Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe

To honour the release of Civil War and how great it is, we ask how the MCU is faring to date. What’s the best Marvel has to offer? We found this really difficult and there’s not a lot between many of these films. But we’ve just about managed to rank them all. Here’s our assessment of all 13 films so far…

13. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Most people forget this is even part of the MCU, but it is. And to prove it, Robert Downey Jr himself turns up at the end as Tony Stark to tell General Ross about the Avengers Initiative. General Ross then turns up in Civil War. Despite this, it does feel very distinct from the MCU. Mainly because the lead role of Bruce Banner was recast, with Marvel opting for Mark Ruffalo to take over from Edward Norton in 2012’s Avengers. I still think it’s a little underrated. It doesn’t have the same humour of the rest of the MCU films but it’s a solid superhero flick with some nice moments. It’s not a bad film, it just doesn’t live up to the rest of the MCU.

12. Iron Man 2 (2010)

Iron man 2.jpg

Very much followed the blueprints of 2008’s hugely successful Iron Man and therefore it didn’t really manage to step out its predecessor’s shadow. Mickey Rourke plays whiplash (Ivan Vanko) who’s basically on a rather one dimensional revenge mission against Tony Stark. He uses similar arc reactor technology to create a suit to take down Iron Man, just like Obadiah Stane in Iron Man. We’re given our first look at Rhodey (now Don Cheadle) as War Machine and Scarlett Johansson makes her Marvel debut. All in all it’s an enjoyable watch but doesn’t hit the heights of the first MCU film. 

11. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Again, like with Iron Man 2 the main problem is the villain. I actually really enjoyed this film. But mainly for its humour, rather than the actual story. It’s a shame. Again, like with Iron Man 2 it suffers from a villain with hardly any characterisation. Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith wants the Ether (which we now know is an infinity stone) and Thor has to stop him. That’s about it really with regard to Eccleston. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki elevates the film above this basic plot, but it very much feels shoehorned in. It feels like two stories in one film that aren’t woven together particularly well and Malekith, supposedly the main villain, is sidelined as a result. 

10. Thor (2011)

Our first look at the God of Thunder was an enjoyable outing. Thor’s given a great arc for his first film. He goes from cocky prince to a mature heir to the throne of Asgard. He learns what it means to be ‘worthy’. We’re also introduced to his brother Loki, possibly the greatest Marvel villain to date and certainly the most popular among fans. Loki’s plan all along is to get Odin (Anthony Hopkins) to banish Thor so that he can take over the throne. Like I said, it’s a really enjoyable film thanks to the chemistry between the lead and the villain.

8. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Age of ultron

The follow up to 2012’s Avengers is a cram packed 2.5 hours. And it feels overstuffed. There’s so much, perhaps too much, going on here. Thor disappears for half the film for reasons I’m still not entirely sure of. It really doesn’t fit into the plot of the film, but helps to set up Infinity War more than anything. And that’s the main issue, there’s so much set-up for the future of the MCU that it feels unfocussed. Having said that, James Spader’s Ultron is a really enjoyable villain despite the generic Avengers vs army of drones ending. For all its flaws, it’s so much fun just to watch these characters interact with each other. Some of our favourite scenes are when they’re just hanging out in Avengers Tower or in Hawkeye’s farm house.

= Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

On par with Age of Ultron in our Marvel ranking is Captain America: The First Avenger. We’ve already reviewed Cap’s first outing so check that out here. While I really like this film and I do, a lot, I can’t help but feel some lazy writing after an hour or so in, with some formulaic and predictable plot trajectories, let down what otherwise was an excellent, emotionally driven character arc. Chris Evans is excellent as Captain America, and is never boring, as the ‘goody-goody’ heroes are all too often branded. He delivers a thoughtful performance as the underdog turned champion.

7. Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3 is divisive amongst Marvel fans but we all put it around the mid-table mark. It offers a different look at Tony Stark, post Avengers, who’s suffering from PTSD. He spends most the time on the run, out of the suit which proves to be an enjoyable trip. It’s good to see Tony using his nouse rather than his financial or technological resources to overcome problems. The Mandarin/ Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) switcharoo is the main reason people criticise this film and perhaps Slattery’s presence is a bit too comical. I know Matt isn’t a big fan. I liked that the Mandarin wasn’t a terrorist stereotype and was genuinely shocked by the switch but at the same time it’s a shame this Marvel villain has been tainted.

6. Ant-Man (2015)

Ant Man

Widely predicted to be Marvels first flop after Edgar Wright’s departure shortly before production, Ant-Man proved critics wrong and proved to be a hugely entertaining take on the heist movie. Paul Rudd was excellent as the con-man turned hero Scott Lang and he shared great on screen chemistry with Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym and Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne. If any film deserves to be called a romp, it’s this one. It’s a nice genre mashup, taking the superhero film and turning it into a heist movie.

