Avengers: Infinity War, what some call the culmination of the MCU, is right around the corner. Ever since Thanos made his first appearance in The Avengers’ post-credits scene, it’s all been leading up to this. To celebrate its release, I am ranking all Marvel Studios’ films from worst to best.
18. Thor: The Dark World
The second entry in the hit-or-miss Thor franchise tried to go with a tone more aligned with Game of Thrones than the more Shakespearean approach Branagh had chosen for the first entry, even hiring one of the directors of the hit HBO show, Alan Taylor. While it definitely seemed like a good idea on paper, the final result is a tonal disaster, never settling on a single genre, and featuring what’s probably the worst villain in MCU history. Yeah, pretty bad.
17. The Incredible Hulk
While not terrible, The Incredible Hulk is probably the most forgettable of all of them (even when not acknowledging Ed Norton didn’t come back). Louis Leterrier does a serviceable job directing the film, but the plot borders on ridiculous towards the third-act and never manages to recover.
16. Iron Man 2
The hype was big surrounding the sequel to one of the best superhero films in recent memory, so it was a pretty big disappointment to see the final product. As the previous entries, Iron Man 2 suffers from a tonal mess, and while it features the first appearance of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, that’s about the most exciting thing the film offers. The film also can’t overcome the painfully obvious setting-up for The Avengers, feeling more like an appetizer to the main course, and frankly, it’s not a very good one.
15. Avengers: Age of Ultron
While it still features the signature humor and action of the MCU and Joss Whedon that helped make the first one such a huge hit, it suffers from the same thing that Iron Man 2 did: unnecessary and excessive set-up. From Thor’s nightmare to Civil War winks, it’s just isn’t that strong and dilutes the final film. Add-in a mediocre villain with Ultron, and you have a big let-down from the previous entry.
14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Vol. 2 is helped enormously by the amazing characters created by James Gunn in the first one, and his talent getting to write them is undeniable. The problem to me was the third act, with what felt like a very lazy way of fixing the conflict and creating a plethora of plot-holes along the way. It is certainly fun, but in the end, it’s kinda forgettable. It does feature Kurt Russel in a very good performance, however.
13. Captain America: The First Avenger
Cap’s first film is a very well-made adventure flick that is a lot of fun all the way through. It also features a rare good villain for Marvel, so that’s a treat. However, it’s still not as strong as some other entries and definitely doesn’t come close to what the Russo brothers later did with the characters.
Kenneth Branagh crafts this fish-out-of water with his signature cinematic approach; it manages to be very funny and heartfelt, at the same time. The characters are not bland and the script is good enough. However, its quality is unfortunately not as strong as several other entries in the MCU, hence its place on the list.
11. Iron Man 3
Shane Black injects his trademark humor and energy to Iron Man in a very good film, featuring the best performance given by both Downey Jr. and Paltrow; it’s just a shame that they wasted what had the potential to be a great villain in a joke that is not very funny, and it definitely hurts the film by the time it ends.
Even with the departure of Edgar Wright, the film still shows some typical humor from the acclaimed director. The script ends up being the best thing about the film, and is, for me, the funniest MCU film and also the most grounded one. Peyton Reed never does anything eccentric with his directing, but he doesn’t weigh it down either. Also, the cast, featuring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas is excellent.
9. Thor: Ragnarok
Taika Waititi successfully reinvented the Thor franchise with Ragnark, bringing a much-needed dose of comedy and ditching the Jane Foster character. He also dramatically changed both Thor and Loki;s personalities, and they both benefit from it. Cate Blanchett is also delightful as Hela. Only problem here is that it doesn’t fit at all with the previous Thor film, which might be jarring for some people, especially when doing pre-Infinity War marathons.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy
While I’m not as big a fan as some others of James Gunn’s film, I still have to give him the credit he deserves for crafting a truly great film filled to the brink with amazing visuals and homages to other sci-fi classics. While it mainly fails for me when it comes to the main plot, especially everything surrounding the truly unremarkable villains, I can’t deny the non-stop fun the movie offers, thanks to some amazing performances, great comedy and a killer soundtrack.
