Believe it or not it has been ten years since Tony Stark announced to the world that he was Iron Man, launching a cinematic and culture phenomenon that even the most invested fanboys and girls could not have predicted. My thirteen-year-old self would have laughed in your face if you had told me that one day these obscure characters would rule the silver screen. Well, it is now 2018, and for better or worse the Marvel Cinematic Universe has given us some of our favorite heroes and villains and taken us into worlds that continue to exceed expectations. For the ten-year anniversary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe I have decided to give my personal ranking of all 18 films (Black Panther included). Over the past week I have sat through all 18, and let me tell you some continue to amaze me while others remind remind me how commercialization can destroy anything. So here it is Anthony’s final (until Infinity Wars) ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe from worst to best. Enjoy!
*Major Spoilers follow…then again you really shouldn’t be reading this unless you have seen most to all of them
18. Iron Man 2 (2010)
It is a shame to say but the Iron Man standalone series hit a severe bump during it’s second outing. After a strong beginning for both the character and to the entire cinematic franchise Tony Stark is back for an overstuffed and humorless mixed bag. Here we have poorly developed and often uninteresting villain Ivan “Whiplash” Vanko, and a story arc that follows Tony’s dive into extreme fame that borders the line of alcoholism and severe depression. Jeez not your fun going action flick. Iron Man 2’s biggest problem is the writing of scribe Justin Theroux, known for writing comedy hits such as Zoolander and Tropic Thunder, because once again we have to watch Tony Stark turn back into such a narcissist that it is as if he forgot all about the broken man who escaped from that cave in the first film. On the plus side we did get the much-needed role change of Rhodes from the out of place Terrance Howard to the dependent Don Cheadle. Oh, and Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow enters the universe reminding us that there is a lot more to come to make up for this awful mess.
Best Scene: Black Widow Takedown
A tough one to find but Black Widow’s take down of many Hammer Industry guards is a fun introduction to a franchise regular.
17. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
I must start off by saying this, The Incredible Hulk is not a bad film, it is a victim of awkward circumstances. However, it is the most skippable film of the entire franchise and therefore finds itself bordering the bottom of this list. First up is the main actor himself. If you are familiar with the recent films than you know the green monster is now played by Mark Ruffalo, so seeing Edward Norton take on the role is hard to watch on multiple viewings. Norton does a good job bringing the moodiness with a slight hint of hope to Bruce Banner, but it is hard to connect with him knowing he goes away forever once the screen goes black. With that said the film finds itself handling the origin story that most know in a fun manner by giving it to us in an opening credits montage. The third final act, which most Marvel films suffer in, is quite enjoyable. Here we have the Hulk battling the Abomination, played by the cheesy but enjoyable Tim Roth in human form, in a nonstop fight that reminds us yes, we do like watching the Hulk smash, but can we stick to one actor from now on.
Best Scene: Harlem Smash
The final fight between Hulk and Abomination through the streets of Harlem shows us why we still stick around for these different Hulks.
16. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
This is where I usually lose people. One of the more popular films in the franchise is in my opinion a perfect example of how low the universe can get. The biggest disappoint about this movie is the lie it spreads. Selling itself as a Captain America film it is clearly just another Avengers movie. This is the case because the whole film is based around that big fight everyone wanted to see. While Captain America struggles to protect his old friend Bucky who is now an international assassin the whole film finds a way to make it more about the divide of the Avengers then it does the bond between these two characters. Once the breakdown of the Avengers leads to a fight the directors give us some sense of honesty since this is what they really wanted to make. The best thing about this film is the long awaited introduction of T’Challa and the Black Panther. His short arc is a nice glimpse of things to come. As far as The Avengers big battle well the overblown and cringe worthy CGI speaks for itself.
Best Scene: Frenemies
No, I refuse to say the best scene is the “epic” airport fight scene which pinned Avenger against Avenger. Instead a better scene is one that actually has reminiscent of a Captain America film. Captain America and Bucky have a final standoff with Tony Stark. Having Rogers fight Stark does give off a slight Avengers feel but instead of constant action it displays greater depth to show the pain Rogers has for his old friend Bucky.
