Marvel Cinematic Universe Films - Ranked

This weekend, Avengers: Infinity War will take cinemas by storm.  Since its inception in 2008 with Jon Favreau's Iron Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has continued to deliver critically acclaimed, crowd pleasing three color epics every year.  Infinity War begins a two-part culmination of this Herculean storytelling effort.  In preparation for the arrival of the Mad Titan, what follows is a ranking of the MCU films that been released thus far.

18. Thor: The Dark World 

Alan Taylor's sequel to Branagh's 2011 Thor origin story is perhaps the most symbolic of the mediocrity that afflicts the superhero genre.  The story is a been there, done that affair involving yet another end of the world situation.  The action sequences are uninspired and Hemsworth and Portman's chemistry continues to feel awkward at every turn.  The high point is Tom Hiddleston's Loki, one of the few villains in the MCU that leaves an impression.  

17. Iron Man 2

Universally considered one of the most divisive entries in the franchise, Iron Man 2 continues to polarize viewers to this day.   Admittedly, the film is nowhere near as much fun as the first Iron Man.  However, Iron Man 2 is the beginning of one of the more potent aspects of the MCU: The undercurrent of consequences and the dangers of hubris.  It is here, when confronted by the "sins" of the father that Tony Stark slowly begins his journey of self-discovery, filled with loss, ego, and violence.  

16. The Incredible Hulk 

Despite outstanding performances from Edward Norton and William Hurt, The Incredible Hulk has faded into obscurity.  The second attempt at a big screen incarnation of the Big Guy was lauded as the perfect summer action film, however, the specter of Iron Man's success loomed overhead.  Regardless, the performances, combined with some impressive (if redundant) action sequences combined to deliver an entertaining action film. 

15. Iron Man 3

Perhaps the most divisive entry in the MCU, Iron Man 3 is an oddity.  Directed and co-written by Shane Black, the film continues the saga of Tony Stark that began in part 1.  Taking a darker turn, and brimming with Black's trademark humor, Iron Man 3 breathed life back into Stark's personal arc while also frustrating some fans with an interesting plot twist.  The final act suffers from the usual destructive climax syndrome that plagues the franchise, however everything preceding it takes a more mature approach to some of the themes that are interwoven throughout the universe; save for yet another forgettable villain.

14. Captain America: Civil War 

Perhaps the most disappointing entry into the MCU, Civil War is an action extravaganza, filled with colorful characters, an interesting villain, and an unforgettable climax...all of which mean nothing.  The entire premise of the divide between Cap and Stark is ludicrous and when coupled with Nemo's plan, which would have worked the exact same way; even without the infamous airport fight sequence, cheapens the imagined stakes.  Several MCU films prior to Civil War had more meaningful conflicts and emotional deaths, where War chooses to temporarily injure a B team character.  Despite a plethora of flaws, the final fight between Stark/Cap/Bucky is sensational and contains some of the most potent imagery and dialogue of the franchise.  This is the limbo of the superhero film, attempting to balance humor with darkness and while Civil War fails this test, when it shines, it shines brightly.  


13. Doctor Strange 

Ignore Tony Stark's origin story part 17.  Ignore boring Marvel villain 34 (How Mads Mikkelsen can be wasted is perhaps the greatest crime of the 21st century).  Ignore a lackluster script.  Embrace pure universe tripping visuals and jaw dropping special effects.  Doctor Strange is pure euphoria for fans who enjoy MCU films exactly as they are.  Anyone looking for something new to the gilded formula will be disappointed.  

12. Thor

Coming after the "failure" of Iron Man 2, Kenneth Branagh's Thor is a complicated animal.  Chris Hemworth's debut as the God of Thunder is along the same lines as the middle of pack entries, but Branagh's confident direction and Tom Hiddleston's duplicitous trickster, Loki elevate it slightly, despite a superfluous Earth storyline.  

11. Ant-Man 

The first entry in the MCU to play with the patented formula, Ant-Man is more of a caper movie than a traditional comic book experience.  In addition to the framework, Ant-Man was intimately smaller, focusing on a struggling father and a smaller stakes environment; a welcomed change from the continual world ending scenarios of its predecessors.  Featuring a delirious ensemble, unexpected humor, and a genuine heart, Ant-Man is an exceptional member of the MCU.  

10. Captain America: The First Avenger 

Yet another paint by numbers origin film, Captain America: The First Avenger also features genuine heart. Chris Evan's Cap is noble, not because its expected or because he's the hero, but because it is the right thing to do.  He becomes Captain America and the audience can't help but cheer.  Hugo Weaving's villain is disappointing, as is some of the retreaded action sequences, but Evans and Hayley Atwell's performances are more than enough to place the film in the upper tiers of the MCU.  

