All of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies, Ranked From Best to 'Iron Man 2'
By John Boone
Photo: Marvel Studios
By now, we assume you've all seen Captain America: Civil War. If not, what were you doing with your weekend, because need we remind you: SPIDER-MAN?!
Marvel's latest offering includes every superhero and their Aunt May too -- yet, manages to be one of the best films the powerhouse studio has produced yet. So, where does it stack up against the other Avengers films? The list may be divisive, so let's start with the one we can all agree on...
13. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Almost unanimously viewed as Marvel's biggest misstep, which is unfortunate because there actually is a decent amount going for Iron Man 2: Scarlett Johansson makes her MCU debut as Black Widow, and Don Cheadle takes over -- for Terrence Howard -- as Stark BFF Rhodey/War Machine without a bump.
Still, it's an over-crowded mess that proves unfortunately un-fun to rewatch, and Mickey Rourke's bizarre take on the villainous Whiplash, a risk that seemed gangbusters on paper, is anything but in execution.
AKA the film where the plot hinges on Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), the world's foremost astronomer and potential Nobel Prize winner, accidentally stumbling upon an evil-looking red substance and just...touching it. Not that the rest of the story makes much more sense. And does anyone even remember the Dark Elves?
What The Dark World does have in its pocket is Tom Hiddleston chewing scenery as Loki -- the best part of every Thor film -- and a third-act dimension-hopping action sequence that is exceptionally exciting after all the ho-hum leading up to it.
11. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The second solo Hulk outing in recent memory -- following Ang Lee's 2003 version, which was produced pre-Marvel Studios -- is the red-headed stepchild of the MCU, all but swept under the carpet after Mark Ruffalo replaced Edward Norton (who starred here) as Bruce Banner.
The movie's biggest crime is that it feels generic, especially hitting theaters on the heels of Iron Man, Marvel's first big hit. But every studio has to find its footing, and that's what The Incredible Hulk feels like in retrospect. There are enough kernels here that a solo Hulk film starring Ruffalo shouldn't be as inconceivable as it is. It could work -- just not like this.
10. Thor (2011)
It feels like the most difficult part of making a Thor film work is striking a balance between Asgard -- with its awe-inspiring skyscapes and over-the-top characters -- and Earth, where Chris Hemsworth, playing Thor as equal parts meathead and royal, finds himself a fish out of water and provides the movie so many of the laughs.
Marvel was still trying to strike that balance the first go-round -- and apparently more so the second time (see: No. 12) -- but Hemsworth is perfectly cast as the God of Thunder, as are Hiddleston and Portman -- or, seemingly so, for the latter. How quickly that fell apart. Perhaps the third time will prove the charm for the Thor franchise?
9. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Age of Ultron could have marked the beginning of the backlash against Marvel -- that's what the internet commenters would have you believe -- but its not-so-fatal flaw is attempting to give too much: Too many characters (with new additions Scarlett Witch and Vision, as well as gone-too-soon Quicksilver). Too much action (with globetrotting brawls set everywhere from South Africa to South Korea). Oh, and romance too! (Remember that Bruce Banner-Black Widow sub-plot? Eesh.)
Independently, a lot of it works. Paul Bettany's Vision, notably, is an incredible asset to the MCU. The Ultron plot may be a little discombobulated, but James Spader's portrayal is just as deliciously maniacal as you'd hope. The Hulk Buster! But when it all comes together and then attempts to tie in even more franchise building -- don't forget the obligatory Infinity Stones mention! -- it winds up muddled.
After the disappointment that was Iron Man 2, the threequel reaffirmed that Iron Man was a hero more than worthy of his own super installments. The movie catered to what Robert Downey Jr. does best -- pairing him with a precocious child sidekick for peak charmingness -- and features some of the MCU's most standout action sequences. Case in point: the Barrel of Monkeys.
If there is any quibbling to be had here, it's likely over Iron Man 3's villains: The Mandarin (truly a hilarious turn by Ben Kingsley) is a fun twist, but the reliance on yet another vague MacGuffin -- this time, Extremis -- feels redundant. Though, it did lead to Pepper Potts (the always-welcome Gwyneth Paltrow) suiting up and kicking some ass and we certainly can't complain about that.
7. Iron Man (2008)
The O.G. Iron Man movie probably should place higher -- it's the grandfather of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it -- but where it falls is only indicative of the fact that the studio's output keeps getting better and better.