5. Iron Man (2008)

After being kidnapped by terrorists using his own weapons, Tony escapes by creating his first Iron Man suit and realising the error of his ways he shuts down the weapons manufacturing branch of Stark Industries. After discovering that his mentor Obadiah Stane is the one selling arms to terrorist organisations, Tony uses his newly created Iron Man suit to take him down. The beginning of the MCU could hardly have begun any better. Robert Downey Jr was at a low point in his career and personal life when Iron Man came around. And since this, he’s been one of the cornerstones holding up the MCU. Iron Man reinvented the superhero genre for a new generation and laid the ground work for the MCU. Like all the best films, the lead character, Tony Stark goes on a personal journey, becoming a better man by the end of the film.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Star Lord

Another example of taking a superhero film and putting it in a completely different genre. James Gunn’s Guardians is a massive triumph. Consider that these are not A-list Marvel heroes, he had to make a film with a giant sentient tree who can only say the words I and am and Groot, in that order, and a talking racoon (what’s a racoon?). It’s a marvel (pun intended) that he managed to create such a wonderful film. Chris Pratt is brilliantly charismatic as Peter ‘Star Lord’ Quill as the would-be leader of the guardians while Dave Bautista as Drax is a surprising comic genius. It’s a space opera that promises great things for the future of the MCU in the cosmos. We can’t wait for Volume 2.

3. Avengers (2012)

Avengers

This was the big one. After 5 films all our heroes were finally coming together. Joss Whedon did not disappoint. In the face of threat of invasion from Loki and his army of  Chitauri, the Avengers team up to tackle the alien invasion. I don’t think the feat of taking these characters from completely different worlds i.e. Asgard and 1940’s Nazi Germany, and putting them together in modern day New York can be underestimated. What an achievement for Marvel. Let’s not forget too, that pretty much every other big movie studio is now attempting to replicate this shared universe model. None have even come close to what Feige and Whedon managed here.

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

The Russo brothers’ first outing in the MCU and it looks like being the first of many with them set to direct the next two Avengers films. After the first Captain America, I think it’s fair to say that not much was expected from the sequel under the control of two directors who had mainly worked on sitcoms previously. But boy, what a film this is. Like Ant-Man and Guardians, it’s a genre mashup. I’d even be reluctant to call this a superhero movie at all. It’s a 70s thriller in disguise. The Russos, in one film, raised the bar for pretty much everything in the MCU. The fight/ action scenes are so realistic and brilliantly choreographed to feel so real. The plot too, is much more interesting than the previous MCU films and began to step away from that tried and tested formula.

1. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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As if Winter Soldier wasn’t enough, the Russos raised the bar yet again with Civil War. You can check out our spoiler free review here and spoiler filled review here for reference so I won’t go into too much detail. But as Winter Soldier was very much an espionage film with people with moderately realistic powers, Civil War was a completely different prospect. The Russos had the task of keeping the same feel of the Captain America films, particularly the Winter Soldier and introduce powerful beings such as the Vision and Scarlet Witch. They absolutely nailed it. These guys are so good at dealing with characters and finding drama without artificially synthesising it. Every action scene has a meaning too. They make it all so personal to the characters. And that’s why they’re the future for Marvel. It’s a testament to the Russos that the Joss Whedon Avengers era seems a long time ago, considering AoU was released only last year. Bring on Infinity War.

Just for fun here’s our individual rankings

Rob’s ranking 

  • 13. Iron man 2
  • 12. The Incredible Hulk
  • 11. Thor: The Dark World
  • 10. Thor
  • 9. Avengers: Age of ultron
  • 8. Ant-man
  • 7. Iron man 3
  • 6. Captain America: The First Avenger
  • 5. Iron man
  • 4. Guardians of the Galaxy
  • 3. Avengers
  • 2. Captain America: The Winter soldier
  • 1. Captain America: Civil war

Matt’s ranking 

  • 13. The Incredible Hulk
  • 12. Thor: The Dark World
  • 11. Iron man 2
  • 10. Captain America: The Fiest Avenger
  • 9. Thor
  • 8. Avengers: Age of ultron
  • 7. Iron man 3
  • 6. Ant-Man
  • 5. Guardians of the Galaxy
  • 4. Avengers
  • 3. Iron Man
  • 2. Captain America: The Winter soldier
  • 1. Captain America: Civil war

Hatty’s ranking 

  • 13. The Incredible Hulk
  • 12. Iron Man 2
  • 11. Thor: The Dark World
  • 10. Thor
  • 9. Iron Man
  • 8. Captain America: The First Avenger
  • 7. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • 6. Iron Man 3
  • 5. Ant-Man
  • 4. Avengers
  • 3. Guardians of the Galaxy
  • 2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • 1. Captain America: Civil War

As ever, thanks for reading and give us your thoughts below or on Twitter. If you really enjoy our stuff why not share our articles with all your nerdy friends? We’d really appreciate it.

Anyway if you’ve enjoyed this, check out our Civil War articles. We have a spoiler free review and a comprehensive discussion of the film.

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