemble comic book Tony Stark but perfectly encapsulates the arrogant playboy as well. The film still remains as one of Marvel’s best origin stories and served as the perfect introduction to Downey’s Stark who would have a pivotal role in the franchise down the road.
9. Iron Man 2
I know I’m in the minority when I say that the second Iron Man film is my favorite of the three. I can completely acknowledge that its predecessor is a better movie but for some reason I just really love Iron Man 2. Maybe it’s because it was the first MCU film that I owned on DVD, or how etched the fight scene between Tony and Whiplash on the Formula 1 track is in my memory. It could possibly be Scarlett Johansson’s first portrayal of Natasha/Black Widow or Don Cheadle as War Machine. Whatever it is, I just really love Iron Man 2!
8. Avengers: Age of Ultron
The follow up to the first Avengers movie was loads of fun. It was bright and colorful, had awesome action sequences and introduced Vision, Scarlet Witch and her speedster twin Quicksilver! Unfortunately the film was very messy and trailers really exaggerated the threat of Ultron who turned out to be a flawed A.I. who was outsmarted and destroyed with ease by the Earth’s mightiest heroes. Regardless of the pacing issues, the Hulkbuster sequence, introduction of some beloved comic book characters, and the inclusion of all the MCU heroes we saw in The Avengers and then some was too overwhelming for my nerd heart. Maybe I’m blinded by fanboyism when I say that the sheer scale of this film is why it places right in the middle of this list and not any lower.
7. Captain America
The first Cap movie isn’t only Steve Rogers’ origin story but also a period piece that sees Marvel’s spin on how the events of WW2 transpired. Originally, I was underwhelmed with Red Skull and was not impressed with the film’s action sequences. Over time I realized that Captain America’s message exceeded its fight scenes and villains and was a movie that addressed what true heroism was stronger than any MCU film before and after its release. Before he was injected with the Super-Soldier Serum, Steve was already a person with a heart of a lion and the will to fight for the little guy. Cap didn’t become a hero when he was enhanced physically but merely benefited from it. A hero, the film argues, is defined more by their inner strengths than anything. As a symbol of hope, courage and inspiration to those around him and in the real world, Captain America sits at a humble number 7 on my list.
6. Doctor Strange
Although it is often panned for its excessive exposition, Doctor Strange comfortably resides at number 6 on my list. Director Scott Derrickson and the special effects team outdid themselves delivering jaw dropping sequence after jaw dropping sequence. The visuals, sorcery, and action are so well-done and realistic that they practically look as if they were shot on camera. Regardless of the evident plot holes and typical whimsical MCU villain, the special effects of Doctor Strange elevated this movie to a whole new level honing up to critics labeling “Marvel’s Inception”.
5. Captain America: Civil War
Not placing Civil War at number 1 may be a shocker to some as I know it’s one of the MCU’s most beloved films. Early reviews were full of praise, fanboys went nuts, but it fell flat for me when I first saw it in theaters. The Russo Brothers did a great job at balancing a ridiculous amount of characters but failed, in my opinion, to deliver a story with actual stakes. Civil War was advertised as a film that would tear the Avengers apart, where in reality most characters were thrown into the mix without having any personal vendetta against those on the opposing side. While Bucky, Cap, Tony, and Black Panther all had strong reasons to fight every other character was basically disposable. Despite being a personal let down, I’ve rewatched Civil War countless times since I’ve seen it in theaters and currently believe that it is quite a well-paced movie, contrary to my original thoughts. It isn’t Marvel’s best but isn’t there worst either. Civil War rightfully places at number 5 on my list.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
If you had told me that Guardians of the Galaxy would be my fourth favourite MCU film of all time during its advertising run I wouldn’t have believed you. My expectations for this movie were extremely low, so like most, it shocked me completely after I had watched it. The first Guardians’ tone shifted from action, to humor, to drama, and perfectly meshed all of these elements together. Contrary to the majority of MCU projects that often use spectacle to captivate viewers, Guardians of the Galaxy’s core and greatest feat is its characters. This movie’s ability to completely lose me on a wacky space adventure, make me laugh, and unexpectedly pull on my heart strings is why it sits at number 4 on this list.
3. The Avengers
THE AVENGERS! This is the movie that tied in all the stories we’d been following for 4 years and gave us the first ever live-action cinematic team up of a superhero group. The hype around this film, of course, was astronomical but Marvel still managed to deliver. What I really appreciate about the first Avengers flick is how well-paced it is. The movie really takes its time to re-introduce and develop characters whilst slowly assembling all of their stories together. The villain, Loki, arguably Marvel’s best, is actually memorable and impacted the universe beyond the events of the film. Joss Whedon and co. were fully aware at how epic this team up was and created an incredible third act finale as well as the now iconic 360° shot of the Avengers assembling for the first time ever.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The sequel to the first Cap movie was my favorite MCU project at the time of it’s release and remained at that spot until the release of this list’s number 1 film. My expectations for Winter Soldier entering the theater were low, not lower than Guardians, but still low. As a result this film absolutely blew me away. It was more than a superhero film, it was political, thrilling, well-written, and even had a mysterious tone throughout a large portion of the runtime. Given that the MCU was an established shared universe, I was, and still am, underwhelmed at some entries in the franchise that have virtually no causalities outside of their story. However, from Winter Soldier emerged Hydra and the revelation of who exactly the Winter Solider was which both greatly impacted the larger MCU for most to all succeeding projects. Hands down to the Russo Bros. for making a movie that broke Marvel’s formula and created a fresh injection into the franchise. Captain America: Winter Soldier is possibly Marvel’s best but still sits at a respectable number 2 on my list.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
I feel like I have to go in a bit of depth to explain this uncanny decision to place Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 at number 1 of my favorite MCU films list. Critics have panned it for resembling its predecessor a little too much and most fans number 1 would most likely be Civil War or Winter Soldier. Before closing your window, please let me explain myself!
After Age of Ultron I was facing heavy fatigue of not only the MCU but of superhero films in general. Upon the release of Logan this overall fatigue slowed down but my interest in the MCU had dropped to an all time low. And then I saw Guardians Vol. 2. A laugh-out-loud, character driven, heart-tugging joy ride. Producing a property like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 which’s heart and soul are its characters rather than the action unfolding around them is quite foreign to the franchise that too often focuses on spectacle. Even more so than its predecessor, this film explores extremely relatable familial and character issues through a racoon, aliens, an infant tree and sentient beings. Saying that this is unprecedented in the MCU and cinema for that matter is an understatement. It’s just never been done. It’s ambitious. It’s heartwarming. It is without a doubt my favorite entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I’d love to hear what are your favorite MCU films and why. Where does Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 place for you? And how excited are you for Spiderman: Homecoming? Please let me know in the comments below!