15. Avengers Age of Ultron (2015)
Joss Whedon stated on numerous occasions that this film would be the death of him, and frankly we can see why. Here in this messy sequel we find what is called “the perfect set up” as we are given constant moments that will lead somewhere in near future films. The band is back together but that does not mean they can perform to the same exciting tune. After seeing the films that follow this one it can be amusing to go back to and shout “this all makes sense now!” However this film finds itself worrying too much about the future to ever find a stable voice. There are some nice additions of side characters, but even they don’t come into full fruition until later making their presence often intrusive. I also might be the only person who cannot stand the voice of James Spader so robotic James Spader is the equivalent to being smashed over the head with Thor’s hammer. Age of Ultron should also be remembered for proving that Joss Whedon cannot write female roles. Here we have Black Widow reduced to an awkward love affair with Bruce Banner, and if that’s not cringe worthy enough she also gets captured only for her man to break her out. A clunky mess made to show the future, Age of Ultron should of had the tagline, “stick around for next week’s episode!”
Best Scene: A Vision Awakes
In what is clearly a foreshadowing of the civil war to come, we have Captain America fighting Tony Stark trying to stop him from creating artificial life. Thor steps in and brings the creature to life creating Vision and finally telling the gang about those pesky infinity stones. Vision is a joy to see as he brings both honor and intelligence to this group that is on the verge of a breakdown. Oh and he is also noble enough to carry Thor’s hammer.
14. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Yet another Spider-Man movie to remind us the franchise has still never been perfected. While Jon Watt’s directing takes some nice notes from the numerous John Hughes films it is in the five (yes five) screenwriters that makes this film suffer and often never find a true tone. I find myself in the very small minority, but Tom Holland does not work for me as Peter Parker. Let me rephrase that Peter Parker just does not work for me anymore. While the diverse cast wins for showing what a true American high school looks like I can’t help but roll my eyes at having to watch another Peter Parker story. In a time where Marvel is slowly becoming more diverse it seems other versions of the masked web swinger such as Miles Morales would have been more appropriate. That said Holland does a nice job at finally giving us a young Spider-Man, but how young is too young? This is a kid’s movie after all and nothing is wrong with that, but when the main insult comes in the form of a party of people chanting “Penis Parker” you cant help but feel someone behind the camera is just being lazy.
Best Scene: A Parker Production
How did Peter get from Queens NY to Berlin for his Civil War entrance? Well the opening five minutes of Homecoming has that hilarious answer for you. Peter decides to document his travels across the world to Happy Hogan’s dismay. Demonstrating his best attempt at a voice over, Holland instantly shows why he is a good fit for this innocent and well-meaning boy. His excitement over meeting and fighting the other Avengers is a perfect example of how any of us would act given the opportunity to beat up Hawkeye.
13. Iron Man 3 (2013)
What do you do to Tony Stark after he helps save the world from a galactic species? Have him suffer from PTSD of course! Director Shane Black and Downey Jr. have worked well together before (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang ) and the pairing finds a better stance in this one than in its predecessor. Surprisingly Tony’s voice over narration enhances the film since at the end of the day Tony Stark’s true greatness comes from the man beneath the suit. It also gives us a stronger and more enjoyable Pepper Potts as she takes on running Stark Industries. The third outing surpasses the second in every way possible, but still finds its own way to suffer. An awkward twist of villains leaves an underused Ben Kingsley and has us scratching our heads wondering what the bad guy’s agenda even is. (At one point the soon to be villain calls his company AIM in 1999). The third act grows tiresome and the flare of it all burns out quickly. All in all Iron Man 3 is enough of a reason to let Iron Man sit back and recharge for some time.
Best Scene: Jingle All the Way
It is a Shane Black film, so Christmas must be right around the corner. During one of the more enjoyable scenes Tony uses his blood vessels to command his new Iron Man suit all while dancing to a dubstep remix of Jingle Bells in a way only Downey Jr. can pull off.