Still, Robert Downey Jr.'s take on Tony Stark is the defining presence in the MCU, and Iron Man's style set the bar for how Marvel Studios set themselves apart from other Cinematic Universes that would follow. Even if you don't remember the specifics all these years later -- Iron Monger, anyone? Anyone? -- it's impossible not to feel the lasting effects on every film that has come after it.
6. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Looking back, it should be more inconceivable that Marvel was able to make a period piece superhero movie. The fact that it doesn't is just proof of how damn good The First Avenger, which is set in WWII, complete with all the star-spangled bells and whistles, turned out.
Chris Evans effortlessly steps into his role as the other linchpin around which the MCU will rotate, but his performance grows more interesting in later installments -- when Cap must assimilate to a time not his own. Here, it's the supporting cast, most notably the relatively unknown Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, that steal the show -- though, Atwell isn't all that unknown anymore, as her instant fan favorite-ness led to her own TV spin-off, Agent Carter.
5. Ant-Man (2015)
In the wake of Age of Ultron's world-threatening chaos, Ant-Man feels practically quaint. It's just a man, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, as lovable as ever) who wants to do right by his kid. How does that trump intergalactic battles and devilish Nazis then? Because Ant-Man feels fresh.
It's basically the center slice in a Venn diagram of Ocean’s Eleven and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, a heist movie that has no qualms about getting very, very, very weird. As every other superhero movie seems set on blowing yet another world capital to bits, the climax of Ant-Man is set in a little girl's bedroom and features...Thomas the Tank Engine? It pays to take risks.
Iron Man may have been the start of Marvel Studio's slate, but Avengers created what we have today -- the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an interwoven tapestry of superhero films that continuously build off one another to create a decades-long super saga.
We're used to the concept now -- as nearly every other studio scrambles to copy Marvel's success -- but it must have seemed like an impossible task then, finding a way to bring together a genius, billionaire playboy philanthropist, a super soldier, a Norse god, a Soviet spy and a scientist that you wouldn't like when he's angry. Joss Whedon was the man that made it possible and did it with grace and more than a little bit of quippy humor.
3. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Much has been made of Civil War being Cap 3 and not Avengers 2.5 -- seeing as Cap is just one of dozens of heroes in play -- but it's Avengers 2.5. That isn't a negative, though, when the countless balls in the air are so expertly juggled.
The movie perfectly walks a tight rope in terms of tone, too, oscillating from intense drama to almost slapstick humor, courtesy of Ant-Man (or, should we say, Giant-Man) -- and does hero-on-hero fisticuffs better than any other movie from any other shared universe.
And then there's the seemingly insurmountable task of introducing not one, but two new heroes to the MCU: Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland, the best Peter Parker yet). Who knew we could be excited for yet another Spider-Man reboot?
2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
When Marvel announced they were making a space opera with a gun-toting raccoon and a talking tree, many fans assumed it would be the studio's first flop. Few of those fans would identify themselves now, though, as the movie ultimately outperformed any Iron Man or Captain America movie before it and become a fan favorite -- oh, and because of Rocket the raccoon (voiced with wise-cracking depth by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel, doing some of his best work yet), not despite them.
Sure, you can say the movie borrows much of its format from Avengers -- a group of misfits have to put aside their differences to save the world -- but GotG is still like nothing you have seen before. Chris Pratt's movie star-making turn as Peter Quill -- maybe you know him as Star-Lord? -- pretty well sums up the film: It's irreverently hilarious, totally badass and not too hard on the eyes, either.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
At the risk of discrediting the tireless thought and expert precision put into ranking this list, a number of films -- especially anything in the top five -- could easily be flip-flopped into countless arrangements.
That said, The Winter Soldier will always stand out amongst the rest. More than any other Marvel film, it's the one that proves these can be so much more than "superhero movies." It's a psychological thriller with real, emotional stakes. Steve Rogers explores interesting character dynamics with any number of supporting characters: His best friend-turned-HYDRA assassin, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), the dubious Natasha Romanoff AKA Black Widow, and then-newbie Anthony Mackie as a fellow vet turned sidekick, Falcon.
None of which is at the sake of the action. For every intricately plotted storyline about the oh-so-timely topic of government surveillance, there's more than enough punches thrown in an elevator. Captain America: The Winter Soldier isn't just a great Marvel movie -- it's an excellent movie.
ET was on the set of Captain America: Civil War and found out how the cast hazed the new heroes and who got challenged to a dance-off. Find out in the video below.