The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Movies, Ranked #22 to #1
With “Avengers: Endgame” selling out just about every movie theatre in the Valley during its opening weekend, it feels like the perfect time to take a few moments and look back at the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and its 22 films. After painstaking consideration, here is my ranking of the MCU films, #22 to #1. I hope that you enjoy this stroll down Movie-Memory Lane and, of course, “Endgame”!
22. “Iron Man 2” (2010) – The world knows that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is Iron Man, so new threats like Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) and Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) do not need to peek under our hero’s red and gold helmet. Unfortunately, the script peaks during the first act – on a Monaco race track - and slides into surprising boredom for the rest of the 2-hour 4-minute runtime. Tony also gets drunk and feels sorry for himself, and after sitting through this movie, you might too.
21. “Thor: The Dark World” (2013) – A perfectly serviceable setup between the Dark Elves’ leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) plays third fiddle to the God of Thunder’s suddenly tired relationship with Earth’s Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and endless, silly portal jumps between the Nine Realms. Thankfully, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) shines bright sarcasm and charisma. Where would this movie be without Loki?
20. “Iron Man 3” (2013) – Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin reveal is downright hilarious, but it also might be the most disappointing moment in the MCU’s catalog. The rise of Tony Stark’s new adversary Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is no laughing matter though. Killian puts up a threatening fight, but this Iron Man story just isn’t big enough for the MCU’s most celebrated star. The film actually works best when Tony hangs out with a 10-year-old kid (Ty Simpkins) during a sizable portion of the second act.
19. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017) – Lightning does not strike twice, as the tight-knit wonder of James Gunn’s marvelously-kooky “Guardians of the Galaxy” somewhat disappears in a sea of noisy, bombastic excess in the sequel. Sure, it’s a joy to experience the Guardians cracking smart-alecky one-liners again and again, but the celestial plot between father (Kurt Russell) and son (Chris Pratt) and the music – which was so memorable in the first film – do not quite resonate.
18. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015) – When one of Tony’s programmed Iron Man-like androids – Ultron (James Spader) - becomes sentient, it quickly surmises that the human race should be eliminated. Geez, just like that? Did Ultron binge-watch a season of “Paradise Hotel”? Well, our beloved Avengers – who pick up a couple more heroes along the way – return to the big screen to fight this modern-day terminator, but its ultimate plan to wipe out humanity feels – quite frankly - half-baked at best.
17. “The Incredible Hulk” (2008) – The old adage that a movie is only as strong as its villain certainly applies here, as The Hulk (Edward Norton) faces Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) who turns into another ferocious, green monster known as Abomination. With an opponent as powerful as The Hulk, their mono e mono struggle delivers visceral comic book-movie theatre. The problem is that the CGI – as revolutionary as it was in 2008 - had a long way to go to completely suspend disbelief.
16. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) – Captain America’s (Chris Evans) goody two shoes persona feels a bit cornball, and standing in a long concession stand line with a dead cellphone battery carries more excitement than the film’s WWII battle scenes. The Tesseract, however, proves to be an intriguing everlasting battery for Hydra Commander Johann Schmidt’s (Hugo Weaving) war machines, and learning his true identity is a big payoff.
15. (Tie) “Ant-Man” (2015) and “Ant-Man and The Wasp” (2018) – Paul Rudd might be the perfect actor to match the breezy tone of “Ant-Man”, and the 2015 movie – at the time - immediately vaulted to the top of the MCU’s funniest films. Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) hires Scott Lang (Rudd) for a heist and lends him his patented Ant-Man suit for cover, and the new protégé also hopes to start dating the good doctor’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Three years later, Dr. Pym, Hope and Lang try to rescue Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from a bizarre micro universe called the Quantum Realm in “Ant-Man and The Wasp”. Who is van Dyne? Just Dr. Pym’s wife and Hope’s mom. Whoa. Can they do this? It’s no small feat.
13. “Doctor Strange” (2016) – Benedict Cumberbatch’s identity in “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013) was a baffling mystery, so it’s fitting that he plays one of the MCU’s most puzzling protagonists. Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) loses his ability to perform surgery but discovers his higher calling as a sorcerer. The movie is not entirely enchanting, but Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, and Cumberbatch certainly keep us mesmerized.
12. “Captain Marvel” (2019) – Vers (Brie Larson), a Kree warrior, is captured by some Skrulls, crashes on Earth and forms a partnership with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Set in the 1990s, directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have a blast with old music references and poking fun at out-of-date technology. Vers and Fury share plenty of buddy-comedy chemistry, and Larson proudly stands tall in the MCU’s first female-led superhero film.