12. Thor (2011)
If the testosterone wasn’t high enough after Iron Man 2 than don’t you worry because right after Iron Man 2 we were introduced to the manliest God, Thor. At it’s best Thor is a fantastical break from the grounded world as we are introduced to the wonderful and bright world of Asgard. At its worst it is a formulaic fish out of water story, and oh yes grounded on the smallest most boring town in New Mexico. The best part of Thor is also what destroys it, Marvel fixes its villain problem with the eccentric and devious Loki played to perfection by Tom Hiddleston, but is the villain suppose to outshine the hero in the Marvel Universe? This is no discredit to Chris Hemsworth’s portrayal of Thor, it is just Loki becomes the answer to our Norse prays to no longer give us forgettable villains, even though that doesn’t last long. When Loki leaves the screen, we are expected to follow Thor’s journey to retrieve his hammer stricken from him, but it is hard to give him our undivided attention when we know such excellence is lurking behind.
Best Scene: Ice Ice Baby
Thor and his band of merry men, woman (special shout out to Jaimie Alexander for the awesomeness that is Sif), and Loki travel to the land of the Frost Giants to seek vengeance. Once the fight ensues we see why Norse Gods can often be more entertaining than spandex.
11. Thor The Dark World (2013)
Thor’s second time around is often overlooked because of its atrocious villain. But the best way to look at it is as a fun mixture of Star Wars and Doctor Who all while being suffocated by Marvel’s tight grip. Elf Villain aside (ten bucks if you can remember his name) Thor The Dark World spends a lot of time on Asgard and that is what I hope for when I come to see a Thor film. His adventures on earth always leave him impatient, but this time he travels some of the nine realms all in the name of love. Daw! While the love story of Jane (Natalie Portman) and Thor carries throughout the film it is his time with Loki, fresh into a prison sentence for his attack on Earth, that allows both Hemsworth and Hiddleston to prove they both work best when they are vastly far away from any other Avengers.
Best Scene: Jail Break
Thor’s friends help him break Loki out of jail in a heist scene that could set up its own mini movie. As Loki gets closer and closer to freedom each one of Thor’s friends threaten his life if he betrays Thor leading to wonderful humor from Hiddleston.
10. Doctor Strange (2016)
Is it possible to relaunch any characters in the MCU with hopes of making them stand out? Well that is what Scott Derrickson accomplished with Doctor Strange. A playboy genius could have easily been another Iron Man film. Instead Derrickson decides to start us off with an exciting and visually spectacular chase that involves the mystic magic our hero will eventually learn all about. Visuals is where this film exceeds others in the universe. Derrickson knows this is the world’s introduction to the mystics and he decides to create a kaleidoscope of images that leave both Strange and the audience amazed. The universe still has some fresh ideas up its sleeve and Doctor Strange does not let us forget that. Benedict Cumberbatch playing the arrogant surgeon does well creating the groggiest voice for a superhero all while separating himself from being a Stark clone. However, it is the great Tidal Swinton as the Ancient One (controversy aside) that steals the show giving this film the visual and emotional balance it desperately needed it order to stand out. While it does contain a villain that came straight out of the Marvel labs of boring creations, the film still finds a surprising third act that allows for spectacle to overshadow cliché.
Best Scene: Flatlining
Doctor Strange finds himself needing medical assistance from his colleague Christine Palmer after being attacked by one of Kaecilius’ Zealots. As his physical form lies dying in the hospital he removes his astral body and continues the fight with the Zealot’s Astral body. It is a visually exciting scene that ends with a deadly use of a defibrillator.