7. The Avengers
It took a lot of groundwork and years to get this film made, but that’s exactly what makes it work so well: Feige chose the wise path of introducing each character in their own solo adventure, and to then team them up; it’s such an obvious winning formula that it’s so increasingly frustrating when other studios don’t realize this (looking at you, DCEU). The incredible action and humor that results in the main heroes interacting is almost instantly classic, all helped by Joss Whedon’s impeccable script. Loki, while not a very strong villain, is serviceable for laughs and to set-up a conflict, so in the end, it works. It’s a truly magical final product, and works on almost every level; it’s a blast from start to finish.
6. Spider-Man: Homecoming
The mere thought of this movie even existing a few years back seemed ridiculous, especially given Sony’s usual reputation for making horrendous decisions surrounding the Spider franchise. To the shock of many, including me, they let Spider-Man be reinvented once again, but this time in the hands of Marvel Studios’ head honcho Kevin Feige. To pull it off successfully would be some kind of semi-miracle; yet, they did. Mixing the best qualities of a John Hughes film with a dose of superhero fun, the real strength here lies in the characters and their social interactions in the real world; it grounds the film a lot more than previous MCU movies, and making the villain directly link to Peter was a genius move: Michael Keaton’s Vulture, in my opinion, is the most layered villain the franchise has had. Robert Downey Jr.’s presence is also very welcoming. It really, really works.
5. Doctor Strange
Probably the most underrated film on this list, Doctor Strange brings the character’s origins with a delicate execution by Scott Derrickson that makes it stand out from other MCU stories. It feels very grounded, even when dealing with some of the more magical themes. Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as Strange, as is Tilda Swinton in an incredible turn as the Ancient One. It might not seem very relevant inside the MCU, but it’s still very good. The villain is quite weak though, so that’s what holds it to me back on this list.
4. Iron Man
The one that started it all. It is this film which set the course for the rest of the MCU, and it out definitely wouldn’t have worked if it hadn’t been a good film. Thankfully, Feige handed the reigns to Jon Favreau, an odd choice back then, given his contrasting filmography to these types of films. However, he proved an excellent choice: he created one of the best superhero origin stories put on-screen, and the love given to the character is shown tremendously not only behind the camera, but also in front of it, with Robert Downey Jr’s star-making turn as Iron Man. Weak villain here too, though.
3. Captain America: Civil War
Featuring probably the best action sequence of any superhero film ever (and one of the best, period), the Russo brothers return to helm this film with incredible skill. It’s the most dramatic and action-heavy of all of them, but it still manages to fit into all of it extremely well. The conflict between Stark and Rogers is one for the ages, and the movie finds a way to never make you lean on one of them. My main problem with the film is that some elements feel a little shoehorned: the villain, while not bad, seems unnecessary, and Peter Parker’s introduction, while fun and cute, comes out of nowhere, and his inclusion very much feels like a late addition to the film. Still though, it’s hard to deny the sheer quality in almost every aspect regarding the film, which makes it amazing.
2. Black Panther
Being the most recent film on the list, its place could change, either going up or down, in the coming years. But for the time being, Ryan Cooler delivers a very different and groundbreaking MCU film. The political conflict surrounding the characters mirrors the best Game of Thrones storylines. The action sequences are executed incredibly well, and new characters, such as Okoye and Shuri, are instantly excellent additions to the universe, as is the excellent villain played by Michael B Jordan. It’s also a love letter to Africa and its culture, done with a lot of respect. It’s truly great.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
As my list might show, I tend to lean on political stories as my main liking — and this is no exception. The first truly political thriller made inside the MCU, this was the first Russo brothers film to not be a comedy, but it never shows. It’s masterfully executed, and features one of the most intriguing storylines of any Marvel film yet. While not as big or eventful as, say, Civil War, the Winter Solider ultimately takes for me the top spot because it’s the first film that made me appreciate Captain America as an interesting character, and it set the course for many other risk-taking films in the universe. It reminds me of how the Dark Knight treated Batman, and that’s about the best compliment a superhero film can have.
Avengers: Infinity War comes out April 27 in theaters around the world.