11. “Thor” (2011) – Director Kenneth Branagh helms Marvel’s first cosmic movie and skillfully balances Shakespearean themes and some welcomed, well-placed wit. Thor’s father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) banishes his son to Earth. Now, Thor must find his way without Asgard’s creature comforts, and Chris Hemsworth’s likable God-out-of-space-water routine gels with co-stars Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard.
10. “Black Panther” (2018) – If Dorothy ended up in Wakanda instead of Oz, she never would’ve tapped her ruby slippers to return to Kansas. Wakanda feels like a 24th century paradise, and Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) appears to be its new king, but not without challengers. Director Ryan Coogler rightfully chose Michael B. Jordan – and the two worked together on “Fruitvale Station” (2013) and “Creed” (2015) – as T’Challa’s/Black Panther’s fiercest rival, appropriately named Killmonger.
9. “Spider-man: Homecoming” (2017) – Okay, “Homecoming” is the third big-screen incarnation of the famous wallcrawler since 2002, but with Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) tie to Tony Stark and the Avengers, this MCU wrinkle breathes new life into the character. Holland might have been 21 in 2017, but he convincingly channels his inner 15 year-old on the big screen. The high school banter feels authentic, and so does Michael Keaton’s baddie turn as the Vulture. Keaton should star in everything.
8. “The Avengers” (2012) – Writer/director Joss Whedon threw seven superheroes together (including Nick Fury) from previous films into a super-movie that could have turned into a cinematic disaster. Instead, he wrote a cohesive story and delicately shoehorned all seven enormous characters into one tightly-crafted picture which signaled green lights for even bigger and better MCU collaborations. Yes, “The Avengers” proved that Marvel’s grand experiment worked.
7. “Iron Man” (2008) – Who was your favorite superhero in 2007? Iron Man, perhaps? Except for some committed, diehard comic book fans, it’s not likely, but director Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. changed all of that in 2008. “Iron Man” was not Downey Jr.’s comeback movie. He starred in “Good Night, and Good Luck” (2005) and “Zodiac” (2007), among other films, but “Iron Man” made him a transcendent star. Who knew that Tony Stark’s “I am Iron Man” declaration would permanently intertwine Downey Jr. to the character as well?
6. “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) – Chris Hemsworth showed flashes of his sense of humor in the two previous Thor films, but director Taika Waititi serves up a big screen stage for continuous laughs and smiles for 2 hours and 10 minutes. “Thor: Ragnarok” plays like a comedy more than an action/adventure piece, and Waititi and Hemsworth set the tone right from the get-go, as Thor awkwardly spins in chains in front of a demon-like creature named Surtur. Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Tom Hiddleston, and Jeff Goldblum are having a blast. We are too!
5. “Avengers: Endgame” (2019) – No spoilers. Just see this movie!
4. “Captain America: Civil War” (2016) – When Tony Stark and Steve Rogers have a falling out, the other Avengers take sides, and they don’t discuss their differences over coffee and donuts. They fight. Avenger against Avenger. Friend against friend. How could this happen? Well, a specific event from a previous MCU film fuels Zemo's (Daniel Bruhl) bloodlust, and his discovery of a deeper conflict leads to a vicious, emotional fight between the Avengers’ biggest titans.
3. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) – Joe and Anthony Russo turned the MCU on its head by delivering a surprising and spectacular spy movie in “Captain America: Winter Soldier”. Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) discover that the nefarious Hydra has been growing like a “parasite” for decades in plain sight! Cap and Widow – along with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) – aim to cut off Hydra’s head and tentacles, but when you cannot trust anyone, watch your back.
2. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) - When five ruffians band together to deliver a mysterious orb for an astronomical profit, they discover the meaning of friendship. Director James Gunn’s highly entertaining, wholly unique and goofy action film is accompanied by a splendid, stylish 70s soundtrack that operates like another surreal character. Walking out of the theatre after “Guardians of the Galaxy”, this critic felt the same dazzled, bowled-over haze from a very different movie: “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981).
1. “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) - For a decade, the MCU has been building towards a two-part Avengers finale, and directors Anthony and Joe Russo do not disappoint. In Marvel’s 19th installment, Thanos (Josh Brolin), a purple, eight-foot titan, treks across various galaxies to collect six coveted Infinity Stones. Why? To wipe out half the population of the universe, but the Avengers aim to stop him. The Russo brothers construct their movie like a treasure hunt, mix densely-packed blends of action, intrigue and humor, and the on-screen events conjure a certain magic by always keeping us present during every single, individual moment throughout the 2-hour 29-minute operatic runtime.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.