Ranked: Marvel Cinematic Universe Films

 

Since beginning with Iron Man in 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has provided nineteen films to date – most of them very entertaining. Here’s how I rank them. Sound off in the comments section with your opinions on the MCU films.

 

20. Iron Man 2  (2010)

Iron Man 2 is a bit of a disappointing mess, though there are still a few very entertaining moments to be had – such as the fight between Tony and Rhodey in Tony’s house. There’s a missed opportunity in Mickey Rourke as Whiplash, Sam Rockwell hamming it up as Justin Hammer, endless set-up and teases for future installments, and a repetitive quality in Tony trying to “better himself” again like he did in the first Iron Man. It’s too bad Jon Favreau left the MCU on this note instead of on the high one he hit before. Grade: C+

19. Iron Man 3  (2013)

I’m a bit in the minority here with ranking Iron Man 3 so low, but so be it. I admire that Shane Black tried to mix up the formula a bit with a few narrative twists, but the results are more uneven and irritating than remarkable. The film tries and fails to make Pepper and her and Tony’s romance more interesting while at the same time wasting Guy Pierce’s talents as a toothless villain and butchering the Mandarin. The ending feels out of place given the MCU’s future installment happenings as well. Still, Downey Jr. owns the role of Iron Man and the plane scene is pretty awesome. Grade: B-

18. Thor: The Dark World  (2013)

I really enjoyed Thor: The Dark World upon first viewing. Repeat viewings really show it to be a flawed filler film in the MCU though. A few hilarious moments (the Captain America cameo, the train scene, etc.) and Tom Hiddleston’s delicious performance as Loki help rescue it, but other things like a bland villain in Malekith and an annoying side character in Darcy drop it down. The story is also very paint-by-numbers and unmemorable. Grade: B-

17. Ant-Man and the Wasp  (2018)

Like its predecessor, Ant-Man and the Wasp has winning performances from Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, and Evangeline Lilly. It also has a standout car chase scene and some awesome big-to-small visual effects. Unfortunately, it has a lot of wasted potential too: Walton Goggins is an underwritten black market dealer and not a cool villain, the quantum realm and Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) are used as plot devices and barely explored, and Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) never feels threatening at all. Scott Lang (Rudd) also seems like a bit of a different character than in the first film, being more of a dimwit here rather than the clever con he was before. Grade: B

16. Ant-Man  (2015)

It’s sad to think about what could have been if the brilliant Edgar Wright had directed Ant-Man like originally intended. As is, Peyton Reed’s film is a fun but non-spectacular entry in the MCU. It’s nice that the plot isn’t so end-of-the-world heavy for once, but the storytelling is thick on exposition and clichés at points – and has stereotyped side characters. The one scene with Ant-Man in Captain America: Civil War is actually more memorable than any bit in the Ant-Man film itself, though Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas do elevate the movie. Grade: B

15. The Incredible Hulk  (2008)

Often put near the bottom of the MCU lists, I actually quite enjoy The Incredible Hulk — even though it’s far from perfect. The Transformers-like destruction at the end is exciting but also ridiculous, and it’s not always easy to stay connected to Bruce Banner once he goes green. Edward Norton brought a liveliness to the character that Mark Ruffalo lacks, though Norton lacked the sympathy notes that Ruffalo hits. I also enjoyed the malevolent quality that Tim Roth brought to villain Emil Blonsky. Grade: B

14. Thor  (2011)

Thor is both dopey and charming as a character, but we’ve come to love Chris Hemsworth as the hammer-wielding warrior. He showed his instant star power with this first entry, and Tom Hiddleston flashed his promise of things to come as Loki. The colorful visuals of Asgard and the Marvel humor really shine in Thor, though the main battle with the Destroyer is a tad boring. Grade: B

13. Avengers: Age of Ultron  (2015)

Like with Iron Man 2, Age of Ultron suffers a bit from familiarity and having too much muchness. However, Ultron and Vision stand out as characters, Hawkeye is given a big boost in development, and the action scenes – especially the Hulkbuster sequence — are dynamite. The film couldn’t quite recapture the magic of The Avengers, but Age of Ultron still showed us a lot of reasons as to why we love these heroic characters and their team-ups. Grade: B+

12. Spider-Man: Homecoming  (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a bit too Iron Man-centric at times and lacks the emotional weight of the best Spider-Man films (i.e. Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004)). Still, the film is breezy and colorful, and Tom Holland nails both the awkwardness and arrogance of Peter Parker. Michael Keaton is a plus as a solid villain with a neat character twist. Grade: B+

11. Doctor Strange  (2016)

Doctor Strange is a visual stunner even by Marvel standards and features some of the coolest costumes. Stephen Strange’s story is a bit rote feeling on the surface, with similarities to Tony Stark’s, but surrounding it is a lot of unique razzle-dazzle. Benedict Cumberbatch fits effortlessly into the title role, and the supporting cast around him is game too. Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One adds a nice touch. Grade: B+

10. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2  (2017)

