With Captain America: Civil War enjoying its first week in theaters, it’s about time we look back on all the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — all thirteen of them.
Other studios have tried to copy Marvel’s universe, but to no avail: Sony’s Spiderman universe fell apart and DC released two awful movies in a row. Part of Marvel’s success lies in their ability to keep churning out superhero movies without a truly bad product in the mix. Of the thirteen MCU films, I’d say six are mediocre, three are good, two are great, and two are super. Here they are, ranked from worst to best!
13. Thor: The Dark World
This is the only MCU movie that was a boring experience from start to finish. Nothing stands out about it: another nondescript villain, a lack of development in Thor and Jane Foster’s lackluster romance, a final battle on Earth that manages to feel low-stakes — even Tom Hiddleston’s Loki couldn’t add any charm. But it’s not bad!
12. The Incredible Hulk
Released just one month after the original Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk had big shoes to fill. It should’ve worked: big-name actor Edward Norton, big smashing fights, and big green rage monster — but with a director famously more interested in action than character, it was mostly annoying and loud. It also features the most egregious example of the “villain is an evil version of hero” trope in the MCU.
11. Captain America: The First Avenger
Chris Evans is an inspired casting choice for Captain America, and the tone cheerfully flies in the face of the “superhero movies should be dark now” vibe that’s all too pervasive nowadays. It’s a shame, then, that the dialogue and action are so remarkably cheesy that it’s impossible to take the movie seriously in the slightest.
10. Iron Man 3
This is undoubtedly an unpopular opinion, but I believe Iron Man 3 is largely overrated. Writer/director Shane Black, a virtuoso of the buddy cop genre, puts a spin on Tony Stark’s story that is different enough to entertain. He fundamentally misunderstands much of the comic book source material though: many of the characters and motives ring so false that it’s almost manipulative.
Thor gets credit for feeling more like an indie comedy than a superhero movie. It’s decidedly small scale and gets a lot of earned mileage out of Thor’s awkward Earth antics. I don’t remember a single thing about the final battle though — must be difficult to keep a Thor movie engaging. At least we got Loki.
8. Iron Man 2
This is undoubtedly an unpopular opinion, but I believe Iron Man 2 is largely underrated. Yeah, it’s messy and its only real reason for existing is to set up The Avengers, but it’s also damn fun. The fight scenes are smoothly shot and Robert Downey Jr. gets to turn the humor dial up to eleven. Iron Man 2 asks you to turn your brain off and then rewards you for it.
Also known as “the one where Marvel fired Edgar Wright.” One of filmmaking’s smartest and most daring comedy directors originally helmed this project, but he was rid of over differences in vision for the film. What we ended up getting was Wright-lite: funny comedy minus self-awareness; unique visual style minus consistency; clear-cut characters minus maturation.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy
Sometimes Marvel decides to follow through on a risky director, and they found success with resident weird filmmaker James Gunn. Guardians of the Galaxy is so tonally consistent in its strangeness that it morphs into a charismatic adventure. The shtick wears thin by the third act and the villain is painfully bland, but you can’t help but let the movie dance into your heart.
5. Avengers: Age of Ultron
The biggest fight in this movie is between cult favorite writer/director Joss Whedon and Marvel Studios. The push and pull of Marvel trying to build a business while Whedon tries to artfully construct character and theme is tangible. The eventual tradeoff works for the most part, and this marks the beginning of the MCU dealing with the thematic interplay between power and human nature.
4. Iron Man
The original is still one of the best. Iron Man set up a superhero story template that worked so well, Marvel is still struggling to escape rehashing it in later films. Its three-act structure flows impeccably and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark may be the single greatest casting decision in comic book movie history. Unfortunately, it did set a dangerous precedent for uninventive villains as well.
3. Captain America: Civil War
Yes, the latest entry is one of the best too. With so many characters and moving parts to balance, it’s remarkable that the Russo brothers directed such a great film. Human relationships between super people drive this movie, and Civil War is all the more compelling for it. It earns extra points for the best cinematic version of Spiderman to date. Read our full review here: (https://azbigmedia.com/experience-az/captain-america-civil-war-represents-best-comic-book-movies)
2. The Avengers
This is the pinnacle of superhero movies capturing the spirit of comic books. Unlike the eventual sequel, Joss Whedon works gleefully unbridled here, and the result is a massively joyful blast of a movie. Equal parts thrilling, hilarious, and memorable, The Avengers takes full advantage of the storylines leading up to it with a narrative streamlined to deliver maximum engagement in the action and characters.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
This is the pinnacle of Marvel movies transcending the genre itself. The Winter Soldier isn’t just a terrific superhero movie — it’s an outstanding political thriller and a testament to what comic book movies can achieve as an art. The action is so grounded in practical effects that it’s breathtakingly realistic, and the characters are so grounded in genuine emotion that it’s brilliantly gripping. The Winter Soldier is Marvel’s The Dark Knight.