9. Thor Ragnorak (2017)
It must first be said that Thor Ragnorak is a comedy. Does it have the typical end of the world villain? Yes. Does it have constant referrals to the entire yes? Of course! But what it does better than any other Marvel film is create actual laugh out loud moments. It also shows that the Hulk is far less entertaining as Bruce Banner. But it is Thor that finally gets to shine in his own film. While in the other films he is often portrayed as hot headed, in Ragnorak Hemsworth gets to show off that he has the best comedic skill of anyone in the MCU. Playing his character as more of a goofball fraternity bro Thor gets the funniest moments of this film being someone who usually has no idea what he is doing (he honestly isn’t that smart). This lack of common sense lands him into a world that is stranger than anything the Guardians have encountered; the land of Jeff Goldblum. Playing to the bizarre directing of Taika Waititi, Thor Ragnorak has more in common with Waititi’s previous work such as Flight of the Concords and What We Do in the Shadows. This shows that when Marvel lets their director’s off their tight leash they get to explore and create better entertainment that feels more relevant. In terms of relevance the film also gives us the much needed female superhero that Marvel never got right with previous attempts. Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie fuels the movie showing that not every female action star needs to be a total “badass”, (Thompson herself hates the term). Valkyrie is just as broken as the rest of the nine realms, which allows her to take on a journey of her own that easily shows we are in need of a standalone Valkyrie movie.
Best Scene: A Grand Escape
An escape from Sakaar involves everything that makes this film work; great action and nonstop humor. Here we find Thor, Bruce Banner and Valkyrie stealing a few of the Grandmasters ships. Valkyrie and Thor kick some major Sakaar ass, while Banner is stuck trying to maneuver the Grandmaster’s ship which just happens to be his orgy ship. Waititi knows the absurdity of the scene and adds a firework extravaganza just because he can.
8. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Chris Evan’s entered the Marvel Universe in the studios last film before the big team up, in what I consider the freshest of Marvel films at the point of release. Captain America is an origin story, but one that takes several slight turns into the comical and adventurous. After a terrible run as the Human Torch, Evan’s finds the superhero he was born (made?) to play. Steve Rogers is as goodhearted as they come, and Evan’s knows how to show this without being insufferable or unrelatable. One of the strongest aspects of the Captain America character and franchise is that even though he is genetically engineered, he still carries some of the most human like qualities of any Marvel character. Work a dead-end job selling war bonds? Check! Doesn’t know how to talk to women? Check! Steve Rogers has it all. The film also gives us one of the best female characters in Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) who doesn’t need the help of anyone especially a man to steal every scene she is in. Add to all this a villain straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, and you have yourself a wonderful 1940’s adventure story that continues to stand on its own.
Best Scene: Steve Rogers Wants You!
Steve Rogers is offered a job opportunity only to become a marketing tool to sell war bonds as he travels in a U.S show during one of the funniest and yes musical moments of the Marvel Universe.
7. Ant-Man (2015)
The movie that often gets ridiculed as a “pointless filler” was actually a much-needed break the Marvel Universe needed. Coming after the tiresome Age of Ultron, the universe was in desperate need of a film that didn’t involve world ending catastrophes of mysterious infinity stones. Peyton Reed’s semi comical and heist based film gives just that. Sure Ant-Man is the last superhero that needed his own film, but if you are going to make one about a ridiculous character getting lovable Paul Rudd to helm it is the right move. There are many references to remind us that this film falls into the larger universe, but it does so in a comical way reminding us that sometimes we need to stop taking these films so seriously. It also gives us a great trio to follow in Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym and Evangeline Lily’s Hope Van Dyne (who I can’t wait to see as the Wasp) who perfectly refuses to take a backseat. In the line of not taking itself too seriously Ant-Man also includes a humorous supporting cast that includes Michael Pena’s Luis, as one of the few Latino characters in the MCU (come on Marvel you can do better!). In a film slate full of heroes that carry honor and good will it is also nice to see Scott Lang as an ex con trying to hold a job and take care of a daughter which gives this film some ground basis.