9. Iron Man 

The introductory film that started it all, Jon Favreau's Iron Man is mostly a triumph.  Curiously devoid of the endless action set pieces of other MCU films, Favreau's choice to focus on the nuts and bolts of Stark's ascension is genius.  Coupled with a nuanced villain (another solid performance from Jeff Bridges) and a solid amount of character development, this is an excellent example of how to create mythology from the ground up. 

8. The Avengers 
While it doesn't hold up as well over time, mostly due to Whedon's trademarks, The Avengers was a landmark cinematic event and continues to shine as a towering example of how to bring together multiple characters and story lines in an organized fashion to present a thrilling, unforgettable mashup of superhero antics, cosmic city devastation, and comedic delights.  One of the best attributes is Mark Ruffalo's The Hulk.  Bringing a balance between comedy, despair, and rage, Ruffalo's chemistry, particularly with Downey Jr. is astounding.  In the end, the way this resonated with audiences and the pure genius of bringing these characters together is responsible for the bulk of the MCU's existence.  


7. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Another low-level entry, Spider-Man: Homecoming is an essential addition.  Focusing on the trials and tribulations of high school student Peter Parker, the origin story was thankfully skipped, and the result is a fantastic departure from the norm.  Tom Holland does an excellent job with a script that was penned by six different people.  Screen icon Michael Keaton's performance as Vulture is a highlight, showing the power of a relatable villain.  While the bulk of the MCU films are fun, Homecoming took things further, taking the viewer on a hilarious journey through the awkward teenage years with a story about self-reliance and maturity.   

6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Considered by many to be the greatest film of the MCU, Captain America: The Winter Soldier took audiences by storm and set up the Russo Brothers as Kevin Fiege's go to directors.  The most intriguing aspect of the narrative deals with ghosts of the past and betrayal.  The safe zone of previous films is upended (at least for a little bit) and the CGI visuals are toned down in favor of flesh and blood combat sequences.  The result is a film that begins to approach the possibilities of the genre.     

5. Guardians of the Galaxy

Easily the most humorous addition to the pantheon, James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy is one of a kind.  It takes a group of virtually unknown characters, misfits, and outsiders with a plethora of personality issues, and manages to endear them to the audience almost effortlessly.  Yes, the villain is once again stale and forgettable and yes, some of the dialogue doesn't come off well, but in between these flaws are moments of pure comedic abandonment and acid trip visuals.  Add in a soundtrack if iconic music and the yield is an outright classic.  

4. Thor: Ragnarok

Renowned auteur Taika Waititi's playful parody of the genre is also one of the best.   Chris Hemsworth's evolution from hunk out of water to soulful heir apparent is thrilling to watch, alongside a bravura turn from Tessa Thompson.  Featuring mind blowing visuals, a power ballad laced soundtrack, and Waititi's trademark humor, Ragnarok is one of the first films within this list to break outside the confines of a traditional superhero story.  It’s both surprisingly adult and shockingly accusatory at the same time, poking fun at the endless inconsistencies and recycled ideas that plague these kind of pictures, only to end up as a thrilling love note to the genre.  

3. Avengers: Age of Ultron 

Considered inferior to its predecessor by many, upon revisit it becomes clear that Avengers: Age of Ultron is one of the more mature Marvel films.  It is admittedly plagued by Whedon's classic trademarks (quip laden dialogue and lackluster action), however, the soul of the film is of import.  Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye shines during the middle and final acts and Downey Jr.'s Stark borders on a villain throughout.  This is the film where the cost of actions begins to matter and it is a shame it has not been further explored.  Ultimately, Ultron showcases the idea that these are more than popcorn films.  

2. Black Panther 

Perhaps one of the most important films of the 21st century, Ryan Coogler's Black Panther is a stunning epic wound around a core of social and cultural ideas that are both profoundly relevant and undeniably important.  Featuring a breath taking "single shot" combat sequence, and Michael B. Jordan's unforgettable turn as Killmonger, this is a prime example of how a comic book film can also be a vehicle for change and reflection.  It is also one of the highest grossing films of all time and one of the first blockbusters to feature a predominantly minority cast.  Its very inception is not only a miracle within the box office machine, it is a reflection of the divided and often romanticized world in which it was conceived.  

1. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 

The pinnacle of the MCU thus far, James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a treasure.   Ethereal cinematography blends with a surprisingly adult narrative to form a tempest that swirls around Michael Rooker's unforgettable performance as Yondu.  Vol. 2 is one of the best entries because it takes chances both with respect to character death and with its villain's intentions.  While the dialogue continues to be hit or miss, the outstanding visuals of Ego's sanctum combine with the ensemble's terrific performance to create an experience more than an expected blockbuster film.  The final piece is the hilarious and unforgettable Come a Little Bit Closer sequence that cements Vol.2 as a near masterwork, fully communicating the limitless possibilities of the costumed hero movie.

--Kyle Jonathan