The second solo outing with the Guardians doesn’t quite hit the same weird, sweet spot as the first, but it comes close. For a blockbuster sequel, it actually has quite a bit of character and relationship building, and it hits some emotional spots in its thematic exploration of father-son relationships. Some of the humor is forced, but most of it hits hilariously. Everyone does a fine job, with a welcome Kurt Russell, but the movie is stolen by Michael Rooker as Yondu.  Grade: B+

9. Captain America: The First Avenger  (2011)

The First Avenger has a hokey and old-fashioned feel about it that’s actually quite delightful. As with Chris Hemsworth in Thor, Chris Evans instantly proved his muscle and likability as Cap in this MCU entry. The romantic teasing between Evans and Hayley Atwell is infectious, and the supporting cast — including Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci, etc. — is one of the strongest in the standalone films in terms of everyone getting a chance to shine. Grade: B+

8. Avengers: Infinity War  (2018)

Running nearly 3 hours long and featuring tons of characters, Avengers: Infinity War is exhausting, overcrowded, and uneven at times. It’s also epic, ambitious, and occasionally jaw-dropping. What works best here are the character conflicts between Iron Man and Doctor Strange and the complexity of Gamora and Thanos’ relationship. Speaking of Thanos, he’s a great supervillain, and Josh Brolin plays him excellently; Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) scores big bad guy points too. Some characters make really dumb decisions (I’m looking at you Star Lord and Scarlet Witch) here, and the ending of the film is more manipulative than trully emotional if you think about it longer than ten seconds, but Avengers: Infinity War is still a thrilling blockbuster. Grade: B+

7. Guardians of the Galaxy  (2014)

The silly, laid-back space-opera quality of Guardians of the Galaxy is hard to dismiss. It was a bold turn by Marvel to build such a big movie around these lesser-known characters, but the payoff was huge. All of the scrappy anti-heroes at the center of the movie are interesting and the soundtrack ranks among the best of the decade in cinema so far. Grade: B+

6. Thor: Ragnarok  (2017)

Probably the funniest of all the MCU films, Thor: Ragnarok is easily the best of the standalone Thor films as well. Taika Waititi brings his unique directorial style to the material and keeps things fast and zany from beginning to end. Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo have amazing chemistry together here, and Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum turn in some juicy, over-the-top performances as villains. Some people were disappointed that the film doesn’t capture much of the darkness of the Ragnarok comic, but I think the film works tremendously on its own terms. Grade: A- 

5. Captain America: Civil War  (2016)

Captain America: Civil War, in all honesty, is the Avengers sequel that I wanted out of Age of Ultron. It features many great characters but also has narrative and emotional focus. The airport action sequence is an adrenaline rush, and the movie manages to let side characters like Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Ant-Man have great moments despite it being Captain America and Iron Man’s show. Now with its third entry, the Captain America line has proven to contain the best sequels for an MCU hero. Grade: A-

4. Black Panther  (2018)

Admittedly, I found Black Panther‘s plot beats to be pretty predictable at times. That said, the film still stands tall among the standalone MCU outings. Why? Because director Ryan Coogler and his team have made an excellent superhero film that is culturally aware and has a message without being preachy, and the villain of Erik Killmonger (a terrific Michael B. Jordan) has a rich level of tragedy unmatched by other MCU villains. The film’s Afrofuturism look is also eye-catching, with Wakanda being a world full of detail. The cherry on top: all of the badass female characters. Grade: A- 

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier  (2014)

One of the darker and more mysterious entries in the MCU, The Winter Soldier brilliantly plays out like a crackling conspiracy thriller for much of its runtime. Outside of Loki, the film features some of the MCU’s more interesting villains, as well as some of the grittier action scenes. The freeway and elevator sequences are amazing, but it’s the storytelling and character development in The Winter Soldier that really glow. Grade: A-

2. Iron Man  (2008)

The film that kicked off the whole MCU, Iron Man still ranks among the greatest superhero movies. It was so fresh and funny upon release, and it remains so upon repeat viewings. Robert Downey, Jr. has played Tony Stark terrifically throughout the years, but his debut as the character here will always hold a special place in our hearts. Grade: A

1. The Avengers  (2012)

Only a few times in my life have I felt magic in the air like the first time I saw The Avengers with an excited crowd. And the film lived up to the hype and then some. The story in The Avengers isn’t as strong as in some of the other MCU movies, but Joss Whedon’s film had a novelty in its team-up quality and humorous writing that still hasn’t been matched by any other superhero movie. The Avengers is still highly entertaining even after many viewings, and it has a perfect balance to its few characters that later, overstuffed MCU sequels lack. Grade: A

Written by
Daniel Rester is one of the administrators and lead writers on the We Live Film portion of We Live Entertainment. He is a Southern Oregon University alumnus and has a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Communication (Film, Television, and Convergent Media) and Emerging Media and Digital Arts. He has been involved with writing and directing shorts for years, and even wrote and directed a feature-length film for his capstone. Daniel also won 2nd place in the Feature Screenplay Competition in the 2015 Oregon Film Awards for his screenplay "Emma Was Here."

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