Best Scene: Briefcase Shuffle
A small scene (a requirement with Ant-Man) we find Scott and Darren Cross, now in his Yellowjacket suit, fighting inside a brief case as it falls to the ground from a helicopter. Cross yells that he will “disintegrate” Scott only to have Siri hear the voice command and begin to play a song from The Cure’s Disintegration album giving some nice background music to this tiny explosive fight.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The biggest risk Marvel took since Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy pulls off the big one; introducing the world to a group of unknown superheroes. A part mechanical talking Racoon, a lovable ten-foot tree all to the background of your dad’s favorite songs? The surprising success of this came to prove that every once in awhile even the most successful franchise needs a curve ball. The strongest part of the Guardians film is in its perfectly chosen cast. Chris Pratt, playing the first of many Chris Pratt type roles, as Peter “Star lord” Quill a lost boy from Earth finds himself a home we all want to be a part of. Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista all embody their respected characters in ways that you want all actors in a Marvel film to do; with full gusto. There is no weak chain in this motley crew, hell even Vin Diesel steals your heart speaking only three words. It’s final act does feature our fun gang battling a forgettable villain in Ronan, but it never strains too far from the joyride. Where Guardians gets to have the most fun is in its wonderful soundtrack that carries this film light years away from some of the moodier films that preceded it. If the action doesn’t do it for you that’s okay because you will always find yourself tapping your foot along to the music, even the characters find time for a dance off.
Best Scene: Come and Get Your Love
In an opening that resembles any Indiana Jones film Peter Quill finds himself on ruined territory searching for a lost artifact. What Indy didn’t do however was dance to Redbone’s Come and Get Your Love in the most enjoyable intro of any of the Marvel films. James Gunn lets us know from the start to sit back, relax, and let out a laugh, this is the movies after all.
5. The Avengers (2012)
All that early stuff had to lead to something. For those smart enough (so not me) to stick around for the credits during the first Iron Man knew early on that all these solo films would eventually lead to the best team building exercise in film history. The best thing about the first Avengers film is its confidence. It knows exactly what it wants to be and does that by dividing the film into two distinct moments; the gathering and the game plan. Throwing in everything and everyone we have previously seen The Avengers relies heavily on its biggest strengths in Evan’s Captain America and Downey Jr’s Tony Stark all while adding an additional fun from Mark Ruffalo as the new and yes improved Hulk. This is one of those films that carries many flaws in its simple story line and whiplash final, but it doesn’t mind that because it knows it wants to be pure fan junkie entertainment and how can you say it does not deliver that.
Best Scene: Teamwork!
This is one of those rare times where the final battle works. You will get nauseous if you try to keep up with everyone’s movement’s but there are some great shots of the entire bunch working together. Who doesn’t love a good team effort!
4. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
If the first Guardian’s was Kevin Feige’s film than its follow up is all James Gunn…well mostly. The sequel finds itself in a difficult place with not only having to live up to the first film but also teeter the line of new world storytelling and outrageous humor. It succeeds 80% of the way. While Vol. 2 does have many belly laugh moments it is when the humor is turned down that we get to enjoy all the wonderful characters. James Gunn knows what he wants to tell in this film. He creates a love letter to fathers, tears a family apart and hopes to rebuild them back together when they accept what matters most. There is an abundant amount of humor that does not always stick, but Vol. 2 gives us a better insight into Gamora and her robotic sister Nebula as the two battle each other out, both ignoring what they truly want; sisterhood. It also features a wonderful villain in Ego (Kurt Russell) as the father from hell. Furthermore if this truly is an ode to dads than that is seen in Yondu (Michael Rooker) who is clearly Gunn’s go to man as the director makes sure he steals every scene he is in. Get tissues out for the last segment for it goes for the heart all while tuned to the insanely catchy soundtrack (better than the first in my opinion). Marvel attempts its Empire Strikes Back with Vol. 2 and while the twist might not be as huge as “I am your father” it certainly puts our characters through the ringer.
Best Scene: Whistle While We Work
Two things are undeniable in this film. James Gunn loves Michael Rooker and James Gunn knows how to utilize music. Yondu escapes from his fellow Ravengers with the help of Groot and Rocket. We find him whistling his tune of death as his arrow destroys everyone and his ship all to the tune of Jay and the American’s “Come a Little Bit Closer”. The smirk that Yondu gives as the song blasts throughout the ship is Gunn’s way of showing us that there once was a time where all our fathers were light years cooler than us.
3. Iron Man (2008)
The one to start it all. If you saw Iron Man in theaters, you remember hoping for this to be the start of something big. In a comeback that surprised the world Robert Downey Jr. became Iron Man and with those final words of “I am Iron Man” we had the beginning of a beautiful universe. Jon Favreau had the daunting and incredible task of creating the first stage and with it he creates a nonstop thrill ride that touched darker elements that most of the films succeeding it have still yet to come near. Does it hold up after ten years? Yes. Does it show where the franchise has matured over the years sometimes leaving this one in the dust? Also, yes. But where Iron Man continues to succeed is by showing that it is the people behind the suits that make these films. Tony Stark is the bad boy who loses his cold heart only to build another, and the film loves every second he is on screen. It was the moments where he was building the first suit, testing it out and learning to become Iron Man that gave all of us the chance to start a fresh new ride.
Best Scene: Tony’s First Time
Tony Stark tries his Iron Man suit in all its red and golden glory for the first time. Flying around the Californian Coast it is a nice reminder to why we fell in love with this franchise in the first place.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The runner up goes to one of the best espionage thrillers ever. The sequel surpasses the original but also becomes a well-rounded film on its own. What makes The Winter Soldier so appealing is that it plays more like a political conspiracy film than your typical superhero. The audience learns that Steve Rogers works best when he is taken out of 1940’s America, but still tries to carry his good heart and will into this confusing world. The action scenes become well placed instead of incoherent which is all credits to Anthony and Joe Russo doing their best at channeling The Manchurian Candidate. Throughout the film we get to see Steve constantly try to make sense of this new world and find his place in it, giving us some excellent brooding moments and even some comical short gags (his catch up list!) Add to all this an equally charming partner in Sam Wilson aka The Falcon, and a devilishly fun villain played by Robert Redford (if this was a 70’s conspiracy film he would have fit the bill for lead) it all leads to Marvel’s best work and proves that while the entertainment formula succeeds it still can’t hurt to be thought provoking.
Best Scene: Elevator Brawl
There is no question that this is the go to scene in “badassery”. In fact I still find myself wondering how they choreographed the entire thing. Here we find our hero trapped in an elevator while he is forced to fight his way through numerous and jacked up government agents. Oh and did I mention he has his one hand tied behind his back. Genius.
1.Black Panther (2018)
Don’t you just hate whenever a new Marvel movie comes out everyone says, “that’s the best one yet!” well for the first time in many years this stands true! Marvel and Disney needed this movie, in fact there are countless times where you find yourself asking “is this still even a Marvel film?” Director Ryan Coogler is one of the freshest minds in cinema, and he brings the force with one of the best casts for a big blockbuster. It is in the characters that Black Panther shines better than any previous Marvel movie. The women (finally) steal the spotlight, it is impossible not to cheer on all these queens played perfectly by the Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Basset and Letitia Wright. Black Panther’s themes get heavy and it does not hold back for a second taking on elements of Shakespeare, colonization, and the divide of Africans and African Americans. Black Panther will offer a much needed conversation after the credits roll, one that will include representation, the sharing of knowledge and the need for peace in this world. But fear not this is an entertainment first movie at the end of the day, and while the action scenes are not as frequent when they do show up the adrenaline sky rockets, from high tech gadgets to military trained rhinos. If any character has something to fear from Black Panther it is Loki because he is no longer the best villain in the universe. Enter Erik Killmonger the new best “villain” that finally raises the stakes and even has us agreeing with some of his motives. Michael B. Jordan owns this character and shows that he and Coogler are the next Scorsese and De Niro. Black Panther is the film Marvel and Disney need to learn from, and if Avengers 4 decides to clean house please keep T’Challa around because he and his Wakandan nation could lead it all.
Best Scene: Cat chases Klaue
Many scenes in Black Panther show that Coogler was heavily inspired by James Bond. The best one involves an underground Korean casino that ends with T’Challa in his new suit chasing down Ulysses Klaue through the streets of Korea with fast cars and huge guns. While the explosions ensue his trusty allies Nakia, Shuri and Okoye all handle their own. It shows the amazing things the nation of Wakanda can do but its main resource is entertaining the hell out of us.
I hope you enjoyed my ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Agree or disagree it’s all love. Be sure to comment below and let me know your ranking of this awesome universe!